She couldn't believe it. It was over. For all the effort she and Stefan had exerted to keep their relationship alive, she'd ended it. Katherine had won.

Elena stood on her front porch, staring out into the night. What was she going to do? Maybe Katherine would leave her family alone now that Stefan was single again, and everything could go back to normal. Normal. What was that? She didn't even remember what that was like. Normal

Oh shit.

The Masquerade. She had completely forgotten. She had promised Stefan that she would go with him, but that was no longer a possibility. She sighed. It was probably better that she take some time off, get away from the public eye for a while until everything settled down. Besides, Jenna could probably use some extra help around the house until she was fully healed.

As Elena turned to walk into the house, she saw the shadow of a man leaning against the banister, and stumbled back a step. Then she saw the familiar glint of ice blue eyes.

"Damon, you have to stop doing that."

"Sorry, I just… wanted to make sure that you were going to be alright." He took a step towards her. He could hear her heart speed up in response.

"I'm fine."

Damon slid his hand along the banister railing until his fingertips touched hers. He lifted her hand, turned it over and gently massaged her palm. "You know, 'I'm fine' is the most common lie told by women."

Elena sighed. "Ok, I'm not fine. But I'm here. Composed somewhat, and kind of sad that I'll be taking my Masquerade dress back to the store tomorrow. Just another end to this chapter in my life I guess." She pulled her hand back, sitting down on the bench, defeated.

Damon walked over and sat beside her. "You know, you may think this is just the end, but it's also the beginning as well. Some good will come of this, I'm sure of it."

"Well I'm glad you think so. Since you seem to know so much about it, how do you do it Damon? How do you move on after Katherine has taken everything you love away from you?" When she looked at him, he saw the sadness in her.

"You pick up and move on. Katherine's master plan is to make people miserable, especially those who get between her and Stefan. Since you are no longer in that position, you will be of no interest to her. As much as it hurts, you did the right thing for your family, and I admire you for that." He lifted her hand back up and held it in his, enjoying the electric spark that emanated from that one point. He wondered if she felt the same thing.

"Thank you, Damon. I think I needed to hear that."

"Well you're going to love this then, don't take your dress back. Let me take you to the Masquerade. Let everyone know that although Katherine may have won the fight, she will not take Stefan and your happiness away from you. We'll have a great time, I'll behave myself, and if Katherine is watching she can stew in her disappointment over failing to ruin your life."

Elena tilted her head to the side in thought, trying to come up with a reason to say no. Well, she had plenty of reasons actually, most of which pertaining to the potential close proximity of Damon for an entire night. But was that as unappealing as it once was? She wasn't Stefan's anymore.

And she knew he was right in what he said the other night. She was lying. There was something between them, something she couldn't deny no matter how hard she tried. Maybe she owed it to herself to give it a chance and see where they ended up. Damon had turned into a different person since meeting her, maybe that meant something.

"Okay," she said, the beginning of a smile crossing her lips. "Let's do it. Pick me up at seven tomorrow. I'm really tired of letting this whole situation get to me, and I need a night of fun."

Success! And she seemed chipper about the whole idea. He couldn't believe it. Maybe this was a new beginning. For both of them.

"Seven, I'll be here. What are the colors of your dress?"

"Black and maroon."

"Well I'll see what I can come up with. I haven't been to a Masquerade in…a century or so?" He smiled, lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it softly, never taking his eyes from her. Elena shivered at the intensity of his gaze. Quickly, she stood and walked to the door. Hopefully he hadn't seen her reaction to his kiss.

But he had. This dance was going to be exactly what they needed. It was time she finally faced those emotions she kept so carefully in check.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Damon," she said, offering him one final glance before retreating into the house for the night.

"Goodnight Elena," he said as she slowly closed the door. He stood there for a moment, listening to her footfalls as she climbed the stairs. He heard her clothes fall to the floor and the bed creak as she slid beneath the sheets. Hmm, didn't hear the closet open, wonder what she was wearing to bed…? He amused himself with the image as he walked to the blue convertible. Tomorrow was going to be quite the day.

Morning came bright and early as Elena drove over to help out with the last preparations for the Masquerade. It took the town nearly all afternoon to finish up, but she was satisfied with the final production. It actually looked really great, like a dream. Surprising, especially since Caroline hadn't been there to help at all.

It was 6:15pm when she finally made it back to her house. 45 minutes. She had 45 minutes to get ready before Damon arrived. She ran up the stairs, then stopped short.

Jeremy stood at the top of the stairs, in a black three-piece suit with a silver vest and silver striped tie. He wore a slim sliver mask across his eyes. He looked…positively dashing.

"Wow," Elena exclaimed, walking a lap around him to survey this spectacle. Her little brother, all grown up. When did that happen?

"Yeah, well, I asked a girl out from school. No more supernatural girlfriends for me, I can't take it anymore."

"You look great Jeremy. I'm glad to see that you're not going to let all of this get you down."

"Thanks. I'm going to go pick up my girl. Will I see you there?"

Elena smiled, then glanced at her dress still hanging up in the garment bag on the closet door. "Yes, I'll be there. Damon's going to take me."

Jeremy raised an eyebrow in question, then just shook his head and started down the stairs. "Sounds good Elena. I hope you know what you're doing."

"We're just friends," she yelled down the stairs, but he had already closed the front door. She did know what she was doing. She just didn't know what Damon might have in mind.

She showered quickly, then ran a curling iron through her hair to give it a slight wave. She found herself feeling nervous about the upcoming event, but why? It was just Damon. The same Damon who had seen her at her best and her worst. Why was this any different?

She pulled on her dress, a beautiful maroon silk with two black stripes that ran vertically down the front, and two on the back. There were slits on both sides that extended all the way to her thighs, revealing her strappy black stiletto heels. She was really glad she was going to get a chance to wear this dress.

She struggled with the zipper, growling in frustration as she failed to grasp the small metal piece.

She heard a creak in the floor and quickly glanced behind her to see Damon standing in the doorway, a pleasantly sarcastic smile crossing his lips.

"Can I be of some service?" He offered, walking towards her.

Elena swallowed hard. He looked amazing. He wore a black Armani suit with a maroon vest, and a maroon silk tie. His mask covered the left side of his face and was nearly completely black with red accents. She knew that Damon always looked good, but somehow this version of him sent her heart into a crazy flutter.

Elena cleared her throat and turned back towards the mirror. "Please."

Damon walked up behind her. He placed a hand on her lower back at the base of the zipper, allowing his thumb to graze her soft skin where it was exposed. He pulled the zipper up slowly, enjoying the intimacy. When he was done, he didn't remove his hand.

"You look stunning, Elena," he said against the back of her neck. He closed his eyes and breathed deep, unable to help himself.

She adjusted the dress in the mirror, then turned around so he could see the finished product. The bodice was completely form fitted, flattering every curve. His eyes began at the cut of the neckline, then traveled down to stop at the slits at the thighs. His breath hitched, and he shook his head with a low whistle. He loved a woman in heals. "My my, you are a sight."

Elena smiled. "Thank you," she said, giving a shake to her hair and grabbing her mask off the desk. She fitted it carefully over her face and looked up at him, checking his reaction.

It was maroon, with little black flowers running up the sides in a Celtic spiral that ended in red and black feathers. He smiled and offered her his arm. "Come on, beautiful." She took it, and he led her out to the convertible.

The Masquerade looked increasingly fanciful with the arrival of the guests. Everyone was dressed in bright colors, with shimmery fabrics and elegant masks. As she looked around, she realized that it was actually difficult to recognize people. She sighed in relief, maybe she could relax a little tonight and have some fun.

Damon surveyed the crowed, checking for any impending threats. Elena caught this, and squeezed his hand. He looked down at her in question.

"Relax. Nothing is going to happen tonight."

Damon smiled, then took two glasses of Champaign off a wandering waiter's tray. He offered one to Elena, then held his glass to her in toast.

"To…new beginnings." He tapped his glass to hers, then downed his in one sip. When he looked to Elena, she held his gaze and did the same.

"So, how long are you going to make me wait for a dance," Elena said with a sly smile.

Damon took the glass from her hand and set it down, then began walking her towards the dance floor. "Why would I make you wait? I'm a wonderful dancer." He swung her into a wide circle, then pulled her into his arms. Acoustic guitar music played in the background, accompanied by a raspy yet refined male voice.

"I know you can dance, Damon. You danced with me during Miss Mystic Falls and I wasn't even aware you knew the steps." She placed her hands on his shoulders, trying not to let the intimate proximity get to her better judgment. Damon led her around the dance floor elegantly, carefully, never missing a step. He really was amazing.

"Well I've had plenty of time to practice," he said, sliding his hands down her back to rest on her hips. The silk fabric was so smooth and delicate that she felt almost naked beneath him. When she rested her head against his shoulder, he pulled her tight against his body, letting her feel every muscle as he drew her into step after step.

When the song ended, she pulled back. She looked into his eyes, completely unprepared for the love that she saw there. You're lying. There is something between us.

"What are we doing Damon?" She asked, sadness again lacing her voice. She backed from his embrace, then strode off the dance floor and out to the veranda. Damon watched her leave, confused.

She was the only one on the veranda, and she was thankful for the privacy. She walked down the steps and into the garden where there was a clearing large enough to see the stars. She stared up at the moon, wondering how it always looked so peaceful. She felt a hand settle lightly on her lower back, but this time she didn't turn. She knew.

"Did I say something, or do something that might offend you?" Damon asked softly. He took another step until his body was right against her back and he could rest his chin against the top of her head.

"No Damon, It's not you. It's just…what if she comes after you now? What if in her quest to make us all miserable she –" Damon stopped her, wrapping his arms around her.

"You can 'what if' all night and it won't change a thing. Katherine has what she wants now. She doesn't want you, and she doesn't want me."

"But how do you know?"

Damon sighed. "She told me. She told me that all she's ever wanted was Stefan. So we're safe."

Elena turned in his embrace to look into his eyes. "I'm sorry Damon, I know how that must make you feel."

"It doesn't upset me anymore, it just makes me feel like a fool for thinking someone could actually love me. I thought about her every day for the last hundred and forty-five years, and now I know that it was all a lie. Everything was a lie. She just used me."

Elena pulled her mask off, then pulled Damon's off in turn. She placed them on the stone bench, turning back to him.

"You're not unlovable Damon, you just fell for the wrong woman."

"Yeah, that's a growing trend of mine," he said. He pinned her with his piercing blue eyes, waiting for Elena to walk away from him too. I love Stefan. It will always be Stefan.

But she didn't leave. She turned and wandered deeper into the clearing, gazing at the moon again.

"You were right the other night. I was lying. I couldn't understand how I could feel this way about you."

"What way?" He asked, his voice closer behind her now.

"I don't know Damon. Lost. Unsure of myself. My heart skips a beat every time you look at me. What do I do with that?"

He was in front of her then, she never even saw him approach. "Look at me," he said, lifting her chin. "This is what's real. Me and you. Forget Stefan. Forget Katherine and all the destruction in her wake. Elena I –"

She stopped him then, not wanting him to continue, knowing what he would say. Then she kissed him, openmouthed and hungry, wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing herself against him.

Damon leaned into it, sliding his arms around her waist. This was it. The moment he had been waiting for. Elena was actually kissing him back. Emotion rolled through him like an ocean surge. His tongue tasted, teased, and received hers. He trailed his lips down her throat, pausing to kiss the heartbeat at the base of her neck. This was the proof that she was Elena. It wasn't Katherine this time.

Elena moaned, digging her fingernails into his scalp, holding him there. She couldn't believe it. What was she doing? She hadn't even realized she had such deep feelings for him, yet all she could think about was the way he felt, his hands as they slid down to cup her ass, lifting her against him. All thought slipped away, all except the rising release growing within her.

Damon couldn't get enough of her. He knew once he finally got his lips on hers he wouldn't be able to stop.

But he did.

He lifted his head in the direction of the party.

"Damon," Elena sighed, her voice thick with arousal. "Come back to me."

Damon looked back at her, the woman he loved, wrapped in his arms, panting in her desire for him. He took her lips in one final kiss, then set her on the ground.

"Hold on," he whispered, straining his ears towards the building. "People are screaming inside. Something's wrong."

"What?" Elena said, trying to compose herself from the daze she had fallen into.

"It's a fight. It's Matt, he picked a fight with Tyler." Damon paused for a moment in thought. "Oh shit."

"What's wrong? Did something happen?"

"Yeah, Katherine happened."

"Katherine's here?"

"No, but I killed her lapdog and I think she's out to adopt another." He scooped her up into his arms and carried her to the veranda. "Stay here." Then he ran inside.

There was blood on the floor. Tyler and Matt were still circling each other, shouting.

"I don't know what you're talking about Matt! I never kissed Caroline! I don't even really like Caroline!" Tyler shouted, trying his hardest not to hurt Matt. The music had stopped, people had started to stare and he could see a couple broken noses in the crowd of people who had tried to intervene.

"I saw you do it! Now I'm going to kill you."

"No Matt, please, I don't want to hurt you." This needed to stop. The curse only needed one kill.

Matt picked up an empty beer bottle and broke it on the side of the table, lunging toward Tyler with teeth bared.

Just then Damon stepped between Matt and Tyler, grabbing Matt by the throat before he could reach his destination. Matt stabbed him in the chest with the bottle before he could grab it out of his hand, then Damon knocked it away. Matt tried to push him off, but Damon wasn't having it.

Damon spoke to him, compelling the answers from him. "Why are you doing this?"

"Tyler kissed Caroline and I'm angry about it."

"How do you know he kissed her?"

"I saw it."

"Where did you see it?"

Matt looked confused, then shook his head. "I don't remember, but I did see it. It was right after Elena asked me to meet her last night. I'm furious! I can't believe he would do that. I want to kill him!"

"No, you don't." Damon said, calming him. "You don't want to kill Tyler, you just thought he kissed Caroline but he really didn't and you believe him. You were wrong, and you feel bad about starting this fight. Now go apologize to him because you're making a scene and getting blood on the floor." Damon felt him settle down, dropping his arms as an embarrassed shade covered his face.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry Tyler. I don't know what came over me. I just blacked out, I don't know what happened."

Tyler dropped his fighting stance, looking at Damon questioningly before fixing Matt with a deadly glance. "Well don't let it happen again." Tyler stormed off to wash the blood from his hands, shaking uncontrollably at what he almost had to do.

Matt looked at Damon. "I don't know what happened…"

"I know," Damon said. "Why don't you go home. And do me a favor, if you see Elena, or anyone who looks like Elena, steer clear of her for a while, okay?" He pointed Matt in the direction of the front doors, signaling to one of the girls beside the refreshments table whom he knew to be an acting designated driver for the party. The girl took his hint and grabbed a hold of Matt's arm, leading him towards the exit.

Damon surveyed the crowed, shaking his head in disapproval. "It was just a mistake. Those needing medical attention should probably head to the front, the fire department has been on site all night because they were worried about the tabletop candles. Come on, show is over."

The people began to dissipate. The music started back up again. Damon walked back outside to where he had left Elena. She stood up against the railing, fear marking her features.

"He was going to do it Damon, Matt wasn't going to stop until he'd killed Tyler, and that would never have happened. Tyler would have killed him." She was shivering from the cold, and from what could have been.

Damon crossed the veranda and took her in his arms, wrapping her protectively in his embrace. "It's okay, I stopped it. Matt doesn't know anything, except he said you asked to meet him last night."

Elena looked up at him sharply. "Katherine. She's going to keep turning people against Tyler until he turns. What could she possibly need a werewolf for?"

Damon smoothed his hand lovingly down her hair, regretting the interruption to their passionate encounter. "She needs a werewolf for whatever it was that she needed Mason for. I don't know what that is, but I'm going to find out." He dipped his head, and took her mouth in a gentle kiss.

"Will you take me home Damon?" He shook his head in agreement, stripping off his jacket to wrap around her arms.

They drove home in silence, both at a loss for words. When they reached her house Damon walked her to the door.

"Elena, I want to thank you for coming with me tonight. The evening…definitely had its moments."

Elena looked up at him, gently trailing her hand down his shirt. It was then that she noticed it was wet. She frowned and looked at her fingertips, red with blood.

"Damon, you're bleeding," she stammered. She quickly pulled him into the kitchen and under the light, ripping the buttons down his shirt to expose his bare skin. He had a cut in his stomach from Matt's broken bottle. It was mostly healed already. When she looked up at him he wore a sly smile, amusement lighting his eyes.

"I like where this is going Elena."

She made a frustrated sound, walking to the sink to wet a towel. She wiped the blood from his skin, now fully healed. Tentatively, she ran her hands over his chest, checking for any additional battle scars. He caught her wrists loosely, forcing her to look at him.

"I'm fine. Thank you."

She sighed and leaned into him, truly defeated for the night. He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. When he set her down, he unzipped her dress, wanting to help her into bed but unprepared for the reality of his actions.

Her dress slid down her body to pile at her feet, and she stood there before him, adorned in nothing but black lace and stiletto heels. Oh God.

Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than a release, from this night and all her pain, from the ache that Damon seemed to create within her. She reached out and grabbed the edges of his shirt, pushing it off his shoulders and onto the floor. The tie followed, and when she went for his belt he stopped her.

"I want this," she whispered.

Utterly unable to deny her this wish, he kissed her, long and hard. He followed her down onto the mattress, trailing his lips down her neck to nip at the lace around her breast, tugging at it until he exposed a nipple. When he caught it in his teeth she screamed and dug her nails into his back.

"Please Damon," she exhaled breathlessly.

He knew he would neither deny her this. He stood and discarded his clothing, admiring the sight of Elena warm and willing, needing him. He bent over her, trailing his tongue down her stomach as he slowly pulled her panties off. Then he covered her with his body, catching her moan of pleasure with his lips. Her legs wrapped around his waist as she wriggled her hips against the hard length against her stomach. In one quick move, he was deep inside her. She cried out his name, arching against him. He started slow, never taking his eyes from hers, working her against him. He claimed her, drove her crazy, then over the edge as she shattered to pieces. Her muscles clenched around him in climax, taking him with her as she fell.

When the shudders subsided, she looked at him, his forehead pressed to hers, his dark hair falling about him. She met his lips hungrily as he moved to lie beside her, perched on his elbow so he could look into her face.

"What am I going to do with you Damon?" She sighed, trailing her fingernails gently up and down his back.

"Well isn't that the million dollar question?" He smirked, brushing a stray hair from her eyes. "Are you looking for a short term or a long term answer?"

"Let's start with short term, and we'll go from there."

He slid his arm beneath her so her head rested on his shoulder. "Okay, then get some sleep. That's all I'm looking to do right now." He tilted her chin so he could lightly kiss her lips. This had been quite the night for him. It all happened so fast, he wondered if he'd dreamt it. Then he looked at Elena, drifting to sleep on his arm.

This was a beginning. This was something real. He pulled her close against him and closed his eyes. He fell asleep, satisfied and secure in the knowledge that he just may have found the one woman who could actually love Damon Salvatore.