Hey guys. Missed you! Glad to be back with a new story. The genesis for this one comes from Temptress-Kitten17 (thanks, Carly!) from a review she left on another story of mine. She said, "[Damon] might even get scared enough to run away [from Elena's love]...but they'll find a way back to each other." So I've had this one in my back pocket for a while, and it's finally time to explore what happens when Elena has to woo Damon instead of the other way around.

I owe tremendous debts of gratitude to both WildYennifer and JWAB for betaing and helping me get the voice just right. Ladies, you're both amazing.

Please enjoy.


Give me some credit—I tried to do the right thing after the whole bridge debacle. I was prepared to ride off into the sunset and let Stefan and Elena have their happily ever after (and after, and after, and after). But I couldn't leave right away, couldn't just blow town after she woke up on that morgue slab gasping and lost. But now that I think of it, that was the easiest part of all this. Once we explained what was happening to her, she knew what she had to do. She drank down the glass of blood without argument or complaint-"For Jeremy," she said, her face grim but her voice firm- saving us from having to relive the dramatic Salvatore Transition Saga. Small mercies. Then she started crying. And didn't stop for three fucking days.

Oh, she wasn't crying because she was sad. She was crying because she felt the pain of every single person, animal, plant, paperweight, and molecule in existence. Yep, Elena's empathy, already self-destructive, became unbearable when she sprouted fangs. It sucked for everyone. Seeing her like that killed me, her face swollen with tears until she looked like some kind of be-fanged chipmunk. She sobbed and sobbed because Matt was in the hospital or because I beat the ever-loving shit out of Stefan (deserved it) or because Jeremy stubbed his toe or whatever hair trigger set her off that day. I wanted to punch Stefan again, trade a drop of his blood for every tear his idiocy had caused. But I didn't. This wasn't about him or me or our fucked-up family issues. So Stefan earned a reprieve, and I took care of her. As much as she'd let me, anyway.

Stefan let her cry, let her sob until her eyes were raw and red like meat. Said she needed to "let it out," whatever the hell that means. I let him try it his way for a day, but eventually I couldn't stand it any more and took over. Got her out of that tomb of a house she and Jeremy live in, away from the wandering ghosts and her own miserable thoughts. Took her into the woods, let her taste the air, taught her to hear the wind and move like a shadow. I was relentless with her, pushing her, rousing her, forcing her to run and sense and understand that hey, there are a couple of perks to this vampire thing. I wouldn't let her stop, wouldn't let her think or even feel, helped her lose herself in sensation. Eventually, her tears dried. I knew they would; when she's not being suicidal, that girl's a survivor. She figured it out, how to keep everything in balance, get those crazy emotions under control and start moving forward again. Gotta admit, I was proud of her. Still am.

But that was our last real day together. As the tears became more and more distant, as she remembered that she'd chosen Stefan, the asshole who let her agency herself to death, she pulled away from me bit by bit. The flood of texts and phone calls, asking for help, explanations, pleas just to make her smile, slowed to a trickle, then stopped. She walked right past my bedroom door, not even hesitating like she used to. No, now it was all about Stefan—cuddling in the firelight, serious talks with serious faces in the hall, muffled noises in the night. Caroline popped over regularly and the Three Stooges had vampire lessons. I don't know what they were teaching her; don't want to know. The girl has no chance of becoming a well-adjusted vampire (oxymoron) with those two as her mentors, but fine. Whatever. Her choice, right?

So once I saw that she was going to be okay, that she could pull herself together and carry on like the soldier she is, I tried to keep my promise to Stefan. There's nothing more tragic than a guy pining over a girl who doesn't love him back, is there? I didn't want to be that guy—I don't want to be that guy. I wanted to give them both a shot at happiness. They both deserve it, even Stefan. Especially Stefan. But neither one of them could really be happy while I was around, and since I'm miserable wherever I am, might as well do it elsewhere.

I packed my bag, headed out the door and nearly ran her over there on the boarding house porch. She was hand-in-hand with Stefan, fresh from ripping the throat out of something fluffy, no doubt. She was smiling, and I was glad. Hadn't seen one from her in a while. But it faded when she saw the bag in my hand. "Where are you going?"

I hadn't really intended to say goodbye to her; what was the point? Besides, adieus might have set her off again, and I have no fucking defense against her tears. I blinked, trying to figure out a good answer. Going out for a pint of blood, be back in twenty years? Trying to get out of your life so you and my brother can lead a blissfully boring existence together? I was all out of snappy comebacks that day.

"He's not going anywhere," Stefan said. "Are you, brother?" He raised his eyebrows, all hint, hint. I looked at Elena. Her eyes, those giant Bambi eyes, were shining and hopeful and oh fuck. In an instant, I became that guy.

I shifted my bag to the other hand and painted on a smile. "Just over to the loft. Thought I'd give you two lovebirds some privacy here, but I'll be around. Can't get rid of me that easily."

If she can't let me go, then I have to stay. Yeah, I'm fully aware of exactly what that makes me. So I'll stay, but I can't live with them, can't listen to them. Hearing them make love (Stefan would never do anything so crass as fucking her) is bad enough, but I can deal with that. It's just sex. But I can't listen to the murmured I-love-yous, the whispered promises, the apologies and the explanations and more I-love-yous. I'd rather live with Ric's ghost than lie in the dark and play that game where I pretend Elena's words are for me. I'll be her emotional doormat and punching bag if that's what she needs, be the comic relief and the villain in turn. But I won't torture myself more than I have to.

I slid off the porch and walked to the car, glancing over my shoulder at the couple on the porch. That smile was back on Elena's face, tremulous but real, and as much as I hate myself for being pathetic enough to stay, seeing her with that bravely defiant happiness was almost, almost worth it.

That was a week ago. I haven't seen her since.

The bottle in my hand is empty. Don't know how that happened; could have sworn I just cracked it open, but there are only a few drops rattling around the bottom. I tip them back. I should get up and add the bottle to my collection, the little pyramid I've started; bourbon rubs elbows with whiskey while scotch holds the base. There are even a few bottles of tequila that snuck in during a particularly blue period. But I'm here, and that monument to my liver's tenacity is all the way over there. I stare at the ceiling.

This is my life now. Lying in a dead man's bed, drinking and waiting, stuck in eternal limbo on the off chance she might need me, all while she builds some undead life with my brother. But if they're really so steady, why does she need me here? Why can't she let me go, like she said she would? No. That way lies madness, Damon. Get it out of your head. She cares about you; that's a far cry from "it'll always be you, Damon," or "I love you, Damon."

For the thousandth time, I wish Ric were here. He'd kick my ass, roust me out of bed and tell me what a pussy I'm being. At a minimum, he'd bring me another drink.

I hear her before she knocks. Even as a vampire, she's loud, her footfalls distinct, the rhythm of her steps unmistakable. I'm glad I put pants on today, means I only have to scramble to find a shirt. I'm fastening the last button when she knocks. I don't answer right away, check my phone instead. She hasn't called, hasn't texted. Just a few scattered messages from Stefan, a couple from Caroline. That's depressing in and of itself. I shove the phone in my pocket.

As I pull the door open and see her standing there in her jeans and Chuck Taylors and that ugly ring Bonnie magicked up for her, I'm struck by how little has changed. Sure, now she smells like a lioness instead of a doe, now her body is quiet and still instead of humming and buzzing with life, her heart beating so slowly most doctors would miss it. But she's still Elena. I search her face. Strange. Doesn't look upset, no tear tracks, no swollen eyes. Her hands aren't clenched into fists like they are when she's mad at me. Now this is weird. If she's not upset and she's not pissed, why's she here?

"What is it? What's wrong?" I ask.

"Why do you think something's wrong? Can't I just come to see you?"

"Well, you could. But you usually don't," I reply.

She looks down. "Yeah. I haven't been a very good friend to you lately."

I shrug like it doesn't matter. Doesn't, really. "Don't sweat it; you've got bigger things to worry about right now." She doesn't say anything, just looks at me expectantly. Hm. I'll see where this goes. I step aside, sweeping my arm into the loft with a mocking bow. "As long as you're here, would you like to come in?" Not that she needs an invite, but hey, good manners are good manners.

Elena steps into the apartment. Her eyes flit around the room, taking in the changes I've made to the place. There aren't many. The aforementioned booze pyramid. New sheets on the bed, white cotton instead of Ric's gray flannel. Blood instead of beer in the fridge, though she can't see that. Otherwise, it's still Ric's place. I don't intend to stay here for long. God, please don't let me stay here for long.

She stops at the nightstand, fingers hovering over the stack of slim, battered books teetering there. "Were these Ric's?"

"No," I say. "Death of a Salesman, The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey into Night. Just a little light reading." Nothing like mid-century American playwrights for wallowing in your own misery. She doesn't seem to get the irony, but she isn't really paying attention.

She slides a book from the bottom of the pile. It's the oldest but the most lovingly preserved, its dark leather cover gleaming with oil and a fond patina of age. "Call of the Wild. Your favorite, right?"

It used to be, but now I can only imagine what would have happened if Buck had been neutered on that steamship to Alaska. I gently pull the book from her hand, placing it back on the table. I smooth the familiar ridges of its cover with my fingertips. "You didn't come here to talk about literature."

"Maybe I did. We used to just talk about things. This summer. As awful as it was, we had fun sometimes," she says. She sits on the edge of the bed. The couch is over there, neutral ground, but she sits on the bed like she owns the place.

Huh.

I sit beside her. She's not wrong about that summer. Even in between The Great Stefan Hunt and Ripper Cleanup Patrol, we had some good times. When we combed newspaper databases for any news of my brother's latest psychotic spree, we made each other smile with ludicrous stories from all these small Southern towns, like the time a drunk poodle went on a rampage in some burg in Arkansas. Or there were those endless nights when we sat on her front porch in rocking chairs, telling each other stories so neither of us would have to face sleeping in a too-quiet, too-empty house. And I'll never forget that almost perfect day when I convinced her to leave the death behind for a few hours and go swimming in the quarry, just like I used to three lifetimes ago. Laughing and sparkling in the water in that tiny yellow bikini (God, that bikini!), she was almost happy, just for one day. And so was I.

But that was a long time ago, all of it. We were different people then—in her case, literally—and there wasn't a giant Stefan-shaped boulder between us. As beautiful as those memories are, they don't matter now. "What are you doing here? What are we doing here, Elena?"

Her shoulders shake as she takes a deep breath. She shifts so she faces me, twists her long fingers together. "I've been thinking." On her lips, those are the most terrifying words in the English language. "About us."

"There is no 'us.' You made that very clear." That was my fault. What kind of idiot wants to be told the truth when he's dying? This guy. I could have just kept my mouth shut, assumed she went back to Mystic Falls so she could comfort all the dying, like the Mother fucking Theresa she is. But no, I had to know who she chose, couldn't just tell myself that beautiful lie and head toward death with a sliver of happiness. Hell, at least last time we did this deathbed thing I got a kiss out of it.

"I know. I know what I said, and at the time, I meant it." Her fingers are still twisting, writhing like a ball of snakes. "But it's different now. I remember now." She looks up at me for the first time, all melting brown eyes. "I met you first," she says wonderingly.

I look away. "Who cares?" The words come out more harshly than I'd intended, but maybe this is how she needs to hear them. It's sure how I need to say them. "Who cares if I met you first? I couldn't have loved you then. Do you know what I was doing when we met?" She doesn't answer. "I was waiting for dinner, waiting to kill someone. And then there you were. You intrigued me, so you got to live. Don't read any more into it than that." Why am I telling her this? Fuck, I don't know. The words just keep coming. "And you couldn't have loved me, not like I was then. You met Stefan, and you loved him. You still love him." I'm almost accusing her, but I don't even know of what.

"I understand more now," she says, unflinching in the face of my tirade. "What it means to be...to be like this." Great. We can now bond over our loss of impulse control and gossip about which blood bank has the best stock. I exhale noisily, but she continues. "Your goodness. What you never let anyone see, the way you feel everything so intensely. I was scared before, couldn't understand, physically couldn't feel as much as you did. But now I do. I know why you are the way you are." Her hand, so soft and so cold, is on my face, turning me toward her. I can't look away this time; I don't want to look away. Then she's kissing me.

Right now, I have everything I've ever wanted. Elena is kissing me, and not some sweet little romantic peck, but a real kiss, tongue and all, demanding and needing. She smells sweet, like fake lilies and cheap lotion, but there's an animal undercurrent there, a musk that's new. Her lips taste like blood and I kiss her back, almost wild with wanting and hoping, reveling in her newness and her familiarity. I give it all I've got as her arms wrap around my neck, her hands tangling in my hair.

I want time to stop, I want everything to stop so I can live in this moment forever. Forget about Stefan, forget about the past, forget about everything but this creature who smells like a vampire but looks at me with the dizzying eyes of the most human girl I've ever met.

But my head—not the one I should be thinking with right now—won't let me enjoy it. She still loves him. I yank Elena closer, feel her nipples pressing against me through her thin t-shirt. She gasps. Why is she choosing you now? Nothing's changed. She breaks our lip lock, presses bruising kisses down my jaw, down my neck. Fangs scrape my skin and it's my turn to gasp. It's still always going to be Stefan.

I can't take any more. My body's screaming at me to shut the fuck up, don't ask questions you don't want to know the answers to, but I have to know. I can't do this just because she's horny, just because she and Stefan had a fight, just because she thinks she understands something about being a vampire now. I tug her face away from my neck like the moron I am just in time to see the last drops of blood fade from her eyes. Fuck me; I could cut glass with my dick based on that sight alone, never mind our tongue aerobics.

"What is this?" I want to kiss her again; I want to write terrible sonnets for her and shower her with flower petals; I want to drill her into this bed until she forgets her own name. But mostly, I want the truth. If she'll just give me the truth, then there will be time for all of it. "Why me? Why now?"

Her lips are swollen; her face is confused. If she says "I don't know what I feel" one more time, I swear to God-

"I want you," she says. I've dreamed of this moment a thousand times, but now that it's happening, the sound of the words is discordant. I don't know why. My mouth is dry and my ears buzz. "Like I said, I understand now. It all makes sense, why you are the way you are."

"What the hell does that mean? Why I'm violent, why I'm an asshole, why I lash out and cause those bumps you hate so much?" So this is it. Now that she's on the all-hemoglobin diet, she thinks she gets me? Does she think that being a vampire is all that I am? While human Elena wanted rainbows and unicorns, now she craves shadows and dragons so she runs to me, the goddamn prince of darkness? Is that what this bullshit is, just a flirtation with blackness before she stumbles back into the light, back to him?

"You mean a bump like this, like what you're doing right now?" There are those clenched fists. There's that anger. Good. I can handle her anger. I'm used to it. I can't handle whatever was happening before, don't even have a name for the way she looked at me, the way she kissed me.

"Face it, Elena—all we have are bumps." I stand, nearly dumping her to the floor.

"It doesn't have to be that way, Damon. Let me explain. I'm trying to choose you, I'm trying to tell you I lo-"

I cut her off, won't let her get that damning word out. She doesn't mean it, so I don't want to hear it, don't want her to regret her lie later. "Does he even know you're here?"

Her eyes brim with tears. "I'm going to tell him. The time wasn't right, and I thought that if we told him together he might understand." Of course he doesn't know. If he knew, she couldn't hedge her bets, couldn't keep him in reserve for when my bad boy allure runs out and she skitters back to the vanilla-bland safety of his arms. And she feels guilty about hurting him. Infuckingcredible.

The floor stings my bare feet as I stomp to the door. I fling it open. "Go. Go back to him."

The tears are gone. "I'm not going anywhere. I want to be here with you."

"You don't. Go back to the bunnies, Elena. Go back to pretending nothing's changed. He's the one who will make you feel human, not me." We both know it. We both know I'll drag her down with me. That's why she pulled away, why she let Stefan and Caroline teach her how to survive. She knows if she comes with me, she'll wind up a monster. And maybe I can't watch that happen, either.

She watches me, head canted to one side. She looks so like Katherine I panic for a split-second, sure this is all another one of that cunt's games. But then that avid curiosity fades, and there's something softer, gentler there. "Is it so hard for you to believe someone would choose you?"

I laugh. It's hollow. "Hasn't happened yet."

That softness is replaced by steel. Elena's made some kind of promise to herself, but I don't know what. "Challenge accepted, Damon."

I have no idea what she's talking about, but I don't care. I just want her to go so I can finally be weak, fall apart where she can't see me instead of being strong and doing what's best for both of us. Especially for her. The longer she looks at me, this girl who's risen again like a phoenix, the more my resolve wavers. Even now, I want to take what she's offering. But I can't. A moment's indulgence, maybe a few hours or days or weeks of happiness, but then disappointment, disillusionment, loss. No. It's better this way. "Go. Please go." My voice cracks. I hate it.

"I will. But only for now. I'm not giving up on you this time." It's a threat and a promise, but she's gone, the smell of false lilies and false hope lingering. I force myself to shut the door instead of slamming it, wait until I hear her thump down the stairs and out of the building.

I smash the glittering pyramid of bottles to the ground. Glass shards rain around me, cutting my hands, my feet. The iron scent of my own blood and the stale stink of liquor washes the lilies from the air.

And I'm alone.