This story was written in response to the following prompt for the Author to Author Christmas Exchange:

Leanne0790: AU/AH - Damon is a fire fighter/cop/lifeguard/a profession that would allow him to save someone. One Christmas/New Year he responds to an emergency and saves Elena (it could be from a burning building, car accident, attempted murder, rape, drowning, the situation is up to you) but she is severely hurt (can be physical or emotional or both, again it's up to you). A year passes and Christmas/New Year is here again and Damon just so happens to bump into Elena who hasn't adjusted very well since what happened last year (I'd like to see her on edge and closed off). Damon takes it upon himself to try and piece her back together. Bonus points if it's dark, angsty and passionate.

Leanne, I hope I did okay with this, I tried to go with what you wanted but then the story kind of went somewhere else? I hope you enjoy it regardless

A/N: It's been a while since I've written DE, but as this is an AH/AU, I think it's okay that they're a little out of character, right? Hope so, anyway. Also, there are some canon names in the beginning, but they're not really the characters, I just needed to borrow their names to fill out the scenes. Basically I suck at this, sorry!

"You do know that it's not really winning if you cheat, right?"

Damon waggled an eyebrow and smirked, leaning forward over the coffee table to pull his winnings across to him. "A month's worth of kitchen duty here tells me you're wrong." He flapped the napkin in question in Matt's face, who sneered and flopped back in the mismatched armchair.

"I'm never playing with you again."

Damon shrugged and just shuffled the cards in front of him, ready to deal another hand. "Fine, in that case I'll have a bacon sandwich." His smirk grew wider. "Extra crispy."

Matt rolled his eyes and accepted the cards in front of him. "Kitchen duty does not equal cooking slave, Salvatore. Besides," he grabbed one of the few remaining napkins in his pile, this one offering a week's worth of oxygen tank checking, and threw it down into the pile. "That's what the rookie is for." He sent a wink over to Anna, who was busy across the other side of the room checking all their uniforms.

"Anna!" Tyler shouted, throwing his own napkin into the middle of the table - one month of boot polishing - "Bacon sandwiches all round! Hop to it!"

"Extra crispy!" Damon grinned and threw in his own napkin, leaning back and crossing one leg over the other as he surreptitiously slid an extra Ace up his sleeve.

"I'm busy! Make your own damn food!"

"Oi! I saw that!" Matt pointed furiously at Damon's wrist. "I knew you were cheating!"

Damon laughed and grabbed at his winnings pile as Matt threw himself over the table to get to them. A brief scuffle ensued, while Tyler sat back and waited for either the game to start again or one of them to come out with a black eye. Really, it could go either way.

The bells suddenly sounded throughout the open space, making Matt slide off the table and Tyler's front chair legs fall back to the floor in surprise. Familiar feelings of excitement and adrenalin surged within them all, accompanied by an extra sense of dread. It was Christmas Eve; emergencies weren't supposed to happen on this night.

"What've we got, Chief?" Damon asked as Ric strode into the room, Elijah stumbling behind him as he tried to wake himself up.

"Car accident, looks like," Ric replied, grabbing his boots from Anna and shoving his feet in, fingers already pulling on the straps of his pants. "Over on the Bridge."

Everyone pulled on their heat resistant clothes and boots, grabbing their hats and tumbling into the firetruck as Elijah started up the engine and put on the sirens.

"Don't forget those bacon sandwiches!" Tyler yelled through the open window.

Damon gave her a wave as the engine took off up the ramp. "Make it extra crispy!"

The ambulance crew were already there along with the police when they arrived. Damon took in the scene as he jumped down from the truck, his black boots sinking into at least a foot of snow. He looked around, saw the tracks of the two cars swerving through the thick white blanket, trying to piece together what had happened in his head as Ric moved over to talk to the Detective in charge.

Wide furrows dug into the snow across the bridge, deep black cuts against a fresh clean canvas. The car in question had slid on an ice patch near the middle of the bridge, sliding sideways through the snow. Large swathes of clear patches showed where the car had lifted and rolled, before finally coming to a rest at the bottom of the embankment, its rusted underbelly pointing up at the stars. Two paramedics were circling the car, but they weren't hurrying themselves; whoever had been in it would not be needing anyone's help anymore.

The final resting place of the dark red Oldsmobile looked quiet and almost peaceful, a scene completely incongruent with the flurry of activity over by the side of the bridge. As the old car had flipped its way down the slope, it had decided that its last action would be to wipe out another car that had been heading towards it, slamming the little blue Ford into the side of the bridge. The nose now dangled over the edge, the hood and front seat crushed almost beyond recognition. Three uniformed policemen hung onto the boot, their boots slipping in the snow as they tried desperately to pull the back wheels of the car onto the road. It wasn't having much effect; even as Damon began running towards it, he saw the car slip an inch further over the precipice.

"How many inside?" He asked the nearest police officer, whose face was red with exertion. He didn't wait for a reply, but moved round to the side to peer in through the window. The glass was fogged. "There's someone breathing in here!"

In his peripheral vision he saw Ric snap his head up and then gesture behind him, and seconds later he saw Tyler bending down next to the officers, the clinking of metal harsh against the heavy panting and subdued sounds of the snow as he tied a chain to the bumper. It wouldn't hold the car if it wanted to follow its trajectory over the side, but it might buy them a few minutes.

Damon reached out and pulled on the door handle; metal groaned beneath his fingertips, the door warped and fused together, refusing to yield to him. He grabbed the glass hammer from his tool belt and smashed the small quarter pane, shoving his arm through to break the window glass from the inside out. His fingers brushed against something soft and he let out a relieved breath for his foresight; covering whoever was on the other side with broken glass wouldn't help them if they were injured. Glass shards fell into the snow at his feet as he concentrated on getting it all out, and only when he was satisfied that there were no jagged pieces left did he look inside the car.

A young woman sat in the seat, her long dark hair fanned out over the headrest. Her eyes were closed and her skin deathly pale, but small clouds of white puffed in front of her slightly parted lips, so she was still alive. Damon couldn't say the same for the people in the front of the car. The front seats were soaked in blood, crushed in and down, the bodies crushed with them. The passenger seat had been pushed back, pinning the girl's legs between the footwell and the back seat. Her left knee was crushed between the seat in front of her and the door hinge. The activity behind him faded into the background as he considered the twisted metal in front of him, wondering how he could get her out without damaging her legs further. He leaned further in through the window, trying to get a better look, and that was when he heard it, a soft moan of pain.

He twisted his neck around and stared at the girl, the cramped condition bringing their faces closer together than Damon usually got to anyone. Her skin was perfect, he noticed, despite the deathly pallor, soft and inviting looking. She moaned again and her eyelids fluttered, and Damon got a glimpse of deep brown eyes as he realised that she was not only still alive, but conscious.

"Hey! Hey, can you hear me?" He reached his hand in, his glove brushing back sticky wet tendrils of dark hair as he tentatively touched her shoulder. He stuck his head back out the window and yelled to Matt and Tyler, who were still trying futilely to stabilise the back end of the car. "I need some medical help here!" He pushed his head back in, and blinked at the girl in front of him, shocked to see her eyes on his, her gaze filled with pain but sharp and alert.

Her lips moved soundlessly for a second, before she coughed wetly. A bubble of blood popped on her lower lip. "M-my pa-arents?"

Damon had to lean even closer to hear what she was saying, and then immediately regretted it. Her line of sight was obscured by the back of the seat in front of her; she couldn't see what he could. Nobody who could see what had been done to the two bodies in the front of the car would ask that question. He decided to try and turn her attention elsewhere.

"Hey, I'm Damon," he said, forcing a flirty grin on his face and winking at her. "Seeing as how we're all pressed up close together like this, why don't you tell me your name?"

Something swooped low down in his stomach as she rolled her eyes at him. He stared, unable to believe that she could be that strong while in the state she was in. His heart sank as she continued her whisper. "Elena. Could you please check on my parents?"

He sighed, not knowing what to do. In the end, he decided on the truth. "I'm sorry Elena. But we're gonna get you out, okay?"

"Can you check?" Her voice was stronger, her need to know the fate of her parents giving her a burst of adrenalin.

Damon bit his lip, then nodded. He pulled his thick glove off with his teeth and leaned further into the car, his added weight making the metal around him groan and shift. Ignoring the panicked shouts from behind him, he reached his hand over the front seat, pressing his fingers to first one neck, then the other. As expected, there was no sign of life. After all, not many people could survive a broken neck or a bashed in skull.

Elena seemed to see the answer in his eyes as he pulled back again, a tear slowly making its way down her cheek. He pressed the same hand around her jaw, his thumb smoothing away the salty liquid. "We're gonna get you out of here, okay?" He said softly, stroking his fingers lightly across her cold skin.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder and Damon craned his neck, not willing to leave her. His bare hand stayed pressed against her skin.

Ric gave him a grim smile. "Do you think she can be moved?"

Damon shook his head. "Not yet," he replied, his thumb still stroking her cheek soothingly. He lowered his voice. "Her legs are both pinned beneath the seat, and her left knee is being crushed by the door. We need to work out how to free her first."

Ric nodded, lips pursed in thought. "Through the back window? The paramedics are ready."

"I'll get her ready."

Ric moved away to where the paramedics were standing, one of them holding a stiff board. Damon pulled his hand back and stood up straight, taking his heavy jacket off his shoulders. He leaned back in and spread the coat over her head, covering the headrest and making sure her shoulders were enclosed within. "They're going to break the back window, so this will shield you from the glass," he told her quietly, waiting for her to make eye contact with her before he slid under the fabric with her. "Then they're gonna slide a back brace between you and the seat, to keep you still while we work on getting you out of here, okay?" She took a shuddering breath and nodded, her deep brown eyes wide and still filled with tears. Damon reached a hand out blindly through the window and held a thumbs up. Seconds later a crash sounded above them and the feel of broken bits of glass rained down on the jacket covering them. When the tinkling sounds stopped, Damon reached up and removed the jacket from Elena's head, pulling it down and covering her arms. He pulled the cutter out from his belt and slit the seat belt from off her shoulder, letting it unravel as he pressed both palms to the side of her neck.

"They're going to slide the back brace in behind you now, okay? Try not to move." He steadied her head as he watched over her shoulder, Tyler just visible as he tried to keep the car stabilised as the paramedic leaned over the boot so position the board. The smooth slide behind her jolted Elena forward slightly, and her blue tinged lips stroked against Damon's cheek. From the light coming in through the now broken back window, he could see that her hair was sticky with blood; she must have hit her head at some point. Carefully, he tried to feel for a cut, stopping when she let out a hiss of pain as his fingers brushed against an area just above her ear. "Sorry."

She started to move her head, before remembering she was supposed to keep still and stopped. "S'fine, just stings."

Her voice, which before had been quiet and calm, came out slightly slurred and woozy sounding. "Damon cursed under his breath and leaned back out the window. "We need to get as move on!"

Matt slid into the snow on his knees by Damon's feet, the mechanised metal cutter in his hands, already vibrating and ready to go. "Chief says we've got less than 5 minutes before gravity takes the wreck over the bridge." He looked up at Damon. "We don't have time to move the front seat. As soon as I get the door off, you're gonna need to pull. Can you handle that?"

"Damon sneered and rolled his eyes. "What was the bloody point in messing around with the back brace then?"

Matt shrugged, already eying the door for the best place to begin cutting. "Paramedics, dude. They have a protocol to follow."

Damon's eyes narrowed. "Just. Get on with the cutting and tell me when."

"On it."

The sounds of screeching and groaning metal made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as he leaned back into the car. Elena's eyes had widened at the noise in surprise, but already they were beginning to close again, cold and pain and fear and grief all telling her body to switch off. "No, no no, Elena?" Damon pushed his hands back into her hair on either side of her neck, keeping her head up. "Stay with me, okay? We're getting out in just a second, I promise. Just stay with me okay?"

Her eyelashes fluttered against his cheek and he pulled back enough to see her big brown eyes again. She coughed, and smiled slightly. "Your eyebrows are really expressive. Suggestive, even," she whispered. He could barely hear her over the grinding metal at his back.

He smirked at her. "Yeah, so everyone says. Just hold on until you're out, then you'll see just how suggestive I can be, yeah?"

She reached a trembling hand up and brushed her fingertips against his jaw. He swallowed, hard.

A tap on his shoulder was all the warning he got before Matt yelled "Now!" Damon slipped his upper body out of the window as Matt and Tyler ripped the door away and pulled to give him enough room to move. The groaning of metal was constant now, the back bumper protesting at being pulled back and the front determined to pull them all with it down into the freezing river below. The wheels shifted slowly but steadily closer to the edge; there were only seconds left. Damon through himself back into the car and wrapped his arms around Elena, one around her shoulders, the other round her hips, his nose buried in her hair.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered in her ear. Then he set his boots in the snow, and pulled.

A crack sounded out as loud as a gunshot and then suddenly he was moving, momentum tripping him backwards until he fell in the snow. Dimly, he saw both Matt and Tyler let go of the door and seconds later the car slipped over the edge, disappearing into the blackness. The resulting splash seemed too quiet for the wreckage that had just plunged into the river's icy depths, but Damon wasn't paying attention. He was lying on his back in the snow, Elena's body draped across his. He'd heard her bone snap and her sharp scream of agony, but now she wasn't moving. He couldn't even feel her breath on his cheek from where she lay on top of him.

"I need some help over here!"

He was basically tackled back to the ground by two paramedics and the Chief. His head smacked painfully back against a large rock buried beneath the snow and he bit back a curse, not wanting to take any attention away from the girl still lying on top of him. Moments later he was freed, as the paramedics flipped Elena and placed her on a stretcher and whisked her away into the waiting ambulance. Sirens blared and lights flashed as they pulled away, off to the hospital as quick as they could go.

Damon sat up gingerly, wincing at the throb in the back of his head. Ice cold snow soaked in through his t shirt and trickled down under the waistband of his pants, his now empty jacket laying limp and lifeless across his knees. He stood up, ignoring the icy temperature and his bare arms, one hand still devoid of its glove. He peered out over the edge, to the place where the car had ended its inevitable journey. Not even air bubbles rising to the surface marked where the car had gone down, its descent too quick. He closed his eyes against the memories threatening to engulf him, shaking his head as though he could forcibly remove them.

A hand on his shoulder brought him back from the past. Damon realised that everyone was packing up around him. The rest would be dealt with by the police and the road clearers. Damon and his crew weren't needed here anymore.

"You okay?" Ric squeezed his hand and Damon felt the pressure easily through his thin t shirt.

"Yeah, I'm good." Ric didn't say anything, just pursed his lips and waited. Eventually Damon sighed. "It's just... you know."

Ric nodded. "I know." He tilted his head to the side. "You need to use my office when we get back to the station?"

Damon started to scoff at the offer. Of course he didn't need to use Ric's office, he didn't need anything. But then, with a start, he realised what time it must be. "Yeah, I might."

"Okay then." Ric gave him a brief smile and then turned to the rest of his crew. "Pack it up guys, we're headed back home."

The ride back to the station was brief and quiet, everyone caught up in their own thoughts. It was often like that; once the surge of adrenaline wore off, everyone tended to retreat into themselves, reflect on what they'd seen and start to process. Anna was waiting for them as the truck pulled into the firehouse and everyone piled out, exhausted and high strung.

"Bacon sandwiches are in the kitchen," she said by way of a greeting, and there was a sudden mad scramble to be the first one to sit down.

Damon left them to it, and instead slipped into the Chief's office and closed the door quietly behind him. Further down the corridor he heard the big clock in the kitchen chime midnight, followed by a loud chorus from the crew of "Merry Christmas!"

Damon sighed and sat down in the one comfortable chair in the whole station and kicked his legs up on the desk. He had a phone call to make.

One Year Later

The coffee shop was almost deserted, which wasn't surprising seeing as it was late in the evening on Christmas Eve. Damon had only wandered in for a cup of coffee to warm up his hands as he made his way home from the station, but now he couldn't seem to make himself leave. A table in the corner was occupied by a single customer, a book held between her hands and hiding part of her face. An almost empty mug sat on the table in front of her, a muffin resting untouched on the plate next to it. Damon swallowed, hard. He would recognise that long dark hair anywhere. It was pretty much all he had been able to think about all year.

He stood still in his spot by the counter for a long moment, unsure if he should approach. He could still remember the feel of her lips as they'd accidentally brushed against his cheek, the cold perfection of her skin as he'd cupped her face, the strength in her gaze, tempered by tears and grief, and he wanted to go up and talk to her, to hear that soft voice once more. But he also remembered that it was a year to the day since she had lost both her parents, and he didn't want to be the reminder of something so terrible on such an anniversary. He knew what that felt like. But then, it had been a year. To the day, almost to the hour. It felt to Damon as though him seeing her again was almost meant to happen. He looked down into his coffee cup, thinking.

"When you finally get up the courage to come and talk to me, I'll have a refill."

Damon looked up, surprised, and looked straight into Elena's dark brown eyes. She had put her book face down on the table in front of her and was regarding him with a slight smirk on her lips, her arms crossed as she relaxed back into the booth. But for all her air of easiness, Damon could tell that she was nervous, ready to cut and run. Seeing him had triggered something for her, and he found himself admiring her strength for staying and deciding to talk to him.

He slid her refill across the table and sat down opposite her. "I wasn't sure you'd recognise me," he said finally, watching as her eyes flitted across his face, forcing himself not to give into the temptation to do the same.

"It's hard not to," she said back, sipping at her drink. "You have these really suggestive eyebrows. Has anyone ever told you that?"

He smiled briefly. "You did, once."

He regretted it immediately, because her expression closed up, her eyes shuttering. "I wondered if I'd dreamed that," she said softly, more to herself than to him. Then she looked up, her gaze sharp and piercing once more. "I thought you might have come to visit me, in the hospital."

Damon didn't say anything about how people he helped often wondered that, as though they thought they all meant something to him when in reality they all just faded into mixed images of fires and car accidents all piled on top of each other until he couldn't separate them out. He didn't say anything because in this case it wasn't true; the image of Elena's eyes, filled with tears and yet refusing to let them fall, looking at him as he pulled her out of the wreckage of her parents car, had been burned into his memory ever since.

"I did, actually," he said now, watching as her eyebrows lifted in disbelief.

"I'm sure I would have remembered that happening," she said lightly, although a slight pinch across her eyebrows told him she wasn't completely sure she would have.

"You had someone with you, so I didn't interrupt. A girl with curly black hair?"

"Bonnie." She nodded, took another sip of her drink. "She was there all the time after... After it happened."

"Were you disappointed that I hadn't come to see you?"

"No," she said shortly, and her eyes were hard. "I was glad."

The reaction wasn't an unusual one, but Damon hadn't been expecting it. He almost let out an incredulous laugh when he realised that he had been the one to think that they had formed some kind of connection, when all she really wanted to do was forget he ever existed.

"What would you have said if I'd actually spoken to you?" He asked now, drinking more of his drink so he would have an excuse to leave quickly.

It was as though his question opened a dam for her, the words falling over her tongue in their effort to make themselves heard. "I would have told you that the pain when you broke my leg pulling me out was the worst thing I'd ever felt in my life. I would have told you that you dislocated my hip when you wrenched me out." Her eyes narrowed as she leaned over the table. "And I would have told you that seeing your blue eyes hovering in front of me in my dreams every night made me sick, because you should have been trying to rescue them instead of me."


She waved her hand to interrupt him, and sighed a deep sigh. "Sorry. That's why I'm glad I didn't see you in the hospital. Because I would have said those things, and I would have meant them." Her eyes became slightly unfocused as she looked over his shoulder. "I might still mean them, sometimes. But I know you did what you could to save me, and I am grateful. And I'm glad I didn't get to say those things to your face when I would have meant them much more than I do now."

Damon opened his mouth to respond, to say that he understood, that he wished he could have saved them too, anything, but he was interrupted by the girl behind the counter.

"Elena? Do you want me to lock up?"

Elena turned and smiled at the girl, but Damon could somehow tell, despite not knowing her before the accident, that she had lost some of the light behind her expressions. The blonde behind the counter smiled tentatively back, as though she wasn't sure how to communicate with this new Elena anymore. Damon knew that look far too well.

"It's fine, Caroline. I'll lock up on my way out."

"Are you sure you don't want to come home with me tonight? I don't think you should be alone right now. Especially not tonight."

Damon watched as Elena's gaze shuttered further; he had the feeling she had heard a lot of this sort of thing recently. He understood; no matter how much you knew they were only trying to help, you still just wanted them all to go away and leave you alone.

"I'm sure Caroline. Merry Christmas."

The blonde girl took the holiday expression as it was meant, the end of the conversation, and slowly hung up her apron and disappeared out the back door, leaving Damon and Elena alone on the shop floor.

"You work here?" Damon asked, although the answer was obvious.

She nodded. "I own it. For now, at least." Her smile was small as she noticed his surprise. "Gilbert Grounds." She pointed to the doorway where the sign, brown cursive on a cool cream background, looked out into the night. "Elena Gilbert." She pointed at herself, and then hesitantly held out her hand.

He shook it, the reminder of how soft her skin felt curling loose and warm low down in his stomach. "Damon Salvatore. What do you mean, 'for now'?"

Elena sighed and leaned back into her seat. Her arms were crossed, her entire body closed off in defense. "My friends, they think I should sell it. They think being around all this, all the reminders of them, that it's not good for me. They think I won't be able to move on from los- from what happened."

Damon thought that was ridiculous, and he should know. It didn't matter if you were surrounded by nothing but piles of ash, the loss would always be right there in front of you. He also noticed that she kept referring to her parents as them, and he got the feeling that she'd stopped talking about her mother and father with her friends, if only so that she wouldn't see the looks of pity on their faces. Once more, he was struck by the quiet strength that ran through this small, pained girl.

"My mother used to decorate the entire house for Christmas," he said suddenly, looking down into his drink. He didn't know why he had said that; he never spoke about his family, not to anyone. Even Ric, who was his oldest friend. But once the first sentence was out, it was as though he couldn't stop the rest from coming, so he didn't try, just let them fall into the quiet of the little coffee shop. "Every room, even the bathrooms. There was a movement activated elf that she would put in the downstairs bathroom. It was hell trying to take a piss while this ugly little doll twirled his fake sugar cane and shouted reindeer names at you. She'd cover all the windows with so much fake snow that nobody could see outside for an entire month. We used to have to use the steam cleaner to get it all off in January. There'd be a tree in every room, the lights-" he winced and broke off, not wanting to go there, especially not today.

"Used to?" Elena looked intrigued, less closed off than before. It gave Damon the courage to go on with his story. Maybe if he opened up, she would too. He found he very much wanted that to happen.

"She died. My father too. Six years ago tomorrow, in fact." He didn't have to look up to see the pity in her eyes; that look was exactly why he didn't talk about it. He struggled on, still looking down at his coffee. "It was the lights. We'd just moved here, and the house was old, the wiring faulty. It couldn't take the amount of lights she put up everywhere. The whole place went up in flames. I managed to get my brother out, but I was too late to save them."

He looked up then, couldn't stop himself, and was both surprised and completely not to see not pity in her eyes, but understanding. "I guess I was lucky," she said finally, her voice that same softness it was in the car a year ago. "My brother wasn't in the car with us; I didn't have to worry about trying to save him."

"You have a brother too?"

She nodded. "Jeremy. He's younger than me, away at college right now. He was supposed to be with us, but he'd decided to stay with his girlfriend for the holidays. I remember being so angry with him." her voice trailed off, remembering.

"My brother's name is Stefan. He moved away to go to college shortly after, and never came back. Not that I blame him."

"Are you two not close?" She sounded surprised, as though a daring rescue would automatically seal a bond between two people, despite her own reaction to seeing him again.

Damon shrugged. "We don't hate each other, if that's what you're thinking. He's my little brother and I love him, and he loves me too, I think. But we don't really get on when we're in the same space together for too long. He's too much like our father."

"You didn't get on with him either?"

"My father was a difficult man for me to get along with. He wanted me to have my entire life figured out, and he wanted those choices to be the same ones he made. Stefan was always the son for that; he's now a fancy lawyer in DC. But I was never sure what I wanted."

Elena nodded slowly. "So that's why you became a firefighter." She said it as a statement rather than a question, and Damon frowned.

"What makes you say that?"

"You wanted to honour him, but without becoming something you're not," she said simply, and suddenly Damon's decision to become a firefighter made that much more sense to him. He had always thought it was just to make sure that nothing like what happened to his family ever happened to anyone else, but the realisation that it was also about his father felt so right he almost laughed at the simplicity of it.

"This cafe was my mom's," Elena said, looking around her. Damon looked around too, and noticed for the first time the framed photos on the wall behind the counter. He could see a younger Elena standing with her arms wrapped around a dark haired boy, and realised that must be Jeremy. In another, she stood with an older woman with the same hair as her own, wind blown strands mixing together, connecting them. There was one with the whole family off to the side, laughing into the camera without a care in the world. Damon thought it was nice that Elena still had these memories to look at; all of his had been burned away to ash.

"My dad was a doctor. When Jeremy went to school, Mom decided she wanted something to do, so they bought this place. It's been like a second home to me ever since." She smiled. "She taught me how to make pancakes in the kitchen. My dad almost choked on an olive right where you're sitting. Me and Jeremy had all our birthday parties here, and Mom would make all the cakes." She laughed lightly. "Even if they did come out flat and tasting of salt instead of sugar."

"If you have so many memories here, why would you be thinking of selling?"

Elena shrugged, her smile slipping from her face. "My friends don't like me talking about it. They see me in here, looking at all the photos and sitting in my mom's favourite booth, and they think I'm not moving on, that I'm still stuck in the back of that car." her face paled, and she looked tired and withdrawn once more. "Sometimes I think they're right. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not still stuck there, and this is my punishment."

Damon looked at her, not understanding. "Punishment for what?"

She met his gaze, and her own were filled with unshed tears. "For asking them to come and pick me up that night." A single tear fell down one cheek, following the same path another had made a year ago. And just like the last, Damon's hand reached out, cupping her jaw and stopping the liquid with the smooth brush of his thumb.

He didn't say anything; there was no point. He'd heard all the platitudes there was to give, and he knew none of them made the slightest difference. Instead, he asked her a question.

"What was your mother's name?"

She looked startled, but she answered. "Miranda."

"Rename the cafe."


"Keep the cafe, just rename it. Something that will honour her."

"You mean like you did with your father?"

"Yeah, a little bit like."

"Miranda's Mocha House? Miranda's Mystic Coffee?"

Damon looked around the room once more. It was clear to him that Miranda Gilbert had made this little cafe out of everything she loved. There were the framed photos, but there were also certificates adorning the walls, pictures long since faded with time, drawn with skill and yet still obviously by a child's hand, place cards with names such as Grayson Garibaldis and Jeremy's Jam tarts and even Elena's Chocolate Eclairs . Her entire family was embedded within every fibre of this shop, and it was clear that that was where she got her inspiration.

"How about, Miranda's Muse?"

Elena smiled, and it was the first truly bright smile he had seen her give. It made her entire face light up and his breath catch in his throat. Even when she was sad, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

The clock chimed, and Damon realised that it was midnight. Her anniversary was now over, and his was just beginning.

"Thank you," she said quietly, and lifted her hand up to encircle his wrist with her fingers. he hadn't realised until that point that his hand was still cupping her jaw, the tips of his fingers playing idly with her hair, thumb still brushing lightly over her cheek.

He shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. "It's just a name."

Elena shook her head and stood up, pulling him with her. "Not for that. I mean, for sitting here with me, for letting me talk about them, about my mom and dad. My friends don't really understand. They think that if it hurts to remember, that I should try to forget, so that it doesn't hurt anymore." She turned off the lights and opened the door, and they both stepped out onto the quiet street. They were still holding hands.

"I'm always available, if you want someone to talk to about them, about your mom and dad."

She locked the door and turned into him, the span of her shoulders eclipsed against his chest. "I thought I was going to have to sit there all alone tonight, trying not to think about them. You saved me." She leaned forward. "Is that going to become a thing with you, always being there when I need you?"

Damon thought about it, about rescuing her from the wreckage of their car, and of finding her here by chance exactly a year later. Then he thought of all the holiday shifts he picked up, so that he could be there in case something like this happened to some other family, so that he could be kept busy from his thoughts instead of feeling hollow and lonely, with nobody to talk to who could really understand.

"Maybe we can save each other."

I hope you enjoyed! Happy Holidays everyone! 3