**A/N: Sorry to those of you who read this the first time around, but I realized that I wasn't completely happy with the way this thing ended up. So I went back and changed a few things in the last section. Not too many, just a bit of tweaking to feel satisfied.**

This O/S is actually a mixture of two prompts for the Valentines(author2author) Exchange on LiveJournal. Thank you to bibi13 ca and hopelessromantic549 for the wonderful ideas.

Hope you guys like it!

Elena Gilbert's not a fan of Valentine's Day.

It has nothing to do with vampires or the riptide of their supernatural world sweeping her through its threshold. It doesn't even have to do with the fact that both Salvatore brothers have managed to wrangle her heart into an utter state of confusion, because she shared this opinion long before them. Even back when she considered her life traditional and she and Matt held the power couple position in Mystic Falls High, she loathed the holiday.

It's because she's never appreciated the mass marketed collections of gifts and cards generated to celebrate love. The whole charade's always felt absurd. If you love someone, you should tell them. Not on some designated day where others insist it's appropriate for grand gestures, but every day.

She lets out a deep sigh at the girl reflected back at her in the mirror and understands that if she'd listened to her own advice than maybe this Valentine's Day would be different. Because as much as she wants to blame the despair, currently swirling around her stomach, on the aformentioned reasons, she knows her hatred towards this particular February 14th has everything to do with the disappearance of a certain Salvatore brother.

She remembers the night of Klaus' ball vividly, as if it's a motion picture playing across a screen in an otherwise dark room, and in a perfect world she'd be able to place blame for all of this on the deranged hybrid. Unfortunately, she's learned long ago that the world she lives in is far from perfect and the only one she can place blame on for Damon's departure is herself.

She remembers him sweeping her around the dance floor in Klaus' mansion that night and the smile that lit up her face. He never failed to evoke the upward curve of her lips when in his presence. She knows that all too well now since she hasn't felt the comforting pull in weeks.

But she also remembers being swept into a side room by Stefan. The apology that she'd been yearning for finally leaving his lips and a declaration of love masking the previous chill in the air. She remembers being pulled under by the comforting reminder of his love and to this day she understands why. When you love someone as much as she loved him, it's easy to comprehend how simple it is to fall back into something; into someone. It's easy to push new feelings aside for the familiarity of what was there before and in that brief moment, she did.

For just one miniscule second, she let herself fall under Stefan's offer of an easier love; one that didn't send her hurtling through shades of grey and certainly one that didn't stretch her capabilities. She could handle Stefan's love, she's never been uncertain of that. Damon's on the other hand, well she's never been sure anyone could handle that type of devotion, let alone reciprocate it. The notion was terrifying.

But she remembers the moment directly before Stefan's lips came in contact with hers; the one where she realized there was nothing right about it whatsoever. His scent was off, the beat of her heart was too steady and her lids weren't drifting down to shut out the rest of their surroundings. And when his lips pressed slightly against hers, all she remembers is seeing Damon.

Not subconsciously, but literally, in the doorway watching them. His face no longer stretched tight from his typical smirk, but instead dripping with agony after the sight his eyes just beheld and the instant effect it had on her own emotions. Recently, they always seemed to reflect his.

She remembers desperately chasing after him, wishing that for once being a crucial part of this supernatural world gave her the same abilities he possessed. Naturally, she was no match for his speed, which placed a complete hour in between her departure from the dance and her arrival at the boarding house. And when she threw open his bedroom door; he was already in a compromising position with someone else.

Now, she can't bring herself to hate Klaus because every single terrible act he's executed has somehow led her and Damon into this dysfunctional claiming of each other's heart. But she can hate his sister for slipping under Damon's sheets and in between the delicate molds of their relationship. She stabbed Rebekah in the back; this was simply the original's way of repaying her tenfold.

She remembers arguing with Damon in the study, both physically and verbally slapping him for what he'd done. He screamed right back at her, his face mere inches from hers as the hatred and jealousy ripped through her. In usual fashion, he held nothing back, he's never feared that she can't handle what he throws her way and as a result, she released some brutal acclimations about his supposed love for her and how she'll never feel the same way; not after this.

If only she knew then the truth behind how inaccurate that proclamation had been.

And then she left as the sobs ripped through her torso and the tears streamed down her face, never acknowledging that that would be the last time she'd see him.

It was, of course. She hasn't seen Damon in 86 days.

And for the past 73 of them, she's revisited that night in her head. She's corrected her mistakes and revisited her lines to portray exactly why she was screaming at him the way she was. Hypocritically, she felt betrayed, jealous, disillusioned and allowed those emotions to blind her from why they sprouted in the first place.

As she watches herself in the mirror, Elena knows now that her actions had everything to do with the fact that she was in love with Damon and hadn't accepted it yet.

At the time, her heart was in a tangled state of disarray, uncertain of which path it should choose. The almost-human relationship Stefan was able to offer or the unconventional relationship Damon brought to the table. Her mind chose one direction, the safer option, while her heart chose the other, the option that scorched her insides. And unfortunately, she didn't realize which option she was incapable of living without until it was too late.

Now she knows.

Yep, the darker brother that initially tried to destroy the lives of so many that she loved, has somehow managed to complete hers. Regrettably, he's no longer around to do so. She made sure of that herself.

So she shakes her head and curses the day that reminds her of love because she doesn't need a reminder. All she needs is him. Either that or something to help her forget and since it appears she'll be receiving neither, she shakes her head and makes her way to the shower.

Caroline's standing in her bedroom when Elena re-emerges. There's a smile on the blonde's face that she hasn't sported since Tyler's departure from Mystic Falls. He's off curing his sire bond to Klaus and it's the main reason Elena doesn't force the blonde right back out into the hallway: they both understand the other's loneliness. Well that, and the blonde consists for one-half of her best friends.

"Why are you smiling?" Elena asks as she makes her way over to rummage through her dresser.

"Tyler's back," Caroline replies enthusiastically, causing Elena to feel both elation for her friend as well as slightly abandoned. "But also to give you this."

The blonde clears the few steps to Elena's side and hands her an envelope and single red rose.

"What is this?" she asks skeptically, feeling slightly nervous. Her heart isn't capable of handling a romantic gesture when the name Damon Salvatore isn't attached.

But the blonde just shakes her head with a conniving grin on her lips and squeals, "Just open it."

With the rose still in hand, Elena runs her fingers along the blindingly white paper, before removing the card inside. It's a simple 4 x 6 sheet of cardstock, which comes as a relief. She's not prepared for Hallmark conspired bears and kittens clutching hearts on a day like today.

But then she flips the sheet over and notices the three sentences scribbled in elegant cursive.

Tears have never suited you. Let me show you the way back towards the sun.

Head to Pearl's Dress Shop.

She stares at the black ink long enough for the edges to blur before finally raising her head to meet Caroline's anxious gaze. It hasn't rained a day since Damon's departure but she hasn't seen a ray of sunlight. How could someone possibly know that?

She jabs the envelope into the air and demands, "Who wrote this?"

But the blonde just sashays her hips back and forth with a giddy smile and replies, "I don't know."

"What the hell is this, Caroline?" Elena exasperates, this time with a little more heat in her voice. "I'm not trudging off on some romantic scavenger hunt towards a guy I have no interest in."

Caroline knits her brows and crosses her arms defiantly over her chest. "How do you know you're not interested in him?"

"Because the only one I'm interested in is off in some other town probably snacking on desperate bartenders," Elena scoffs in response. "You know that! So unless you can tell me it's from Damon, I have no intention of stepping foot outside of my door."

"Well, I can't tell you that," the blonde replies with a slight shrug of her shoulders.

She feels the hope she hadn't even realized she'd possessed instantly deflate. "Then I'm staying here."

"But I need you to do this," her friend practically begs as Caroline takes her hands in hers. "Would you please, for me?"

There's something about the desperation in Caroline's voice that's always held a firm grip on her heart. Her best friend has been through so much over the past year. From heartbreaks to immortal life to falling in love with sired hybrids, the girl's endured it all.

But while she wants more than anything to do this for her friend, her heart's incapable of accepting adoration from anyone else. God knows she's been too selfish with it in the past.

So she starts, "Caroline, it's just…"

But the blonde acknowledges the liquid forming in her eyes as she wraps her arms around Elena and coaxes, "I know." Elena embraces the comfort for longer than she really should, before her friend slowly pulls back and tries again. "But this could be exactly what you need."

"And how can that possibly stand true?" she asks, incredulous.

"Because maybe," she states softly, "this is the path you've been waiting to take."

She's not quite sure how her friend did it, but Elena finds herself inside of Pearl's Dress Shop. It probably had something to do with the incessant begging, eyelash batting, and plumped bottom lip.

She steps through the lines of dresses, searching for a clue that could possibly explain one of two things: why she's there or what she's supposed to do next. Sequins and colors line both sides, when a sales associate appears in front of her.

"Can I help you find anything?"

"This may sound crazy," she warns. Truth is, she already knows she's crazy for partaking in this charade in the first place. "But I'm looking for some sort of clue."

The clerk flashes her teeth in an exuberant smile and exclaims, "Oh, you must be Elena!" and before she has a chance to confirm the statement, the lady adds, "I'll be right back," and heads towards the back room.

She reappears a moment later, hands Elena an onyx dress, and shoves her into the dressing room. The fabric is smooth with a subtle bit of sparkle as she slips into it and when she turns around to take a peek in the mirror, she can think of only one person.

The dress screams of Damon's preferences and she knows that fact because it resembles the dress he picked out for her to wear the night of Klaus' ball. Obviously, this dress is a little less understated than the previous, but the similarities can't be ignored. She can see it in the lace detail across the bust and the slight twinkle of the hem.

And for a flickering moment, she allows herself to believe that this day leads to an epic meeting with Damon, before she realizes that this couldn't possibly be the case. Even if he was here in Mystic Falls, Damon wasn't one for this type of gesture. His romantic confessions were either desperate and impulsive, alcohol induced, or proclaimed on his deathbed. Romantic and cliché' didn't exactly fit under any of these categories and she once again wonders what the hell she's doing here.

It's impossible to ignore that the fit of the dress is immaculate, hugging her delicate curves in just the right way. She just wishes she felt as beautiful as the dress made her appear. And with one last glance at the mirror, she pushes the curtain aside only to find an envelope and box of chocolates waiting just outside of the dressing room.

She sighs, wondering how much longer she'll entertain herself with the idea of sticking this thing out until the end, before slipping the paper from the envelope.

Sorry the dress doesn't reflect your true radiance, but it was the best I could find.

Head to Martin's Wine Cellar.

The winery's walls are lined with bottles, all consisting of different shapes, sizes, and liquids. It's a little overwhelming at first, since Elena's never really been much of a wine drinker, but when she introduces herself to the sales clerk; it becomes more than apparent that her lack of insight isn't an issue.

She's led to a tiny room in back, where ten cups of wine and a tray of white-chocolate covered strawberries reside. And as she takes a seat at the elegant table, she's instructed to taste them all and pick her favorite. Everything's already been purchased, again, and although she feels a little guilty for sustaining this poor guy's wallet, she's incapable of resisting.

The aroma from the strawberries is too enticing to pass up, even after she's already popped half of the chocolate from the previous box into her mouth on the way over. She savors the mixture of acid and chocolate before sipping the first choice of wine. It's a white wine, which she finds much too light as it dances along her tongue and ultimately, after nine more tastes, settles for the Barbera wine.

It's a red wine, tasting primarily of plum and black cherry and Elena finds it all too ironic when the sales associate informs her its grapes are from Italy. But she doesn't get time to focus on that issue because the lady's already handing her a full bottle and another envelope.

She doesn't waste time fumbling with the white paper this time and instead just pulls the card-stock out.

I knew you'd choose the Barbera. It's velvety, sultry, and exceptionally unique; exactly like you.

Head to Retreat Salon & Day Spa.

Her mouth dangles slightly open at the notion that her mystery man apparently knows more about her tastes than she does. And for the first time that day, she notices the smile pull on her lips. It feels foreign on her skin and immediately she slams her lips back into their traditional straight line.

The first thing Elena notices when she walks into the salon is the lack of chemical smell. Instead, the air holds a trace of lilac and aloe. She's just taken her first deep breath of the refreshing fragrances when the hair stylist pops in front of her.

The tango this time is the same as the others. A simple introduction is all that's needed before the stylist bends over backwards to serve her. She's led to a swivel chair with a heart shaped balloon tied onto it's armrest that brings a fierce shade of red to her cheeks, and a catalog of up-dos is thrown into her lap. Another assistant moseys over and begins to pay attention to her feet, while she flips through the book of photographs. Ultimately, she sets the book aside and just tells the stylist to do whatever she pleases. It doesn't matter what her hair looks like anyway because there's no way in hades the guy at the end of this path will mind. Nor will she really care what he thinks.

Forty five minutes later, she's gazing at her reflection, admiring the simplistic appeal of the tight pull and classic diamond broach, when another envelope is handed to her.

This time, the script is written in crimson ink.

I hope you enjoyed yourself, but we've put this off long enough.

Meet me at 706 Ranchero Drive.

Elena's contemplated turning the car around about 24 times on her trip into the countryside surrounding Mystic Falls, but each time she flips the blinker and pulls into the median, something wills her to keep moving forward. So she does.

And it isn't until she pulls into the dirt driveway and steps out of the car into the frosty night air that she realizes that the chalet she's arrived at feels more like home than the house she grew up in. The sensation's oddly comforting as her eyes take in the wooden structure before her. The roof plunges on each side and windows cover 80% of the front, illuminating the lush grass of the front yard. It's a breathtaking sight, much more elegant than anything she'd be able to afford, but what her eyes seem to focus on isn't the house at all. Her attention is directed upwards at the stars punched throughout the night sky and she's instantly aware that it's the most mesmerizing image she's ever witnessed. That is, until the deep voice pulls her from the sight.

"I hope you feel as beautiful tonight as you always appear to me."

The voice is familiar, but it isn't until she detaches her eyes from the sheet of black above and slides them down to the figure on the front porch, that she lets herself believes he's really there. He's located at least twenty yards away, dressed in a black tux with a bouquet of red roses in hand, but his features are completely recognizable against any others. She hasn't gone a single night without some version of them appearing in her dreams. And after a few blinks of her eyes she realizes there's really no refuting it, he's there.

It's Damon; her knight in deceiving black armor.

Her breath hitches in her throat and all she manages to get out is, "Damon." It comes out at barely above a whisper, which is appropriate considering he's the answer to every single one of her prayers nowadays.

"The house is ours for the weekend if you want it," he states and she can't help but notice the insecurity in his voice. She understands why it's there, but it still marvels her whenever this side of him surfaces. It's a rare occurrence, one that only ever arises in her presence.

Her heart frantically beats in her chest and droplets of energized moisture develop in the corners of her eyes as she stares at him because now she understands why this place feels so much like home. It's exactly what he represents for her.

But more importantly, she feels the warmth of ecstasy swimming through her veins, offering the sensation that she's alive again because she knows he is. She hasn't realized how worried she's been about that uncertainty until this precise moment.

"It's you," she breaths out, still incapable of finding her voice as she pleads with her muscles to release from the hold they've locked themselves into. She wants to run to him, never wanted anything more in her entire life.

He takes her lack of speech and motor skills the wrong way and sets the flowers onto the ground. He doesn't begin to approach her but instead lifts his hands into the air as he begins, "I know that I've screwed up, Elena, so much more than I could ever attempt to rectify."

"Damon, I…" she tries to interject, begging her legs to cooperate so he wouldn't have to put himself through anymore self-inflicted guilt.

"Just let me get this out, before you say anything else," he interrupts with a dejected shake of his head and she stiffens. Clearly, he wants this moment and she no longer has the will to deny him anything.

He smiles weekly at her obedience and starts again, "We both know I've made a lot of bad choices in the past, but there's one choice I will never regret making and that's falling in love with you. I know that you might never feel the same way and as long as you're happy, I can live with that, but I just needed you to smile one more time. I haven't seen it in weeks and not knowing whether or not you're alright has been destroying me."

Damon then takes a deep breath and she's certain it has everything to do with the hyperactive thoughts shooting around his mind because oxygen isn't a necessity for him, like it is her. She's having a difficult time getting enough of it as he continues, "Every town I went, you were the only thing I could focus on and despite everything that's happened between us, I just want to take tonight and forget it all. All of the mess I've created and all of the havoc my brother and I brought into your life, just leave it behind. I'm apologizing, for it all, because you shouldn't be alone, not tonight, not ever."

"You didn't need to do all of this to get my attention, you know?" she insists softly, the familiar pull of a smile she hasn't felt in weeks, tugging at the side of her lips.

"I know," he acknowledges in an understanding tone; one that speaks of the century and a half he can claim to his name. "I just wanted you to feel special."

She doesn't miss the irony in this situation nor does she ignore her previous disdain for all gestures revolving around Valentine's Day. Somehow, when it comes to Damon, she doesn't have to because the disdain is no longer a factor. All she feels is bliss.

So she whispers, "I do," knowing full well that whatever falls from her lips will always be picked up by him, and decides to counteract his grand gesture with one of her own.

The bottle of wine slips from her fingers and smashes into a thousand tiny pieces, but she hardly notices. Then her feet propel her from the earth, and she takes off at a full sprint. She's well aware that the wind is probably making a general mess of her expensive up-do and the stride of her legs is stretching the seams of her exquisite dress, but she doesn't slow her speed.

She can't.

Because she running towards the man who's never seen himself in the clearest light. The one who's always loved her more than she could possibly comprehend, until now. God knows, she understands now because it's fixed itself into every figment of her body. She feels it in her chest, in the blood circulating through her veins, in the oxygen filling her lungs, and the marrow of her bones. She loves him, more than she's ever loved another and it's that fuel that keeps launching her forward.

Her ankles are twisting in the high heels she's never been able to master, but she keeps running. Nothing can stop her now because it's all too appropriate that the path she's taken led her to him and if she's honest, it's taken far too long to travel.

It's been anything but easy. Actually, it's been downright brutal; littered with too many broken hearts, lost moments, missed opportunities, heated arguments, and unrequited feelings to be considered anything but brutal. But it's been defining.

And as she takes her final step and throws her arm around his neck, she feels relief saturate through every limb. His hands slide around her back and she can't help but notice they've found themselves on a porch again. How is it that every critical moment of their relationship timeline has occurred on a porch?

"I'm so sorry," she whispers into the curve of his neck before breathing him in, craving his very essence in her lungs. Her hands clench around the tux that's momentarily replacing the leather jacket she's grown to adore and her grasp is tighter than she ever thought capable. She holds onto him for longer than she should, but they've been in such strict orbit around each other, always just a few inches apart and never connecting, and it feels phenomenal to finally spiral together.

She's been begging for this moment every night after all.

And when she finally gets the nerve to pull back, she lifts her hands to his face. Her fingertips slip over the divots and contours she's ached for throughout the weeks as she cries out, "I'm so sorry for everything I've put you through. I'm sorry for all of it. But mostly I'm sorry that it's taken me this long to get here; to stand here with you."

He smiles and there's more adoration shining from his eyes than her hearts ever been able to contain. He's loved her for so long now, without any reciprocation on her part, and she's drug him through hell. She doesn't understand what's made her worthy of this type of devotion, but she's prepared to spend however long it takes making it up to him.

Her hands find their way to his neck and she clutches on, desperate for him to understand the importance of her following words. "But I need you to promise me something, and this time, you can't back out," she pleads.

Damon's forehead moves to rest against hers and it's almost absurd how deep the blue of his eyes reaches as he proclaims softly, "Whatever you want is yours."

"You can't leave me again," she starts and there's liquid developing in her eyes, dimming the defined lines of his features now. "Because I love you. And you deserve to see it, just not for tonight but every day that follows. You've captured me and now it's my turn to prove it. So please, please promise me that you'll never leave me again."

His hands clench the light fabric of her dress as he admits, "I've never really been able to."

"Thank God," she breathes out and the smile that lights her face is large enough to force a tear down the side of her cheek, "because I love you, Damon."

The effect of those words is present in every arch and crease of his expression. There's never been a more grateful or deserving recipient of her love than the man standing before her. And pride swells in her chest at the concept that he's hers, in a way he's always been hers. Difference now is that she's finally accepted that she's his in return.

Then his famous grin slips up his face and he quips, "It's about time." His hand makes its way to swipe the tear from the side of her cheek and she finds herself responsively leaning into him. She always will.

He kisses her hair, her ear, her cheek before whispering into the flesh of her neck, "Because I've always loved you."

Then she pulls him into her, because frankly she can't resist colliding into him any longer. His lips mold around hers, the delicate yet possessive way she's always expected them to. He's never held back when it came to her, but there's something about her presence that evokes this tenderness from him.

She twines her fingers through the midnight strands of his hair and he pulls on the back of her waist so they're flush against each other. His tongue glides across the crease of her lips and, without hesitation, she allows him entry. And instantly she feels herself get ripped under the current of his love because this time there's nothing pulling on her conscious. No one's forcing an act that isn't desired on the other end, no one's seconds away from dying and there's no one else they need to worry about. It's simply the way it was always meant to be; just the two of them.

And when they finally pull apart, the tingles lingering on her lips and the hue of Damon's eyes are enough to take her breath away. Because this has happened, they've finally united.

She's grinning like a ridiculous schoolgirl when he lowers himself slightly to her level and caresses her cheek with the pad of his thumb. She sighs at the concept that these brief moments now have the capability of lasting an eternity, when Damon whispers into her ear, "But the night's just started and there's more for you inside."

And before she can respond, he's swooping her up bridal style and carrying her through the threshold of their romantic chalet. Her eyes fall upon the petals of roses littering the floor, the candles scattered on every flat surface and the table set for two towards the back room.

She gasps at the sight and before she can stop the words from escaping, she admits, "Thank you. It's beautiful. But I have to admit, I never expected all of this from you."

"Either did I," he admits through a low chuckle. She can feel the vibrations through his chest as he adds, "But someone once told me that love does that; it changes us. I guess this is what it's done to me."

"It most certainly does change us," she muses, more to herself that him because there's no denying that truth. She's brought out the humanity in Damon, his tender side that cares more that he really has any idea how to manage. But he's also changed her, made her stronger, taught her to fight for what she wants and circumstances she wants to change. She finds it almost ethereal that they've finally met in the middle.

She's momentarily lost in her realization when the warmth of Damon's breath starts seducing the edge of her ear. The tone of his voice is deep, resulting in tingles dancing across her skin, as he declares, "Happy Valentine's Day, Elena."

Her head moves to rest against the portion of his chest where his heart resides. She knows he has one, there's absolutely no doubt in her mind. And for the first time since she can remember, she doesn't hate this holiday or the grand gestures that seem to ensue because of it. She honestly can't recall a certain instance where she's felt this blissfully at ease and she knows it has everything to do with the man cradling her in his arms and the holiday that brought them back together.

So she smiles up at him and replies, "Happy Valentine's Day, Damon."

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