A/N: So over on Fanforum, I made a promise to write a Delena multi-chapter fic during this hiatus. And so I will.


He doesn't expect to see this; of all scenarios, he didn't want to see Katherine standing with John's body sprawled over her feet, human blood soaking the ground. He doesn't expect to have to stand in front of Elena, protecting her, saving her. He doesn't want to think. He just wants her gone.

"Hello, Damon."

Damon's eyes are dark and downcast as she speaks, each movement a subtle twitch of his muscles. The details come to him gradually: the blood pooling at Katherine's feet, the scent of it thick in the air, the malicious look in her eyes. And Elena, pressed against the wall, fear-scent etched in a cloud around her.

For the moment, all he sees is Katherine. All he knows is that it isn't Elena.

"Katherine." To Damon's credit, he doesn't flinch, and his voice is cool and collected. He smirks at her, unwilling to let her see his disappointment. His fear. "There was something... off about Elena." He straightens his shoulders, casts a quick glance at said girl behind him. She's watching him, her eyes masked.

Katherine cocks her head to the side as a predatory measure, sizing him up. "Move aside, Damon." The voice is filled with such coldness, Damon knows his life is teetering by a string. "I might let you live if you do."

"Nah." He awaits the pain as it comes; her head snaps to the side once more and before he can blink, she's on him, snarling with rage. He doesn't close his eyes. He's perfectly fine. Perfectly, wonderfully fine.

"What happened to you?" The words are whispered fiercely into his ear.

"I grew up," he hisses back, until she can hear him quite clearly. "You left and I grew up." He shoves her back, relishing in her shock as she stumbles. The satisfaction doesn't last long, and with it comes cold dread, as if he's aware this is the end of everything he's been running from.

Katherine meets Elena's eyes. He can hear her breathing grow quick and shallow, and he wants to help her; but he's done enough. "You're in love with her." Katherine says it as if it's a curse, something she wishes to vanquish. "And she looks like me." The way she says it is pure fury. He can't find any other word to describe it.

"She isn't you." Damon knows this; he's seen it. "She's not a cold bitch with nothing else to do but toy with people."

He awaits another attack; he awaits the pain of a knife in his chest, or something equally as unpleasant. But there is nothing, only the clear picture of anger on Katherine's face, and the fear rolling off Elena in waves. Damon pushes her back again.

"Go. Leave. Don't ever come back." It's wishful thinking, to hope to persuade Katherine to leave if she didn't want to. He doesn't even know if he wants her to leave. The way she smells is the same, with an elusive perfume and something else, something wonderful. He... doesn't love her anymore. Not love. But... want. He wants her. He wants answers. He wants to know why she left.

Katherine's mouth twists into a smirk. "Leave?" She casts a pointed glance back at Elena. "No, no... I think I'll stay. It could get interesting around here."

Damon opens his mouth to protest, but within the moment, Katherine flashes to the side, shattering the window as she leaps from the house. "Goodbye, Damon." The way her voice trills the words - the way she says it in a mocking way - makes him so unbelievably... nostalgic.

"Damon..." Elena's voice is pleading and sad and everything he doesn't want to hear right now. It's full of pity and fear.

"Why weren't you more careful?" Damon snarls. The blood-scent around John's body is still thick in the air, filling his head with want. He has to control it. "Why did you have to put yourself in danger like that?" He wants to hate her right now.

Terror envelopes her face. "Damon, your eyes..." She doesn't answer him the way he wants.

He can feel his features shifting, the hunger overwhelming him. He hasn't fed since... before the fire. He's starving.

In the next heartbeat, Damon lets go of her, turning away to control himself. This isn't him. He's calm, collected, always in the clear with his hunger. "I should go. I need to... I need to go. Now would be a good time to disappear."

Elena makes a soft, piteous sound in her throat. "What if she comes to your place?" He can hear her thoughts churning. "We have to call Stefan and get him here. She won't come back if -"

"She doesn't want Stefan," Damon mumbles, in a voice that isn't his own. "She wants me. Stefan is, whatever... she loved him." Not me. Not me. Loved Stefan, didn't love me. Who could? "She wants to torture me, and kill you, and get Stefan back because... she doesn't want me."

"Damon..."

He stares at John's body, wondering how he could ever explain this to Stefan. If he could.

Elena's hand brushes against his, in a gesture of thanks and welcome.

"Stay," she says. "I'll call Stefan."

He closes his eyes and feels the tears prick behind the eyelids. He doesn't reply, not even a thank-you. His body is cold and stiff and frigid as if he's been dropped into icy water. What will happen, he wonders, when Katherine comes back for Elena?

Will he be able to protect her?

(His worst fear is that he can't.)