by for Charlotte.
For a Christmas party being held by Elena Gilbert, it had been a fairly subdued affair, but for once in her life, she didn't mind that things were quiet. After all she and her friends had been through in the past year, it was nice to be able to relax and simply enjoy each other's company without having to plan for an attack or avert a disaster. Matt had already gone back home to spend time with his family, and Bonnie and Zander had just left to go visit his Pack, so it was only Elena, Stefan, Damon, and Meredith in Mrs. Flowers's boarding house. With a strangely knowing grin, the old woman had declared that she was going to visit a friend for the holiday, and had given them run of the boarding house for a week. The extra time together seemed to have eased some tension between the brothers, especially when Elena was off visiting her family. Meredith's family was strained, though, in the wake of Cristian's death-which her parents didn't know she was responsible for-so she had been spending more and more time with the Salvatores, honing her hunting skills and avoiding her mother's drinking binges.
The gift exchange had gone more smoothly than Elena had anticipated, probably because Damon was on his best behaviour. By the end of the night, the floor was a sea of multi-hued tissue paper and bags, and Meredith had to step carefully through the detritus. "Why don't you two go upstairs?" she suggested to Elena and Stefan. "I can clean up. I'm in no rush to get home, as you know."
Elena came over and gave her best friend a hug. "Things are still that bad at home? You're welcome to stay here. There's plenty of space."
Meredith just shook her head. "And if my parents came here and discovered I was cohabiting with two vampires? That would just make it worse. If I'm only sleeping there, it's not too bad. Go to bed late, wake up late, exchange the minimum amount of pleasantries, and spend most of the day here." She gave them all a smile she didn't truly feel. "But don't worry about that. Pretty soon we'll be back at Dalcrest." She bent down and pulled pieces of tissue paper out of the boots Damon had given her. In true Damon style, he had made sure the heels on the boots still kept her shorter than him.
Stefan and Elena shared an intimate look before Elena made her way upstairs. "Thank you, Meredith." He hugged his friend and kissed her cheek. "Are you sure? There's a lot of mess here. I think Zander must have used one roll of wrapping paper per present. . . ."
"Don't worry about it," Meredith replied with a smile that was relaxed at the edges as she pointed at the staircase. "Go. Trust me: I've cleaned up far worse things than tissue paper." She slipped her feet into the boots Damon had given her. They were glorious, she had to admit: she could barely feel them on her feet as she did a practice walk.
Stefan laughed and took the stairs two at a time. A moment later, the bell-like sound of Elena's laughter floated down the stairs, followed by the distinctive click of a door being shut and locked. "My brother's sense of subtlety certainly hasn't increased over the years," Damon noted idly, tearing his gaze away from the now-empty staircase.
Meredith simply shrugged. "You don't have to help," she said, grabbing the largest gift bag and using it to collect all the crumpled wads of tissue and wrapping paper.
"I don't recall offering." Damon grabbed a clean glass from the buffet table and opened one of his bottles of Black Magic wine, pouring himself half a glass. The four bottles had been Meredith's gift to him, and they had an impeccable vintage. "These can't have been easy to find," he noted idly, watching the hunter move around the room with efficiency and grace. As an afterthought, he raised a second empty glass as an offering, but the hunter shook her head.
"Well," Meredith shrugged, folding up the smaller gift bags and stacking them in a pile, "you've been alive for over five hundred years. What do you get for the vampire who has everything?" She meant it to sound flippant, but even she heard the note of annoyance in her voice. For Elena's sake, she had vowed to be nicer to Damon, but it was a challenge. Something in her instinctively wanted to snipe at him, regardless of what he did or said.
"But I don't have everything," Damon replied smoothly, watching Meredith over the top of his glass. In only a few minutes, the hunter had most of the mess dealt with. Only the keenest eye would be able to tell there had been a party there that evening.
Meredith stopped in her compulsive tidying to shoot Damon a pointed look. "I can't exactly give you Elena, so beyond that, I doubt there's anything you want that you don't already have in your Batcave."
Damon stood abruptly. "I have something for you." When Meredith's gaze flitted down to her feet, he shook his head. "No. Something else." Without waiting for her, he headed for the pantry. "I figured they would be safe here. Elena doesn't strike me as a culinary queen, and Stefan isn't exactly a snacker." He reached up, pulled a sleek box off the top shelf, and handed it to Meredith. "Go on. It doesn't open itself."
"I don't wear jewellery. . . ," Meredith began, caught halfway between dismay and confusion. She and Damon had been getting along better as of late; ironically, revealing her hunter background seemed to intrigue him, rather than making him uncomfortable around her. He almost saw her as a sort of equal, which was both flattering and disturbing. Her parents hadn't told her much about her hunter heritage or how the vampire hunter organization worked, but she guessed she wasn't supposed to be overly friendly with vampires.
"Just open it." Damon leaned back against the door frame and watched Meredith's slim fingers pull open the ribbon and lift the top of the box. No matter what she was doing-opening a gift or cleaning a room or slaying a vampire-her movements always had the same deliberate, deadly grace. "I wanted them to be made of quebracho-I thought you would appreciate the reference-but there was none available on such short notice. And this is better anyway."
"Axe breaker." Meredith was almost afraid to look in the box, but when she saw two elaborately carved sticks, almost as long as her forearm, she was puzzled. "This looks like lignum vitae." She gingerly lifted one stick out of the box and twirled it between her fingers. "But why would you think I need fancy chopsticks?"
Damon smirked as he took the stick from her hand and the other from the box. "Hair sticks, not chopsticks." Before Meredith could protest, he swept up her long hair and used the sticks to pin it in place. "Don't you know long hair is easier for an attacker to grab?"
"Yes, but a bare neck is like a beacon to a vampire, so it's a matter of picking your poison." Meredith instinctively reached back to pull the sticks and let her hair fall back into place, but paused with her hand halfway up, a slow smile stretching her lips. "But I can use these as weapons too. Clever."
"Indeed." Then Damon pointed up at the top of the doorway, where a sprig of mistletoe hung. "Elena's decorating spree, I believe, but who was I to say no?"
Meredith's eyebrows dipped as she frowned. "That's just a silly tradition. . . ."
Head cocked to one side, Damon stepped closer to the hunter, leaving only a breath of space between them. Since she was wearing her heeled boots, their gazes were almost level. "You've fought by my side. You've decapitated vampires with a single slash. You've given blood to me and to Stefan. What's a simple kiss compared to all that?"
"I'm not scared," Meredith scoffed. "I just-"
"Good," Damon murmured, pulling her into a kiss. It was halting at first, no more than the brush of lips and the rasp of Meredith's startled breath, but then the vampire pressed her up against the doorframe and everything changed. Meredith grabbed a fistful of Damon's silk shirt as she tilted her head back, her other arm going around his shoulders. All of her senses except the tactile seemed to shut down; the world was reduced to fuzzy darkness except for where her body touched Damon's. Those spots sparkled like stars just seeming to appear in the sky-awakened to perception, but there all the while.
When their tongues met, hers slid along the tip of one of his fangs, which sliced in and drew just enough blood to make Damon groan and hold her closer. Gasping, Meredith turned to the side, wiping the blood from her lips. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-"
Damon didn't move anything except his mouth, which was now pressed along her jaw. "Why?"
Why indeed? a deep, dark voice in her mind echoed. Stefan and Elena weren't exactly playing Yahtzee upstairs, and it wasn't as if she and Alaric had been a proper couple ever since she had gone to Dalcrest. "Because," she mumbled, ducking under Damon's arm and stalking back into the living room. Kissing Damon? What had she been thinking? That answer was obvious: she hadn't been. She had only been feeling-yet even now, with her self-deprecating inner voice tearing her apart inside, she found it hard to regret. When she turned around, she saw Damon standing just outside the kitchen entryway, watching her with a softness in his gaze that she had only ever seen aimed at Elena before. "I have to go," she said abruptly. "Tell Stefan and Elena I said goodbye."
In a flash, Damon was in front of her again, kissing her so softly it was just like breathing. When he let Meredith go, her dark eyes were hazy, her lips swollen. "They're going over to Judith's tomorrow for the whole family charade." He lifted Meredith's chin with one finger and grinned. "In case you wanted to make other plans. Merry Christmas, Meredith." He ran his thumb across her lips to remove a smear of blood.
Meredith watched him lick his thumb clean as if she were hypnotized. "Merry Christmas, Damon. I'll see you-later. Later." She turned and grabbed her coat and left the boarding house before she could do something she would regret.
Regrets were what tomorrow was for.
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