Elena walked slowly up to her home, frowning slightly to herself as she carried her dress bag in her arms. It was a reminder of the entire disaster that had been Founder's Day, and of the fear she had felt all day.
Stefan had almost been killed in that fire, and by the police. And so had Damon. Things could have gone so badly, so easily, and she wouldn't have been able to anything about it. She remembered that gut wrenching fear when Stefan had collapsed, the device hurting him, and her complete helplessness. If Alaric hadn't have shown up when he had, Stefan would have been taken away and...
No, she told herself, raising her head again and shaking her hair out of her face. She wouldn't think of that. Things had turned out okay, for the most part. And even if Bonnie had lied about the device, she'd still helped to save both Damon and Stefan's lives when she'd put out that fire. Maybe she was still going to come around to their side. Eventually.
She was dragging her feet slightly with weariness as she climbed the stairs; a weariness that was pushed aside as Damon was suddenly in front of her, walking out of her house. Surprise coloured her expression, and she slowed down as she approached.
"What are you doing here?" she asked slowly. If it wasn't unusual enough for him to be in her house without her there, she had expected him to be somewhere, resting. He had been dosed with a large amount of vervaine, and that had to still be making him feel weak.
He closed the front door slowly, seeming to be thinking over his words.
"A failed and... feeble attempt at doing the right thing," he said, almost smiling but not quite managing it. His words and manner seemed heavy, weighed down by something.
Elena took a deep breath, walking up another step. "Which was...?" she trailed off, inviting him to explain.
He walked over to her, shaking his head slightly and giving her a small, reassuring smile. "It's not important," he told her, before reaching for the bags in her hands.
"Here let me take this for you," he said quietly. He took the bags and set them aside, while she watched, torn between worried and confused. He didn't seem like his usual self. He wasn't mocking or sarcastic, not even in a friendly way. While she had seen Damon in rare moments of true emotion or vulnerability, this wasn't quite the same.
And so she watched him closely as she continued onto the porch, while he carefully placed her things on a chair.
"Thank you," she added belatedly, in a somewhat cautious voice. She wasn't quite sure what was going on with him, and she was concerned; she didn't want to upset him or hurt him accidentally. She didn't even know what was wrong.
But then he spoke quietly, really talking to her.
"You know, I came to this town wanting to destroy it," he told her, avoiding her eyes a little, looking at the house and out into the darkness. She just listened. "And tonight I... I found myself wanting to protect it." He met her gaze then, frowning slight as he stared at her, like he really couldn't understand. "How does that happen?" He shook his head minutely.
She tried to think of something to say, caught off guard by how vulnerable he suddenly looked, but she didn't have to.
"I'm not a hero, Elena," he said softly, almost sadly. "I don't do good." He frowned again, looking away from her, at the ground. "It's not... in me."
She almost took a step toward him. "Maybe it is," she offered. She'd seen enough of Damon now to know that he did have a good side, he just chose not to show it. She'd seen the good in him, and she believed in it.
He shook his head, and smiled gratefully at her, like he didn't believe she meant it.
"No. No, that's reserved for my brother," he said, looking at her pointedly. "And you." He smiled slightly, before genuine surprise took it's place. "And Bonnie."
He seemed to take a breath. "Even though she has every reason to hate me," he said bemusedly, "she still... helped Stefan save me." His gaze moved back, capturing hers.
"Why do you sound so surprised?" she asked slowly.
"Because she did it for you," he said quietly, looking at her seriously. His tone had a shade of accusation in it, but it wasn't hostile. He started moving closer to her, making her feel strange. Her heartrate increased just slightly, because of his proximity and his manner, which made her want to move away. But she didn't.
"Which means that somewhere along the way," he continued, stopping just before her. "You decided that I was worth saving." He still looked serious, as if he was thinking hard about something, and his voice was barely above a whisper. "And I wanted to..." He paused, his voice rough with emotion. "... thank you. For that." He frowned, staring down deep into her eyes. She stared back for a moment, and then nodded.
"You're welcome," she said. She knew that he needed to say this to her, but it had never really been in her to give up on Damon, for a long time now. She cared about him more than she could have imagined, and he was right - she knew that he was worth saving, even if he didn't.
He almost nodded and then, with a tenderness that amazed, leaned in and gently kissed her cheek. She felt surprise tingle through her at that feather-soft touch, and then something else. Her chest clenched slightly with something akin to panic as her heart increased to a much faster pace.
He pulled back slightly, and she knew he could hear it. He eyes ran over her face, taking in her expression, and she didn't know what he saw in her - assent, a daze, shock, it could have been any.
She watched as he started to slowly lean towards her, his eyes on hers as he waited for her to push him away, or start yelling. She waited, too, as she found her eyes being drawn to his lips, and then back to his serious blue eyes.
She couldn't take this back, she realised in some deep part of her mind. Either way, this moment was going to change everything. But she stayed where she was, looking into his eyes, until his lips met hers, and her eyes closed.
He kissed her softly, almost hesitantly, still giving her the chance to pull away. But, despite everything, she found herself kissing him back, drawn in by the utter sweetness and honesty of that action. And when his lips moved from hers for the space of a breath, testing her response, she was the one that brought her mouth back to his, and let the kiss deepen.
His hand came up to hold her face, his thumb against her jaw, and she could feel the gentleness in the way he held her, and in the way his mouth moved slowly but seriously with hers. Her hands were on his collar now, pulling him closer as she started to lose herself in him.
The front door opened, revealing Jenna standing there, her eyes wide with shock and thinly veiled anger. They broke apart, Damon turning away slightly as Elena looked guiltily at her Aunt, trying to swallow past her hammering heart.
"Hi," she said awkwardly.
"It's late," Jenna said flatly. "You should probably come inside."
Slightly dazed still, Elena flicked a glance at Damon's face before grabbing her things and walking past Jenna into the house. Jenna stared disapprovingly at Damon before she shut the door, who looked aside, seeming as affected as Elena had been.
Elena headed numbly for the stairs, vainly hoping that Jenna would somehow let her go in peace before Elena started screaming or crying or whatever would happen when she really thought about what she'd just done. But she had no such luck.
"What are you doing?" Jenna sounded shocked, hurt and almost scared. She stared at Elena wide eyes.
"I-I don't know," she stammered honestly. She didn't have any explanation for why she'd just... She'd just kissed Damon. "I don't know. Please, I have to go," she managed before Jenna could get anything else out, and ran up the stairs. She retreated to her room, throwing her things on the bed and leaning up against the closed doors.
What had she done? She loved Stefan. She knew that. She was certain that she loved Stefan. And Stefan knew that she loved him. And Damon knew that she loved Stefan. Everyone knew that she was Stefan's - that she only loved Stefan.
But she'd kissed Damon. Willingly. She felt for her necklace at her throat, hating herself. She couldn't even blame Damon; he'd given her enough chance to resist, and she hadn't.
Guilty tears seeped out from the corners of her eyes, and she let herself slide to the ground, the burning, crushing weight in her chest pulling her down.
She wished that Jenna hadn't walked in when she had, at least so that she could have figured out what that had been. But then again, she thought as more tears escaped, it was probably much better that it had ended when it did. Even now, touching her lips, she could still feel him, and the deep, warm, heady sensation he had brought out in her. And so she didn't know how much she could have trusted herself to stop him.
Her throat burned with emotion, and she had to tell someone what had just happened. She couldn't talk to Jenna, she was already ashamed enough because of the disappointment she'd seen in her eyes. She didn't think she could even look at Stefan in her guilt, and Bonnie would never speak to her again if she found out.
Not even bothering to fix her crying-face, she left her room, walking across to her brother's bedroom door. She knocked quietly, leaning against the wood.
"Jeremy?" she sniffled. "Jeremy are you in there? Look, I really need to talk to someone, okay? I'm sorry about everything that happened, but I just -" She didn't finish, swallowing back a small sob that hurt her throat. "Please, Jer, just say something! Anything. Tell me to go to hell again, just please talk to me. We have to talk this out."
She waited, but there was no response but silence again.
"Jer?" Nothing. "I'm coming in, okay?" She waited a couple of seconds before opening the door. He was curled up on his bed. She felt guilty suddenly at trying to unload on her brother, when for all she knew he was going through something himself.
"Hey, Jeremy, are you okay?" She noticed his eyes were closed, then, and went over to him, sitting beside him on the bed. He'd hurt his neck laying like that. She tried to get him to release his hold on the pillow underneath his head, but he was holding too tightly.
She shook his shoulder gently, trying to wake him up. "Jer," she said by his ear, before poking him playfully in the ribs, something that always manage to wake him. "Jeremy."
Dread started to ear away at the bottom of her stomach, and her voice kicked up a couple of octaves. "Jeremy. Jeremy." She shook his whole body more violently, frightened tears now falling down her cheeks. "Jeremy, wake up!"
With a shaking hand, she reached out to touch his face. It was cold. Too cold.
Her scream shattered the quiet of the house.