-1Elena could barely breathe as Ric ushered her toward his SUV. "We should go back," she choked looking over her shoulder into the dark abyss of trees. "Damon needs help." She still couldn't get Stefan's angry face out of her mind. It was worse than anything she had ever seen from Damon. What had started out as a normal day, had turned into her worst nightmare as Klaus arrived at her school. But what was worse, was what he had done to Stefan. The look in his eyes, she would never forget. It would haunt her forever.

"No," Ric said firmly. "We wait 5 minutes for him then I have to get you out of here."

Her stomach dropped at the thought of leaving Damon behind. Damon was strong, but Stefan… she wasn't sure Damon was strong enough to take on Stefan at his absolute worst. "Stefan is out of control!" Elena cried. "He could hurt Damon. Or worse. He needs help Ric." He needed her. And she couldn't believe how badly she come to depend on him. Things between them had been different since Stefan left, but a good different. A different that she so badly wanted to explore. But something kept holding her back.

Ric stared at her with a sad expression. "You really love him," he said, folding his arms. "I told Damon to stay away from you and give you some space, but clearly that's not what you want."

"What should I say?" Elena asked, tears stinging her eyes. She could never imagine space from Damon, it'd be like losing her arm. "That I don't care about him? That he doesn't keep me from losing my mind? That he hasn't been here for me all summer, as my friend without pushing me? Should I lie Ric? Should I say that he means nothing to me?"

"He's not going to replace Stefan," Ric said. "And you would just hurt him more if you tried to do that to him. For some… unknown reason he's my friend Elena. And I know how much he cares about you."

"I know," she said staring at the dirt for a moment. There was a loud bang in the distance and her eye widened in horror as the flames rose over the trees. The house she had been held captive now totally engulfed in flames. Her heart nearly stopped. The house that Damon had been to save her life, was now burning profously. "Damon!" she screamed, ready to take off to help him.

Ric held her arms steadily as he watched the scene, as Elena clung to his arms, her body trembling. "We have to go," he said turning her towards the car.

"No!" she screamed, trying to twist out of his grasp. "We can't just leave him there. He could be hurt." But Ric wouldn't let her go. She didn't even flinched as the sky opened up and drenched them in rain, doing nothing to calm the flames. She felt her stomach churn painfully at the thought that Damon was dead, but then, she saw him. He was limping a little from the woods a few burn marks on his face, but otherwise okay.

She shoved away from Ric and broke through a run and he met her half way. She remembered when they had come to rescue her from Rose and Trevor, how she had felt seeing Damon waiting at the bottom of the stairs. If Stefan hadn't intercepted her, she would have run to his brothers arms, just like she was doing now. She could hear him whispering her name over and over in her ear as she locked her arms around his neck, sobbing into his neck. She was safe, he was safe. Relief didn't even begin to cover what she felt.

Damon scooped her up and headed back to the car where Ric was waiting for them. "Thanks," he said.

"Let's get out of here," Ric said climbing into the driver side.

Elena climbed into the back seat and Damon slid next to her, immediately pulling her back into his arms. "Are you okay?" he asked, as her head secured itself under his chin. "Did he hurt you?" His hands moved over her back, and she could feel her heart starting to slow down.

She shook her head a little. "No I'm okay," she said sniffling.

His muscles seemed to relax under her and he leaned his head back against the seat. "Never letting you out of my sight ever again," he murmured.

She nodded against him. "Okay," she agreed. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you." Damon had tried to tell her before that they couldn't help Stefan but she just couldn't give up. But it was different now. Stefan had turned on them, on her. She wasn't safe anymore.

"Shhh," he said kissing her hair. "You're okay and that's all that matters."

Her body trembled, whether from the cold or from emotion, she didn't know. "I don't feel good," she whispered, as the car started spinning. She closed her eyes and buried further into his embrace, but it did little to ease her stress. She wasn't usually weak and she didn't usually get sick but everything was catching up to her. For once she didn't care. All her emotions were running rapid in her head, making her so confused, but all she could think about was being in Damon's arms.

"We're almost home," Damon said.

"Is that a good idea?" Ric asked, glancing at them in the rear-view mirror. She could only imagine what this looked like to people around them, but she couldn't keep her feelings bottled up anymore. Not for anyone. Not when everything was falling apart. She needed to be able to openly rely on Damon, otherwise, they would have another fight and she did not want that. "Stefan's got an invite."

"He's got an invite everywhere," Damon said, softly. She felt a pang of guilt that she had gotten everyone to trust Stefan like she had, and he had been invited into everyone's home. Everyone's. But there had been so many secrets between them, and it was too late to change it. "But he won't be moving any time soon. It would be in his best interest to never come near Elena again. I won't hold back next time."

"You didn't kill him?" she asked in mild surprise. They were brothers and on some level she thought that always prevented them from killing each other, but she knew what Damon was capable of when he was protecting people. He didn't waste time asking questions, he just acted. "But the explosion…."

"We were outside," Damon said. "Should have ripped him apart." The car came to a stop outside the boarding house. "Thanks Ric."

"Sure you two are alright?" he asked glancing over the back seat at Elena.

"Yeah," Elena said with a nod as Damon got out. "Just tell Jeremy I'll be home tomorrow." She took a step away from the car and instantly started spinning, her hand shooting out to steady herself against the car.

"Easy Elena," Damon said sliding an arm around her.

She got that weird feeling in her throat and pushed her body away from him to vomited the contents of her stomach in the grass. "I think I need to lay down," she mumbled, wiping her mouth. Her head was pounding, it was cold, and she was exhausted. This was most definitely not the most attractive thing to do in front of people and she was sure that tomorrow she would be horrified.

"I got you," Damon said scooping her up once more. He said goodnight to Ric and headed inside. "I'll start a fire upstairs and get you warmed up." She just rested her tired head on his shoulder as he made his way upstairs, for once deciding to just be with him and let him do this for her. Once at the foot of his bed he carefully set her down. "Can you stand for a minute?"

She nodded as her hand curled around the bed post. "I'm fine," she said through shivering teeth.

He started the fire and found her some dry clothes from the mess in Stefan's room. "I'm going to eat quick while you change. Just yell if you need me okay?" he asked, gently touching her arm.

Elena nodded and disappeared into the bathroom. She peeled her wet clothes off and slid into her warm pajamas, already feeling the tension easing from her body. She ran a comb through her tangled locks before going to stand in front of the fire. She smiled a little as a blanket draped over her shoulders. "Thanks."

His arms closed over her, rubbing her gently. He had never been so blunt with his affections towards her before, but for once, she couldn't seem to care. Tonight had been rough on both of them. Both needed comfort from the other. "You need some sleep," he said against her temple. "You're going to fall on your face."

Elena turned in his arms and snuggled into him. "Guess it's just us now," she mumbled, bumping her nose gently against his jaw.

"'bout time," he teased. "Come on. At least try to rest. We can watch a movie or something." He guided her to his bed and she happily slid under the covers her body relaxing against the mattress. Her muscles were already stiffening and she was sure there would be bruises tomorrow.

Elena glanced at him as he stretched out next to her. "This is never going to be over is it?" she whispered. Every time she thought it was over, something bigger and worse came up. Her life was always in danger along with those that she loved.

"What should I say?" he asked with a sigh.

"The truth?" she replied. She knew she could always count on Damon to tell her the truth.

"If he hurts you again Elena, I won't hesitate to kill him on sight," he said. "But we will find a way to end this. I will keep you safe."

"Klaus needs me to make his hybrids," she said with a grimace. "He's never going to leave me alone. And even if we find a way to kill him and bring Stefan home, it is never going to be the same. I'll always have that fear of him, and you can't love someone you're afraid of."

"Are you afraid of me Elena?" Damon asked softly pushing a stray hair away from her forehead.

She smiled and tangled her fingers with his. "Not at all Damon," she said softly as she curled against him. Damon would never hurt her, not like Stefan had. With the fire roaring across from the bed, and secured against his chest, she allowed her eyes to close. It had been months since she felt this safe and she didn't know what that meant for her and Damon, but she was going to find out.