Disclaimer: All characters belong to people that aren't me.
Author's Note: This story was written in response to a challenge at lvd_las on Livejournal. The challenge was "Never too late."
It had started with simple, small things, like when Damon stopped mentioning every ten minutes that Caroline would probably have to be 'taken care of' soon. Instead, he started encouraging her, mentioning little things that might make her new life a tad easier. He still left most of her instruction to Stefan, of course. His little brother was much more patient and, frankly, just better at it.
He answered questions more readily too. There was less evasion involved, though he still didn't even attempt to dial down the flirting. Elena could see what he was doing. He was making himself easier to talk to, easier to be around. He was trying to make her forget why she'd started hating him in the first place.
When the book showed up, she knew she needed to call him on it. She couldn't let Damon keep doing these little things. It felt too much like stringing him along if she didn't shut him down, though she would make sure there were no necks around that could be snapped, aside from her own.
Elena needed to write a research project on Louis XIV. When she arrived home the day after receiving the assignment, an old book was sitting on her bed. The book was on the very topic she needed to research, and by the age and feel of it, even the smell of it, she knew it could only have come from the Salvatore collection. Stefan would have just handed it to her, so it had to have come from Damon.
She found him in the parlor, sipping his whiskey and thumbing through a magazine about, as far as she could tell, either motorcycles, naked women, or tattoos. Possibly all three.
"You have to stop this, Damon," she said, setting the book down on the table. "It's too late. You know that."
Damon looked up at her, those crystal blue eyes freezing her in place for a second. "I'm a vampire, Elena. You really should realize that, once you have forever, there's no such thing as 'too late.'" He picked up the book and handed it back to her. "Here. It'll help. Wouldn't want you to get a bad grade just to spite me."
Elena scowled at him, grabbed the book, and stormed out.
She didn't see him again for several weeks, though strange little things kept happening that made her life easier. Her cell phone bill was paid off. Her favorite take out would occasionally be delivered to her door, with enough to share with Jenna and Jeremy. Bonnie even started to act a little less antagonistic.
Then everything went to hell. The deal was simple: Katherine Pierce wanted two things. She wanted Stefan to leave with her, and she wanted to eliminate her only competition. If she couldn't have the first, she'd settle for the second. So Stefan had caught up to Elena before school started and told her he was leaving, for her own safety, of course, but she could see something else in his eyes, something that told her he wasn't too heartbroken to be leaving her behind.
"I'll make sure Damon leaves too. Get him out of your hair."
"Don't you dare," Elena demanded, surprising herself. "You're leaving, Stefan. You don't get to run my life from far away. You're either in it or you're not. Damon's his own person, so don't even try to make his decisions for him. You wanna go, then go. But I'll hate you forever if you make him leave too."
Stefan didn't reply, just climbed in the shiny black car and let Katherine drive him off.
Elena went to the Salvatore house that night, hoping against hope that it had all been a hallucination. But all of Stefan's books were gone. In his room, only the furniture remained. His clothes, his CDs...all missing.
In a near panic, Elena tore her way through the house into Damon's room. He wasn't there, but his stuff still was. But maybe he'd left anyway. He seemed like the type to travel light. She called his cell phone, but it went straight to voicemail.
Starting to cry, Elena went down into the library, intent to wait until she could know, either way, whether Damon had left too. The longer she waited, the more she tortured herself. What if he had gone? What if Stefan hadn't listened to her, and he and Katherine had forced him into leaving town? What if Stefan had listened to her, and Damon had decided to leave on his own because she'd refused to tell him how much she missed being his friend, and how she'd lied when she told him she felt nothing, and how she'd probably feel it again if he just gave her time to heal?
Her thoughts circled in one long run-on sentence, all berating her for not holding on tighter. Until she heard the door open.
She stumbled out of the big chair and into the hallway, sprinting toward the front door. She crashed into Damon's chest, hugging him tightly. "Why didn't you pick up your phone? You scared the crap out of me, Damon!"
He held up some plastic packaging with a long black cord inside. "Stefan took my charger by mistake. My phone ran out of batteries. I take it you missed me?" He raised an eyebrow at her.
Elena swallowed and nodded her head. The summary of her thoughts of the past hours tumbled out of her mouth unbidden. "I lied. You were right. It's not too late. Please don't leave."
Damon smiled at her. "I'm not going anywhere."