The Rain King

By Terri Botta

Summary: Sequel to The Queen of Unintended Consequences. Six years after Damon leaves Elena with Klaus, he's called back to handle a delicate situation. An AU Season 3 fic.

A/N: Sorry for the delay. Now that the HoliDAZE are over, I should have more time to write. This is a long chapter. Enjoy.


Chapter Seven

They got back in the car after they finished their meal, and Damon was determined that the rest of their trip home to Mystic Falls would be as uneventful and quick as possible. There were a lot of things he needed to do, and he couldn't do them until Elena was safely ensconced in her home. He had plans to make, people to talk to and herbs to find.

He'd already texted Gloria who still wasn't answering her phone. He was trying not to read too much into that, but he was getting worried. It was of great relief to him when she finally texted him back, letting him know that she was safe and would call him that evening. He'd also called the real estate management company that he used to look after the boarding house and the Gilbert house, and arranged for both places to be cleaned and aired out before they arrived.

With those burdens off his shoulders, he relaxed a bit and started planning what he was going to make Elena for dinner.

"You wanna stop at the grocery store before we go to the house?" he asked, when they exited the interstate. Mystic Falls had a nice supermarket, but there was a good quality organic market in Lynchburg that they could swing by on their way. He'd rather the herbs he was looking for be fresh and local.

"Sure," she answered.

"Any requests for dinner?"

She seemed to give his question a good bit of thought, and then turned her head to look at him shyly. "Umm, Italian?"

He smiled. "My specialty. How's this sound? Campanelle with olive oil, tomatoes, mushrooms and basil."

"Sounds perfect."

"With fresh baked bread."

"Mmmmmm, heavenly," she said with a sigh. "I'd forgotten."

"Forgotten what?"

"That you can cook. Everyone has his or her thing. Klaus paints. Stefan writes. Rebekah shops. But you… you cook."

"And drink," he added, with a playful lilt to his voice.

"Well, of course. I don't know any vampires that don't drink their blood volume in booze every day."

He wanted to remind her that, prior to going off the bunny diet, Stefan didn't drink, but he thought the better of it. From everything he had seen and heard, Stefan was a sore subject, and it was probably best to just keep his mouth shut.

"Remember how you used to come over and cook dinner for us?" she asked, a fond look on her face, and he could tell by her tone that it was a purely rhetorical question. "Ric couldn't cook, and all I could really make was chili and fried eggs…"

"That's not true. You helped me in the kitchen lots of times."

"Yeah, but you were the one who knew what you were doing. I just did whatever you told me to do."

"You mean to tell me that all those months when we were cooking together, you didn't learn anything from me?" he teased.

She smiled and shrugged. "Well, okay, you did teach me how to make bruschetta and Caprese salad."

"You were a champion tomato slicer."

She laughed and turned to face him, her shoulder pressed into the back of the seat. Damon noticed that she'd brought up her leg a bit and dropped one hand to cover her lower abdomen.

"Getting queasy?" he asked.

"No. I'm good. I don't even feel like I have to pee, amazingly."

"Well, I figured we'd stop at that natural foods market in Lynchburg and pick up some supplies." The look she gave him was one of quiet amusement, and he raised his eyebrow at her. "What's that look for?"

"A vampire who knows where there's a natural food store. What's wrong with this picture?"

"Hey, don't knock it. A diet of natural, organic food makes blood taste better. Some of my best meals came from Whole Foods."

Pre-compulsion Elena would have scowled and huffed at him for his off-color joke, but Stepford Elena just laughed - because, y'know, admitting that he hunted for victims in a natural foods market was so funny.

"Well, at least it's an improvement over your diet of sorority girls."

"I've reached an age where I need to start worrying about my figure. Gotta watch my weight," he teased.

His joke fell flat as she frowned and looked away, her hair falling forward to hide her face.

"Will you still like me when I'm all fat and bloated?" she asked in a small voice.

"Elena… you know better than to ask me that question," he replied gently.

"But I'll be fat and ugly."

"You will always be beautiful to me. Besides, there's nothing about pregnancy that is ugly. Especially not how it increases a woman's bust size," he said with a leer and suggestive gesture.

He tossed the comment out to distract her from her brooding and it worked. She rolled her eyes and snorted.

"You're still a pig," she complained, but her lips were tugging up into a smile.

"Yup, and don't you forget it."

888888

They made it to the market by mid-afternoon, and he planned to keep the stop brief. He gave Elena a cart to push around and fill with stuff she wanted, while he took a hand-basket and headed for the produce section. The market had most of what he was looking for, and he was able to get everything he needed for dinner. The rest of what he was searching for, he could get at the grocery store in Mystic Falls tomorrow.

He found Elena in the bath and beauty aisle, perusing the selection of natural shampoos and soaps.

"I thought you used that herbal stuff," he commented, as she placed a shampoo and conditioner set in her cart.

"I found out that they test on animals, even though they say they don't."

He snorted. "A corporation lying. What a shock."

She shrugged and seemed distracted, which triggered his protective instincts.

"You okay?" he asked, stepping close to her.

She moved into his personal space, and his heart clenched.

"Yeah, it's just… weird y'know? To be going home. I'm so, so grateful. Thank you so much, Damon."

He brushed it off, trying to cover the fact that the raw sincerity in her voice just about did him in.

"It's my home, too. Remember?" he said, putting his hand-basket into the cart.

"Yeah, but you gave up Italy to come back here and take care of me."

She gave him a shy look, and he smiled as he ran a thumb over her cheek, reveling in the ability to touch her.

"Italy will still be there. Besides, I don't think Klaus would have let me refuse. He would have sent someone to vervain me and drag me back. At least by coming back of my own free will, I avoided a transatlantic trip chained in the cargo hold of a garbage trawl," he replied with his usual cynicism. He leaned in close and ran his fingers through a lock of her hair, just because he was a masochist, and he knew it would make her heart flutter. "And here with you is better than pretty much anywhere else without you."

It worked. She gasped and blushed, then gave him a tender look, together with a smile that made him ache. She reached up and gently took his hand in hers, threading her fingers into his as she turned and walked with him, still holding his hand, towards the checkout stands. He, being the hopeless sap that he was, obligingly pushed the cart with his free hand and let her lead him, as if he wouldn't willingly follow her anywhere.

He paid for the groceries, and they headed back out to the car. Mystic Falls was only another forty-five minutes away, and he felt himself growing increasingly anxious as they approached. He hadn't been back for almost six years, and he couldn't say that he was ready to return. If he'd had his way, it would be another few decades before he set foot in the small town again, but he didn't have a say in it. Elena had wanted to go home, and he hadn't had the heart to tell her no. After everything she'd been through, after everything he'd put her through, she deserved to have her baby where she wanted, and if Mystic Falls was that place, then so be it.

He heard Elena's small gasp and accelerated heart rate when they passed the welcome sign for Mystic Falls, and he saw her grip the door handle as if steeling herself for what was to come. He didn't say anything, instead reaching over to squeeze her hand briefly and offer silent comfort. It earned him another of her small, grateful smiles that made his own heart flutter, and he swore he could see his Elena looking back at him. Maybe she was only locked away when she was at odds with Klaus's compulsion. It was a theory he needed to explore.

They didn't speak, but he saw her brow begin to furrow as he took the turn that led towards her house instead of going to the boarding house, and her brow really furrowed when he turned onto her street and parked in front of her childhood home.

"What are we doing here?" she asked him, obviously very confused.

"You said you wanted to go home," he replied, looking at her.

"I can't come here. We don't own the house anymore. Jeremy sold it…" she stammered.

He held her gaze and raised one eyebrow, waiting for her to catch on. He saw the moment she realized what he was trying to tell her, and her eyes opened wide.

"You? You bought it?" she stated with surprise.

He shrugged and smirked at her. "It's a house belonging to a Founding Family. No telling what secrets it has buried in little caches in the walls and basement. Couldn't have it falling into the wrong hands, now could I?"

"And the lake house?"

"Junior Gilbert still owns it. He rents it out for extra cash," he informed her.

"Jeremy rents it out?"

He nodded. "Well, it goes through a real estate management company, but yeah, it makes him a good penny in the summer."

"How do you know?"

He gave her another look.

"You're taking care of him," she breathed, more to herself than to him.

"Let's just say I have a slight guiding hand in his financial investment decisions. I might be a murdering psychopath, Elena, but no one ever accused me of not having a keen business acumen," he admitted, still smirking at her because her shock was just too satisfying for words.

"And did you get him into NYU too?" she questioned suddenly, and the fact that she ignored his murdering psychopath comment was not lost on him.

"What?" he blurted out, grimacing. "No, he got into NYU all on his own. I just made sure the bills were paid. How did you know about NYU and the house getting sold anyway? I figured Klaus wouldn't let you have any contact with your old life."

"He didn't, but he kept tabs on Jeremy. Y'know, just in case he needed to use him against me. After Bonnie and Caroline… Anyway, Tyler would tell me sometimes. He wasn't as brainwashed as the other hybrids," she explained, looking down at her hands.

"Good to know Mutt still has some backbone left."

"Thank you for taking care of my brother," she whispered.

He swallowed hard and tried to salvage his bravado. "Yeah, well, you're welcome."

"Who else have you looked after?" she asked, far too shrewd for her own good.

Now it was his turn to look away, suddenly uncomfortable in her all too seeing gaze.

"Damon," she said, her voice prompting him even as it chided.

"Oh, look at the time. Aren't you hungry? Didn't you want me to cook you Italian?"

"Damon…" she repeated, growling a little.

He capitulated, knowing her well enough to assume that – Stepford Elena or not – she wasn't going to let it go.

"Okay, I might have had something to do with Ric getting a job in the history department at Berkley. And maybe I pulled some strings to get the quarterback a scholarship at Clemson," he confessed.

He saw her take a few moments to process his answer, and he thought he was off the hook, until she shook her head slightly. "I can understand Ric, he was your friend. But why help Matt?"

He frowned and absently wiped a bit of lint off the cloth seat. "Do I have to have a reason?" he deflected.

Elena rolled her eyes at him. "It's you. There's always a reason. So spill. Why did you help Matt?"

He sighed. "I felt bad, okay? About Vicki. Turning her was one of my more dick moves. I never should have done it, and I apologized to your brother for it."

"Wait, you apologized to Jeremy for what you did to Vicki? When?"

He dreaded her reaction, but he answered anyway. "The night I broke his neck."

Her face fell. "Oh."

"Yeah, oh."

He saw her give in to her grief for just a second before rallying again. "That still doesn't explain why you felt bad about Vicki."

He was getting frustrated. He didn't like delving into his past like this. He'd been an asshole back then. Granted, he had come back to Mystic Falls with his switch mostly off. He'd learned that it was best to have it off when dealing with Stefan because then Stefan couldn't really hurt him. But then he'd seen Elena, and everything had changed.

Of course, his deepest, darkest secret was that he'd met Elena first, on the road by the Wickery Bridge, on the night he would later learn her parents died. He'd made her forget their first meeting because he hadn't been ready for people to know he was in town yet. He'd followed his brother, and he was still trying to figure out why Stefan had returned to Mystic Falls when, supposedly, he wasn't supposed to know about the comet, the tomb or Katherine's "imprisonment." (Ha! Ha! Ha! What a dupe he'd been.)

He'd been kicking himself for making her forget ever since, because she'd looked at him and done what no one else had done in so, so long. She'd seen him. She'd been interested in him even then. He was sure it'd been his looks – what teenage girl wouldn't find him irresistible? – but, still… he could've been the one. He could have had her, but he'd let her go.

Oh, how he would change that one decision if he could. There was even a chance that, if he hadn't walked away that night, that he would have been the one to be there on the bridge when her parents' car went into the water. And if that were so, he knew her parents would still be alive because, unlike Bunny Diet Stefan, he would have been strong enough to save them all.

From what Stefan had told him, her dad had been conscious. He would have been easy enough. Rip off the car door, pull him out, and push him towards the surface. It wasn't that far to go. Then once he'd done that, he would have ripped off the passenger side doors, grabbed her mom and Elena, and carried them both to the surface. Easy as pie.

There was also a chance that he and Stefan would have saved the family together since Stefan had been there, too. In which case, everyone definitely would have survived because they both would have jumped in after that car. No matter what Stefan thought of him, he would not have let a family drown if he'd been there. Then Elena would've known that he'd had a hand in saving her family, and when Stefan had started in on his usual "Damon's an evil, self-serving psychopath" BS, he liked to think that Elena would have shoved it back in his smug, little face.

But he hadn't. Instead he'd gone off to investigate how there could be a girl who looked just like Katherine, who had been a vampire and incapable of having children, and when he'd returned weeks later for the comet, he'd found out that Elena's parents had died, no thanks to his brother, and Stefan had moved in on Elena. He'd lost his chance.

For sure, back he was primarily focused on getting Katherine back and riding off into the sunset with his one true love, but the pain of realizing that he could have been there, that he could have saved Elena's family and gotten one up on his brother, had sent him over the edge into full-on asshole mode. Especially once Stefan had snared Elena and had begun turning her against him.

He couldn't tell Elena that, however. No one knew that he'd met Elena that night, not even Stefan, and he couldn't bear to tell her now. What would he even say? "I met you first, and I could've saved your parents if I hadn't been an idiot and walked away"?

"Damon?" Elena's said, her voice breaking him out of his memories, and he looked at her.

Stepford Elena had convinced herself that she'd overstepped her bounds and pissed off her vamp, and she was now looking uncertain and contrite.

"I'm sorr-" she began.

"Don't. Don't apologize. You haven't done anything wrong. You asked me why I felt bad about Vicki and why I took care of Donovan. When I came back to Mystic Falls, I was in a bad place. My switch was off, I was haranguing my brother, and I was an asshole. I admit it. I had a lot of shit going on, and I was lashing out at everyone. Vicki was collateral damage. I turned her because I was bored, and I wanted to piss off my brother. I shouldn't have done it, and I regretted it right away. After I found out she was Jeremy's girl and Donovan's sister, I realized that I'd hurt people who were important to you, and I felt worse. Taking care of the quarterback and getting him a scholarship so he wouldn't be stuck in this go-nowhere town, and have an opportunity to make something of himself, was the least I could do. I also arranged for him to "inherit" some money from a long, lost cousin so his bills would be paid, too."

He glanced at her and saw her looking at him with clear eyes, the eyes that had always seen straight into his soul, and it laid him bare.

"That's why I did it. I was making amends for a wrong I had done him. It doesn't make up for it. It doesn't bring his sister back, but it's something."

"He doesn't know though, does he? None of them do."

"No."

She reached over and took his hand, squeezing lightly. "Thank you. We never gave you any reason to take care of us, but you did so anyway. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything."

"Yeah… well… I'm sorry, too. For everything."

She sniffled and he saw her eyes were wet, but full of gratitude, and he was certain that it was his Elena holding his hand, stroking her thumb across his knuckles. The knife twisted into his heart, but it was a good pain. It was the kind of pain that could break you and remake you.

"Let's go inside. We have stuff that needs to be refrigerated," he said, unable to bear the raw honesty between them any longer. He liked to try to keep soul-searching sessions to five minutes or less.

She nodded and released his hand to unbuckle her seatbelt.

"I'll open the door. Is the spare key where it used to be?" she asked.

"Yep," he replied, getting out of the car and opening the rear door to get the groceries.

Elena had already found the spare key, and she was waiting for him on the porch when he walked up with the bags. Setting foot on the old wood, looking at the swing, and remembering all that had transpired there, almost made him stumble when it all came rushing back. How, on his last day there, after killing Ric and Jeremy, how he'd waited for them to revive while he drank bourbon and cried, mourning the loss of his pseudo-family.

Elena opened the door and he followed her inside, and it was like walking into the past. Junior Gilbert hadn't changed anything. All the furniture was the same, the carpet, the paint, and the pictures on the walls. He hadn't even updated the TV and sound system, and Damon felt another spasm of pain, but he ignored it as took the groceries into the kitchen, moving past Elena, who was standing in the living room.

He set the bags down on the island and put away the milk and butter, and began gathering the things he would need for dinner. He was contemplating the best way to cut the fresh basil – if he should just chop it or do a chiffonade, when he realized that Elena had never come into the kitchen nor was she still in the living room. His Elena-sense started going off, so he put the knife down and went in search of her.

He found her in her bedroom, sitting on her bed, clutching her teddy bear as tears streamed down her face. Her room looked exactly the same as the day she'd left it, right down to the unwashed laundry in the basket. He would have to have a word with Junior Gilbert about proper housekeeping skills, but for now, pregnant Elena was in full meltdown mode. He sat beside her, taking her into his arms and holding her as he stroked her hair and shushed her. His cooing only seemed to make her cry harder, and soon she was sobbing into his chest. He held her tighter, rocking a little bit and whispering into her ear.

"What is it? What can I do? Tell me how to make it better," he begged. He couldn't stand to hear her cry like this, to see her in such despair.

She shook her head and sank further into his arms, dropping the bear to the floor so she could fist her hands into his shirt. He just let her weep, realizing that it was the long overdue catharsis that she needed, and he hugged her until she had cried herself out.

"Better?" he asked, when her tears lessened and she was down to the occasional sniffle.

She nodded and slowly loosened her death grip on his shirt. When she pulled back, her face was blotchy and her eyes were puffy and red, but she was still breathtakingly beautiful to him. He cupped her cheeks in his hands and wiped the last tears away with his thumbs.

"Thank you," she said, then dropped her eyes to his shirt. "I got your shirt all snotty."

He shrugged. "I'll disinfect it later. Y'know, to kill the girl cooties."

She chuckled and slapped his arm lightly. "Brat."

"Yes?"

She smiled for a moment, then her face fell and she hugged him. He tucked her face into the crook of his neck and hugged her back, holding her as tightly as he dared. The feel of her in his arms, in this room, was almost too much for him to bear. It was like someone had staked him and set him on fire, but yet he couldn't bring himself to run.

"I can't stay here, Damon. Please, it's just too much…" she confessed.

He understood completely. "Okay. Yes, sure. Of course. We'll go to the boarding house. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought you here."

"No, it was sweet. Thank you. Maybe… maybe in a little while, after I get used to being back, maybe we can come back here again," she said, pulling back to look at him.

"Okay. Whatever you want, whatever you need," he agreed, meaning every word.

"My god, how can anyone say you are selfish and self-centered? You're the most selfless person I know," she said, gazing up at him with wide eyes.

"I'm a dick, Elena. You know it, and I know it. I'm just less of a dick sometimes."

She shook her head. "No. You can't fool me anymore with that. I see you now."

There was silence between them for a few heavy moments, full of everything that had happened between them in this house and this room. He was the first to break eye contact, gently prying himself out of her arms when he couldn't stand it anymore.

"C'mon. You're hungry. I'm hungry. I haven't started dinner downstairs yet. Let's pack up and go to the boarding house," he told her, rising to his feet.

"Do you need to stop by the hospital and get some blood bags?" she asked as she stood as well.

He thought about it for a moment. "Might be a good idea. I just need enough to last me until I can go to the blood bank in Lexington."

She took his hand again, and he allowed it. "Okay, then, let's go. There are too many ghosts."

He nodded in agreement and followed her as she led the way back downstairs. Together they gathered up the groceries, putting them back in the bags, and then they headed back out to the rental car. Elena waited for him while he locked up the house and put the spare key in its hiding place. She sat in the car when he slipped into the hospital to steal half a dozen blood bags, which should be enough to keep him for a few days as long as he didn't get into any fights or do something else that would require him to use his vampire healing.

They drove up to the boarding house fifteen minutes later, and it was his turn to walk into his own house of ghosts. The cleaning crew had been there, and at least the place looked like it was lived in. The sheets had been pulled from all of the furniture on the first floor, and the rooms smelled of Pledge and Murphy's oil soap. He took the groceries into the kitchen and stowed them before going back out to retrieve his and Elena's bags. He carried the luggage upstairs, leaving Elena's suitcase and gym bag in the hall while he deposited his bag in his room. It had been cleaned, too, and the protective sheet taken off the bed. He spared a moment to look wistfully at the bed. It was his favorite after all.

"Where should I put my things?" Elena asked him, and he turned to see her leaning against the doorframe of his room. The last time she had been in there had been the day after her birthday party, when she had come to him with accusations and entreaties to go with her to Tennessee.

He shrugged. "Anywhere you like. There's six other bedrooms in the house. You can have your choice."

She gave him an odd look, but nodded. "Okay."

"Pick one you want to be the nursery, too, though I'm thinking the smaller room in the west wing would be best. It gets the most sunlight," he offered helpfully.

"Thanks. I'll look at it."

"Meet me downstairs when you're ready or I'll call you when dinner's done, whichever comes first."

"Okay, thanks," she said over her shoulder, and he heard her suitcase rolling down the hall. He noted that she was not headed in the direction of Stefan's room and silently gloated, until he realized that she was heading for the bedroom next to his.

He shook his head, wondering what he was getting himself into, and then checked the status of his bathroom. He had a mind to take a long, hot bath later, and he wanted to see if the tub had been properly cleaned. It had, and he had to say that he was pleased with the job the management company had done. From his brief glance at the grounds, it looked like they'd done a fair job with the outside as well.

He left his room and headed downstairs to the kitchen where Elena found him ten minutes later sautéing the mushrooms and onions while water heated on the stove to boil.

"Just the person I was looking for. I need a champion tomato slicer. You up to the task?" he asked teasingly.

"Oh, I dunno, I might be out of practice," she kidded back with a smile.

He tossed a tomato at her, and she caught it. "Nah, it's like riding a bike. Once you learn, you never forget how. Knives are in the butcher block on the counter."

She chose a big chef knife and set about slicing the tomato on the cutting board he'd already laid out on the granite-topped kitchen island. He put two more in front of her to cut and went back to stirring the mushrooms and onions. He had the stove on medium-low, wanting the vegetables to sweat.

"How about I make risotto for tomorrow night's dinner," he offered, slathering a homemade garlic-butter mix onto Italian bread and slipping it into the oven.

"Sounds wonderful."

"Great."

They cooked in pleasant companionship, and he was reminded of the last time they'd made chili together in her kitchen. They moved around each other like old friends, carefully choreographing their steps so as not to get in each other's way. It was familiar and friendly, and he allowed himself to revel in it. This was how he'd always hoped things would be between them: happy, relaxed and normal… with a fair amount of very hot and satisfying sex added in, of course.

Little Damon woke up from his slumber, and he had to remind himself of all the times she'd virtually kicked him in the balls to settle him down again. It annoyed him that he could be such a lovesick sap, but that wasn't Elena's fault. She'd never asked him to love her the way that he did, and she had no control over what her scent did to him. He was a big boy, and he would just have to learn how to deal. He had at least another five months of this, and he would go crazy if he didn't get a handle on it soon.

The water boiled, and soon he was dumping the campanelle into the olive oil with the sautéed vegetables, and giving it a quick toss. He brought the hot food to the dining room table while Elena carried the salad and garlic bread. They sat across from each other at the table, and she served him a portion of the pasta while he poured them both glasses of light white wine (a small one for her in deference to her condition, but also honoring her wishes from earlier) and also gave himself a glass of warmed blood in a tumbler. They clinked glasses and began to eat.

"Oh my God, this is so good," Elena said between bites.

He smiled and took a half bow in his chair. "Why thank you, Miss Elena. I am glad you like my cooking."

"You have to know I'm keeping you."

"I dunno. I've been told I'm impossible to live with," he joked.

"I've lived with Rebekah. Trust me, no one is as bad as she is."

His easy smile faded from his face as the guilt almost made him choke on his food, and he looked down at his plate. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It wasn't all bad. Rebekah could be decent when she was in one of her good moods. Klaus would let her go shopping, and she'd be happy for days. Sometimes she'd even take me along, and we'd indulge in serious retail therapy together."

"I can only imagine the damage the two of you could do," he commented.

"You have no idea. One day we spent over twelve thousand dollars in a single afternoon, though most of that was jewelry Rebekah bought."

He winced, his frugal sensibilities screaming in protest. "Don't do that to me, okay? I'll give you my platinum card, but only if you promise not to go crazy."

She shook her head. "I won't. Promise. But I will need new clothes soon. The ones I have are already getting too tight for me."

"Understood and expected. You are expecting, after all," he said playfully.

"Oh, ha ha. Who's the comedian now?"

He smirked and saluted her with his tumbler.

They finished dinner, and she insisted on helping him with the clean-up. Once they were done washing the dishes and pots, he built a fire in the living room hearth, and they sat together on the couch for a while. They talked, mostly about his travels, and he brewed the peppermint-ginger tea for her nausea. It was one of the most pleasant evenings he'd had in a very long time, and he savored every minute of it.

When Elena began to get tired around ten o'clock, he encouraged her to go to bed. After she went up, he went to his room and ran himself a bath while he texted Gloria, who hadn't called. She texted back that she was busy and would call him in the morning. He shrugged and tossed his phone on the sink counter as he stripped and slid into his tub. He had a good, long soak, luxuriating in the pleasure of it. He loved baths, complete with lots of bubbles and scented oils, and he wasn't afraid to admit it. He felt all the tension in his body relax, staying in the tub until the water cooled, and then he drained it, gave it a quick cleaning (soap and oil scum was easier to clean before it had been allowed to sit too long) and showered to wash off the soap and shampoo his hair.

By the time he was finished with his ablutions, he was content and glad to be home despite the circumstances. He slipped on a pair of boxers and got into bed, noting that the cleaning crew had put on fresh sheets. The mattress and pillows felt so good as he lay back, sighing and stretching out. Little Damon stirred again, and this time he indulged himself in an erotic fantasy involving Carmen, one of the signoras he'd left behind in Italy. He tried not to be too surprised when Carmen's face morphed into Elena's right before he climaxed, but he knew that it didn't bode well for his mental health.

'Maybe I should give myself a lobotomy with a hammer claw,' he thought darkly, as he cleaned himself up.

His orgasm had made him sufficiently sleepy, and he settled back into his bed, hugging a pillow and closing his eyes.

He didn't know how much time had passed before he suddenly snapped awake, all his senses on high alert. Someone was in his room. His eyes focused on the slight figure standing beside his bed in the dark, and he inwardly groaned as the scent wafted into his nostrils.

"Elena?" he asked, sitting up to turn on his bedside lamp.

She blinked at the light, but didn't move. She was dressed in a set of flannel pajamas, which was something he had never seen her wear to bed before.

"Elena?" he asked again, wondering if she had developed a habit of sleepwalking over the last six years.

She shook her head and seemed to come out of whatever trance she'd been in.

"Can I… can I stay here with you?" she requested, looking uncertain and shy. "It's just that I'm not used to being alone and being here, it's…"

She trailed off and looked at him with hopeful eyes.

'This woman will be the death of me,' he thought. "Elena…"

"I know you're not ready for, you know, us, and I'm not asking for that. I just… I can't sleep, and I was hoping…"

She stammered, and did that thing where she tucked her hair behind her ear, and he was a goner. He sighed, giving in, because he really didn't want to be away from her even if having her in his bed was going to make it pretty much impossible not to want her. He only hoped he could avoid an instant replay of this morning because now there were no maids around to snack on.

'At least she put on the granny PJ's, but that top is a button-up... No! Do not go there,' he chided himself as Little Damon began to wake up again. He squelched it with memories of Elena dead on the night of the sacrifice; one of the worst nights of his life, second only to the night he'd left her with Klaus.

He flipped back the covers on his right side and invited her in. "Come here," he said, gesturing for her to join him.

The smile she gave him was beatific, and she hurried to comply, sliding in beside him and wrapping her arm around his waist.

"Thank you," she said, snuggling close as he laid them both down and turned off the light.

"Mmm hmm," he murmured, flipping the covers back over them and tucking her into the crook of his arm. "Think you can sleep now?"

Her hand came up to rest on his chest, and he felt her leg twine with his. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from moaning.

"Yeah. I think so," she whispered sleepily.

"I'm glad. Good night, Elena." 'Please, please, please go to sleep and stop rubbing against me.'

"Good night, Damon."

"Sweet dreams."

"You too."

He heard her sigh, then felt her fall asleep a few minutes later. He stayed awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering how in the world he was going to survive this without going insane, until his own exhaustion caught up with him, and he drifted off to sleep.