Chapter 29 - Those Three Words

PAST - 4 hours previously

"Are you sure you're okay about this?" Elena asks, as she and Stefan walk side by side back to the hotel. "About us staying here and Damon going to Cold Spring?"

"We've been through this. I wouldn't have stayed here if I didn't want to. I want to be with you and to know you're safe. That's what's matters most to me right now."

Elena smiles at him warmly. She will never tire of hearing how much Stefan cares for her.

As their conversation continues, Elena is stunned when she is violently grabbed. Her mind is racing, she's disorientated but her body is already struggling to fight off the vice-like grip of the strange man who already has her around the waist and is trying to pull her into the back of a cab. She can still see Stefan's face, the panic on his face and she reaches her hand out to him. He has hold of it and they desperately cling to one another, screaming each other's names, but Elena's strength is no match for her kidnapper's and in a second she's lying on the back seat of the cab, on top of her kidnapper as he continues to restrict her. Out of the window she can see Stefan sprinting down the street as fast as his legs can carry him, every vein in his head and neck bulging as he frantically calls her name.

"Stop. Stop struggling," her kidnapper tells her.

"Let me go," Elena demands through gritted teeth.

He does as she requests and Elena jumps to the far side of the car, getting the first glimpse of her kidnapper. He's a man in his thirties, with dark hair and blue eyes. There is nothing familiar or particularly striking about him, he looks completely ordinary.

Despite her heart racing in her chest, Elena looks him square in the eye and calmly asks, "What do you want from me?"

"I don't want anything from you, darlin'. I'm just doin' my job."

"Your job?"

"Yeah and it'll be a lot easier if you cooperate."

"I'll cooperate if you tell me what I want to know." Elena wants to get as much information as she can although she already knows exactly why she's there.

"I think you'll find you're not in a position to be giving out orders."

"Where are you taking me?"

"What did I just say?"

"You won't get away with this. You just kidnapped me off a high street in New York in the middle of the afternoon. My boyfriend will call the police and-"

He begins to laugh loudly, the driver joining him from the front.

"Your boyfriend won't be doing anything of the sort. People on the run from the police aren't likely to call the police."

Without him even realising he has already divulged vital information to Elena.

"I'm not who Klaus thinks I am."

"We're not in the habit of kidnapping the wrong people, darlin'. We know exactly who you are."

"I'm Katherine's twin sister."

They laugh again. Manically and dramatically. It makes Elena's brain vibrate in her skull.

"You've got a fierce spirit in you, girl. I'll give you that much. Now, don't you go worrying your pretty little head about anything else. We'll be arriving in a couple of hours and in the meantime, it'll serve you best if you keep strum. Got it?"

Elena meets his eyes with venom and turns her head to stare out the window. What would be the point in fighting? There is nothing she can do to escape now, but she has two hours to plan ahead. Stefan will come for her, that she is certain of.

Oh, Stefan...

Despite the danger Elena is in, she feels a calmness and peace come over her. She closes her eyes and thinks of her parents. Her mom's thick wavy hair blowing in the breeze, her dark brown eyes - the same as Elena's - twinkling framed by smile lines as she beams at her. Her dad's hair lined with silver and the stubble growing on his chin, his kind smile and inviting embrace. She will never see them again, never speak to them again, never hear their laughs or have them hold her. She will never taste her mom's cooking or see her dad's knees muddy from gardening on a Sunday. Their loss is with her every waking second. There are moments in between when Stefan holds her close or kisses her head or tells her that he loves her that she forgets, but it's a brief flicker and it's gone in a flash. There's no reprieve from the endless torment. Perhaps this is the way it's supposed to be.

Her parents died by Klaus' hand and now she will too. It's poetic, in a way. Elena never thought she'd be one to lie down and give up, but she's so tired. Too tired to care or to fight any longer. Every day is a constant struggle and it's only just begun. They say grief fades with time, but Elena cannot see an end to this darkness. It's consuming her from the inside out and no matter how much she tries to tell herself she still has a future and all is not lost, it feels like a lie. How can she ever come back from this? When her parents were shot dead, she died with them.

Then it resonates with her, really resonates, that Klaus is the reason her parents are dead and soon she will come face to face with him. She never thought she would see Klaus and she never particularly wanted to, but the thought of being able to look him right in the eyes and tell him what he has taken gives her a sense of purpose she hasn't felt since her parents died. Klaus won't care or even understand the impact of what he has done, but she will damn well tell him and he will hear it. Unlike Katherine, Elena isn't afraid of Klaus. She hates him far too much to be afraid of him and right now, that emotion overtakes her hopelessness.

Elena thinks of Katherine. Since first finding out about her long-lost twin sister, she has been adamant that she wants nothing to do with her, but she cannot help but wonder what she's like and how it would feel to meet her. There's so much said about the bond between twins, twin telepathy and other such mystical connections. There are even studies into the unique bond between twins. Would Elena have that with Katherine? Clearly they don't have twin telepathy because Elena had no idea she existed, but does that mean they can never have the kind of bond that twin sisters do? Does she even want to have that bond? Elena can't bear to think of it, because it's too overwhelming. It's so much easier to keep Katherine at an arms length by hating her than to risk letting her in. Elena has just lost her family, she can't fathom opening herself up to a new one.

Next she thinks of Stefan. Oh, Stefan... What must he be going through? She wishes she could tell him that she's okay and that she's not afraid. Not that it would bring him any comfort to know that she will willingly go to her death. He would tell her to fight, to never give up because she has so much more to live for. And he would tell her how much he loves her... Maybe there is something to live for after all. Her parents are gone but there are still people she loves in this world. Not just Stefan but her best friends, Bonnie, Matt, Tyler and Vicki. Her mom's sister, aunt Jenna and her cousin Jeremy. Amongst all of the chaos and devastation she'd forgotten those she treasures most, but now she sees all of their smiling faces and it warms her heart. She thinks of how much it would break their heart to lose her and realises she cannot do that to them.

Then it hits her how just how self-centred she is being. This isn't about her. If she's dead she won't have to suffer anymore, but she'd be leaving a trail of devastation behind her and her loved ones would have to endure the hell she is right now. That's too cruel and particularly to aunt Jenna and Jeremy, who must already be grieving her parents. No, she can't lie down and give up. Even if she doesn't want to live for herself, she has to for them. It's not only Stefan who would tell her to fight, so would her parents. They didn't raise her to be meek and weak willed and to simply let things happen to her. All this time she's been doing it wrong. She's been hiding away, avoiding reality because she thought it was easier, but she can't continue to do that any longer. She needs to summon every ounce of courage and strength she has and be brave enough to take charge of her own destiny. Besides, as much as she has resisted it and tried to deny it, Elena does long for the truth. Since finding out about Katherine she feels she's been trapped in a web of lies and she's desperate to break free from it. That's why she went to Grand Lake with Stefan and Damon to see her parents - to find the truth. How can she give up on finding that now when she's about to come face to face with the very man who can likely give her all the answers she needs? If she is to die she will die fighting until the very end for her life and for the truth. She at least owes that much to her parents, to her friends and to Stefan.


PRESENT

Stefan anxiously bites his lip. He's sat in the passenger seat of their black Hyundai car rental with Damon in the drivers seat and Katherine is in the back. Rebekah is at the Mikaelson's and has been for the last hour. The journey from New York to Cold Spring was surprisingly one of the fastest of Stefan's life, but still not fast enough. They're parked far down the Mikaelson's street, Woodbury Road, which is lined with long drive-ways and tall trees that hide the extravagant multi-million dollar homes situated behind them. Stefan's not sure what he expected, but he certainly didn't expect this. As Rebekah navigated them from the train station and deeper into the lavish estates of the wealthy, he and Damon exchanged glances of surprise. Apparently a life of crime can provide greater luxuries and comfort in life. Stefan is not usually the bitter or angry type, but it gets his back up to think of people like Klaus and his family living such a comfortable lifestyle when all they do is wreak havoc and misery. He thinks of people like his brother that devote their lives to good and to helping people and how much more they deserve for that. There is no price that can be put on such jobs.

"I wonder how she's doing," Damon says.

"I'm sure she's fine," Katherine replies from the backseat.

"I hope so."

"She won't let us down."

Stefan hasn't spoken a word in hours. It's not deliberate, he's just so sick with worry that it's taking everything he has not to completely fall apart. He knows he needs to be here for Elena and there is no way he would've sat idly by whilst her life is in danger, but he's afraid that he will be a liability. Stefan has always worked as well as Damon under pressure, it's part of the reason he wants to be a surgeon and why he knows he will be good at it. But this is a different kind of pressure. The kind whereby if he makes a mistake it could result in Elena's death. He feels his chest grow heavy and tight at the thought and unwinds his window. Even with his head stuck outside, the air doesn't make it any easier to breathe.

"Stef, what's up?"

He tries to answer Damon's question but he can't speak. The air is trapped in his lungs and his entire body is tingling. He vaguely feels Damon's firm grip on his shoulder and he sees a dark blurred outline of Damon, but it's as though he's separated from him by an invisible veil. The sudden pain in Stefan's chest is unlike anything he's ever felt and despite his wealth of medical knowledge from school, he does not realise he's having a panic attack until he hears Damon say it. Stefan is completely out of control of his body, but feels Damon right beside him attempting to calm him down. He hears Katherine's anxious voice from the backseat and although he knows it's Katherine, she sounds exactly like Elena. That same rasp in her voice that brings him comfort. Suddenly he's able to recall all that he knows about panic attacks and allows Damon to guide him through it. Breathe, just breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth, in through the nose, out through the mouth. It takes all of the strength Stefan has to continue breathing through it but within minutes he gains some semblance of control again.

By the time it has passed he descends into a river of tears, losing all control once more. He falls with his head on Damon's lap and Damon's hand rests on his head as Stefan sobs uncontrollably, the heavy weight of recent events finally catching up to him. Neither Damon nor Katherine speak or do anything to try to stop his tears, because they both know he needs this. He's not sure how long he cries for, it feels like forever but in reality it's probably only a few minutes. It leaves him feeling physically and mentally drained, yet also with a renewed sense of strength and determination.

"Sorry," he mumbles wiping his face with the back of his hand.

"You have nothing to apologise for," Damon insists. "I'm here for you, brother. We all are."

Stefan smiles gratefully.

"But, erm, maybe you should sit this one out."

Stefan turns to Damon wide eyed. "What? No. No way."

"Stef, your head's not in it. It's okay, I get it, you've been through a lot. But it's safer for Elena, for all of us, if you sit it out."

"I can't do that."

"I know you feel responsible and you want to be there, but you have to think about what's best."

"Maybe Damon's right," Katherine chimes in, leaning between the front seats. "I know the house and Damon's a cop, it might be easiest if the two of us go alone."

Anger flushes through Stefan. Elena is his girlfriend he should be the first face she sees. Yet deep down inside, he knows they're right. His state of mind is fragile and the panic attack has taken every last piece of energy he had left. The surge of strength and determination he had immediately afterwards did not last very long. He lets out a long, deep sigh.

"You're right."

Damon is surprised to hear him say that.

"I hate it, but you're right. I'm not going to risk messing all of this up because I'm too stubborn to admit when I'm wrong."

Damon squeezes his shoulder. "Well done, Stef. I know this can't be an easy decision. We Salvatore's are stubborn by nature. It's in the genetics," he smirks.

Stefan manages to crack a small smile in return. "I can be the getaway driver, right?"

Damon nods. "You bet. In the meantime why don't we do something to pass the time?"

"Like what?" Katherine asks. "If you say Eye Spy, I might kill you."

"Damn, that's put a spanner in my plan."

They laugh and Stefan is reminded that the only way to survive at the darkest of times is to keep finding small moments of relief like this. Moments where things actually feel normal again. Stefan never particularly considered himself to be the kind of person that wants a boring, ordinary life but after this past week that's all he longs for. He wants to be back in his cramped dorm room that has books scattered on every surface, including the floor, and that is always too dark and dusty, worrying about an upcoming exam or assignment. The worst part is that Stefan fears his life will never go back to what it was ever again but he hopes it will, because he didn't quite realise just how much he loved his life until he was thrown into this spiral of chaos and despair.


Damon glances at the digital clock on the dashboard that reads 2:45am. It's been five hours since they arrived in Cold Spring and they've heard nothing from Rebekah. Despite their protests, Katherine and Stefan joined in with Damon's idea of playing games and it kept them mildly entertained and distracted for an hour or so. Stefan is now dozing in the passenger seat, his head pressed against the window. Damon is glad to see him resting, he needs it. He hears Katherine shifting and sighing in the back seat, unable to switch off her mind. Damon unbuckles his seat belt and climbs out of the car.

"Where are you going?" Katherine asks, a tone of worry in her voice.

In a matter of seconds Damon is sitting beside Katherine in the backseat. She smiles at him sweetly. Damon's heart flutters. She's so beautiful. Since they bumped into each other at the train station he's barely had a second to fully appreciate her being back. They've barely even spoken and he realises how foolish he's been not to seize his opportunity whilst he can. He can sense she's as nervous as he is because it's been so long since they've been alone together and they've barely had time to talk since they've reunited, but she's trying her hardest to conceal her nerves just as he is.

"How are you doing?"

She shrugs. "Okay. I'm tired."

"You should rest. Something tells me we're going to be here all night."

"Well, yeah, I kinda figured that much out for myself three hours ago," she retorts sarcastically. "Sorry," she apologises. "Like I said I'm tired."

"It's fine."

"What do you think happened? She said they had reservations for dinner at 8."

"It must not have been as easy to get them out of the house as she thought."

"Let's hope it's easier tomorrow, or this will have been a worthless trip."

"You should really get some rest," Damon says, sensing her irritability and restlessness which is due to a lack of sleep and the uncertainty of their situation.

"Rest?" Katherine scoffs. "How could I possibly rest?"

"The more sleep we get tonight the better. The car's locked and I'll keep an eye out."

"You think that'll make a difference? My body is constantly in flight mode, ready to run at the first sign of danger."

"You're not on the streets anymore, you don't have to feel like that."

"Even if that's true, it's so loud in my head and I can't switch it off. God knows, I've tried, but I can't."

"I'm sorry you had to come back to all of this."

Katherine raises her eyebrows at him. "What do you mean?"

"When I found you again I wanted all of this to already be over. Since the first time I met you I could see that you needed someone to help you and I thought I could be that person. I thought I could fix everything, but by poking my nose in, all I've done is make things ten times worse. Part of me... Part of me wishes I hadn't seen you at the train station yesterday because I hate you being at risk, but it's only a small part of me. The rest of me is so selfish that I'd rather you be here with me now than anywhere else."

"Damon..."

"I'm sorry. I just hate feeling like this. I hate being so, so-"

"Out of control?"

"Yeah. I guess I'm not used to it."

"But that's the thing, you can't control everything and certainly not this. That's why I didn't tell you because I knew you'd want to make everything better but I should've known you'd find out eventually, one way or another. You're too damn stubborn for your own good, you know that?"

They both smile.

"I might've been told something similar on more than one occasion."

"I never thanked you for everything you did for me."

"There's nothing to thank me for."

"There is."

Damon can't look at her. He's too ashamed because despite what she says, he feels he's failed her. When he first met her he promised to protect her, but look at where she is. She's sat in the street of the very man that has been hunting her all of these years and tomorrow she will be entering his house and putting her life in danger.

"I know you think you didn't help me, but you did. You did." She's insistent and Damon can see that she truly believes what she's saying.

"If that's true you wouldn't be here right now. You'd be safe."

"I am safe. I can't believe I'm saying it because I didn't even think I knew what that word meant anymore. But you... you make me feel safe. You... you make me feel a lot of things. Things I've been too embarrassed and afraid to say."

Despite how close he and Katherine grew in the time they spent together, no matter what there was always an invisible barrier than Damon couldn't seem to get past, but since she's finally shared the truth with him there are no barriers. This is her laid bare and it leaves him lost for words.

She looks down at her hands as she picks her nail beds nervously. "You know everything there is to know about me now and I swore to myself I'd be honest with you from now on, so I have to tell you this."

Damon doesn't like the sound of that. "Tell me what?"

"I want to speak to Klaus myself and make a trade - me for Elena."

Damon just about manages to gasp, "What?"

"I can't let anyone else get hurt because of me, especially not Elena."

"That's why we're here, to make sure that that doesn't happen."

"But we're just sitting around doing nothing."

"We're not sitting around doing nothing, we're waiting for our opportunity."

"And who knows how long that could be? I'm sick and tired of waiting, Damon. I've waited for five years. I don't want to wait any longer."

"No," Damon says firmly. "The plan is a good one and we're sticking to it. You're not giving yourself up. Besides, we've talked about this. If Klaus wants you because of some vendetta against your parents, you giving yourself up won't make a difference. He'll just think he's hit the jackpot and getting two for the price of one."

"You don't know that."

"And you don't either. That's the point, we still don't know exactly what's going on here and until we do we can't do anything about it. For now, all we can do is get Elena, leave this place and find out more."

"What? And waste more weeks or months? I want the truth now."

"Well, you didn't seem to care about the truth in the five years you were running and the three months you spent lying to me. It's a bit late to decide to be the hero now."

Katherine glares at him, her mouth curled up in anger. For a moment Damon thinks she's going to explode in a fit of rage at him, but she glances at Stefan sleeping soundly in the passenger seat and climbs out of the car, slamming the door shut behind her. Surprisingly, Stefan remains undisturbed, lost in a deep slumber. Damon follows Katherine.

"Katherine, get back in the car," he demands.

"No," she replies defiantly.

"Get back in the car."

"No," she says again, louder.

Damon glances around worriedly and shushes her. "Someone might hear you."

"Who cares? Let them hear me, let the whole damn world hear me! I don't care anymore!" she shouts, throwing her hands up in the air. Her voice echoes around the empty, dimly lit street. Luckily, the houses are so far set back from the road that Damon is doubtful anyone will hear, but it still makes him nervous.

"Katherine, please..."

"You have no idea what it's been like for me, do you? If you had any idea what I've carried around with me every single day for five years you would never say anything like that to me. You don't understand, you never will."

"I don't understand? Are you forgetting that I watched two innocent people get shot dead? Or that me Stefan and Elena barely escaped with our lives? What about the fact that we're fugitives running from the law? Don't tell me I don't understand. I've been in hell since you left."

"You've been in hell? What about me? Do you think it was easy for me to leave you? Do you think I up and left and got on with my life? I haven't slept, I've barely ate, I've been physically sick with worry, I've been terrified every second of every day. It tore me apart to leave but I did it because I had to."

"You keep saying that, that you had to leave, but you didn't and we both know none of what has happened this last week would've even happened if you'd just been honest with me from the start instead of running away like you always do." The second the words have left Damon's mouth he regrets them, but it's too late to take them back.

"I knew it. I knew it."

"Katherine..." Damon stretches his hand out to her in an attempt to reach her, but she backs away from him quickly.

"It doesn't matter what you've said or how many times you told me it wasn't my fault, I knew you still blamed me. You think I caused all of this because I was too much of a coward to face up to my past, but when I tell you I want to go to Klaus and finally confront him and try and put it right, you say no."

"I'm sorry if I don't want you to die."

"Don't pretend to care. We both know I'm only here to make sure Elena gets out of there in one piece. I'm damaged beyond repair, but she's not."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"No, I'll tell you what's ridiculous - me actually thinking you gave a damn about me. You don't get to tell me what to do anymore. I'm my own person and I make my own decisions."

Katherine marches off down the street, but Damon grabs her hand and pulls her back. She swings around and slaps him hard and swift across his cheek. When her temper fades and clarity returns, Damon sees the regret in her eyes as tears begin to trickle down her face.

"I don't have anything left inside me. I'm so tired, Damon. It all feels so pointless. I don't want to live like this anymore. I can't..."

Damon silently cries at hearing Katherine speak so flippantly about her own life. How can she not see the value of her life? She is everything, everything...

"At least if I go to Klaus and get Elena back, I'll have died doing at least one good thing."

"What about me?" Damon asks, his voice trembling.

"I'll tell Klaus you brought me to him. He'll owe you and get you off the police charges."

"I wasn't talking about the charges."

She sighs and moves closer to him. Her anger has passed and she looks like Katherine again. Her eyes are soft and sorrowful. "I know you have this need to fix everything and everyone around you, but I can't be fixed. I'm...I'm broken," she sobs.

Damon reaches his hand out to her face and wipes her tears away with his fingers.

"You're not broken, you... you're perfect. I love you."

Her eyes widen slightly in surprise. He promised himself if he ever saw her again he would tell her everything he feels for her and he broke that promise by waiting so long to say it, but at last he has told her. There's so much more he could say, but those three little words best sum it up. Damon never considered himself a person that was afraid of love, he's always worn his heart on his sleeve, but as the words hang in the air between him, he realises how terrified he is. He searches her face for some sign of a reaction, but she's unreadable. At least she doesn't pull away or bat his hand from her face, which he takes as a positive sign. He leans in and places a feather-like kiss on her lips, before leaning away and searching her dark eyes. Fear washes over him. What if she doesn't feel the same way? What if he's just made a complete and utter fool of himself? What if he's ruined everything?

He takes his hand from her face and bows his head, disappointment flowing through him until he feels her hand on his face. She lifts it so that his eyes are on hers again and he sees adoration reflected in her eyes. Their breathing is heavy as she leans back in to kiss him again. It's tentative and nervous, both of them unsure, until suddenly they become swept up in a tornado of desperate passion and anguished relief.

Their bodies collide together, Damon winds his hands into his thick hair and their lips move together frantically as they attempt to express everything they feel for each other and the many unsaid things between them into this one kiss. They're moaning, unaware of the world around them and completely lost in each other. Damon has never experienced such all-consuming passion in his entire life. He wants to devour her, feel her fill every single part of him until there's nothing left of him but her.

Any doubt or shyness that may have been present before completely evaporates as they get lost in each other. When their tongues glide across each other, their embrace tightens and they fall backwards until Katherine's back is pressed up against the car. Damon moves from her mouth to scatter kisses over her face and neck and Katherine's hands slide up and down his back. It feels as though Damon has been waiting an eternity for this moment and now that it's here it is everything he ever dreamed it would be and more. He never knew he could feel such completeness and unadulterated joy from one simple kiss.

When Katherine's hands slip up beneath his shirt and he feels her hot fingertips graze his bare flesh, he feels a stirring at his centre and pulls way from her. No matter how much he may want her now is not the time nor the place, and he needs to control himself before things develop any further. Katherine does not question him or protest, understanding why he stopped the kiss. Damon smooths his hair down with his fingers and attempts to catch his breath, but his heart is pounding like a sledgehammer in his chest making it impossibly difficult to do that. Katherine's hair is wild and dishevelled, her lips swollen and moist from Damon's kiss and he cannot recall her ever having looked so beautiful. The intensity of his feelings for her is unlike anything he's ever felt and the only outlet for that emotion is to cry.

Katherine walks up to him and it is her turn to brush the tears from his face. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything I said before, I didn't mean any of it. I was angry and hurt and-"

"I'm not crying because of that," he admits. "I'm crying because I've never felt this way about anyone before."

"I haven't either."

Damon wants to be one hundred percent open with her so goes against all his natural protective instincts and forces himself to admit his deepest fear. "I'm scared. I'm scared of losing you again and I'm scared of how much I love you."

Tears flow down Katherine's cheeks. "Me too."

"Ten days without you was long enough for me to know that I never want to be without you again for the rest of my life."

"I'll never leave you again." She reaches up to run her fingers through the front of her hair and then lets it slide down his face. He's never seen her look at him the way she is now and he knows what she's going to say before she's even summoned the courage to say it. "I love you."

Happiness swells inside him. He never knew how much it would mean to hear those words from her and he realises how long he has yearned to hear them.

"I never thought... I didn't think I'd ever love anyone. I didn't know I could because the thought of it terrified me so much... It still does. I know it's a cliche, but everyone I've ever cared about has always left or hurt me and I...I don't think I'd survive if the same happened with you."

"I'll never do that to you."

"No, but what if I do something to screw it up? I'm damaged goods, I ruin everything I touch. I'm not good enough for you."

"I wish you'd stop saying that."

"It's true. I cause destruction and pain wherever I go."

"That's not true. And anyway, I'm strong enough to handle myself."

"You say that but look at what knowing me has done to you already. I've ruined your life, Damon."

"No, you haven't."

"Your life was perfect before you met me."

"Maybe it looked like that from the outside, but it was far from perfect. I love my job, but my day to day was always the same. I was just going through the motions and then you crash landed into my life and everything changed. I wanted to get out of bed in the morning and I couldn't wait to come home to you. You brought colour into my life."

Katherine smiles.

"Look, now I'm the one spouting cliches."

They laugh lightly.

"Things are crazy right now and I'm as scared as you are, but I would still take this over never having met you."

"Do you really mean that?"

He pulls her into his arms and hugs her tight. "Of course I do." He kisses her head and she sinks into his body. "I'm confused and uncertain about everything right now except you."

"Me too," she says quietly.

"So let's promise each other here and now that we'll always be honest with each other. We both have this tendency to keep our guard up and try and keep up the facade, but there's no room for that. We're already in a dangerous situation and keeping each other at arms length only makes it more dangerous."

"I don't-I don't know how to be close with another person. I've never... I've never had anything like this with anyone before."

"Neither have I, but we can figure it out together. Do you trust me?"

She nods.

"And I trust you, more than anything. As long as we have that we'll be okay."

"Yeah. Yeah, we'll be okay." She smiles up to him, slides her hand around his waist and nuzzles into his chest.

"Lets get back into the car. It's freezing out here."

They slip back into the back seat and splay across the back seat entwined in each other's arms. Damon is floored by how incredible it feels to simply hold her in his arms and feel the warmth of her. In the past whenever they shared moments of intimacy like this he would be overwhelmed with guilt and shame because she wasn't his to want. Now he knows that she reciprocates his feelings that guilt and shame is no where in sight. He can simply enjoy this moment of peace, the calm before the storm. After everything that's happened they deserve this tranquillity and time together to simply be, and Damon is going to soak up every last second of it. Although they're only lying together, squashed into the backseat of a cramped rental car with Stefan snoring from the passenger seat, he knows he will never forget this moment.

"I love you," he whispers against her hair. Saying it once has released the floodgates and he can't resist telling her again.

He hears her sigh contentedly and she lifts her head to look up at him. "Tell me that again tomorrow when we have Elena and we're far from this place."

"I will," he agrees and she settles back against his chest. He won't just tell her tomorrow, he will tell her the day after that and the day after that. He will tell her he loves her at every opportunity he has because life is too precious not to.

It's too dangerous to think on the devastating possibilities that await them, but if the unthinkable happens and one of them is killed, he doesn't want any regrets or anything left unsaid between them.