I realise I've dropped of the face of the planet these past few weeks in terms of my other story "The Masquerade" and I apologise! I've been having some serious writers block since the premiere thanks to the curveball the writers threw our way and I don't really know how to continue it given what's happened but that being said I love the angst they've brought into the relationship. It makes it harder to write D/E in character because they are so different from how they were in Season 1 though and that's why I've been struggling to update.

Anyway the wonderful Lala from FanForum requested this one-shot so here it is, it's her basic storyline with some of my own ideas thrown in. I hope you like it Lala! And I hope everyone else enjoys it too! Sorry if there are some typos I've read through it a few times but it's 2am, I have no beta and my eyes are tired. On with the fic!

It's been eight months - not that Elena's counting.

Eight months since that conversation on the porch. Eight months since she drove the proverbial stake through Damon's heart once again but this time it is she who has been left with scars. He doesn't let her in anymore, not that this should bother her... not that she'd admit that it hurts. He doesn't let his guard down around anyone. It's all scathing comments and pain ridden looks and she can't help but see the immeasurable torment that swims within the cerulean depths of his eyes all the fucking time.

She thought it would help, she thought using his own tactics against him would provide her with some gratification; she was wrong.

She feels nothing but the cold.

She feels alone. She feels like what was once murky yet bright is now indistinguishable and black. It consumes her, plagues her every waking thought. She dreams and it's the same scenario over and over again - the sickening snap, the thud as he hits the floor, the one look of torment and guilt they'd shared before she closed off her heart to him. She gets stuck in that moment, she's stuck remembering the way he hovered in her doorway looking every bit as bedraggled and lost as she now feels. He wears the expression well she thinks before she looks down again, before she's faced with his betrayal and she wakes in a cold sweat.

Everyday is an uphill struggle, it's one more smile to add to the list of fakes. One more white lie to stop the others she loves from seeing how truly conflicted she is. It's one more internal pep talk where she reminds herself why she can't forgive him; why she hates him.

It shouldn't be this hard to hate she thinks. It makes her question her sanity on more than one occasion. He killed her brother – plain and simple. The one slither of hope that she was clinging too had been eradicated when he'd told her the truth.

She thinks that if he'd lied to her again – if he'd just told her that he'd seen the ring then she would have believed him. She would have cast away her doubts and clung to that knowledge because in hindsight she realises that even then, even with the wound still so fresh, she didn't want to give up on him. She didn't want to lose him forever – but she had to; she sees now that you have to be lost to be found.

"Yes. You have lost me forever"

She doesn't realise how truly foolish her statement is until she's staring his impending mortality in the face. She doesn't even know how it happened; why it happened.

One minute Katherine was blurring towards Caroline, stake in hand ready to plunge it into her chest and the next it was sent roughly into Damon's leather clad one instead – sickening crunch and all and it was then in that moment; in those sickening microseconds that she realised with utter clarity and conviction that she couldn't lose him forever.

You don't love the people you hate.

You either hate them or you don't it really is that simple.

You don't care if the people you hate are hurting – you crave their despair.

You don't wish that things could be different and regret the things you've said – you forget them.

You don't silently promise yourself that if they really need you – if he really needs you then you won't send him away, regardless of the way things are between you.

You know now what you mean to him. You know the power you hold over him, whether you want it or not and you will never abuse that again.

And most of all; most of all you don't care if the people you hate are dead and it's that simple fact that snaps you out of an eight month long stupor.

She doesn't hate him.

I don't hate him. I can't hate him. He hasn't lost me forever. He never really lost me at all.

She gasps, weeps and almost laughs at the sick irony of it as she staggers towards him – the world literally crashing down around her, as wave after wave of shock engulfs her.

This has to be a joke. Katherine's face registers shock and she thinks that it looks so wrong colouring her face; she did this. This is her fault and in that moment Elena realises what it really feels like to truly experience hate. Hate so strong that it makes your guts twist and your hands shake and there's no sadness about it because nothing could bring you greater satisfaction than seeing that person dead in that moment.

Hate that twists you into something beyond recognition, hate that takes your traits and flips them 180 degrees; she's not a violent person, she tries to be understanding of everyone's motives no matter who they are but in those seconds, Elena wants nothing more than to scratch Katherine's skin from her body with her bare hands. She wants nothing more than to scream bloody murder and lash out at every single person near her – there's no control involved. There's no rational thought, she's beyond it; she can feel nothing but the surge of hatred and pain and the all consuming need to destroy as she drops to her knees and pulls his body into her lap.

She thinks his face is grey but she can't see for the tears that are pouring down her face. She holds him like she held Jeremy, she rocks him back and forth sobbing uncontrollably; she doesn't think she can come back from this.

Stefan doesn't know what to do; even with eternity he would never have guessed that Damon would be the one to sacrifice himself for anyone but Elena. Hadn't he been the one who was adamant about killing Caroline himself? And then he remembers that night at the carnival and suddenly he understands. Four words… that was all it had taken, four words and he'd given in.

"Damon. She's my friend"

His shaking legs carry him closer, and until this point he hadn't been able to see his brothers face but when he does it causes something within him to break. Those years… all of those years be they good or bad flash through his mind and he hasn't felt the love he still has for his brother so strongly in over 100 years. It feels like a bad case of de-ja-vu as he kneels there but he knows that this time his words or actions won't be enough.

He knows that this time she won't come back; he knows that this time she's broken. He's never seen so much pain on her face and it's reflected in his.

Caroline watches in horror as Katherine slips into the darkness her chagrin stripped, the shock still plainly shining in her face and she thinks… she thinks she just might have forgiven Damon for all the shit he's put them through. She realises that this is the first time she's witnessed first hand the "good in him" that Elena always told her about and for the first time in her life Caroline wishes that she had died in place of someone else.

They don't know how long they stay there, it's the middle of the night and the cold practically has Elena frozen but she won't let go. She thinks that if they just stay here… if she just holds him and doesn't let go then it won't be real. Maybe if they take him back with them, if she wraps him up in the sheets of his bed and just lays there with him she could pretend he's sleeping? If she ignores the ashen colour his skin has taken on will she be able to make herself believe another lie? She's done it before after all.

She feels someone's hands on her, hears muffled sounds; a voice speaking over her own cries and she realises that he died thinking that she hated him. He died without hope. He died thinking that he was truly alone in the world and the fiery pain cripples her. She's lost to the world as Stefan removes the stake, as he somehow manages with huge patience to coax Elena into her car that Caroline's retrieved for them. He lets her sit in the back with Damon's body sprawled across her lap and the seats as he tries to drown out the sound of her sobs by concentrating on the road ahead of him. It's useless and he's helpless. They all are.

By the time they reach the boarding house she wonders if she'll cry like this forever. She wonders if this is God's punishment for her lies, for the way she hurt him, for the way she's hurting Stefan right now. She thinks that she doesn't want to experience another second of this… let alone a day. Forever is such a long time she realises. She'll never use that word so carelessly again.

It's when she's sitting on the long sofa with his head in the cradle of her arms and the tears finally coming silently that he jolts violently, his hand flying to his chest the colour returning to his flesh in a rush, the wound already beginning to close that her world is permanently altered for the second time that night. Her hands which had previously been stroking his face lovingly freeze hovering over his skin precariously; she holds her breath, eyes wide and her mouth falls open in some form of silent scream and she stares into his eyes with wild abandon.

He sits up slowly, bringing his legs down to rest on the floor and he stands quietly, looking around the living room of his house with a new appreciation because he wasn't even sure that his plan would work. He fingered the blue ring on his left hand in wonder silently thanking whatever demon seemed to be looking out for him today before turning to her.

She's still sitting there, mouth wide open and eyes disbelieving, her expression mostly blank save for the abundant confusion on her face before she pulls herself out of the seat roughly sending one stinging slap across his face. His head snaps to the side as the resonating sound breaks the morbid silence in the room and brings a hand up to hold his jaw. He takes a moment to let out a calming breath as his eyes set alight with hurt and rage – apparently he can't even fucking die right.

He turned his face slowly back towards her, mirth shining in his eyes ready to launch into action only to pause when he takes in the expression on her face, she's never looked so alive in her entire life. Her cheeks are flushed, her eyes are dancing with emotion and it's more than he's seen from her in months. It's like she's suddenly been shocked back to life, the fire that he most admires about her is suddenly burning bright with renewed passion and he thinks... he thinks that this is the most beautiful he's ever seen her.

"What the hell were you thinking!" she screamed, putting all of her weight behind the shove she threw his way, he barely moved but that didn't phase her - she was past the point of caring.

"How could you be so stupid!" she cried, hitting him anywhere her hands could make contact.

"You could have died! I thought you had, we all thought you had! Why would you do that to us! How could you do that to me!" she screeched, continuing her assault.

He swallowed the uncomfortable lump in his throat as he stood, taking her physical blows with ease, not even bothering to form even the slightest defence against her attacks…

"Elena" he said his voice sounding too rough even for his own ears. Too unsure, it wavered – sounded weak. He hated it.

"No! I can't believe you didn't tell me you had a ring like that!" she continued, shoving him again and this time he caught her wrists gently between his palms locking her arms close to his body as he searched her eyes with his own.

"I didn't even know if it would work" he said quietly, the honesty resonating from every word and his frown mirrored her own desperate one as she took onboard the precedence of what he'd done. Of what he'd just said.

"Why?" she demanded her voice breaking over the syllable as molten liquid burned in her eyes again, threatening to spill over her already damp, salt ridden cheeks.

He took a moment to consider her words; he didn't know why really. All he knew was that he'd seen the stake and something had possessed him to act, something that he'd thought had long since died within him. Selflessness. He hadn't even really consciously done it for her, for the girl standing in front of him. He'd done it because it was the right thing to do. He struggled for the words before confessing quietly.

"She didn't deserve to die; not like that" and he watched the way her face crumpled, watched in despair and confusion and hopelessness as fresh bouts of tears started running down her face. His hands itched to wipe them away but there was so much distance between them now that he wondered if she wouldn't simply bat them away; push him away. Like she always did.

"I'm sorry" she sobbed, and his eyes snapped up to meet hers again, cautious to allow his foolish emotions to get the best of him this time. No. He wouldn't open himself to her again; he wouldn't fall for her game twice. She saw the scepticism in his eyes and took a step closer, bring her hands to grab each side of his face forcing him to listen to her; imploring him to believe her.

"I'm sorry" she repeated her gaze searching his features for the Damon she was looking for, the one behind the smirks and indifference. She wouldn't stop until she found him again, she hadn't forgiven him; wouldn't. But now she understood. She understood and she was ready to fight for him again; she'd been doing it all along ever since the first time - she just hadn't realised it.

"I lied Damon. I lied to you and I'm sorry – you didn't lose me" she choked out "I'm still here" she whispered watching as a thousand different emotions seemed to flash across his face before he grabbed her by the shoulders pulling her to him in a fierce embrace, he doesn't realise how deeply her absence hurt until that moment. Doesn't register that all of this time he's been standing in the cold just waiting to be let in.

She sobs quietly and clings to him, face buried in his shoulder obsessively repeating the words that she knows he needs to hear. Her tears soak his shirt and it feels like acid but he doesn't move, he doesn't let go. He holds her tightly, one arm wound securely around her waist and the other tangled in her hair as her arms press him to her desperately. He can feel the way her nails dig into his back as she clings to him helplessly.

She's lost at sea and he is her only anchor.

He's falling and she is the hand that's reaching out to save him.

"I'm still here" she sobs continuously.

Hope explodes painfully in his chest and he closes his eyes, buries his face in her hair and holds on tighter.

"I'm still here"