Final chapter folks! Lots to get in, so forgive the length. It is lemony (of course), violent-ish (unsurprisingly) and hopefully resolves all those niggling plot details (well, most of 'em anyway).

Those of you who like something a bit darker, look out my collaboration with the wonderful Sleepwell, which is coming very soon… we hope to post as "Sleepwell-Silverfox".

Ok. Here we go… Thanks for reading and do review and let me know what you have made of this story overall. Shall I do more like this?

Finding the Strength

Chapter 8: Lessons Learned

In the morning, she woke up in his arms. She smiled, examining his perfect face.

"You're faking." She whispered. He opened his eyes and looked down his nose at her.

"Maybe just a little."

"Do you sleep much?"

"Not really. About three hours seems to do me fine."

"What do you do with all that spare time?"

"Oh, I don't know… this and that."

"Hmm, idle hands…"

"Oh, my hands are far from idle."

"Damon! Stop that!" She giggled.

He rolled out of bed and strolled over to run a bath. When he had filled it almost to overflowing, he came and collected her and jumped with her in his arms. She laughed as water and bubbles went everywhere. He settled her down into the water, gently pulling her into his arms. She swirled her hair up into a lose bun and he kissed the back of her neck.

"You know I can't stay here don't you?" She said.

"In my bath? I should hope not. You'd go all wrinkly, like a prune." She elbowed him.

"You know what I mean." He continued kissing her, letting his hands slide over her bare skin. They moved around her body, cupping her breasts and teasing her nipples. She took a breath and tried to concentrate.

"I mean I think I should go home."


"This is your house and Stefan's too…" He stopped kissing her as she stressed his brother's name.

"I see."

"It feels wrong. Like we are pushing our relationship in his face, Damon."

"And that's wrong because…?" She was about to elbow him again when he laid some kisses on her shoulder to let her know he was kidding. "I do have one question though."


"Well, you want to move out so Stefan won't feel uncomfortable seeing you with me, right?"


"So how come you were happy to do that to me?" He kissed her again and slipped his arms around her waist, but when he rested his head on her shoulder, she could tell he was being serious.

"Damon, it wasn't like that. Or at least, I didn't know it was like that for you."

"Yes, you did." He said simply. She colored, looking down at the soapy suds that created an oily slick across her skin.

"I didn't want to admit your feelings to myself. I'm sorry, Damon. For everything. I never meant to be cruel." He shrugged, as if blowing the whole thing off.

"Doesn't matter now. Just wanted you to know that you have a choice. If you want to go back, I'm not going to stop you. But you can consider this your home now. Bring your stuff, keep your own room. There's no pressure."

"Damon Salvatore, are you asking me to move in with you?"

"Don't be stupid, that would be commitment, I don't do commitment."

"Of course not. How silly of me." She said, a smirk on her face. He reached out and traced his finger from her knee down the inside of her thigh, until it found its home in the warm downy triangle between her legs.

"If you leave, of course it will make it awfully difficult to have baths together every morning." He said, using the oiled water to his advantage, squeezing her breast with one hand whilst the other slipped between her folds. She made a little sound.

"Th-that would be a shame." She said, gripping the bathtub with both hands.

"Mm-hmm." He agreed, his lips brushing kisses along her throat. His finger increased its pace whilst his other hand pinched her nipple.

"I mean, I do have an awful lot of my things here already…" She managed to say.

"That's true."

"And I expect Jenna and Alaric would like their own space without you and me being under their – oh!" She shivered all over. He smiled.

"I expect so…."

"And Jer is never at home anyway."

"I doubt he would even notice you were gone…" He slipped two fingers inside of her and she arched her back away from him, a sigh escaping her lips as he gently began to move them.

"Perhaps it's not such a bad idea!" She said breathily, grasping at the sides of the tub.

"Perhaps not." He removed his fingers and put both hands firmly on her waist, slid her over his body and with a bit of sly maneuvering, entered her. She cried out as he began to move inside her. He leaned forwards and said cheerfully. "We could play Scrabble in the evenings."

"We c-could. Or, or…. Boggle!"

"What was that?" He said, stifling a laugh. He used his strong legs to move against her, pushing himself deeper, faster, sliding his hands over her breasts, arms, legs.

"BOOOOGGLE!" She cried out.

September 22nd

Dear Diary

I had gun training today with Stefan. In the morning, we shot moving targets and clay pigeons. I love the 'bunny hop', which is this crazy wire thingy that makes the clay pigeon run along the ground then bounce into the air about a foot high - at which point I get to blow it to smithereens with my .12 gauge! Anyway, in the afternoon he took me to an army training facility (I don't know how he arranges these things. He seems to have friends everywhere). The idea is that you run around a tough assault course, climbing up ropes, diving under nets, etcetera - and as you do cardboard cutouts pop up all over the place; you are supposed to put a bullet through the 'baddies'. It was hard work, but I guess it was fun. Someone mentioned in passing that I beat the course record.

Anyway, I only mention it because in the car on the way back, I felt that Stefan was quieter than normal. Usually we use the journey to compare the benefits of hollow point versus soft point bullet casings or some-such, but today he seemed, I don't know - distant I guess. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that there was nothing left to teach me. I began to argue that I didn't really have a handle on the .223 Remington, I just can't get used to the twist rate in the semi-automatic… but he just seemed to think that was by the by and looked really sad. When we got back to the house, I asked him if he wanted to take a walk with me. He said he would.

We walked up along the ridge that is just to the north of the boarding house. There is a tree-lined path up there and it's real pretty at the moment, what with all the leaves turning. He walked with his hands in his pockets and I guess I did the same, feeling awkward that we weren't holding hands like before I guess.

'You're ready.' He said. 'You have all the principles; I can't show you anything else. Combat, firearms, traps. I hope you never have to use them but if you do, I know you'll be fine.'

I nodded. 'Sure', I told him. I don't know why I didn't say anything then, but I suppose I got shy. But you could tell what we both wanted to say. In the end, he started it.

'Does he make you happy, Elena?' He didn't need to say a name.

I guess I might have blushed then and as I couldn't speak, I just nodded.

'Take care of each other, okay?' I nodded again and he turned to leave, but I called after him.

'Stefan!' He turned around and looked at me, his face masking his emotions. 'I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry it ended the way it did. You're amazing, you really are. But I guess he and I just have that thing. You know…?' He shook his head.

'Not really.' He said sadly. 'Good night, Elena.' And with that, he walked away.

I felt really awful and cried for a long while after he went. In the end, I pulled out my cell and texted Damon, because I just wanted to feel needed.

I miss you.

- Eight hours sure can drag

I wanna cook for you 2nite

- I think a pig just flew overhead


- Ok I'll bring dessert and alka seltzer

And wine…

- Sure. Hey, are u ok?

I'm fine. Just wanna see you. With some afterthought I texted an addendum I love you.

There was a pause, then his final message blinked onto the screen.

- You're ok, if you like that kind of thing.

I managed a smile and put the phone away.

That evening I knew Stefan wouldn't come home and sure enough when I got back to house with my groceries, he'd left a note saying he'd see me at school. Given that was 2 days away, I figured it was another way of saying he wanted to be alone.

I made an almighty mess of the kitchen, but I followed the cookbook to the letter, determined to make something we could eat. It may not have been quite like it looked in the picture, but it seemed ok. Looked edible anyway. I put it in the oven to bake and cleared up. I set the table with flowers and candles, and went to get changed. I heard Damon arrive home and my heart raced. I couldn't wait to see him.

When I got down the stairs he had already lit the candles and dimmed the lights. There was champagne waiting for us on ice. When he saw me his eyes opened wide. I was wearing that purple dress Caroline lent me ages ago for the Kappa Beta Omega party that we had snuck into that one time. A dress I kept meaning to give back. It was old, but I knew it did good things for my curves. He walked around the table and pulled me into his arms. Things got a bit heated then and surprise surprise the smoke detector went off, which in my world means 'dinner's ready'. He poured us some champagne and when I asked him what we were celebrating and he looked at me and said, 'I know what I am celebrating, but what your excuse is I have no idea'. He kissed me long and hard and slow. Mmmmm.

'Elena,' he said over dinner (politely eating the burnt bits), 'if you want to slow this down a bit, I'd understand.' As if he had been thinking about saying that a while. I was really puzzled by that. And when he saw my face, he panicked and added. 'I don't want to, but I thought you might feel, I don't know exactly, but pressured maybe. I know I can be pretty full-on sometimes.' When he said that I put down my knife and fork and went over to him and sat on his lap. I put my arms around his neck and said, 'I'm not feeling pressured, I'm not a child, I'm not even on the re-bound. I need you and I want you. I want us to be together in every way imaginable.' He asked me if the dress was expensive, I wish I said it was borrowed because when I shook my head, he ripped it apart. When he saw the lacy lingerie I had chosen to wear under it, I thought his eyes were going to pop out his head. Honestly, I thought he was going to take me right there and then on the table! But I guess he is still trying to show me his softer side, so he whisked both me and the bottle of champagne, upstairs. And boy, does he know how to make those bubbles feel good!

I feel bad for Stefan I really do. But it's hard to think about him when Damon deliberately takes my mind off of him. And the sex… oh my.

I should wrap this up, it's late and I want to be ready for my morning bath. ;-D


Stefan was sat on a low wall, listening to voices drone on inside the classroom behind him. The lesson was happening without him whilst he sulked outside. He looked up at the storm clouds rolling overhead. The weather had become like his mood; dark and depressed.

He felt disgruntled. Why was he even at school? He had been through the experience more than enough times already and as soon as his reason for being here had ceased to exist in real terms, then he felt overwhelming sense of 'why should I give a shit?'. He knew that he couldn't just abandon Elena to such a ripe hunting ground without warning her, but he had made up his mind. If Damon wanted to be with her, he'd have to find a way to protect her here as well, because as far as he was concerned, he didn't want to do another day.

He did something he hadn't done in a long while and pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes. He tapped one into his fingers, flipped it into his mouth, lit it and took a long drag.

"You there!" Came a voice from across the yard. "Students are forbidden to smoke on school property. Put that out!" He did as he was told, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Surely you should be in class? Go now please and we'll say no more about it." Stefan stood up and pretended to go back in the building. The teacher scurried off (probably out for a crafty cig themselves) and then Stefan sat back down again exactly where he had been and pulled cigarette no.2 from the pack.

"I didn't know you smoked!" Said a familiar voice from behind his shoulder, he turned to face Caroline as she came over to him.

"I do today..." He said. She took the pack from his hand, pulled one out and took his hand in hers so she could light up from him. "Well, we're never gonna get cancer, right?" She smirked. "So how come you are out here with all us social reprobates?" She added, nodding to a group of kids drinking vodka out of a paper bag in the car lot.

"You know, I just can't seem to care about school any more." He said. She nodded. "I know what you mean," she agreed, "I just sit there all day thinking 'wow, I have all these cool new skills, and all the time in the world to learn this crap. I don't want to be here'. To be honest, I only turn up so my mom won't suspect anything." She took a quick puff and looked at him quizzically. "In any case, I'm not the mystery here. You are. Stefan Salvatore, the secret smoker," she narrowed her eyes, "what gives?"

"No mystery." He said. "Everyone who has even been dumped starts smoking again, don't they?" he smiled sadly at her. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open.

"Elena broke up with you! No way! I do not believe it." He shrugged and she sat down next to him. "Stef, I'm so sorry. Are you sure?" She shook her head. "Sorry, that's dumb. Of course you're sure! Its just, well, I can't believe it…"

"Tell me about it."

"Stefan, what happened? It's none of my business of course, but if you want to tell me, you know it won't go any further."

"You should probably ask her that." He said, standing up to go. He stubbed his cigarette out and looked once more into the sky. "You should get inside. It's going to rain." He put his hands in his pockets and went to go inside, when suddenly she was beside him, her hand on his shoulder. He turned to face her.

"If you want to talk, you can trust me." She said. "We're friends too, aren't we?" He nodded. "You can call me, any time."

"I'm okay, Caroline. Thanks though." And with that, he turned and walked inside.

The rain was pouring down and it was darker than Elena had seen it in a long while. She got out of her car, pulled her jacket over her head and began to run to the front door. Damon walked through the rain with the umbrella she had forgotten that morning and strode towards her. They met in the middle ground. She lowered her jacket onto her shoulders and looked up at him, a smile spread across her face. He pulled her close under her red umbrella.

"Let's get you inside."

"Not just yet." She said. "I like being here, with you."

"You're getting wet."

"I know. So are you." She looked at him, searched his eyes. So intense, so curious. She wondered what had happened that time he had kissed Katherine believing it was her. What had been said to make him lean in and close that gap between them?

He smiled curiously. "OK, we'll both just stand here getting wet." He said. She reached up and touched his face and he let her brush the skin of his cheek. She loved the space created by the umbrella, it seemed very intimate somehow and the red light it cast over them felt comforting. She took a half step towards him, so that her feet were almost touching his. Suddenly the atmosphere changed; she could feel his heat, his proximity and he could feel hers. She reached up and kissed him, pushing her body into his, snaking her arm around his neck and pressing herself against him. He responded by slipping his hand down onto her behind, gripping her tightly, breathing heavily as her lips slipped against his, inviting him to play with her; her tongue invading and tasting him. She slipped her hand between his legs and he responded, trembling as she encouraged him to stiffen. She stroked and put pressure on him as their lips continued to engage.

He pulled back, panting a little. "You little minx, I need to get you inside. Now." She shook her head.

"Nope, we're already wet. Follow me." She took his hand and led him around the back of the house. She threw down her school bag and started to strip off her outer layers. He watched with curiosity as she dove into the pool in her underwear. She turned to face him.

"Are you coming in? The water's fine!" She laughed as the rain dripped over her. He shook his head at the craziness of it. But as she splashed about, playfully dipping and diving like a landlocked mermaid, he put down the umbrella, stripped off his layers and followed her.

He surfaced next to her.

"You're insane, you know that right?" She smiled. "Come here, insane girl." He drew her towards him and kissed her. She wrapped her legs around him as he floated.

She broke the kiss and slipped away from him, swimming to the deeper water. He followed, diving beneath the surface he trailed little kisses up her legs and when he reached her waist, he slipped her panties down. She swam away from him again before he could put his hands on her, teasing him by leading him around the pool in a playful chase as the sky above them emptied down. He followed, finally cornering her and slipping open the catch on her bra. He pushed the straps down off her shoulders and nuzzled her there. She took the bra off and let that float away too. She could tell how crazy hard he was for her, but when he went to touch her breasts, she dipped away from him again, leaving him to roar his frustration.

She dove deep down, kicking her legs to take her almost to the bottom of the pool. He followed, meeting her underwater for a kiss that made them both surface, their naked bodies entwined together. Now he had captured her, he swam backwards with her in his arms, taking her into slightly shallower waters. She hooked her legs around his hips and he entered her, using one hand to help him float and the other to hold her against him as she threatened to drift away. Elena placed her arms around his neck and felt the water lap against her body as he thrust inside of her. Everything about this felt good; she was completely in control and he loved that she was. She released her arms from his neck and let her upper body float on the water, her arms spread wide as the rain fell on her. Damon was inside her, filling her, wanting her, keeping her steady on his ramrod-hard erection. She lifted herself up to him once more and brushed his wet hair from his face, laying some gentle kisses on his lips. Both hands now pulled her down onto him and he came inside her as she floated there, arms around him, hands stroking his hair. He leaned his head against her collarbone and breathed heavily.

"Oh, God." Was all he could say, over and over. She smiled and planted half a dozen quick kisses on the crown of his head then disentangling herself from his body. He put a strong arm around her and waded them both to the side of the pool.

"This is madness being out here. Let's get inside to dry off."

She turned to him and whispered a secret. "I've wanted to do that to you, ever since that first day's training in the pool."

"Good job I didn't realize that then." He said, "Otherwise I wouldn't have cared whether Stefan was here or not."

She grinned and let him assist her getting out.

They didn't really bother dressing, just gathered up their wet clothes and made a dash for the back door of the house. When they fell inside the house laughing, Stefan was there waiting for them and the laughter died on their lips. He took in their disheveled semi-naked appearance with a disapproving glare. "You have a visitor." He announced sourly to Elena, whose smile had been entirely swallowed upon seeing him there. She tried to cover herself and blushed profusely.

"Erm, thanks. Erm, sorry…" She didn't know what to do.

Stefan glared at Damon, then walked away.

She began shivering violently and looked to Damon. He returned her gaze.

"Don't let him get to you. Your visitor is just Caroline."

"Oh no! I can't let her see us like this. I haven't had a chance to tell her, Damon. She doesn't know!" She said panicked.

"Well, she does now." He said as Caroline had quietly entered the kitchen and was looking at them both with a mixture of shock and anger on her face. She turned on her heel and walked out. Elena ran out after her, pleading with her to stay, but Caroline used her vampire speed and slammed the door behind her. Elena turned back into the living room, her shaking almost uncontrollable now. She looked towards Stefan who was quietly sat on the sofa.

"You wanted that to happen!" She shouted angrily at him, furious that he would let Caroline walk in on her when he knew what she would find. Damon finally entered the room; he had a towel around his waist and one in his hands for her.

"Do you think I wanted any of this to happen? And put some fucking clothes on." Stefan angrily shouted back. He got up and strode away.

She ran to Damon and buried himself in his arms. "I need to go after her." He threw the towel around her shoulders and rubbed her vigorously.

"You're not going anywhere until you've dried off. Come on." He walked up the stairs with his arm around her.

Damon watched as Elena hurriedly got showered and dressed. She pulled on a plain, long sleeve t-shirt and dark grey combats and laced her heavy black boots. There was something oddly unemotional and rehearsed about her movements. She was acting in a cool and distant manner, as if her mind was somewhere else. She pulled her ponytail through her cap, then reached under her bed pulling out a black rucksack. He told her he didn't want to her to go on her own and was faintly surprised when she said he could join her. He'd expected an argument.

She jogged out of the house ahead of him, but surprised him again when she asked him to drive.

He took them on the route she instructed, but when they got halfway to Caroline's house, they came across her car left abandoned in the middle of the road. It was in a residential street with houses on one side of the road, but woods on the other. The passenger door of the car was wide open, but its owner was nowhere to be seen.

Damon pulled his car over behind it, noting that Elena didn't seem surprised. In fact she exuded an almost studied calm. She reached into the black rucksack that rested on her lap and pulled out a Glock 19 handgun, which she loaded with a magazine of specially commissioned 9mm wooden bullets. She pumped one into the chamber and unclipped the safety. Damon frowned.

"Is that entirely necessary?" She whipped her head around to face him and he knew he wouldn't waste his time with another word of caution.

"I need you to track her." She said flatly and got out the car, her gun raised professionally, her body taut and poised for action. Her eyes scanned the skyline checking it for anomalies. He had a bad feeling about this, but followed reluctantly. "Check the vehicle." She said to him as he stepped outside. He did as he was asked; cautiously bending down to examine the abandoned car. She stood nearby and continued to survey the terrain, her eyes scanning the woodland in particular.

He had to admit that as soon as he had stepped outside his car and could hear Caroline's engine still running, a deeper pang of worry bit into him. Blondie was strong, but whatever had caused her to leave the car like this was stronger. He reached in to the driver's side and switched the engine off, taking the keys with him. He straightened up. This was bad news and his face furrowed into an even deeper frown. Maybe the gun wasn't an over reaction.

"Her purse is still here." He admitted. "She was pulled out at speed." He walked over to Elena as soon as he shut the passenger side door. "Elena, listen to me. I'd know that scent anywhere. It's Katherine." She nodded like she already knew that.

"She knows that I can fight her now, so she's trying to draw me into a trap. I never thought she would take my best friend, but she knew she had to provoke me to come to her. When I saw the car, I knew this could only be Katherine's work. Caroline was upset, her defenses were down. It was what you always said would happen." Her face grew grim, "What Katherine doesn't realise, is that I'll stop at nothing to get my friend back." With that, she began the ascent up the incline into the damp woods.

She moved quickly but cautiously and Damon stayed behind her, out of the way of those wooden bullets. They moved quietly. The rain had eased, but dripped through the canopy of the trees onto the forest floor, helping to muffle many of their movements.

"Do you get anything?" She asked in a low whisper. Her tracking skills would never be as good as his senses no matter how many tricks Stefan had taught her.

"Something, not much, because of the rain." He explained. He hovered for a moment and then indicated a narrow path to the left of them that led into the thickest part of the woods.

"Clever girl." She muttered, as if she would have taken the same route herself. She wriggled her shoulders under the backpack and loosened her grip on the gun. "We have to get off this path." She led the way into the undergrowth. The knee-high bracken soaked them both, quickly causing Damon to curse his addiction to impractical designer footwear.

She held up her fist, military style and he froze behind her. She pointed to the ground and he saw an abandoned lipstick at her feet. Caroline had been this way. Maybe she had dropped it deliberately. Elena indicated for silence and he dropped down. Without intending to, his vampire features came upon him. Maybe it was the hunt that brought them to the fore. She noticed, but didn't react. She merely raised her gun and proceeded.

She heard the little thud sound first and then suddenly Damon was not behind her any more. She turned just in time to see him crumpling to the floor. She ran to his side. His face was contorted in agony and he was clutching at his back, trying to remove something there. She rolled him onto his side and saw the dart he had been shot with. He became glassy eyed.

"Vervain!" He hissed and then passed out. Her eyes scanned the trees. Nothing. Damn it! She ripped the dart from his back. He was out cold, but she knew he would recover as the vervain left his body. She had to find Katherine and put an end to this. She remembered Stefan's words, 'You have to think like a vampire!'. Fine, all she had to do was think like an evil and sadistic queen-bitch. What would she do right now?

She began to track forwards again, her mind racing. This was worse than she thought. She knew that Katherine would try and take her. But what she hadn't expected was that she would have to face that threat alone. She knew that Katherine was clever, strong and very desperate. It made her a formidable foe. She figured it was going take more than a few wooden bullets to stop her, so it was a good job she brought along with her a little bit more than that.

She opened her rucksack and tooled up.

"Caroline? It's Stefan. I'm so sorry; I don't know what came over me. I shouldn't have done that to you. Please, call me back."


"Caroline, please pick up. It's me. Again. Look, I know you're probably really pissed at me right now. Will you just call me back so I can explain?"


"Caroline? I know you didn't realize what was going on and I'm so sorry, I really didn't mean to upset you. I wish they weren't together - I wish I'd warned you. I shouldn't have let you walk in on them like that. I just wanted someone else to feel a bit of what I feel right now. I'm sorry I don't know what I was thinking. It just hurts, you know? It just hurts…"


I'm sorry, this mailbox is full. Your call cannot be taken at the moment. Please try again later.

She busied herself with a wire, quickly and easily setting up a snare trap. When it was done, she disguised it carefully with loose leaves. She backed away from it and as she did, she heard a sound. Her head snapped towards its location. It was Caroline. She could make out "Fuck you, you poisonous bitch! The Salvatore's are going to rip your head off!" And then there was the sound of a muffled put-down. She didn't let it distract her, Caroline was strong and she knew that whatever sick thing Katherine was doing to her, she would eventually have to leave her alone in order to come after her real prize.

She wouldn't lie, she was anxious. Katherine was older and therefore stronger than the boys. Taking her on alone was not something she would ever have wanted. She didn't even know how she found out about how the training, but she had, and she was already one step ahead. She'd had time to put her plan into action, whereas Elena was being forced to think on her feet. To get out of this she would have to work fast, what's more, she couldn't fail. The people she cared about most had their lives at stake. She had to take Katherine down, while keeping her alive. She had the same reason for doing so as Katherine did. Klaus. He was at the route of all this hatred, all this pain. Dealing with him was for another day, but her Katherine problem was immediate.

The only advantage she had was knowing this whole forest was Katherine's trap and that Caroline was the bait. The only thing she knew was that the vampire would use the trees. Take a vertical drop.

She moved deliberately where she would be seen and waited. Taking a vial of liquid from one of her combat pockets, she started to put her plan into action. She tossed the vial and braced herself. When Katherine finally dropped from the trees onto her, she didn't expect to be quite so winded. The vampire slammed her hard against the ground, picked her up and followed through with a punch to the gut that sent Elena spiraling backwards. She felt a tree smash against her back, hard. She was winded and fought to get her breath, whilst Katherine laughed. Elena focused; from all those hours of fencing, the lesson that came to her now was the first. She recalled Damon's rules as clear as day: footwork, riposte, offense, invitation, ruse and recovery.

"Some Ninja you turned out to be!" Katherine was saying as she strode towards her, a pair of cuffs held loosely in her hands. "I have to say, I'm disappointed, Elena. I had hoped for a bit more of a fight." She leaned down and cuffed Elena's wrists together. She put her hand on the connecting chain to drag Elena to her feet, which was the moment Elena chose to spit a mouthful of vervain in her face. Katherine shrieked and clutched at her scalded skin. She may have learned to desensitize her blood stream from the poison, but the skin on her face was not prepared such an attack.

Using the distraction to her advantage (oh how proud the boys would be of her now), Elena sharply brought her chained wrists up into Katherine's face. She pushed the chain hard against the other woman's wrists, and using the vampire's rigid body for balance she ran up the tree behind her - the same technique she had used in the library. Footwork. When she was level with Katherine's face, she pushed hard with her knees and jumped down on the other side of her, trapping the vampire's head and hands in the middle her cuffed hands. She yanked the chain tight, figuring Katherine would attempt to tip them both backwards onto her own back. She braced herself for the fall, and when it came and they hit the ground together, she rolled them both quickly to the right twice before letting the vamp wriggle out from under her cuffs. Katherine raced to her feet, but when she did so she triggered the hidden snare trap that fired the Glock 19. It released a 9mm wooden bullet right into her chest. Riposte.

She staggered back off her feet as Elena scrambled to hers, pulling out of another pocket of her combat pants a ready-made stake. She plunged it deep into Katherine's thigh. Offense. The vampire made a terrible sound, like the depths of hell had ripped through her body. Elena stood still. Using supreme effort of will, Katherine leaped forwards with her teeth extended and tried to rip into Elena's throat. Invitation. But Elena had covered her throat in Vervain, and although Katherine bit through her skin, her lips immediately blistered.

Elena smacked the vampire's left ear hard with her cuffs. She still had hold of her and despite her blistering lips was trying to get more purchase on her throat. Elena reached instead for the stake still in the vampire's leg and she waggled it as best she could with her tied hands. Katherine leaned back hissing at the pain and Elena used the diversion to slip her hand into another pocket on her leg where she flipped open the protective cover of a trigger switch. The vampire was coming down on her throat again and she let her as she flipped the switch. Ruse. The plastic explosive she had stuffed into a tree trunk behind them detonated and she curved into the vampire's body using it as a shield as the tree behind them exploded into a million shards. Katherine's body protected Elena from most of the explosion, but they were both showered in splinters and she screamed as they ripped into her. Katherine was worse off, taking many hundreds into her back. They were both blown off their feet and separated by the explosion. Elena's ears rang painfully and she could taste blood, she spat it out and staggered to her feet. Recovery. Katherine was out for the count.

She ran to the vamp's prone body, kicked it over, rapidly searching her torn clothing for keys. She found what she was looking for and backed off quickly, opening the cuffs as she ran. Damon was in the clearing behind her, his body still prone, but stirring. She knew she only had minutes before the female vampire's body began to heal and push the shards out. Her own would be much harder to remove. She flung herself to ground beside Damon as he came around.

"Get up!" She shook him. "We have to move. Get Caroline. Now!" He could see the smoke and the mess, and Elena's blurred face slowly coming into focus. She looked bloodied and bruised. He got to his feet slowly, seeing the cause Elena's pain lying at the other side of the clearing, her body twisted with her hair spread over her face. His lip curled and his fangs protracted.

"Damon!" She warned, being one step ahead of him. "We haven't got time for this! We have to get Caroline and get out of here! NOW!" She pulled at his arm, but it was useless, he was a rock and she was still somewhat disorientated from the explosion. He shrugged her off and strode over to Katherine, grabbing a stake from the exploded tree as he did so. He could hear Elena's cries to him, but they were in vain; all he knew was the anger which filled him, that boiled over in him. He wanted that bitch Katherine dead. Gone. Never to come back.

He reached her prone body and raised his hands high over his head, the stake quivering between them. Elena rushed to him and threw herself between them. He managed to pull back.

"Get out of the way!" He yelled at her.

"No Damon! You can't kill her! Please just get Caroline."

"She has to die!"

"No, Damon. She doesn't. She has to live. Come on."

"NO!" He shouted and was about to push her out of the way when Elena screamed out and crumpled to the floor in front of him, a stake plunged through the right side of her waist. Katherine rose up behind her, poised like a cat ready to pounce. Her hands covered in Elena's blood.

"Noooooooooo!" Damon yelled and she leaped on him. They tumbled over and over into the undergrowth. His hand shook with the desperate need to plunge the stake through her heart.

Gunshots suddenly rang out across the clearing. Elena heard the shots, but failed to understand. They were coming from behind her, what was going on? It was a battle for her just to stay conscious.

Damon felt the shock as not one, but two, bullets entered Katherine's forehead in quick succession and she went limp in front of him. He turned to face where the shots had come from and found Stefan there, lowering the Smith and Wesson pistol in his hand. Damon turned and raised the stake again, ready to plunge it into Katherine's heart, but he felt the lightest of touches from a bloodied hand on his arm. Elena had found her way to her feet, just to stop him.

"Please Damon, don't do it. If you kill her, it only hurts you more. Remember what Louis tried to teach you; love alone is the sharpest blade."

Conflicting emotions passed over his face, but when she started to collapse he was there to catch her. He lifted her gently into his arms and tore from the forest as fast he could.

Caroline was crying hard when Stefan found her. She was tied to a tree with heavy padlocked chains, her mouth tightly gagged. When she saw him enter the glade where she was tied up, her entire body sagged and her weeping became long slow sobs that threatened to make her hyperventilate. He tore the gag from her mouth and hurried to free her from her chains. Elena had had the key on her when Damon had taken her from the forest, but Stefan was so filled with anger that he tore the padlock open with his bare hands.

The chains snaked heavily to the ground and Caroline fell forwards, into his waiting arms.

He brushed her hair gently away from her face.

"It's okay, you're safe now." He said and gathered her to him, letting her tears fall onto his skin.

Damon had rushed Elena to the hospital, but she had refused to stay there any longer than she had to. As soon as the stake had been surgically removed and the wound covered, she checked out. She told him to ask Bonnie to come to the boarding house. And she tended to her with a combination of magic and loving care. Elena had escaped the worst of the large wooden shards, but had many, many small splinters still in her body. Bonnie had taken a long time to remove them one-by-one with a pair of tweezers and a lot of patience.

Caroline was also at the boarding house since Stefan had brought her there to recover. When her worry about Elena's injuries had passed, she made it clear she was still sore for her friend not having mentioned the new boyfriend situation. Elena decided to use the time during her enforced bed-rest to explain to both her friends how things had happened. She told them all about her training and was careful to explain that her feelings for Stefan had changed.

"So is it really over between you?" Caroline asked her. And she nodded.

"I love him - I always will, but only as a friend. With Damon, it is like… It is like I come alive." She said trying to find the right words, then shrugged her shoulders when she couldn't. "I don't really understand it myself, but I just know we need to be together."

Bonnie looked worried, but she forced a smile. "Well, if you're happy, then we're happy. And we'll always be there for you." She said. Elena took her hand and squeezed it.

"Just no more secrets, alright?" Caroline made her promise. She nodded sincerely.

"Not ever."

"Look, there's just one thing I don't understand," Caroline said, sitting in her bedside chair. "How did Katherine find out that you had been trained anyway?"

"We think she must be having all of us followed. That would also explain how she knew the precise moment to capture you, Caroline."

"Makes sense. Jeez. That's bad news." Caroline agreed. "We need to find out who it is and stop them." They all nodded at that.

"How about you? Are you okay?" Elena asked her and Caroline nodded.

"I'm just so grateful to Stefan. He said that he felt bad about the way things had gone down. And when he couldn't rouse me on the phone, he came to look for me. He said when he saw both my car and Damon's; he knew things had turned ugly. He still had your training guns in his car and voila. The rest is history. Thank God he came to look for me." She said shyly.

"Damon's been waiting outside. Impatiently I might add. Do you want to see him?" Bonnie asked Elena, who nodded enthusiastically.

"I always want to see him." She felt her heart skip, as she knew those were the truest words she had ever spoken. No matter how hard the road ahead was, she knew they had finally found each other.