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: Many thanks to my awesome betas Glamoured-by-Eric, Kate C, and Layla Reyne

Chapter Nine


Elena helped him put away the groceries after they got back to the house, then he encouraged her to go take a nap. It looked as if she was going to argue with him on the subject, at first suggesting she simply rest on one of the couches in the parlor, but she eventually gave in and headed upstairs. He was relieved to see her go because her flirting and less than subtle interest in him was wearing him damn thin, and he'd needed a sanity break.

It wasn't even that she was blatantly making passes at him. That he could probably handle. It was the secret smiles and friendly touches that were really doing him in. They reminded him of a time when things between them had been comfortable and easy, before judgy "friends" had tried to convince the two of them that their growing closeness was wrong. Back then everyone, even Ric, seemed to have ganged up against him – trying to change him, trying to make him into something he wasn't, trying to convince Elena that he was a bad influence. Well, he admitted that he was, but the girl had needed shaking up, and she'd loved it. He was the only one who had ever seen her for her, and he'd allowed her to be herself without guilt or judgment. He'd never seen Elena laugh and smile with Stefan the way she had when she was with him. That alone should have spoken volumes to anyone paying attention.

After Elena went upstairs, he set about filling fragrance oil burners with different essential oils meant to help clear the mind and strengthen mental powers, and he placed them all around the first floor. He lit the burners with tea candles and soon the house began to smell of rosemary and frankincense oil with a hint of sandalwood and Clary sage. He didn't burn the coltsfoot yet because that one was best used when the subject was present and conscious.

Once back in the kitchen, he took the muskroot, packaged as jatamansi in capsules, and emptied the contents of half of the capsules into a mortar. He then chopped up some dried lemongrass and added some Japanese hojicha green tea. Hojicha was toasted sensha and was lower in caffeine. It also went well with the mint he intended to add. He wished he could use gotu kola, but that wasn't safe for a pregnant woman to use. He used a pestle ground all of the herbs together in the mortar, and then stored the mix in an airtight container.

After he was done, Damon went about the house dusting and tidying places that the cleaning crew had missed, and he serviced and restarted the grandfather clock. He also called and arranged to have his Camaro shipped to him on a cross-country transport that would get the car to him within the week. Then he sat down with Consumer Reports' special new car issue and read through the ratings, tagging the ones he thought were best for Elena to look at later. He'd been able to extend his rental car for another two days, but unless he could get Elena to buy a car off a dealer's lot, he'd have to drive Stefan's Porsche, and he'd hate to do that.

About two hours had passed, and he was thinking that Elena would be getting up soon, when he remembered that they hadn't bought her a new set of slippers, and he winced at his uncharacteristic forgetfulness. Cold tile notwithstanding, even the best-kept hardwood floors could throw off the occasional splinter, and he didn't want Elena to get hurt. He was pretty sure she had a set of slippers in her room at the Gilbert house, so he zipped upstairs to check on her to see if he might have enough time to go over there and pick them up. As he walked down the hallway that led to the bedrooms, he wasn't surprised to hear her heartbeat thudding behind his bedroom door instead of behind the door of the room she'd chosen for herself.

He opened the door as quietly as possible and peered inside, finding her curled on his bed, sound asleep. Part of him wished he could see her sleeping there every day, but another part knew he couldn't trust what she said she wanted until he broke the compulsion, and there was no telling what she would do after that. Her reluctance to answer him when he asked if it was okay to give in to Stepford Elena's advances made him worry. He sighed and closed the door, deciding that she wasn't going to wake up anytime soon based on her heartbeat and slow breathing. Still, he didn't want to be gone for too long, so he hurried out to the rental car and headed over to the Gilbert house.

He retrieved the key from its hiding place and entered through the front door. He found the slippers under the left side of her bed. He also picked her teddy bear up off the floor from where she'd dropped it yesterday and snagged the basket of laundry. He wasn't sure if she'd be happy to have the bear or not, or if any of the clothes in the basket would still fit her. He didn't think they would fit, to be honest. Adult Elena was curvy in places eighteen year-old Elena hadn't been, and he doubted that she'd be able to get into her skinny jeans. Six-year-old dirty laundry, however, was just too skanky for him to abide so he was taking it with him, and Elena could decide what she wanted to do with it after it was washed and dried.

He was back at the boarding house in less than forty minutes, and he slipped into his bedroom to see if Elena was still asleep. Seeing that she was, he placed the slippers on the floor next to her side of the bed and put the bear by the headboard on her opposite side. He then left her and went back downstairs to do the laundry and some prep work for dinner. He was just finishing up the homemade stock when Elena wandered sleepily into the kitchen.

"Good evening, sleepyhead," he greeted, skimming the fat off the top of the broth.

"Ugh," she complained, rubbing her face. "You shouldn't have let me sleep for so long."

He shrugged and poured the broth through a strainer to remove the solids. "You obviously needed the rest. You didn't even wake up when I brought you your slippers."

She smiled and looked down at her feet. "Thank you for that, by the way, and for my bear."

"I figured you'd want something that reminded you of home."

"You remind me of home," she stated, giving him a soft look.

Her words made him smile, but it was half a bittersweet grimace as he turned away under the pretense of dumping the solids into a separate bowl to be processed later. "You should work for Hallmark. You'd be great at writing sappy, romantic cards."

She walked around the island and sat in her spot on the counter next to the sink. "Is it so hard for you to believe that you remind me of home just as much as I remind you?"

"No, it's just that I wouldn't have thought you would see it that way. We didn't exactly set up housekeeping."

"Yes, we did in a way. That summer after Stefan went off with Klaus, and it was just you, me, Jeremy and Ric. We were kind of like a family."

He snorted and rolled his eyes. Stepford Elena was delusional if she thought he was going to fall for that one. "Right. The family that ganged up on me and thought the Council's plan to put vervain in the town's water supply was a good idea because it would help me stay in control."

She winced and dropped her eyes, her cheeks flushing. "That was wrong of us. We should have trusted you. You'd done so much to prove yourself, and we still automatically thought the worst of you. I'm sorry."

She had no idea how long he'd waited to hear her say something like that to him, and it cut him deep to know that she was compelled when she said it. Rage ripped through him, hot and blinding, and he struggled not to unleash a string of vindictive remarks meant to wound and scar as much as he was wounded and scarred. Elena wasn't the source of his pain, Klaus was, and it wouldn't be right for him to spew all his hate and anguish out at her. Six years ago he would have let her have it, but that was before he'd found himself and accepted his mistakes and failings. His beast had no control over him any longer, and he wouldn't let his frustration make him do something he'd later regret.

"Thank you. Apology accepted," he said.

She made a little sound of surprise and examined her nails. "Do you forgive me, then? For all the awful things I did to you?"

"Well, you know me, I'm not one to hold a grudge," he replied, smirking.

"Bullshit. I mean it, Damon. Do you forgive me?"

He reached over and brushed a tendril of hair away from her face. "I forgave you the moment after you did it. Besides, I left you with Klaus. I think that trumps any shitty thing you ever did to me."

"I told you before, I know you had no choice. If you hadn't left me with him, he would've killed all of you, then made my life a living hell. Did you know he broke my back to paralyze me so I couldn't run away?"

He grimaced. "Gloria might have mentioned something like that to me," he confessed, busying himself with collecting the enameled cast iron pot he needed for the risotto. It was a brilliant cobalt blue, and he'd always been fond of it.

"I would've stayed paralyzed, too, if not for Elijah. He gave me his blood so I'd heal."

"Good for him. Makes up for him betraying us on the night of the sacrifice," he commented, going to the cupboard where he had stored the ground tea mix.

"He wasn't all bad. Aside from that night, I always found him to be honorable. And he's much more trustworthy than Klaus."

"Debatable," he countered, putting water on for tea and spooning the mental clarity mix into the infuser. He washed the risotto pot while he waited for the water to boil.

"He tried to be there for me as much as he could. He'd reason with Klaus on my behalf, gain me privileges and such. He was a good friend. He tried very hard to talk Klaus out of this," she said, gesturing towards her womb.

"Can't say I'm impressed with his powers of persuasion," he admitted.

"He did his best. Sometimes Klaus listened to him, sometimes he didn't."

"Well, it's not like I don't know all about annoying, little brothers who never listen to what Big Bros have to say," he told her, giving her a wry look.

She chuckled. "Me too."

The water was boiling so he poured it into the mug and presented it to her.

"What's this?" she asked, giving it a sniff.

"New blend," he answered.

"One of Gloria's?"

"Something like that."

"Smells like there's mint in it."

"That would be because there is."

She set the mug down beside her on the counter, probably because she knew it needed to steep before she could drink it. He tried to remain nonchalant about it, but he was actually anxious to discover how the blend would affect her; if he would see changes right away or if it would take some time before he got any results.

"The house smells good, by the way. I saw you were burning some fragrance oils," she said, looking around the kitchen as if really seeing it for the first time. She hadn't spent too much time in this room since they'd usually cooked at her place.

"Just trying to clear away the musty, no-one's-lived-here-in-six-years smell," he explained, casually going over to the cupboard where he kept the herbs and drawing out a small bit of dried coltsfoot.

"I figured. You always were a neat freak."

"Hey, someone has to know how to keep house. God knows my brother was useless at it."

He sprinkled the dried herb into a small pot with a splash of water and put it on the stove, turning the burner on low. He knew the heat would make the coltsfoot start to steam and fill the kitchen with its smoke.

"So am I… or at least I was. I'm better at it now. I owe a lot of that to you."

"Really? Because I remember a certain teenager sneering at me and telling me she didn't need home-ec lessons from a homicidal psychopath," he countered, smiling to soften the jibe.

She shook her head. "I didn't mean that. I was just embarrassed that you knew how to properly sort laundry, and I didn't."

"You did all right."

"Only because I watched you. I know you thought I wasn't paying attention, but I really was. I learned a lot just by copying what I'd seen you do."

"Glad to have been of service."

"You were always trying to help me, trying to make me a better person. I know you were the one who put Ric up to teaching me how to keep a checkbook."

"Well, you weren't about to let me do it."

"I should have. You really taught Jer how to keep track of things. I don't think he ever told you, but he was grateful for the lessons."

"He was the man of the house. It was his duty to know how to manage the finances."

She snorted, and he glanced over at her, eyebrow raised.

"What?" he asked.

"Man of the house?" she repeated. "Do you even hear yourself? You sound all… Southern Gentleman."

"Well, I was. I was the perfect gentleman, all polite and proper. I always treated the ladies with the utmost respect," he countered, then let his mouth slide into a lascivious smirk. "Until I got them alone in the barn."

She laughed. "And even then I am sure they had no complaints."

"I'm not one to kiss and tell."

The tea was ready, so he made it a point to remove the infuser and place it in the sink before presenting Elena with the mug again. She accepted it with a small smile and took a tentative sip.

"What do you think?" he asked, trying to sound perfectly disinterested and calm.

"It's… different. A little bitter."

"That's the hojicha," he said, moving to get the honey pot so he could drizzle a bit into the tea.

"The what?"

"Hojicha. It's a green tea from Japan. Very good for you. Full of antioxidants," he explained, getting nervous because there was a sharp glint in her eyes.

'She knows! She knows what I'm trying to do! Quick, Salvatore, deflect!'

"And it has half the caffeine of other green tea."

Just like that, she rolled her eyes, and the suspicion disappeared from her gaze. "The caffeine thing again? Really, Damon? I told you. I'm allowed to have…"

"One cup of coffee a day. Yes, yes. I heard you," he replied, taking the mug long enough to drop in a bit of honey and give it a quick stir. "Here, try that."

She made a face at him, but complied, and he saw her take a good-sized swallow. By now the coltsfoot was steaming, and the scent of it was filling the kitchen. He busied himself with opening a bottle of pinot grigio to use in the risotto, and tried to make it seem like he wasn't watching Elena like a hawk to see if the tea would have any effect on her. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to be happening, and he felt a pang of bitter disappointment.

'It was unrealistic to expect it to work right away. Gloria warned me it would have to build up in her system,' he thought, trying not to be too disheartened.

He turned his back to her so he could concentrate on sweating the onions and garlic for the risotto. The water in the pot with the coltsfoot had all but boiled away so he removed it from the heat and turned off the burner. He'd burn more in an incense bowl later.

He was watching the onions begin to turn translucent when he heard Elena shift and set the mug down on the granite counter. From the hollow clink it made, he could tell it was empty, and he debated making her another cup, but decided against it, not wanting to seem too obvious. He was already half suspicious that Klaus had put fail-safes into the compulsion to ward off any tampering with it. He had to tread carefully.

He was reaching for the rice to rinse it before toasting it in the pot, when he heard Elena's uncertain voice speak his name.

"Damon?"

It was the way she said it that made the Christmas lights flicker on and the bells ring, and somewhere he was certain he could hear angels singing Hallelujah. It took everything he had not to instantly whirl around. Instead, he set the strainer with the rice in it down in the sink and gripped the edge of the counter.

"Don't turn around. I can't… I can't see your face," she told him, her voice steadier, but still strained.

"Is that part of it?" he asked carefully.

"Sometimes."

"Can you hand me the wooden spoon from the utensil crock next to you?" He didn't need it, but he wanted to see if she had control over her body.

It took her a while, and he was practically trembling with tension, but the end of the spoon finally tapped him on the arm. He didn't look as he reached a hand up to take it.

"Thanks," he said.

"What did you do?"

"If I tell you, will she find out?"

"I don't know. Maybe. We're not really separate people. I'm her, and she's me. We're just different sides of the same coin."

"Well, then, it's best that I not say. You'll just have to trust me."

"You know I do."

He gave a mirthless chuckle and bowed his head. He wanted so badly to turn around and look at her, but he knew he couldn't.

'She's Eurydice. If you look at her, she'll disappear,' he repeated over and over in his head.

"I wish… I wish I'd trusted you more back then. I wish… I wish I'd known what I know now," she admitted regretfully.

"Don't beat yourself up over it. Hindsight is always 20/20."

"And there you go, forgiving me when I don't deserve it."

"We don't know how long you'll be in control so let's not go down Memory Lane, okay? Especially when I'm not allowed to look at you or touch you."

"You were always so tactile. I figured out way too late that touch grounded you. I should have hugged you more and yelled less."

"Awww, now you're just getting mushy. You know how well I do with the touchy-feely stuff," he teased, picking up the strainer with the rice and rinsing it under some water to keep his hands busy.

He heard her laugh, and he could imagine her smile. It made him smile, too.

"I think it would depend on who was doing the touching."

"Touché," he quipped, shaking the excess water out of the strainer and dumping the rice in the pot to toast.

She fell silent, and he was half afraid that she'd been chased back into the dungeon by her alter ego, but then she spoke again, "I never got the chance to answer you this morning."

He went very still, hanging on her every word. This was it. She was going to give him her reply.

"No, you didn't," he prompted.

"I'm… I'm not against it, but… but I like the idea of us getting to know each other again, like you said."

He let the tension out of his shoulders and nodded. She hadn't said yes, but she hadn't said no, either.

"You think you can keep her from making passes at me?" he questioned, trying to sound nonchalant.

"Probably not, but I think between the two of us we can get her to tone it down."

"That would be appreciated."

"I know. I'm sorry she's coming on so strong."

"It's okay. I know I'm irresistible," he joked, trying to make light of it.

He could almost see her rolling her eyes. "Right. Like I said, I think we can get her to back off a little, at least for a while."

"Thanks."

She didn't speak again so he went back to focusing on the risotto, stirring the rice so it toasted evenly. It was almost time to add the wine.

"I've thought about it, you know? Going to bed with you," she said after a few moments, and the admission shocked him enough to make him gasp. "I'm no saint, either. Don't make me out to be one."

The statement sent his mind to whirring because he knew Elena would never be into casual sex, so who was it that she was being not-saintly with, and where was that person now?

"That's what I was, wasn't I? The good girl. The one who always did the right thing, the moral thing. Who always did what was expected of her. The one who stayed faithful to her boyfriend, and tried to save him even when he didn't want to be saved. I was such an idiot."

"You were young and in love. There's a difference," he said gently, not wanting her to be too hard on herself.

"You knew better. You knew from Katherine how love could go wrong when one partner didn't feel the same way as the other."

"Don't bring Katherine into this. You are nothing like Katherine."

"I'm more like her than you think."

"No, never," he vehemently disagreed, desperately wanting to break the rules and grab her so she could look into his eyes and know he was telling her the truth. "Katherine was a selfish, self-centered bitch who cared nothing for anyone but herself. You? You loved everyone more than yourself, more than anyone I've ever known. Not even Joan of Arc had such a martyr complex."

"I loved two brothers and couldn't choose between them."

"You told me it was always going to be Stefan," he reminded, trying not to sound too bitter or incredulous.

"And I meant that, when I said it. I did. But then with everything that happened with Klaus, and the sacrifice, and you almost dying… And then Stefan leaving with Klaus, and us trying to find him. All that time, you stood by me. You did whatever I needed you to do. I'd started to feel differently about you then, but I was too much of a coward to follow my heart."

Too much of a coward to follow her heart? What the hell was that supposed to mean? She'd never loved him. She'd made that perfectly clear that last day on the Navy Pier when she'd screamed it at him after he'd suggested they ride the Ferris Wheel. He poured in the wine and let it steam up, stirring the rice. He didn't know if he could deal with her delving into her feelings for him right now.

"You were always honest with me, even when what you had to tell me wasn't pretty or nice. And you never expected me to be anything but myself when I was with you. When we were together, just the two of us, I was free. I didn't have to be the good girl. I didn't have to be the moral one who made all the "right" choices. I could just be me, and that scared the hell out of me," she confessed.

He didn't answer, but it took a supreme amount of effort not to crush the wooden spoon in his hand.

"My fear made me want to hurt you, to push you away, because I wasn't supposed to like being with you so much, and you were the perfect target because I knew you'd take it…"

"Whoa, have you been watching re-runs of Dr. Phil or what? Gonna tell me all about my childhood traumas?" he snapped.

"And you'd lash out like that, and I'd scream at you and say horrible things," she said with a defeated sigh. "I'm sorry."

"Now who's turning who into a saint? Remember who it is you're talking to while you're waxing poetic about our past," he scolded with a snarl.

"I'm talking to the man who was willing to let me hate him if it meant saving my life and the lives of those I loved," she insisted stubbornly.

"You're confusing me with the wrong Salvatore. I'm not good. I'm not noble. I'm bad, and I like it."

"You keep telling yourself that, but I know the Damon who comforted Liz Forbes today for no other reason than he knew how much she must be hurting not knowing if Caroline was dead or alive," she shot back angrily.

"She's the sheriff. Always good to have a sheriff on your side," he deflected.

"Damon, I know you, and it's okay for you to be you when you're with me…"

"No, I can't, Elena, because you're not you, and if I'm me with not-you then I'm going to do things you'll never forgive me for."

"That isn't true. Damon, I know…" She stopped suddenly and drew a sharp breath.

"Elena?" he asked, worried. Was he losing her already, and all they'd really done was argue?

"I'm losing control…" she whispered, an edge of fear in her voice.

"I'll brew more tea," he stated, reaching for the mix.

"No. It's okay. Let me go for now."

"Elena…"

"You know how to help me come back, but we can't do it too often. She'll catch on."

He gave up the fight and spun on one heel, pivoting to face her as he grabbed her by the arms and stared directly into her wide eyes. He needed to see her, and he needed her to see him.

"Elena."

"Damon," she breathed, her eyes brimming with tears.

'I love you!' he wanted to declare, but it was too late. Her pupils contracted, and he knew she was gone. Stepford Elena looked back at him and smiled a beatific smile that made him want to sob.

"Is everything okay?" she asked him.

He released her arms and took a step back. "Yeah, everything is fine. I saw you swaying a bit, and I was worried you were zoning out on me. I think it was the fumes from the wine I poured into the pot. You never could handle your liquor."

"Hey, who drank you under the table at Bree's?" she argued, insulted.

"Oh fine. Bring up the fact that I can't unhinge my jaw like a snake to consume alcohol," he quipped, looking at her over his shoulder as he turned back to the risotto. He needed something else to focus on or he'd be brewing a new batch of tea and burning his entire supply of coltsfoot just for another few minutes with her.

She laughed and tossed her hair back. "I remember that trip. I was so mad at Stefan, and so mad at you."

"Mad at me? Why? What did I do?" he asked all innocent and offended.

"You kidnapped me, you jerk," she answered, slapping him on the arm.

"I did no such thing. I rescued you from a car wreck, you fainted, and I just brought you along with me because it wasn't safe to leave you alone on the side of the road while you were unconscious. Besides, you needed the five minute time-out."

She huffed and nodded. "Boy did I ever. That was a good trip."

"Except for that idiot trying to set me on fire," he reminded her.

"Yeah, there was that, but I stopped him from killing you, so it was all good."

"Right," he said dubiously.

The wine had reduced by half, so he added two cups of the chicken stock and set the timer.

"That smells delicious," she said, taking a deep sniff. "I've always loved your cooking."

"And here I thought you only kept me around for my good looks."

"Well, that too, but I have to admit your cooking is a serious perk."

He poured himself a glass of the pinot grigio and saluted her with it. "Duly noted."

"How long until dinner's ready?"

"About thirty minutes."

She hopped down from the counter and went to get plates. "I'll set the table."

"Okay. While you're in the dining room, check out the copy of Consumer Reports I left on the table for you. I dog-eared the cars I thought would be best."

"Great. I'll be sure to check them out. Thank you."

"No problem."

She flashed him a happy grin as she breezed out of the kitchen with the plates, and he breathed a sigh of relief once she was out of sight. He needed a moment to process what his Elena had told him about the nature of her compulsion and her feelings for him. While she hadn't come right out and given him the green light to have sex with her, she had left the door open for sex at a later time, and he could live with that. He was very good at living on hope. It was all he'd done for 145 years before he found out that Katherine had betrayed him. That being said, he also hoped that his Elena could make good on her promise to help tone down her alter ego's advances because Little Damon had trouble grasping the concept of "not now."

He also had to process what she'd said about her feelings. Did she really think she'd made the wrong choice? Was she finally admitting that she felt something for him that was more than friendship? Was she telling him that she still felt the same way? Could Stepford Elena's vampire girlfriend persona be built on Elena's true beliefs?

He couldn't handle thinking about it right now because Stepford Elena was in the dining room setting the table, and he didn't know when his Elena would be back. Instead, he concentrated on the risotto, adding more liquid in steady intervals so that all of the stock he'd set aside for it would be absorbed, and he made a tossed salad with spring mix, baby spinach, tomatoes and cucumbers while the rice simmered. Cooking helped him clear his mind and focus on the challenges ahead. The tea and coltsfoot had worked to allow his Elena some control over her own mind and body again, but she couldn't maintain it for long, and if they did it too often, then her evil twin would get suspicious. It was going to be a delicate dance for both of them, but as long as they both knew what moves to make, they'd be okay.

The last step for the risotto was adding the cooked chicken and the Parmesan cheese, and he worked those in until the rice was thick and creamy. He announced dinner as he carried the pot into the dining room and set it down on a trivet. Elena was sitting at the table, reading through the pages of Consumer Reports that he'd dog-eared for her inspection, and she smiled at him when he came in.

"That smells incredible," she said, staring at the steaming food.

"I hope you're hungry."

"Starving."

"Let me get the salad and the drinks," he said, ducking back into the kitchen to fetch the greens and the wine. He also brought out a pitcher of ice water and a glass of blood.

He sat down across from her and waited for her to serve herself before taking his portion.

"Mmmmm, so good. I don't know which is better, this or the campanelle you made last night," she confessed, taking a bite.

"Apples and oranges," he said, sipping his blood. "Have you narrowed the search down?"

"I think it's between the Audi and the Subaru."

"Both are good."

"Yeah. The Audi gets great gas mileage, but the Subaru has the better safety record, and the all-wheel drive gets a higher rating than the Audi."

"It's a tough choice. Why don't we see what dealerships have the models you want in stock and go for a couple of test drives tomorrow?" he offered.

"I think that's a great idea."

"Good. It's settled then. We'll go to Richmond tomorrow, do some shopping, look for a car for you…"

"You need to go to the hospital, too, right? You're getting low on supplies?"

"I've enough for another couple of days, but yeah, that would be a good idea, too."

"Okay then, we'll make a day of it."

"Sounds like a plan," he agreed.

She grinned, obviously thrilled by the idea of spending all day shopping with him. "Great."

They finished dinner, and Elena helped him clear the table, wash the dishes and put away the leftovers. There was enough risotto left for a couple of lunches, and he set it aside in individual serving containers that could be easily nuked. When the kitchen was tidy, they retired to his room since there was no television in the parlor, and he put on some innocuous sitcom about two young twenty-somethings sharing an apartment in New York City. Elena seemed to enjoy it, at the very least, even if he found it annoying, and he was much happier when the show ended and "The Big Bang Theory" came on.

Sometime later, Elena was craving something sweet so he went down to the kitchen to make homemade hot chocolate with milk, double cocoa powder and a dash of vanilla. He topped them off with fresh made whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and then brought them up to his room where Elena was waiting. She'd changed into her granny PJs while he was gone, and he found her nestled under his blankets with his pillows piled up around her for support. He offered her a mug as he slid into bed beside her, and she accepted it with both hands.

"Mmmm," she sighed appreciatively.

When she lowered the mug, he saw that she had gotten whipped cream on her nose, and he reached out to wipe it away before he could stop himself.

"You have whipped cream on your face," he explained, swiping it off with his thumb and bringing it to his lips. It tasted faintly of her skin.

She smirked at him and deliberately dipped her nose in the whipped cream, daring him to wipe it off again, only this time when he did, she grabbed his hand before he could bring his finger to his mouth and brought it to her own instead. He closed his eyes and tried not to moan out loud as she slipped his finger between her lips and sucked.

"Elena…" It was both a plea and a warning.

"Too much?" she asked, suddenly uncertain.

"Yeah, a little," he admitted, even as his traitorous body screamed 'No! Not enough!'

"I'll stop, I promise. Just don't send me away," she vowed, her eyes wide and pleading.

"I won't."

"Thank you," she said with obvious relief and tucked herself against his side, using his shoulder as a headrest.

"The Big Bang Theory" ended and one of the network's latest crime dramas came on. He sipped his hot cocoa, while keeping one eye on the TV and the other on an increasingly drowsy Elena. He slipped the mug from her hand as soon as she was finished, and placed the empty cup next to his on the bedside table. Then he wrapped one arm around her as she curled next to him, resting her hand on his chest. She was asleep before the show in the ten o'clock timeslot was over.

Carefully extricating himself from her hold, he slipped out of bed long enough to take the dirty mugs down to the kitchen, give them a quick wash, and grab a blood bag before going back upstairs. Elena was still asleep when he returned, looking for all the world like a lostling who had taken refuge in his bed, and he sighed as he rummaged in his dresser drawers for a set of seldom used pajamas. Since he usually slept in the nude or in just his underwear, he had little occasion to wear anything more than a pair of boxer briefs to bed, but he did remember getting a set of high quality silk sleepwear from a would-be lover. The relationship, such as it was, had ended with him making her forget he'd ever existed, but he'd kept the pajamas because he'd liked how they'd felt against his skin. A heightened sense of touch made most vampires sensory hedonists, and he was no exception. If Elena ever found out about his fetish for feathers, silk and velvet, he was a dead undead man.

He found the pajamas neatly folded at the bottom of his underwear drawer and pulled them out. They were black, of course, but soft as a girl's skin, and he stripped off his shirt and jeans so he could slip them on. He toyed with the idea of just putting on the drawstring pants and leaving himself shirtless, but decided that would probably be too much for Stepford Elena to resist. He was a sexy beast after all, and his abs were the envy of many a man. He also felt obligated to respond in kind since Elena had gone through the trouble of putting on the granny PJs, when he knew she preferred to sleep in a skimpy tank and shorts. The least he could do was cover up his gorgeous body so she wouldn't be tempted.

Who was he kidding? Her head against his naked chest? Her warm breath blowing over his nipple? He had control, but even he had limits.

It felt odd to be so covered as he got back into bed, but he figured he'd get used to it, although he secretly hoped he would be able to "lose" the pajamas soon and go back to sleeping au naturale. He turned off the TV and the light and settled on his left side, facing Elena. It amused him that they'd already claimed "sides," him keeping to the right side of the bed, closest to the door, and Elena on the left. He noticed that they were the same sides they preferred when sleeping alone, and he mused on the irony of not having the whose-side-of-the-bed-is-whose argument. He pulled the blankets up over his body and burrowed down into the softness of his pillows with a happy sigh. He loved this bed. He was just on the edge of sleep when he heard Elena's muffled voice murmur his name.

"Damon?"

"I'm here," he answered.

A tentative hand searched for him and found his silk-clad arm, and then she shifted her whole body to align with his, her arm snaking under his elbow to rest across his waist. Her head tucked under his chin as she laid it on the same pillow he was using, and he felt her soft breath on his neck. He closed his eyes and dared to stroke her hair, letting it slide through his fingertips until he felt her relax into a deeper sleep. When he was certain she was fully unconscious, he snuggled close and allowed himself to follow her into dreamland.