Summary: So they're not Romeo and Juliet; they don't have that tragic, fairytale romance, but they're Damon and Elena. And who needs the tragedy and the sappiness when they've got this great thing going on?

~ In Gradients ~

She comes to see him the night Rose dies.

He's sitting in the living room, shirt unbuttoned and legs spread out. There's a good amount of stubble on his jaw, and his eyes are dull but it's the fact that there's no tumbler in his hands and no alcohol on his breath that catches Elena off guard.

"Damon?" she calls out cautiously. Her hand hovers in midair for a second before she abruptly retracts it. She thinks that, maybe, comfort (from her) isn't the thing he needs or wants right now.

His blue eyes barely slide over to her, but his face is somber and his lips are curling at his canines. Then suddenly he's up and standing before she can blink. "I'm going to fucking tear that she-wolf to pieces," he growls, and walks out of the room without a backward glance.

Elena watches him leave, and she feels something break a little inside her because she's never felt so far away from Damon than she has now – like he's liquid water, just slipping between her fingers every time she tries to reach out to him.

She thinks that this is the first time that the possibility of losing Damon becomes a possible reality.

And it scares her.

She doesn't say anything when Damon kills Jules; she figures she can at least give him that satisfaction.

And even if she doesn't like it (she can't begin to conceive why – she just doesn't) Damon really did care about Rose, and her death just adds up to the already uncomfortably long list of people he lost.

So when he comes back home, shirt torn and bloody in several places, Elena just assesses the damage with a critical eye and tells him to sit down.

He complies without a word, though the look he gives her speaks volumes alone.

"Wait here," she instructs, as she goes into the kitchen to get a basin full of water and a towel.

She comes back and sits beside him, ignoring the amused glances he's giving her. "Take off your shirt," Elena says.

"M-hmm Elena, you could've just asked if you want to see me shirtless that bad," he drawls out, wiggling his eyebrows. "You know I could never deny you anything."

Though it's nice to see him smile, the words are heavy with meaning, and Elena blushes, telling him to, "Shut it and just take your shirt off already," though her heart's racing a mile a minute and she's having so much trouble fighting off a smile.

Elena knows – she's brave enough to admit it now – that she wants to smile because she's still that special person in Damon's heart, not replaced by a dead, phone-sex-voice, vampire (oh, the irony) or a creepy vampire look-alike. The knowledge thrums through her, steady and confident, but she doesn't say anything and lets it light up her eyes instead.

Slowly, she fills the white towel with water, running it gently through the wounds and claw marks on his chest.

The towel becomes red quickly.

She and Damon are getting closer – kind of like how they were before the whole you-killed-my-brother-so-I'll-manipulate-you thing, but more than that. It feels stronger this time.

Maybe it's because even though he's still adamant on keeping her alive (and human) and safe from Klaus, he hears her out when she disagrees with one of their plans – their being Stefan, Alaric, Bonnie, Caroline, Jeremy and, yeah, pretty much everyone else – and she's grateful for that, because he's about the only damn one who does. Everyone else (and God help her because sometimes it really feels like it's everyone else) just rambles on about how she's the one Klaus wants the most, the one who'll most likely be killed, and therefore the one who needs to be protected the most.

Which is absolutely and utterly ridiculous in her opinion because Bonnie, Caroline, and Tyler have about the same chances as her of getting killed and so, shouldn't they be protected as much as her? They mostly roll their eyes and ignore her when she points this out, muttering under their breath something that sounds like a reason, but really isn't ("you're human, they're not," is the one she hears the most, and it totally exasperates her because, yeah she's human and they're not, but that doesn't mean they can't die ).

No one understands her – no one tries to – except Damon, so after the first couple of thousand fights with the others, she gets tired of trying to make them understand and turns and vents to Damon instead.

He listens to her until she's done and then his blue eyes glitter and he makes a comment like, "Everyone knows they have an equal chance of dying Elena, you're just the scape-goat because there's actual blood involved with you," looking at her like it's the most obvious thing in the world and she can't help but laugh at out loud, bump his shoulder, and feel better already.

Stefan's not too happy about this new renewed sense of friendship between her and Damon (his words, not hers). He frowns a lot when she goes to Damon, purses his lips and shakes his head. "He can't be trusted Elena," he tells her gently. "One day he'll snap again and hurt you, and I don't want that to happen."

Usually she becomes angry, accusing him with her eyes. He's your brother, she wants to say (cry, scream), how can you doubt him so much?

The protection thing (or lack thereof where her friends are concerned) combined with the Damon-can't-be-trusted thing make her and Stefan more at odds than they've ever been, the tension between them usually culminating into nasty arguments – the kind where you see so red you want to fling objects at the person.

"I don't want to fight you, Elena!" Stefan cries out after a particularly grueling fight, hands cupping her face desperately.

She wants to believe him; she really does.

But she can't bring herself to.

"If that was true, you'd try and understand me – you'd try and listen to what I have to say. But you don't Stefan; you haven't done that in a long while." She slowly reaches for his hands and brings them down to his sides, circles him, and makes her way to the door. His hurt gaze burns her, but she doesn't stop until she's out of the house, breathing hard.

Elena sweeps a hand over her face as she climbs into her car and closes her eyes. She feels like she's reached a dead end with Stefan.

Luckily, Damon shows up at her doorstep barely an hour later, a smirk on his lips and a movie in hand, and Elena smiles and feels pounds lighter already.

Damon takes her back to Atlanta after her breakup with Stefan.

She doesn't why he does, and as she watches the scenery fly past her, Elena can't help but think that Damon must feel, like her, that there's a sense of finality in the air. She's not getting back with Stefan – not now, not tomorrow, not ever – and this time, she's actually okay with that.

Elena smiles nostalgically as she enters the bar. It's exactly like she remembers, minus Bree, but she certainly doesn't feel the same. There's so much more now between her and Damon than there was then, back when it was simple to hate him for what he was and she still didn't know that there was so much more to him than what he let on.

Her smile widens when she hears him order hamburgers for them both and tells the waitress to leave out the pickles in hers. He orders beer for both of them this time around, and at her amused gaze, he turns towards her and makes a 'T' shape with his hands. "Time out, remember?" he says and she laughs, remembering that those were the exact words she'd used on him when she'd asked for a beer the last time.

"I missed this," Elena admits as she clinks bottles with him, leaning over to steal one of his fries.

Damon doesn't pretend to misunderstand; he just looks at her intently with those blue, blue eyes until Elena feels her breathing hitch and her face heat up. Damon's always made her feel all kinds of confusing (wonderful) things all at once, and she's brave enough now to admit that that's probably never going to go away.

She watches him as he drinks from his beer, turning around after several silent minutes, slightly disappointed that he's decided to avoid her question.

And then she hears, "Me too," whispered so softly that she's sure she'd have missed it if she wasn't sitting so close to him. She hides her smile behind her burger, deciding that, if he's going to hear her heartbeat anyway (and with the way her heart's beating, she wouldn't be surprised if the whole damn bar hears it) she can at least hide the delight that's surely going to be on her face with something.

That night's the first night Elena lets Damon kiss her.

They're sitting on the roof of his Chevy, beers in hand, and she's laughing at something he says when suddenly, she sees him look at her with such soft, loving blue eyes that the whole world seems to go quiet and there's nothing but her and him and those blue eyes in the universe. His hand comes up to cup her face cautiously, and she inches towards him closer, encouraging him without words. Her eyes close of their own will when she sees his face lean slowly towards her.

They meet halfway.

And it's the most beautiful, breathtaking thing ever; fireworks bursting beneath her eyelids and all. She's flushed, her heart feels like it's going to explode, and suddenly she can't seem to get enough of him.

Elena thinks that that's how love's supposed to feel.

(Not like something that completes, but like something that combines).

Being with Damon is everything she expects and more.

She didn't think he could be more caring and soft and loving with her than he already was back when he was just her friend, but now that she's his ("You're mine, Elena. Forever," he tells her sometimes) he melts and molds with her and treats her like she's the most important thing to him.

And with the way he looks at her, she knows she is.

Sure, they have their ups and downs, and they bicker and fight a lot. Elena doesn't like to back down and, well Damon likes it even less, but at least, they make their point known and understood. Nothing's ever perfect all the time – she and Damon are learning that every day – but they at least try to make it perfect and that's all that matters to her.

So, yeah, they're not Romeo and Juliet; they don't have that tragic, fairytale romance, those heartfelt confessions and the supposedly pure love of two really horny teenagers. But they're Damon and Elena. And who needs the tragedy and the sappiness anyways, when they've got this great thing going on?

Elena smiles when she sees Damon put two plates of spaghetti seasoned with his special, homemade sauce on the table and walks up to him, looping her arms around his neck. His hands come to rest at her waist automatically, his mouth curling up as he presses a soft kiss just an inch away from her lips, chuckling at the way her fingers scrape his neck for tricking her. "Hey," he murmurs, breath soft and warm and teasing in her ear. "What's up?"

"You," she replies playfully. She looks at the food on the table and at the one candle lying discretely on the table. Her heart warms. "Dinner for two?"

"Just you and me always," he says and winks at her, pressing her closer to him.

Her hold on his neck tightens as Elena goes up on her tiptoes for a kiss. It's soft and powerful and warm and she feels it from the crown of her head all the way down to the tips of her fingers, and the fireworks are brighter than ever, and she smiles and feels herself fall more impossibly in love with Damon.

Yes, they're not Romeo and Juliet.

They're better.

Author's Note: Another one-shot for the month! I feel like I'm getting back in the groove of things (three one-shots a month has been my personal goal for a while. I didn't manage that in December unfortunately). So, this is another lighthearted one-shot, filled with some of my expectations of the rest of season two – I fully expect Rose to die, though the thought saddens me since I really do like her. I'm expecting a least one other Stefan-Elena breakup, though I'm not sure it'll be the final one I wrote about here.

Anyways, I hope you like this one. I'm trying to exceed the 2K in my one-shots now since I'm planning on moving on to chaptered stories (gasp!) soon. Those who have read most of my stories will probably know why the thought of me writing a chaptered story makes me slightly woozy.

Thoughts and comment are welcome! And please do not favorite without reviewing (I have noticed that more people are going back down that road – tsk tsk).

Much love!