DISCLAIMER: I don't own this show. If I did, I sure the heck wouldn't be waiting THREE months to get back to it (weeps)

A/N: Set a few days or so after 2x22. As per the title, this will be a SLOW build to Damon and Elena. There will be some Stefan/Elena because it exists. There will be angst, because I don't know how to write them without it. And this will probably be my longest fic – I'm guessing 10 chapters. I'm also rating it M from the get go, because in my world, Damon drops the f-bomb. The M rating does not guarantee sex. Could happen – who knows.

Lastly, I realize there are a billion other hiatus filler fics out there so I realize there could be next to no one interested in reading mine. I'm trying not to read any of them (since I'm writing one) but I'm sure there are plenty of brilliant ones available. I apologize in advance for any similarities (unintentional) and I promise I won't keep updating if the interest just isn't there.

But if the interest is there…PLEASE REVIEW! I initially held back thinking everyone is on hiatus-fic overload, but I figured I should post first and leave that up to all of you. So make your voice heard.

Day Four – Elena

I remember when there were no vampires. Or witches or werewolves. I remember when I wasn't just normal: I was a realist. I was the girl who waved off any bumping in the night, knowing with absolute certainty that a furnace or an aging pipe was always to blame.

I was wrong.

I scroll through my email with a sigh. Nada. We've contacted every vampire Damon's ever known to no avail. We've tried witches and locator spells, we even tried having Tyler sniff for him. Literally.

I push my laptop away and scan the wall of maps beside my dresser. Red pushpins mark all the cities that appear in Klaus's history, though that history is being patched together from bits and pieces of at least a hundred different books and journals.

There are forty-two pins already. Even with the way Damon drives, this is going to take some time.

"Where are you, Stefan?" I ask, and then, of course, I start to cry.

Sometimes, I'm not sure I'll ever stop crying. Today I get tired of waiting, and head to the bathroom still sniffling. I've got my last clean pair of sweatpants and one of Jeremy's t-shirts in my arms.

I drop them on the counter and face down my burning eyes and sticky tear-streaked cheeks in the mirror. Chapped lips and shadowed eyes stare back at me. Four days of barely eating has also left me looking a little gaunt and sickly.

"You used to be pretty," I chide myself.

Ten minutes in the shower don't do much to improve my looks, but at the very least I smell better. And I've stopped crying.

It's a start. And I can do something with a start.

I square my shoulders like I'm going into battle, pointing my hairbrush at myself in the mirror.

"You will go downstairs and eat something. You will say things to Alaric and Jeremy and you will pretend that you are perfectly fine."

I nod at myself. It's a good plan. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow, too. Lather, rinse, repeat until everyone in this house believes I am coping. Maybe even me.

I open my bathroom door and instantly frown. My room is different. Someone's been in here.

My bed is made. The pile of clothes spilling out of my laundry basket is gone. The half-eaten toast from this morning and all my empty cups have been cleared from my end table.

I realize this can only mean one thing.

Damon's back.

I cross the room, eager for an update and crack open my bedroom door. Sounds of explosions on the television drift up the stairs. Video games. Muttered boy voices. Laughter. Not Damon's, though. Jeremy and Alaric, if I had to guess.

I head downstairs, stopping midway down with my nostrils flaring. Something's cooking. Not take-out Chinese or ramen noodles, either, I'm talking about food. Real, honest-to-God food.

Alaric and Jeremy are playing video games in the living room, a pile of journals and research books temporarily forgotten on either side of them. I leave them be and head past the open basement door, where I can hear the washer whirring away. Even from here I can see that the kitchen counters are clutter free and freshly wiped.

Damon Salvatore. Capable of ripping off heads. Incapable of leaving a dirty dish on the counter.

I round the corner, finding him leaned into the open fridge, an assortment of neatly arranged pans and dishes around the stove.

"I thought you were going to hit D.C. before you came back," I say, finger-combing my damp hair.

"I did," he replies.

Then he shuts the fridge and crosses to the mixer with a small carton of cream. I cock my head and watch him. A year ago, he wanted to rip me open and drink me dry. Now, he's cooking in my kitchen, red silicon spatula in one hand and one of my mom's old gingerbread men dish towels slung over his shoulder.

"I've been to five cities in the last four days, actually," he adds, a little sulkily. "I figured one night's sleep in my own bed wouldn't kill anyone."

"You don't need my permission," I say.

"You'd hand out hall passes if you could get away with it," he argues, mixing and flipping and doing all sorts of cooking things that mystify me.

"So, did you find anything?" I ask, my voice small and wooden.


I sigh, sinking onto an island stool. "We have to try something else, Damon. Another locator spell. What about all those servers of Trevor's? Would they still be—

"Stop," Damon says, holding up his spatula like a crossing guard.


"I veto these questions. In fact, I veto all Stefan-related communication until you have something to eat that doesn't come in a can with a portly chef on the front." He looks up at me, eyes sweeping my face and body in a quick scan. "Are you sleeping at all?"

"I'm sleeping" I protest, but my shoulders sag as soon as the words leave my mouth. "Not well, but I'm doing it. I bite my lip, tears welling in my eyes. "We have to find him, Damon. It just doesn't make sense. He wouldn't do this. Not ever."

"Thirty minutes, Elena," he says, and there's a weariness in his voice that I didn't catch before. "I mean it. Talk about the weather, gas prices, hell, talk about lip gloss for all I care. Just not this."

I shake my head and draw a shuddering breath. "What do you want from me, Damon? Do you want me to sit here and play house and just pretend this isn't happening?"

Damon crosses the kitchen in a blur and then he's leaned over the counter, looking right at me. "Do you think I go one second without thinking about this, Elena? My brother is lost. I wake up every day knowing that, and knowing that it's killing you."

My vision is blurred by tears, but I take a breath and stare hard into his eyes, pushing all my heartbreak and fear into him. I know it's wrong. But he's the only one who's strong enough to take it.

"I will bring him back to you, Elena," he tells me, all velvet voice and flinty eyes.

"You can't promise me that," I say, my voice breathy and shuddering.

"I can promise you I'll die trying."

"Don't you dare promise me that," I say, practically snarling at him.

"Then don't you dare lose yourself in this," he says, palming my face with both hands. "Stefan wouldn't want this. Not ever."

I nod, and my tears slide down, slipping beneath his thumbs. I manage a tremulous smile.

He returns it and for the span of a single breath I feel safe.


He lets me go and the spell is broken. Alaric and Jeremy roar in laughter as something explodes on the TV. Damon's back at the stove. Adjusting things. Fussing.

A timer rings and he flips off the mixer and opens the oven, pulling out a steaming tray of…oh, my God. Homemade macaroni and cheese. My stomach growls and my mouth waters at the sight of the golden cheesy goodness.

Before I can say another word he pulls the lid off of a skillet on the stove and that's when I realize what I'm smelling. Chicken Marsala.

No one makes macaroni and cheese and Chicken Marsala. And any possible coincidence that could have created such a combination vanishes when he uncovers a plate beside the stove. Three BLT sandwiches are lined up in neat triangles.

Apparently, I've stepped into the Twilight Zone. Dinner tonight will include every favorite dish I've ever had.

Mouth watering, I eye him suspiciously. "How did you know this?"

"Know what?" he asks, all innocence as he piles a plate, turning it this way and that. Adding a little garnish.

"This," I say, gesturing at my feast. "These are my favorite foods, Damon. Which you obviously know or you wouldn't be cooking them. Have you been plotting this? Have you talked to Jeremy?"

"I have talked to Jeremy. More than once. Sometimes we have whole conversations; it's all very sinister."

"Stop it," I say. "I just don't need you plotting how to baby me with my brother."

"Don't look at me. I had nothing to do with this," Jeremy says, appearing in the doorway with Alaric just behind him. He looks at the stove like an underfed gorilla. "But for the record, I'm cool with it."

"Me too. Where are the plates?" Alaric asks.

"In the cabinet," Damon says, narrowing his eyes. "Which you would know if either of you dicks had ever washed a dish in this house."

"We weren't expecting a visit from June Cleaver," Alaric says.

Damon sets the plate in front of me and I could sooner resist breathing than eating, it looks that good. I try the macaroni and cheese first. It's ridiculous. It's creamy and cheesy and oh my God, I would make love to these noodles if I could.

"How did you learn to make this?" I demand after moaning my way through three or four bites.

"I ate a culinary academy," Damon shrugs. Off my glare, he holds up his hands. "Kidding! Look, it's not all wild orgies and killing sprees. The eighties were boring. I went to school a lot."

"You need to get bored more often," Jeremy says, eating a piece of chicken directly out of the frying pan.

"No, he doesn't," Ric says, piling a plate high. "He drinks all my scotch when he's bored now."

"Well, you shouldn't drink in front of your kiddos anyway, Daddy," Damon returns.

In the background, I can hear the three of them going back and forth like this. I'm too lost in the bliss of Chicken Marsala Nirvanah to follow. By the time I look up again, Alaric and Jeremy have retreated to the living room with their plates. And Damon is fiddling with a new one.

"This was awesome," I say. "But I'm totally stuffed, so we really should talk."

"Sixteen minutes left. Besides, you still haven't had dessert."

"Damon, I couldn't eat another bite," I say, pushing the plate away. Remembering that this isn't the time for long leisurely meals.

"I think I can change your mind."

No, he can't. Every minute we sit here arguing over dessert, Stefan is out there. With Klaus.

"Damon, we need to talk about our plan. This isn't working."

"No, it's not. And God knows I've given it the old college try," he says, turning around and sliding a new plate in front of me.

It's perfection. Layer after layer of golden cake, ruby red strawberries and perfect little dollops of freshly whipped cream.

"Strawberry shortcake," I breathe, the memory of my mother so fresh that I can nearly see her slicing berries by the sink. "Damon, how did you…"

"I pay attention," he says.

Bit of an understatement. I dug inside your mind while you were sleeping seems more likely. I glare at him, accusation in my eyes.

"If you must destroy the magic, Elena, I pilfered your recipe boxes. This one was extra worn and dirty, and since your name was jotted at the bottom of the card, I figured it would be a hit."

I swallow hard, remembering a thousand nights on our front porch. Just the four of us: Me, Jeremy, Mom and Dad. We'd watch cars drive by, nothing more than the happy sound of forks scraping plates to break the silence.

"You figured right," I admit, but then I push my memories away.

Because I don't have time for this. I don't have time for anything happy. I sigh down at the plate.

"You're not going to eat it?" he asks, wearing a hurt puppy look I can't believe he thinks I'll buy.

Except that I am buying it. A little.

"I don't feel right diving into dessert with all this going on," I protest weakly.

Damn, it looks good though. All light and fluffy and tempting.

Damon leans in behind me, smelling like clean laundry and something I can put my finger on. "Just one bite?"

"Fine," I sigh, as if he needs to twist my arm. As if I would have just sat here staring at it if he'd left me alone.

I take a bite.

It's crazy good. Good enough that he doesn't have to say anything else for me to take a second bite. Or a third. Before I know it, the plate is empty and I realize Damon's sitting next to me, chin on hands, smirk on face.

"You don't have to be so smug," I tell him.

"Are you kidding? Have you met me?" he asks and I try to scowl, but his grin makes it hard.

I poke him with my fork instead.

Damon lunges for me, tripping over the stool. He slams onto his elbows on the counter and I laugh out loud. It's a strange sound and my hand flies to my mouth, my eyes going round with shock.

He grins crookedly at me, but whatever comment was ready on his lips dies when we hear a distinct buzzing.

His phone.

Damon pulls out his phone while I suck in a tight breath. I hold that breath in my lungs, watching him push buttons, watching his eyes scan through the message.

Damon's face is like a book. One with very large print. And right now it's screaming Bad News.

"Is it Stefan?" I ask, my voice a tiny, frail thing slipping past my strawberry-sweet lips.

"No," he says, swallowing hard. "But they found a girl. Several of them, actually."