Disclaimer: I don't own The Vampire Diaries, the characters, etc.

Elena is not entirely sure why she's sitting in this class.

Sure, there are laws that require her to be here. And it would be rather pointless to go to high school for three years, only to not complete the fourth and sacrifice graduation. But where is her life really going to go, anyway?

She will always be hunted.

It's a truth she's come to accept over the past few months. No matter what, her life will never return to "normal". Her existence was never meant to be easy or average. She is a Petrova doppelganger, and she can't escape her own body.

She doesn't see the point in high school anymore, she doesn't see the point in college and a life of a stable career. She yearns for a family, if only to add to (never replace, only add to) the one she's lost, but hasn't she found that? Bonnie, Caroline, Alaric, even Matt and Tyler. They are, for all intents and purposes, her family. And Jeremy. She still has Jeremy.

Besides, could she really bring innocent people into this mess? Hadn't that been what she'd been trying to prevent, this entire time? Hadn't that been why she'd lied to Jenna until the bitter end?

Elena bites back the tears and curses herself for forgetting her coffee this morning. Her brain is foggy and she's exhausted. She hasn't slept in weeks; there are always dreams, and worse, actual thoughts about the reality she's trapped in.

Being tired always makes her broody.

A quick rap on a desk with a ruler shocks her out of her musings, and she looks up at her English teacher. This is the only advanced course she'd taken this year. She didn't want to be bogged down with petty AP homework when she had lives and a town to protect.

But English had always been her favorite subject, and it would have felt like cheating herself if she'd shunned it this year, too.

"Afternoon, everyone."

Random mumblings from her fellow students filled the room in answer.

Mrs. Banks smiles, and turns to write something on the board. "Before we read books, I want us to get active with them, first."

The teacher's hand moves swiftly across the board, spelling out in perfect cursive: T-H-E

"Kinky," some football player snickers, and everyone laughs.

Mrs. Banks chooses to ignore the comment and continues. "I want us to really get to know the authors of the books we read, to really understand what makes them tick and what inspires them to write the way they do."

Her hand keeps writing: C-O-D-E

"And no other author really provides us with such in-depth methods as Hemingway."


The Code Hero

Elena jots the heading down at the top of her paper.

"Over the course of the next week, we'll be studying this particular character sketch of Hemingway's." Mrs. Banks announces.

Elena's eyes stay on the clock. The good thing about this class is it's the last one of her day. That, and it's one of the rare few that Stephan isn't in. Not that he's been around since the night that they almost took out Klaus, but took out his "father" instead.

She can not say she misses him. His presence here had been like a heavy cloud, or maybe a snake, wrapping around her and squeezing the life out.

Eventually, the bell rings, and she breaks the speed limit twice when she leaves, just to get home and finally back into her bed.

"The characteristic of the Code Hero we're going to study today is called the Nada Concept. Anyone have any guesses as to what that means?"

Mrs. Banks is really trying hard, Elena has to give her that. She's relatively young in the teacher realm- she's only been teaching for five, six years or so- and she's still under the illusion that her students actually want to engage.

"No?" She forces a smile. "Well, nada is obviously Spanish for nothing. The idea behind this characteristic is that a code hero won't believe in any power outside his or herself. They won't believe that anything but themselves is controlling their own fate, or destiny, or life. No gods, no spirits, or other mystical forces."

Elena has to hold back a loud snort as she scribbles this information down.

"They go after what they want and formulate their own plans. They don't leave anything to chance." Elena writes this down, too.

"This also extends to the thought of an afterlife: code heroes won't believe in one, or at least doubt the existence of one. This way, they face death without hope for anything after, which Hemingway considered to be more brave than cowering behind false religious hopes."

This time, when the bell rings, Elena packs up her things slowly. Caroline asked her to wait for her by her locker, and if she's sucking face with Tyler and making up, Elena wants to give her as much time as possible to do so.

Just because she let her love go doesn't mean everyone should.

She's sprawled out on the floor of one of the sitting rooms in the Boarding House when Damon walks in, scotch in hand. The ice cubes tinkle against the glass, and Elena finds the sound almost comforting, in a weird sort of way.

Her books are strewn about her in a haphazardly. She's so sick of science.

Damon plops down on a couch, stretching his legs out and propping his head up on an arm. She doesn't see how he can drink lying down. She's never been able to. She's always choked, sucked the beverage down the wrong way.

Maybe it's a vampire thing.

Or a Damon thing. Most probably a Damon thing.

"Studying hard? Anything in there that might clue us in on how to destroy a psychotic Original next time he's in town? An extremely powerful acid, perhaps, that'll melt him right out of our hair?"

She offers him a small, amused smile. "No. But did you know that rocket fuel and toothpaste have a lot of the same ingredients?"

He doesn't answer, just rolls his eyes and downs a gulp of his alcohol.

She studies him for a moment; the way his black hair has gotten longer, just a bit. The way his shirt has ridden up to expose marvelously carved hipbones and smooth skin. The way his lips are a little wet from his drink, and the way his eyes glint silver in the low lighting.

It's late, she realizes suddenly. Almost eleven at night. She's been studying for hours.

She sighs heavily and begins to put her stuff away. First the science, then the math, then the books she's been reading in her spare time. Or intends to read when she actually has spare time.

Her eyes fall on her English notes. A few words pop out at her: themselves, gods, spirits, believe, nada.

She blinks, and then puts them away too. But it makes her wonder…

"Damon," she starts, and when she sees he's turned his head to look directly at her, she goes on, "do you believe in God? Or… anything?"

She thinks that maybe he'll just scowl, or make a joke. Instead, he stares at her in a way that makes her hot and cold all at once. Her blood begins to pound in her veins.

It's unnerving, the effect he can have on her at times. Always a reaction. Hugging him, hitting him, putting a hand on his arm, leaning her head against his shoulder, getting close enough that she can feel his breath on her.

Her heartbeat accelerating. Like right now.

She pushes the thought out of her head.

Finally, he says, "I believe in you. And depending on the day of the week, I believe in me. Does that count?"

She thinks of A Farewell to Arms, the case point Mrs. Banks had made when it came to the Nada Concept and Hemingway. Characters Catherine and Henry both declared that their religions were each other.

She blushes crimson and immediately feels gracious towards the lamps and the shady light they provide for hiding it. Catherine and Henry were lovers, and placing herself and Damon in their shoes, thinking of the ways they could worship each other…

"No," she manages, her voice cracking a little. She blushes some more. "No, that doesn't count."

"Come on. Dance with me."

She stares at him. That's all she can do. Clearly, he's lost his mind. The psychotic break that's been over a century in the making has finally happened.

"Damon. I am not dancing with you."

"Fine," he sighs in mock resignation. "Guess I'll just have to while away the weary hours by drinking myself into a coma."

She rolls her eyes. They're stinging. "It's three in the morning. And I have school tomorrow. Why don't you while away the weary hours by sleeping?"

Still, his comment reminds her of English class, in a weird way. Mrs. Banks had continued the topic of Nada today, and in doing so, had mentioned the symbolism of night.

"Night oftentimes symbolizes the concept of Nada. It's dark and lonely and depressing. It's also inevitable. Code heroes often find a way of avoiding the night time, and sleep. Staying up late, socializing, often drinking heavily. That's another characteristic of the code hero: always heavy drank."

She can't figure out why she's suddenly connecting all this to Damon. Must be how tired her brain is. After a full day of school, then a movie night with him, (that lasted way longer than it should have), she's so worn out she can't see straight.

Still, she thinks, as he pours his liquid out of his tumbler, he shouldn't have to drink himself into a coma.

"Fine," she hears herself saying. "Fine, I'll dance with you."

He grins and puts on the most upbeat song she's ever heard. They swing and whirl and do the most utterly ridiculous moves they can think of.

Before she even realizes it, she's laughing. Positively laughing her head off.

And she's happy.

Being with Damon makes her happy.

The realization jolts her to her core, and she stops moving. Stops breathing. Damon looks at her with concern. He gets this tender look on his face that she absolutely adores, she won't even deny it, she's too depleted.

"Elena? What's wrong?"

"I-" she begins to say I'm happy with you, but the statement isn't enough to capture how she really feels.

She stumbles, her eyes really burning now. She's so fatigued she's seeing spots.

Damon catches her- how is it that he always catches her?

"Sorry," she mumbles. "I'm just really, really tired."

"Stay here tonight," he says instantly. For some reason, the invitation that's frequently given, easily given, makes her feel warm tonight. Cared for.

She nods. "I was going to."

He walks her up the staircase, one arm thrown carelessly across her shoulders. She knows it's there to help her in case she falls again. He's trying to appear nonchalant but she can see the worry in his beautiful blue eyes, and she has the sudden impulse to lean over and kiss his neck, squeeze his hand, reassure him that she's really fine.

She realizes what she just indirectly admitted to herself, and begins to shake.

Damon notices. Of course he notices. "Whoa, whoa. Elena. Hey."

Had he always said her name like that? Like it was the most gorgeous note of the most gorgeous song in the universe?

She really needs to get some sleep.

"I'm fine," she yawns, tugging on his hand so that he has no choice but to follow her into the bedroom.

His bedroom. She eyes the bed warily, remembering the night he was lying there in her arms, dying. An ache slices through her chest so violently she almost gasps, and tears fill her eyes.

How would she have ever survived it if Katherine hadn't popped up with the cure? How would she still be breathing if after all the people she had ever lost, she'd lost Damon, too?

She realizes now that she could handle the loss of almost her entire family. She was hurt by it, beaten by it, shaken to the very foundation of her being by it. Pain unlike anything else had accompanied those losses. She'd survived, it though. She'd continued existing.

Stephan giving himself over, and her letting him go, had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done. But all things considered, she was okay now. It was over, in all senses of the phrase. She was through chasing a ghost. She was through holding on to an apparition. She could handle losing him.

But she would never have been able to handle losing Damon.

"Ssh, Elena, shh," Damon hushes her. "You're okay."

He envelops her in his strong arms.

The tears drip out in spite of her, and she hates them, but they won't stop. She feels safe, nestled there against Damon's chest, and she seems to throb all over, knowing that she's the most important thing in his world. That she is his world.

It feels good to be held like this. To be held by him.

"I'm only okay because you're okay," she chokes out, almost incoherently.

He stiffens and pulls away, holding her away from him by her shoulders. She can't bring herself to meet his gaze for more than a few seconds. Then she glances down and wipes at her wet eyelashes.

"I'm sorry. Really. I'm sorry, I'm just so tired, it's been such a long day. I don't know what's wrong with-"

"Nothing's wrong with you. I kept you up too late. I'm sorry, okay? Stop apologizing. Come on, let's get you into bed." He leads her over to his bed. They've slept in the same bed so many times before, it's almost second nature now. She's reminded of the night she'd told him that he'd be the one to save Stephan.

She strips off her t-shirt to reveal her tank top underneath, glad she'd worn yoga pants to school in anticipation of the movie night.

To her surprise, Damon doesn't crawl into the huge bed after she does. He bends to kiss her forehead, then turns to leave.

An irrational sort of panic hits her. She can't sleep alone, in his bed, without him. It wouldn't feel right. She'd think of him almost dying and-

"Damon!" Her voice comes out more anxious and urgent than she wants it to. He turns around instantly. "Stay. Please."

His eyebrows raise a little bit. He holds up a finger, then disappears into his bathroom. When he emerges, he's wearing only a soft pair of pants, without a shirt. Elena has to resist the urge to bite her lip and ravage him with her eyes. What has gotten into her?

He crawls in beside her, and without preamble, pulls her to him. She curls up against him, and drops off to sleep, feeling his soft kisses against the top of her head, over and over and over…

She misses school the next day. Instead, she sleeps for a long time by her standard- almost until eleven. Damon makes her food, and they take a huge blanket outside and spread it out on the grass.

They lie there and talk for hours, Elena soaking in the last warm rays of the sun of the season, and Damon sneaking intense glances at her when he thinks she isn't looking.

Caroline comes by after school with all her missed assignments. It's just like her to micromanage not only her own work, but Elena's too.

Elena smiles widely and thanks her, inviting her in for a snack and some gossip time. Caroline is delighted by this. Damon, not so much, but he goes upstairs and leaves them to it.

Caroline leaves Elena with twenty questions worth of math homework, a science essay, and a note from Mrs. Banks, written in that perfect cursive of hers:

All that was covered today was another characteristic of the code hero: he always has some sort of physical or psychological wound representing his weakness, and he always hides his emotions to the best of his ability.

Elena vaguely remembers the night before, when her brain somehow made a connection between code heroes and Damon.

She realizes that this applies to him to: the psychological issue of always feeling second best, of being the hated one, the rejected one.

And above all, he is always guarded.

"We're going to have a test tomorrow over the entire Code Hero concept," Mrs. Banks announces on Thursday. "So we need to go over the remaining two characteristics today."

Elena stiffens when her phone buzzes.

Hey. Me, you, an obscenely sized pizza? How bout it? I'm in a mood. -Damon

She grins at the text. No one dying. No one in danger. No crazed vampire, hell-bent on the destruction of her entire life or her home. Just Damon and pizza. She quickly types out her reply.

Sounds fantastic. I'll come to you? Have it ready, or did you want my wonderful assistance in making it? - Elena

"A code hero is very individual, a large nonconformist," Mrs. Banks is saying. Elena underlines the two key words in that statement on her notebook absently.

Your assistance is certainly not required, though it is desired. You covered in pizza sauce and mozzarella is a secret fantasy of mine. ;) -Damon

She almost bursts out laughing before remembering it's dead silent in the room, and there are silly rules in this building about texting.

Kinky, but I personally prefer chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I'll be over sometime tonight. - Elena

She knows he won't bother to reply to that, so she slips her phone back in her pocket and tries to pay attention.

"The final characteristic, though this is more of a statement, is that the code-hero doesn't always win, persay," Mrs. Banks goes on. "He is often the most noble, heroic, brave, compassionate, honorable character in literature, but is often overlooked. He can try, give everything his all, but it doesn't have to amount to anything. More times than not, there are no happy endings for code heroes; they don't always get the girl as some people like to say, even if he is what is best for her and she is what is best for him."

Elena doesn't comprehend a word of what her teacher has just said until she's finished taking notes on it all.

She's scanning back through her pages of notes she's taken over the last week; there's only seven minutes of class left, and she doesn't want to leave anything out before she takes her notes home to study for tomorrow's test.

The Code Hero

* The Nada Concept; no power outside of his own self (gods, spirits, mystical forces, etc), doesn't leave anything up to chance or "fate", takes things into his own hands. No life after death, faces it anyway, braver to face it than to cower behind false religions. Characters often find ways to avoid night time (symbolizes Nada Concept).

*Always heavy drunk

* Physical/ psychological wounds

*Tries not to show emotion

*Individual. Nonconformist.

*Doesn't always win. Honorable, compassionate, noble, brave. Overlooked, no happy endings. Don't always "get the girl," even if she's the one for him.

Elena feels as though she's been smacked in the face.

Reading through these notes, all she can think is Damon, Damon, Damon, Damon.

Who had been there for her, time and time again? Who had risked everything for her, including his own life, without expecting a damn thing in return? Who kept his scars and pain hidden, his vulnerabilities buried? Who was one of the bravest people she knew? Who always rebelled, always came up with different plans when things went wrong? Who wasn't afraid to be himself, even though he was convinced it got him no where?

Who loved her with every fiber of his being, and was constantly being rejected?

She thought of everything he had ever done for her. Flashes appeared in front of her eyes. Damon waiting on her at the bottom of the stairs when Stephan had first fallen for the bloodlust. Damon dancing with her and her feeling as though she was drowning. Damon showing up at the hospital when Caroline was on the verge of death and giving her blood to heal her. Damon staking Elijah and rescuing her from Rose and Trevor. Damon in the water with her when he had pushed her in when she'd marched off to Tennessee to find Stephan. Damon showing her the way to a vampire's heart. Damon asking her if she trusted him, when she had no one else in the world left to trust.

Damon looking at her in anger and frustration and hope and wariness and the fiercest kind of love ever offered to her.

A strange kind of weight was lifts from Elena then.

She is in love with Damon Salvatore.

He is her hero. He had been all along. She is the heroine, and he is her love. It's as clear to her now as the color of her own hair or eyes.

What's written on her petty, no-count English notes is him; there is a reason she had made those connections all week and it makes her hurt. How could she have ignored this for so long? How could she have not realized how truly amazing he is?

He deserves a happy ending. He deserves to get the girl.

The bell rings, and she sprints down the hall.

She bursts through the door of the Boarding House, shoving it open so violently it bangs against the wall.


He emerges from the kitchen and smiles questioningly. "Hey. I thought you were coming over later. Couldn't wait to get started?"

There's a part of her that wants to be serious about this. There's a part of her that wants to make this a big discussion and there's a part of her that wants to brood and consider every outcome and make this something heavy.

But it's not. This love she has inside her, this love that's steadily been building and building, has finally been recognized, and acknowledged, and felt, and it makes her feel as though she's full of light.

"Actually," she says, grinning, "I couldn't wait to do this."

She darts forward and throws her arms around him. She has just enough time to see his eyes widen before her eyes close and she presses her lips against his.

It feels so wonderful. So right.

He stands still, shell-shocked for a moment, before he enthusiastically grabs her waist and yanks her body against his. His hand fists in her air, and his other arm squeezes her so tightly she thinks her internal organs will fail. His lips expertly glide across hers, and she opens her mouth, eager for more. His tongue coaxes hers into his mouth, and he sucks on it and nips at her lips. She whimpers.

She rakes her nails lightly against his shirt-covered back, and he groans. He pulls back, trying to escape the onslaught of little open mouthed kisses she's planting on him now.

"Wait, wait," he manages to get out.

She sighs. She doesn't want this to turn into a discussion. In fact, the last thing she wants to do is talk. She wants Damon, in every way, always. Period. End of story.

His blue eyes search her brown ones. He strokes her hair back from her face and scans his eyes up and down her entire body, noticing the way her back curves in desire and her jeans cling to her legs in all the right places.

"What are you doing, Elena?"

She gives him a small smile. "I realized something today."

He raises his eyebrows. She stares at his lips. Those perfect, pink lips… Need courses through her, sizzles in her veins, boiling her blood. She wants to consume and be consumed.

"And what was that, exactly?"

"That I'm in love with you."

The words spill from her without effort, and she wouldn't take them back for anything. She stands in front of him, unashamed.

He stares at her for a good minute and a half, unmoving.

Then he whisks her upstairs. No conversation needed. No proof necessary. The look in her eyes is enough.

She's in love with him.

He strips off her clothes much more slowly than she expected him to. He takes his sweet time, memorizing her body. He runs his hands over her like she's something holy.

He's beautiful in a way she can't describe.

"Say it again," he begs when he enters her.

"I love you."

"No," he shakes his head, the motion jerky. "Say it.. Say it like you said it before."

She arches her back, pushing him deeper, and moans. Nothing has ever felt as amazing as this. Bliss washes through her. "I'm in love with you."

He makes her say it over and over, gives her wave after wave of pleasure. And when they are finally forced to stop by their exhausted bodies, they lie there and tremble next to each other, kissing any bare skin they can reach with swollen lips.

"I love you, Elena. So much. You're-"

She places a finger against his mouth so he'll hush, and she smiles. "Say it like I said it. But only if you mean it."

"I'm in love with you."


"I'm in love with you."

Elena thinks blearily that the Nada Concept is wrong. Believing in each other does count, because there is nothing more sacred than this.