Disclaimer and Warning: I do not own Vampire Diaries, however consider this story mine. Any dialogues not canon from the show as well as any descriptive sentences are the end result of over twenty years of writing. I have poured my heart and soul into every beautiful paragraph, every perfect sentence, every hot and/or romantic scene, and every funny one-liner. To copy this work or any other and claim as one's own, in whole or in part is a criminal offence punishable by ostracism, harassment by my loyal readers, and possibly even dismissal by the MODs. Repeat offenders will be reported IMMEDIATELY to Stop_Plagiarism on LiveJournal and your name will be placed on the watch list under all known aliases. It's not worth it; don't be a thief !

Part I: Turn Up The Heat…

The first time he wants to kiss her, it's not even about her. Truthfully, he only wants to do it because she looks like Katherine, and he knows it would seriously piss off Stefan; not that his baby brother would really be able to do anything to him if he were to succeed. There's another reason too, of course; she's got fire, and she's sexy as hell, and…what he just said. Besides, he's never been one to walk away from a challenge, and she tempts him in a way that is so fleeting these days; being alive for over 150 years tends to make one very bored, even when one spends all his time drinking, fucking, and killing—in that order. So when he made his presence known to her at the boarding house the other day, it had been partly to satisfy a curiosity (just what was this girl's connection to Katherine, and why was Stefan so enamored with her?) and partly to try and steal her away from his brooding baby brother the same way he stole Katherine away. Revenge would be sweet, and if he got a new vampire girlfriend out of the whole thing so much the better. She'd certainly be more fun than that blonde girl he's "dating" at the moment; though Caroline is proving to be quite useful in some ways at least. She's a decent fuck, and she's close to Elena, which is perfect because he is easily able to secure an invitation into her home by simply accompanying Caroline as her date. Stefan did not like that one little bit, but then that just made the victory all the sweeter for him. It's not like his baby brother could have thrown him out, or even explained to the clueless humans present that he most definitely should not be invited in. That whole "I'm just a normal, though un-characteristically broody, teenage boy" thing that Stefan has going on certainly works to his advantage; because Stefan wouldn't dare risk revealing their "secret".

He spends the evening in the company of a bunch of boring teenagers, with Caroline chattering away incessantly about school and cheerleading. The subject is only mildly interesting to him because earlier today he'd dropped the blonde off at practice (after spending several hours enjoying his new toy and carefully compelling her to believe that she enjoys being his secret happy meal) and spotted Elena in her little shorty shorts and tank top. Damn, her legs were just as long as Katherine's; he loves that in this century the women are allowed to reveal so much more skin. Briefly he entertains a little fantasy of having Katherine dressed in her corset and stockings, and Elena wearing a sexy little white bra and panties set in see-through lace; past and present together in one hell of a threesome. Then he's back in his car, and he can feel Elena's eyes on him. He's amused at the glare she's giving him, because really she has no reason to; it's not like she knows what he is (yet) and she couldn't possibly know what he's thinking about. As he watches Caroline bouncing up to her, with a cheeky expression on her face, he overhears her saying "I got the other brother, hope you don't mind," in a tone that is both triumphant and just a tiny bit bitchy. He can't resist glancing up at Elena with a teasingly seductive smirk on his lips; she certainly looks like she might mind, and he files that information away to possibly torture his brother with later. He gives her his sexiest smile, winking at her before pulling out of the parking lot. Oh yeah, she totally wants him; he would bet his ring on it. The way she had been blatantly checking him out at the boarding house, and the rapid beating of her heart had him convinced that he had most certainly not lost his ability to charm a woman with a single look; she was falling for it hook, line, and sinker! In fact, he wouldn't have been surprised if he could have had her up against the wall moaning his name, had Captain Bring-Down of the Fun Police not walked in and so rudely interrupted them. Still, he had managed to get in one last dig at Stefan by taking Elena's hand in his and giving it a chaste kiss; he swore her heart skipped a few beats when he did it. He's absolutely certain that he has her right where he wants her; secretly lusting after him even though she's technically dating his brother.

Blondie turns out to be quite the catty little thing, because she suddenly makes a comment about Elena having been a lot more fun before her parents died. Ouch. Oh, wait, why does he even care? Emotionally vulnerable women are such easy prey for him, and this little revelation once again puts him at an advantage. He gives her his most sympathetic eyes he can manage, and tells her he's sorry for her loss. At the same time though, he just can't resist stirring the pot a little; making Stefan uncomfortable is one of his favorite pastimes.

"I'm sorry, Elena, I know what it's like to lose both your parents," he tells her. "In fact, Stefan and I have watched practically every single person we've ever cared about die."

His words have the desired effect; sympathy from Elena, and irritation from Stefan.

"We don't need to get into that, Damon," Stefan warns. Like he could even do anything if he oh, say…decided to just murder the other two girls and turn Elena right then and there on a whim. Please, his brother's threats are as empty as his blonde companion's head as far as he's concerned. Stefan couldn't do anything to him if he wanted to, and he knows it.

"You know what, you're right; I'm sorry, Stefan," he replies in a tone that indicates he isn't the least bit sorry. "The last thing I wanted was to bring her up." And just because he can he makes an expression like he's wincing at the awkwardness of the situation; of course that gets Elena's attention, just as he intended. To say that this little game he's playing is incredibly amusing to him would be an understatement; it might be worth it to keep up the pretenses a little longer, just to watch his little brother squirm.

Later that same night he follows Elena into the kitchen as she's loading the dishwasher. It's as close to being alone with her as he's going to get (at least for now), and the more time he's able to spend with her, the more he'll be able to charm her. He might not even need to compel her after all; she's incredibly receptive to his compliments, even tucking a few strands of hair behind her ears as she looks at him with a smile that lights her eyes. Just as he predicted she would, she suddenly asks him about Katherine. He considers just how much to tell her, since the whole point of mentioning her in the first place was to plant a few seeds of doubt in her relationship with Stefan. He was quite amused yesterday when he discovered that Stefan was keeping all his secrets to himself; it made telling Elena about Stefan's "dead ex-girlfriend" even more entertaining for him. She'd really had no idea at all; he'd be more than happy to fill in those details for her—within reason, obviously, since he doesn't want to give the game away just yet.

So he tells her that Katherine was beautiful (a lot like Elena, though she has no clue how true those words are), sexy, and seductive. He tells her she was also spoiled and a bit selfish (but then who isn't like that?). Elena is surprisingly perceptive, because she asks him who dated her first. He really hadn't expected her to figure that one out, but it pleases him nonetheless because it means Stefan won't be able to keep her in the dark much longer. She's far too inquisitive, and just a bit stubborn; he likes that about her probably even more than her physical resemblance to his beloved, whom he is determined to set free soon enough. He's certain she'll be just as amused by this girl that looks like her as he is; perhaps even enough to allow him to turn her. Sure, it would get confusing having two vampire girlfriends who happen to be exact copies of each other, but therein lay the fun.

In the meantime, he's perfectly content to play with this little human and "befriend" her. He knows that Stefan has probably warned her away from him, telling all sorts of sob stories about his "mean older brother", and he's out to prove his "innocence" so to speak. He suggests she quit cheerleading (because she's miserable) and with that suggestion comes her grateful smile. It's almost too easy to get her to like him, and it certainly doesn't hurt that he's incredibly sexy and has that bad-boy appeal that makes every woman with a pulse fall at his feet. He's inwardly congratulating himself on his latest victory when her soft voice suddenly breaks into his thoughts.

"I'm sorry," she says suddenly, completely out of nowhere. It takes him a moment to realize those words are directed at him. He furrows his brow in confusion, because honestly he's never really had anyone apologize to him for anything; not his father for being such an overbearing tyrant, and not Stefan for stealing away the one girl he'd shown true affection for. So it's really beyond his comprehension why a mere slip of a girl, who barely knows him, would even care enough to apologize for anything; and she hasn't even done anything to be sorry for. Well, other than choosing his baby brother over his fine ass, but that's her loss.

The confusion must show quite plainly in his expression, because she looks at him with such sympathy, as if she understands his pain. "About Katherine," she adds softly. Those words only confuse him more, because why would she be apologizing for Katherine? It's not like she was even around in 1864 when her vampire twin was carried off to the church and trapped in the tomb for almost a century and a half. It really makes no sense to him at all; why would she even care?

"You lost her too," Elena adds, and she actually looks sad for him. It's odd, and maybe a little disconcerting, but for the first time in over a hundred and fifty years, Damon feels like someone actually understands him; which is a ridiculous notion when you take into account the fact that she doesn't even know him. She's barely spent more than five minutes alone with him, and yet in those five minutes, she's somehow managed to make him feel…vulnerable. Not only that, but suddenly he really wants to touch her, kiss her, and make her his; and it has absolutely nothing to do with pissing off Stefan.

Of course Elena's little human friends happen to have the worst timing, and that little Bonnie chick pops her head in at the exact same moment that he debates on whether or not to make his move tonight. He's tempted to tell her to go away (well, more like compel her, but it's all the same thing as far as he's concerned) and pick up where they left off before they were so rudely interrupted, but Elena is so clearly flustered right now that he doubts he'll be able to get any closer to her tonight without persuasion. Besides, Stefan is in the other room grilling his date, and the very last thing he needs is for everyone to find out he's been snacking on Blondie.

He makes short work of getting her to join the other girls in the kitchen (though he did have to compel the snotty little bitch) and then immediately gets into another moral debate with his holier than thou baby brother. Stefan proceeds to lecture him on how it's wrong to treat human girls as puppets that exist for his own amusement…blah, blah, blah, more whiny emo vampire sissy boy crap. Damon wonders if it's actually possible to be bored to death in those few minutes of his un-life that he'll never get back. But it doesn't matter what Stefan thinks, as Damon points out; human women are whatever he wants them to be (and he's had them be a LOT of things for him: naughty nurse, slutty cheerleader, sexy librarian, horny MILF…oh the possibilities are endless when one has the power of compulsion at one's disposal). They are, indisputably, his for the taking; and Elena is no exception to that rule. Oh yes, he will have her, he promises Stefan; because he's been invited into her home, and that by definition means he has an all-access pass—and it's one he's going to take full advantage of.

That same night, he makes good on his threat. It's probably just a little after two in the morning and the lovely Elena is fast asleep in her bed, wearing a very sexy little camisole top and no bra. He can see the little round pebbles of her nipples as she starts moaning softly, and he just can't resist getting inside that pretty little head of hers. Predictably, she's dreaming about Stefan, and they're getting hot and heavy on her bed. He's surprised to discover that Elena Gilbert is a passionate woman, and he loves how quickly she takes control of the situation. He also knows that Stefan wouldn't know the first thing to do with such fire, and it's probably just as well since Damon plans to steal his girl soon anyway. He really can't help himself as soon as the shirt comes off, and her breasts bounce slightly, straining against the white cotton of her bra. He really wants to know if those breasts feel (and taste) as good as they look, and before he knows it he's the one under her. Her legs are straddling his hips, and her soft core is grinding against the aching hardness of his confined cock. He's pulling his shirt up over his head, and she's riding him in such a way that's both agonizing torture and incredible pleasure; he can even feel the wetness on the crotch of her pants, as if she's so turned on that her juices are actually soaking through the fabric. Just as he pulls the shirt over his head, he grins up at her with his devilishly handsome smirk…and she screams in shock and surprise.


He manages to make it out of her room before she jolts awake; watching from the tree just outside her window as she tries to calm her rapidly beating heart. The thing that amuses him though is that she isn't freaking out as much as he'd think, and when she falls asleep a few minutes later, he's starring in her dreams again—only this time he has nothing to do with it.

The next night, she's decidedly jumpy around him. When he sneaks up on her in the parking lot, her heart immediately starts pounding in that way that indicates she's not as afraid of him as she wants him to believe. He toys with her a bit, teasing that he's hiding from Caroline and winking flirtatiously; it's a known fact that women are unable to resist that look, but clearly Elena is not like any other woman he's known. She tells him off for using her friend, and refuses to take the bait when he's all "apologetic" with his dazzling blue eyes and "sweet" smile.

"I'm sorry if I make you uncomfortable," he tells her, pulling out all the stops to charm his way back into her good graces. "That's not my intention."

She narrows her eyes, and there's suspicion and wariness in those dark orbs; as if she can see right through him.

"Yes, it is," she says, calling him out on his lies in that strangely perceptive way that makes him uncomfortable, but at the same time intrigues him. "Otherwise you wouldn't put an alternate meaning behind everything you say."

Well, so much for charming her the old-fashioned way; too bad for her, Damon Salvatore is not one to give up so easily.

"You're right," he admits, "I do have other intentions, but so do you."

She's indignant that he would even suggest such a thing, even though he knows the truth. Even without getting inside her head, it's so obvious that she's been flirting with him—even if she's not aware of it. He notices every look, every smile, and every time she catches her breath during their "accidental" touches. He knows she wants him; she just needs a little push to get what she wants.

"You want me," he purrs, spelling it all out for her.

Of course she resists him; it's only natural that one so full of fire would also try to resist his charms. It just makes him want her even more, and it's been too long since he was this excited by the thrill of the chase.

"You find yourself drawn to me," he whispers. Her eyes instantly fall to his lips, and he hasn't even started to compel her yet. "You think about me even when you don't want to think about me. I bet you even dream about me." Oh yeah, that last one got her attention in a BIG way. If her tell-tale heart doesn't already give her away, the sweet little scent perfuming the air certainly confirms it. He can't help but wonder if he'll be the first to taste it right from the source, or if that all-American pretty boy jock got there first. Not that it really makes much of a difference, since the only name she'll be screaming from this point on will be his. God, he can't wait to have those sexy legs wrapped around his waist; he might even just take her here on the hood of her car. Wouldn't that just piss Stefan off? But first, he needs to make her agreeable, and as his jeans are suddenly a little tighter than he'd like, he's really not in the mood to play games anymore. He focuses on her eyes, concentrating on clearing his mind of every thought but one: "Right now, you want to kiss me," he adds before leaning in toward her soft lips. He can hear her breath catch in her throat and her pulse is skyrocketing, but then something happens he isn't expecting; she slaps him. He's stunned, not because he can't compel her (he already suspects who is responsible for that) but because she actually hit him.

"What the hell?" she spits at him with fire burning in her eyes. He's still too shocked to say anything, rubbing his jaw in the spot where her hand made contact. Truth be told, it actually stings a bit; if he was human (or on Stefan's diet), that would have actually hurt.

She proceeds to tear into him, making sure to point out that she is not Katherine, and that she won't be part of whatever sick game he's playing with Stefan. Then she storms off, leaving him there to try and make sense of what the hell just happened. After all, he couldn't possibly be wrong about her wanting him; he's Damon fucking Salvatore! Any straight woman with a pulse (and plenty without one) would kill for the chance to share his bed; everything about him screams "hot sex". She shouldn't reject him, and he really doesn't like that she has. It pisses him off, actually, and he suddenly has this overwhelming need to do something drastic to prove that it doesn't faze him; because Damon Salvatore does NOT feel bad about anything.

To prove it, he rips out the football coach's throat; call it a cathartic release.

After he leaves Stefan to clean up the mess, he wanders through the woods, close to the abandoned church where it all started. He knows it won't be long now; the comet has passed and soon he will be able to retrieve Emily's crystal from its hiding place. He still hasn't decided just what he's going to do once Katherine's free; truthfully he never really bothered to think about that because he's not sure he wants to know the answer to the question. To quote one of his (secret) favorite books, he'll think about it tomorrow.

He takes another sip from the flask of bourbon he likes to carry with him on nights such as this, and toasts to the woman who made him what he is today, vowing that they'll be together again soon enough.

It's nearly midnight when he finally decides to leave and make his way back to the boarding house (to torture Stefan some more, of course); but somehow he finds himself travelling in a different direction. He doesn't fully realize where he's headed until he's standing right in front of her house, looking up at the darkened curtains fluttering in the cool breeze. He knows he shouldn't, but that's exactly why he does it; in an instant he's climbing through that window, and the soft sound of her breathing is all he can hear. She's so beautiful, possibly even more so than Katherine, regardless of the fact that they are identical. It's just something he can't quite figure out; why he's so drawn to her, when the one he truly desires is locked in a tomb under the burned church. He knows it shouldn't matter to him; he tells himself it doesn't, and that he's only here because she looks like Katherine, and he misses Katherine, and that once he has Katherine he will not feel this pull towards her human twin anymore. He tells himself all of this, even as he's softly tracing the side of her face and wondering what it would be like to have her willingly in his arms; and for one fleeting moment, he wonders if it's still just a game.

The second time, he wants to kiss her, it's completely, one-hundred percent about her, and the feelings he's developed for her over the past few months. He doesn't know exactly when things got so complicated, but they are. He is hopelessly in love with a woman who is in love with his brother (again), and everyone and their dog seems to read it on his face these days. Everyone, that is, except her; or maybe she's just really good at pretending that spark isn't there between them. She certainly seems a lot more calm and unaffected by the whole revelation than he's feeling, and truth be told it's a little frustrating—in more ways than one.

He supposes it could have started during their trip to Georgia, when they were slinging back drinks and saving each other's lives; because he's well aware of the fact that she could have just let him burn to death. She didn't have to save him. Technically speaking, it would have made things a lot easier for her if she hadn't; and yet she had. She had pleaded with Lexi's boyfriend (what's his name) to spare his life, and when he'd agreed, she had looked so relieved that Damon almost started to wonder why it was so important to her that he stay alive. Why would it matter, when she had professed to hate his guts just a few days ago? Why would it matter when she'd been so furious with him for "kidnapping" her?

That night, they shared a cheap motel room, with him sleeping on a chair (after washing all that gasoline off him in the dingy shower, of course) and her snuggled up under the sheets (though he'd made sure, through compulsion, that those sheets had been freshly washed. It was the least he could do for her). A few times he heard her mumble his name, but he resisted the temptation to peek in on her dreams. The next morning they drove back home, and it wasn't said, but he could already sense that there was a new friendship between them.

That friendship continued to flourish, much to Stefan's annoyance (which, Damon must admit, made it all the sweeter). He supposes that's what made it all the more devastating whenever one of them would disappoint the other; her by lying to him about getting Katherine out of the tomb (not that the bitch was even in there), and him by unknowingly having turned her birth mother into a vampire (like he could have even known that Isobel was her mother. It wasn't like he was clairvoyant or anything). He'd felt like such an asshole for tormenting Ric about his "dead" wife, if only because he had unintentionally upset Elena at the time; although now he feels worse for turning the bitch in the first place. She really had no right to open her mouth about things she can't possibly know anything about. So he threatened her not to go after Elena ever again; big deal. That doesn't necessarily mean he's "in love" with the girl in question—and even if it's true, the bitch didn't have to broadcast that information.

It's because of that little announcement that Elena later calls him out during one of his many flirtations with her at the Grill, and tells him to stop doing that "eye thing" of his. He knows exactly what she's referring to and he secretly loves that she is so aware of it (and that she's got a name for it); he can't resist giving her a demonstration, just because it flusters her so much and her cheeks color in such a sexy way.

"Don't make me regret being your friend," she warns him before walking away.

He frowns slightly, though she's too busy talking to her brat of a younger brother to notice at the moment. His mind instantly goes back to the dance a few weeks ago, when St. Stefan was on a bender and he got to have some real "alone time" with Elena. He remembers the way she looked deeply into his eyes, staring with silent awe as if she'd never seen him before; it hadn't gone unnoticed how her heart had been pounding in her chest, or the way she'd unconsciously pressed her chest a little closer to him than was proper as he'd taken her in his arms. God, she'd been looking at him like he was the only man there and for those few fleeting moments he'd almost believed she was his; that sharing this dance with her had been fate finally stepping in and giving him his most secret desire.

Of course fate is a very cruel and sadistic mistress, and just as easily as she gives him that chance to feel truly happy, she takes it away just as quickly. Don't get him wrong, because he does (begrudgingly) love his brother; but there are some days when he wishes, even for a fleeting moment (and usually as he's drowning his misery in a bottle of the best bourbon he can get his hands on) that Stefan hadn't listened to Elena's little speech and just ended his life. Sure, he would probably regret saying that out loud (especially if Stefan decides one suicide attempt isn't enough), but he just can't help the way he feels sometimes; and having Stefan out of the way would make it so much easier for him to sweep Elena off her feet. There really is only so much one can do with a few flirtatious smiles and single red roses plucked from decorative vases; his real talent for romancing the ladies…well, it's not easily accomplished when said lady is too preoccupied with his brother to even allow herself to get a taste of what she's missing. So he contents himself with teasing her, and flirting with her, and doing the aforementioned "eye thing", and in the rare times that she needs his help and maybe even a shoulder to cry on (which was the only good thing that came out of Stefan falling off the wagon), then he'll make damn sure he's there every. Single. Time. That it pisses Stefan off, well, that's just a bonus for him; but it's no longer the goal.

To endear himself further to Elena, he's been recently finding himself doing and saying things that he didn't think he was capable of at this point in his un-life; he's actually being nice to people, and offering his services up as a reluctant knight for Team Good on occasion (because for some reason Elena thinks he's a good person—even though he's not a person at all). She's always spouting crap about how he can be the better man, and for the most part he tries to brush it off as naivety on her part, but there is always that tiny nagging voice in his head telling him that he could be that person for her; that if he was then maybe he'd be worthy of her. Maybe he could even get the girl in the end. Wouldn't that be a twist ending?

He knows that's never gonna happen though; Stefan is the proverbial knight in shining armor, complete with his hero's cape and the silver cross of saint-hood, and he will always be the better choice (well, as long as he's not off the wagon, anyway). Besides, as Stefan so kindly likes to remind him whenever he tries to defend Elena (this time by telling off her snot-nosed little brother for being such a jerk to his sister), he's not the hero in this story; at least, he's not the hero in her story. Sometimes Stefan can be a sanctimonious prick; especially when he's jealous and thinks that Damon's after his girl—which he is, but as it's pretty one-sided right now he doubts that anything will come of it. She's not like Katherine, as she loves to remind him.

If he wasn't so fucking blinded by his desire to have Elena, even just for one single moment in time, then he probably would be able to tell the difference later that night. But the truth is, he has so many other things on his mind that a slightly colder touch and no pounding heartbeat echoing in his ears are pretty much over-looked in that moment.

He's just about to leave the Gilbert home, after delivering the bad news in person to Elena's devastated brother. Why he did it, he still isn't sure himself, but after what had happened with Jeremy's first girlfriend, and the fact that Damon was the reason she's dead, well, he kind of felt like he owed it to the kid to tell him that Anna wouldn't be coming back. Maybe it's because he sees a bit of himself in Jeremy; that lost, haunted look of someone who keeps losing those that he loves. True, Damon didn't actually lose Katherine the way he thought he had (the bitch just didn't care enough to let him know that), but he still knows what it feels like to have the one thing you care about cruelly ripped away from you. So yeah, he kind of feels bad for Jeremy and he even offered to take that pain away; but as Jeremy tells him, he didn't take it away the first time—compulsion isn't the fix-everything strategy he thought it was, apparently. Learn something new every day.

It's as he's contemplating this new information (and wondering just what the hell Blondie and the other "victims" of his past might still remember) that he spots her coming up the walkway laden with bags (probably containing her period costume and beauty supplies). She's somewhat distant from him tonight, without any of the usual expressions or reactions to his presence (namely, she's not all wide-eyes and shock mixed with nervousness that he's just come out of her house), but he chalks that all up to the fact that he almost died tonight; and she saved his life (again). Funny how she keeps doing that, even when she insists there's nothing but friendship between them.

When she asks him what he's doing here, her voice is somehow off; it's direct, to the point, but lacks the usual accusatory or fearful tone to it. He shrugs it off, thinking he's just reading too much into things.

"A failed and feeble attempt at doing the right thing," is his only response to her query. She asks him (indifferently) what it was, and he just shrugs again, saying it's not important. There's silence between them, almost uncomfortable, and he's unsure whether it's because she's uncomfortable, or if he's only now starting to realize just how much their relationship has changed since Isobel's little revelation. He's not flirting or cracking smart-ass remarks, and she's not on one of her little tirades about boundaries and showing up unannounced when he doesn't have the right to. They're simply staring at each other, both seemingly afraid to address the real reason he hasn't walked away from her; the reason she won't let him leave her. He takes her bags from her, setting them down on the nearby lounge chair; her simple "thank you" is the only reaction he gets from her. It's like she's no longer as nervous or jumpy around him; as if him touching her hand briefly (which would have been considered too forward in his own time; especially toward a woman he had no claim to) was something she's just come to expect from him.

"You know," he muses, "I came to this town wanting to destroy it, and tonight I found myself wanting to protect it. How does that happen?"

She stares at him, almost as if she's at a loss of what to say, but he really doesn't need her to say anything. "I'm not a hero, Elena," he says, frowning, "I don't do 'good'; it's not in me."

She doesn't seem surprised or affected by his words, and her voice still has that hollow, empty quality to it that he can't quite recognize.

"Maybe it is," is her only response. It's strange, because normally she'd be giving him a long speech about how he can be a good person and how he's proven it many times to her. Instead she listens quietly as he tells her that goodness is reserved for Stefan, and her, and (begrudgingly) Bonnie.

"Even though she has every reason to hate me, yet still helped Stefan save me," he says softly, still unable to believe it.

"Why do you sound so surprised?" Elena asks him then, and he looks straight into her beautiful dark eyes as if trying to convey everything that he's saying (but not saying) in his gaze.

"Because, she did it for you," he replies, eyes locking with hers as he slowly, cautiously steps closer to her; they're almost touching now, and if he were to take one more step they would be. "Which means," he adds softly, "that somewhere along the way, you decided I was worth saving; and I wanted to thank you for that."

She's smiling sweetly; a little half smile that makes her eyes sparkle with some unknown emotion as she says "You're welcome."

He doesn't know what exactly possesses him to do it (he's never been this bold before; not since they became friends and he wasn't trying to seduce her for fun) but as he leans in she's almost perfectly still. She's not pulling away; doesn't even flinch or make any indication that he's going too far when he places the softest of kisses to her cheek. He notices that it's slightly chilled, and knows that he probably shouldn't be keeping her outside right now when the air is getting colder. But as he draws back again he recognizes something in her eyes that makes him pause, and he can't ignore the feelings she evokes in him with that look; it's the look of someone who doesn't want him to leave her just yet.

He knows it's wrong; he knows there will be consequences later; but he just can't seem to care at the moment, because he wants this too much.

Slowly, he brings his mouth closer to hers, watching her eyes for any sign that she's about to recoil and slap him; there isn't one. The first touch sends his heart right into his throat; her lips barely move against his, but she's still kissing him back. As he pulls away, not wanting to risk the temptation, she's suddenly leaning forward to capture his lips again. Instinctively his hands slide up to cup the side of her face and pull her closer, and he sucks her bottom lip into his mouth, flicking over it with his tongue. He's so lost in their kiss that he fails to hear the footsteps until the door opens, and Elena turns around to stare at her aunt Jenna. She doesn't even look apologetic, and as Jenna coldly glares at him like he's the enemy and tells her niece to come inside, Elena walks past her into the house without another word.

Through the closed door he overhears Jenna trying to get answers, and Elena coldly responding that she doesn't want to talk about it. He briefly wonders if her not wanting to talk about it also includes him, and unconsciously he touches his fingers to his lips, still warm from her kiss, before turning away from the house and the girl inside and forcing himself to go home where he can be alone with his thoughts and figure out what the hell he's going to do now; because that kiss just changed everything.

The third time he tries to kiss her, it's mostly about her, and maybe only one-tenth about Katherine. Just when he was getting over the woman who ruined his life 145 years ago, she has to waltz back into his life and utterly destroy it. It's not enough for her to wreak havoc, pretending to be Elena, but she actually had to go and ruin a moment for him that up until twenty four hours ago had been one of the best things to ever happen to him—or so he'd thought, anyway. To say that today has been a complete mind-fuck for him would be the understatement of the century.

When he'd received the call from Liz, he hadn't even thought about it; he'd simply gone to the hospital to be there for her. It's still difficult to believe that this is his life; he actually has friends in this town; people who count on him in a crisis. It's only when he gets there that he learns of the accident, and immediately his thoughts turn to Elena (does she even know yet?) and how devastated she'll be if she loses her best friend. The other stuff Liz tells him, well he already knows about it; he was there when they brought Mayor Lockwood down to the basement and set the place on fire. But he can't tell Liz that, so he just tries to act shocked and horrified at the news, and promises to do everything he can to help her (everything that's within his power). He's already planning on how and when to sneak into Caroline's room and heal her. True, there's really no love lost between them, but after the shitty way he treated her all those months ago, and the fact that she's important to Elena (and Liz doesn't deserve to lose her daughter), he feels it's the least he can do for her.

Liz catches one of the doctors tending to Caroline's injuries, and Damon watches from a distance as the poor woman is told that they might not be able to save her. Just as he's contemplating his plan of action (namely to do what the hospital can't), he spots a frantic-looking Elena running up to Bonnie and pleading with her to do something. He can tell by the witch's grave tone that she really has no idea what she's doing, and decides that now is a good time to reveal himself to them. When she looks up into his eyes, there's nothing there but concern, and a little bit of apprehension (especially after he tells her he's willing to give Caroline his blood to save her).

"It's too risky," she protests. "I can't agree to that." He's about to tell her that whether she likes it or not, it's their only option and he's doing it with or without her approval, but none of that is even an issue when Bonnie practically orders him to "do it". She's a bossy little thing, which annoys him because since when does he take orders?

"If I do this, you and me call a truce?" he asks, not wanting to give up a chance to at least bargain with Sabrina the Teenage Bitch; and so he doesn't become her guinea pig the next time she decides to test a new vampire torturing spell. Getting thrown across the room was enough for him to realize he really doesn't want to stay on her bad side.

"No, but you'll do it anyway," she says, looking pretty damn smug for someone who isn't as all-powerful as she wants them all to believe. She adds the unnecessary, "For Elena," before turning on her sanctimonious little heel and walking away; leaving him alone with the girl he really would do anything for.

The girl in question is staring off after her friend, looking increasingly more agitated every second. He knows this is probably not the best time for this conversation, in fact, this is probably the worst time to be bringing this up; but the longer they put it off, the more likely he's going to go out of his mind wondering what the hell it all means. He kissed her. She kissed him back. They would probably have gone into a full-on make out session against the side of her house (with her legs wrapped high around his waist and her back pressed against the wall, if he had any say in the matter) if Jenna hadn't spoiled the mood.

He decides that he's going to have to bring it up, because she's acting like it didn't happen, and the distance between them is just too uncomfortable for him to ignore a second longer.

"Alright," he sighs, "I know this is probably the last thing you wanna do right now, but we should talk about what happened tonight."

"Yeah," she says. "One of the tomb vampires got into the house tonight and almost killed John."

He looks at her, confused because that was seriously the last thing he expected her to say. Also, when exactly did that happen? After he left?

"You were there?" she asks, sounding about as confused as he's feeling right now. He's heard of "pretending it never happened" before, but she's taking things a little too far. He rolls his eyes, muttering just loud enough for her to hear him say "you know I was."

"When were you at the house?" she asks, still playing dumb, as if she has no idea what he's talking about; as if she never kissed him. It's all very high school of her to be acting this way, and he's not in the mood to play games with her.

"Really?" he says seriously, looking pointedly into her eyes. "Earlier, on the porch? We were talking, cathartic feelings exposed…" he's getting frustrated, because she's just staring at him and nothing seems to be registering at all. "Come on, we kissed, Elena!" he all-but growls at her.

She doesn't even acknowledge it; she just closes her eyes and is about to completely blow him off because she "doesn't have time for this."

Too fucking bad.

He grabs her arm, spinning her back around to face him as she's about to walk away, and there's desperation in his voice now. He hates that she's reduced him to this, but the truth is she's driving him crazy and he needs to know if any of it was real.

"If you want to forget it happened, fine," he tells her in a quiet but deadly serious tone. "But I can't."

Jenna chooses that exact moment to interrupt them (again!) and he has no choice but to let go of Elena's arm and broodingly wait for her to finish speaking with her aunt. He can feel the little death glare that Jenna gives him as he turns his back to them both. Surprisingly, Elena is confused as to why Jenna wasn't home when the accident took place. What follows is a blatant denial when Jenna informs Elena that she spoke to her earlier at the house, and Jenna's insistence that she was there. But as Elena continues to deny the truth, something starts to click in Damon's mind; something he realizes now should have been fucking obvious. The coldness of her voice and skin, the way the light didn't meet her eyes, even the way her lips felt against his, they all seemed so un-Elena-like and yet he hadn't even considered why that was. Why she'd been so clipped in her responses, as if weighing every word carefully; so she wouldn't give herself away…

"You gotta be kidding me!" he says out loud, forgetting Jenna's presence entirely. He gives Elena a furtive glance, heading down the hallway with determined steps. He can hear her running to catch up, calling his name frantically and asking him just what the hell is going on. He doesn't answer her, or even turn around. Personally he'd rather she just stay at the hospital where it's safe (Bonnie can protect her, if necessary) but Elena is not one to do what's best for her.

"Damon!" she calls after him again as they enter the parking lot and he heads straight for his car. "Wait!"

He sighs, knowing that ignoring her isn't going to get him anywhere, so he just flings the passenger door open for her, telling her to get in.

"I'll explain later," he snaps impatiently when she opens her mouth to question him. "Right now, we just need to find Stefan."

Elena tells him that he's babysitting Jeremy, to make sure that the kid doesn't try to kill himself again. Damon feels a little responsible for that, since he's the one who told Jeremy that his girlfriend's dead, and then in the same breath told him that vampires don't have to feel those emotions if they don't want to—fucking stupid of him! Of course, he doesn't tell this to Elena; she's already going to be upset with him as it is when he informs her that Katherine is back, and by the way, she's the one that he kissed on the porch thinking it was her.

Fucking BITCH! He curses in his head, unconsciously pressing his foot a little harder on the gas pedal as his temper rises. He has so many questions, and he'd like nothing more than to torture the bitch with Vervain until he gets the answers to them; at the same time, however, he's acutely aware of the danger that Elena could be facing. Katherine pretended to be her (and was pretty fucking convincing too) in order to get into the house and attack John (which isn't exactly a tragedy, since the guy's a dick). Katherine has been invited in. This day couldn't possibly get any worse for him.

Of course he's wrong; it can get much worse.

When they arrive at the house, it's clear that Katherine has already had some fun of her own. Stefan's completely stunned to discover that their crazy ex is back in town, and Elena's pretty shaken up about the fact that an evil vampire who looks exactly like her is now pretending to be her and using that disguise to possibly paint the town red (literally).

Of course Stefan has to make the situation worse by asking him what Katherine meant when she said she fooled one of them. He expects the annoyance from Stefan, possibly even righteous fury at his words, but what he doesn't expect is Elena's blatant denial of having ever thought about kissing him. She makes it sound like he's the bad guy for even thinking it could be possible, and honestly it kind of pisses him off. He knows that it's not entirely one-sided; even if it wasn't her lips he was kissing tonight, there's no denying that she was the reason he's still standing here and not burnt to a crisp like the rest of the unfortunate victims in the fire. There's no denying that it was her he danced with at the Miss Mystic Falls pageant, and it was her eyes he had been staring into. It was her heart that beat so fast, and her breath that caught in her throat. It was her voice pleading for him to come with her that night he'd discovered Katherine wasn't in the tomb. It was her arms that had wrapped around him in an attempt to comfort him as his heart shattered into a million tiny pieces. And right now, she's the one standing between him and his brother, breaking up a potential fight (that Damon would totally have won) and lying through her teeth.

"I wouldn't do that," she says to him, as if saying it makes it somehow true. He really wishes Stefan wasn't here so he could prove to her just how wrong she is about that.

She sighs in exasperation at the look he's giving her, and the death glare that Stefan's giving him, and reminds them all that they don't have time for this. He supposes she's right, in a sense, because with Katherine on the loose they really need to come up with a game plan. It's just that Elena keeps looking at Stefan, and ignoring him, and it's not so much "what are the three of us going to do?" as it is "what are Stefan and I going to do?" and he really, really doesn't want to watch them getting all couple-y in front of him right now. So he comes up with his own strategy for dealing with everything; that is to say he's going to do what he always does when he doesn't want to deal. He's just going to ignore it, and get drunk. That last part being implied, but not said out loud.

He decides that last night's bender isn't enough, and continues on to the next day, even though he's in danger of draining his whole liquor supply. Fortunately, Carol Lockwood always saves the good stuff for special occasions, and her husband's wake is no exception. So after breaking up a potential catfight between her and Liz, and having a really unpleasant encounter with the witch, Damon decides the most productive way to pass the time is to indulge in a few more glasses of scotch. Just as he's finishing off lucky number 7 (the one drawback to being a vampire is that it takes a lot of drinks before he's effectively numb) he spots Elena with her family. He hopes that she'll just keep walking, and leave him to wallow in his misery, but he knows just by looking at her sad, sympathetic expression that she's not going to let that happen. He overhears her tell Jeremy and Jenna that she'll "be right there", and quickly takes another sip from the glass to (hopefully) dull whatever effects she may have on him.

Predictably the first thing she asks him is how he's doing, because despite the fact that she's completely rejected him, she wants to let him know she still cares about him.

"I kissed you, I thought you kissed me back…doppelganger hijinx ensued…how do you think I'm doing?" he asks pointedly.

"I think that you're hurt," she replies softly; again with the sympathetic, pitying eyes.

"Mmmm, no, I don't get hurt, Elena," he says, rather sarcastically. Because why would he get hurt? He doesn't have feelings, he has no understanding of what love is, according to Stefan anyway. Didn't he say as much last night? Isn't that why everyone loves Stefan and hates him; because he's incapable of human emotions, and Stefan isn't?

"No, you don't admit you get hurt," Elena points out, seeing right through him again (he HATES how easily she can read him; especially right now). "You get angry and cover it up, and then you do something stupid."

And there it is; the reason she really wants to know how he's handling everything that's happened so far. It's not anything at all to do with feeling a little guilty for leading him on, or to finally admit what he's known since their dance; it's all about her perfect little world possibly crashing down around her, and him being the catalyst of it.

"You're scared," he taunts her. "You think Katherine's going to send me off the deep end. I don't need her for that." He turns away, before he does something really stupid and tells her the reason he's upset has nothing to do with Katherine and everything to do with her. Or, more specifically, her utter shock that he believed he was kissing her last night. Regrettably he's not as in control of his emotions right now as he would like, and he finds himself turning around and doing just the opposite of what he doesn't want to do.

"Why was it such a surprise that I would kiss you?"

"That's not a surprise," she says. "I'm surprised that you thought I'd kiss you back."

"Now I'm hurt" doesn't even begin to describe how he feels right now. It's not so much that she's telling him she doesn't want him (he's used to disappointment) but the way she's looking at him right now is more proof that she's not being honest; and that is what annoys him the most. He sees it in her eyes every time they're getting closer. She would have kissed him if he'd done it in the boarding house, after telling her he wanted it to be real between them; she would have kissed him if he'd stolen her away to some secluded room after their dance; and she would most definitely have kissed him if she'd actually been the one on the porch with him last night!

He knows he needs to walk away, now, before he decides to prove it to her in front of the whole town. He's about to do just that when the witch shows up with more bad news and Elena runs off to find Stefan. By this point, Damon's just itching for a good fight, and since he can't kill anyone, he figures taunting his brother is the next best thing.

"I kissed Elena," he shouts after him later, when Stefan doesn't take the bait.

"Because you feel something for her," Stefan shouts back. "Because you actually care."

Yes, he cares; and it fucking sucks! He didn't ask for this, and he doesn't want it, and he wishes that he could just turn it off again. He wishes that Stefan would just stop spouting all this crap about not letting Katherine break them apart and just fucking rip into him like he wants to; because right now, Damon needs the outlet for his frustration. He can't have Elena, and he can't kill anyone, so beating the crap out of Stefan (and maybe letting him get a few punches in, just for the hell of it) is pretty much the only outlet he has left…and it's being denied.

So after Stefan walks away, Damon goes home to drink himself into a stupor and try to forget the past 48 hours ever happened. He pours himself a glass, but the amber liquid doesn't even touch his lips before she appears.

"Very brave of you to come here," he says calmly, though with a deliberate undertone of danger to his voice. He is not in the mood for her games, and he makes that quite clear as he tells her not to pout. "It's not attractive in a woman your age," he adds snarkily, because she deserves it. He doesn't know what her plans were, and he doesn't want to know; and if she's decided to leave, then he's not going to stop her. He officially does not care anymore. Whatever they shared together, whatever he felt for her, it obviously means nothing at all; otherwise she wouldn't have pretended to be in the tomb, and he probably never would have come back to Mystic Falls and had his heart stomped on all over again. Yeah, he's bitter; and angry, and pissed off, and frustrated, and about to snap if she doesn't Get. The. Hell. Out. Now.

But since when does Katherine do what he wants her to?

He starts to walk away from her, but she appears directly in his path, taunting him with her sexy little pouty lips and asking for a "goodbye kiss".

He'd rather kill her instead at this point. She's fucked with him enough, and he's ready to end it for good. If he doesn't get away from her, he's certain that's exactly what will happen. The only problem is that she won't let him walk away. She keeps taunting him, telling him to kiss her or kill her, and getting so fucking close to his face that he is severely tempted—and the complete mind-fuck is that he wants to do both.

He turns away from her, about to tell her to go to hell, but then she's in front of him once more, and this time she pins him to the floor. He can feel every inch of her pressing against him, her thighs straddling his hips as she slowly grinds into him. He tries to remain unaffected, but she looks like Elena, and besides that, Katherine was still his first love no matter how much he hates her for her lies; and she wants him right now. She purrs in his ear, "my sweet, innocent Damon," and it's all he can do to prove her wrong about that. He's not innocent; not anymore. He flips her onto her back with ease, and now the tables have turned and he's in control. She smiles up at him with that sexy, triumphant look that is pure Katherine, and he's suddenly back in 1864; back in that time when she was his wild, untamable, passionate lover. It doesn't matter that she used him, lied to him…she still wants him; otherwise her body wouldn't be reacting so quickly to his. So instead of killing her, he chooses that first option, and it's electric fire in his veins.

She's just as he remembered, her body arching under his and her nails digging into his skin. She quickly takes control again, slamming him against the wall and tearing his shirt open as he's ripping the front of hers. They're clawing at each other, unable to get close enough, and he can't seem to stop tasting her skin. God, he forgot how much she affected him. He turns her around, sweeps the books off the nearest surface he can find, and sits her on it as she wraps her legs around his waist and draws him closer. She's writhing against him, already lost in her passion, and he's so tempted to just tear off the rest of their clothes and sink himself into her over and over again until they both pass out from exhaustion or combust into flames—whichever happens first. The only problem is that he needs to know she's going to stay this time; that it's not another one of her games; that it's real; that what happened 145 years ago actually meant something to her. So he pulls away, even though he's still throbbing for her, and he asks her for the only thing he's ever truly wanted from her. He knows they can start over; they can be as they were before, maybe even better than they were before. He's willing to forgive her, and forget Elena, and go back to his original plan of running off with Katherine and living his version of "happily ever after" with her; all she has to do is say the words.

She stares up at him, places her hands over his as he gently strokes her cheeks, looks deeply into his eyes…and then she shatters his heart into a million pieces.

"I've never loved you," she says, without even a shred of remorse. "It was always Stefan."

And it's over; just like that. His last shred of hope that she actually cared is extinguished with those words and the pitying look in her eyes before she walks out the door and out of his life.

He doesn't remember how many bottles he went through, or even how he got to her house; all he remembers is that somewhere between the mindless consumption of expensive liquor and wishing it would actually make him numb (instead of just mildly buzzed, and very depressed) he had this overwhelming need to see her. So he finds himself in her room, sitting on her bed and just staring off into the darkness under the pretense of protecting her from Katherine (though he doubts she's still in town). Elena nearly jumps out of her skin when she walks into her room.

"You scared me," she says, a little out of breath.

He continues to stare at nothing in particular, muttering how he's her trusty bodyguard, and shrugging off whatever gratitude she's expressing for him always acting as said bodyguard.

"Have you been drinking?" she asks, sounding more worried than accusing. He turns his head slightly to look at her, squinting his eyes because she's just a little fuzzy around the edges, and holds his fingers up in the universal sign for "just a bit". It's not a lie, technically, since he just stopped counting after drink number 3—and he's still conscious.

Elena is suddenly on her guard, watching him warily. "And you're upset," she says carefully. "That's not a good combination."

"I'm not upset," he tells her. "Upset is an emotion specific to those who care."

If she were anyone else, she would probably just leave it at that; write him off as an unfeeling, alcoholic prick with a tendency toward violence, and leave him to wallow in his misery. If she were anyone else, she wouldn't be standing here with that look on her face; the one that he can never quite read, but has always recognized as something more than just the concern of a friend. The truth is she understands him in a way that no one else has ever bothered to. She sees past his sarcasm, his deflections, and his constant declarations that he doesn't have the ability to care about anything, and no matter how many times he's pushed her away, she's too stubborn to let him do it. Instead, she always gives him that look, wraps her arms around him in a hug, and silently pleads for him to let her in; into his heart and into his soul (if he even still has one). And for what purpose? Because she's his friend? No, he's seen her with her friends, and she's never looked at Caroline, Bonnie, or Matt the way she looks at him. Hell, she doesn't even look at her brother the way she looks at him.

"You're surprised that I thought you'd kiss me back?" he asks pointedly, throwing her words back at her. "You can't imagine that I'd believe you'd want to? That what we've been doing here means something?"

She backs away, pleading him with her eyes not to push this. For once, however, he's not going to back down or play it off as if it's only his pride that's hurting; she started this, and he's not leaving until she admits the truth to him and to herself.

"You're the liar, Elena," he tells her, his eyes burning into hers. "There is something going on between the two of us and you know it." He rises from the bed, moving closer to her. "And you're lying to me, and you're lying to Stefan, and most of all you're lying to yourself," he whispers the words with each step, until he can feel the heat radiating off her skin. He can hear her heart speeding up, and he can tell she's scared, but there's something else too; something she's fighting to keep buried, and refuses to acknowledge at all.

He could easily blame what he's about to do on the alcohol he's consumed, but it would be a lie; alcohol has nothing at all to do with his sudden determination to prove to her that this is real, and he's not imagining it. She wants him, and the only thing keeping them apart right now is her fear of what that means. He gets it, he does; she's still a girl in a lot of ways, and a real adult relationship is probably terrifying for her. She's not sure how to deal with her feelings anymore than he knows how to deal with his, and their relationship wouldn't be easy; they're both incredibly stubborn, and there's going to be a hell of a lot of fighting between them, but if he can only show her what they have together she might just realize that it's worth it to be with him.

So he cups her face in his hands, and tells her he can "prove it". She fights to pull away from him the second his lips press against hers.

"Damon, don't," she pleads, "what's wrong with you?"

What's wrong, she asks? She should be asking herself that question, because there's nothing wrong with him. He's merely sick of the games and the lies and the self-denial, and he just can't pretend anymore; he can't pretend that they're just friends, and that's all they could ever be. He can't pretend that seeing her with Stefan isn't killing him; especially knowing that what she has with his brother isn't even in the same vein as the passion she could have with him. He can't pretend he'll never have his chance with her; because he knows that if he just kissed her, if she'd only let herself feel it, then she wouldn't be able to lie anymore.

"Lie about this."

She pushes on his shoulders, telling him to stop. "You're better than this," she says softly.

That's where she's wrong. He leans in again, and she pushes his head away, panic arising in her voice. "I care about you," she cries, "I do, but I love Stefan. It's always going to be Stefan."

"It was always Stefan." Katherine's parting words to him echo in the room, only this time they're not coming from Katherine's cold and unfeeling heart; they're coming from Elena. She's looking up at him with tears in her eyes, and it's ironic to him because he's the one who's hurting right now, not her. No, it wouldn't be her; because she loves Stefan. She said it herself; it will never be him. Why would it be? Damon Salvatore isn't worthy of having anyone love him; only people to use him, toy with his feelings, and throw him away for the better brother. Story of his fucking life!

"Elena, what's going on in here?" Jeremy asks, suddenly appearing in the doorway in some lame attempt to defend is sister if he needs to; not that he could.

She assures him that everything's okay, even though it's far from ever being okay. The woman he loved was cruelly taken from him, and he'd probably give anything not to have to feel that pain. He's about to get his wish.

Elena's screams for him to stop don't even register as he's upon Jeremy in an instant, his hands gripping the boy's head as he hisses at him, "You want to shut off the pain? It's the easiest thing in the world! The part of you that cares just goes away. All you have to do is flip the switch and SNAP!"

Jeremy's neck cracks loudly in his ears, and then he lets the body crumple to the floor. Elena's hovering over her brother, frantically trying to shake him awake, tears streaming down her face. She looks up at him with eyes full of pure hatred, and he knows he's succeeded in wounding her as deeply as she wounded him earlier.

So he leaves her there, still sobbing over Jeremy's lifeless body. He knows she'll never forgive him, and maybe it's better that way; it's far easier to be hated than not loved.

The fourth time, he doesn't even try to kiss her; even though he desperately wishes he could. The only thing that stops him is the knowledge that not kissing her right now is going to be less painful for him than not having her ever remember that he had. He comes to this decision after a lot of careful deliberation on his part, and it's not at all easy for him; in fact, this is probably the hardest, most selfish and selfless thing he's ever done in his life. Regardless of the pain it causes him, however, he knows that it's the right thing to do. How did that expression go; if you love something then set it free? Yeah, that's pretty much it in a nutshell; why he's waiting for her in her room tonight—why he's letting her go.

The truth is, even though she's obviously forgiven him (again) for all the shit he's put her through, and even though she's technically available now that she's broken up with Stefan (again), it doesn't change anything; not really. He is still the unstable, homicidal vampire who snapped Jeremy's neck, and even though his magic Gilbert ring happened to fix everything, the hard truth is that without it, he would have been very dead. There's no way around it; Damon fucked up big time, and there's no way of knowing when and if he'll do it again. And the worst part is that next time he snaps it could be her lifeless body he has to deal with.

It's taken weeks of trying to get her to forgive him, and his own newfound role as the reluctant hero to finally have her back in his life, but he's come to the conclusion that keeping her safe means keeping his distance. It means watching this latest threat, planning their next move, and keeping a calm disposition, even when he feels like tearing things apart (while everyone else freaks out around him). Besides that, it's still always going to be Stefan for her, and this little breakup of theirs likely won't last; and if he's completely honest with himself, he knows that Stefan is better for her anyway. He's not going to go snapping the necks of the people she loves when he's upset, for instance.

When she finally comes out of the bathroom, he is so very tempted to abandon that plan, because those little shorts and camisole draw attention to her soft curves and silky skin. If she were his, he would have her lying across the bed, while he feasted on her very willing body. But she's not his. So, to cover his discomfort at her half-dressed state, he flirtatiously comments on her "cute" pjs.

She doesn't take the bait, as she normally would have, and instead gives him a withering glance.

"I'm tired, Damon," she sighs, indicating in her tone that he should go home and just let her sleep. He can't blame her for it though; getting kidnapped and almost offered up to some uber-powerful (and luckily, now uber-dead) vampire would make anyone exhausted. And he will happily let her sleep, in a few minutes.

"Brought you this," he says, dangling the chain between his fingertips so that there's no mistaking what he's returning to her.

"I thought that was gone," she gasps, in awe that he went to the trouble of retrieving her necklace for her.

He shakes his head, smiling softly as she stretches out her hand to take it. He holds it firmly, unwilling to relinquish this small bit of control just yet.

"Please give it back!" she pleads, suddenly on her guard. And it's because she's afraid of him that he knows he's made the right decision.

"I just need to say something first."

"Why do you have to say it with my necklace?" her voice quivers in panic.

He frowns, contemplating the best way to explain it to her, without making her aware of why he's doing it.

"Well, because what I'm about to say is probably the most selfish thing I've ever said in my life."

"Damon, don't go there."

It's as much a plea as it is a warning, and he understands it completely; whatever she might feel for him (and they both know it to be true) she's not ready to face it. But that's okay, because she doesn't have to say anything; honestly, it's better if she doesn't.

"I just need to say it once," he tells her. "You just need to hear it."

She doesn't protest any further, and he proceeds to pour out his heart and soul, baring everything and feeling more vulnerable than he's ever felt in his life.

Through it all, Elena simply stands there, staring at him with an unreadable expression, as if she's holding back tears, and then he knows this is hard for her to accept as much as it is for him.

"I don't deserve you," his voice cracks as he whispers the undeniable truth of their ill-fated relationship (and yes, they had one; it just didn't go beyond the flirting and the kiss he thought was with her). She gasps, inaudibly, but he hears it anyway. And while he'd give anything to let her tell him that's not true, as he can see so clearly in her eyes, he just can't. So he tells her that his brother does deserve her love, knowing full well what he's giving up by stepping aside and letting Stefan have her. And then he leans in, and she imperceptibly tilts her chin up just enough that his lips would land on hers if that were his intention. It's not; he knows he can't kiss her, even if he wiped her memory of it. So he presses his lips to her forehead, and tries to ignore the shuddering breaths as he strokes her face and gazes deeply into her eyes.

"I wish you didn't have to forget this," he whispers, "but you do."

He watches her eyes glaze over, and when he's certain that the compulsion worked, he gently places the chain around her neck and secures the clasp.

He doesn't wait for the trance he put her under to wear off before he disappears into the night; and it's like he was never there.

The fifth time it happens, he's not even sure it's actually happening. He's pretty much already resigned himself to the fact that he's going to die without ever having his love returned…and then she kisses him, and all he can do is say a pitiful "thank you" in response to the parting gift he'd never expected to receive in his last moments, but had always hoped for.

The fact that he is dying is odd in itself, even if you ignored the whole vampire aspect. Damon has always prided himself on being one of those who rarely suffered a serious illness (when he was human; obviously), although he has a nearly photographic memory when it comes to watching those he cared about go through the pain of it. When he was seven years old, it was his mother. Like many women of that time, she'd suffered complications while bringing his little brother into the world.

The thing he remembers the most is how pale she'd been when he'd come into her room for what he had no idea would be the last time. Her dark hair, so much like his, had been matted and damp with sweat, and she'd forced a smile that hadn't quite met her tired blue eyes. He remembers how cold she was when he'd taken her hand, and the tearful way she told him to be strong and take care of his brother, always. He remembers how she closed her eyes, and didn't wake again, and how his father had dragged him kicking and screaming from her bedside; and later how he'd been scolded for carrying on ("like a little girl" his father had said) when he'd learned his mother would never again be there to comfort him.

When he was twelve, he'd watched Stefan get sick with pneumonia, after Damon had foolishly kept him out far longer than he should have. They'd been down by the old pond, and Damon was helping his little brother feed the ducklings. It had been a relatively chilly spring morning, and Damon hadn't been thinking when he'd snuck away from the house, promising Stefan an "adventure". After being stuck indoors for weeks, thanks to his father's insisting that it was too cold for Stefan to go outside to play (after losing Mother, Stefan had been unnecessarily coddled and Damon's certain that if it wasn't for him, Stefan would have become an even bigger stick in the mud with no sense of fun), Damon had taken the first opportunity he had a that morning to plan their escape. Unfortunately it wasn't without its consequences; when Stefan started sniffling and developed a high fever, Damon was severely punished, and had not been allowed anywhere near his brother's sick bed (at least, not while everyone was still awake). At night, he would creep into the nursery where his brother lay, and whisper how sorry he was, praying that he would recover. Obviously Stefan survived, but it was still something that haunted him to this day. If Stefan had died, Damon never would have forgiven himself.

On the battlefield he saw more death than anyone could handle. There were boys no older than Stefan, suffering from horrifying injuries and diseases, and the stench of death had been everywhere. He left for good after watching some of his closest childhood friends die pointless deaths for a cause he didn't believe in. Katherine had a lot to do with it too. Hearing the men talk about their girls back home, only to die the next day, had convinced him that deserting was a small price to pay in order to ensure he returned home safely to the beautiful woman who (he thought) loved him. It was after he told her his reason for coming home that she'd shown him her world; a world where he would never be parted from her; a world where death could not touch them. A world where he could literally spend eternity with the woman he loved.

When he woke to find that she'd been trapped in the church that was now consumed in flames, he'd made the decision to die without another thought. He'd prepared himself for it; accepted it. She was gone, after all, and he'd only chosen this path to be with her. But when Stefan awoke soon after, he had felt the sting of betrayal (from both of them) and dying was no longer just about losing her; it was about turning off the painful ache in his chest.

He faced death every day after Stefan forced him to turn; Stefan took to the life of a cold-blooded and ruthless killer, scattering the bodies of the founding families wherever he went, and enjoying their anguished screams as he ripped into their throats. It was too much for Damon to handle, watching his brother become this monster with a relish for the hunt and the kill, so he'd left. It wasn't until he let the frustration and anger consume him that he realized just how easy it was to turn off the guilt.

He's killed indiscriminately, mostly because he was pissed off at the victim, and partly because he liked it. It was a relief for him; not to feel, not to care. He killed Isobel because she'd asked him too, and because she was miserable. He hadn't known all the details, nor had he cared. He felt he was doing her a favor. Death was the inevitable conclusion to end a lifetime of misery and suffering; it's why he killed Vicki Donovan, too. Well, that, and because he was bored and wanted someone new to wreak havoc with. But that's all changed now; he's changed, and the one thing he's come to realize is this: Dying sucks; but it's easier if you're not alone. He didn't understand when his mother died, why his father had been so cold to him. Why he would resent him just because his mother wanted him in her last moments, why she'd insisted that she only have her boys with her, and not her husband. He does now. She wanted to be with those she loved most, and in a time when love was almost unheard of in marriage, the closest she had to that were her sons. For him, it's Elena. It's kind of a double edged sword, because he loves her so much and knows that she'll never return those feelings. But none of that matters, because soon he'll be gone and she'll live happily ever after with his brother, because that's the way it's supposed to be.

He was never meant to get the girl.

For the time being, however, he can be content that she's here with him, and in her own words, she's not going anywhere; she'll be with him until the end. There's still a part of him that wishes she would leave, because he doesn't want her seeing him like this. It's pathetic that this is how it all ends; he was supposed to go out in a blaze of glory, preferably taking a few enemies with him; not lying here in bed with a fever and having Elena tend to him like he's a sick child that needs comforting. Elena presses the cool washcloth to his skin, mopping the sweat from his brow, and whispers to him that there's still hope; that Stefan will find a cure. He doesn't have it in him to tell her it's not going to happen; that he'll be dead within the hour.

There's just so many things he wishes he could say to her; so many things he needs to make right, and he knows he's running out of time.

"I've made a lot of choices that have gotten me here," he tells her. "I deserve this; I deserve to die."

"No," Elena says firmly, her voice quivering slightly as she turns her body toward his. "You don't."

He smiles because to the very end, she sees more in him than he's capable of seeing in himself; she still believes he's good, even after everything he's done.

"I do, Elena," he sighs, "it's okay; because if I had chosen differently…I wouldn't have met you."

He expects her to pull away, or at least tell him off for his deathbed confession when she's still not convinced that Stefan won't find a way to save him; but she doesn't.

"I'm so sorry; I've done so many things to hurt you."

His vision is beginning to blur, but he still manages to spot the tears slowly making their way down her cheeks. "It's okay," she replies softly. "I forgive you."

It's as he's looking into her eyes, that he realizes he can't die without first telling her how he feels; and she needs to remember it this time.

"I know that you love Stefan," he rasps, (and he tries not to read too much into her taking his hand in hers and snuggling into his chest) "that it will always be Stefan...but I love you. You should know that."

Her body trembles ever so slightly with the force of her silent tears, and she squeezes him tighter, as if afraid to let go.

"I do," she whispers.

He smiles, thinking of how different things could have been if he'd met her first, or if she'd been born in his time; when he'd been softer, sweeter, and worthy of her.

"You should have met me in 1864," he sighs, trying to be flirtatious and playful even though he's so tired, and his voice is almost gone. "You would have liked me."

The weight of her body shifts as she lifts her head and looks at him with a soft smile on her lips.

"I like you now," she breathes softly. "Just the way you are."

It's enough for him; to know that she doesn't hate him for all the things he's done, and to know that he was accepted, and he was loved. So he closes his eyes, ready to let sleep overtake him...and then he feels it. The softest brush of her lips on his, in a bittersweet kiss that feels to him as much of an admission that yes, she does love him (and always will), as much as it is a goodbye.

Their tender moment is interrupted by the most unlikely source, and they both turn their heads toward the direction of the voice.

"It's me you should be thanking," Katherine drawls, holding up a glass bottle of dark blood. "I'm the one who brought the cure."

Elena scrambles off the bed, allowing the unlikely heroine of the day to step closer; but not without Katherine first expressing surprise and consternation that Elena is still alive. Ordinarily, Damon would express his disappointment that she survived, but the fact that she's here at all, and that she has the cure, is enough to stun his normally sarcastic tongue into silence.

"You got free," he says instead, surprised.

"Yep; Klaus let me go." she confirms, tilting the bottle toward his parched lips. It's a little bitter, and has this disgusting tang to it (like he's dining on puppy blood) but he drinks it down obediently.

"And you still came here?"

"I owed you one." She pats his cheek in a way that once used to make his heart leap into his throat, but now, he feels nothing but gratitude. He decides that he made the right call after all, when he'd decided to give her the vervain, and that maybe she's not as much of a heartless bitch as she would lead people to believe.

Not that he's looking to forgive her completely and make her his new bff or anything, but maybe he'll consider not staking her on sight the next time she decides to drop by unannounced.

There's one thing he's curious about though...why is she here, and not...

"Where's Stefan?" Elena finishes his thought.

"Are you sure you care?" Katherine quips in her sing-song voice. Then she holds up the half empty bottle and her tone is more somber. "He's paying for this; he gave himself over to Klaus."

Damon listens intently, furrowing his brow in confusion, because what the hell does that even mean? He wishes that this miracle cure worked a little faster, because he has a feeling he should be tracking his brother down now, while he still has the chance; because whatever Klaus wants Stefan for, it can't be good.

"He just sacrificed everything to save his brother," Katherine informs Elena, and Damon doesn't have to see her face to know that she's gloating when she adds "including you," "good thing you have Damon to keep you company," and, to make an awkward situation even worse, she adds, "it's okay to love them both; I did."

And then she's gone, and all he can do is look up at Elena, whose expression is unreadable at the moment. She looks shocked, horrified, and worried all at once, and he wishes he could wrap his head around everything that's happened in the past forty eight hours, but he can't.

He mutters something about "needing to take a shower" and essentially locks himself in the bathroom. The cool spray feels good against his still-slightly overheated skin, and he stays in there far longer than it takes for the smell of sweat and sickness (and death) to leave him and be replaced by the spicy scent of his shampoo and body wash.

He closes his eyes, trying to drown out the sound of Elena's voice as she starts calling up the few friends and family that might actually care that he's not dead; even though the one person who truly needs to know this bit of information is missing (and presumably off the wagon, though he doesn't want Elena to know that).

The irony is that there was a time when Damon had wanted this; he'd had more than a few fleeting daydreams about Stefan falling off his pedestal, and leaving a devastated Elena behind...and of course Damon's always there to pick up the pieces in these fantasies.

He should be happy about this turn of events; but he's not. Because with Stefan MIA, Damon is left to clean up any mess left behind in the wake of his brother's self-destructive turn. He's facing months of chasing down any possible leads, burning the bodies of the many unfortunate victims, covering Stefan's ass so that any rogue vampire hunters don't come after him, and of course waiting for the first opportunity that comes his way so he can drag Stefan back to rehab. The only problem is that it's not just him that Damon has to worry about (unlike the decades before, when the only thing he had to think about was keeping off Stefan's radar while tailing him across states and continents). Now he also has the fun task of keeping Elena, and the rest of their band of misfits (save for Ric) out of the loop while he tracks his brother's every move through gruesome "animal attacks". And if it's anything like the 1920s in Chicago...well, he doesn't really want to think about that right now. He has a girl to protect, and though he's anxious to find his brother, his priority right now is to keep Elena safe and blissfully ignorant to the horrible massacres that are sure to take place in the next few days (without giving her false hope that Stefan will be coming back any time soon).

So, he takes a deep breath, that he doesn't actually need, (but is calming, nevertheless) and shuts off the water, ready to finally face the uncertain future.