Wow, guys! Thank you, once again, for the awesome feedback...sadly, this is the last part! Phew...can't believe it, either! I hope you enjoy it...please review and let me know. Also, be sure to check out my note at the end for some of my thoughts on writing it! : )


Part V: Ash

Now watch me rise up and leave all the ashes you made out of me
When you said that we were wrong, life goes on, look how wrong I could be
Now watch me rise up and leave all the ashes you made out of me
When you said that we were wrong, life goes on, you blew me away

-Embrace, "Ashes"

Damon kissed Elena as he had never kissed anyone; he needed her and he needed to demonstrate that. Fire flashed through him, leaving his sensitive nerve-endings charred, but they healed quickly – only to be singed again.

He would not let her go – if he did, he would fall apart and it was guaranteed that he would never be able to put himself together again. He had only been able to recreate himself after Katherine because he knew – somewhere, deep down – that she did not love him at all. But Elena loved him. Losing someone who loved one in return was far more painful than losing someone for whom the love was unrequited.

Damon would burn in a fire a million times over if it meant he could be with Elena.

"I love you," Elena whispered roughly against his mouth, still grasping his wrists. "I need you." She let go of his arms and snaked one arm around his waist. She brought her hand up to his hair, tangling it in his fine, silky strands.

Damon moaned softly when he felt her gently sucking on his bottom lip. "I know, Elena...I finally know." He wrapped his arms around her waist and suddenly they were tangled up in each other, almost too close for the allowance of proper breathing.

They stood locked together, taking each other in, exhaling deep, heaving breaths.

Damon swallowed hard, gazing at her with a relaxed, peaceful expression. "You've taught me more about love in the last hour than I've learned in a lifetime."

Elena pecked his lips and leaned close, kissing him right above the collar bone. "You deserve to be loved, Damon; you have so much to give in return that others have been too blind to see...including myself." Her warm breath trickled slowly over his skin, causing him to shiver.

He lowered his eyes, his long dark lashes casting shadows over his cheeks. "That...means a lot to me, Elena."

When Elena met his eyes again, they seemed different; lighter somehow, and she couldn't help but think that's how they had looked in 1864, before Katherine had appeared.

"I know...I know we have a lot to figure out, and I know that this isn't going to be easy, but...I have one request," Damon said softly, leaning down to brush his lips over her forehead.

"What is it?" Elena whispered, cupping his cheek. She could not stop touching him. She needed him to know that she wanted him more than anything she had ever wanted in her life. Breathing deeply, she inhaled that unique scent of his again, and wondered briefly what it would feel like to have his bare skin pressed to her bare skin...

She came out of her reverie as Damon stroked her neck with the barest graze of the back of his knuckles.

"Could you just sit with me by the fire for a little while? I would love nothing more than to hold you in my arms..." Damon smiled at her; not an ironic sarcastic smile, but a genuine one that seemed to be coming up from the depths of his soul. A smile like that was very suited for his handsome face.

"Of course," Elena murmured. She returned his smile and nearly blushed when he took her hand and lead her to the rug in front of the fire place. They sat, and as he promised he would, he gathered her in his arms and held her tightly to his chest.

She could feel him and he could feel her. Her intense connection to Damon was going to make it so hard to tell Stefan. She loved Stefan...of course, she did. She was still in love with Stefan.

But her love for Damon was overwhelming.

And if she truly did love Stefan, as she claimed she did, she would let him go.

"Isn't fire harmful to you?" Elena whispered after a long while of comfortable silence, watching the flames dance; leaping gracefully over and through the gnarled wood, consuming it one moment, and embracing it the next.

"Yes," Damon answered carefully, stroking her hair, "but sometimes I just like to watch it burn."

Outside, the earth swayed and moved underneath Stefan's feet.

He had heard everything. Everything.

Anger had blinded him and he had intended to march right into the house and throw Damon to the wolves. He wasn't a selfish person by any means, but this was too much. He knew that Elena loved him, and he had known for some time that she also loved Damon, but for to come here and do this to him.

Stefan could feel his heart ripping. Never in his eternal life had he felt a pain so intensified. He wanted to break down and cry, but he knew that it would accomplish nothing. He had returned early from hunting with Rose, and she had put her hand up to stop him from entering the boarding house.

And then they had listened to the intense, private conversations taking place within.

The green-eyed vampire hissed through his teeth and took a deep breath, intending to dissolve the situation, but Rose grabbed his arms and held him stationary; that woman was strong.

"Stefan," she said softly. "Let them have their moment."

Stefan stared blankly at her.

Rose turned her eyes guiltily to the ground. "I will fix the situation, but only because you need time to think about how you will cope when their souls find each other again. Do you understand? There are workings in this universe more powerful than you can imagine, and I don't think Armageddon would stop those two from being together some day," she finished softly.

But really, Rose had her own selfish reasons for the delay; Damon and Elena could not be distracting to themselves or others while the battle with the Originals raged on. She had been running for centuries and now she was about to get a chance to save herself – finally – and she was not going to let this uncontrollable, passionate force that was Damon and Elena's love stand between her and freedom.

Rose knew that their love could put them all in danger; could jeopardize them.

She did feel sorry for Stefan, but right now, she was looking out for herself – though she would not let him know that.

Stefan took a steadying breath, feeling a few tears slip from his eyes before he angrily wiped them away. "And just how do you think you'll be able to do that, Rose?"

Rose smiled gently at him. "I have a few powers of my own that I've been keeping secret, Stefan. But now it's time to use one of them."

A gentle breeze blew through Stefan's thin shirt, causing him to shiver. "And what power is that?"

"I can compel other vampires so long as they are younger than me," Rose said softly, looking into the lighted window.

Stefan was silent for a moment before finally answering, "I am the most selfish person I know."

"It's okay, Stefan." Rose turned a sad, knowing smile on him. "We all do crazy things for love, don't we?"

"I suppose we do," Stefan murmured softly, finally cutting his hearing off to the private conversation within the brick walls of the house. He turned away, body tense. "I need to leave for a little while." As he took off, he could hear nothing but the dull, deafening silence which slowly enveloped him, choking the life from him.

"Please, oh, God, please don't!" Damon begged the centuries-old vampire. He had never begged for anything in his entire existence; not even his own life.

Elena lay deeply asleep on the floor, curled up in the spot where she had been dozing in Damon's arms before Rose had made her appearance.

Damon had stood, gently lowering Elena. He approached Rose, curious at first. But the curiosity had slowly turned to a torturous pain.

Calmly, Rose explained to Damon what she and Stefan had heard; that she must erase his memory in order to stand a chance of success against the Originals. The emotions involved were too strong and could ruin everything.

Throughout their quiet, heated argument, Elena stayed soundly asleep.

"I'm sorry, Damon," Rose told him, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze. "But this needs to be done." She very gently pulled his trembling form close to her, and brushed messy bangs away from his eyes.

"It's all I have, Rose," Damon whispered brokenly. He could feel his soul being torn. Not again – he could not stand to go through this ordeal again. Rose...she was about to commit some act against the universe, by compelling him to forget, to take his memories.

And he suddenly knew what some of those whom he had done it to had felt like. Like Elena. He swallowed hard and fought his trembling body until it was still.

"I know, sweetheart. And I promise that you'll get it back." Rose steadied her hand in his hair and then forced him to look at her.

"I love her," Damon said softly, the words falling from his lips like wilted flower petals.

"I know," Rose said again, "and no matter what I do to you, I could never make you forget that. You've shown numerous acts of selflessness tonight – you need to do it once more and I promise you that someday, you'll get these memories back."

Damon knew it was useless to run. She was older and so much stronger. So he just stood there, body limp, as Rose gazed deeply into his eyes, and very quietly whispered, "You will forget everything that happened tonight, from when you returned home, until now. You know that you love Elena, but you know that you can't act on it because it is selfish and it would hurt Stefan and our chances of defeating Klaus. You are selfless and you will continue to protect those you know and love."

Rose paused, watching Damon's pupils dilated, and added, "Elena came to see Stefan, but he wasn't here. You told her she could stay the night and offered her the couch. After this, you will fall into a deep sleep. Forget tonight, Damon. Forget."

Damon's eyes, which had slowly been welling with tears, spilled over, the droplets running down his pale, drawn face. "I will forget tonight," he said in a hushed tone, the words leaving his lips completely against his will. Everything around him was blank – surroundings, mind, soul – blank. It was white and it was void.

"Yes," Rose murmured and then released him.

Damon moved slowly to one of the couches by the fireplace and lay down on it. He closed his eyes, nearly overwhelmed by the sensation of falling from several stories, and then he was asleep; dragged down into a place where he wasn't sure that he could crawl back up from.

Just like that, in a heartbeat, it was over.

Rose moved to Elena's sleeping form and very carefully unclasped her vervain necklace, without hesitation. For Rose, when it came to compelling someone, that person did not have to be awake or conscious when she did it. "You will forget that you admitted your love for Damon, Elena, but you won't forget that you love him. You will forget everything that happened here tonight. You came to see Stefan and he wasn't here. You were so tired that you fell asleep on the couch. You know that you can't let anything distract you until the Originals are dealt with. Sleep, Elena, until morning, and forget tonight."

Rose sighed softly and reclosed the necklace around Elena's neck. She picked up the sleeping girl and gently placed her on the couch adjacent to Damon's.

After that was done, Rose shook her head and walked toward the door. She needed some air. As she looked back at the sleeping pair, though, she couldn't help but think...

...the mind forgets, but not the heart.

She closed the door quietly behind her, contemplating the night's sins.

In the dark, Elena's heart pounded against her chest as she waited, making completely sure that Rose was gone. She was trying so hard not to cry. Her soul was rising up in her throat, clawing at her insides, trying to get out, trying to deny what had just happened.

Tucked away inconspicuously in the bottom of her left shoe was the barest and smallest sprig of vervain, which she had only put there the night before, scared that another vampire might rip off her necklace and compel her. And it seemed that she had been right to have that fear.

She stood up, dizzily, her mind unable to catch up with her heart. She went to Damon and watched the shadows flicker over his face before brushing her fingertips over his cheek.

"No!" she sobbed when the gravity of the situation hit her. She buried her face in his chest. She knew he wouldn't awake because of the sleep that Rose had put him in. Everything that they had was all gone – at least for him.

She didn't care if he would get his memories back eventually – she needed him to have them now. God, she needed him and he had been ripped from her. She knew that she could just tell him that she loved him again, and that he would probably return the sentiments...but...

No. It was gone. This moment had been once in a lifetime and now it was gone; stolen from them.

Elena willed herself to be calm as she stared at his beautiful, sleeping face. His mouth was set in a frown. One hand supported his head, resting under his cheek. She noticed that he was shivering slightly, so she pulled the blanket that was hanging down from the couch onto his body, spreading it over him evenly. She sat beside him, feeling his warmth and how wonderful it felt. Brushing her fingers through his hair, she leaned down and kissed his earlobe.

"I love you, Damon Salvatore – and it's always going to be you." Elena knew that he hadn't heard her, but she felt him move instinctively closer to her. She fought back another wave of tears as she continued stroking his hair softly.

Determination welled up in her chest. They would get through this – they were strong. Rose had given her an opportunity to sort things out with Stefan first; to deal with Klaus and make sure all of the people whom she loved and cared about were safe.

She couldn't be selfish. Not with this. This was a second chance to make everything right before she gave herself over to him; before they were allowed to love each completely and wholly, and without limits and fears.

Trembling, Elena lowered her lips to his, so gently, and so chastely, before whispering, "Come back to me when you can." For a millisecond, she could hear his heartbeat drumming in synch with hers, and then it was silent.

The fading flames of the once roaring fire illuminated her tear-streaked face and soft brown eyes before finally burning out completely, turning everything in its destructive path to dusty ash.

All those words came undone and now I'm not the only one
Facing the ghosts that decide if the fire inside still burns

All I have, all I need, he's the air I would kill to breathe
Holds my love in his hands, still I'm searching for something
Out of breath, I am left hoping someday I'll breathe again
I'll breathe again

Open up next to you and my secrets become your truth
And the distance between that was sheltering me comes in full view
Hang my head, break my heart built from all I have torn apart
And my burden to bear is a love I can't carry anymore

All I have, all I need, he's the air I would kill to breathe
Holds my love in his hands, still I'm searching for something

Out of breath, I am left hoping someday I'll breathe again

-Sara Bareilles, "Breathe Again"


Well, there you have it! Thank you so much for all of your support & kind words! You guys are awesome! : ) Obviously, I left it slightly open so that I could write a sequel in the future (time permitting). I know that some of the stuff in here isn't canon (like Rose having the ability to compel other vampires), but that's why its fan-fiction and creative liberties are expected, no? ; )

People familiar with the books probably noticed that I drew a lot from the portrayal of Elena & Damon in those, as well as from the television show. I kind of meshed the personalities from the book with the personalities from the TV show – hope you still you liked it anyway! Also, if you haven't read the books – do it! They're awesome!

And lastly, I really wanted to have a scene in this story where Damon & Elena consummate their love, but I didn't want to change the rating. But what say you to an extra, 'M' rated scene, posted as a one-shot? : ) The scene would take place sometime in chapter 3. Anyway, if I get enough people saying that they want this (15?), then I will post it.

Thanks, friends! Have a wonderful week! : )