Summary: They hurt each other as only best friends can. She says words she doesn't believe in anymore and he does the one thing he knows she'll never forgive. And they do it because admitting they care isn't an option.

~ The Easy Way ~

"It's always been Stefan."

He's cupping her face in his hands desperately when she says those four words.

Ironically, the same words Katherine said earlier.

Suddenly, his hands go slack and he's backing away, and he feels something inside him tug harder and harder until it breaks.

And then the breath that he doesn't really need leaves his body and he winces slightly because it just hurts.

"You're a liar."

She flinches, not because of the harshness in his voice because, sometimes, that's what she needs, but because the truth hurts and right now, that's the one that hurts the most. He's right – he's so right.

But he can't know that.

And when he tries to kiss her again – a kiss she's never wanted so much in her whole entire life – she forces herself to jerk away, looks him straight in the eye – and hurts him in the worst way possible.

The words that flow from her mouth have never been farther from the truth – they're so much of a lie it's ridiculous, and she wonders how he hasn't picked up on that – and she knows it. They had been the truth at one point, one distant time in the past; but then, Atlanta happened, and the Miss Mystic Falls pageant happened and so many other precious and defining moments happened that, at some point or another, the 'it's always been' became 'it once has been' and the fire that had burned for Stefan began to burn for him.

It wasn't Stefan anymore because, now, it's become Damon.

She sees the hurt swim in his beautiful blue eyes and she sees the utter desperation that comes over his face. She sees the way he stiffens and the way his beautiful face becomes a mask – a ghost of itself. She knows he's shutting down exactly the same way he had when he'd discovered Katherine wasn't in the tomb but this time, the hurt at seeing him so broken cuts deeper than it had before because, this time around, she's the one who's done it.

The horrible realization that it's a done deal – that she's killed him in a way no friend ever should – makes her choke and she closes her eyes to fight off the tears. She's afraid that when she opens them she'll find him gone and she'll never see him again.

And she's not sure she can live with that. Even after what she's done.

"Damon! No!"

He hears the shocked anguish in her cry when he lunges at her brother, grabbing him forcibly by the throat. He hears the betrayal in there too – sees it in Jeremy's eyes as well – but he makes himself deaf and blind to everything surrounding him because, otherwise, he knows he won't be able to follow through.

And he has to because, sometimes, the easy way is the best way.

Right now, the easy way is the only way for him (for her).

He'd seen the ring on Jeremy's hand, of course – that's how he came up with his plan in the first place – but he still can't suppress a shudder when he hears the telltale 'snap' of the neck as it breaks in his hands, and he's positive he's never felt so many different things – that he's never felt point-blank – when it came to killing a human. He lets go of Jeremy, revolted and disgusted with himself. Jeremy's body lends gently – he's made sure of that – but to untrained eyes (Elena's eyes) it looks like he's flung the body carelessly.

He hears her horrified scream, watches her as she falls to the ground and wraps her arms around Jeremy's head. There are tears in her eyes that he knows she's trying to withhold – and the only tangible proof of her pain are the anguished gasps and strangled sobs that sometimes leave her lips, and the way her hands sometimes come to stroke her brother's hair as if she's trying to soothe him.

He leaves then – his goal's accomplished. He doesn't turn back.

(Because if he does, he knows he'll never leave).

He doesn't miss the slight twitch of Jeremy's hand though, and he knows the little guy's going to be just fine. He's not so sure about their tentative bond, but it's not like it matters anymore.

Nothing does (except her safety).

And he'll make sure she'll stay safe if nothing else. Because that's what friends do, and after tonight, he knows they're the best kind.

"I hate him."

He's the greatest friend she's ever had.

Her voice wobbles on the word 'hate' and she buries her face in Jeremy's hair so that Stefan doesn't notice. She's seen the ring on his hand and she knows Damon had seen it as well – how couldn't he? It would be too strange a coincidence otherwise and Damon wouldn't have done that if not for the ring – but it was easier to believe he hadn't seen it – the hate flowed better that way.

He could have killed her baby brother, and for what?

And yet, at the same time, he couldn't have (he wouldn't have).

He's done this to protect her – to keep them wrapped up in the convenient lie she's built for them because it was easier this way – and she knows he doesn't want her to know the reason but for God's sake he's her best friend, and best friends know that about each other.

And really she should have known better than thinking that the four words would have sealed the deal between them. Wasn't he the one with all the comebacks after all? The man who never fails to surprise?

Damon never fails, does he?

She repeats the words again – "I hate him" – because she's convinced that if she doesn't, she'll forget what they mean (forget to whom she's directing them at). Repeating them fuels the actual hate, helps her get a grasp of it.

(Even if she wants nothing to do with it)

He's her best friend (and the guy she loves the most but she'll never admit that) and best friends look out for each other. That's what they did even if they both hoped the other wouldn't notice. But they did – they just decided to pretend they didn't.

It's easier that way.

But it hurts. They're best friends, and they've hurt each other as only best friends can. They're still hurting; and not only from what happened tonight, but from the consequences that'll affect tomorrow.

They'll never be easy-going, fun-loving, it's-okay-to-be-yourself-with-me Damon and Elena.

She's still brave enough to admit that she's going to miss him.

Grief grips his heart – that stupid old thing.

He knows he can shut if off (it's just like pressing a button).

But he knows he won't (because, just this once, he doesn't want to take the easy way out).

He feels so hurt and vulnerable and alone and so desperately stupid he just wants to shout until there's nothing left in him. He settles on throwing his Bourbon-filled glass into the fire, though, and watches as the fire sparks for a split-second from the alcohol, before resuming its calm, steady rhythm.

For once, he knows he's actually done the right thing (at least, he thinks it is) instead of trying to. It's better if Elena hates him and stays with Stefan – stable, safe, easy – Stefan.

(And maybe, somewhere along the line, he'll believe that too).

She chokes in relief when she feels Jeremy jerk awake with a gasp and presses him closer to her. She sobs in his hair and lets Stefan wrap his arm around her (and tries not to wish it was somebody else entirely hugging her).

"Damon – Damon killed me."

No, she wants to say. He protected you.

But she doesn't – she wisps the hair out of his face instead and kisses his damp forehead. Her heart's still beating painfully in her chest; it's crying out for Damon, she realizes and digs her teeth into her lip to keep herself from bawling.

Because going to Damon isn't an option anymore.

He wonders if she'll forgive him (she already has) and she wonders if he'll miss her (he does).

And just once – for the breadth of one small, insignificant second – they wonder if the easy way was the best way after all.

Author's Note: Okay I totally lied. I know I said a more physical one-shot (Moment. It's coming I promise!) was the next one but after watching the season two premiere – well, who wouldn't write a 'spiritual' one-shot about these two? Poor Damon had a lot of crap thrown at him in this episode. Hearing the two women in his life say that he's second best's probably not the ego stroke (though I suspect Katherine said it because she knew it'd kill Damon – and therefore make it easier for her to manipulate him – that bitch). Please drop in a review of what you think about this one and please, please, please I beg you, do NOT favorite without reviewing. Please.

On that note, I do love you all and appreciate any comment. I'll make sure to get back to you ASAP!