AN: This chapter took me longer than usual to actually write. I knew what I wanted to do and as much as I was looking forward to bringing this fic to a close, part of me didn't want to. I've had way too much fun plotting this out with my beta, writing it and sharing it with you. Your responses have been so wonderful and encouraging and I thank you for sticking with me as this little Delena story I envisioned became a full-on ensemble piece.

But all good things must come to an end, as they say, and here is the end of Self-Inflicted Wounds. I can't thank my beta enough for being a rockstar and making this SO much better than it would have been if I'd been on my own. She'll tell you otherwise, but don't listen. ;p

Incidentally, kudos to the handful of people who figured out that my fic title and chapter titles are all episode titles from a scifi masterpiece called Farscape. It's epic, peeps. Seriously. You should check it out.

Now, I'll shut up, post and cross my fingers that you all enjoy this as much as you've enjoyed the previous thirty-two chapters.

Epilogue – The Way We Weren't

Elena was running late. Again.

At the wheel of Damon's Camaro, she rolled through a stop sign before taking a corner way too fast. She winced at the sound of squealing tires, knowing that Damon would have killed her if he'd been with her in the car. Of course, he could drive like a maniac, but the difference – as he lovedto point out – was that the car was his. If he wanted to drive it straight into a brick wall at eighty miles-per-hour that was his prerogative.

Never mind the fact that he was the one who'd made her late today.

I have got to quit staying over on school nights, she chided herself, turning into the high school parking lot and whipping the car into the first spot she found. She killed the engine, grabbed her backpack and shoved the keys into her pocket. Opening the door, she almost forgot to lock it in her haste to beat the bell. She headed toward the front doors, threading her arms through the straps of her backpack as she ran.

The five minute warning bell rang as Elena ducked inside and the bustling throng of students began moving toward their first period classes. Sighing in exasperation, she wished – not for the first time – that her locker wasn't on the opposite side of the building. Determinedly, she made her way through the crowd, so focused on not getting trampled that she didn't notice Caroline waiting near her locker until her best friend shouted her name.

"Elena!" Caroline cried, smiling brightly as Elena literally pushed her way through a cluster of underclassmen attempting to get in a last minute cram session in front of her locker. The reigning Miss Mystic Falls looked her over with an appraising eye before announcing. "You look exhausted."

"Nice to see you too, Caroline," she replied with a strained smile. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she went to work on opening her locker, messing up the combination twice before the lock finally popped open. With jerky, frustrated movements, she hung her backpack on the hook inside and began gathering her books.

"You must have had a late night," Caroline guessed with a knowing smirk, completely oblivious to or deliberately ignoring Elena's bad mood. "How is Damon these days?"

The mention of his name and the memories it evoked worked like a balm on Elena's frazzled nerves. She briefly closed her eyes before glancing at her friend out of the corner of her eye, a sly smile curving her lips. "He's… good."

"I'll bet," Caroline replied as Elena turned back to her locker to hide the blush staining her cheeks. She'd been running late that morning because Damon had decided to prove just how good he could be by joining her in the shower. What had started out as a quick, fifteen minutes had become a hazy succession of mind-blowing orgasms that had only stopped because the hot water had run out.

She'd had less than twenty minutes before the first bell rang and Damon – wearing nothing but an annoyingly smug smile on his perfect face – had watched her run around like a crazy person as she'd dressed, gathered her books and flew out the door. She'd cursed them both the entire time - herself for having been so easily distracted and him for having made it so damn worth it.

Elena grinned, recalling the time - not long after they'd officially gotten together - when she'd actually worried that acting on their nearly combustible chemistry might diminish it.

Yeah, not so much.

Nine months had passed since they'd killed Klaus and during that time no one had tried to kill them, take over the town, or use her blood to break some kind of ancient curse. In fact, the Original's death had ushered in a period of almost eerie calm. The Council still met and the county medical examiner still reported the occasional 'animal attack', but they were isolated incidents; just the odd nomadic werewolf or vampire passing through.

Elena had tentatively embraced the sudden peace, gradually accepting it as reality. Her new normal had begun the day before school had started with Senior Prank Night. She had been able to enjoy all the teenage rites of passage without worrying that a psychotic vampire might show up and kill everybody she loved. After a year of hell, she'd been able to focus on school, her friends and her boyfriend like a normal eighteen year old.

Even better had been the fact that her boyfriend had been one Damon Salvatore.

Elena hadn't been surprised when Damon had proven to be much better at the 'relationship thing' than he'd expected to be. She'd always known that beneath the sarcasm and the swagger, had lain the heart of a hopeless romantic, but what she hadn't been prepared for were the ways that he'd expressed it.

Damon wasn't one for clichés. Rather than moonlight and roses, jewelry and chocolate, he'd showed over and over that the way she took her coffee hadn't been the only thing he'd noticed. He listened to and remembered everything. Without calling attention to it, he'd surprise her with a dinner of her favorite foods. He'd stocked his already impressive DVD collection with all of her favorite movies - even the supremely cheesy and awful romantic comedies she loved to watch when she was sick.

On a Wednesday in the middle of October, he'd sent her a text, asking her to meet him in the parking lot during lunch. When she'd arrived, he'd given her a brand new passport and told her to get in the car. Curious and excited, she'd blown off school without a second thought and gone with him to the airport. They'd already been touching down in Barcelona when she'd remembered telling him about the class trip to Spain she'd missed the summer before her junior year.

The summer her parents had died.

Damon hadn't said a word about them, the conversation nor the missed trip, and Elena had struggled to hold back the tears. It had been the best week of her life and completely worth the missed school work and detention when she'd returned to Mystic Falls. On the beaches of Ibiza, she'd realized that during the months when she'd been doing everything she could to hate him and not think about him, he'd memorized every word she'd ever said.

That was how Damon did romance. Elena did everything she could to be worthy of it.

Despite the peace and the romance, the relationship wasn't perfect. Their individual stubbornness led to plenty of small fights and even a few bigger ones. Occasionally, Elena feared that without an enemy to focus on and with a busy girlfriend who was trying to make up for a year of mediocre grades and missed exams that Damon might be…

Incredibly bored.

Whenever she'd mentioned the idea, he'd called her crazy and assured her that he was happy and that she was everything he'd ever wanted. Elena always believed him of course – hating herself for succumbing to her doubts – because at the end of the day, she believed in them.

No matter what.

"Well, I'm glad that you're in such a good mood," Caroline said, pulling Elena from her musings and back to the reality of the high school hallway. Her friend's smile became strained as she added. "Because I have something I want to ask you and I'm not sure how you'll react."

"You won't know until you ask," Elena replied lightly, doing her best to ignore the sudden spike of anxiety that twisted her stomach into a hard knot. Nine months of relative peace hadn't been long enough to dull her knee-jerk reaction to anything that even hinted at 'bad'.

"I was…" Caroline paused and took a deep breath, the rest of her words coming out in a rush. "I was wondering if you'd heard from Stefan."

Elena froze, her hand hovering in mid-air near the top shelf of her locker as her mind went momentarily blank at the unexpected mention of her ex-boyfriend. She hadn't thought about him in weeks, let alone heard from him. He'd left Mystic Falls without saying goodbye – to her, at least – and she'd been surprisingly okay with that.

Although, she'd been slightly unsettled that he'd left to seek out Katherine.

Giving herself a mental shake, she retrieved her book and told Caroline the truth. "I haven't. Stefan and I… don't talk much anymore."

Caroline winced. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought it up."

"No, it's okay," Elena promised, struggling to explain feelings that were still relatively new to her. Her brain hadn't quite caught up to her heart in terms of her ex. Sometimes it surprised her to think of her relationship with Stefan and feel only a bittersweet nostalgia for what they'd shared. "We needed the space. When Stefan comes back…it'll be fine." Pausing, she smiled and amended. "A little weird, but fine."

Caroline eyed her warily, but nodded as she twisted a lock of hair around her finger. "I hope so."

"You know, there is someone else you could ask," Elena pointed out as she finished gathering her books and closed her locker.

"You think Stefan has talked to Bonnie?" Caroline asked hopefully.

Elena rolled her eyes. "Doubtful," she said, heading down the hallway in the direction of Alaric's classroom. "But I'm sure he's checked in with Damon."

"Uh, yeah, no," Caroline replied definitively.

"Why not?" Elena asked, chuckling at the way her friend furiously shook her head. "It's been nine months, Care."

"It's been two hundred and sixty-seven days," Caroline clarified. "And until Damon stops sending me text messages with pictures of all the places he can hide my staked body, I'm not talking to him."

"Wait. He's sending you what?" Elena demanded trying to be appalled on her behalf, but unable to hide the laughter in her eyes.

"It's not funny!" Caroline insisted, searching through her purse for her cell phone. "The last one was gross. I don't care if I am an undead creature of the night, I don't want to spend eternity rotting away on some pig farm in Kentucky."

"Oh my god, Caroline, you have to let it go," Elena said, fighting to hold back giggles of unsympathetic laughter. They came to a halt in the middle of the hallway as their classmates streamed around them. "Your blood kept me alive that night and Damon knows it. He's just messing with you because he can. If he was really upset, he'd be ignoring you, not harassing you."

Caroline pursed her lips and dropped her gaze to her phone, staring at it as the crowd began to thin. "Yeah, well…I still don't want to talk to him," she pouted stubbornly, throwing her phone into the depths of her bag and crossing her arms.

"I can ask him for you," Elena offered after a beat. Stefan wasn't exactly a taboo topic between them, but neither she nor Damon made an effort to talk about him.

"No, that's…that's okay," Caroline sighed, shrugging a shoulder as she met Elena's gaze. "It's not that big of a deal. I was just thinking about Stefan the other day and…well, anyway, I can always call him myself I suppose."

"Or…you could just ask Damon," Elena teased with a grin, backing down the hallway toward the classroom. "Seriously, Caroline, Mystic Falls isn't that big. You can't run from him forever."

"Two-hundred and sixty-seven days says otherwise," she retorted over her shoulder as she took off in the other direction toward her first period English class.

Elena chuckled as Caroline disappeared around the corner. She had to be wrong. There was no way it had been two-hundred and sixty-seven days since she and Damon had crossed paths. Mystic Falls really wasn't that big. Shaking her head in wry amusement, Elena abruptly turned around and nearly knocked Bonnie over.

"Oh! Bonnie, sorry," she said, taking a step back to give her friend some space. Immediately, concern replaced some of her good humor at the serious expression on the witch's face. "What's wrong?"

"I had the dream again," Bonnie explained without preamble, worry creasing her brow. Stifling an exasperated sigh, Elena looked longingly down the hallway. She didn't need to ask her friend for clarification, she'd been hearing about 'the dream' for months. Aside from her nagging concerns about Damon being bored in Mystic Falls, it was the only other topic guaranteed to start a fight between them.

The first time it had happened, a week after they'd defeated Klaus, Bonnie had called her in a panic, waking her from a deep sleep. Elena had been struggling to clear the cobwebs from her brain as her friend had peppered her with questions, demanding to know if she was still human. Lying next to her, Damon had snatched the phone from her hand and asked Bonnie what the hell she was talking about. After a series of terse reassurances that he hadn't turned anybody into anything, Bonnie had explained the accusation.

"I'm walking in the woods, searching for Elena because she's in danger, but I don't know why," Bonnie had explained as Damon had put the phone on speaker so Elena could hear as well. "I come to this huge cliff that shoots straight up out of the ground and there are rocks scattered around the base, like part of the cliff has collapsed. Not little rocks, but huge boulders with sharp edges. My heart starts beating faster and I can't breathe because somehow I know what I'm going to find."

Elena's heart had been in her throat, rendering her mute, so Damon had prodded Bonnie. After taking a moment to collect herself, she had continued. "You're lying on the rocks, broken and covered in blood. I know you've been pushed off the cliff even though I didn't see it happen. I'm crying and trying to get to you, but the rocks are sharp and I'm not even halfway there when you move. You open your eyes and sit up like the rocks are nothing. I can't speak, but I watch as you start to…to change. You-you were a vampire."

Elena had been overcome by a heady mixture of panic and expectation. Bonnie's dreams had been prophetic before and this one seemed particularly vivid. Damon, however, had dismissed it as nothing but an overactive imagination, a nightmare brought on by the ordeal with Klaus and the fact that Caroline had given Elena her blood. As the weeks had turned to months without so much as a hint of a threat on her life, she'd written the dream off as well.

Bonnie, however, had refused to let it go, and in the past nine months, she'd had the dream six times. This latest occurrence brought the grand total to seven and Elena was running out of ways to reassure her friend that her mortal life wasn't on the line.

"Elena, did you hear what I said?" Bonnie demanded in a low voice as she glanced nervously at the passing throng of students. "I had the dream. Again. That makes seven times."

"I know, I heard you," Elena murmured, preparing to explain yet again that she was very much human and – if Damon had anything to say about it – very much going to stay that way.

"That's all you can say?" she asked incredulously.

"What do you want me to say?" Elena countered. Lowering her voice, she inched closer. "It's just a dream, Bonnie."

"But what if it's not?" she pressed, grabbing Elena's arm. "What if it's…"

"A prophesy?" Elena concluded, raising a brow. "Bonnie, come on, we've been over this. If this was anything other than some kind of trauma induced nightmare it would have happened already."

After a long pause during which the hallway continued to empty, Bonnie offered her a small shrug, mumbling. "I know." A moment later, however, the urgency was back. "It's getting more detailed, though. I can, like, smell the forest and when you wake up, you're-."

"Have you ever heard of a prophetic dream taking so long to play out?" Elena interrupted before Bonnie could further hint at what Vampire Dream-Elena had done, driving the point home for what she hoped would be the last time.

Bonnie pursed her lips and took even longer to respond. "No."

"No," Elena repeated, smiling as she touched Bonnie's shoulder. "Look, I appreciate that you're worried about me."


"But nothing," she shook her head. "Even if there is some truth to it – some truth that's taking its sweet time to materialize – Damon's not going to let me turn into a vampire, okay?"

Chewing her bottom lip, Bonnie eyed her with obvious indecision. There were only a handful of students left in the hallway and Elena clutched her books tightly to her chest as she waited for her friend to admit defeat. Finally, Bonnie sighed. "I know he won't. I'm sorry for being such a pain, it's just…it's so real, Elena."

"No, it's a dream," Elena assured her, already moving toward the last door on the left hand side of the hallway. "Remember that, Bonnie. It's only a dream."

Somewhat mollified, Bonnie smiled and headed off in the opposite direction for her first period independent study. Where nobody will even notice if she's late, Elena grumbled internally as she hurried down the hallway. Doors closed as she passed them and she braced for the sharp peal of the bell.

It rang just as she was about to duck into the room, making her stomach flip and fall somewhere around her feet. Alaric appeared in the doorway right on cue, hand poised on the handle as he watched her defeated approach with tired amusement.

"This is the third time this week, Elena," he said as she paused to take whatever he felt like dishing out. "Do I even need to ask why you were late?"

Elena felt her cheeks flush, but she held his gaze as she shrugged. "Do you want to?"

Closing his eyes, Alaric grimaced and ushered her further into the room before closing the door. He was equal parts horrified and relieved that she and Damon were together, doing everything but sticking his fingers in his ears and humming the Star-Spangled Banner to keep from hearing anything about what they did together. "Go. Sit. Just…try to be on time or people are going to start noticing that I'm letting it slide."

Elena nodded, biting her lip to stifle her relieved grin as she hurried toward an open seat near the back of the classroom. Her phone vibrated just as she slid gratefully into the chair. Casting a quick glance at Alaric, she pulled it out of her back pocket and checked the text message. Not surprisingly it was from Damon.

Wanna play hookie?

Sighing, Elena looked longingly at the clock. The final bell couldn't come fast enough.

Katherine returned to her hotel in Las Vegas just before dawn. Passing quickly through the bright lights and the cacophony of sound emanating from the slot machines, roulette wheels and blackjack tables, she hurried to the elevators. Everywhere she looked, dull-eyed, die-hard gamblers stared back at her, hunched over their bets like washed-out zombies under the florescent lights. They looked as dead on the outside as she felt on the inside.

Vegas was getting old.

Studying herself in the mirror while waiting for the elevator, Katherine surreptitiously traced her lips with a finger, searching for any errant specks of blood. She'd just fed on an Ivy League frat boy who's eyes had lit up like he'd hit the jackpot after she'd caught his eye in the seedy off-strip casino he'd been slumming in. For a moment, she'd felt triumphant as well, although for different reasons. The boy had been tall, broad shouldered and model perfect with brown hair and green eyes – her new type.

Luring him out of the casino had been pathetically easy. Drunk on booze or her or a combination of both, he hadn't even flinched when she'd bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. Lingering at his throat, she'd tried to muster up a hint of the giddy bloodlust she used to feel before sinking her fangs into the pulsing vein of her chosen prey. The first spurt of blood as it hit her tongue and coated the back of her throat had always been the best. No liquor or drug had ever touched the high of that brief moment or the euphoric sensation of power and invincibility that had always accompanied it.

She had failed on all counts.

Suddenly, the boy had become a painful reminder of what she'd lost – who she'd lost – rather than a distraction from the constant pain. Eager to have it over with, she'd sunk her teeth into his flesh, barely noticing as the blood had hit her tongue, barely feeling it as it had slid down her throat. She'd drained him within inches of his life, leaving him at the mouth of the alley for his friends to find before she'd hailed a cab and headed back to her hotel.

The elevator finally opened and she slipped inside, closing her eyes as the door shut out the maddening noise of the casino floor. In the past nine months she'd been in a different city nearly every week as she'd tried to outrun her demons – tried to outrun herself – but Stefan had haunted her wherever she went.

She missed him.

The boy she'd fed on that night was the latest in a long line of men who reminded her of him – especially in the eyes. Each day only intensified the longing in her heart and the ache in whatever passed for her soul as time refused to heal her wounds.

She never should have left him.

Leaving Stefan in Mystic Falls, letting fear and self-preservation get in the way of a chance at real happiness had been the biggest mistake of her very long life. Every day her need for him increased, growing as desperate as it was pathetic – and more than once she'd caught herself contemplating the sunrise without the protection of her lapis lazuli jewelry.

It's fucking humiliating, she thought dismally as the elevator doors opened and she made her way across the thick carpet to her room. I'm as bad as Damon.

Except he'd actually had the guts to go after what he wanted while she'd just…given up and run away.

Fuck. She was worse.

Using her key card, she entered her dark room and instantly sensed another presence in the shadows near the balcony. Betraying nothing, she closed the door and secured the deadbolt and chain before casually sauntering into the room and shrugging out of her jacket. Tossing it on the bed, she stretched like a cat and plotted her best course of attack. Without missing a step, she blurred across the room, pinning her would-be attacker to the wall by his throat.

"You picked the wrong room," she hissed, her fangs descending as heat bloomed around her eyes and her self-preservation instinct unfailingly kicked in.

"I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be," a familiar voice stated. Katherine started, shock forcing her features back to normal as recognition cut her bloodlust off at the knees. Unable to breathe and completely numb, she gaped, hardly daring to trust her eyes.

"Stefan," she murmured, her voice a ruined whisper in the quiet suite. This couldn't be real. She'd wished for him to appear like this so many times – no warning, no permission – just suddenly one day, he'd be there, demanding to be a part of her life. In her head, she'd taken him back a hundred times, having learned over the past nine months that the fears that had sent her running in the first place paled in comparison to the agony of being without him.

Of course, they'd just been fantasies. She'd never believed it would actually happen.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, cringing as the quiver in her voice betrayed her.

"What do you think?" he countered, raising a brow and – outwardly, at least – in complete control. His hands found their way to her hips, fingers betraying him by trembling slightly as he brushed the thin strip of exposed skin below the hem of her tank top. She shuddered involuntarily as the touch turned possessive and he pulled her closer. "I've been following you."

In retaliation for her body's weakness, she squeezed his throat tighter. "How did you find me?"

"It was Damon's idea," he explained, staring at her face, drinking her in despite the bruising grip she had on him. "He had Sheriff Forbes put out an APB on your car. Even then it took me awhile to catch up to you. I finally found you in San Francisco."

San Francisco… Katherine quickly did the math. "That was three months ago."

Stefan shrugged, his lips curving into a smile despite the way she was cutting off his air supply. "I was picking my moment."

Traitorous tears began to burn behind her eyes as she gazed at him, unable to believe that he was real and yet terrified that he was. Abruptly, she released him, stumbling backwards down the single step into the living space before sinking onto the couch. Her body was shaking, overwhelmed by sensory overload. He'd followed her. She'd pushed him away with unequivocal finality and he'd come after her anyway. He'd chosen her. Squeezing her eyes shut against the tears, she murmured. "I told you to let me go."

"Yeah, well, I couldn't," he admitted, making his way silently across the plush carpet. Standing before her, he refused to continue until she met his gaze. The curtains were drawn, but some light managed to sneak into the room, revealing a hint of fear within the depths of the eyes that had plagued her all these months. She couldn't help but admire the courage with which he continued his confession unself-consciously. "I can't let go, Katherine. Neither can you."

Katherine shook her head, unable to deny the accusation. Three months. The short span of time was nothing in the grand scheme of her life, but she could only imagine what he'd seen, what pathetic depths he'd watched her sink to in her failed attempts to forget him.

"I get it," he said, somehow reading her mind. "I've spent my entire life looking for your substitute. Believe me, I get it. But the illusion never lasts and it's always worse the morning after."

"Stefan, I'm…" she trailed off before the apology made it through her lips. She didn't even know what she wanted to apologize for. Loving him? Not loving him enough? Leaving him nine months ago out of fear when she really should have stayed? Miserably, she looked up at him, too emotionally exhausted to continue.

Stefan was better prepared.

Crouching before her, he took her hands. "I don't blame you for leaving. It was what you had to do. Just like following you was what I had to do. I love you, but I'm not going to beg. If you really don't want me, then I'll leave you alone. Permanently," he promised, prompting a sharp spike of terror to flare in her gut. She tightened her grip on his hands, but remained silent. "But I hope you want me to stay because one way or another, I've been looking for you my entire life and I know that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be. With you. Forever."

Katherine held her breath, afraid of shattering into a million pieces if she so much as moved. In all of her weak, self-indulgent fantasies, Stefan had never spoken words like this, designed to reach inside of her and wrap around her heart. She wanted to give them back, to share with him the speeches she'd composed and rehearsed in her loneliest moments, but her mind was a blank. Her heart remained stubbornly closed. She ached with the desire to take what Stefan offered, but was unable to break through the armor she'd spent centuries fortifying.

She was beyond broken. She was petrified.

"You should go, Stefan," she said, blinking back tears. The light in his eyes dimmed as she dashed his hopes and the set of his mouth turned grim. She tried to tug her hands out of his, but he tightened his hold. Why did he have to make it so fucking hard? A choked sob escaped her lips as she insisted. "Please. You need to go. I can't do this."

He stared at her for a moment before looking away and closing his eyes. The grip on her hand never slackened, however and just when Katherine thought she was going to have to use her superior strength and literally throw him out, he turned back to her, eyes blazing. He offered her a single word and it was the last one she expected to her. "No."

Taken aback, she gaped at him. "What?"

"No, Katherine," he declared, rising to his feet and pulling her roughly along. "I'm not leaving."

"But…you just said," she stuttered as her lungs constricted, making it difficult to breathe. This didn't make any sense. What was he trying to do? "This isn't going to work. It…can't. I'm not-."

"I know what I said," he interrupted, ignoring her weak protests as his eyes gleamed with defiance. He released her hands one at a time before wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her flush against his body. Dragging a hand up her back, he tangled his fingers in the thick curls at the nape of her neck, the touch melting her into a pliant puddle. The possessiveness in his touch spoke of a confidence that she'd glimpsed in small doses while they'd been together the previous summer. His breath whispered over her lips as he continued. "But it was bullshit, Katherine. I never had any intention of leaving this room without you. I gave you a choice because, it seemed like the right way to play this, but you chose wrong so…" His mouth curved into a smirk as he raised a brow. "I'm going to have to convince you."

Katherine opened her mouth – to speak or cry or scream – but no words came and Stefan didn't wait to play his trump card.

He kissed her.

It started slow and softly reverent before building quickly with pent up hunger and need. Katherine tried to withstand the onslaught of sensation unfurling within her, but her body had other ideas, arching into his as she returned the kiss. Stefan nudged her lips apart with his tongue, exploring her mouth like he'd been as starved for her as she'd been for him.

"I know you love me," he said between kisses, the confidence growing despite the soothing quality of his tone. "I know you're scared, but I know this will work. We will work."

Clinging to him with a combination of exhilaration and fear, she let the words wash over her as his kisses broke through the last of her resolve and the walls she'd built to protect herself crumbled. After one hundred and fifty years of holding her love – and him – at arm's length, she couldn't stand the idea of holding out for another second.

Katherine succumbed – completely – to Stefan.

Overwhelmed and needing to regain some of her footing, she propelled them across the hotel room to the bed. Stefan smiled against her lips as he landed on his back and the plush comforter billowed around them. She continued kissing him as she straddled his body, letting one leg fall on either side of his waist.

"You need to be sure," she warned breathlessly, tearing her swollen lips away from his and planting both hands against his chest. Not trusting herself to match his emotional declaration of love without dissolving into tears, she fell back on what she knew and issued an order. "This has to be forever, Stefan, because I will never let you go. Not for Elena, not for anybody. You are mine."

Stefan grinned, taking her hands and tugging her down until their faces were so close she could feel his breath on her lips. Lacing his fingers through hers, he promised. "I always have been."

Stretched out on the couch in the living room, Damon knew he'd reached a new level of pathetic.

Listening to the steady tick of the grandfather clock in the hallway, he took a sip of his favorite bourbon and pretended to read. The words stared back at him from the page, refusing to register as he listened for the familiar roar of the Camaro's engine that would signal Elena's return. He could have lied and said he was worried about his car, but the routine was the same no matter what vehicle she drove.

He was wrong. Pathetic didn't even begin to describe it.

Damon only relaxed when Elena was with him. He tried to tell himself that he was just being cautious – that their nine months of relative peace could end at any moment and her life could once again be on the line and even knowing it was total bullshit, he preferred the paranoid theory to the truth.

He was fucking terrified that one day she'd leave and never come back.

He believed she loved him – one way or another, she showed him every day – but he still couldn't completely accept that she was his. Sometimes, when she walked through the front door, he half expected her to head upstairs to Stefan's room.

He'd played the unrequited game for one-hundred and fifty years – he was going to need more than nine months to adjust to his new reality.

A tightness in his chest loosened as the sound of a familiar engine cut through the silence of the house. Damon didn't move, maintaining the fragile façade of his dignity. He stared at his book, listening as she parked the car and cut the engine. His acute hearing picked up the jingle of the keys in her hand as she made her way to the front door. She entered without knocking, something that wasn't new, but managed to turn his insides to mush anyway. He loved that she considered the house her own.

Especially since half of her worldly possessions were currently cluttering up his room.

A fact that he loved equally as much.

The sentimental feeling made him cringe with embarrassment, and he schooled his features into an indifferent mask as Elena entered the room.

Elena saw right through him, of course, but for the most part she let him continue with the ruse. Smiling, she walked towards him, and Damon's eyes automatically fell to the sway of her hips.

Jesus. He was fucking gone on this girl.

Perching next to him on the edge of the couch, she took the book from his hands. "Hi," she said, leaning in for a kiss that spoke of days of separation rather than hours. Damon wrapped his arms around her, bringing her down to the cushions with him. He could have kissed her for hours, but she pulled away after a few moments, studying at him as she trailed her fingers lightly through his hair. "You're always going to look at me like that, aren't you?"

He frowned, hypnotized by her mouth. "Like what?"

"Like you're surprised I came back," she said, raising a brow.

"Probably," he admitted with a grin that covered up just how deep-seated his fear went.

Rolling her eyes, Elena grinned as she leaned in to kiss him again. Her soft lips demanded he respond in kind as the scent of her perfume enveloped him. Her hair fell in a dark curtain against the throw pillows, blocking out the rest of the world. The damn house could go up in flames around them and he wouldn't care as long as he could keep her with him.

"I'll always come back," she promised in a breathy murmur between kisses. He felt her smile as she continued. "At least to return your car."

When they finally parted, Elena was stretched out on top of him, her legs twined with his as she propped her head against her fist and looked down at him with lips swollen from his kiss. He watched her silently as she fiddled with the buttons of his shirt.

This was easily the best part of his day.

"I was late to class again," she said, trying to sound reproachful, but her eyes sparkled with amusement. "I think one of these days Ric will have an aneurysm trying not to think about why. You're totally corrupting me."

"I didn't hear you complaining this morning," he replied, sliding his hand down her back and beneath the hem of her shirt. Her bare skin was like warm silk beneath his fingers. Complaining was definitely not what this morning had been about.

"You didn't give me much of a chance to say anything," she said, her eyes widening indignantly as she poked him in the chest. "I'll just have to stop sleeping over on school nights."

He pretended to think about that as he caught her hand and brought it to his lips. "Fine with me. I like your room. And we can watch Ric stroke out when he sees me at the kitchen table in the morning."

"You're so mean," she giggled as her gaze fell to their linked hands. Silence stretched out between them for a few moments as Damon felt the mood shift. When she looked at him again, she was still smiling, but her eyes were serious. "Bonnie had the dream again."

"What dream?" he asked, stifling a groan. He knew full well what dream Elena was referring to, but he preferred to pretend ignorance. Their relationship was far from perfect and they had their share of fights about random things, but two topics consistently caused problems. One was her bizarre theory that she was too boring for him – a ludicrous notion that had actually kept both of them up the night before and inspired the joint shower this morning.

The other was Bonnie's fucking dream.

"You know what dream," she replied. "The one where I turn -."

Damon kissed her before she could say any more, pulling her tight against him as he tried to make her forget everything else but the way he could make her feel. Elena put up a token protest before succumbing to his demanding and skilled mouth. Reversing their positions, he pressed her back into the couch cushions, slipping a hand beneath her head and slanting his mouth over hers to taste her fully.

She whimpered into his mouth, holding his face between her hands as she eagerly responded. The sounds she made when they were like this drove him wild, egging him on as he turned his attention to the sensitive spot just below her jaw.

"It's not going to work," she whispered breathlessly even as she speared her fingers through his hair in encouragement. "You're not going to distract me with sex."

"Says who?" he challenged, nipping at her neck with his human teeth in a way that he knew made her crazy. "I promise you'll enjoy it."

"Damon," she chided, turning her face away and pushing at his chest in the most half-assed attempt at stopping him he'd ever seen. He could have easily overwhelmed her weak protests, but he knew this Elena. Beneath the breathy moans of desire and the hands grasping at him for more, she was a woman on a mission.

The inevitable fight would only be worse if he continued to avoid the subject.

Muttering in exasperation, he separated from her completely, moving to the other end of the couch and bracing his elbows on his knees. Scrubbing his face with his hands, he swore. "I hate that fucking dream."

"So does Bonnie," Elena reminded him, sitting up slowly and straightening her shirt. She tried to move her legs out of his way, but he caught her ankle, sliding his hand beneath the cuff of her jeans to feel the warmth of her skin and the steady pulse of her heartbeat. He felt her studying him carefully like he was some kind of time bomb about to go off and he hated himself for the rushed reassurances that came next. "I don't want to fight about it, Damon, I swear. She's just…I think the dream's getting worse. She cornered me before class and it took me at least five minutes to calm her down. I'm running out of things to tell her to promise her it will never happen – that you'll never turn me."

"You're damn right I won't," Damon vowed, wondering if Elena knew that every time they had this conversation – and it seemed to come up whether Bonnie had had her stupid dream or not – her assertions that he'd never turn her sounded more and more like a challenge. Like on some level, she was dying for him to argue and prove her wrong.

She had no idea just how badly he wanted to do exactly that.

Elena was coming around to the idea of forever and no matter how many times he told himself that she wasn't serious – not completely – he was finding it harder to believe in the impossibility. He wanted her to turn and if she kept pushing the idea there might come a day in the too near future when he wouldn't be able to tell her no.

And he had to tell her no. She wasn't ready.

Inching forward, she took his hand from her ankle and laced their fingers together. "Have you ever considered-."

"No," he replied emphatically.

"Damon, you don't even know what I was going to say," she responded incredulously.

"I don't need to," he declared, finally looking at her.

Raising a brow, she continued. "Have you ever considered that maybe…maybe the dream is a prophecy?"

"A prophecy of what?" Damon scoffed, tearing his hand away and rising abruptly from the couch. The fireplace beckoned and he answered, glaring at the shadowy depths of the empty grate. "That I'm going to give you my blood and throw you off of a cliff? I know I'm impulsive, Elena, but you've got to give me a little more credit than that."

"Maybe it's not meant to be taken literally," she suggested, rising to her feet and making her way toward him. He glanced over his shoulder, but didn't move. She's not trying to start a fight, so don't be an ass, he thought, trying to keep his temper in check. He watched her fidget as she mulled something over in her mind. There was a look in her eye he hadn't seen before and he knew whatever she was about to say was going to be big.

Tucking her hair behind her ear in a nervous gesture he had memorized, she finally said. "I never told you this, but when I woke up in the tomb, with my blood all over your clothes, I almost…I did wish I haddied. Just to get it over with."

The confession short-circuited his brain and for several seconds, all he could do was stare at her. Fighting the instinct to grab her by the arms and shake her until she came to her senses, he spit out between clenched teeth. "I've told you before, you don't have to turn. That's not…it's never been a condition in this…" he paused, swallowing his revulsion at how cliché he sounded before uttering. "relationship."

"But don't you feel like it's inevitable?" she demanded, shrugging helplessly. "Like it's there, between us, just waiting for us both to be on the same page?"

"Yeah," he exclaimed. "Because that goddamn witch keeps fucking dreaming about it and putting ideas into your head."

Insulted, Elena scoffed as the first real sparks of anger flashed in her eyes. "Bonnie's not putting anything into my head, Damon, I'm perfectly capable of coming up with my own opinions."

Closing his fingers into a fist, he slammed it against the marble mantle in frustration. Fuck this. "Fine," he challenged as, pushing up his sleeve, he called her bluff. "Let's do it right now."

She visibly paled. "What?"

"You want to turn? You want to get it over with?" he demanded as he let his fangs descend and felt the heat around his eyes as his veins rose to the surface. In a burst of speed, he had her across the room, pinned to the wall as he brought his wrist to his lips. "I'm tired of arguing with you about it, so guess what? I'm in."

Suddenly panicked, Elena's eyes went wide and her pulse started to race as he mimed sinking the sharp, pointed teeth into his flesh. Gripping his arms, she cried. "Damon, wait!"

The echo of her voice hung in the air between them as she gasped for breath. Her frenetic pulse thundered in his ears, betraying the fear she'd tried to hide. Closing his eyes, Damon rested his forehead against hers as his fangs retracted and the veins around his eyes pulled back.

He stayed like that for a long time, waiting for his temper to fully recede and her breathing to return to normal so they could finish the conversation rationally. After a moment, he opened his eyes and pulled away far enough to brush her hair away from her face with both hands. Her eyes darted immediately to the unmarred skin of his inner wrist and he raised a brow at her surprised expression, shrugging casually. "I knew you didn't mean it."

Crestfallen, she looked away. "Damon, I-."

"Elena, it's fine," he promised, relieved beyond the telling that he'd managed to avoid a serious blow up. Make up sex was great, but it was never a guarantee and he was still waiting for the day when he pushed it too far. Gently, he gripped her chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing her to meet his eye. "I meant what I said, you don't have to turn. It doesn't change how I feel about you."

"I know, but you want me to," she replied, a frown marring her perfect features as she covered his hand with her own. "And sometimes, I want it, too."

"I know," he said and that was the problem – the fact that day by day, he could see her warming to the idea of becoming a vampire. He knew better than anybody, however, that there was no way to be ready to make that choice. He'd thought he wanted forever with Katherine, and look how that had turned out.

Still, something had to give. Elena wouldn't let the idea go and since there was no way to make her understand something he could barely put into coherent thought, they were simply destined to fight about it in circles until one of them went too far.

And there was no contest as to who could do more damage when pushed to the breaking point.

Finally, he came to a decision. "I'll make you a deal."

Elena narrowed her eyes. "What kind of deal?"

"I'll turn you," he began, loving the way her breath hitched in anticipation, but terrified at the same time. "When you can look me in the eye and ask me without fear. Then I'll believe it's what you really want."

"Deal," she agreed almost instantly, shaking him to the core because in that moment there wasn't the slightest hint of apprehension in her eyes.

"There's plenty of time," he said, attempting to mask his anxiety over what he'd just promised. The past nine months had already felt like a gift – one he was certain he hadn't done anything to deserve. The prospect of forever with her was now a tangible promise where it had once been a vague idea and he wasn't sure he could handle that. "You could change your mind or I could fu-."

"Damon," she warned, taking his face in her hands and turning the tables by silencing him with a kiss. "I love you."

He grinned. I will never get tired of hearing that, he thought, his lips brushing against hers as he murmured back. "I love you, too."

"I'm not going to change my mind," she insisted, placing a finger against his lips as she studied him with a knowing glint in her eye. They had this exchange often enough that it was almost a game. Smiling, she replaced her finger with her mouth and kissed him until he was fairly certain he'd forgotten how to form words. She stood on her toes, wrapping her arms around his neck as her lips feathered over his skin, peppering his jaw with kisses until she finally murmured into his ear.

"You won't fuck it up."

The End

AN Pt 2: This isn't a 'to be continued', but there are still some stories I want to tell and I am contemplating a sequel. A few things are stopping me, though. One is time. I started writing this last July and I never expected it to take me this long. Another is the fact I only have half a plot. LOL Mostly though, it's the fact that what I have in mind makes the angst and darkness in this fic pale in comparison. I'm a little afraid no one will like it. LOL

But rest assured, if and when I write a sequel to Self-Inflicted Wounds, I'll post it here. :D