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The Much Needed Break

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Stefan, why did you stop Damon? Why did you allow Klaus to live?

Those questions and ones along the same vein circled around in my head, tacking on to every thought I had.

We’re running low on milk. … Klaus is still alive.

I need to finish that paper on Hamlet. … Stefan stopped Damon.

The electricity bill needs to be paid. … I’ve lost Stefan forever.

It was obvious I needed a distraction, something to take my mind away from the horrible turn of events, but nothing worked. Movies, friends, gossip, school, boy talk, family time... none of it helped. Everyone else seemed to be lost in their own depressing thoughts as well. We were making ourselves worse, just by being in the same room together. So maybe it was time for a large enough distraction to get everyone out of their heads. One that didn’t involve someone dying or being threatened. Which is why I was currently heading inside the boarding house, looking for said distraction.

“Damon!” I called out, closing the front door behind me.

The last time I’d been here, the day after Homecoming, Damon had harshly voiced his opinion on my offer to help him. Basically, I needed to stop or he’d “unleash a hell I’d never seen before in my pitiable eighteen years on this earth”. My reaction of rolling my eyes and telling him I was already in hell hadn’t been very smart, in retrospect, because then he’d taken off, smashing everything in his path in the process.

Caroline was in touch with him, and Alaric had dropped in on him, I knew, but I hadn’t seen or talked to him in the past week -- the longest amount of time we hadn’t spoken in over a year.

“Here to toss out my bourbon again?” he asked, appearing behind me with a smirk and the ever present double old-fashioned glass of alcohol in hand.

“Would it do any good?” I replied, eyeing the drink and then turning to walk into the living room. My heart had jumped at his voice and presence, but I’d learned long ago to school my facial expressions when it came to him. I was surprised, however, that he was here and speaking to me. He followed me, dropping down onto the couch facing the roaring fire in the fireplace as I turned to face him.

“Not that I don’t mind you dropping by, but why are you here, exactly? I told you I don’t need your help.” Like he was proving a point, he drank deeply, draining the glass. Got it, Damon. Loud and clear.

“We’re floundering,” I said, ignoring the eyebrow raise. It could be for several reasons, but I had a suspicion it was from using the word ‘we’. “Not just you and me, but everyone. Haven’t you noticed how everyone should be taking Prozac just to make it through the day? It’s like we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“Why, Elena. I’m shocked. I had no idea you were okay with psychiatric medication.”

I rolled my eyes. “Try to stay on point. We need something to do. To take our minds off what happened.”

“Staying alive isn’t enough?” he asked, pouring himself another glass of bourbon from the bar.

“No. Not like this. This isn’t living.”

“What do you think is going happen here, Elena? We come up with an activity to keep us so busy we forget Klaus is still out there and might show up at any moment to kill us all? That there’s NOTHING we can do about it now?” he yelled, slamming his glass down on the bar.

“So, what? You’re giving up now? Instead of helping me, you’re going to drown your sorrows until Klaus comes back to finish the job?” My voice rose in volume the more frustrated I became when it was clear Damon wasn’t going to rebound from this anytime soon.

“Yes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have important things to do. Go bother Caroline with your obsessive need to help everyone. I’m sure she has some high school dance or founding family event that requires slave labor.” He downed the contents of his glass again and closed his eyes with a sigh, dismissing me. I frowned, my anger threatening to spill out and start yet another yelling match between us. Damon was the only person who could get me so angry, so fast. Caroline called it passion, but I just thought of it as irritating.

I didn’t want to yell anymore, though, so I turned on my heel and stormed to the front door, but not before leaving behind these parting words. “Sorry for bothering you with my trivial problems. I’ll be sure to call ahead next time.” I slammed the door behind me. It might have been childish, but at least I didn’t yell. That had to count for something, right?

+++

-Two Weeks Later-

Standing in the bathroom I shared with Jeremy, I stared at my reflection. Who was this girl? I hardly recognized myself from the girl I’d been fifteen months ago when I first met Stefan. My face was gaunt, small frown lines bracketed my mouth, the bags under my eyes were almost black from the lack of sleep I’d been getting, and my eyes... I felt like crying just looking into my own eyes. No wonder few people were able to look at me, straight-on. When had so much pain and sorrow gathered in them? Was that all I was now?

I was only eighteen years old. What had been placed on my shoulders during my short life wasn’t a burden anyone should handle. My own mortality stared back at me through these eyes, telling me things would likely get worse and one of these days, I wouldn’t survive. I would either eventually run out of people willing to die for me or finally give in to the growing desire to sacrifice myself in order to save them the trouble.

Because that’s all I was... trouble.

Surprisingly, no one had heard a word from Klaus or the frightening hybrids. They’d vanished from town the night of Homecoming, along with Stefan and Katherine. I wasn’t one to tempt fate, but sometimes, late at night when it was just me in the still darkness, I wished I would’ve stayed dead after Klaus drained me. There was a part of me that believed it would have been better for everyone, even me, if I had.

I sighed in frustration, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, no longer able to look at my reflection. I was so close to giving it all up. Just hanging by a thread really, waiting for it to snap. Maybe I could take up drinking like Damon. Or maybe Jeremy has an old stash in his room that I can pilfer. Anything had to better than this.

Opening the door that lead to my bedroom, I turned off the bathroom light and froze at the door frame. Speak of the devil and he appears.

“Hi,” Damon said softly, smiling that half-smile he’d perfected long ago. The one I couldn’t help returning when my defenses were down, like they were right now. I knew I was supposed to be mad at him. It had been two weeks, after all, without hearing a word from him and getting all my updates from Alaric during my training sessions. But I was too tired to be mad. Plus, I’d missed him and his ability to get me to smile when no one else could.

“Hi,” I replied, stepping into the room and closing the door behind me. He moved away from the window and sat down my bed. There was no telling what he wanted, so I decided to wait him out in silence.

“I got you something.” He tossed a prescription bottle at me and I easily caught it, rotating it to read the label.

For the first time in weeks, I laughed. “Prozac? You know I was only kidding, right?”

“Flowers are so cliche,” he commented, leaning back on his hands.

“Flowers?” I repeated in surprise. That hit too close to The Thing we never spoke of. Not since that night when he was dying. The Thing we both knew about, but wouldn’t mention anymore for fear of how the other would respond, even if Stefan was out of the picture for the moment.

Damon straightened up and his eyes widened. “Isn’t it customary to bring flowers when apologizing?”

He was going to apologize? Oh, this should be good. I crossed my arms, raising my eyebrows as I waited for said apology.

“You’re actually going to make me say it?”

I started tapping my foot.

“Fine,” he groaned. “You drive a hard bargain. I’m. Sorry.”

Knowing I’d pushed my luck as far as it would go, I smiled, placing the Prozac on my dresser and crossing the room to sit down next to him on my bed.

“Not that I don’t mind you dropping by, but why are you here, exactly?” I asked, throwing his words back at him while smirking. Okay, maybe I could push a little more. It had been TWO weeks, after all. I’d been worried about him... the jerk.

He chuckled, leaning back again. “Isn’t it enough that I wanted to see you? Now I have to have a reason?”

“Damon...”

He dropped the smirk. “Ric told me about the test.”

Damon was never one to skirt around the harsh truth, a trait I both admired and hated about him. I looked away, flushed and embarrassed. It was true that my grades weren’t stellar this year. I’d been pulled into the guidance counselor’s office this afternoon to be reminded of the promise I’d made at the end of school last year. The promise that I would do better and not skip so many days during my senior year. There was only so much slack teachers and the principal were willing to give me after my parents died, and then after Aunt Jenna at the end of last year, and I’d used it all up and more. If I continued to do this poorly in school, I wouldn’t graduate and would likely have to repeat my senior year. The administration was quickly losing their patience with me and my empty promises to do better.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Damon asked when he realized I wouldn’t be forthcoming about this subject with him.

“No.” I couldn’t believe Alaric had tattled on me. He might feel semi-responsible for me and Jeremy, but that didn’t mean he had any right to talk about my academic decline with Damon of all people. The guy who couldn’t even bother to call me just to let me know he was still alive because he was too busy getting drunk enough to forget for two seconds that Klaus wasn’t dead. Two fingers curled around my chin, applying pressure until I was forced to either turn my head or have a bruise to explain in the morning.

“Don’t be mad at Alaric. He wasn’t going to tell me at first,” Damon said, proving once again that sometimes he knew me better than anyone else. “I’m glad he did, though. If I’d known your impromptu ‘we need something to do’ speech was really a cry for help” -- my jaw tightened as my temper flared at his wording -- “I wouldn’t have said what I did.”

“It wasn’t a cry of help,” I argued.

“Regardless, I’m in.”

“You’re in?” What the hell does that mean?

“Yeah. Count me in for Operation Distraction.”

“First of all,” I began. “You do not get to waltz into my room after two weeks of no contact and act like everything is fine between us. And secondly, who says I want your help anymore?”

“I’m touched that you missed me, Elena, and of course you need my help. That’s why you asked for it in the first place.”

I choked as a number of responses tried to force their way out at the same time. The utter audacity... “Missed you? You think I missed you?! I haven’t seen you in TWO weeks, Damon!” I jumped up, leaning over to get in his face. “What happened to ‘I’ll never leave you again, Elena’? What happened to ‘I’ll always choose you’?! What-” My breath caught on a sob. “What happened to you, Damon?”

Throughout my rant, Damon’s expression had remained stoic, but as soon as tears appeared, he stood up, forcing me to straighten up and step back.

“I didn’t leave you, Elena,” he said softly, wrapping a hand around my arm. He slowly pulled me closer until I was leaning against his chest. “You might not have seen me, but I saw you.”

“What does that mean?” I mumbled into his shirt. “You were stalking me?”

“It’s not stalking. It’s following with purpose, and it wasn’t just me. There was a set schedule for someone to be with you during the day and then I was here at night.”

“You were here?” I asked, confused.

“Yes.”

“In my room?”

“Outside.”

“You stood outside all night for the last two weeks?”

He shrugged, not answering.

“Why was there a schedule?” I wondered, pulling back to look at him.

He smirked. “Did you really think I’d let you wander around town without protection?”

I frowned. Damn him. Damn him for taking away my anger with his disappearing act. Damn him for making me continue to trust him. Damn him for standing outside my house. Sighing, I sat back down on my bed. He joined me, leaning back again.

“Would you like to hear my plan?” he asked, staring up at my ceiling.

“What plan?”

“You’re asking a lot of questions tonight.”

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Operation Distraction? Have you forgotten already?”

“You always have a plan,” I grumbled, my eyes catching on his taut thighs, which were so nicely hugged by his tight black slacks. I both hated and loved those pants. He shifted, breaking my gaze and I took a deep breath, trying to dispel the lingering tingles I got in my chest every time I noticed Damon as a man and not just my friend or Stefan’s brother. Those times were happening too often lately. They shouldn’t be happening at all. This was Damon, after all.

“Please, save your compliments until after. My plan is this: you get your grades up to at least a B in every subject, and I’ll take you anywhere you want for winter break.”

I slowly looked at him, weighing his offer. Was he serious? Anywhere I wanted? “What about Jeremy? I can’t leave him alone for the holidays.”

“I’ve already talked it over with Ric and he’s cool with keeping an eye on Little Gilbert.”

“What about everyone else?”

Damon sighed. “What about them?”

“Can other people come?” I asked, pursing my lips in a stern expression. I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to survive a trip alone with Damon. Too many close quarters and too much time spent in each other’s company would only lead to more fighting and feelings getting hurt. We worked as friends, but only in small doses because eventually, something -- a look, a touch, the way Damon sometimes said my name like a caress -- always lead us back to The Thing. And since I was stubbornly avoiding any mention of The Thing, that meant we ended up fighting. Usually about something pointless, but still, fighting occurred often.

“You mean Vampire Barbie and Sabrina?”

Caroline and Bonnie, yes.”

“If you insist, but I draw the line at foursomes. It starts getting messy, there are too many limbs flying about, and a fight inevitably breaks out because there’s only so much of me to go around.”

I shook my head at him, refusing to imagine him with three other girls. Were the hours I’d spend studying to accomplish at least a B in each class even be worth it if I had to put up with Damon the entire trip? And there were so many reasons we couldn’t leave, Klaus at the top of them.

Damon held up his hand. “I know that look and stop it. Stop over-thinking until you talk yourself out of it. Ric is fully capable of calling us at the slightest hint of danger. Besides, you need a break from this.” He waved his hand, indicating this town and most likely, my current life. I couldn’t help but agree with him. I did need a break, or I would eventually be the one who broke. “Five minutes, Elena. We both need a break,” he said, his words echoing back to his reasoning for our trip to Atlanta.

“Anywhere I wanted?” I asked, scooting back on the bed and folding my legs under me as I seriously started contemplating his proposal.

“Yes, but if you’re thinking about leaving the country, getting through customs on compulsion alone is tricky, so you’ll need a passport.”

As fun as it was to think about, reality set in. “I can’t leave Jeremy alone at Christmas. It’ll be the first Christmas on our own.”

Damon flopped backward on the bed. “I’m drawing the line at three additional people. Any more and I’m expecting all A’s from you.”

Stretching out beside him, I turned on my side and smiled. “Okay.”

He turned to look at me. “Don’t sound so overjoyed.”

“You did tell me to stop over-thinking, so I assumed that included the good and the bad.”

“Leave it to you to take what I say literally.” He smirked.

As simple and seemingly impossible as the deal was, it had actually accomplished what I hadn’t been able to do for three weeks on my own. I hadn’t thought about Stefan or Klaus for over a minute since seriously considering Damon’s offer. Or maybe that was just talking to Damon. He had a crazy knack for knowing how to push my buttons. And I hated to admit it, since it was so closely tied to The Thing between us, but I’d missed the way we communicated through thinly veiled threats, taunts and innuendos. It was strange, but it worked for us.

“So, did you finally consume all the alcohol in the county?” I asked, changing the subject to give me time to mull over how I was going to raise my grades, while getting off the bed and walking around to the nightstand to set my alarm for the morning.

“Sadly, no. But I did finally achieve diamond status at all the bars.”

I slid under the covers, knowing Damon would move when he was good and ready and not a second before. “What perks does that give you? A girl with every top shelf bottle you purchase?”

“How did you know? Have you been spying on me?” he asked, repositioning to lay on top of the covers next to me. I knew that he knew my heart rate picked up slightly whenever he got this close to me, but he never mentioned it. He only did that eyebrow quirk that would pull me into his mesmerizing eyes, if I let it. And sometimes, I really wanted to let it. But not tonight.

Reaching out, I turned the light off. “No, that’s your MO, remember? I get the newsletter.”

“I knew you were part of my fan club. Was the initiation pajama party pillow fight taped? I’d love to see the footage.”

“Sadly, it wasn’t, but I think the group bikini mud wrestling match was.”

Damon groaned and I knew I’d gotten him. It wasn’t the nicest thing to do, throwing my knowledge of his attraction back at him, but sometimes it was the only way to make him shut up for a few minutes.

“Are you staying?” I asked, my eyelids suddenly feeling heavier.

“If you want me to,” he replied.

I paused and looked at him. Really looked at him. I trusted him not to do anything while I was asleep, and I wouldn’t mind the company. Sometimes it was nice not to sleep alone.

Damon hopefully understood my reluctance to say yes. I wanted to, but saying it brought so many issues out into the open. Issues I couldn’t and didn’t want to deal with at the moment. “Goodnight, Elena.”

“Sweet dreams, Damon,” I said softly, reaching out to touch the back of his hand. I couldn’t give him a ‘yes’, but I could give him an innocent physical connection. The last thing I felt was Damon turning his hand underneath mine to intertwine our fingers before I fell into oblivious sleep.

Chapter Text

It had taken six long weeks of studying, cramming, and late nights, but I finally felt like I was back on track with school. And just in time, too.

“Let me see,” Damon said, snatching the paper that listed my final semester grades out of my hand. I had driven over to the boarding house the moment I’d printed them out. After two months of not hearing a word from Stefan or Klaus and living like any moment everything could be taken away from me, this was a much needed victory.

“Looks like ‘congrats’ are in order.” Damon smiled, handing me the piece of paper that read a mixture of A’s and B’s in all my classes. “Are you finally going to tell me where we’re going?”

I hadn’t wanted to jinx this, so I’d refused to tell him where I wanted to go until I knew for sure that I’d succeeded. Bonnie had opted out of the trip when she learned Jeremy might come, and Jeremy had done the same when he learned Bonnie hadn’t wanted to come, thinking it would convince her to go with us. It hadn’t. They still weren’t speaking to each other and neither were willing to budge on that. Caroline didn’t want to come if it was only going to be me, her and Damon because she “didn’t want to be a third wheel”, plus things were still confusing between her and Tyler. I think she was waiting to see what would happen between them with Klaus out of the picture, but Tyler hadn’t made a definitive move in either direction yet. Now it was just me and Damon, like he’d originally planned. No amount of begging or pleading on my part with any of them had changed their minds.

There were moments when I’d wanted to give up. Between knowing it would just be me and Damon and the stress of studying and having to actually pay attention in class, plus not being able to make up my mind about where we would go... It became too much sometimes. Not getting a passport in time helped narrow it down, but not by much. But through it all, Damon had been there. He’d even helped me study a few times; recent history being his forte, obviously. I grinned, excited to finally reveal my decision. “I was thinking New York.”

“The Big Apple?” Damon looked either surprised or impressed. I was leaning toward surprised since it was well-known I wasn’t a big fan of cold weather or freezing rain, of which New York had both. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. It’s close enough that we can get back in one day if we need to, and I’ve always wanted to go to New York. I want to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree and take in a show on Broadway. I want to go to the Met and walk around Central Park. Maybe we could even go to Times Square on New Year’s?”

I was close to begging at this point because Damon seemed reluctant to agree to this, but then he smiled. “New York it is.”

I squealed and launched myself at him, hugging him and bouncing on my toes. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s going to be great, you’ll see.” Pulling away, I continued,”I’ve already worked out an itinerary and found us a flight out of-”

“Stop,” Damon interrupted, abruptly cutting me off by covering my mouth with his hand. “If we’re going to do this, it’ll be my way.” I frowned behind his hand. I’d put a lot of work into that itinerary. “I’ll take your suggestions into consideration,” he continued. “But this is supposed to be a vacation. No thinking, worrying or stressing for you. Got it?”

He slowly removed his hand, his fingers drifting over my cheek before he abruptly pulled his hand away. I nodded, noticing for the first time how close we were standing. I tried not to get this close to him for very long because it almost always made me feel guilty, like I was taunting him with what he couldn’t have. Stepping back, I took a deep breath.

“Okay, we’ll do it your way.” There it was, the guilt. It usually led to me giving him small concessions in order to placate him instead of giving him what he really wanted... me.

God, how conceded was that thought? I wasn’t anything special. I knew he wanted me, but that didn’t mean I was on the top of his priorities list. For all I knew, becoming a rock star was in the number one spot and I was like, one hundredth.

Ugh. Get a fucking grip, Elena.

“Great.” He flashed me a smile. “Be ready at 10am tomorrow and pack for cold weather.”

I gave him a wary look, but decided not to push it as I left the boarding house, already mentally packing. There was no telling what he would plan for us; however, I did know that whatever it was, it would be fun.

+++

It was exactly 11 o’clock in the morning when we pulled up to what appeared to be a private airfield and Damon stopped the car beside an open hangar. I know it was exactly 11 o’clock because I had just looked at my phone for the twentieth time since leaving the house an hour ago. I knew Ric would call if anything happened, but the further away we drove from Mystic Falls, the more anxious I became.

“What are we doing here?” I asked, watching Damon turn off the car and grab his cell phone from the center console.

“Flying to New York,” he replied, looking at me like I was crazy. He got out of the car and walked over to an older man who had exited the hanger directly in front of us. They shook hands and Damon pointed over to the car, then he started walking back. The entire time I sat there, confused and bewildered. What the hell was going on? He didn’t really mean for us to fly in that, did he?

Damon opened my door and bent down. “Get out of the car, princess.” He left the door open as he walked to the back of the car and popped the trunk. Tentatively, I exited the car and looked around in wonder. There were six hangers in all, lined along an airstrip and a small tower control building at the end. The plane in the hanger beside us was small. Much smaller than any commercial airplane. It could fit six people... maybe.

I headed toward Damon as he pulled our bags out of the trunk and asked, “That’s our plane?”

“Would you rather drive?” he countered, holding out my carry-on for me to grab.

I looked at the plane again. “Is it safe?”

Damon smirked. “Safer than spending the next two weeks with a vampire.”

I scoffed at his attempt to rile me and grabbed my suitcase, rolling it behind me as I made my way to the hangar. The same older man met me just inside the door.

“Good morning! If you want to stow anything under the plane, just leave it with me and I’ll take care of it,” he said pleasantly, smiling the entire time.

“Thanks, Jim,” Damon replied, appearing right behind me. We left our bags with him and Damon placed a hand at the small of my back, leading me to the plane’s stairs. I was very aware of his hand, the pressure of it warming my back through my jacket.

“Now don’t freak out -” he started.

“What? Why would I freak out?”

He sighed. “I just told you not to freak out. Trust me, okay?”

I made a face, but kept silent because I did trust him and I wanted him to know I trusted him. Like I said, small concessions.

“Sit here,” he instructed, pointing at one of the two seats behind the cockpit. I sat and buckled myself in, keeping an eye on Damon as he exited the plane and went to talk to another guy who carried a clipboard. Looking around the cabin of the plane, it wasn’t as terrifying as I’d initially thought. It helped that I couldn’t really see outside unless I leaned into the aisle and looked straight ahead at the cockpit. Damon climbed back into the plane and pulled the stairs closed behind him.

“How are the pilots going to get in?” I asked, but he didn’t say anything. He just paused and looked at me before stepping inside the cockpit. At that, my eyes went wide. “No,” I gasped. Damon ignored me as he put a headset on and flipped down a microphone.

“Damon? Damon! This isn’t funny! No. No, no, no, no. No, Damon! Pleeease tell me you’re not the pilot,” I yelled, clutching at the armrests. I seriously thought about unbuckling and making a break for the stairs before he could take off, but while I’d been freaking out, he had muttered strange abbreviations and lingo into the mic and then started the engines. Hearing those turn on, my heart raced in a panic. I was going to die. It wouldn’t be a vampire or anything supernatural that killed me. No, it was going to be a horrible, fiery plane crash with lots of pain and screaming.

Taxing out onto the runway, Damon flipped a couple switches and then turned back to look at me. “Elena!” he shouted, diverting my attention from my internal freak out. “Trust.” He pointed at himself and smiled.

I closed my dry mouth and then nodded shakily. I could trust him. I mean, I did trust him. Maybe. Probably not after this. Who was I kidding? I was going to kick his ass for not warning me beforehand.

Squeezing my eyes shut while taking deep breaths, I gripped the armrests with all that I had and waited for the inescapable plummet to my death.

+++

“Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.”

Grumbling about being disturbed, I turned away and drew a leg up underneath me. A soft touch on my cheek made me smack the intruding hand away. “No.”

“Come on. You’re missing a great view.”

View? The last conscious thought I had rushed back to me and my eyes flew open. “Am I dead?” I asked, spinning to look at Damon. My seatbelt had been unbuckled sometime between when I dozed off -- or, more likely, passed out -- and now.

He laughed. “I thought you trusted me.”

“That was before you decided to try your hand at flying...” My voice trailed off as I realized we were still in the air and Damon wasn’t piloting the plane! Before I could work up a full-blown panic attack and start yelling, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me up, slapping his other hand over my mouth. I was very tempted to bite him, but he would probably see it was an invitation and I wasn’t ready to deal with that on top of standing on an unmanned plane thousands of feet in the air.

“It’s on auto-pilot. Relax.” He stared at me, waiting until I’d gotten myself under control. It was easier said than done because the longer he stood there, the longer the plane flew by itself, which only made me more anxious. Taking a deep breath, I focused on relaxing my muscles and went limp.

“There you go,” Damon said, taking his hand away. “Now, would you like to keep me some company?”

I frowned. “Up there?”

“No, in the back. Thought I’d introduce you to the mile high club.” He winked, smirking.

Annoyed, I punched him in the arm and then decided to best him at his own game. It was his fault I was this freaked out to begin with anyway. He totally deserved it. “And what if we crashed?”

He grinned cockily and tilted his head. “Scared that I wouldn’t save you?”

“Who says you’ll be conscious after I’m through with you?” I smirked right back at him, watching as his arrogance dropped and his eyes flashed, making him look vulnerable for the first time since Homecoming. Worried that I’d pushed him too far, I dropped the act. “Sorry.”

He gave me a tight smile before stepping aside and sweeping his arm out to the small aircraft’s cockpit. “After you.”

“Thanks,” I said nervously, gingerly stepping into the confining area. I carefully sat down, not touching anything except the seat cushion underneath me.

Damon snorted. “Nothing bites in here except for me.” He snapped his teeth together, emphasizing his point.

I rolled my eyes and scooted back in the chair, gasping as I finally really looked away from the dials and controls and focused on the view outside. Beneath the plane, clouds formed a soft, white blanket, making it almost impossible to see through them. Straight above us, the sun blazed brightly. Thankfully the windows were tinted. It was like we were the only people in the world, sailing along the clouds.

“This is amazing. How long have you been flying?” I was genuinely interested. Seeing Damon like this was so far from the norm. He looked... hot in the pilot’s seat, casually flicking switches and checking dials.

Damon glanced at me. “What are you talking about? This is my first time.”

Eyes narrowed, I stared him down.

“Fifty years,” he finally admitted with a sigh. “Every ten years or so I take a refresher course to stay up to date with protocol and aircraft advances.”

“What made you learn in the first place?”

“It’s easier than traveling commercial. Especially in the past ten years.”

I could understand that. Plus, I knew Damon had brought blood with us because I’d seen the cooler. I couldn’t imagine the amount of people that would need to be compelled to overlook something like that.

“Here, put these on,” Damon said, handing me a headset.

I gave him a questioning look, but put them on, surprised to hear silence on the other end. Shouldn’t Air Traffic Control be giving instructions or something? Although, it was nice to have the engine noise muffled a little. I hadn’t realized how loud they were until now.

Damon reached over and flipped my mic down. “Better?” he asked into his own microphone.

“Yes,” I answered, finding it strange to hear him like he was right beside me but see his mouth moving a foot away.

He smiled. “You get used to it,” he said, somehow answering my thoughts yet again.

I bit my lip and looked out the window. I never knew how to react when he did that, acting like he could read my mind. It was unnerving.

A few minutes passed in silence before Damon broke it with, “Do you want to take over?”

My mouth fell open from shock. “Really?”

“The flying bit isn’t hard. It’s taking off and landing that require the special training,” he said, shrugging. He showed me where to place my hands, the amount of pressure to put on the controls, and what dials to look at to make sure we stayed on course before asking, “Ready?”

I took a deep breath and then nodded. He flipped a switch and I expected the plane to suddenly start plummeting, so my grip tightened, which made the nose of the plane rise.

“Easy,” Damon said softly, leaning over to loosen my death grip. With his guidance, I leveled out the nose and tried to calm down.

“Good. Now, I’ll just be in the back,” he said, removing his headset.

“What?! You can’t leave me here,” I yelled, reaching over to grab his arm, like that would somehow keep him in his seat.

“You’re a natural,” he replied, standing up. “Yell if you need anything.”

“Damon!”

He chuckled, dropping down to a crouch next to me. Removing my headset, he smoothed the hair back from my face and smirked. “Tell me you’re not having fun.”

Taking a second to look around, it finally hit me that I was flying a plane. Me. Flying a plane. I flashed a grin his way, but then cleared my throat and nonchalantly shrugged. “It’s okay.”

He leaned forward and breathed into my ear, “Liar.” My heart jumped at his proximity and he softly chuckled. Then he surprised me by kissing my cheek before standing up. By the time I glanced over at him, he was already buckled back into his seat and adjusting his headset. The spot on my cheek where his lips had touched continued to tingle after he’d gone, and I had to fight not to touch it, just to make sure he hadn’t branded me with his lips.

“I’ve got it,” he finally told me, grabbing the controls, and I let go of mine, taking a much needed deep breath. My emotions and thoughts were so tangled up right then, I wasn’t very good company for the rest of the flight. I think he knew how conflicted I was because he didn’t venture beyond small talk and updates on our current location.

+++

To me, being chauffeured into Manhattan in the back of a town car crossed the line. “Damon, please tell me you didn’t go all out for this trip,” I pleaded with him, turning on the pouting puppy eyes.

“Didn’t I tell you not to overthink it?” he asked, stretching his legs out until his thigh brushed against mine.

I scooted over just enough so we were no longer touching. “The plane I’m willing to overlook because I get how it’s easier than flying commercial, but a chauffeur?”

“We’re doing it my way, remember?” He smirked and quirked an eyebrow, which he knew made him look irresistible and how it also made it hard for me to stay mad at him. I wanted to simultaneously slap him, kick him, yell at him and kiss him whenever he did that. Instead of doing any of those, although the slapping option was very tempting, I made a disgruntled noise and crossed my arms before looking out the window. I knew I needed to figure out why he was so into casual touching all of a sudden, and why I was letting him get away with it; however, my thoughts quickly gave way to admiration and awe as I stared up at the famous buildings and landscapes rolling past my window that I’d only seen before in pictures and movies.

“Intense, isn’t it?” Damon asked, having moved without me hearing or feeling him at my back. At this point, I was almost used to him trying to scare me, so I was only slightly startled when he spoke so close to the back of my neck.

“What do you mean?”

“The people, the noise, the feeling of being surrounded... the energy. Very different from Mystic Falls.”

“Yeah,” I replied, a smile spreading across my face. “But it’s also exciting, don’t you think?”

“That’s my girl,” he mumbled before dropping a kiss on my shoulder and sliding back to his seat. I froze, resisting the urge to turn around and stare at him. I didn’t know if I could take another smirk or joke right now. His girl? Did he really think that about me? Was that what this trip was to him? A chance to claim me as his?

What was with him today? Had my teasing in the plane earlier set him off, so now he thought it was alright to kiss me or touch me? Flirting was one thing. Flirting I was used to. He did that with everyone. This was different. This was... confusing. And if I was being very truthful with myself, it was thrilling to feel like a girl who was desired by an attractive guy instead of Elena, the eternal albatross hanging around everyone’s necks. I hadn’t felt this way since the first time I really flirted with Stefan and he reciprocated.

But this was Damon. It wasn’t a high school crush and it wasn’t innocent. But then neither was I, anymore. Not after everything I’d seen, felt and done in the past two years. It also wasn’t fair to compare the brothers like that. I still loved Stefan. Why? I honestly didn’t know anymore, but the feelings remained, regardless of how often I reminded myself that he wasn’t coming back. Not in my lifetime, anyway. And telling myself that I would be better off without him. But did my heart listen? No.

Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing, besides overthinking, stressing and worrying, so I made a conscious effort to stop all three. I’d promised Damon that I would, at least for the next two weeks. All these problems would be waiting for me when I got back. For now, though, I was determined to enjoy myself.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god.” After five minutes of looking out the floor to ceiling windows in the hotel room’s sitting area, those were still the only words I could say about the view.

“Wait until you see it at night,” Damon said, appearing beside me.

I turned to look at him in disbelief and pointed out the window. “Oh. My. God.”

“The name’s Damon, but I’ll answer to that, too.”

I wasn’t going to touch that comment, but it was enough to shake me out of my funk. “What? How? When? I mean, it’s just...” Looking around, I became speechless again and made the universal ‘what the hell is going on?’ gesture and noise when words failed me.

Damon laughed. “I don’t think I’ve seen you this tongue-tied since we first met.”

“Just... give me a moment.” I sank down into the amazingly comfortable chaise next to the window and shook my head. “How? How did you get this room?” It was Christmastime in New York City and we were staying through to New Year’s. There was no way Trump International Tower and Hotel wasn’t fully booked at least a year in advance during this month. So how were we standing in a vacant suite? Overlooking Central Park, no less.

An unwanted thought popped into my head. One I didn’t want to voice because I knew it’d upset him, but I had to ask. “Did you... Please tell me you didn’t...”

“No, Elena, I didn’t compel anyone to get this room.” He sounded irritated, but not mad. Sitting down next to me, he lifted my hand off my lap and held it between both of his. “If I tell you, do you promise to drop it?”

The feel of his thumbs rubbing small circles on the back of my hand was distracting and sending little sparks of heat up my arm. “Yes.”

“I booked this room before I talked to you about the trip,” he confessed.

“So, not only did you presume that I would agree to your plan, but you somehow knew I’d choose New York? Do you seriously expect me to believe that?”

Damon shrugged. “Maybe I’m psychic.”

“No way,” I said, shaking my head. “There’s no way you could’ve known.”

“Fine,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “I might have made arrangements in some other cities, too.”

“Which cities?”

“If you must know-”

“I must,” I interjected, smirking at his exasperated expression.

“If you must know,” he began again. “Miami, here, DC, L.A., New Orleans, Raleigh, and Atlanta.”

“And if I hadn’t chosen any of those places?”

He shrugged. “It would have worked out.”

I sighed, finding the strength to suppress the irritation and point out the good intentions he’d had. “Still kind of presumptuous of you, but I’m glad you did it.”

“Good. Now, no more worrying, thinking or stressing for you. You promised.” He stood up, walking past the little kitchen area toward the bedroom, which I’d completely bypassed once I saw the view.

This room really was insane. I was torn between wanting to reprimand Damon for spending so much money on this trip and thanking him for thinking ahead. Instead, I did neither and followed him into the bedroom, where the bellman had placed our bags.

I paused at the threshold, taking in the large king bed with wide eyes as it was the only bed in the suite. Either one of us was sleeping on the couch or setting up a cot in the living room because the only alternative was that we would be sharing the bed. Damon had started hanging his clothes in the closet and looked my way when I froze, probably waiting for me to say something about the sleeping arrangements. He’d stayed overnight before in my room, but that was a rare occurrence and he usually slept on top of the covers. This was going to be two weeks of sleeping beside each other.

However, it was a rather wide bed, so the chances of us accidentally touching each other in our sleep were low. But the question was, would he purposefully cross that boundary with me?

I had to believe he wouldn’t because thinking about it too much would drive me insane. So I continued on into the room in silence and started unpacking my things as well.

“I was thinking we could go walk in the park if you’re not too tired, and there’s a cafe downstairs we can stop at if you’re hungry,” Damon suggested, stowing his now empty suitcase in the closet.

“Sounds good,” I replied, putting my toiletries in the bathroom. When I came back out, Damon was sitting beside my open suitcase, rubbing the silk material of a dress I’d brought along on the off-chance that we went somewhere nice. Honestly, I’d had no idea what to bring for this trip, so I’d just brought a little of everything, hoping it would be enough.

“This is nice,” Damon remarked when I got closer, letting the dress drop back in the suitcase.

“Thanks.”

“You should wear it tonight.”

My forehead furrowed. “What’s happening tonight?”

“We have reservations at the restaurant downstairs,” he replied, turning so he could lean against the headboard and put his feet on the bed. “Didn’t I mention that?”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Huh. Must have slipped my mind.”

After finishing unpacking, I bundled up because it was almost freezing outside and Damon threw on his ever-present leather jacket, adding a black scarf to the ensemble. I’d never seen him wear a scarf before. It made him look less... badass. Normally guys who would beat you up don’t wear a scarf while doing it.

“What?” he asked, seeing the look on my face.

“Nothing. Just... do you think that’s enough?”

He looked at my outfit, consisting of lined boots, tights, jeans, sweater, semi-heavy jacket, gloves, scarf and knitted hat, and then down at himself. “What’s wrong with this?”

I shook my head. “Never mind.”

I called Jeremy to check in and tell him where we were staying. He seemed a little impressed about the hotel, and then Alaric got on the phone to reassure me that everything was under control and to have a good time, but not too good a time because he felt responsible for my welfare and he knew Damon probably better than anyone else. His role of semi-guardian/uncle was fun to observe because you knew he had no clue what he was doing, but he did care, and that’s what counted.

After I had a late lunch, we left the hotel to venture into New York City. However, that first blast of cold wind had me wishing for the tepid weather of Mystic Falls. I leaned into Damon, seeking warmth, and he swung an arm over my shoulders, pulling me closer as we walked into the park. And I allowed him to, strangely comforted by his nearness as we walked around, taking pictures and talking about everything we wanted to do while here.

+++

“You know we’re here for two weeks, right?” Damon asked through the bathroom door later that evening while I was getting ready for dinner.

“Yeah, so?”

“Your camera’s memory card will be full by tomorrow if you continue taking so many pictures.”

I twisted the mascara tube closed and inspected myself in the mirror. My cheeks were still a little too red from the wind burn of being outside the last four hours, but with a little base, they’d be fine. “You think I only brought one memory card?”

Damon’s silence made me laugh. I could just imagine him grumbling about me being over prepared. So what if I was excited? I wanted to remember everything about this trip. Plus, it would be the longest I’d ever been on vacation without family. It was a new venture and if I thought it should be well documented so one day down the road I could look back in fondness, then so be it.

Giving myself one last look in the mirror, I decided I was done and exited the bathroom. Damon was sprawled on the bed, resting against the headboard and flipping through the pictures I’d taken at the park. He glanced over out of the corner of his eye and then slowly turned his head.

“Is this okay?” I asked tentatively, looking at myself in the full-length mirror outside the closet door. I was wearing a black mini-dress with a beaded neckline and silk overlay that ended mid-thigh and a pair of black heels. I’d put small waves in my hair to give it some volume, but not enough to look like Katherine. I hated that she’d taken away an entire hairstyle for me, but I refused to look anything more like her than I already did.

He placed my camera back on the bed and stood up. “You look beautiful.”

I smiled. “Thanks.”

“Ready to go?” he asked, grabbing his suit jacket from the back of the desk chair.

“Yes.” I moved to the side as Damon walked past me and stopped in front of the mirror.

“Is my tie straight?” He turned to look at me.

Frowning in confusion because he’d be able to easily tell with his “superior” vampire eyesight if it wasn’t straight, I nodded anyway. He opened the suite’s door for me and then placed his hand on the small of my back as we walked to the elevators. After having him touch me all day either with his arm around my shoulders or holding my gloved hand because he didn’t want me running off “like a kid in a toy store”, or fixing my hair when the wind blew it into my face, I was starting to get used to it. Normally I would try to shy away from something like this with him, but being in a strange place, it was nice to have someone familiar close by.

I know. I was being completely selfish, but at this point in my life, I was okay with taking what little comfort I could from my friends and family because none of us knew when one of our lives would be threatened next. Besides, I reasoned, none of them have been sexual. It’s all been pretty innocent. Now, if his hand starting traveling south of the border, this would be a different thing altogether. But comfort touches? I was finding myself okay with those.

We rode down the elevator in silence, me fidgeting while trying to talk myself out of considering this a date, and Damon calmly standing beside me, staring straight ahead with his hand still lightly touching my back. The elevator doors opened to a foyer decorated in a modern style with a man standing behind a podium beside the opening to the restaurant. Damon gave his last name to the host and he smiled.

“Of course. Right this way Mr. & Mrs. Salvatore,” the host said, turning to lead us through the restaurant to our table. I opened my mouth to correct him, but Damon nudged me forward to follow the host and I decided it wouldn’t be worth making a scene in this hushed setting over something so trivial as a wrong assumption.

Because obviously, Damon and I were not married. We weren’t wearing rings on the right fingers, and I barely looked old enough to drive, much less get married!

I glanced around the restaurant, my eyes pausing for a few seconds at every new angle of the city the floor to ceiling windows offered me. I couldn’t wait to actually explore the city tomorrow. It felt like it was calling my name.

When the waiter approached us, I let Damon order the wine and was surprised when I wasn’t carded. Maybe they assumed if you’re able to afford this place, you’re old enough to drink? It was puzzling, but I was willing to go with it.

The rest of the meal passed relatively well. Damon only made a few snarky remarks and innuendos during the course, but most of those were my fault because I should have known better than to moan in rapture over the dessert I’d ordered. It was just SO good, though.

When we got back up to the room, my energy levels dropped fast. The day’s events were quickly catching up to me so I got ready for bed as fast as I could without seeming eager to sleep in the same bed as Damon. No need to give him ideas.

“You never told me what we’re doing tomorrow,” I pointed out as I snuggled under the incredibly soft covers. Damon walked over to the bed, thankfully wearing a shirt and boxers to sleep in. I’d been worried he’d try something, but so far he’d been a perfect gentlemen. Well... his version of one, anyway.

“Sightseeing and the like. The usual tourist things,” he replied, climbing into his side of the bed. “Maybe some shopping.”

My eyebrows rose at this.

“You’re going to need something to wear to a few functions I’ve arranged for us,” he explained.

“Functions? What kind of functions?” I asked.

“The kind which require dresses and pretty things, Elena.”

“I have dresses,” I grumbled.

“Not the right kind. Now, get some sleep. You’re exhausted.”

Fighting the urge to stick my tongue out at him and comment with a five-year-old response, I burrowed further into the ultra-soft pillows and assessed the sleeping arrangement.

Now that we were both underneath the covers and I could feel how far away he actually was, I let myself relax. It seriously felt like we were a mile away from each other in this huge bed. Damon turned out the light and folded his arms under his head, staring up at the ceiling. I wanted to stay up to talk to him some more about our plans for tomorrow, but a yawn caught me by surprise, making me even more tired.

“Goodnight, Elena,” Damon said, turning his head to look at me.

“Goodnight,” I mumbled and shut my eyes, sinking into the awaiting darkness.

+++

“So? What have you done so far?” Caroline asked, her excitement making her voice rather high-pitched, even for Caroline. Damon and I had been in New York for five full days and I think Caroline was regretting her decision to stay behind in Mystic Falls because she already knew the answer to this question, seeing as how she texted me every day wanting updates on the trip. But I went through the list again for her because I felt a little bad that I was here and she wasn’t.

“Central Park, Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library-”

“Where you sang the Ghostbusters theme song while running up the steps?” Caroline asked.

I laughed. “Obviously. Let’s see... the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Plaza, we saw the giant Christmas tree and went on top of the Rockefeller Building. Times Square, the MET, we went ice skating in the park, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street. We did some shopping. Damon took me to see ‘The Book of Mormon’, which was a strange play, but funny. Um... a Knicks game-”

“Where you saw David Duchovny across the floor from you,” Caroline interjected.

“Yes,” I said wistfully. That had been a fun night. Damon had somehow gotten us floor-side seats to a Knicks vs Celtics game (I’d stopped questioning how he did these things days before) and I’d spent most of the game watching David Duchovny rather than the players. “Oh! We went to The Village and Damon took me into all these really cool, funky shops he knew about. I bought Bonnie’s Christmas present there. She’s going to love it.”

“You told me that yesterday. I’m still waiting for my gift,” Caroline hinted.

“I know,” I said, pulling at the corner of the pillow next to me. “And I told you that I’m not going to just buy you anything. I want it to be good and you-”

“And expensive?”

I laughed again. “We’ll see.”

“What did you do today?” she asked.

I stared out at the darkening sky, the city in flux as half of the lights were turned on and the other half were waiting for full dark. It was the only time that the city seemed less than itself, like it was pausing after a long day before reviving in order to go on all night long. “We went to Chinatown. All of the signs were in Chinese and I didn’t understand a single thing anyone said all day. Did you know Damon can speak Chinese?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me. He has been around awhile.”

“Yeah...” There were times I forgot just how old he was, but today had definitely been an eye-opener. When he started speaking the foreign language at a store we went into, my jaw had hit the floor. I was seeing so many new facets to a guy I thought I already knew before this trip.

Speak of the devil...

Damon walked in, buttoning the cuffs of his dress shirt. “Tell Barbie you’ll talk to her later. You need to get ready.”

“Ready? Ready for what?” Caroline whined.

“Sorry, Care, but he’s right. I’ve gotta go. We’re seeing Wicked tonight.”

“But... Wicked?! You’re going to see Wicked? I hate both of you.”

“I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow,” I promised, standing up. Damon stopped me with a hand on my arm and gestured to the phone. I frowned, but slowly handed it to him, wondering what he was going to do.

He waved his hand at me. “Go on while I talk to her for a second.”

“Okay... Bye, Caroline.” I knew she could hear me.

“Bye, Elena,” Caroline yelled from the other end of the line. I went into the bedroom, grabbed the outfit I had picked out for tonight and went into the bathroom to change. It was slightly suspicious, Damon wanting to speak to Caroline by himself. I hoped he wasn’t hiding some important “vampire news” from me. I checked in regularly with Jeremy, Alaric and Bonnie, too, so unless they were all hiding something from me, I decided not to worry about it right now. Eventually one of them would crack and let it slip.

I was having too much fun and Damon was keeping me so busy that I barely thought of all the current problems in my life. I knew that was why he had us constantly going from one place to another. My feet hurt and I was so exhausted every night that I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, but I was having too much fun to complain.

"We need to leave in twenty minutes if we're going to make our dinner reservations," Damon said through the door, interrupting my musings.

"Okay," I replied, hurriedly taking off my clothes while forcing myself not to think of Damon listening just on the other side of that door.

Nineteen minutes later, I walked out of the bathroom, messing with my hair because it wouldn't lay flat. The dampness in the air all day had ruined my straightening job from this morning and it didn't want to obey my wishes.

"Stop," Damon said from behind me, swatting my hands away. "It looks good wavy."

I gave him a resigned look, but stopped trying to tame the hair. It wasn't going to do what I wanted anyway.

"What were you talking to Caroline about?" I asked, changing the subject. I know I'd decided not to worry about it, but still. I was curious.

"Scary vampire stuff," he said, quirking an eyebrow, which made me think of something else. I'd seen the blood bags in the freezer, but we were barely in the suite during the day, which made me wonder how he was doing. The only way I knew he was actually drinking them was because I counted them, but was that enough for him?

"Hey, if you need to, um... go out without me, you can," I said, feeling very awkward about the entire thing.

"Getting tired of my company already?" he teased, his lips forming a smirk that was just asking to be touched.

"No, it's not that," I immediately countered. "Just... I know you don't necessarily like the bagged stuff."

He gave me a long look and then appeared to come to a decision. "I'll go out after we get back."

My heart dropped. "Great," I said, giving him a weak smile. And just like that, my evening was wretched. I didn't enjoy dinner or Wicked at all because all I could think about was him luring away an unsuspecting girl tonight, feeding from her and probably having sex with her as well. As much as I tried to think about anything else, I kept coming back to one or all of those thoughts. She would be pretty, obviously, and willing.

But the thought that absolutely killed me was, Will she look like me? Or be everything I’m not?

Damon tried several times to start a conversation, but I was so out of it, none of them lasted long. I knew he could tell something was off, but if he suspected why, he didn’t say anything. That is, until we got back to our hotel room.

I bolted for the bathroom after shedding my jacket, wanting to get into comfortable clothes before sulking with a bad television movie and possibly room service desserts while Damon went out and enjoyed himself with some tramp.

“Elena,” he said from the door, his commanding voice making me stop at the bedroom door frame. I was frozen in place as he moved my hair to one side. His breath heated the side of my neck and he lightly placed his hands on my hips, drawing me back into his chest.

“You had better be sure about this,” he said, his voice rumbling deliciously next to my ear and sending shivers down my spine.

“Wh-what?” I breathed, unconsciously tilting my head to give him better access as his lips softly swept across my neck. Rational thought had clearly left me.

“You had better be sure,” he repeated, spinning me around to look down with his intense blue eyes. Who could look into those eyes and not see he was more than human? “Because if you give in, I’m never letting you go.”

“Give in?” What was I giving in to besides my own reckless thoughtlessness? I should move away from him. I really, really should.

“You’ve been distant all night. You and I both know why.”

I shook my head, more to snap myself out of it than to deny what he’d said.

His nostrils flared and his eyes sparked, signally his temper. “You’ve been unresponsive and on the verge of tears all night. Why do you care if I leave you to fuck a girl who WANTS me?!”

My throat seized up and I felt those cursed tears pool in my eyes at his words. Damn it. I’d managed to keep those at bay all night. Trying to reign my emotions in, I choked out, “I... don’t.”

“Liar!” he yelled, his hands gripping my shoulders as he pushed me back into a wall. “Damn it, Elena. Admit it. Admit that you want me, too.”

“Damon...” Tears streaked my cheeks as I pleaded with him to stop.

His face crumpled. “Why can’t you say it? I know you do. Say it!”

I couldn’t. I couldn’t say it because then I would be no better than Katherine, the one person I never wanted to be. “No,” I cried, my voice breaking and tears blinding me. The next second he was gone and I crumpled to the floor, racked with guilt, sexual frustration, and above all else, self-hatred for what I’d done and was doing to him.

Somehow I managed to crawl into bed when the sobs subsided. The tears kept flowing, soaking my pillow, as I made a decision. One that I knew would mean the end of knowing Damon in any capacity. Because once I told him why I couldn’t love him like he loved me -- and I knew he loved me; I wasn’t blind. He showed me how much every day we were together. But once I told him why, he would leave me. And then I would truly be alone.

Chapter Text

When I awoke the next morning, Damon wasn’t back. I didn’t know if he’d ever come back. Remembering the promise I’d made to myself last night, I reluctantly got up and went about my usual morning routine before collapsing back on the bed and reaching for my phone. I needed moral support, now more than ever, from the only other person who knew what I needed to do.

Bonnie answered on the second ring. “Hello?”

“Bonnie?” God, it was good to hear her voice.

“Elena? What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“I’m... I’m going to tell him, Bonnie.” My voice wavered, but I could feel my resolve strengthening just from saying it out loud.

“You mean...”

“Yes.” The tears started gathering again and as hard as I tried to keep them from falling, one slid out. I’d told Bonnie during that long, horrible summer of trying to find Stefan my deep, dark secret, mainly because Caroline wouldn’t shut up about Damon saying he loved me on his deathbed. I needed someone else to know why I could never reciprocate, at least not in the foreseeable future. Six months later, nothing had changed, regardless of how many times I wished it would. So far Bonnie hadn’t told anyone what I’d confessed after too many shots of tequila during one of my darker days. Damon wasn’t the only one who could drown their sorrows when they needed to escape life. The difference was, I only used that tactic occasionally, while he did it all the time.

“Oh, honey. You know I’m here for you, but don’t you think you should wait until you’re back here?” I heard the underlining ‘where it’s safe’ at the end of her question, but that wasn’t true, was it? Nowhere was safe to do this.

“No,” I said decisively. “He’s at his breaking point. I can’t be selfish anymore, Bonnie.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “How are you going to get back?”

Good question, Bonnie. How am I going to get back to being a whole person after I shatter into a million pieces when I see him leave me? I knew she hadn’t meant it like that, though. “I’ll get the first flight out to Richmond. Would you be willing to pick me up?” I asked, pushing those horrid thoughts out of my mind.

“Of course,” she assured me. “Let me know when you’ll get in and I’ll be there.”

“Thank you, Bonnie.” After everything we’d been through together, I was so thankful she was still in my life. At least there was one person I could still count on to be there after Damon left.

“Anytime, Elena. Good luck.”

“Thanks.” She ended the call and I allowed myself to wallow for five minutes before drawing all the strength I had to stand up. I was going to tell him and that would be it. There was no going back from this. Determined to see this through, I set out on gathering and packing all of my things. I left the dresses, shoes and the pretty white peacoat Damon had convinced me I needed for this trip and then proceeded to buy for me, even after I argued with him over the cost, in the closet. It didn’t feel right taking those. It was easier to breathe, having a clear goal to focus on, but once I was done, there was nothing to do but wait for him to get back.

I briefly entertained taking the coward’s way out and leaving a note, or calling him and leaving a message since I doubted he’d pick up, but no, I’d made my decision. He deserved to be told in person. He had done too much for me to get anything less than that.

Minutes felt like hours and I somehow survived without my nerves taking me completely over or imagining who he was with right now. Until I heard the whirl of the door lock being activated and my stomach dropped. I felt nauseous and anxious and oh, god, what was I doing? I should have left while I had a chance to survive this intact.

Damon entered the room, looking exactly the same as he did last night, except for the loosely hanging tie around his neck. Where had he spent the night? I didn’t want to know. I especially didn’t want to dwell on with whom he spent it. I’d done enough of that last night. I stood up as he entered the sitting area and he paused, staring at the bags piled next to me on the floor.

“Leaving so soon?” he asked, his tone indicating that all walls were up and he was ready to push back at me for hurting him last night.

I clenched my fists, digging my nails into the palms, and fortified myself for what was to come. “Damon...” Taking a deep breath, I continued, “Please sit down. There’s something I need to tell you.”

Amazingly, he didn’t come back with a snarky comment and actually sat down, tossing one arm on the back of the couch and artfully achieving a leisurely air. It was deceptive since I could sense the oncoming storm brewing underneath the cool outer shell he projected.

Okay. You can do this, Elena. Rip it off like a band-aid.

“I’ve been selfish when it comes to you, Damon,” I began, rushing right into it. “But it’s time you know that...” My eyes dropped to the floor and I took another deep breath. “It’s time you know that I can’t love you, not the way you should be loved.”

His eyes flashed. “Why should I care how you feel?” he asked bitterly, sneering.

My eyes snapped up to his, anger overshadowing my grief. “Don’t do that. Don’t undermine what’s happening between us. You don’t think this is hard for me? Do you actually think I like knowing that I’m following in Katherine’s footsteps?!”

He jumped up from the couch, throwing his arms out. “Well, if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck...”

I half yelled, half growled in frustration, my nails embedded in the palms of my hands from clenching them so hard. “I KNOW I’m a bitch for leading you on, for begging you to stay in Mystic Falls! I know that. And I’m...” I choked up, a sob rising from my chest. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“No,” he said sternly, walking forward to stand right in front of me. “This is not how this ends. I refuse to believe you. I waited for you, Elena. I almost killed my brother for you! You do NOT get to end it like this.”

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.

“Well, as long as you’re sorry, everything’s okay, isn’t it?” He stared out the window for a second before turning back to me, his real emotions starting to show through. And it gutted me, that look of betrayal and anger and agony on his face. He stepped closer, stopping inches away.

“Just tell me why,” he said brokenly, gingerly encircling my waist and resting his forehead against mine.

Here it was, the moment I would completely break his heart and then never see him again, and I couldn’t even look at him. “I know you deserve to be loved. You do. But no matter how I try to rationalize it, or how much I do feel for you -- because I do care for you, Damon -- I can’t stop thinking that you...” I grabbed onto his arms, needing support to finish the sentence. “That you don’t deserve my love. Like I’m so flippin’ special. ...How screwed up is that?”

Damon’s muscles tensed beneath my hands and he went still. “I don’t deserve it?”

I nodded, leaning into him to savor the last few seconds I’d have in his presence.

“And who does? Stefan?”

There was no way I was going to answer that question, but my silence was answer enough. He spun around, hands on his hips, and cursed.

Hold yourself together just a little longer, I told myself, watching him start to pace. He abruptly dropped onto the couch, his face in his hands and spat out, “Fuck!”

Trembling, I lowered onto the chair behind me. He hadn’t left yet, which gave me a slight amount of hope that maybe we could work past this and stay friends. Well, not friends. Acquaintances? Co-conspirators? I didn’t know if our relationship could ever be clearly defined, but I still wanted him in my life, if he could handle it.

“Damon?” I questioned when he started softly laughing.

He looked up, a maniacal smile on his face. “I did this to myself.”

“What?”

He laughed louder. “I did it to myself. All of it. It was all me and my stupid need to tell you how I felt.”

Clearly, he was losing it. Maybe I should have waited until we were back in Mystic Falls. There were too many ways this could go wrong and we were several stories in the air with windows all around us. Shit. I did not properly think this out.

Damon sobered, scrubbing his face. “Okay. I can fix this.” He knelt down beside me, taking my hands in his. “Elena, let me fix this.”

“How?” I asked, bewildered. “I’ve tried countless times to change my mind. Unless... you don’t mean...” He wouldn’t.

“No,” he immediately denied. “Well, yes. Damn it. Let me explain. The reason, at least I think the reason that you’re feeling this way is because I might have compelled you to forget something and in the process put too much power behind it so now you can’t get past it.”

To say I was stunned would not begin to cover the way I felt in that moment. “Past what? What are you talking about?”

“I’m fairly certain the reason you think I don’t deserve your love is because that’s how I felt at the time. Honestly, I thought it had worn off after you had my blood.”

“You mean, the blood you forced me to swallow? Hold on. Wait. You’re serious about this? You compelled me?!”

“Yes. I should have known better since you never yelled at me for it.”

I pulled my hands away from his and held them up. “Just wait. You compelled me to forget that you don’t deserve my love?”

“Sure, let’s go with that,” Damon quipped.

I stared him down, waiting for the real answer, and he sighed. “I told you I loved you, but that I didn’t deserve your love and Stefan did. Then I apologized for having to make you forget,” he said in a rush.

“When was this?” I asked, thinking back on any occasion I would have been without my necklace and hit upon a likely day, my eyes widening. “Atlanta? Because you swore you wouldn’t do that.”

“No. It was the night we rescued you from Elijah... the first time.” Damon grimaced and I looked down, focusing on the lines in the carpet.

“Huh.” I’d always wondered how my necklace was returned to me that night, but assumed it was Stefan who got it back. I briefly wondered if that was the reason why I had cried myself to sleep that night, previously chalking it up to too much stress and the need to release pent up emotions.

But let’s not forget that Damon compelled me! Shouldn’t I be angrier about this? He compelled me! The one thing I never wanted him to do, and he’d done it! My forehead furrowed as I tried to figure out why I wasn’t angry with him. Maybe it was because he hadn’t really done anything wrong? If he’d let me keep that memory, how much more screwed up would I be right now? But then, on the other hand, I might have been completely alright and naturally moved on from Stefan like I wanted to months ago.

“Okay. So you think I feel this way because of how you worded your compulsion and how much power you put behind it?” I finally asked, trying to get it straight.

“Yes.”

“How can you be sure that’s really the reason?”

“There’s only one way to find out,” he answered.

I frowned, glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. Another compulsion? Was I willing to let him do that to me voluntarily? Did I trust him enough to put my very life, and mind, in his hands?

“I’m surprised you’re not yelling or hitting me right now,” he said softly, stroking his thumbs over the back of my hands.

My eyebrows rose in challenge. “I can, if that would make you feel better.”

“Maybe later,” he joked. “Right now, it’s enough that you’re still here.”

Ignoring the urge to hug him because he did not deserve one, I agreed. “I’m glad you’re still here, too.” And that pretty much clinched my decision, except for one thing. “Slight hitch, though. I’ve been ingesting vervain since I handed my necklace over to Bonnie months ago.”

Acting shocked, Damon asked, “Stefan let you get away with it?”

I rolled my eyes, giving in to a small smile. “He didn’t know, and I like having a back-up plan.”

“You’re such a rebel,” he teased. “So we wait. When did you last have some?”

“This morning.”

“Alright, tomorrow I’ll try removing the compulsion and we’ll go from there,” he suggested and I nodded. He stood up, bringing me with him. “Can you unpack now? Those suitcases are offending me with their presence.”

I laughed. “Only if you take a shower. Your odor is offending me with its presence.”

“Deal. Are you going to be joining me?”

I shook my head back and forth slowly.

“Your loss.” He smiled and I felt real hope fill me up. He wasn’t leaving. And maybe... just maybe, everything would okay. Right now, though, I needed to call Bonnie and let her know she wouldn’t need to pick me up at the airport just yet.

+++

Later that night, after we got back from seeing The Nutcracker ballet, which I was very glad to go see after everything was said and done because the little girl inside of me had been giddy about seeing it live, I worked up enough nerve to ask the question that had been bugging me since our confessions this morning. “Damon?”

He turned at his name, absentmindedly tossing his jacket across a chair’s back.

“What if it doesn’t work? I mean, what if you unblock my memory or whatever it is you’re going to do and nothing changes?”

“Do you really want to know?” Damon asked, sitting down and stretching out across the couch.

“Yes. You know I like to know everything,” I teased, trying to lighten the mood. We weren’t completely back to the easy commodore we’d had before last night and I missed it. I didn’t want the next twenty-four hours to pass with us walking on eggshells around each other.

He smirked. “You won’t see me arguing that statement.”

I stuck my tongue out at him and then bent down to unzip my knee-high boots. “Seriously, Damon. What if nothing changes?” I straightened back up and my breath caught at his intense gaze.

“Can you do that again, but in the bedroom and without the dress?” he asked, his blue eyes burning into mine.

“Damon,” I groaned, shaking my head.

“Then nothing changes,” he said, switching back to the question I’d asked. “We’ll figure it out when the time comes. There’s no reason to worry about it now.”

I nodded, letting him think he’d won and “reasoned” with me, but I wasn’t going to stop worrying about it. I couldn’t. Not when we’d been so close to... destroying everything. We were sitting on a tentative truce and it was already wearing on me. I needed results and answers, not this unsteady and potentially hazardous landscape of the unknown. There were already too many things in flux in my life. The status of my relationship with Damon, be it platonic or romantic or non-existent, did not need to be added to that list.

Realistically, I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I could be mad at Damon for putting me through this in the first place, but who could say how I’d feel toward him if he hadn’t compelled me? We might not be speaking to each other in that alternative world, or we might have given in to each other before I was completely over Stefan, leading to guilt and shame and who knows what other complications.

Laying in bed an hour later, these thoughts ran over and over in my mind with different scenarios playing out. Whatever happened, I knew I didn’t want to lose Damon. I just wish I knew how to do that without compromising myself and my morals in the process.

Chapter Text

“Ready?” Damon asked, our knees touching and hands clasped together as we sat across from each other on the couch.

I took a deep breath. “Yes.”

It had been a full twenty-four hours since I’d taken a vervain pill, something Alaric manufactured to resemble a herbal supplement. It was easier to pass off that way since I carried an emergency supply at all times and the capsule itself hid most of the smell from vampires, something Alaric had learned after keeping them out one day while Damon was over.

Damon nodded and slowly brought one of my hands to his mouth. He’d already explained he would prick a finger to test my blood for any lingering traces in my system. If there was some, we’d try again tonight. He flipped my hand over, quickly kissed the pulse point on my wrist and then extended my ring finger to his lips. Damon’s fangs snapped out, making me jerk back and he grinned, becoming darkly enticing. I could see the beauty behind the beast, but only just.

“Only one drop, right?” I asked, seeking reassurance.

“Unless you want me to keep going,” he teased, flashing his fangs. Before I could take my next breath, he pricked the end of my ring finger, sucked my finger into his mouth and then immediately spat it out, coughing and hacking.

I smirked at his facial expression. “I’m guessing there’s still vervain in my system?”

He glared, which made me laugh. Served him right for scaring me. I watched as he sprang up to get a drink from the bar. After taking a couple swigs, he cleared his throat. “Feeling better?” I asked, smiling sweetly.

“You don’t have to enjoy my pain so much,” he growled before downing the rest of the amber liquid.

“I’m not enjoying your pain, I’m enjoying the karma.”

He glowered, turning his attention to the windows. I followed his gaze, seeing for the first time the snowflakes lazily falling past the glass. Jumping up, I hurried to the far wall of windows, fogging it over with my breath as I practically pressed my face against it to see outside. “It’s so beautiful.”

“Until it becomes slush and brown from smog and dirt,” Damon replied, joining me at the window.

“Don’t ruin this,” I remarked, aiming a slap for his shoulder, which he easily caught with one hand. “I still need a Christmas gift for Caroline and Jeremy. Would you like to join me?”

He gave me an incredulous look. “Out there? It’s snowing.”

“Fine.” I shrugged and pulled my hand away from his. “I’ll see you when I get back,” I said over my shoulder as I walked toward the door.

“Wait.”

I turned around, eyebrows raised.

“Knowing you, you’ll probably slip on the ice and fall onto a vampire. Let me get my coat.”

I turned back to the door so he couldn’t see my small smile. For all his chest puffing, growling and barking, there was hardly any bite left in him. I didn’t even recognize this Damon sometimes. Not that I was complaining. I liked nice-Damon much more than psycho-Damon, but I knew there were limits to how far he’d go. He might act nice and sweet toward me most of the time, but he wasn’t that way with everyone else and there was no way to predict when he would switch personalities and kill another person. It might be his “nature”, but that didn’t mean I had to accept it.

If this worked and if my feelings changed toward him and if I wanted a relationship -- all very big ifs, by the way -- ground rules and expectations would need to be set beforehand. That was one conversation I dreaded to have, if it ever came to that.

+++

Hours later, we ran into the Trump Hotel’s lobby, trying to get out of the brewing blizzard. Damon handed me the bags of gifts and souvenirs he’d been carrying and then wiped all the melting snow off my hair and face. I smiled, touched at his thoughtfulness. Of course, now I was the one holding the bags, so it might not have been completely thoughtful on his part.

“Mr. Salvatore, welcome back!” the hotel’s Concierge said, greeting Damon with a handshake. “There are several packages that arrived this morning for you. Would you like them sent up?”

“Yes, thank you,” Damon replied, turning to give me a puzzled look. I played it cool, lifting my shoulders to say that I didn’t know what they were either. I had a hunch, though, and it turned out I was right when the packages arrived via bellman to our room.

“Presents!” I yelled as I spied the first colorful bow after tossing what seemed to be a metric ton of peanuts aside. Damon chuckled at my enthusiasm, shaking his head like he didn’t know what to do with me.

“This one’s for you,” I stated, showing him a black gift-wrapped box. Alaric certainly knew Damon’s tastes all right. Black gift wrap. Where does one buy black gift wrap? I placed all the gifts on the couch and then picked up the last box because I knew exactly what was inside, since I was the one to order it. “This is also for you, but you definitely cannot open it until Christmas. And I’ll know if you have, so don’t try any sneaky vampire tricks on me,” I told him sternly.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, saluting.

Surveying the gifts, I pointed out, “It feels strange having gifts but no tree.”

“Easily solved,” he said, pulling out his phone. He called down to the front desk and requested a small fake, fully decorated and lit tree be placed in our room as soon as possible. “It will be here within the hour,” he informed me after hanging up.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I don’t have to do a lot of things, Elena.” He stood up and wandered into the kitchen, opening the fridge. The rest of the sentence hung in the air, unsaid but clearly stated. He may not have to do a lot of things, but he always did them for me. A thought which took my breath away when I remembered everything he’d done for me in the past, and what that might mean in the future.

I watched him pour a bag of blood into a glass, confronting what he was and who he was. I was tired of hiding and turning a blind eye to some of the things he did. He was Damon. I’d seen the good, the bad and the ugly with him and after all of it, I still trusted him and claimed him as a close friend. My best friend, if you wanted to be specific about it.

And while I may not love him romantically, there was enough care and affection in my heart for him that I could say I loved him as a friend and close confidant. I was ready to try the blood test for vervain again because I needed to know what my feelings would be with no compulsion behind them, good or bad.

I stood up and made my way over to him, lifting my hand to his mouth, palm side up. “Ready to try again?” I asked, raising one eyebrow in challenge.

He smiled ruthlessly, sliding his hand around mine and bringing my fingers to his lips. His fangs snapped out again, but this time I was ready for it and didn’t even flinch. Damon pricked my pinkie this time and carefully licked at the drop of blood that rose to the surface.

“Clean,” he stated, setting his still full glass on a counter. “Let’s sit down for the next part.” He led me over to the couch and we both sat down, facing each other.

I was suddenly nervous. “What does it feel like? Being under compulsion?” I asked, my hands gripped tightly together.

Damon placed his hands over mine and gently pried them apart. “Like seeing yourself from the other side of a mirror. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. Just relax. I promise not to make you take your clothes off... yet.”

I shook my head, fighting a smile. His ego was large enough without me adding to it. “Just... please don’t, not that I think you will, but I really want to-”

“I know, Elena,” he said, cutting me off mid-ramble. “It’s going to be okay. Ready? Deep breath.”

I inhaled, staring into his eyes, and then I was outside of myself, a warm haze enveloping me as I listened to Damon’s voice telling me the events that happened the night he’d brought the necklace back, and also to disregard any instructions he might have given me that night. Then I snapped back into my body, releasing the breath as a new memory of that night played out in my mind. After, I took what felt like the first real breath I’d had in months.

“So?” Damon asked tentatively.

“I remember it. I feel like... hah. Like a weight has been lifted. That sounds corny, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I’m not so... weighed down.” Resting my head on the back of the couch, I stared at the ceiling, sorting through my emotions and playing through Damon’s speech from that night again. “It’s all still there, all the feelings I’d had before, but I can work past it now. There’s no longer a wall I keep fighting to break through.” I looked at him, taking in his intense expression and knowing what he wanted to hear. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give it to him. Not yet, anyway. “I think I can finally let Stefan go.”

“I’m glad it worked,” Damon said, giving me a tight smile and standing up.

“Damon,” I sighed, grabbing his hand. “I know what you’re looking for, but my feelings concerning you are very complicated and... layered. I need some time to work through them.”

“I get it, Elena,” he replied, squeezing my hand and then releasing it. “But I’m not going to wait forever.”

“I know,” I whispered, watching him walk to the kitchen and pick up his glass full of blood. I just need a couple days, I told myself. Because I hadn’t been kidding about not feeling that wall that blocked how far my feelings could go regarding the Salvatore brothers. Now that it was gone, I felt lighter, but that was only because I was now floating on an ocean of feelings that I hadn’t known were behind the wall. I was scared to dive down into them, but I knew it had to be done. Sooner, rather than later. Too much was riding on this.

Just a couple days, I reminded myself, trying to stay afloat. This was going to be a long couple of days.

+++

After the tree was set up, the gifts I’d bought for everyone back home were boxed and sent overnight to reach them in time for Christmas. We ate room service for dinner, neither one of us feeling up for going out again, and I found myself bored after, but unwilling to go to sleep yet. Stretched out on the chaise, I mindlessly watched some cheesy Christmas movie. Damon startled me by laying across the couch and resting his head in my lap.

“What are we watching?” he asked, his head turned toward the television.

“Um...” I slowly lowered my hands, putting one on his upper arm and the other on the armrest. “I don’t know, but Dean Cain’s in it.”

“Hmm...”

We settled into a comfortable silence and for the most part, I was able to ignore Damon’s head on my lap. Until he lowered my hand from his arm and started playing with my fingers. I was strangely comforted, feeling Damon’s rough hands run along my smaller one even as my heart started pounding. He pressed the palm of my hand against his chest and went back to watching the movie.

My concentration was shot, however, as it felt like my hand was on fire, caught between his chest and the hands holding it in place. If he was trying to make a point, I think I got it. I’d known before that I was attracted to him. That wasn’t the question at hand here. It was rather if I loved him like he deserved to be loved, or if I could one day reach that point. Because there was no way I’d string him along if I knew I’d never love him like that he loved me.

And he did love me. Intensely. I knew he did. Seeing the single tear run down his cheek while he compelled me to forget his heartfelt confession in my mind made me want to curl my body around his and never let go. What had happened to the man I’d first met who showed no humanity and knew only how to hate his brother? When had he changed into this person I could count on? The person who I turned to above all others? It was hard to wrap my head around the idea that I’d been responsible for any of it. I’d just been... me. Nothing special. What did he see in me? For that matter, what had Stefan seen in me, besides looking exactly like Katherine?

I knew I could ask Damon and there would be a fifty-fifty shot he’d answer honestly, but I decided to save that question for when I had explored these feelings a bit more. One thing was certain, though. I needed sleep before making any huge life decisions.

Leaning slightly forward, I murmured, “I’m going to bed.”

Damon sighed and loosened his hold on my hand. I placed it briefly on his head, smoothing his hair away from his face. I don’t know what possessed me to do that, but the look of utter contentment on Damon’s face from that small show of affection just about slayed me.

He sat up and walked to one of the windows, his face slipping into a mask. I slipped past him, heading toward the bedroom, but couldn’t resist one glance at his back. Our eyes caught on his reflection in the window and I knew he’d been watching me, not looking outside. Something sparked between us, raising my internal temperature to blazing, yet making me break out in goosebumps. I quickly turned away before I did something I knew I’d regret in the morning, trying to catch my breath as I flung myself into the bathroom. Leaning against the door, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes looked wild and my face was beet red. I was turned on, just from staring into his reflected eyes from across the room. What was wrong with me?

Had he been trying to compel me from across the room?

Suddenly it became imperative I swallow a capsule of vervain, just to be sure. I did trust Damon, but he hadn’t known the extent of power he’d pushed through during his last compulsion. Maybe he was unconsciously doing it again.

Or maybe you just want to jump him and ride him until you’re both utterly exhausted, a voice said in the back of my mind, one I tried to ignore more and more.

After getting ready for bed, I left the bathroom, leaving the light on for Damon. Even though I knew he didn’t need it, it was still courteous to do so. Sliding under the covers, I curled up on my side, facing the window overlooking the city. New York was lit up outside, but everything was slightly blurred from the fast-moving snow blowing past the glass.

I heard Damon close the bathroom door and tried not to focus on any noises coming from in there. When the door opened again, I stiffened, holding my breath, as Damon climbed into bed.

This is ridiculous, I chided myself. You’re not angry with him. Nor are you going to purposefully avoid him. You’re sharing a bed for Christ’s sake. Just relax. He’s not going to try anything.

Turning over, I sought out his silhouette in the darkness. His arms were folded under his head as he stared up at the ceiling. “Hey,” I said softly.

He turned his head. “Yes?”

“You’re really far away.” I knew he probably looked shocked right now and I was a little bummed I couldn’t see it.

“Would you like me to get closer?”

“That depends. Are you naked?” I asked, my cheeks heating up.

“And if I am?”

“Then, no.”

“Okay then.” He started scooting closer.

“What are you doing?” I said in a rush.

“I’m wearing boxers, Elena,” he replied, turning fully onto his side. I heard the eyeroll rather than see it. It was too dark for me to make out much more than fuzzy shadows.

“Oh.” I reached out and grabbed his hand after a bit of fumbling, pulling it toward me until it rested underneath my chin, curled around mine. “Damon?”

“Yes, Elena?”

“Did you ever think that maybe I don’t deserve you?” I wondered, referring to his speech pre-compulsion.

He pulled me to him, curling his arm around my back as I rested my head on his shoulder. “No, the thought never crossed my mind.”

I nodded, distracted from the feel and smell and overall heat coming off Damon as I snuggled into him. I slowly stretched my arm over his chest and asked, “Is this alright?”

“Go to sleep, Elena.” He kissed the top of my head and started rubbing my arm. His even breathing and soothing touch eventually did lull me into a light sleep, my last thought being how I never would have done this had I been able to see his face. The darkness made me bolder. Or maybe it just brought out what I really wanted to do and who I really wanted to be with. Hopefully, soon I would figure that out without the need for darkness.

Chapter Text

“Can we do absolutely nothing today?” I asked, flopping down on the couch. The streets were blanketed in snow and it was Christmas Eve. I had zero desire to go outside.”

“You want to literally do nothing all day?” Damon replied, throwing away the blood bag he’d just emptied into a glass.

“Well, no. I kind of want to open those presents...”

“Go ahead.”

I looked at him incredulously. “But it’s only Christmas Eve.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” he said, widening his eyes in mock innocence.

Biting my lip, I glanced at the gifts under the small tree, all shiny and pretty and tempting. “Okay, but you have to open yours, too, so I don’t feel so bad.”

He nodded and I jumped off the couch, falling to my knees in front of the tree. “Here’s Alaric’s.” I tossed him the extremely light box as he sat down on the newly vacated couch. I grabbed Bonnie’s gift, shaking it as I sank back onto my heels.

“Stop cheating,” Damon said.

“It’s not cheating. I’m just getting a feel for what’s inside,” I replied.

“I bet you were one of those kids who tried to find your hidden presents before Christmas.”

I smiled. “Maybe I was. I like Christmas, don’t you?” I didn’t wait for an answer and ripped into the box, pulling out a tan cashmere scarf and glove set. “These would have been useful yesterday,” I commented, trying on the gloves. They were so soft inside, I didn’t know if I ever wanted to take them off.

“That color looks good on you.”

“Thanks.” I smiled, reluctantly pulling off the gloves. I couldn’t open the other presents wearing them, but they were going right back on when I was done. “What did Ric give you?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Well, open it, silly!” I said, popping up onto my knees and scooting across the carpet until I was leaning against the couch next to his legs in order to see. Damon appeared amused at my enthusiasm, but I wasn’t apologizing for it. I loved opening gifts. Besides, I was really curious about Ric’s choice for Damon because he was, hands down, the hardest person to buy something for.

Damon lifted the box cover up and laughed.

“What is it?” I asked, craning my neck for a peek inside.

He pulled out a sheet of paper. “He signed me up for the Bourbon of the Month Club.”

I laughed, too. “At least it’ll be put to good use. I remember one time-” I paused, reliving the memory that had just cropped up.

“What?” Damon tugged on a lock of my hair, dragging me back into the present.

I shook my head. “Sorry. It just caught me off guard.”

“What were you going to say?” he asked, those crystal blue eyes concentrated solely on me.

“When I was younger... my parents were signed up for a Cheese of the Month Club. I think it was Aunt Jenna who did it. She’s...sorry, was. She was a notoriously horrible gift giver. Anyway, my parents started out with good intentions of trying to finish all the samples they were sent, but by the end of the year, I was the only one still eating them.”

“Why only you?” he wondered, twirling my hair around his fingers.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just couldn’t stand to see someone’s gift go to waste like that. Plus, I really like cheese.”

Damon lifted my chin, leaning close enough that his eyes were the only thing I saw. “That’s why.”

“I’m sorry?”

“That’s why I never thought I didn’t deserve you. You’re too good for me, Elena.”

“I’m not,” I blurted out and then blushed when I realized what I’d said.

Damon smiled that half smile of his, kissed my forehead and then pulled back. “What’s next?”

Pushing my hair behind my ears, I cleared my throat. “Right. Next is...” -- I crawled back to the gifts and picked out a box at random -- “...Jeremy’s.” I took a little more care with his gift and was pleasantly surprised and touched to find a leather bound journal inside. “He remembered,” I whispered, stroking the cover.

“Hey, are you crying?” Damon asked, pushing off the couch to sit next to me on the floor.

“Am I?” Touching my cheek, I felt wetness. “I’m sorry. First that memory and now this.” I wiped the tears away. “It just hits me hard sometimes. How much I miss them.”

He cupped my cheek and I smiled at him. “I’m fine, really. They’re good tears.”

“Why did a journal make you cry? Don’t you have a billion of them by now?”

“It’s something my mom did when I was younger. She’d always give me a new journal at Christmas so I could start the new year with a clean slate. That’s what she said, anyway.”

Damon picked up the journal and flipped it open. “There’s a note in here.” He turned it around so I could read it.

Elena--

It’s just you and me now, so I hope you know that you’ll always be my sister, regardless of what startling revelations we find out next. Start your new year off right.

Love,
Jeremy

Taking the journal from Damon, I hugged it to my chest. “Can you excuse me? I need to make a call.”

“Sure.” He started picking up the discarded boxes and wrapping paper as I stood and walked into the bedroom. I grabbed my phone and sat down on the floor, leaning against the bed and staring out over Central Park.

“Hello?”

“Jeremy. Hey,” I greeted, drawing my knees up to my chest.

“Hi, Elena. What’s up?”

“I, um... I got your gift.”

He laughed. “You always were too impatient to wait for Christmas.”

“Yeah, I know. I just wanted to say thank you. I love it.”

“You’re welcome, Sis.”

“And... you’ll always be my brother, too.” I started really crying then, torn up from not being there for Jeremy. Instead I was selfishly enjoying myself in NYC while he was all alone back at home.

“Elena? Hey, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay,” he said soothingly.

“I’m sorry I’m not there.”

“No, Elena. Don’t say that. I told you I was fine staying with Ric. Besides, I think it’d be worse, having you here. We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we were at home.”

“I guess that’s true.” It would’ve been strange being at home by ourselves during Christmas without any relatives. Would we have even decorated?

“Are you having fun there? Besides right now, I mean,” Jeremy asked, changing the subject.

“Yes,” I answered honestly.

“Then you have nothing to feel sorry for. I’ll see you when you get back, okay?”

“Okay,” I said softly, rubbing the tears off my face.

“Merry Christmas, Elena.”

“Merry Christmas, Jeremy. I love you.”

Jeremy ended the call and I stayed where I was, waiting for the guilt and sadness to dissipate enough so I could go out and put on a cheerful face for Damon, even though he’d probably heard the entire exchange.

But I didn’t have to bother because a second later, Damon sat down next to me, his hand covering mine on top of the journal. “We can be back by tonight,” he offered.

I flipped my hand around and squeezed his. “Thanks, but I’m okay.”

“Okay.” He nodded and then slyly smiled. “I believe I still have your gift to open. Unless you’re going to cry again.”

I laughed, shaking my head. “No, I think I’m done being sentimental for today, but...” I grimaced.

“But... you would rather unwrap me?” Damon suggested.

“No, I’m rethinking your present.”

“That’s not allowed,” he stated, standing up and pulling me with him. He walked back into the sitting area and I trailed after him.

“Technically, it’s not Christmas yet, so I think it’s still allowed,” I pointed out.

He bent down and picked up the box I’d set aside for him. “You realize now I have to know what it is. Because if it’s lingerie, like I’m hoping, you can’t take it back.”

“Damn. I knew you would’ve liked that black teddy. Too bad they didn’t have your size.”

“I see what you did there. You’re such a bad influence on me.”

“Me?!” I shrieked. “You’re the one who let me open my gifts a day early.”

“A little indulgence now and then never hurt anyone,” he replied, which immediately made me think of Stefan and his “little indulgence”, which did hurt someone. Several someones, actually.

“Oh,” Damon said, realizing his mistake. “Sore subject. Sorry.”

I shrugged. “It’s fine. Just let me get you something else.” I put my hand out for the box, but Damon lifted it over his head.

“Not gonna happen.”

“Come on, Damon. Please let me get you something else.”

“Hmm... no.” He sped to the other side of the room and tore the top of the box off, pulling the bubble wrapped frame out.

Oh, god, this was a bad idea, I thought, watching his confusion change to an emotionless face as he unwrapped the frame and finally saw the picture. I slowly approached him, trying to read what he was feeling. He wasn’t blinking. That couldn’t be good.

“I’m sorry.”

“Where did you get this?” he asked, his voice low and rough.

“Just I mention that I’m sorry?”

“Where, Elena?” he growled.

I gulped when he looked up, his face pulled tight. From anger? Shit. “Mrs Lockwood knows someone who collects pictures from the Civil War. He made me a copy of the original.”

“This is...” he trailed off, looking at the photo again. It was a group shot of his Confederate company during the Civil War. I’d studied the picture for hours before wrapping it up, tracing Damon’s face, trying to find any differences between then and now, human and vampire.

“It’s all wrong. I know.” I sighed, throwing my hands on my face.

“Elena.” His arms were wrapped around me a second later, shocking me because I thought he was going to kill me, he was squeezing so tight. I soon realized he was only hugging me, so I slowly brought my arms up and hugged him back. He buried his face in my neck and I froze again. Might have assumed he was hugging me too soon.

“Damon?”

He pulled back, kissing my temple as he went.

“You’re not mad?” I asked, forehead furrowed.

“I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now, but I am grateful,” Damon finally answered. “I’ve never seen this picture before. I can’t believe you found this. It was taken about a month after I joined. We were thrown into the war the next day.” His voice dropped to a hushed tone. “Twenty of them died that day.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Do you know the last time I received a Christmas present that actually meant something to me I was still human?” he joked. “Thank you.”

I grinned, mostly from relief that he liked it. “You’re welcome.”

He set the frame down on the couch and turned back to me. “I didn’t wrap yours, but here you go.” He pulled a bangle bracelet out from his pocket. It was gold and thin and sparkled. “It was my mother’s,” he said, snapping it around my wrist.

“It’s beautiful.” I gaped at the setting of diamonds surrounding three good-sized pearls. “Please tell me those aren’t real.”

“I had the large pearl coated in vervain.”

My eyes snapped to his. “But the diamonds are fake, right?”

“It looks great on you.”

I sighed. They were real. “Damon, are you sure you want me to have this?” I turned my wrist, admiring the sparkle of the diamonds as they hit the light at different angles. It was beautiful, but too much.

“I should have given it to you when you stopped wearing your necklace, but I wasn’t sure if you’d actually wear it.”

If he’d said anything glib or irritating instead of being honest, I would have rejected it. But because he was real with me, I answered in kind, “I love it. Thank you.” Wrapping my arms around his neck, careful to keep the pearl away from his skin, I hugged him tightly.

“Elena.” The three syllables carried so many emotions in them.

I kissed him lightly on the cheek and then stepped back. “I know,” I said, flashing him a quick closed-lip smile. Needing to switch subjects before something we’d both regret was said, I knelt at the base of the tree and reached for the last two gifts, both for me. Caroline gave me a white cashmere sweater, which led me to think her and Bonnie went shopping together for gifts, and surprisingly, Alaric gave me a piece of jewelry, too. A gold and sapphire drop necklace that came with a note informing me that this had been Isobel’s necklace. She wore it at their wedding and he felt I should have it now. I was beyond touched at his gift and asked Damon to put it on me, moving my hair aside.

“You know that’s real, right?” he asked, lifting the sapphire from the spot where it rested on my chest.

I laughed. “I figured as much, yes. I’m glad you gave me a bracelet. Now I don’t have to choose which to wear.”

Damon frowned. “You’re going to get mugged if you wear all your gifts together.”

“You mean you won’t protect me?”

“Only if they want the bracelet. Everything else is fair game.” He smirked and I rolled my eyes. I knew he’d protect me with his life. He’d done it countless times before, even when I didn’t want him to.

“I’m starting to get hungry. Want some lunch?” I asked, looking for the room service menu.

“Are you offering?” He leered at me.

I held up the menu. “From this, yes. From me, no.”

“Pity.” He pouted and swiped the menu from my outstretched hand.

We ordered room service, lounged around the room and watched really cheesy Christmas movies. At one point I asked Damon if he would tell me about the other men in his company, from the picture, and he surprised me by agreeing.

By the end of the day, I felt closer to Damon than I ever had before. Maybe this was possible. Maybe I was overthinking and analyzing when all I should be doing is going along with what felt natural and comfortable, which hanging out with Damon felt like. He pushed me, sure, but I sometimes pushed back. He was also sweet and caring and loyal and absolutely ruthless when he wanted something.

I was starting to admit to myself that maybe I felt more toward him than I’d originally thought and it scared me because these weren’t nice and safe feelings like the love I’d had for Stefan. These had the potential for darkness and obsession. This was something that wouldn’t go away, not once I gave in to it.

Was I ready for that? Could I handle it without fully losing myself in Damon?

But even as I asked myself these questions, I knew it was only a matter of time before I gave in. The pull was too strong to ignore forever. Not unless I was willing to give him up completely.

So, it came down to one horribly difficult decision I had to make -- give in to him or give him up.

Chapter Text

Christmas Day we actually ventured outside because the suite was starting to feel small. I put on my new sweater, scarf and gloves, excited to walk around in the snow and still feel warm.

“That hat doesn’t match,” Damon pointed out when he saw me pulling it on.

“It’s the only one I have.”

“Come here,” he instructed. He threw the hat to the side and untied my scarf. Then he tied it around my ears like a headband, letting the loose ends fall down my back underneath my hair, and popped my jacket’s collar, overlapping the ends to give me some cover against the wind. “I’ll get you a hat that does match, but until then, this will do.”

“It’s Christmas. No stores are open.”

He raised one eyebrow. “This is the city that never sleeps. Some stores are open.”

And he was right. There were a couple of stores open. They weren’t great stores, but one of them had a white knit hat that matched my sweater well enough to satisfy Damon. He bought it for me, even though I told him I’d get it. Stupid chivalrous vampire.

We walked around Central Park, sipping hot chocolate and eating lunch. We went by the Rockefeller Center again and looked at the Christmas tree. Then we went back to the hotel because I was getting cold. Damon took me to see The Phantom of the Opera that night, which was amazing.

The next four days passed by quickly, filled with shopping, more sightseeing and a few tense moments between Damon and I. After the night he’d lifted his compulsion, we fell asleep with plenty of empty space between us, but every morning we woke up and found ourselves wrapped around each other. It was hard not to notice Damon’s hard, uncompromising body when it was pressing against mine. It was also hard not to notice how much I wanted him and denying myself was only leading to more awkward encounters and longer showers. Something needed to change soon or I was going to go insane.

+++

Staring blankly into the open closet, I was startled out of my thoughts by Damon’s hand touching my arm. “Everything alright?” he asked, his forehead furrowing in concern.

“Yeah, fine,” I said, faking a smile. “Just trying to decide what to wear.” Between what I’d brought and what Damon had bought for me, forcing me to accept it all graciously and with minimal complaint, I wasn’t sure how I’d get it all home. Or if I’d ever need to buy another dress for the rest of my life, assuming I stayed the same size.

“Might I offer a suggestion?” he inquired slyly.

“I’m not going in my underwear,” I teased.

“Tempting offer, but I was thinking maybe this,” he replied, pulling out a garment bag I’d assumed was for him. He unzipped it, pulling back a flap to reveal a full-length royal blue gown not unlike the one I wore to the Miss Mystic Falls presentation last year.

“When did you get this?” I wondered, touching the silky material and taking in the crystal sequins leaf-pattern lining the plunging neckline. That was the only adornment; the rest of the gown was form fitting, but simple.

“I had the concierge pick it out according to my specifications. Go try it on,” he suggested, holding the bag out for me to take. I slipped inside the bathroom, hanging the dress on the back of the door, and pulled it fully out of the bag. Damon was going above and beyond spoiling me. I wasn’t sure how I’d ever get used to life back in Mystic Falls after living so extravagantly for the past two weeks. We were leaving on the 2nd, only three days from now. I needed to readjust my expectations before then because it would be life as usual, with no awe-inspiring views or Broadway shows or gifts that totaled more than Alaric probably made in a year as a teacher. Just mayhem, chaos and life-threatening danger for me when we got back.

Once I was done with my hair and makeup, I took the dress off the hanger and immediately cursed. “Oh, hell no.”

“Just try it on,” Damon said from the other side of the door, his tone suggesting he was holding in laughter at my reaction to the back of the dress. Wait, my mistake. There was no back to this dress. It dipped down low enough I doubted I could wear underwear with it. It was pretty, sure. The same leaf-shaped design framed the dramatic dip and extra material bustled down the back to form a small train, but there was no way I’d be wearing it. Not tonight.

“I’m not wearing this,” I informed him, shaking my head as I held the dress up to me. I’d been right. Underwear wasn’t an option with this dress.

“Give me one good reason why not and I’ll let you out.”

Let me out? I tried the doorknob and it wouldn’t budge. “Real mature, Damon,” I muttered, hitting the door in frustration.

“One reason, Elena,” he replied. I could hear the smirk in his voice.

Fine. If he wanted to play, let’s play. “I’ll freeze.”

“You’d be wearing a jacket,” he countered.

“I meant during the performance.”

“There’s a matching wrap and gloves. Next?”

“I can’t...” My cheeks heated in embarrassment. “I can’t wear anything underneath it,” I mumbled, ducking my head as if he could see me.

“Afraid to live on the wild side, Elena?” he taunted.

My embarrassment turned to indignation. Seriously? Didn’t I live “on the wild side” almost every day just by being alive? How dare he? “Damon! Let me out right now!”

“No.”

“You can’t leave me in here! We’re going to miss the show!”

“So?”

I screeched, hitting the door again. “You’re being a jerk!” I decided to wait him out, resting my forehead against the door, my hand posed to hit it again. Then the strangest sensation overwhelmed me, replacing my anger. Pressed against the door as I was, it felt as if he was the one I was pressed against, not the door. Even his hand was in the same place as mine.

“Damon?” I said tentatively.

“Please, Elena.” It was said so softly, I almost missed it.

Had Damon said ‘please’? A sincere please from Damon? I swallowed the sarcastic quip that consisted of alerting the presses and took a deep breath.

He said it again. “Please.” And I could feel myself caving.

“You aren’t dying, are you?” I asked, attempting to lighten the sudden weight lodged in my throat from hearing his soft-spoken plea.

“No.”

I took another deep breath, trying to figure out what to do. Then I told myself, fuck it. “Okay,” I whispered, stepping away from the door and the phantom heat I attributed to his presence on the other side. What was the worst that could happen?

I had to touch up my makeup and fix my hair, having it down wouldn’t look right, so I decided on an artfully messy french braid, pulled to the side. It wasn’t long before I was slipping the dress on. It fit me perfectly, which was hard to believe since most of my dresses had to be taken in when I bought them or adjusted somehow. The dip at the back stopped just at the panty line, so I had to forgo them. A bra was also out of the question since it was backless and I didn’t have anything holding me up but the built-in support. Thankfully the bust was lined, but I had a long night of keeping that wrap closed if I didn’t want to embarrass myself in case I was caught off-guard by a well-placed draft.

Hesitantly trying the bathroom door knob, I was relieved when it turned. I wouldn’t be stuck in the bathroom all night after all. Moment of truth, Elena. Can’t back out now.

Opening the door, I was met by Damon, leaning against the closet as his eyes traveled down my body. He held his hand out and, like I was in a fog, I took it, stepping into the hallway. He slowly turned me around and I could feel his eyes sweep down my naked back, making me shiver. Then a touch of silk across my shoulders made me jerk forward as Damon placed the matching wrap around me. I turned to look at him again and his eyes caught mine, spreading a heat through me that settled in between my thighs, which I clenched together. Our gaze broke as he handed me the gloves that went with the outfit. I took them and followed him to the door, allowing him to help me with my coat as well. For some reason, the silence between us didn’t feel uncomfortable. I knew exactly how much he liked seeing me in this dress from his heated looks and I was sure he knew how much I enjoyed those looks from the way I blushed. No words were needed.

He led me downstairs where, life of luxury indeed, a car was waiting for us. We arrived at the Metropolitan Opera house in plenty of time for the performance. As we handed our coats over at the foyer, Damon’s fingers lightly grazed my back before his palm covered the small of it. Bare hand against bare skin. The sensation made my eyes flutter as I took a deep breath. His fingers slid just beneath the edge of the dress, teasing me with flitting touches as he fidgeted with the material. Focused as I was on those slight touches and the warmth from his palm, I was only roused when his hand disappeared. I glanced up quickly, making sure he was still beside me. He smiled, holding out his arm for me to take.

“Would you care for something to drink before we take our seats?” he asked, his eyes cutting over to the cash bars.

“No,” I said huskily and then cleared my throat, trying again. “No, I’m fine, but I wouldn’t mind finding the restroom.”

Damon pointed it out over my shoulder and told me he’d wait. I wanted to run to it, but held back because it would look bad. Plus, I didn’t want Damon to know he was getting to me.

Not that he was getting to me.

Oh, god, he was getting to me.

One look at my flushed face confirmed that. My cheeks were stained red, my pupils were dilated and my eyes unfocused. I was in deep denial if I thought Damon hadn’t picked up on all of these changes and more.

I patted down my face with a towel dampened with cold water and checked to make sure my dress was high enough not to embarrass me. The most infuriating thing about it was how I couldn’t pull the back up any higher because then it would be too low in the front. Why did I agree to wear this again? Every move I made in it was a delicate balancing act.

Thankfully Damon’s hand didn’t go near my back again. Instead, I held his arm as we were ushered to our seats in one of the balcony boxes beside the stage. Looking over the program I was handed by the usher, I noticed something problematic.

“Damon,” I said warily.

“Yes, Elena?”

“This opera is in Italian.”

“Only the best ones are,” he replied.

“I don’t know Italian. How am I supposed to understand what’s going on?” I asked, forehead furrowed.

“I’ll translate.”

“Of course you know Italian,” I said with a sigh. He smirked and I rolled my eyes before looking down at the program again. We were going to see Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, an opera I’d heard about before, but had never seen. Damon chose it, saying it was the best choice of the options we had and how much he’d liked the one he saw performed in Paris fifty-odd years ago.

The lights dimmed and I set the program aside for more perusal during the intermission. Damon handed me a pair of opera glasses from a pocket on the side of the chairs.

“Thanks.” I’d seen Pretty Woman often enough to know how to hold them and I anxiously waited for the performance to begin. My first opera. It was exciting and I really hoped I liked it. Leaning forward in my seat as the lights dimmed, I felt Damon’s fingers touch the back of my hand clutching the chair’s arm. Glancing down at them, I let go of the arm and he guided my hand to his lap, intertwining our fingers.

Looking back, I remember snippets from the performances on stage, but the main part of my focus that night was on Damon. More importantly, on how Damon made me feel. The light brushes of his fingers against my hand. The way his mouth opened slightly during the arias, as if he wanted to join in song with the singers. How he shifted closer to me whenever he needed to translate something the subtitles had gotten wrong, either by direct word-for-word translation or by original meaning. Or whenever he had a clever quip about the first time he’d seen this performed. His breath hitting my ear. The flash of his blue eyes as they looked into mine. The curves of his profile when he fully relaxed into watching the opera. How aware I was of every breath he took, even though he didn’t need to and he did it only to appear human. The way my skin tingled, just under the surface, at his proximity. How dry my mouth became whenever he glanced my way.

By the time intermission rolled around, I was a ball of frustration and anxiety. There was no way I was going to survive another hour of this. After escaping to the restroom once again as Damon got us drinks, I gripped the edge of the sink. Keep it together, Elena. You’re stronger than this.

As much as I wanted to believe that, I knew differently. I wasn’t stronger than this. I had reached my own breaking point. Here I was, hanging on to the edge of an abyss. If I let go, there was no going back. But what was my alternative? Turning my back on Damon and never seeing him again? Never knowing if this goodness in him stuck around after I’d gone? Never knowing if I was giving up on something that I needed because I couldn’t accept it would take work and sacrifice?

Was I really going to walk away from this, from him, knowing I would later regret it?

But was this really the right time? Yes, I had let go of Stefan. I had no idea where he was. I hadn’t talked to him since he’d left. I didn’t want to talk to him. But was Damon far enough removed to get past my relationship with his brother? Or would he only see Katherine and her inability to choose whenever he looked at me?

Having a relationship with him, giving in to these feelings... while they might be what I wanted, was he ready for it?

Clearly Damon and I needed to have a serious talk about all of this.

Taking a deep breath, I fixed my hair, washed my hands, and walked out of the bathroom. Resolve straightened my back as I walked to where Damon was waiting for me, holding out a flute of champagne at my approach. Taking a sip, I looked at him, really looked, and noticed his eyebrows raise a little and his lips quirk just a bit on the side.

“What?” he asked. “Is there something on my face?”

“No. Just... thanks for the champagne.”

“You’re welcome.”

We continued to stare at each other, surrounded by our own bubble, until the lights flickered, signaling the end to intermission.

“Shall we?”

I nodded and Damon took my glass, placing both his and mine on a nearby tray. He held out his elbow and I looped my hand around it, following him as he walked back to our seats. Knowing what was to come, I gave up trying to follow the performance. Instead I worked out how I was going to approach the sensitive subjects Damon and I needed to talk about before we could go any further in this messed up, possibly essential thing between us. I knew Damon’s approach would be to jump into a physical relationship, but I hadn’t fully talked things out with Stefan before we did that very thing and look how well that ended for us.

I needed the start of whatever we decided to have between us to be different than what I’d had with Stefan. Hell, it already was different than what I’d had with him, just because I knew more about Damon now than I did about Stefan then. In all honesty, if I’d known what would happen by dating and falling for Stefan, I doubt I would have done it all over again. But then, I wouldn't have met and gotten to know Damon, so maybe I would have.

Why was this so hard? Why couldn’t I have a nice, easy relationship like I’d had with Matt before everything got so confusing and difficult? Back before I knew what real grief and heartache were. Back when I’d been happier than I’d ever been in my life and took it all for granted.

Maybe that’s why. I didn’t take anything for granted anymore. People left you, things changed, you changed, so you had to take whatever happiness you can get when you can get it.

Let’s hope what I was about to go through led to happiness. I didn’t want to regret rushing this, not when we’d been through so much already.

Chapter Text

Damon had to know something was up with me. He remained silent, however, as we left the opera and made our way back to the hotel. In fact, he waited until we were inside the room and had removed our coats before speaking up.

“Elena...” he started, then paused, waiting until I’d turned around to look at him before continuing. “Mind telling me what’s going on?”

I could play the naive card here and ask him what he meant, but we were both too smart for that to work, so I decided to jump right in. Might as well get this out before it eats away even more of me.

“I’m sorry I was so out of it tonight,” I apologized, dropping the wrap on a nearby surface. “I was... thinking. About us.”

“Oh?” Damon’s eyebrows rose and he sauntered over to the couch before sitting down. “And were we wearing clothes in these thoughts of yours?”

“Damon,” I sighed. “Please try to focus.”

“It’s hard to focus on anything but how you look in that dress. Especially when I can see your reflection in the window.”

I looked over my shoulder to the glass, and sure enough, you could see a clear outline of my backside. Turning back, I frowned at Damon and walked over to sit next to him on the couch. “Now can you focus?”

“Yes,” he answered. “Just don’t lean over.”

I seriously thought of banging my head against the wall for a second. Really? This was the guy I wanted to date and become romantically entangled with? This guy?

As if he could sense my aggravation, he said, “Sorry. I have a feeling this is going to be serious and I tend to deflect all seriousness with humor. It’s a habit, but I’ll stop. Please, continue with what you were going to say before.”

“Okay.” I glanced at him briefly to gauge how much of his attention I had and found myself momentarily caught by his intensity. All of it. I had all of his attention. That wasn’t nerve-wracking in the least. “I think we should talk. About us. About our... expectations, should we enter into a consensual relationship, and our feelings. And... you look skeptical. Why do you look skeptical?”

“I’m not skeptical, Elena. I just don’t think this is the best way to do this.” He sighed. “Are you sure you want to do this now?”

“Yes! I need to know where you stand. I’m going crazy thinking about all of this, every minute of the day is spent wondering if I should follow up on my feelings, if it’s a good idea, how that will change our dynamic, how that will change our group’s dynamic, what that means for you, how you’ll feel about us when Stefan comes back into your life because you know he will, what happens next, if you ever see me and for a split-second think I’m Katherine! Do you understand at ALL what I’m going through here?”

Damon slid across the cushions until he was sitting next to me, and took my hand into his. “Elena. All I know is I love you. I want to be with you. All I care about is if you’re over Stefan. Everything else will either work out, or it won’t, but I want us to try. As for Katherine? I haven’t thought about her once when I look at you, not since I got to know you. Actually, the reverse is true. Every time I looked at her, I thought of you.”

“Really?” I asked, suddenly feeling shy after divulging so many of my insecure thoughts.

“Yes.”

“Oh.” Well, then. I actually didn’t have a response to that. It hadn’t even occurred to me that could be true. “Damon...”

“Elena.”

“I’m over Stefan.” There. That was a response.

“Are you?” he asked with a half-smile.

“Yes.”

He tucked a lock of hair behind my ear, trailing a finger down my cheek as he pulled it back. “What should we talk about now?”

My breath caught as he leaned slightly forward, my gaze caught on his eyes, then his mouth. “I think...” I licked my lips, suddenly feeling very foggy. “I think you should kiss me.”

And he did. His lips brushed across mine like a soft breath. Then he lightly pressed against them.

Soft.

Warm.

More.

I leaned forward, pressing harder against his mouth, and heat flashed down my body like a wildfire. One moment we were kissing and the next he was on top of me on the couch and I literally could not get enough of him. He was everything, over me, touching me, consuming me, and all I can think was, More. More. More.

His tongue slid over mine as I gripped his hair, holding him to me, never wanting to breathe anything but him again. He tasted of bourbon with a hint of champagne and an overwhelming essence made up entirely of him. My hands slid down to his shirt as his traveled down my sides, one slipping under the fabric at the back of my dress to grip my butt. Pressing me closer to him, I curled a leg over his, wanting nothing between us. Wanting everything, all at once.

I suddenly found myself swept up and a second later, standing next to the bed in the next room. Damon looked beyond himself, crazed even. His eyes weren’t focused as he stood before me. “Damon,” I whispered, reaching out for him. My hands cupped his face, giving us both a steadiness in order to cool down. To realize the import of what we were about to do. Of what we’d already done.

There was no going back. Only forward. And how I wanted to take that next step.

“Elena,” Damon replied, breaking out of his spell and finally seeing me.

“Hi.” I smiled and pulled him toward me, kissing him softly as my hands slid around his neck and into his hair. He groaned, dragging me closer. His hands skimmed my back, catching at the fabric and twisting it until the dress was pulled tight around me.

He leaned back and looked down at the stretched fabric. “I love this dress,” he said. “I’ll buy you another one.”

“Wha--” I started to ask before I heard a loud ripping sound, and then felt air touch my skin where the dress had been before. He’d torn it from my body, leaving me naked before him for the first time, wearing only silver heels.

“Oh, god, Elena,” he said, running his hands up and down my body. “You’re beautiful. You’re so beautiful.”

The reverence in his voice almost broke me. I attacked his shirt, wanting to touch him, too. His hands left sparks in their wake, which quickly heated my entire body until I forgot how he was still clothed and I wasn’t. I forgot this would be our first time, and how much I didn’t want to rush it. I only knew that I wanted him, naked, above me, in me, surrounding me until all I could see and feel and taste was him.

He yanked his shirt off, partially tearing it, and I switched my focus to his pants as he flung his shoes and socks aside. As soon as his pants were loosened, they slid down his legs and quickly tossed aside as well. Finally on even ground, we both paused, taking in the other. I’d seen him shirtless before, many times. I’d even caught a glimpse of him naked before as well, but it hadn’t made me feel like I did now.

“Damon,” I began, but then couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Are you sure?” he asked, visibly restraining him from touching me. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

I nodded, unable to find reason, or oxygen.

“Leave the heels on,” he said right before I found myself sprawled across the bed. Damon hovered for a split second before kissing me breathless, then moved onto my neck, licking, kissing and nipping at the skin. He moved lower as my ragged breaths filled the air. Wrapping his mouth around my breast, I cried out as he tugged and suckled it before switching to the other side. One of his hands held my hip down against the mattress when I started to rub against him.

“Touch me,” I pleaded, squirming under his grip. He held down both my hips with his hands now, stopping my movement, and slid down my body, his breath ghosting along my skin. Goosebumps followed his path.

“Elena,” he whispered, glancing up to meet my eyes. I shivered, my body tensing in anticipation. “You’re so wet,” he said. “Is this all for me?”

I nodded, a whimper escaping as he blew cool air against my lips. God, I wanted him inside me. I was burning alive, needing his touch so much I thought I might literally die if I didn’t get it soon.

“Your scent is driving me crazy,” he growled. “You’ve made me wait too long for this. I don’t know if I can control myself.”

“I trust you. Please touch me,” I begged. “Please, Damon. Please.” I was past the point of caring what I sounded like or how I was giving him all the power. Damon grinned wickedly at my words and I just about came from that. Without warning, he ducked down and swiped his tongue along my slit. I cried out, arching my back off the bed. He spread my legs wider with his shoulders as he settled between them, one hand gripping my ass and the other holding me down by my hip. The next pass of his tongue made me groan and then I lost all coherent thought as he started flicking his tongue up and down, circling my clit, and utterly destroying every nerve-ending I never knew I had.

My hands fisted in the sheets, body straining toward him. I was unable to do anything but feel the waves of intense pleasure rolling through me. The tension built and became sharper as he continued until I was so wound up, I couldn’t breathe. Yet when I finally shattered into a million pieces, I found enough air to yell, louder than I ever have before.

My eyes fluttered open as I came back to the world and I looked up into Damon’s smug face. “Remind me to gag you next time. I don’t think the people in the hotel next door heard you.”

I grinned, feeling ridiculously euphoric. “You’re just upset I didn’t yell your name.”

“Damn straight,” he growled, his face turning almost animalistic. “We’ll have to work on that.” He kissed me before a startled giggle left my throat, turning it into a gasp, and then a groan as his tongue entwined with mine. I sank into oblivion, enjoying the languid haze of pleasure humming through my body and flash of sparks wherever Damon touched me. He slowly teased the skin under my jaw and then lightly bit my earlobe.

“Say my name, Elena,” he whispered.

“Damon,” I moaned as he left a trail of anticipation and blazing fire down my throat. His hands curled around my hips, angling them toward him. My breath caught right before he slammed into me, filling me, consuming me. Staring into his eyes, mine filled with tears as I realize just how much I loved this man.

“Elena?” Damon asked hesitantly. “Did I hurt you?”

“No,” I assured him. “It’s just... intense.”

“Do you want to stop?”

“No! Don’t stop. Never stop,” I urged him, wrapping myself around him as tightly as I could. He eased back and then slid into me, finding a rhythm that left me gasping and writhing. My nails dug into his back as a storm brewed just under my skin, swirling and crackling with heat, tying him and me closer together with each thrust and whimper. I couldn’t look away from his blacked-out eyes as they become almost luminous, hypnotizing me.

“Damon,” I gasped with each spike of tension he created within me as I climbed steadily to the edge. “Damon, I love you. I love you.”

His eyes widened and he faltered, changing his angle so the next thrust grazed against my clit, and I exploded, my entire body tightening around him. Everything went fantastically black and then sparked white as my senses left me and all I was narrowed to a single moment in time that I fervently wanted to hold on to.

As colors bled back into my eyes, painting the room once again, every muscle in my body felt lethargic. It was an effort just to lift my hand to tangle in Damon’s hair as his head rested on my shoulder. We were both panting and I could feel my heart racing when he lifted his head to look at me.

“Just think, you could’ve had that all year,” Damon said, his patented smirk in place.

A startled laugh escaped me and I grabbed the pillow beside me, swinging it toward his head, but he knocked it out of my hand and then rolled us both over. “You are such a jerk,” I stated, trying to be reprimanding, but knowing the huge grin on my face wasn’t helping my case.

“Yes, but I’m a jerk that you love,” he replied, wagging his eyebrows.

“Huh. I don’t remember saying anything about love...”

“I’m pretty sure you did, right between the quite indecent moans of my name.”

“I think your memory might be faulty. It happens to all old people, I hear,” I teased, resting my hands on his chest.

His hands slid up my thighs and gripped my hips. “I may be old, but I never forget a thing.” He pumped his hips and I felt his hardness still in me, drawing out a surprised gasp from me. “Just like I’m not going to forget the first time you rode me.”

“It’s going to be that memorable?” I asked, shifting into a better position. The heels weren’t helping much in that regard and I leaned back to take them off.

“It’s already memorable, and what did I say about the heels?” he asked, playfully swatting at my hands.

I pouted. “They hurt like this.”

“What if I did this?” His hands slid under my calves and lifted me clear off him and the bed. I yelled in surprise when I tipped forward from the sudden shift in loss of balance and caught myself on his chest. He slowly lowered me back down, my lips brushing along his length and smiling smugly the entire time.

“Can you support me like this for a long time?” I asked, breathless.

“Supernatural, remember?” He smirked, slowly lowering me back down his shaft until I was back to straddling him. I squirmed on top of him, not caring about the discomfort coming from the heels anymore. Blackness spread through his eyes as veins darkened around them. I shivered from the danger he represented in that second, a dark angel who would steal my soul if given the chance.

“Elena,” he sighed, stilling my hips with slight pressure.

“Damon,” I replied, lifting myself up and slamming back down on him. God, that felt good. He groaned, agreeing to my sentiment, so I did it again. His hands steadied my hips, helping me move back and forth in tandem with the rhythm I’d picked to ride him. Familiar heat spread through my body, curling around my muscles until I was so lost in the sensations of being with Damon that everything else faded away.

His fangs flashed as he moaned, the sound driving me to speed up, wanting to hear it again and again and again until it was imprinted in my memory so I could recall it whenever I wanted. The moment I had Damon in my thrall. I felt powerful right then. Like I could ask of him anything, and he would agree without hesitation.

It was a heady thought. One that drove me to the edge. My hands were restless, unable to stop touching him wherever I could reach. His slipped down to my thighs and he used his supernatural strength to increase the speed even more until I was senseless, reaching for that peak of pleasure. His name spilled from my lips in a chant as I climbed closer and closer until finally, the tiniest shift caught a spot inside me that caused me to clinch every muscle and cry out in ecstasy. My nails dug into his chest as I yelled when it became almost too much.

Suddenly, my world shifted as he rolled us over, my legs straightened out over his shoulders in a move that I didn’t think possible before now. Damon pounded into me, like a man possessed, as he sought his own release. I scrambled for leverage against the headboard as pleasure shot throughout my body with every thrust, building upon itself until a second orgasm had me crying out as I gripped Damon even harder. He cried out as well, reaching his own release, and my legs fell to either side of him as he almost collapsed on top of me. I curled my arms around his shoulders and held him to me, even as the sweat cooled and he became too heavy. I wasn’t ready to let him go, just yet. I just needed a second to process that I’d had sex with Damon not once, but twice. And both times had been utterly fantastic. And I wanted to have sex with him again, very soon. And lastly, that I had told him I loved him. I’d barely admitted to myself that I loved him before blurting it out in a moment of weakness. I really needed to work on my self-control if I was going to survive in this relationship.

Wait, relationship?

Was this a relationship? Dear God. I had no idea. What if this was a one-time fling for Damon? He had said he loved me, but was it enough?

Ugh. I needed to stop overthinking this. Damon was right. I had a nasty habit of doing just that and thinking myself out of a lot of things I now regretted either doing or not doing. I was going to trust my gut or heart or whatever it was guiding me to stop overanalyzing whatever it was I had with Damon and just enjoy the moment. The very warm, heavy moment of his hard body pressing mine down into the mattress.

Not a bad moment, actually.

Damon stirred, lifting himself up and over to my side with a soft groan. It was a rather endearing groan. I turned onto my side and smiled. “Hi.”

“All done with the thinking?” he asked, smirking.

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, all done now.”

“Good. I think you better quiet and complacent, both of which you’re not when you’re thinking too much,” he replied.

My eyes narrowed. “Is this what I have to expect every time we have sex? Your snarky after comments? Because that’s going to get old, fast.”

Damon smiled, a full-blown one this time. “Most people would love to have these after-orgasm moments with me, you know. You’re lucky I want to share them with you.”

“You’re making me start thinking about what I’m doing again,” I responded, fighting a smile. He was an ass, but I still loved him... for whatever reason.

“Oh, no. Not thinking again!” he mock yelled, dramatically horrified. He pulled me closer, hands framing my face. “Elena, I’m not going to suddenly change. This is me, snarky comments, witty banter and a rockin’ body. Take it or leave it.”

I let my eyes slowly travel down as far as they could go and then back up again, and my lips curled into an evil smile. “I guess I’ll take it. For now.”

Damon laughed. “I never know how you’re going to react when you just let yourself go. This is the Elena I want to see more of.”

“The one without impulses?” I guessed.

“No, the free one,” he replied, running a hand over my tangled hair.

“It’s hard to keep this Elena in the forefront, though,” I told him, suddenly turning serious. “There are too many people and events in this life that want to crush her.”

His eyes searched mine. “Then I’m making it my job to keep her alive and well.”

“And if it proves too much for you to handle?” I asked tentatively, knowing he would see through to my real question, but asking anyway.

“Elena...” His fingers brushed across my cheek. “I’m not my brother.” I flinched at the mention of Stefan, but Damon forced my eyes back to his. “I’m not going to leave you. Not unless you want me to.” We stared at each other in silence for several seconds before he flashed a smile. “I’m gonna take a shower, but you...” He leaned in to graze my neck with his nose. “Mmmm... You stay just like that because I love how you smell like me.”

I had no idea how to respond to that level of sincerity coming from Damon, so I just murmured my assent as he slipped out of bed. Reaching down, I finally freed myself from the heels and then pulled the sheet up to cover me, all the while listening to Damon move around in the bathroom. The last thing I heard before drifting off was the shower coming on.

Chapter Text

I snuggled deeper into the warmth surrounding me, not wanting to open my eyes just yet. As last night’s events played out in my memory, I bit my lip, trying to hide the smile that threatened to spread into a grin.

Damon’s arms tightened around me. “Good morning,” he said in my ear, his voice rumbling with a husky sexiness I’d never heard before. I could definitely get used to just-woken-up Damon voice.

“Morning,” I replied, finally opening my eyes and stretching out my muscles, which pressed me tighter to Damon’s very naked and hard body. His rumpled hair, five o’clock shadow, and relaxed smile made me want to kiss him. Just-woken-up Damon became a need for me to see again and again. I doubted I’d ever get tired of the sight.

His eyes searched mine for a few seconds. I suspected it was to see if I felt regret about last night, which I didn’t, and I tried to show that. He seemed to reach some conclusion and his gaze went down to my lips as his fingers lightly brushed across my cheek. Knowing he was going in for a kiss, I quickly covered my mouth and mumbled, “Morning breath,” at his confusion.

“I’ll risk it,” he said, moving my hand aside. His lips captured mine and I softly moaned at the contact. His hands slid down my back and mine twisted into his hair, tilting his head to get a better angle. He rolled me onto my back, holding himself up on an elbow while his free hand traveled up my side, exploring and burning a trail underneath my skin.

As much as I wanted to continue, there was something I had to do first. Pulling away was harder than I imagined it would be, but I did it and took a much needed breath. Damon started nipping and licking his way down my neck, which felt incredible. I really wanted him to continue, but this needed to be addressed or I would soon end up hating myself.

“I need to talk to you about a couple things,” I explained in a rush before he could take offense.

“Can’t it wait?” he asked, his hand cupping my breast. I arched into his palm and questioned putting a halt to morning sex. Maybe it’d be better to talk after? He’d be in a better mood.

No, I decided. That’d be like taking advantage of his good mood.

“I meant to say this last night, but things... got away from us.” I blushed, remembering how quickly we’d caught on fire for each other. Damon slyly smiled, circling my nipple with the tip of one finger. I whimpered, squirming under him.

“Not fair,” I breathed.

“I never am,” he replied, swiping his thumb over my neglected nipple, making me shudder.

“Damon, please stop,” I begged, covering his hand with mine. “I want us to start open and honest about our expectations of this relationship before we get too swept up in it.”

He did stop, pulling his hand away and staring at me in a way that seemed both speculative and wary. “Relationship?”

“Yes, a relationship. Is that something you want... with me?” I asked, now glad that I’d stopped us when I did. Sometimes talking was a good thing; an idea that Damon needed to learn.

“Yes,” Damon answered, moving off of me and onto his side, bending an elbow and propping his head up on a hand.

“Good.” I smiled, pushing myself up to lean against the headrest while pulling the sheet up to cover me. “Now a harder question. I want this to be exclusive. Is that something you want as well?”

Damon rolled his eyes. “Yes. Are we done talking now?”

“No, not yet.”

He sighed, dropping onto his back and closing his eyes.

“And by the way, when I say exclusive, I’m including drinking blood in those parameters,” I said, tensing for his reaction.

His eyes shot to mine and he stilled. “As in...”

“As in you’re only allowed to drink my blood if you need it fresh, except for emergency situations,” I replied slowly, but firmly. This was something I’d put a lot of thought into and I was ready to stand behind my words.

Damon rose into a sitting position, facing me, and slowly reached out, running his hand down my neck and shoulder. I tilted my head to the side, giving him better access, and his jaw clenched. “Only you?” he asked, staring at my neck.

“Only me.”

“Anywhere I wanted?” His eyes drifted down to my lap.

Knowing Damon, I’d anticipated that question. “Yes, as long as it’s not painful.”

“Elena, that will never be a problem with me,” he promised, his eyes growing dark as my heart sped up at his sinfully deep voice.

“Wait, we’re not done,” I said, taking in a deep breath. He leaned back, clearly angry with me for stopping his enjoyment once again.

“You mean, you’re not done.”

I frowned. “You’re welcome to express any expectations you might have as well.”

“Continue with yours,” he responded, his anger disappearing. I could see him thinking, probably creating a list of things he wanted from me or for me to do. This could prove interesting, or more likely, very irritating.

“Alright. You have a violent tendency to kill someone when they upset you. Don’t deny it because you do. And I’m letting you know now, if you kill someone I care about or love -- even if they’re wearing those supernatural rings -- that’s it for me. That’s the proverbial line drawn in the sand.”

Damon remained quiet, mulling it over, and then asked, “Does that list include Stefan?”

“No.”

His eyes widened. “That was quick.”

I shrugged. “Stefan’s no longer my concern. He’s your brother. You can deal with him however you want. I’m staying out of it. In fact, I don’t want to know what you do, unless it directly affects me,” I explained.

“Fair enough,” he replied. “Is it my turn?”

“Sure.”

“I want you to go to college,” he began. I opened my mouth, but he kept talking. “I know you’re probably planning on attending community college or something as equally pointless, but you should go wherever you want. All you have to do is pick one and I’ll help you get in.”

“What does that mean, ‘you’ll help me get in’?” I asked warily.

“Whatever it needs to mean,” he replied, smirking.

“I can’t leave Jeremy, not for an entire year,” I argued.

“Believe it or not, your brother is not a child anymore. He can look after himself, so let him do that while I look out for you.”

“I think I’ve missed all the application due dates,” I pointed out.

“Let me worry about that. You just figure out where you want to go.”

I eyed him, debating the pros and cons of his request in my head. “Okay. Just, please, don’t kill anyone in order for me to take their spot. I can always transfer in later if it doesn’t work out.”

He nodded. “I can work with that.”

“If I end up leaving Mystic Falls, are you going to come with me?” I asked, slightly smiling.

“Who else is going to watch your back?”

I grinned, leaning toward him and letting the sheet slip down. He cleared his throat, pointedly pulling the sheet back up. “I’m not done. Don’t you think about anything else, Elena? I know you want me, but try to have some self-control.”

Glaring at him, I crossed my arms over the sheet. He looked smug, which made me want to slap him, but I resisted. “Next,” he said. “I want you to seriously consider living somewhere else, just until either you leave for college or we take care of the Klaus situation. It doesn’t have to be the boarding house, just somewhere else where the entire villain cast can’t get to you.”

“Ric’s new place?” I suggested.

“That’s fine. He has the spare bedroom, but I doubt Little Gilbert would enjoy sleeping on the couch every night. If I need to, I’ll buy you a place and put the deed in your name.”

“That seems a little much.”

“No, it’s not,” he replied, shaking his head. “Not if it means I can stop worrying about Klaus or Elijah or even Stefan getting to you at any time.”

“Okay. I’ll talk about it with Jeremy and we’ll figure something out,” I assured him, seeing his genuine concern. It was a fair point, anyway, and one that we should have resolved sooner, but I never wanted to think about moving away from the house Jeremy and I had been raised in. “Anything else?”

“On the same note, if I’m to drink your blood, it’s only fair that you drink mine.”

I started, surprised at his request. Honestly, I shouldn’t have been, but I was. He knew how I felt about becoming a vampire. “But...”

“I know. The thing is you don’t have to become a vampire. You also don’t have to spend your eternity with me if you choose to become one. I just need to know that you’ll come back, even if it’s for one day. I need you to come back,” he said, his voice straining at the end.

Tears pooled in my eyes as I looked at him. “Damon...”

“This is my proverbial line. It doesn’t have to be every day, but when I drink, you drink.”

I found myself nodding, causing the tears to slip over and fall down my cheeks. Why was I nodding? I was agreeing to this?

He was right, though. I didn’t have to become a vampire if I died. I could choose to not drink blood when I came back. If this was his line, then fine. I would do it. For him.

“You’ll do it?” he asked in wonder.

Reaching out, I cupped his jaw. “Yes.”

He laughed once, incredulousness mixed with surprise. “I was expecting more of a fight.”

I lifted a shoulder and smiled affectionately. “I love you.”

“That’s nice, but it doesn’t explain why you agreed so easily when for the past year, all I’ve heard out of your mouth is ‘I don’t want to be a vampire’.”

I rolled my eyes. “No, you simpleton, that is my reason. If this is a deal breaker, then I’m willing to do it because I love you. I want for us to have a chance. Besides, you’re right about me not having to become a vampire. But if all you want is one more day for us to say our goodbyes, then you have it.” His hand covered mine, pressing it harder against his face, and his eyes closed.

“Thank you,” he whispered, opening his eyes again to stare into mine. “Now, about that drinking blood from only you bit...”

I smiled indulgently at him. “What about it?”

“I’m wondering if I should start here...” He pressed his lips against my neck. His finger hooked under the sheet covering me and tugged. I let it slip down onto my lap and he hummed his appreciation. “Or here...” He drifted down to graze the top of my breast. “Or maybe here.” A finger dipped between my legs, dragging the sheet even further down as the tip of it circled the side of my upper thigh.

“That’s entirely up to you,” I replied, running my fingers through his hair. His mouth latched onto my breast and I sighed in pleasure, sliding down to give him a better angle. Long moments were lost to blissful haze as his fingers stroked me through the silk sheet. When he stopped, I realized I was lying down again. Damon flipped the sheet off my body and smiled predatorily.

“You still smell like me,” he said, running his nose down my stomach. My breath caught as he went even lower, spreading my legs apart in order to settle between them. “Very much so here,” he pointed out, taking a deep breath. I cringed, self-consciously closing my legs, but Damon spread them even further apart. “Don’t,” he warned. “I like you like this.”

“You do?” I asked, still self-conscious about my supposed ‘smell’, though I couldn’t sense anything.

“Yes.” He kissed the side of my thigh and then I felt his tongue continue down my leg. Heat followed, reaching my center right before he did. The next few minutes were pure bliss as he played with me until I was gasping and squealing between bouts of giggles. I loved the times when Damon wasn’t being his usual snarky self and was actually buoyant and, dare I say it, happy.

He grinned wickedly at me from between my legs before dipping down to tease me until those giggles fast became moans. As I was vaulted toward the pinnacle of euphoria, I felt a sharp burst of pain from my upper thigh, but then Damon thrust another finger inside me, hitting my g-spot, and I exploded, the pain already forgotten in the wave of pleasure.

Damon crawled up the bed, repositioning my legs to circle his hips. I opened my eyes as he slowly slid inside me and realized that sharp pain was from him feeding on me.

“Did you get enough?” I asked, running my hands through his hair as I relaxed into the unhurried pace he’d set.

“Yes. Did it hurt?”

I thought about playing it off like I hadn’t, but I knew he’d probably heard my heart skip or something, so the truth it was. “Only for a second, but I liked the way you made me forget.”

He smirked. “It’s what I do best.”

I hummed my approval. “But only with me now, right?”

“Only with you,” he agreed, leaning down to seal the promise with a kiss. “Now your turn.” He bite into his wrist and I tentatively brought it to my mouth, grimacing a bit at the sight. I’d never been a fan of blood, but after seeing it so often over the past year and a half, I wasn’t as squeamish as I’d been before. Since I didn’t need much vampire blood in my system, I licked at the few drops on his skin before releasing his arm. Damon seemed transfixed on my mouth, which made me a little self-conscious, so I licked my lips in case I’d missed some blood. His pupils expanded, darkening his eyes to almost pure black. He looked wicked like this. My fingers curled around his biceps and I bit my lip.

“Like what you see?” I asked, arching my back to rub against his chest.

He smiled, slow and sultry. “You have no idea.”

I returned his smile. “No? Why don’t you show me then?” And because he never backed down from a challenge, he did just that.

+++

Some time later, I rolled over, squinting my eyes open at the sudden intrusion of sunlight on this side of the bed. “We should probably get up,” I mumbled into my pillow, pulling the sheet over my head in direct defiance of what I’d just said. Damon laughed behind me, sliding his hand over my hip to press against my stomach. He pulled me to his chest, laying his head over my covered one.

“You don’t look like someone who wants to get out of bed,” he stated, his breath ghosting over my cheek through the sheet.

“No, but laying around all day isn’t the way I want to spend our last full day here,” I replied, snuggling into his warmth. He flipped the sheet off my face and I groaned at the increase of sunlight hitting my face before rolling onto the other side and nestling into his chest. “Five more minutes.”

Damon smoothed my hair away from my face and then quickly kissed my cheek. “I’ve missed grumpy, just-let-me-sleep Elena.”

“What are you talking about? I’m not grumpy.”

He laughed. “Yes, you are. You’re an anti-morning person.”

I groaned. “It’s always so bright. Why the brightness? Why can’t the morning start out on a dimmer and only slowly increase in brightness as the day progresses?”

“I think that’s called sunrise,” Damon answered sarcastically.

“Sunrise is too quick. It needs to slow down, which would mean the Earth’s rotation needs to slow down as well.” I paused, thinking about how that could happen. “Basically, Superman needs to slow down the Earth’s rotation so sunrises could last longer and I wouldn’t wake up to bright sunlight in my face every day.” I could sense Damon’s need to mock my answer, but I kept my eyes shut and my face turned into his neck so I didn’t have to look at his stupid face. I thought I’d come up with a perfectly good way to get what I wanted. So what if he didn’t agree.

“Elena...” he began. “I don’t even know how to respond to that.”

“You can respond with, ‘Yes, Elena. That sounds like the best and only idea in the history of ideas to stop the sun from being so bright. However did you get to be so smart?’”

“How did you get to be so smart?” he asked, playing along.

“I know you’re teasing me, but I’ll tell you anyway. I’ve seen the Superman movies. I know what he can do,” I replied, mumbling into his skin.

“Indeed. I think your only course of action now is to contact him with this brilliant idea and see if he’ll do it.”

“Your sarcasm is not appreciated.” I pulled away and finally looked at him. He was smiling at me, trying not to laugh. I rolled my eyes and turned away, dragging the sheet along with me as I finally got out of the bed. “When I get back, I want you to have five suggestions for what we can do today.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he responded, waiting until I’d made it into the bathroom before bursting into laughter. Whatever. I still thought it was a good idea.

+++

I decided on Damon’s suggestion of going to Central Park again since we hadn’t done that since the first day here and we weren’t able to make it to all the touristy spots then.

“Okay, hop up on the mushroom and look cute,” Damon said, raising my camera eye-level to look at the screen.

I eyed the Alice in Wonderland statue, deciding to sit on the mushroom next to the Mad Hatter since he’d always been my favorite character. Well, him and the Chesire Cat, but he wasn’t the easiest part of the statue to get to so the Mad Hatter it was. Curling my legs under me, I leaned forward to act like I was petting Dormouse. Damon got a few pictures and then walked toward me, smiling. “You’re a natural. Ever thought of modeling?”

“Haha, Damon.” I slid off the rather cold mushroom and reached for the camera to look at the pictures for myself. “Do you want me to take any pictures of you?” I asked since so far all of them had been of me posing with various points of interest.

“No, I try to avoid posed pictures. Helps with keeping my immortality a secret should someone ever come across them.”

“Oh. That makes sense. You know, I’ve wondered about that before. Have you always gone by your own name or do you have aliases?” I asked, pictures forgotten as I imagined Damon as a wanted man on the run from INTERPOL after a bank heist gone wrong, but able to escape the country due to his many aliases.

“Sorry to kill any fantasies you have, but I’ve always gone by Damon. The last name has changed a couple times, especially right after I was turned. I did everything I could to distance myself for a while after Stefan and I split ways, but that’s it.”

“Huh. What about in the future? Shouldn’t you start cultivating a background for your “son” soon in order to take his place in a few decades?”

Damon’s eyes narrowed. “Just how much Anne Rice have you been reading lately?”

My face heated up and I stuck my tongue out at him. “It’s a legitimate question. You’ve got to think about these things since it’s so easy to check someone’s backstory online nowadays.”

“I’ve always been able to make people forget about me, should it come to that, so I don’t see a reason for all that extra work,” he said, throwing an arm over my shoulders and kissing my temple. “Now for a very important decision: do you want to go to the Terrace and take the Literary Walk or skip that and go straight to the zoo?”

I deliberated for a minute. “Zoo, then the Terrace, and then food because by then I’ll be starving.”

Damon nodded. “Sounds good. Onward to the zoo! I hope it’s open. I love when all the animals start going crazy around me.”

“Because they can sense you’re different?” I wondered, turning into Damon to escape some of the biting wind.

“That and sometimes I flash my fangs at them.” He laughed when I gaped at him, astonished that he would risk exposure for such a cheap thrill. “Relax, Elena. It’s not like I do it when people are around.”

“Well, I hope it’s not open. Seems mean to have the animals outside in these temperatures.”

“Then why are we going there?” Damon asked.

I smiled sweetly at him. “On the off chance they are. I want to see the seals.” He grinned, hugging me close for a second before continuing on the path. It was moments like this when I knew the human Damon had once been was not forever dead. Hopefully he would come out more and more as our relationship went on. I knew it was only the first day and I was being overly optimistic, but I was newly in love and never wanted this high to end.

+++

Dropping the last of the dirty clothes into my suitcase, I sighed heavily.

“That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to go home,” Damon commented in passing, carrying his already packed suitcase to the living area.

“Because I don’t,” I grumbled, shoving everything left inside the suitcase before zipping it closed. Arms encircled my waist and I straightened to drop my head back onto Damon’s shoulder. “Am I a bad person for not wanting this retreat from reality to never end?”

“I think that depends on why you don’t want it to end,” he said slowly.

I had to think about it for a second. “It’s so... peaceful here. No life-threatening curses to counter, or bad guys to fight, or last minute game plans to put together.” I turned around in his arms, placing my hands on his chest. “And I get to be here with you and no distractions,” I whispered, reaching up to kiss him.

“And this has nothing to do with having to tell people we’re together.”

Lines appeared between my eyebrows as I frowned. “No. I think on some level they know it was inevitable anyway, but if they have a problem with it, screw ‘em. Caroline dated Tyler, who was a huge jerk for most of our lives, and Bonnie was with my little brother. They have no sense when it comes to their own love lives so why should they judge mine?”

Damon smirked. “Good luck with that. No one’s going to like this.”

“They don’t have to like it, they just have to be supportive,” I replied. “Are you worried their reactions will change my mind?”

Damon stepped away, shoving his hands into his back pockets. “I think it’s possible.”

“Damon,” I said quickly in protest and then took a deep breath, collecting my thoughts. “I know we didn’t meet and get to know each other in the best way imaginable, but that doesn’t matter now. Because I love you.” Stepping closer, I snagged the bottom of his shirt. “I. Love. You. And that’s not going away anytime soon.”

He captured my hand in his, tugging me close enough to wrap his arms around me again. “I hope that’s true, Elena.”

“It is,” I promised, vowing to try my best to undo the damage Katherine had inflicted on him over the years. It seemed overwhelming, the amount of luggage Damon carried over from that abuse, but I knew what I wanted and what I wanted was right in front of me.