Elena may have just started on her road, but we're at the end of ours. I hope you've all enjoyed this story, that it's helped you get through the long hiatus, but this was always intended to only show the beginning of a love story, not the end. I can't begin to thank all of you enough for just reading this story, let alone the reviews, alerts and messages you've sent me. Truly, thank you. Special thanks go out to WildYennifer and onerepublicgirl, who both helped shape this story with our conversations, listened to me whine, and were generally all-around awesome.

If you've enjoyed this story, consider reading my ongoing story "Consumed," or adding me to author alerts. I have a few new ideas, and I'd love to share them with all of you. Thank you again.

-Allison, 3/14/2012.

She'd kissed him. It had been new and strange but familiar and right and all she wanted to do was to grab him by the collar and kiss him again and again. But a kiss didn't change anything, didn't alter the impossibility of all this, the impossibility of them.

When she'd fallen in love with Stefan, she hadn't known what he truly was, that he was a vampire, a ripper, a mass murderer. She hadn't understood the stakes of falling in love with him, that vampires play for eternity and they play for keeps.

But with Damon, her eyes had been open every step of the way. She'd chosen to be his friend, even after she'd seen his vampiric side, his impulsive violence and his casual cruelty. The choice even to extend her hand in friendship hadn't been an easy one, but she'd done it because he'd shown her what lay behind the monster. But was that enough? Was that enough for love? She didn't know. It was hard to breathe. He was too close, his eyes too bright.

"You're bleeding. I should go get...something," Elena said, starting to pull away. But Damon wrapped an arm around her waist and refused to let her budge.

"No. Not a chance. You aren't running away this time," he said. He pressed her bloodied fingertips to his lips, kissing each finger in turn, tasting himself.

"Oh, Damon, gross. There's blood everywhere," she said desperately. She just needed to get away for a minute, just needed to clear her head. So much was happening so fast, and with him looking at her like that, like a starving man before a feast, she just couldn't think.

"You didn't mind a minute ago." His hand tightened on hers. "I didn't compel you to do that. You know that, right? The opposite—I made you hate me, and you-"

"I know, Damon. I know what I did. I just don't know what it means. Maybe it doesn't mean anything." They both knew that was a lie. The kiss hadn't been a dying man's last wish or because she was confused or compelled. She'd kissed him because she wanted to feel his lips on hers and show him, just for a minute, that he was worthy of something besides hatred and scorn.

But that one kiss had opened a thousand roads, branching into a million possibilities, all of them thrilling and alien. Stefan had been willing to pretend, to play the part of a normal high school boy who was on the football team and went on double dates. But Damon would never play that game. Being with him ("dating" didn't even begin to touch this situation) would mean a final renunciation of any chance at a normal life. Turning would no longer be a choice—it would be an inevitability. Damon had proven time and time again that he'd choose to let her hate him before he chose to let her die. Too many choices, too many consequences were wrapped up in a single kiss.

"I'm scared," she said, ducking her head. She couldn't watch the hurt bloom in his eyes. She wanted him; she just didn't know if she wanted everything that came with him. One hundred and seventy years of baggage. How could she tell her friends? How could she tell Caroline, the toy he'd broken and flung aside? How could she tell Bonnie, who he'd wronged time and again? God, how could she tell Stefan?

"I'm scared shitless." That startled her enough to look back up at him, to meet his wry gaze. "Funny thing is, I don't know if I'm more afraid you'll run or you'll stay."

He was afraid she'd stay? That hurt, for reasons she couldn't define. She'd been so sure of his love, not just because she'd seen it in his every look and action day after day for the past three months while they'd weathered the Stefan storm together, but because she'd lived it. But maybe he didn't know what he wanted, either. To choose her would mean to fall for his brother's girl. Again. And it wasn't like she fit into his world, either. She'd lived a tenth of his years, and would probably die young, another tragic doppelganger."You...you want me to leave?" she asked uncertainly.

"No, you idiot." He released his hold on her waist, his hands fluttering at the sides of her face, fussing in her hair, flitting here and there as he spoke. "But I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to be the kind of man you deserve." A crooked smile tugged at his lips. "Katherine was a great teacher when it came to manipulation and murder, but my education with her left out all the parts about how to just be with someone."

"That's so sad," Elena blurted. She flushed, but it was true. Damon's only real relationship, not some sick charade based on sex and blood and lies, had been with a true monster who'd used him, deceived him, let him die for her. And then she'd left him and never once looked back.

But Damon shrugged. "Just is. I've always been so focused on getting the girl that I never stopped to think about what I'd do if I caught her." His hands came to rest where they had a dozen times before, framing her face, fingers buried in her hair. "Tell me what to do, Elena. Do you want to go? If that's what you want, go." His eyes searched her face. "I can even take it away, if that's what you want. I can make it so it never happened, bury it so deeply you'll never find that memory again. We can go on like we did before," he said.

Elena knew how much it cost him to make that offer. For a moment, she was tempted. If the memory of what she'd felt and what she'd done was gone, she wouldn't have to decide. Not today, maybe not ever. It would be easy to go back to their truce, their teasing friendship. It would be easy to go back to chasing after Stefan, pretending she could ever really love him again. Easy.

Elena put one foot on the ground. Then the other. She rose from Damon's lap, his fingers trailing away through her hair. For once, her mind was numb, quiet, blank. Elena turned and walked away, the sound of her sneakers deafening. Damon was motionless behind her.

Her feet drew her to the bathroom. Warm water trickled over her hands, running pink and then clear as the blood rained from her fingers. She wet a washcloth. Rung it out.

Damon was still frozen when she returned. Hadn't moved a muscle. Elena sat beside him and took his face in her hand. With trembling fingers, she wiped the parallel lines of blood from his cheeks, the droplets from his chin. "Elena," he said.

More splatters on his forehead, a single drop that had coursed its way down his neck. They all disappeared under her gentle, insistent touch. Damon seized her wrist. "Elena," he begged.

Elena pulled her arm free. Folded the washcloth. Set it aside. Looked at him. For an instant, she was certain he was compelling her again, so forceful and desperate was his gaze, but no. This wasn't compulsion. This was love. "You caught her, Damon." She took his hand in hers, laced her fingers through his. It was one of the most frightening things she'd ever done. "You caught me."

When Elena saw the smile light up his face, she was certain she'd made the right decision. She knew she'd do anything to see that look again. "Now what are you going to do with me?" she asked.

Elena didn't even realize they'd moved until she felt the paneling digging into her back as Damon pressed her against the wall with the full, hard length of his body. This kiss? Yeah, this kiss had everything to do with sex. It was the kind of kiss that curled her toes, made her moan against his mouth. And that only encouraged him, only made his tongue press more insistently against hers, only made his lips move with more purpose and wanting.

Hands trembled as she fumbled with the buttons of his shirt. He broke his hands from her hair, moving to help, to rip the flimsy thing from his back so more of their skin could touch, but she insisted on doing it her way, in her own time. He pulled back from the kiss, watching as her clumsy fingers managed first one button, then another. Inch by inch she revealed him, letting her fingernails graze across his nipple, then his ribs, then his hip just above those low-slung jeans. Damon made some sound without a name, a growl and a moan and a laugh all at once. "Even after all this, you still have to be in control. Still have to hold all the cards," he said.

"What are you talking about? Why are you talking?" she asked as she shucked his shirt off, letting the fabric fall to the floor. Damon bent his head, his tongue sweeping across her lower lip before he caught the pout between his teeth, tugging just hard enough for her to cry out.

"Because I want you to let go. Just this once. Trust me." His hands began to sneak up under her shirt, where the swell of her hip met the curve of her waist, then the side of her breast, and then her shirt was gone and she wasn't sure where it went but he had her earlobe in his mouth, his tongue dancing along the little silver stud in her ear, and she didn't care.

"I'll try," she said softly. In for a penny, in for a pound. If she was going to be with Damon, if she was going to trust her heart to him, then she could trust her body to him, too. He smiled again and reclaimed her mouth, and then her bra was gone, but it didn't matter because his hands immediately made up for its absence. Every inch got its own share of attention as hands gripped the soft flesh, thumbs pressed against painfully hard nipples as he continued to kiss her relentlessly.

"Good enough for me," he murmured against her mouth, and she laughed.

His hands moved lower, taking his time as he unbuttoned the fly of her jeans, lips moving lower, barely skimming her neck, her collar, that solid plate of bone between her breasts. He began to tug her pants down, and she pressed against his hand, wanting to feel him. She'd imagined what it would be like when he touched her—would reality be the same?

But he pressed a hand against her belly, pinning her against the wall. "Ah, ah, ah. I'm not doing this like a fumbling teenager with your pants around your ankles. Have a little class, Elena," he smirked. With the same torturous slowness as before, he drew her jeans down, hands caressing her thighs, her calves, her ankles before he helped her step out of them. Kneeling before her, he considered her pretty pale blue underwear with a wolfish smile. He stroked her through the damp fabric, gentle, and then yanked the silken scrap away, the fabric biting into her flesh for a split-second before it was gone. She stood utterly bare before him. Again, she was terrified.

But then she caught his eyes and the fear disappeared. This was the man who wanted all of her—not just her body, not just because she looked like a woman he'd once loved, but because she was the woman he loved. He wanted her flaws and her weaknesses and her failings. He wanted every bit of her. She gave a tiny nod.

He rose, nudging her legs apart with his knee. Their lips met again just as he slipped the tip of a single finger inside her, teasing through the outermost folds before plunging deep inside her. Her legs quaked as he moved in and out, finger and tongue moving in a complex percussive beat. Another finger joined and she felt her body tighten in anticipation, coiled and powerful as it waited for what it knew was coming. She came up for air, gasping. "Please." Not alone. She wanted to do this together.

She didn't have to ask him twice. She heard tearing fabric and then felt him pressing against her, hard and ready, and she clasped her arms around his neck and wrapped her legs around his waist. He positioned himself at her entrance and bent his head to her neck. Twin pinpricks rested against the pulsing vein, an implicit question.

Scared. So scared. She clutched one hand to the nape of his neck and pressed his head against her. "Do it."

Everything happened at once. He rammed his length home at the same time his fangs punctured the skin. A searing stab of pain gave way to a nameless, wordless pleasure that throbbed and ached and hurt. She never wanted it to end. His hips bucked against hers as he sucked and nipped and licked at her neck, the speed increasing until she felt herself tightening, trembling, readying. "Damon," she moaned, and that was enough. That was enough to send him careening over the edge, head thrown back, transfixed in pleasure. She had just enough time to appreciate the moment before she followed him down, calling his name again as the world narrowed to what this man made her feel, body and soul.

When her vision cleared and her brain decided to form coherent thoughts again, she saw him watching her, eyes wide and solemn. "I love you," he said.

Her blood was on his lips, smeared across his cheek. A hint of scarlet still colored the whites of his eyes, and delicate veins traced his cheek bones. He was beautiful; he was terrible and powerful and cruel. But it was still Damon. And if she could ever hope to love him even half so well as he loved her, she was going to have to accept this part of him, too.

She tried to speak the words, but they still wouldn't form in her mouth. So she kissed him, tasted copper, tasted herself, felt fangs. "You too," she said.

He smiled. It was enough.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Very little changed; everything changed. Every day without fail, Elena presented herself for her lesson. They got stronger together, Damon finding new ways to delve into her mind, plant more seeds of doubt and persuasion and coercion, and Elena finding new ways to thwart him at every turn.

Some days, Damon's face melted into Klaus' and Elena was forced to fight for her life. On others, she was thrown into memories of long bridges and dark waters and burbling screams and even when she'd clawed her way back to the real world, the tears remained. Her mind was clouded with rage and lust and love and terror and every other emotion she'd ever felt. Her body forced her to dance or to attack or to fuck without control. But one by one, she broke them all, and at the end of every nightmarish night, Damon held her in his arms and told her he loved her.

Day by day, they found a way to be together. It wasn't easy. They said horrible things to each other; they cursed and railed and screamed and threw glasses into the fire and stomped out in snits. They weren't always happy together, but no matter how angry or hurt they were, they always loved each other and tried a little harder every day to find how they fit together.

But today was different. Today was Elena's final exam. They'd done it all, Damon said. She could shrug off anything he threw at her without so much as a twitch of an eye. If she could pass one final test, she could master anything.

The boarding house was full of sunlight when she tromped in and threw her book bag down, but Elena wasn't fooled. Whatever was about to happen was going to be bad. Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw Damon pacing the floors, no glass of bourbon in sight. Shit.

She approached him, leaning up for their customary kiss. He hesitated, but kissed her slowly, not a casual brush of lips, but something lingering and gentle. Oh, she was so fucked. "Can we just get it over with? Please?" she asked. "The not knowing is the worst part."

He smiled sadly and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "Yeah. Let's do it. But Elena?" His eyes searched her face, as if memorizing every detail. "Don't fuck this one up, okay?"

The feel of his compulsion settling over her was like an old friend now, though it still took her breath away with its strength and ferocity. She stood frozen in the blue, awaiting his order. "Tell me how you fight compulsion," he demanded.

Elena blinked in confusion. "Knowing who I am and what I want," she answered of her own volition, shrugging off the drag of compulsion with ease. "But what does that-"

The force of his will battered against her, and his eyes loomed large before her, until nothing else existed but him. "Forget, Elena. Forget yourself. Forget who you are," he whispered.

Surprise hit her like lightning. They'd never done this, never practiced it, not after she'd drug the memory of his love from his own mind. And now he was taking everything, memories flashing before her eyes before they disappeared. She tried to grab onto them, to save them, but each one vanished.

Two girls, one golden and one dark, playing on the lawn of a house. Gone. A smiling toddler with a fistful of crayons and a shy smile. Gone. A man and a woman, laughing and swimming as the sun dipped below the horizon. First day of school. Cheerleading. An endless scream that ended in a splash. A boy with green eyes. Floating feathers. Blood in her mouth, coating her tongue, dripping down her throat. Fire. A woman falling to the ground, eyes fixed and staring. A man with blue eyes, his face sheened with sweat, his lips soft and cool. Gone, gone, gone. The memories came one after another and disappeared into some vast black hole. She couldn't even remember what she was mourning.

Everything was being stripped from her, leaving her hollow and empty. She couldn't let them go, couldn't let herself go. Blindly, she plucked one memory from the swirling maelstrom of images and sensations and smells and sounds and clutched onto it for dear life. It was a man, dark hair and clear eyes. "It's because I love you that I can't be selfish with you," he said. She felt his breath cool against her skin, smelled bourbon and leather and blood. "God, I wish you didn't have to forget this. But you do." She felt his lips against her forehead, and knew that this man loved her. Whoever that man was, she couldn't forget him.

My name is Elena Gilbert. I am the doppelganger. My parents were Grayson and Miranda. And Isobel and John. And Jenna and Alaric. My brother is Jeremy, my best friends are Bonnie and Caroline. I love Damon. And I can't forget any of them.

Memories poured back in, filling her to the very brim with every hurt and every joy she'd ever known until she was certain she would burst wide open, unable to contain them all. But somehow they all fit back together, and then she was herself again, staring at this man, this asshole who'd tried to take away her very self. The same asshole who'd helped her find herself, the very asshole who brought her back. Those blue eyes no longer had any power over her; couldn't force her to see or to feel or to do anything. They were just eyes, and he was just a man. And she loved him.

Elena kissed Damon, and she was free.