Disclaimer: I don't own Vampire Diaries, which means I'll likely NEVER get to see any of this stuff happen. Boo hiss!

A/N: I can't believe we're here. The final chapter. And holy, holy crap it is LONG. I'm sorry, guys. It probably should have been two, but I promised one last chapter. So here you have it, beast that it is. Several warnings.

1. I went in a very DIFFERENT direction with Klaus. Be warned. Be open minded. Pretty please.

2. There's a death. It's pretty significant. Not D or E.

3. It's probably more than a little rough editing wise (I have sick kids and I was up til 3am. I'd really prefer to polish this for another day or two, and it could use it - but I'm pretty determined to get it up before the ep tonight changes everything)

This has been an amazing ride and I have been spoiled rotten by your kind reviews and pretty terrified that I will let you down. WAH!

THERE WILL BE AN EPILOGUE! Much fluffier future-set scene. Probably up Friday or Saturday. I am pooped and I have ignored EVERYTHING today to get this beast of a chapter posted.

I reeeeealllly hope you don't hate it. ::worries:: Please review. You've got a very nail-bitey author on your hands tonight.

I know what death row inmates must feel like walking to the execution room. Every single step I take feels heavy. The air feels thick and hot, when in reality it's freezing out here.

We never did come up with a plan. In the end, it all comes down to killing Klaus. And since we don't know how to do that, we have to wing it. I'm not a fan. But I'm not a fan of people I love dying either.

Bonnie's still suffering under some sort of magic block, no doubt courtesy of Elijah's special friend. And Damon has thrown three or four full-scale hissy fits about me not letting him kill Elijah on site. The truth is, I think we might need Elijah. God knows we can't trust him, but I can't imagine finding Klaus, let alone destroying him, on our own.

So, here we are.

Stefan in on my right. The right choice. The one I was right to be with.

Damon is on my left. Which doesn't seem significant until I realize the left side is where your heart is.

I'm not sure what to think of that, so I don't. I snip it out like it's made of paper, and keep my eyes on Elijah, who's waiting at the end of the driveway, a long, sleek car on the road behind him.

Katherine is beside him, sunglasses on though the sky's just barely pink with the promise of dawn. She's watching Stefan, though. I'm sure of that.

"Good morning," Elijah says, smiling as if we're all headed out to brunch. The car door opens and a dazed but unbound Jenna and Alaric emerge.

"Stefan's keys are in his car," Elijah says to them. "You'll take his car home, where you'll spend the day resting. There isn't anything happening you're concerned with. Do you understand?"

"Of course," Jenna says.

"Thank you," Alaric says, shaking Elijah's hand.

My arms go up in gooseflesh. It is the creepiest thing I've ever seen. And considering the last several months of my life, that's saying something.

I turn to watch them walk to the driveway.

"Katherine," Elijah says, waving at the boarding house. "Put the witch and the boy somewhere secure."

"No!" I cry.

"Would you rather she kill them?" he asks, and I zip it then, watching her run to the house.

"Gee, I can't wait to find out what kind of prize we get," Damon says.

"Actually, you're the ones with the prize," Elijah says. And then he has me away from them before anyone sees anything. Including the vampires on either side of me.

I see the shock and horror dawn on Damon and Stefan's faces as my back slams into Elijah's front. His fingers spread into a star in the pliable flesh beneath the juncture of my ribs.

He's going to kill me. Just that quick.

I don't dare move. I just stand there and stare at Damon and Stefan, knowing they may be the last thing I ever see. Stefan looks anguished. And Damon…well, Damon doesn't like he's about to split into three or four different personalities. I doubt any of them will be pleasant.

Then I feel Elijah's lips near my ear. Damon's eyes go dark, his fangs descending. I don't even think he notices it's happening.

"Do you think I have their attention now?" he asks me.

"We're listening," Stefan says.

Elijah releases me, but keeps me at his side. "I'll require your assistance with killing Klaus."

Stefan frowns. "Are you sure he can be killed?"

"The Original vampires don't share your rather delicate nature," Elijah says. "But there are certain…weaknesses"

He doesn't look inclined to tell us more, but Katherine smirks behind her glasses. "It's feeding."

Elijah doesn't look surprised, but he doesn't look overly pleased either. It's as close to a confession as we're likely to get.

"You're guessing," Damon says and she shrugs.

"Think about it. How often do you see them eat? Ninety percent of the time, you never see it. There's probably a reason," she says, a smirk curling the side of her lips.

Elijah relents with a shrug. "It allows a brief window of heightened vulnerability. We will use that window to destroy him."

"If that's true, he'll never agree to feed," Stefan reasons. "Not in front of us."

"Klaus trusts me implicitly," Elijah says, eyes sliding to rest on me. "And he's been craving this particular treat for centuries."

"He can stick his fangs in my ass if he wants a bite of Elena," Damon says and Stefan's expression goes steely, too.

Elijah is too fast to track. By the time my eyes catch up with him, Damon and Stefan are both being held a foot off the ground. By their throats.

"Stop!" I cry, but Katherine snags my arm, hauling me away before I can interfere.

"You will not stop this," he says, looking back and forth between the brothers. Their pupils go wide and dark, but otherwise they hang limp from his fingers. "You will follow me to Klaus. You will stand aside while I deliver Elena. You will not move until Klaus feeds. When he begins to drink, you will help me kill him. Do you understand?"

"Yes," they say, voices as flat and hollow as their eyes.

I shudder involuntarily under Katherine's grip. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. This is wrong. Beyond wrong.

"I should clean her up," Katherine says. "She reeks of Damon. Klaus won't like that."

I don't look at Stefan. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to look at Stefan again, but I feel his eyes on me. And I feel my cheeks flaming.

Elijah sighs. "Meet us in the car. Be quick about it."

My feet practically drag beneath me as she moves.

"What did you do with my brother?"

Katherine says nothing, pulling open the front door and tugging me towards the fireplace. Away from the windows. I don't hear anything in here.

I take a breath. "If you hurt Jeremy—

"Oh, stop with the dramatics. They're in the dungeon."

She pulls a blue shirt from her bag. My blue shirt. I wore it last week, which means she's been in my house. Again.

When she pulls off her own shirt, I feel my eyes go wide.

"What are you doing?"

She turns to me , pulling her glasses off. Then I'm really freaking out. Her eyes are bloodshot and swollen, dark bruises marring the flesh beneath. And her skin is beyond pale. It's sheet-white. She looks more like a corpse than any vampire I've ever seen.

It's like seeing myself dead. Dead and half naked.

"What…what happened to you?"

"Vervain," she says, rolling her eyes. "It's the new Red Bull."

"Why would you…wait. If you're drinking vervain, Elijah can't compel you."

"Give the girl a cookie! Here," she says, tossing me her shirt and pulling my blue one over her head.

"Wait. What the hell are you planning here?"

"Something I'm going to regret for the rest of my life," she says, handing me a hair tie.

I realize now her hair was pulled back. Now that she's shaking it around her shoulders, parting it just so, I can see she's straightened every inch of it. She planned this. Down to the last bit.

"It won't work," I say. "No one will ever believe you're me."

"It's harder to tell than you'd think," she says, pulling lipgloss out of her pocket and then swiping some of the makeup off of her eyelids.

I try to bolt, but she yanks me back, barely pausing in her work.

"I'll scream," I warn her.

"Then I'll eat your little brother for breakfast."

Satisfied with her own look, she turns to me, pulling my shirt off and replacing it with hers. I feel like a child. Especially when she gives me a spritz of my own perfume and starts applying makeup to my eyes.

"You might fool Elijah, but you won't fool Stefan and Damon," I say.

She ignores me, tilting her head. "You really do smell like Damon. Changing teams?"

I don't answer, and she works on my lips next, slicking on something a few shades darker than I'd ever wear.

"Too moody for me," Katherine says dismissively, "but he is a maniac between the sheets."

"I wouldn't know."

Though I would have guessed it. And okay, maybe fantasized about once or twice.

Katherine suddenly pushes my sleeve all the way up my arm, revealing the thin flesh on the underside of my elbow.

And then she bites me.

It's hard and fast and so unexpected that I don't even think to scream. I try to move, but she's impossibly strong, like an iron clamp around me. This is nothing like the slick pull of Damon's tongue, or even Stefan's frenzied swallows. This is a strong, efficient vacuum, evidence of just how capable she is as a predator.

She swallows hard, five, maybe six times and even that makes me feel pale and weak-kneed. Live I've given blood. Then she pulls away and slides a bandage over my arm, handing me a vial of something thick and red. My stomach turns over.

"Drink up," she says, and when I recoil, she grabs my face in one hand. "With your blood in my system and mine in yours, it will be damn near impossible to tell us apart. Now be a big girl and drink or I'll pour it down your throat"

"Why would you want to do this?"

She flinches at this, but doesn't look away. "Because I don't think Stefan will live if he has to watch you die."

The room is spinning and my world is ripping apart at the seams. I hold the vial in my hand and watch Katherine lick my blood from her lips.

"What about Damon?" I ask.

"Stefan won't survive without him either," she sighs. "Why do you think I turned Damon to begin with?"

I feel a flash of something white-hot go through me. I think it's hate. I bury it down, because it doesn't matter. Nothing matters but saving them.

So I drink.


We ride in total silence, Katherine's glasses covering half of my face. I'm holding onto her arm trying not to cry at the way Stefan and Damon stare blankly ahead.

It leaves me no time to worry about Klaus until the car stops and we stumble out in front of a small house. This is nothing like what I expected. I'd assumed we'd arrive at a mansion. Maybe a high tech lab. This is nothing like that. This is a small cape cod with white rockers on the front porch and a cheery brass knocker in the center of the blue door.

We are greeted by….a human. A woman in her early forties with round, pink cheeks and an apron around her neck. I swear to God, she looks like she should be president of the PTO.

"Elijah," she says, reaching forward to embrace him. "He'll be so pleased at your visit. Would you like a cookie? I've got fresh oatmeal."

"Thank you, no. And how are his studies?"

"Oh, you know our boy," she says, her hands coming together as she beams. "He is exceptional."

"He certainly is."

"Well, don't just stand there, come on in," she says.

We file inside and she returns to the kitchen. The idyllic greeting is shattered by the row of vampires inside. Six in the living room. Two on the front stairs. All dressed in plain suits and paying careful attention to the two identical girls strolling through the living room. They say nothing, but I feel their eyes following us, the slightest approving smiles being offered to Elijah as he leads us through.

They have absolutely no interest in the soccer mom in the kitchen, who from the look of things has been baking those oatmeal cookies for the last several years.

Every inch of counter is cluttered with trays heaped to overflowing with cookies. There are six or seven trays that have yet to be unloaded, but she's still humming softly as she scoops out perfect little balls of dough onto a fresh tray.

I'm absolutely certain I will never be able to bake an oatmeal cookie again.

As if I'm going to live long enough to bake cookies.

Two vampries at the back of the kitchen move aside, allowing us up the narrow flight of stairs half hidden behind the fridge. There is a door at the top of the stairs. Elijah opens it and lets us ahead of him. I see him slide his hand down the seam of the door, something black streaking across the wood as his fingers pass.


But what isn't weird in this house.

We are in a large, open room. I see a few bookshelves, a long aquarium filled with colorful fish, and a massive desk in the middle of the room.

Otherwise it's completely empty.

Except for the child behind the desk.

I look around, wondering when he's going to show up, and then I see Elijah drop in a slight bow.

The child stands up and every hair on the back of my neck stands up with him.

This is Klaus?

This wide-eyed child with his narrow shoulders and curling dark hair, is the most powerful vampire in the world? It's not possible. This kid couldn't be older than ten. He looks small and frail and innocent. He could double as a cherub, his face is that sweet. I could not dream of this boy killing anyone.

Until I meet his eyes.

His eyes are like death itself, cold and dark and endless. Even with my sunglasses on, I feel naked. Terrified. His eyes bring to mind the most horrible things I can imagine. Serial killers. Satanic rituals. The Holocaust. I feel like something good inside me has been lost. Tainted.

"My brother," he says to Elijah, in a voice every bit as warm and angelic as his face. "You've brought me gifts."

"Gifts I'd hoped to deliver so very long ago," he says.

"What is time to us?" Klaus says, his pink little mouth pulled up in a smile.

"Inconsequential," Elijah smiles. The affection between them is obvious. And obviously a big fat lie since I know why Elijah's really here.

"Is this who I think it is?" Klaus asks and Elijah's smile widens.

Katherine waits until she is pushed forward. She's beyond convincing. She cries out, stumbling towards the desk. It's too real. I want to look away. Or maybe go blind.

My heart should speed up, but it slows down. I see him reach for her hand. And she plays my fear like she's going for the Oscar. She's trembling and gasping, her eyes darting around the room for escape.

Maybe she really is that scared.

Katherine knows what he's capable of. And I have a feeling I'll never want to know that. Not ever.

"So you're the one who took her," he says, pulling Katherine closer.

"There is more," Elijah says, holding out the moonstone with a smirk.

Klaus laughs and anything childlike about him vanishes. His mouth opens, fangs descending as he draws Katherine closer.

"You are lovely," he says and I still can't get over this, this little boy being the devil incarnate.

He licks his fangs and leans in and my whole body coils like a spring.

No. Not yet. There are supposed to be speeches and pauses and long, scary silences where you know that the unthinkable is coming. But it's not coming. It's already here. And there's no more time left to buy.

Klaus rears back and then his fangs are in her neck. I see her arm jab, something plunging towards his middle. Elijah starts, his brow furrowing in confusion as Klaus pulls free, fangs dripping with Katherine's blood, his face twisting in surprise as much as pain.

He pulls the stake out of his chest and twists his fingers into her hair, staring her down. "Katerina. You'll beg for death when I'm finished."

I can't see for sure, but I know his eyes are shifting, his pupils dilating as he speaks something softly to her in her native tongue. She cries and moans, trying to fight him off, words I don't understand slipping from her tongue.

Elijah is edging slowly closer, his face set with intent.

Stefan and Damon shake their heads, looking foggy from the compulsion. Then they fly towards Klaus, and I think for one second, it's going to work. They will save the day.

This is what they do.

Then Klaus sweeps his hand through the air in their direction. Like he's brushing a cobweb out of his path. Damon and Stefan fly across the room, spines snapping as they hit the wall.

I force myself to be silent. I bite back the scream rising in my throat until I taste blood. Screaming won't help them. I need to think. I need to get them out of here.

I edge my way across the dark room as Klaus continues chanting those strange words. Katherine is writhing now, pleading half in English and half in Bulgarian. Her words devolve into moans, guttural and weak. And I know he's destroying her. He's doing something to rip her mind to bits.

I see Elijah appear behind Klaus, his hands reaching for his head. I think of Trevor's head ripping free, his body slumping lifelessly to the ground. Yes. Sick and dirty and wrong as it may be, I want that now. I want Klaus dead.

But as Elijah leans in, Klaus reaches behind him, thrusting his hand into his brother's chest. He stops in his chanting long enough to look over his shoulder.

"You, brother?" Then he shakes his head. "You are less than nothing."

Then his hand begins to twist and Elijah opens his mouth for a scream. But Damon is back, thundering clumsily into Klaus and Katherine. They topple sideways and Elijah squirms free.

Stefan drags Katherine away, holding her face, calling her name. She's tearing at her own hair, sobbing and growling in starts. Her fangs are extended, her face feral and blank.

Klaus is finished with her. There is nothing left but instinct. Violence. She struggles wild against Stefan, trying to get free. Trying to attack him. Trying to attack everything.

Klaus is tossing Elijah again and then he's moving for Damon. He's going to kill him.

I'm going to lose Damon.

It squeezes me by the throat, a truth I can't ever accept.

"I'm the one you want!" I scream and Damon groans, shaking his head as crawls towards me. I see the gaping hole in his middle. Klaus already had a run at him. I cringe at how close that hole came to stealing him from me.

My chest aches as Klaus looks at me, a smile lighting his pretty face. "I do love surprises."

He's coming for me, and then he's not. I don't know how it all happens. I am the only slow thing in the room. It's all blurs of flesh and blood to me. I hear growls and screams and grunts and then I'm thrown to the floor, a small body astride me.

I feel long hair stroking my face and then clawed hands pinning me to the ground. I don't understand, because Klaus's hair is short. But it doesn't matter, because the bite comes swift and hard.

This will be my death.

I know that.

Everything is suspended, frozen in mid-flight. Maybe it happens that way because death really is the end. Maybe you don't go on, so you have you get your thinking done now.

I'm thinking of Jeremy. Wishing I could watch him graduate. Get married. Have kids. I'm thinking of my mom and dad and wondering if they thought of me when they were going.

I'm thinking of Stefan and wishing that I could tell him I loved him one last time. That I could tell him that no matter what this thing is with Damon and me, that my love for him is still real. That nothing will ever change that. Not even this.

And Damon. I want to think of Damon, but I can't. If I think of Damon, I won't be able to let go. Thinking of him makes me want to live, no matter how certain it is that I'm going to die.

There is a gurgled gasp near my ear and then the slight weight is shoved to the side. Cool air rushes over my face.

I am free. Alive.

I open my eyes to blue. Impossible, beautiful blue.

"Damon," I say.

He says nothing. He just touches my face, as if I'm a treasure to precious for words. His hands are shaking and tears are streaming down his face unchecked.

I reach for him gently. Carefully. I've never once been careful with Damon, but I am afraid. It is like he has turned to glass. Fragile and thin.

Past Damon's shoulder, I see the desk. Klaus's body is near it. His head is not.

Elijah is slumped nearby, panting softly, but alive. I hear furious thundering at the door, knocks and kicks and full body slams. But no one bursts in. I remember the black on Elijah's hand.

He sealed them out.

His plan worked.

And we're…my thoughts are cut short by a quiet succession of sobs. Each one a little softer than the last. But they are familiar. I know this voice. Stefan.

I twist in Damon's arms and see him hunched near us, shaking. And then I see it all.

The body Stefan is hunched over. The blood on Damon's hands. The dark, wet lump of something on the floor beside us. And the gaping hole in the center of my shirt.

My blue shirt that Katherine stole.

Oh, God.

She was the one who bit me. Katherine attacked me.

And Damon ripped her heart out to save me.

"Damon," I say, my voice breaking in half, but he's not crying for Katherine. Or even for me. His eyes are on his brother, his pain as raw as I've ever seen.

"Help him," Damon says. "Please."

I want to ask who'll be helping him, but there's something so desperate in his voice, something so broken. I touch my forehead to his, breathe him in for one blistering moment, and then I scoot over Katherine's body, easing myself towards Stefan.

I lift his face and he shakes his head, shamed by his tears. His hands go to either side of my face, his face crumpled in misery.

"You're alive," he says, releasing a shuddering sigh. "You're alive, Elena, and that's all that matters."

"I'm alive," I say, stroking his cheek and shaking my head. "But that's not all that matters."

He strokes my cheeks and then pulls me in for a tight embrace. He clings to me like a buoy in a storm. And I let him.


I'm safe.

I've been testing those words in my mind since Elijah escorted us out of Klaus's cape cod.

I'd expected the bodyguards to attack once the door was open, but they deferred immediately to the new leader, shaking Elijah's hand and bowing neatly out of his path. As if this was a political campaign instead of a bloodbath. As if they hadn't been on the other side of that door, beating their fists bloody not a half an hour earlier.

And that was that.

Elijah is leaving. Apparently, he had no interest in Mystic Falls, and less than that in breaking that old Aztec spell. He was here for Klaus. For power.

So for now, it is over.

I've kept Stefan in my bedroom all day. We've called everyone in the world, finding them alive and safe. Just as Elijah promised. We talked about how much everything has changed. How much we've all changed.

We haven't talked about Katherine. And we haven't talked about Damon either.

Stefan stirs on my pillow and I realize he's awake. Watching me. And since I've been staring into my hairbrush for the better part of the last hour, it's clear I have things on my mind.

"You're in love with him," he says.

Just like that, throwing it out there. But I am Teflon girl. The words slide right off, landing at my feet. I shake my head firmly, but he tilts his head, challenging me with a look.

"I can handle it, Elena."

"That's not it," I say. "I'm not trying to make you feel better. There is something between us. Between me and Damon. I know that now. But I don't think it's love. It can't be."

"Why don't you think it's love?"

My voice is small and tremulous when I answer him. "Because it hurts too much."

"Isn't that because it matters so much?"

Stefan scoots down to the foot of my bed. He is steady and quiet, gathering his thoughts in that way he does. He's so unlike his brother.

I think of Rose's words.

It's okay to love them both…

But it's not. Only a crazy person cold love two people so different. So, it can't be true. It just can't.

"I hate it," Stefan says, looking up at me with a self-depreciating smirk. "I do. I want to be the solid guy right now, the good friend. But I hate seeing you with him. The way you hold your breath. The way the air changes between the two of you. It hurts like hell."

Yes. It hurts so bad right now I feel sick. Because I know it will never be anything more than a possibility. A "what if" reserved for rainy days.

I lean forward and touch Stefan's shoulder. "I love you, Stefan. Always have, always will. I would never do anything to cause you pain. And this…there's no way it wouldn't hurt."

"It would," he agrees, "But as much as I hate it, you can make this choice for me."

I feel my face go slack with shock. Stefan continues without mentioning it. "Katherine loved me. I know that now. And I forced myself to feel nothing for her. For years, I swore that it was all a lie." He takes a breath before finishing. "It was more than that. Now it's too late to find out how much more. I don't want that for you. Not for you or for Damon."

"She did it for you," I say quietly, touching his hand. "She said she knew you wouldn't live if you lost me."

"She was right," he says, nodding. "I lost faith in her. I thought she didn't care and that she didn't know me. I was wrong on both counts."

I nod, tears blurring my vision.

"Choose the truth, Elena," he says. "Don't choose what's right or what you think you should choose. I did that. And I'm beginning to believe the truth is always a better choice. No matter how hard it is to swallow."

I stay in my room for a long while after Stefan is gone. I stay until the shadows stretch long across my floor, until darkness slides in through my window.

And then he is there, standing just inside my curtains, his face too beautiful to be real. His eyes swimming with things that words aren't big enough for.

And I don't need words. I don't need anything, because he's here.

The gratitude flooding me is threatening to spill out in a mess of silly, sentimental chatter. I literally feel like I will burst with relief.

"Stefan's packing," he says without preamble.

It feels like punch to the gut. I sit down on my bed, nodding woodenly.

"It's because of me," Damon says, brow furrowing. "Because of us."

Then he's right in front of me, kneeling down. He's touching my face and he's so beautiful and so crazy and scary and this will ruin everything, but I don't care.

I want him. Need him, maybe.

"I can't let that happen," he says and everything screeches to a halt in my mind. "He belongs here. He's the nice guy. White horse, furrowed brow, the whole nine yards."


Wait a minute.

"Why did you come here tonight?" I ask.

"You mean, other to see you in those threadbare pj's?" he asks, but I'm not playing.

And with the way his smirk vanishes, I know he's not either. Not really. "I came to say goodbye."

He says other things. I see his mouth moving and I hear a strange, tinny murmur that must be his voice. There are things about Stefan and things about him being better for knowing me. I think I'm even nodding along, but I'm not hearing this. Not really.

I haven't heard a damn word since goodbye.

I blink and realize he's back at my window, one foot slipping over the pane. My tongue must weigh a thousand pounds. My feet feel mired in glue.

I swear, I cannot remember how to lift my hands, how to open my mouth and force words out of it. I only know this fear. This blind, gripping panic.

He's gone at least a minute when I find my voice.


And then I'm crying, shaking with quiet little sobs. I curl in on myself, dropping to my knees. I know this is for the best. This will keep Stefan here and Stefan deserves to be here. It is the right thing. The thing everyone will approve of.

But the ugly truth is, it's not the thing I want.

I want Damon.

I cry and cry until I don't think there could possibly be anything left. But these tears never end. It's like a bottomless river in my chest.

There is a whoosh of air and I look up with a gasp. He's back in my room, face twisted with conflict and eyes red and brimming.

"I thought you were gone," I say, my tears still dripping off my chin.

"That was the plan," he says, shaking his head and breath ragged. "I suck at impulse control."

"I've noticed," I say, and then we're not saying anything, because he's across the floor and he's lifting me up and we're kissing. Something small and frail unfurls its wings in me. I think it feels like hope.

I stroke the lines of his jaw while we kiss and he shivers under my touch. It's a powerful feeling. Almost intoxicating. This isn't some guy, or even some vampire. This is Damon. A dizzying, unpredictable force of nature. And it's my touch that makes him weak.

I feel powerful. Hungry. For tonight, I am the predator. I walk him backwards towards my bed, urging him to sit down. He's all too happy to comply, peeling off his jacket and flinging it to the floor by my dresser. And then I'm on his lap and he's kissing me fiercely, and it's too much, too good, too everything. And somehow still not enough.

We are rough and desperate, almost pushy with our mouths and hands. I feel frantic to keep going, a gnawing need in my middle that reminds me we can be closer. That we need to be closer.

This will be no jazz-music, candlelit affair. There will be groans and ripped sheets. Broken furniture, maybe. Because Damon doesn't do anything halfway, and I won't either. Not tonight.

I pull away, just a few inches, my hair a dark curtain around us.

"You're not leaving," I say, because I have to be sure. I need to know that I am not falling alone.

"Can't leave," he pants, running his hands over my thighs. "Trapped under a hellcat."

His smirk is brief. It slides into something softer at once. Something that slows the fire between my legs and spreads it to my heart.

He touches my face, and then my hair with trembling fingers. "I should leave. I should and I tried. But I can't."

I feel his words like they are imprinting themselve on my bones. As if it is my mind, and not just my body, that is hearing this. Feeling this.

"I'm crazy about you," he says. "Out of my head, whipped like a dog, over the moon…hell, pick any phrase you want. I'm guilty as charged. And I'm not going anywhere. But Stefan-"

"Will be okay," I say, and I'm not sure if I believe that, but I'm sure this isn't about Stefan. I don't want him between us tonight.

I touch his kiss swollen lips and then his crazy hair and breathe him in, because he is mine. He belongs with me.

"I'm ready to make that choice," I say.

"What choice?" he asks.

I answer him with a kiss. And since he rolls me over and squeezes me so hard it makes my ribs hurt, I'm pretty sure he figured it out.