DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything that you recognise. All rights go to the CW, and the amazing L. J. Smith, and all others who contributed to the creation of this brilliant saga. Please, oh please, do not sue me.

Nb. I'm a horrible author. You should all just stake me. (Those two sentences sound so much cooler if you sing them in a creepy little girls voice. Just sayin).

ALRIGHT * dodges the flying rotten fruit* I KNOW, I AM TERRIBLE. AND UNRELIABLE. AND SHITTY. I got swept up in the Klaroline worldwind and the Avenger's world, and NOTHING could stop me. So I apologise.

But I'm here for you and Damon and Emma now. So let's get to the chapter.

Thanks for the reviews from SomebodyWhoCares, Marina164509, Veni Vedi Vichi, FamiliarTasteofPoison, Sally, May-Flowers, Rae, Azalia Fox Knightling, chase 83 and missxsunchine for reviewing. Thanks to the rest of you for reading. ;) And big cheers to myblacktears and

.:.

I'm not in the right place for this, I decided instantly. I was being emotionally damaged, as well as a little bit physically if this damn headache wouldn't freaking leave me alone. I was in a whirlwind of confusion regarding where I stood to everyone else in my entire life, and then was really no reason for this much pressure to be put on me.

And yet...

"You just took off, you stupid bitch."

Lily was the one ranting at me, so I wasn't that offended by the violent words she was spewing at me. I'd been her friend for a long time, so I knew that this was just the way she was dealing with her anger. Better violent words than violent fists, I reasoned. Still, Cameron didn't seem to possess my incredibly logic, and let out a noise.

"Jeez, Lils, you don't need to be so harsh—"

"Don't even get me started on you." She snapped furiously.

There was a pause, during which I stayed silent and kept my eyes to the ground, while Cameron stared at Lily in confusion. Finally, he said "what? Lily, I haven't done anything."

She just glowered at him. "Then don't start now." She hissed at him before turning her attentions back to me.

I took a deep breath. "Now, Lily," I said, trying to placate her. That was about as far as I got before she started ranting at me again. It wasn't helping my headache at all, and it certainly wasn't helping Lachie wherever he was stuck. (Well, that's where I assumed he was gone. If it turned out that he had just got lost in some air conditioning vent because he was trying to be dramatic—let's just say I couldn't even begin to explain the bad things I'd do to him).

I ended up deciding that just taking all the abuse she was hurling at me was the best way to make this go faster. It had only been about fifteen minutes so far, after all, and we still had time before I called the police to list Lachie as a missing person.

Besides, the time that she was screaming at me could be better used for me to try and internally organise all the messed up crap going on in my life right now.

Okay, I thought. First, and probably more obviously, there was Damon. Beautiful, cute, sweet Damon who had kissed me right before I'd run back to the city. He'd never dealt well with liars, or people who left him—and I'd just managed to make myself both of them. It was a hurdle I had time to cross, but it would require a butt load of planning in advance.

Moving away from that uncomfortable thought, I went to my next problem. These ones, it appeared, stuck close to the City. Now that I was back, it wasn't nearly as easy to ignore all the problems I'd created.

The following of these being: Tara and Alex, Lachie's vanishing act, the Fourth's crazy conspiracy and the vervain in my blood that I couldn't get rid of.

Most of these problems could all be solved by one man. Mr. Lachie's dad, who'd been in charge (and funding) our little amateur vampire business, while he did things like study my blood and lie to his son. The only one that he probably couldn't help with was Tara and Alex, who, as far as I knew, hated my guts for lying to them.

Oh, and for being brought up by a vampire.

But still, he was a nice vampire now wasn't he? Sure, he had his (really, really) scary moments, and he sure as hell knew how to threaten people, but he wasn't killing people these days (as far as I knew) and still. Wasn't it just as harmless as killing animals?

No. It wasn't. But I didn't want to think about that.

Beside, how could a guy with such kissable lips be a bad guy?

Which brought me back to thinking about Damon lips and stuff and made me wince. Way to stick it to the brain, I thought. If I couldn't keep my hormone addled brain away from Damon for a couple of minutes, how was I going to manage for the months he would inevitably use to hate me for leaving him?) I was so doomed.

It was such a depressing though that I was happy to feel a vibration in my pocket, and I pulled out my phone.

"And another thing—you did not just check your phone."

Oh. Right.

I'd kind of forgotten that Lily was still there, ranting. My face paled as I caught a glimpse of her murderous expression, and I quickly put the phone face down on my lap. I lifting my hands in a 'hands up and drop the gun' kind of way and shrunk back into the seat I was sitting on. "Sorry!" I apologised hastily. "Someone was texting me."

Lily looked murderous. "I don't care if someone was freaking killing you, bitch." She thundered. "You don't just ignore me when I'm pissed." I wasn't put off by the verbal names she was using—bitch was really more of a pet name that we had for each other whenever we hung out—but I knew well enough not to pick the phone up again.

"I'm sorry." I said, looking at my knees.

"You better be," she said threateningly. "Now, as I was saying—"

It was a brave move interrupting her again. Some would say foolish, but I was happy to pretend I had courage for a moment. You'd need it, when facing the furious expression that spread on her face when I held up a hand to silence her.

Cameron inhaled a breath and held it.

"I don't just mean I'm sorry for interrupting you. Which I am. For the first time, and I guess, this time as well..." I clarified a bit nervously, standing from the chair and moving out of hitting distance (her anger management classes had been doing well as far as I knew, but I hadn't seen her in a while and I didn't want to know if she'd improved on her kick boxing). At her expression, I swallowed.

"Emma." She hissed a warning.

I backed up a couple more steps. "No," I said quickly. "I want to say this."

She looked angrier with this, but didn't say anything more.

Good. Right.

"Uhm..."

Lily let out a derisive groan, and I sped up my pace.

"I don't want to just apologise for interrupting. I want to apologise for leaving you guys and I want to apologise for not telling you guys where I was. I'm sorry that you had to hear it from Lachie, and I'm sorry that I haven't had time for you guys recently."

Wow. Saying it out loud made me realise what a crappy friend I was. No wonder Tara and Alex hated me so much these days. If I wasn't me, I'd hate me. But honestly, Tara and Alex are the ones I'm worried about. I'm a little concerned about Connor and really worried about Lachie—because they've always been close to me. But Cam and Lily? Even Lily I could deal with hating me. She had a violent temper and I knew that she'd always ultimately forgive me.

But seeing Cameron when I'd gotten off that bus had been a like a punch in the face. He'd taken my bags for me and he'd come to pick me up even though I'd really done nothing to deserve it. With Damon, he was one of the two most important people in my life.

I couldn't handle it if he hated me.

My worries appeared to be stupid though, because all too soon I found myself engulfed in one of Cam's tell, bony hugs, and Lily deflated, watching me with a sad, puppy dog look.

Then she let out a loud 'aauugghh' and joined in on our hug, grabbing me from the other side and sandwiching me between my two friends. I laughed for a bit and smiled as they hug me, glad that they weren't angry with me. I'd need some friends in the future—and I couldn't imagine not needing them.

Lily sighed in my ear and I turned my head as best I could to look at her oddly. "What's up?" I asked, frowning.

She grinned. "Did I tell you that Cam and I are dating now?" she said errantly.

I had actually heard that before, I think. Something about Cam's early emails that told me that they were dating or hanging out or doing something naughty with each other whenever I wasn't around. Still, even having already known about it, being reminded of it makes me grimace.

I was stuck between them, you know.

"Yeah, you can let go of me now." I said awkwardly, pulling myself from their grasp.

Lily cackles with my reaction, before pulling me back into their reach and squeezing the life out of me all over again.

.:.

Serious now, the three of us get straight to action. Even if Lily only joined us for the first couple of minutes before she had to leave for her kickboxing class, the thought was still there. I winced as she kissed Cameron goodbye but I got over it kind of quickly by prioritising again.

Now, on my immediate list of problems? Getting out of this flat, finding Lachlan, and getting some more aspirin for this freaking headache.

Preferably not in that order. I sent Cameron into his kitchen to search for some medicine that could help while I looked closely at all the stuff I knew about the Fourth, mapped out on a couple of A4 sheets of paper.

Was it some terrible thing that I didn't know what Lachie's dad's name was?

I hoped it wasn't, since whenever I'd met the guy, he's just been going by Mr. Bossman, and had never gotten the chance to introduce himself to me casually. Lucky for me he hadn't been my guardian, I thought at about that point. I'd gotten lucky with the un-dead vampire who I've now got a huge crush on.

And really, what did that say about Mr. Lachie's Dad?

Cameron got back from the kitchen with a glass of water and a long lasting headache pill that he'd found in Lily's first aid kit. I had taken in gratefully, and was glad now that it was really beginning to kick in.

"So what's the plan?" Cameron asked, sitting down on the sofa opposite me, across on the other side of the coffee table where I'd laid down my knowledge.

I shrugged. "I was just kind of thinking of going there and demanding answers." I said simply. It wasn't very well developed but did I really sound like the kind of girl who could pull of espionage? I could barely lie to Damon for an hour (or eight) without feeling like crying with the guilt.

My phone buzzed from its place on the glass table, and did nothing to help with said guilt when I realised it wasn't Damon.

I'm not sure if it was just because I was feeling so guilty and keen to hear his voice, or because I couldn't come up with a good plan, but I decided to answer it.

For some insane reason, I decided to go with a comical greeting.

"Y'ello?" I said brightly into the receiver, before having to furious fight the urge to kick myself in my own face. What was that, Emma?

"You're not with Matt."

I swallowed a nervous rising in my throat before responding. Again, stupidly, I decided to be rude. "It's taken you eight hours to notice?" Oh god. Maybe it was just some defence mechanism or something.

Cameron looked at me like I was insane.

I heard Damon growl from the other end of the phone.

Yup.

Growl.

I'll say one thing. If it was a defence mechanism that was making me take all my inner idiocy and verbalise it, then it wasn't doing a very good job on the 'defending' end of things. And from the sound of Damon's growl it would probably have to start doing better.

And soon.

"Where are you?" Damon snarled.

I laughed nervously. "I'm sorry, Damon." I decided to just ignore the question, and instead move straight to the part where I tried to make amends.

Cameron's look got more frantic when I confirmed to him who it was I was talking to. Damon's disappearance from my life hadn't been something I shared with him totally, but in the year that I'd been away from him, Cam had clued in pretty quickly that it was a taboo subject for conversation. We left it out, ignoring the elephant in the room, except for the couple of nights that I drank too much of the alcohol that Lily got for us some times.

"Where are you?" Damon repeated the question, sounding, if possible, even more deadly serious.

Again, I went with deflection as a defence. "This is something I need to do by myself, alright?"

"Tell me, Emma, or I swear I'll track you down and never let you out of my sight again."

I swallowed thickly. That was a good sign, right? That he was still remotely interested in seeing me? Hopefully he didn't hate me more now, because I knew that I wasn't going to get him involved in this. Someone had put the vervain in my blood, after all, and I had strong suspicions about the amount of information that Lachie's pa had held back from us. Someone, in a powerful position, knew all about the weaknesses of vampires, and I wasn't about to let Damon get dragged into this.

"I can't Damon," I said, my voice suddenly as serious as his. I was quieter now, and for some reason, Cameron immediately moved. As though the atmosphere around me had gotten more personal, and Cam didn't want to intrude. Was it good or bad that Damon could do that to me from all the way out of state? "I won't bring you into this."

"Into what?" Damon snarled.

Again, I swallowed what felt like my heart as it crept into my throat. "There's some stuff that I need to sort out, alright? And as soon as I do, I'll come home—if you still want me there, that is, and if you haven't murdered me—but you have to let me do it."

There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone. "Don't be a moron," Damon then snapped. "Of course I want you home. Come home now."

I shook my head, even if he couldn't see me. He seemed to understand though, and sighed into the phone.

"I shouldn't have kissed you."

My heart stopped.

I swear to freaking Vishnu, the terror that coursed through me at that moment was the grand total of all the other fear I'd felt in my life, combined and multiplied. I froze, staring in horror at the blank wall of Cameron's small apartment.

"Damon, don't—" I protested immediately, but he was already going.

"This is my fault," he said. "I shouldn't have freaking scared you away."

The hyperventilation began to set in, but I willed it away as best I could. My heart was pounding in my chest—and not nearly in the lovely, loins getting warm kind of way from earlier, back at the mansion. No, this was that same horror, tearing at me.

Because this was it. The reason I'd been so reluctant to do anything about my juvenile feelings for him—or my feelings now, even after all this time. In my mind, there was something different about the way I felt for him now and back then—I'd grown up, and I'd lived without him for a bit—but this was still the big fear. Him knowing this—me and him messing our relationship up for some weird ploy for romance—could eventually be the thing that ruined us. And I couldn't have that. I couldn't have that responsibility. I loved him too much—not even in that way, although that was a part of it. Damon was more to me than just some school girl crush on an older guy that you could write off when it all fell apart. Damon was my rock, my best friend and my confidant. If we could figure out a way to add something more to that, then fine—but there was no way I was risking that for an ideal.

And there was no way that I was going to let him blame himself for this.

"No, Damon—stop." I ordered.

I could practically see Damon's eyes flash as I interrupted him, but he did as I'd asked and stopped verbally telling me how this was his fault. He didn't fall silent, all together, though. "No." He said angrily. "Either you give me a good explanation for why you've left, or you admit to me that we've fucked everything up. You need to be honest with me, Em. I deserve that much."

He did.

That and so much more, a part of me thought. And I couldn't possibly be what he deserved.

I didn't say that, though. This didn't need to be about him and I—this needed to be about why he shouldn't come looking for me. About why I needed to do this for myself.

"What you deserve, Damon—is less problems on your plate. You've got Elena to look out for now, and Klaus to worry about. And you've got to take care of Stefan, and Caroline—who, even though you dodged all the questions, I'm pretty convinced is a vampire. And, if everything goes to plan, then sure, soon you'll have me to worry about as well—but I'm not going to let all my problems become your problems." I said stoically, proud of my ability to express the thoughts.

Damon faltered, but was quickly fired up again.

"I should be able to help you with your problems," he said. "That's what I'm here for."

"Damon—you've known me a long time, and you've always looked after me. But there comes a point where I have to learn to look after myself—and that's what I've been doing all year. I've missed you like crazy, and it hurt like a mothertrucker," I didn't say 'trucker', "but I pulled through. It's not your duty to shoulder all of my problems."

"You belong with me, Em. I should be protecting you."

He was right. In so many ways I did belong with him. I felt happier around him, more at peace. Even if life around him was exciting and exhilarating, it made me feel alive. But Damon made me feel safe, and loved and wanted—and that was more than I could ask for. But now wasn't the time for that.

"Let me protect you, this time," I urged suddenly.

I was greeted by silence on the other end of the phone. Either Damon had undergone a major personality change and was willing to let me talk, or he couldn't think of anything to say. Hopefully it was the latter. So I ploughed on,

"I can do this Damon. It's something that I need to take care of. You've taken care of me my entire life—and now it's my turn to pay you back. Get us on an equal footing, if you like." I smiled a bit, and my own remark, hoping that Damon was smiling on the other end. "And once it's done, I'm going to come home. And we'll sort everything out."

'Sort everything out' was kind of a loaded idea, but it was all I could come up with. No one sentence covered all the stuff that Damon and I would have to talk about when I saw him again. We'd need to talk about my parents, and Katherine and what happened when he met me, and then about Lachlan and Lachlan's dad and the Fourth Initiative, and then we'd talk about Klaus, and Stefan and Elena and—god forbid—Caroline, if she really was a vampire. And then Matt, and Vikki and how she'd died—and everything and anything else that I'd missed in the time I'd spent away from him. He'd probably try to get me to go back to school, in Mystics Falls, most likely.

And once all of that was covered, and we'd talked about it all in excruciatingly clear detail—then maybe, just maybe, he and I could hope to come to some sort of conclusion regarding our kisses.

Because if they weren't just a mine field of mind fuckery, at its best, then I didn't know what was.

"You'll come back." Damon echoed.

I nodded my head firmly. "Always, dude. You won't be able to get rid of me."

There was a beat of silence. "I wouldn't want to," Damon said, and my stomach filled with a light, fluffy, bouncy feeling that made me smile.

I realised with a pang that this was the end of our conversation. Hearing his voice again had helped—had calmed the nerves that the task of finding Lachlan had brought out. It was nice to hear from him. He was a soothing presence, despite his volatile temperament.

I smiled fondly, smally, looking down at my feet and shuffling a little. "I'll see you soon, alright?" I said.

"You better," Damon growled. I was pulling the phone away from my ear, when I heard Damon continue talking and moved back. "Be careful," he was warning. "because if you die, I'll bring you back to life and kill you all over again for leaving."

I smiled slightly.

"Dude, if I die, I am so haunting your ass."

Damon chuckled darkly. "Em." He said warningly.

"I'll be careful," I reassured him. "I promise."

There was a pause. "Alright then," he finally said. "See you soon." And he hung up. Were it anyone else, I would have been annoyed by the abrupt end of the conversation, but I knew Damon was going to avoid the 'goodbye' part as much as I was. This wasn't good bye, after all.

I set the phone down and looked up, face set in lines of grim determination.

"Cam!" I called out, calling my friend back into the room. "We've got a plan to make, and a blonde moron to save. Time's a wastin!"

.:.

A/N: We have established that I am a terribly shitty person, right?

I AM SO SORRY GUYS. I just fell into a rut and lost ALL inspiration for this fic. I want to send another thanks to everyone who reviewed, and those people who guilt tripped me into sitting down and rereading everything I've written so far, to kick start my ass into gear. Especially those of you who come back and review, just to let me know I'm getting lazy. If it weren't for you guys, you wouldn't have gotten this chapter.

To those of you who are worried, though, no, I haven't abandoned this fic. I won't be abandoning this fic, and have every intention of eventually finishing it. It just might take me some time. I do have a clear outline of what's to come, and now a three month break from Uni in which to do it.

Keep reviewing and it'll keep me on my toes. Seriously, motivate me, guys. I have like seven WIPs to work on, and I need to have something that attaches me to each one.

Thank you for putting up with me and all my flakiness, and for being so dedicated to this story. I will honestly try harder to get another chapter up soon, and hopefully, finish it in the next three months.

xx.

PS. This is unbeta'd and there might be a couple of tense issues in the first half of the chapter. My bad, guys.