The misty air hung about the Salvatore mansion like a brooding omen; the fog rolled thickly along the ground and up the stone walls, giving the place an eerie glow from the porch lights. Elena had a feeling she shouldn't have come, but her body's unwillingness to sleep and her mind's determination to make her think about everything that had happened recently proved to be an undeniable force.
She didn't ring the bell, only located the key from the hiding spot she knew so well, and turned the lock, an action which seemed excessively loud in the stillness of the night. Leaving the key on the table, she made her way quietly as she could through the house, which lay in shadows. No illumination guided her to the living room where she could picture him sitting; she made the trek blindly, the distant firelight casting warm shadows on the floor.
She turned the corner slowly, resting at the threshold before making another move. The room was dark, save for the roaring fire, but the windows were open, allowing for the cool night breeze to rustle the drapes and edges of yellowed papers. Elena swallowed hard, letting her eyes adjust to the faint light. She had just made out his figure when he spoke; he was facing the fire, away from her, sitting in the high-backed chair, a tumbler of amber liquid at his side, resting on a stack of aged books.
"I could have killed you just now," he remarked coolly, bringing the glass to his lips and remaining forward as he spoke. "I could have been at the door the second you picked up the key. You would have barely had time to enter the house, much less examine me…without my knowledge, of course," he tacked on, the words feebly sarcastic.
"Why didn't you, then?" she sighed, moving from her perch to walk between the chair in which he sat and the couch beside it. She could feel his eyes on her as she moved.
"I know the sound of your footsteps," he said indolently. "I knew it was you."
"The old Damon would have done it, if only to scare me."
"The old Damon would have just done it, regardless if I had known or not." There was a hard edge to his voice; he took another swallow of his brandy, swirling it around to form a small tornado in the glass before downing the rest in one quick shot.
He made a move to get up, empty glass in tow. Elena swooped around the coffee table, catching the bottom half of the glass in her hand. Their hands touched lightly around the glass. Damon's piercing eyes met Elena's for the first time that night, questioning her. There was hardly anger behind the ice-blue irises; it was more detached, more unfeeling than she had ever known him.
"I'll get it," she said softly, the corners of her mouth turning downward.
Damon relinquished the glass, nodding his head, as if to say thank you, but no words came. Instead, he sunk back into the chair, his arms planted on either side, his eyes entranced by the flames crackling in the grate. Elena watched him for a moment, the fire casting a warm glow over his hard features; his eyes glistened.
She stood with her back to the fire for a while, his glass resting upon the table that held the liquor. "Stefan says you haven't been out of the house in weeks…"
She waited, there was no response. She couldn't look at him; she trained her eyes on the glimmering alcohol in front of her, the cut glass cast unique patterns along the dark wood. She swallowed lightly, determined not to be deterred. "Damon, you can't just…" she took a moment to collect her thoughts, knowing what she wanted to express, but not how to execute it. "I know that you've been hurt –"
"It's this one," his voice suddenly echoed close behind her.
She could feel his breath on her ear as his arm slid past her, reaching for was she had been unwilling to give. Her pounding heart slowly returned to normal as he poured his drink beside her. He returned the carafe without a glance to her, bringing the glass to his lips instantly before moving towards the fire. He didn't sit however; he bypassed the chair to stand beside the fire, his back toward Elena once more, his eyes staring straight ahead.
She leaned against the table for a moment, watching him. He was motionless, a statue in a soft cotton t-shirt, jaw firmly set, only until the brandy touched his lips. His eyes only moved as far from the wall to the crackling fire below. She couldn't stand it. Elena's feet moved of their own volition, carrying her across the room until she reached his side.
"Damon," she began, imploring him to look at her. "I know that you're in pain. But you can't just shut everyone out. I'm sorry for what she did to you and me. She hurt us both Damon, but we can't let it consume us."
"No," he spoke softly, staring into his nearly drained glass. "You didn't let it consume you, Elena. You are better than that. Stronger than that."
"I know you are too," she prodded, trying not to focus on her own pain, her own anger toward the woman he loved, the woman who had ruined both of their lives. "And just because she left you doesn't mean -. She's not worth all of this misery, Damon."
His jaw flexed tightly, exposing the taut muscle beneath. He moved to drain his glass, his grasp on the vessel rigid until Elena's fingers were over his, tearing the glass from his hand and tossing it into the fire. The flames roared for a moment, the room glowing brightly; his face appeared to be pained, he looked toward the bookcase.
"Look at me!" Elena cried, flinging her arms to catch Damon in a desperate grasp.
His eyes were piercing, so full that she could barely speak as his arms caught her elbows. He spun her around so quickly she grew lightheaded, trapping her between the wall and his body. "Is this what you want? For me to get angry?" His voice was harsh, frenetic as his grip loosened on one of her arms, planting it firmly between her shoulder and the wall.
"Because I can't," he finished, eyes growing soft as he watched her regulate her unstable breathing. He paused for a moment, eyebrows knitting together in concentration. "I'm not upset that she left me again, Elena. It just kills me to know that I flayed myself out to her, completely open and defenseless for love. And every time I look at you, I see her. I don't want to see her."
Hesitantly, he surrendered her arm, letting his fingers stroke her cheek. "It was supposed to be you…I thought it was you."
His fingers rescinded at Elena's sharp breath. She met his eyes for a brief moment before her dark eyes littered to the space between them on the floor. Damon pushed himself away from her, his bracing hand falling away from the wall as he shifted toward the fireplace again. He stared blankly forward; she remained fixed to the wall.
"Can you imagine it? Having this moment with someone…this intense, perfect moment and then it doesn't even matter…because it wasn't…you." His eyes smoldered as they shifted to look at her, his mouth slightly opened.
Elena remained in the shadows, praying that he couldn't make out her face, for fear of what he would find. Silence overtook the room, the only audible sounds appearing louder than usual - the fire, the crickets, their breathing, two feet away from one another.
Damon adjusted noiselessly, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against the mantle. The fire felt warm on his face, and he tried to forget everything in the silence, but found that he could not. The only sound he was conscious of was the steady cadence of her heartbeat.
"I'm sorry, Elena," Damon managed after awhile, feeling her behind him. "I just needed you to know."
When she didn't respond, he turned slowly. The amber glow that illuminated her made her every feature seem more beautiful, her rich brown hair cascading over her shoulders loosely. She took a small step forward, closing the space between them only slightly. This time Damon's breathing kicked up, his eyes surveying her carefully.
"Show me," Elena nearly whispered in the diffused light. "What it was like…"
Damon stepped forward after a long, disbelieving moment. He only stopped when he saw her look down, he could feel her fingers curling around his, pulling them up between them. His hand remained in the air after she let hers slip away; he understood. He could sense her breathing was more strained than it had been before, and as he placed his fingers to her cheek, the exact spot in which his lips had touched Katherine's, Elena's eyes fluttered lightly. He let his fingers remain there for a moment, barely releasing the pressure of his fingertips as he grazed them over her mouth.
Her lips, soft and tender, trembled beneath his fingertips before he applied the pressure to her mouth. His eyes met hers, penetratingly, longingly, before her eyes closed tremulous and heavy. Her mouth opened faintly against his skin, and fire shot through him when he felt her lips moving against his fingers. He pushed his fingers forward gently, and her lips closed around one of his fingers. His breath caught in his throat, and he could feel hers coming in little puffs at his fingers.
His eyes slid closed now, massaging her bottom lip with his thumb before alternating to the top with his middle finger. Her breath came in ragged pulls, and his fingers were becoming moist, his head hazy. Damon's finger slid a little further into her mouth; her tongue flicked against his finger, and his eyes shot open. He enjoyed the expression that clouded her features for a moment before slowly dragging his fingers away from her lips.
She stood there, eyes closed, for a moment as his fingers traced her mouth one last time, gradually opening them as his fingers withdrew into her hair, just above her ear. Her gaze was unfocused as they looked into each other's eyes, and she didn't flinch when Damon pressed his mouth to her forehead. He left it there for what seemed like an infinite instant, breathing her in before releasing her completely.
Elena caught Damon's hand before he moved out of reach. "That was our moment, mine and yours. Don't forget it…"
"That's not possible," he whispered sincerely, squeezing her hand.
The electricity crackled around them as they stood there in silence. Elena's head was reeling and she couldn't think straight no matter how hard she tried. A simple, seemingly innocent gesture had taken on a life of its own, and from the look that now burned in his eyes, she didn't know if she had done more harm than good. The fire nearly smoldered to ash before either of them made to move.
"You'd better go," Damon said quietly in the grey early morning light, shifting from his position on the couch.
Elena nodded wordlessly, thankful that he hadn't vocalized why, for they both already knew. Stefan would be up soon. She silently grabbed her bag and headed for the front door. She could sense Damon following close behind, noiselessly. Elena's stomach coiled into a knot when he stepped onto the porch with her.
His eyes trailed her every movement, reading her like an open book. Their eyes caught again, and although expressions fatigued, the intensity was unmistakable. Damon took a step forward cupping the side of her face. His fingers traced the curve of her ear as the sunlight crept toward the shadow of the porch. Elena remained motionless, her eyes closing involuntarily as his fingers traced her jaw. Her stomach grew warm as he stepped closer, pulling her into an embrace. His lips pressed warmly to her forehead.
"Thank you," he murmured, pulling away to look into her eyes.
Elena nodded hazily, allowing her eyes to fully look at Damon since she had let go of his hand hours ago; he looked…content. Almost without thinking, she pressed a chaste kiss to his neck before pulling out of his embrace and out of his longing reach, her second mistake. His eyes sparkled as he watched her leave, a half smile playing on his lips.
They were undeniably on a different level now, a trembling ledge that made Elena feel uneasy. She was a mix of hot and cold, leaving her in a numbed state that haunted her even when she closed her eyes. The guilt and pleasure she felt could not coexist, but she could still feel Damon on her skin, lingering, smoldering, coursing through her bloodstream until she was trembling.