Elena: I used to be more fun (1x11 "Bloodlines")

Caroline: Oh, it's just 'cause her parents died, yeah, I mean she's just totally going through a blah phase, she used to be way more fun... And, I say that with complete sensitivity. (1x3 Friday Night Bites)

~..~..~

For some reason, when she catches sight of Damon sitting at the bar in his customary all black ensemble watching her as she talks and laughs, Elena isn't the least bit surprised.

As she slams the shot glass down onto the table and lets out a small whoop of triumph, the thought of 'maybe it's the alcohol' flits through her mind, but it doesn't linger. She honestly doesn't care.

There's no worry or anxiety felt as if it was, say, Bonnie or Matt sitting on that stool nursing a bottle of beer and watching her. And that's because Damon doesn't represent Mystic Falls – doesn't represent the place that she hasn't stepped foot in since leaving it three years ago. Damon doesn't represent anywhere, really, especially Mystic Falls because, even though that's where she first laid eyes on him, got to know him, Damon is too free to be associated with any one place without his expressed permission.

She ignores him easily, and tosses her hair back and smiles as Emma pushes another drink into her hand. "Drink!" she says merrily, loudly, in order to be heard over the music. "You're not nearly drunk enough yet."

"Hollow leg," Elena shouts over the loud, bass heavy music. But even as she downs the liquid, her head is buzzing and her body feels light.

Four years ago, Elena had lost a part of who she was.

And who could have blamed her; her parents had died, Stefan showed up (her heart doesn't ache tonight when she thinks his name), and all hell broke lose, and in all the chaos and mayhem, Elena forgot who she really was. Fighting to stay alive, falling in love, homicidal supernatural creatures - all of those things and more had put thoughts of having a good time on the back burner. That fun loving, bright, happy girl that Elena had been initially took a backseat - faded away so much that she almost forgot that that part of her ever existed.

But now things were different.

She'd left Mystic Falls the minute she was positive everything was over (the word everything echos in her head still, but the tears don't prick at her eyes anymore) - moved to Chicago, and started again; left everyone, save for Caroline, back there. Met new people, made new friends, somehow managed to bury everything that happened in Mystic Falls so deep down that it all seemed like one of those dreams that you had a hard time distinguishing from reality before finally deciding that it was all in your head. And slowly, but surely, old Elena came back.

The Elena that stayed out late, and kissed cute boys, and slammed back shots, and went shopping for dresses and makeup, and just being young and happy was back.

Sometimes, she wished that she was back in Mystic, just so everyone could see that despite everything, she was good; back to normal.

In the round booth full of chatting laughing people, her friends, Elena is buzzed and happy. Beside her Caroline is dancing in the seat, sipping a brightly colored drink through a brightly colored straw. She asked Caroline to leave Mystic Falls with her because she's the only one who was a constant, despite that one big change that, ironically, made moving away with Elena a necessity.

Caroline hasn't seen Damon yet, and Elena is about to point him out, leans in to tell her best friend and opens her mouth to say it, but at the last moment she changes her mind and shouts instead, "Going to go dance." If she hadn't kept her vervain necklace around her neck all these years, Elena would think she was being Compelled. That is how sudden and strongly the need to keep the reappearance of Damon to herself for the moment rears up inside of her.

Caroline nods and turns to their friend Uriah to shout something Elena doesn't hear as she slides out of the booth. She can feel Damon's eyes on her the whole time, feel the heat of his gaze as it rakes over her exposed legs which are only covered enough by shorts long enough to prevent an indecent exposure fine, and as she slips into the crowd she feels a slight vibration that has nothing to do with the music move through her body.

The minute she steps into the mass of writhing bodies, Elena finds a partner - or rather he finds her. She feels a warm arm wind around her waist and she turns to find bright brown eyes on hers; he's cute with shorter hair and dimples, but at this moment that doesn't really matter.

When he places his hand on her lower back, and pulls her forward to press the length of her body against his own Elena complies easily, beginning to move in her recently rediscovered way; that way that makes her feel sexy, and wanted, and carefree. And she does feel all these things, and not because of this man who's holding her close.

Damon's stare, even from this distance, makes her body ignite; she's not even looking in his direction, but she can feel it. Feel the way his eyes roam her body, taking in her new maturity and attitude. She wants so badly to look over, just flick her eyes over to where he's sitting but she doesn't. Self-control will go a long way in this situation, she knows.

This stranger, with the bright eyes, his hands are everywhere, and she doesn't really mind (in fact, she admits to herself, if Damon weren't taking up all of her attention, she'd be into this guy) but even as she smiles up at him, Elena wonders how long it will take for the one she feels the surprisingly strong urge to wrap her arms around to make his way over to her.

She keeps dancing, and when the music dips and reassembles itself into a beat just as fast but slightly more mellow in it's deepness, she closes her eyes and loses herself in the feel of it flowing through her body and the smooth hands sliding up and down her arms, around her waist, the thumbs slipping under the hem of her top to rub on her hips. She turns in the man's arms so her back against his chest and continues to move, that simple elation that comes from moving to the beat buzzing around her mind. This is one of things she'd missed most when everything was falling down around her, the simple act of just dancing. It always made her feel free and light, like nothing mattered except just losing herself. The very same elation that has consumed her is the reason why it takes a more than a minute or two to realize that her back is no longer against another body, but she is actually dancing alone.

It isn't uncommon for someone to switch partners on the dance floor, especially in a place like this with dark lighting and being surrounded by attractive bodies, but still, she doesn't feel like dancing alone. The tempo of the music slows down and the Elena is about to turn around to find another partner, when one firm hand finds it's place on her hip, and the other flat against the expanse of her stomach. She can tell this is a different person by the way he moves; the previous man danced well, but this new one moves exactly the way she needs him to, no slight stutters or pauses. He's taller, and his hands are bigger, but it's the way he smells that has Elena's eyes sliding shut again as a small smile slips across her lips.

She turns in his arms, and his hands slide across her body to rest on her lower back; relaxing into his embrace, she raises her face to press cheek against cheek. "About time," she breathes softly into his ear. Because she doesn't need to yell over the music this time; she's sure that even with the music he can still hear her heart beating against her chest and the blood rushing through her veins. The thought, oddly enough, excites Elena even further and she presses her face into his smooth, fresh smelling neck and reaches up to tangle her hands in his dark hair.

One hand moves up to thread his own fingers through her long hair and their bodies continue to move as one. She doesn't open her eyes even when he turns his head slightly, and says quietly into her ear, "Happy Birthday." The music dips and climbs and spikes and all through it their bodies stay close, always fluid. She's never been this close to him before; never pressed her body up against the length of his, even though (and she can admit this now) she used to want this so badly, before she even knew she wanted it, craved it even. Elena doesn't even know where she's getting the courage to do it now; he'd taken off from Mystic Falls before she and Stefan ended it, and she and Damon never had an opportunity to explore what was between them. What is happening now, and what had been building between them way before Elena could admit it to herself, even when Damon had stood in her bedroom and shoved it in her face. So to have him just show up out of the blue a little over three years later, on her birthday, and slip into his arms so easily should be unsettling, but it's not. It feels... right.

It feels right when he grips her tighter, and it feels right when she allows him to take her hand and lead her out of the crowded club without saying goodbye to her friends. She knows Caroline will be worried, but she'll take care of that later.

Right now, Elena is standing under the street light and finally taking a good look at Damon. Exactly the same. He looks exactly the same as she'd first and last saw him. Of course he does; he's never going to change. And it's this realization that has Elena's stomach tightening and sudden worry creeping in as she looks up into his bright eyes. What does he think about her visible changes? Did he come here expecting to find the same sad and wounded girl he'd first met?

But his expression gives no hints as to what he thinks. His eyes flit over her features, and finally, after a few moments of exploration, a small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. "Long time, no see."

~..~..~

"You got a place here? In the city?" Elena runs her fingers over the heavy oak of the back of the couch.

Thirty minutes and a cab ride later, and she and Damon are back at his place. She doesn't know why, but she expected Damon to be just stopping by the area. Get in, Compel, drink, and get out, but she was proven wrong when they pulled up in front of a one of the nicer apartment buildings this side of the town has to offer, climbed three flights of stairs, and he'd pulled a key out of his leather jacket.

Said leather jacket is thrown over the back of chair, also made of dark oak; the décor reminds Elena too much of the boarding house. Dark wood, dark colors, perpetual dim lighting. All that is missing is a fireplace.

Damon hasn't answered her question, and when Elena turns she sees him standing near the bar, a tumbler of whisky in his hand, surveying her. Suddenly, she feels too bare in her short black shorts, black tank blouse, and high heals, and it irritates her. She's supposed to feel confident, and in control like she has been for the past few years, but instead Damon makes her regress; makes her want to cover up and arrange her hair so it falls like a curtain around her face to hide from his gaze.

She doesn't want to let on to how nervous he's making her, so she looks away from his piercing eyes and looks around the apartment instead. It's big. The living room flows into a kitchen made of stainless steel and black marble, and on the other side of the room there is a hallway that no doubt leads to two more massive rooms, one of them probably being a huge master bedroom. So much like the boarding house...

She clears her throat and tries again. "How long are you staying?"

Damon swallows down the amber liquid and places the glass on top of the bar. "Been here for a while actually. A few weeks, a month tops." She wants to ask him why is he just seeing her now if he's been here that long but she doesn't. Not that it matters because Damon gives her a saucy smile and says "Chicago has got some very lovely ladies. I was very surprised; it's like an untapped resource."

Elena gives him a tight smile, ignoring the little jolt in her chest, and walks around the couch to sit on it's soft cushions. She's been on her feet all night, and she wants to rest.

She hears him pour himself another drink, and then he's dropping down next to her. "I have to admit, I was more surprised to find you here."

Elena looks over at him, brows furrowed slightly. "Why?"

Damon shrugs. "Figured you'd stay in Mystic Falls. You know, go to community college, get some office job, build a life with your eternally seventeen year old boyfriend. The usual."

The mention of Stefan, which she knew was going to come eventually, really, makes her throat tighten for a millisecond, but outwardly Elena just shrugs, and adjusts herself to get more comfortable in her seat. It feels so odd to be sitting here and talking so casually after the way they'd been dancing against each other less than two hours ago.

When she doesn't reply, be pushes. "Speaking of which, where is my dear brother? Wouldn't want you to get home too late and have him worrying."

Elena is about to tell him she doesn't know where Stefan is, hasn't for a while now, when she pauses and narrows her eyes at him. "Are you saying that you came to Chicago, and looked up your brother's ex-girlfriend before your actual brother? Why would you do that?"

Damon tilts his head and smirks. "You're more interesting."

Elena doesn't believe it for a second, but she accepts his answer with a scoff. They're quiet for a few minutes, and Elena wishes that there was an actual fireplace against the opposite wall. Anything to stare into, to avoid this conversation. But she knows Damon won't let it go, so she gives a sigh, and says, "I don't know where Stefan is. All I know is that he's not here with me."

Damon quirks an eyebrow. "See? A lot more interesting."

She rolls her eyes. "I'm surprised you don't know, actually. Even though you were out of sight I always figured that you were... lurking."

It's Damon's turn to roll his eyes, and he knocks back the liquid in his glass before setting it down onto the little table in front of them. "I don't lurk. I observe from unknown locations."

Elena smiles, now. "Call it what you want, either way I just figured you'd know."

"Well, I don't so why don't you tell me. I love a good story of a romance gone horribly wrong."

Her smiles fades. She really doesn't want to talk about this. "Well after the boarding house burned to the ground, and you were there for that part," Elena says this part lightly, but she can acutely remember the bone deep fear she'd felt when she'd seen Damon's still body laying on the grass, the orange light casting shadows on his skin, "Stefan figured, with everything done, it would be the best time for him to leave. Guess he figured you had the right idea when you just disappeared..." Elena remembers this very clearly too; when Stefan looked worried about Damon not showing his face for a week and a half, but not nearly worried enough; not as worried as she had been. She also remembers feeling hurt – he didn't even bother with a goodbye. But that doesn't matter anymore, she reminds herself. She doesn't notice the probing look Damon is giving her, the way he's so focused on her expression when she mentions his leaving. "Anyway," she continues, "he wanted to leave. I didn't"

A few beats of silence pass. "That's it" Damon says dubiously. "It was just that simple? No profound declarations of ever lasting love? No 'I'll never let go, Jack?'" Damon may make light of the situation, but Elena can remember how hard it had been for her to say no. How hard it was to tell Stefan that she did plan to leave Mystic Falls soon, but not with him. Not only because he would stay seventeen and she would continue aging (in all honesty, Elena knows she will Turn one day soon-it's inevitable); she just didn't want to be with him anymore. Too much had happened, and what should have brought them together only tore them further and further apart. And he'd just... changed...

Elena gives herself a mental shake. She is not thinking about this again, not tonight."Yeah, that's pretty much how it went." She slides a smooth carefree smile into place. She's gotten so good at it that it almost feels organic. She pushes herself up from the couch and walks around it to head to the bar, her heels clicking on the hard wood floors. "He left, I actually assumed he was going to find you, and then I left." She studies the bottles of liquor. "But none of that matters now because I'm happy," she is forcing the good mood she started out the night with back into place as she picks up a bottle of vodka, "and it's my twenty first birthday," she grabs a smaller tumbler, "and I don't want to talk about Stefan, or Mystic Falls," she pours the clear liquid into her glass, enjoying the sound it makes. "I want to have a good time." She drinks most of it down in one swallow, and the rush of the alcohol combined with the appearance of Damon so close to her when she turns around, makes her swoon a little.

Her heart picks up in her chest, just like it did back in the club, and the smile on her face falls into something more natural when Damon takes the glass from her hand, drinks the rest of it, and asks with a sly smile and gleaming eyes, "What exactly did you have in mind?"