She hadn't meant to call him.

It was not a stroke of luck but karma. Karma perpetuated by the depravity of three young men and a conscious choice to let go of their humanity and attack a seventeen year old girl. They were college freshmen drunk on whiskey and seeking the power that you can only acquire when you take from someone what they are not willing to give. They surprised her as she approached her car outside the Grill. Her mind was so filled with Klaus and the other things that go bump in the night that she had forgotten that sometimes humans could be just as monstrous. Her phone was in her hands as unfamiliar arms encircled first her mouth and then her waist. She lost her grip in the struggle and it clattered to the pavement, seemingly useless. Hands ran through her hair and tore at her clothes, pinned her wrists to the asphalt. Fear and adrenaline began to fade to hopelessness as six feet away and as a result of the impact, the phone began to dial a real monster.

He had been on his way to meet Andy and Alaric when the vibration of his phone began. Irritation flooded his face and knitted his brows as he fished it out of the pocket of his jeans. He was sure it was another problem to be fixed. Perhaps Stefan calling with another insurmountable obstacle they had to overcome. He pressed 'talk' and growled a greeting in the phone, completely unprepared for what he would hear on the other end.

He did not need vampire hearing to pick up the familiar sounds of a struggle. Shoes scraping the pavement, men jeering and grunting and an inarticulate sound, the sound of someone choking and then seconds later, an agonized wail. Damon ripped the phone from his ear, cursing himself for not checking the screen before answering and took in a face that a 147 pathetic and immortal years had made sure he would never forget.

He was in the shadows of the alley before he even realized he had left the Boarding House. Elena was face down on the ground, one side of her face pressed into the pavement and the fist of her attacker tangled in her hair, her head pulled by force to one side as one of the men pressed clumsy kisses into her neck and whispered to her,

"Didn't anyone ever tell you to be afraid of the dark, little girl? "

The heady, stinging, metallic scent of blood lingered in the air and Damon realized that her skin was probably being grated and scraped against the pavement as her attacker writhed above her. Her shirt was torn at the shoulder and down one of the side seams. Her jeans were stained burgundy and were bunched about her knees. A man at her feet tried to rip them from her as she kicked and flailed her legs and another stood just feet away from Damon, filming with his phone. His fangs extended involuntarily as rage flooded through him like a wave and robbed him of all coherent thoughts. A guttural noise escaped his throat, a growl rumbling from low in his guts and leaving his chest heaving.

A phone once again clattered to the pavement and this time, smashed as Damon swiped the man filming out of his way like a rag doll before he could even make a sound. His head struck the wall of the Mystic Grill and shattered like a watermelon, bits of tissue and brain coloring the already slick pavement. He had no thoughts, only the urge to kill as the man at Elena's feet succeeded in pulling her jeans free from her body, leaving her exposed. He ran the fingers of both hands up the back of her calves and up her thighs. He was trying to pry them apart when Damon put his hands on either side of the boy's head and twisted as quickly and as far as he could. It came free in seconds and abstractly, he wondered at how much pressure it took to decapitate the head from the body leaving tattered flaps of skin behind like torn paper. He was aware of the warm spurt of liquid coating his torso and splashing his face. He had severed the carotid artery as simply as tearing the head off a plastic doll.

There was one assailant remaining and as he scrambled with hands and feet to escape Damon, he retched and sobbed but could not say a word. The boy had not realized that the woman he had attempted to subject to his will was the wrong girl, the girl with the fairytale monsters on speed dial. Damon took a severe satisfaction, as he always had, out of stalking his prey, advancing on the boy as he tried to get to his feet to run. He lunged once; clasping an iron strong fist around the boy's neck and suspending him in the air above Elena, as quietly and timidly she stirred and caught sight of her savior. Her hair was clumped around her forehead and the left side of her face, as the blood had run free from her flesh that had been shredded against the ground. Tears and mascara left tracks down the parts of her beautiful face that was not scraped all to hell and only accentuated those eyes that Damon found he could never escape. Her lips trembled. As if saying a prayer, she whispered his name.

Slowly his anger ebbed and faded, momentarily paralyzing him as his beautiful girl stared up at him and began to weep. He released the freshman and dropped to his knees beside her as he realized with finality just how fragile Elena was. He made no effort to chase the boy as he escaped down the alleyway and disappeared. Damon was too busy berating himself. He and Stefan had been fooling themselves to think they could protect her from all the things in this universe that threatened to take her from them. They had plotted and fought and bled to keep her save from Klaus and had been completely negligent about everything else. As long as she was human she would be unbelievably breakable and they, the Salvatore brothers, would always be at risk of losing her. Damon made a choice right then and there that he wouldn't let that happen.

Elena crawled to him and pressed her face into his torso and instinctively he wrapped his arms around her. All pretense of right and wrong were gone and there was only the two of them. It didn't matter that she was his brother's girlfriend or that Elena had spent the better part of 2 years trying to convince him that it would always be Stefan. She bunched her fists in the cloth of his shirt and sobbed, succumbing to the enormity of what had almost come to pass. She didn't even flinch or protest as Damon tore into his wrist with his canines and pressed the bleeding wound to her mouth. She just drank and drank. Moments passed and they sat there in silence, both of them shaken. Finally, with his other hand, Damon pushed the matted hair from her face to watch the flesh wounds on her cheeks begin to heal, traced the outline of her jaw with two fingers. Tears splashed his skin and his wrist fell from her lips. They were stained with his blood. He pressed his to her forehead and whispered she was beautiful.

And then, Damon Salvatore pulled away and looked into her eyes, cupped her face in his hands and said, "I love you, Elena. " This time, with the gentlest of pressure he twisted.

" I will not let you go. "

Her eyes did not go wide with realization nor did he watch to see the life fall from them. She just crumpled in his arms. It was done. She would not need protecting anymore. She would be with them forever.

He gathered Elena in his arms and got to his feet. He headed for the boarding house, mentally running over the reactions and the fall out that would await him when he carried Elena's lifeless body over the threshold and handed her to his younger brother. Still, he made a mental note to let Katherine out to play later. She would hunt Elena's final attacker and likely get off on the theatrics of it all. The boy would die looking into the face of his victim, of that and only that, Damon was sure.