A/N: This story has been knocking around my head for a while, so insistent that I'm actually starting to dream about it, and it's been making it hard for me to concentrate on my other stories. So, I thought I would try to write it down, in the hopes that I might get a bit of peace, LOL. I have been wondering how much Elena can take, before she eventually breaks from all the grief and stress that she has to deal with, and I think, if Damon had died, we would have seen her break then. So, this is my version of how Elena would have coped - or not - had Damon not survived the werewolf bite. This first chapter is a prologue, cataloguing everything that happened during the season 2 finale, from Elena's POV. The aftermath of that will follow. I'm really not sure about this story, so any reviews you could give me would be greatly appreciated!

There are five stages of grief. Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; Acceptance.

But what happens if you never reach that final stage?

I haven't slept in days. A couple of hours here and there, but since the night of the ritual not even a moment. Because sleeping would mean closing my eyes. And I can't do that. I can't close my eyes, because I know the images that would start to replay the second I do. So I don't sleep. Instead, I wander around the house, trying not to think about all the people that I've lost. Of course I think about them anyway.

I'm watching Jeremy sleep. I stand here outside his room, looking through the open doorway, and all I can think is that this is my fault. He's all alone now, and it's my fault. He says at least he has me, but I know that's not enough. He needs a family, and one adopted sister who is actually his cousin isn't exactly a normal recipe for a healthy family unit. I shut his door quietly; I don't want my restless wanderings to wake him. At least one of us is getting some sleep in this house.

I turn, and I see the door to Jenna's room is open. Jeremy must have gone in there for something. Or maybe Alaric. It must have been for something important, because they have both had as much trouble as me even walking past her room recently. I peek inside for a moment – I have to force myself to do even this small thing – and I see the framed photograph of Jenna and Alaric on her night stand. She was so close to having a fantastic life. Guilt washes over me again; guilt for not telling her about my life sooner; guilt for not protecting her better, for not preparing her more. I shut the door and turn away.

"That'll get easier. But you know that."

I'm surprised to hear him, but at the same time, there's a part of me that knew he was there. It's like a weird sixth sense that has developed inside of me over the past months of knowing him. I'm not sure that I like it. I see the look on his face, and I know why he is here. I don't want to talk about it, don't want to deal with it. I'm struggling enough with my own guilt, I'm not strong enough to absolve him of his.

"What do you want, Damon?" I ask him anyway, because I know he won't leave until he's said what he has to say. He's the most stubborn person I've ever met, and it drives me crazy.

"I want to apologise."

I shake my head at him. I really can't deal with this now. "Damon –"

"Please. Elena feeding you my blood I was wrong."

"Yes, you were." I say, because he was. Taking that choice away from me, the choice that he himself was denied, was a betrayal of the trust between us that we had worked so hard to build.

"And I know I don't deserve your forgiveness, but I need it."

His eyes are pleading with me to give him that, but I'm not ready to. I know I will eventually though. I've already tried going down the root of cutting him out of my life, telling him that he'd lost me forever. It didn't last. I don't know why, but sometimes I feel as though this man could break me into a million pieces a thousand times over, and I will still forgive him. I wish I knew why that is.

"And I need some time. Maybe a lot of time." I say, because although I know I'll forgive him, I don't want to give him that just yet. I know it's cruel, but a little part of me feels better knowing that I'm not the only one drowning in grief right now. I know I'm using him to make myself feel better, but if he knew, he'd let me have that. He forgives me for everything too.

"Sure, of course. Take all the time you need."

He smiles at me, and then he's gone. A part of me wonders where that tenacity of his is hiding, why he didn't stay and push me like he normally would. Giving people space is not something Damon Salvatore is known for. The bigger part of me is still consumed with my own feelings though, so I don't give it too much thought. There'll be time enough for that later, I think.

Caroline called and told me to meet her in the town square. There's going to be an outside showing of Gone With The Wind, and she has decided that we should all be there. I drag Jeremy along with me; he needs to get out of the house. We both do. Caroline brings the food and I bring the blankets. It might seem weird, that a vampire who doesn't need to eat should be the one in charge of the human sustenance, but we've been friends for so long that some traditions just won't die out. I can't cook, so Caroline and Bonnie have always done the catering for our get-togethers. We pick a spot and get settled, waiting for the sun to go down and the movie to start. I'm looking forward to it. I need the distraction.

A shadow falls over the blanket and I look up. There was a time when even just noticing Stefan from across the room would make my heart pick up speed. I wonder vaguely when that reaction stopped, but I'm too numb with grief to give it too much thought. I can muster up enough strength for annoyance at his arrival though. He knows today was supposed to be a day off from all the many problems in our lives, and I can tell by his expression that he's come to talk about them.

"Look who couldn't resist an epic romance." My voice is almost dripping with sarcasm, but I don't really care. I wanted this day for myself, and he is ruining it.

"Will you come take a walk with me?" Stefan signals me with his eyebrows, and I sigh inwardly. I really don't want to talk about things right now. I go with him though, because I can see that I don't really have much choice.

"You're breaking the rules, you know." I say as we wander among the trees. "Movie night is supposed to be a distraction. Tomorrow we can return to our regularly scheduled drama." My tone is still a bit sarcastic, but I can't seem to make it stop. I'm not sure I want to.

"I know, I wish this could wait, but it can't." Stefan's voice has an edge to it, and a sense of foreboding wells inside me. "Listen, um, the other night when Damon was helping Caroline and Tyler, something happened." I stare at him, not having a single idea where he might be going with this. What did the other night matter? "Tyler was starting to transform... and Damon was bitten."

I stare at him harder. How is that possible? Werewolf bites kill vampires, and Damon can't die. Even the idea of that is... unfathomable.

"What? Is he gonna..." I can't even finish the sentence out loud, that is how impossible this situation is.

"Yeah." Stefan nods his head once, and his gaze drifts downwards.

For a moment, I can't think, and then all of a sudden, another wave of guilt, bigger than I have ever experienced, comes crashing over me. I told him I needed time.

"Oh my God. He came to the house this morning, and tried to apologise. I basically slammed the door in his face!" I am so horrified with myself, I can't even think straight.

"He told me not to tell you but I figured if you wanted to talk to him... I wouldn't wait."

The grief pouring out of his eyes in that moment pulls me out from under my own feelings. "Stefan..."

"It's not over. There might be a cure. But I have to find Klaus to get it."

So I can lose them both? Is he insane? "No, he's going to kill you!"

"No, he had a chance to kill me, but he didn't." Stefan sighs and looks imploringly at me. "Whatever Damon's done, whatever's led him here, I'm the one who made him become a vampire in the first place. So if there's a chance for a cure, I owe it to him to find it."

I hug him, partly to relieve some of his guilt, but mainly to try and push down my own. Because he's wrong. Some of the things that have led Damon here is down to me, and I know it.

"Go talk to him. Tell him that there's still hope."

I nod and let him go, and all I can think about is getting to Damon. Because this isn't actually happening. If I can just look at him, look into those bright blue eyes of his, then I'll be able to see that I'm right. This isn't happening.

Night has fallen by the time I arrive at the Boarding House. Alaric's car is there; Stefan must have told him about Damon too. I get out of the car and I know that he's still here. That subtle little click in the base of my sternum whenever we are in proximity to each other goes off. I sense something in the bushes, and I wonder if that's why I can sense him. Maybe he's out here, waiting to tell me that it's all been a misunderstanding and he's fine. I look around and see nothing, but when I turn back, someone grabs me. Before I can yell out, Sheriff Forbes puts a hand over my mouth, holding me so I can't get away.

She hands me over to one of her deputies, who walks me down the driveway and into a police car, hidden in the bushes. He drives me to the station, ignoring my questions and pleads to be let out. I am plonked into a chair outside the sheriff's office, and told to wait until Liz gets back.

I sit there, alternating between anger at my treatment, and desperation at my need to find Damon. He needs me, and I need to get to him. Finally, the sheriff walks in, and I follow, hot on her heels, demanding answers.

"Where's Damon? What have you done to him?" She has to have done something. I can feel my anger bubbling just underneath the surface.

She looks at me with something like disgust on her face. "Why do you even care? You know what they are, what they do."

I take a deep breath. Temperance is needed for this situation. "I understand why you hate them, but you're wrong."

"They're murderers Elena! End of story."

No they're not, actually. In fact, they often do much more to keep this town safe than you ever could. I open my mouth to say this exact thing, but we are interrupted by another officer.

"Damon Salvatore was just spotted outside, entering the Grill."

Desperation takes over me again, now that I know where he is. "Wait. You have to let me come with you." I plead. "He's sick, he's not himself."

Sheriff Forbes looks at me before turning to the officer. "Keep her here."

The man nods, and before I can even open my mouth to protest, the door is slammed shut and locked, holding me prisoner. I pace the room for what feels like hours, worry for Damon so acute that I'm finding it hard to think. The adrenaline coursing through my veins is so acute it's almost painful, and I lean over the back of a chair to catch my breath. And that's when an idea comes to me. I move to the window and rip open the blinds. Then I grab the chair and swing it as hard as I can, smashing the glass. I know I don't have long; the deputy left in charge of me will be in here at any moment, so I get up on the sill and jump out. Now I just have to find him.

I run through the square. I know he has to be here somewhere. He had been at the Grill only a few minutes ago, and I know him well enough to know that they wouldn't have caught him. I turn around on the spot, desperation creeping in again, but just as I do, that little click in my chest happens again.


His voice is hoarse, and when I spin around, it is all I can do not to fall to the floor on the spot. He looks so bad. He sweating and stumbling and whispering. This person in front of me is not my Damon Salvatore. My Damon is beautiful, swaggering and loud. I run up to him and put my arm around him.

"Come on, we need to get you out of here, let's go." I look around, terrified that a police officer will see us.

"Where are we going?" He leans on me, and suddenly there's a faraway look in his eyes, and I realise that he's hallucinating, like Rose did. He trips over his own feet and falls, and he's too heavy for me to hold up.

"Relax. We need to get you out of here." I'm trying to convey to him the danger he is in, but he's too far gone to notice. He looks up at me, and I know he's not really here. His mind is somewhere else completely, and I start to feel afraid. I'm not afraid of him, just the situation. It's been a long time since I've been scared of him. I'm not sure I ever really was.

Out of nowhere he suddenly rushes at me, slamming me into a wooden trellis with lights strewn around it.

"I choose you, Katherine."

He leans towards me, and I know now what he thinks he's seeing. "Look at me. It's Elena. It's Elena." I'm trying to get through to him, but I'm having no effect. Deep in the back of my mind, that hurts a little. I've always been able to get through to him. "No. Damon, no." I'm trying to push him away, but of course he's much too strong.

"I have to, if we are to be together forever."

He leans in, his face morphing into the vampire features, and I know what's coming. His fangs pierce my neck, and the first pull of blood hurts. It's in the same place as Klaus bit me two days earlier, and the skin is still sensitive there, but oddly, it doesn't hurt as much as I was expecting it to. It doesn't even hurt as much as when Stefan drinks from my finger. I have to stop him though, so I keep trying to get through to him, babbling almost incoherently.

"Damon stop. You're hurting me. Damon, you don't have to do this. Please stop. You're hurting me!" Fear that I won't be able to make him stop floods through me, and in that instant he pulls away.

He stares at me for a moment, and the look of pure horror on his face is more than I can bear. I feel yet more guilt, making him think that he was seriously hurting me, but I didn't know any other way to make him stop.

"Elena." He whispers my name, then falls to the ground, and I don't know if it's because he is too weak to stand, or if the thought of hurting me is too much for him to bear. I think maybe both.

I kneel down next to him, and whisper his name soothingly. His head falls forward, and I cradle him in my arms. I'm still looking out for police officers. We need to get out of here, now.

I manage to get him into Caroline's car – we have a spare for each other's cars, in case of an emergency (or just stupidity) – and drive him back to the Boarding House. I get him upstairs and lay him on his bed. He's kind of out of it; hallucinating again probably. I go into his bathroom and wet down a wash cloth, then stand by the bed, looking at him. I thought that this was what I wanted, that seeing him would take away all my fears and tell me that Stefan had been being over dramatic. But he wasn't. Damon is dying. The thought rattles around my head incredulously. This shouldn't be possible.

His eyelids flutter weakly and he stares up at me, wariness etched on his features, as though he's not sure he should trust what his eyes are telling him. "Elena?"

"It's okay, Damon." I lean over him, wanting him to know that it's really me and his fevered mind isn't playing tricks on him. "I'm right here."

"Elena, get out of here. I could hurt you." He waves his hand ineffectually, trying to shoo me away.

"No, you won't." I put my hand on his shoulder. Even the simplest touch between us has always been significant. It grounds us both, and it's something I have never experienced with anyone else before. "I'm here until the very end. I'm not leaving you." Of course, by the end, I don't mean his death, I mean the end of this weird illness that he will obviously recover from.

"Get out of here!" He tries to growl fiercely at me, but his sentence ends in a wracking cough that shakes his entire body. He puts his hand over his chest, and I scramble up onto the bed, putting myself behind him so I can hold him. I try to soothe him, making shh-ing sounds as I attempt to wipe the sweat off his brow. "It's okay," I say, over and over again.

"It's not." I hear him whisper. "It's not okay. All those years I blamed Stefan. And no one forced me to love her. It was my own choice."

I know he is talking about Katherine, and my heart aches at just how broken he sounds. I rock him slightly, and make more comforting noises.

"I made the wrong choice." He leans his head back to look up at me. "Tell Stefan I'm sorry."

I want to tell him he can say it himself, when Stefan comes back with the cure. I want to tell him that this isn't over. I want to shout at him for giving up too easily. But I can't, because he looks so broken. He needs me to be strong for him. "I will." I nod my head slightly, even though he can't see me.

We are silent for a moment, the only sounds in the room my soft humming and his laboured breathing. I wonder at that; he doesn't need to breathe, but he always does. When he gets angry, he breathes hard and fast; his breath hitches when he's upset; he hisses in a gasp when I get closer than I should. But I never really noticed until now how very human that makes him seem. Maybe that's why I've never really been scared of him.

He twists his body slightly, groaning. "This is even more pitiful than I thought."

I remember what Stefan told me to tell him. "There's still hope." I want him to believe this; I need him to start fighting this.

"I have made a lot of choices that have gotten me here." He says contemplatively. "I deserves this. I deserve to die."

He says this with such acceptance and understanding that I can't bear it. I scoot down the bed so I can look in his eyes. "No. You don't." I need him to look at me so that he can see the truth written on my face.

"He smiles slightly. "I do Elena, and it's okay. 'Cause if I had chosen differently I wouldn't have met you." I stare at him. How could meeting me possibly make up for all the pain he has suffered over the decades? "I'm so sorry. I've done so many things to hurt you."

The guilt from not letting him apologise this morning hits me again, and I shift slightly, needing him to see that I'm being open and honest. "It's okay. I forgive you." I'm not just forgiving him now. I've already forgiven him, for everything. It doesn't matter what he does. I'll always forgive him.

"I know you love Stefan, and it'll always be Stefan." The reminder of what I said to him that night makes me feel uncomfortable, and I can no longer look at him. Somewhere deep inside of me there is a need to refute it, to say that I didn't mean it. I don't know why I want to say this, so I don't. Instead, I snuggle down into his arms, reaching out and holding his hand on his chest, trying not to notice the thread note in his voice, or the way his ribs rise and fall so shakily. "But I love you. You should know that."

The tears start now. Stefan had told me, up on the mountain, how Damon feels about me, and I hadn't really been surprised. I would have had to have been blind not to notice the fire in his eyes that brightens only when he looks at me. On some level, I have known ever since the night they both rescued me from Elijah. I don't know why it hit me that night in particular.

I try to hold back the tears, because he needs my strength. I nod, and say, "I do."

"You should have met me in 1864." His voice is getting weaker. "You would have liked me."

I raise my head to look at him. Does he really think that? Does he really think that people don't like him now? That I don't like him now? "I like you now," I say, squeezing his fingers to make my point. "Just the way you are." And it's true. Everything about him is perfect. The sarcasm, the flirty comments, the eye thing he does. Everything is just right, and I couldn't imagine my Damon being anything different. I certainly can't imagining liking it more.

His eyelids flutter shut, and I panic slightly. I can't have him thinking I don't like him. Even if he is going to get better soon, the sheer vulnerability of him is breaking my heart, and the fact that he truly doesn't seem to think that he's liked is more than I can bear. So I decide to show him how much I like him, because actions have always meant more to my Damon than words.

I lean forward and kiss him. He's too weak to even respond, but it still doesn't stop the tingles that shoot from my lips all the way down to my toes. Suddenly I wish I had done this earlier in the day, no, earlier in our relationship. Because I need this. I need to kiss him and feel him kissing me back, I need him to know that this means something to me.

His eyes flutter, but stay closed. "Thank you," he breathes out, so quiet I can barely hear him.

I don't know what to say to that. I'm not even sure what he's saying thank you for. For the kiss? For staying with him? For telling him I like him? None of those things need thanking. I laugh slightly in my confusion, and say, "You're welcome."

He breathes out a long rattling breath, and I wait, my hand resting on his chest, for him to breathe in again. I think maybe he's fallen asleep. I haven't spent enough time with him while he sleeps, so I don't know if he continues to breathe while sleeping. Maybe he only continues with pointless respiration when he's conscious? I wait longer, my brain screaming something that I can't understand, because I don't understand what's happening.

After a while, I can't take it anymore, and I sit up, grabbing his hand and shaking it.

He doesn't respond.

I place my hand on his cheek, lifting his face from the pillow, trying to wake him up.

No response.

"Damon?" I whisper, trying to lift his eyelids to see those blue orbs staring back at me.

"Damon!" I shout, grabbing his shoulders and shaking them violently.

Still nothing.

I don't understand. I press my ear to his chest, while grabbing his wrist with my hand, trying to feel for a heartbeat. It's ridiculous, because he doesn't have a heartbeat, but I can't seem to make myself stop.

"No!" I scream, unable to comprehend what is happening. There are no tears now. Because this doesn't make sense. Damon can't be dead. He's my constant, the thorn in my side that reminds me that I'm still alive.

I'm straddling him now, my head still on his chest, one hand at his neck, the other holding his limp, lifeless hand. I close my eyes against the sheer impossibility of the situation.

"Please," I whisper against his shirt. "Please, don't leave me. I need you. Please."

The world around me is dark. There is no sound, no light, nothing. There will never be anything again. Damon is gone.

A/N: Yep, Damon dies, but that doesn't mean there will be no DE, because there definitely will be. Please, tell me what you think, and if you're interested to read more?