Author's notes: Written for the tvdfic_exchange on LiveJournal. This story's been a challenging monster for quite a while now, and it's taken a small village to get me through it. Thank you to my relentless cheerleaders and betas, Candy, Heather-Ann, Mariah and bamf!Pilar.

Prompt: Damon and Elena - I don't love you, but I always will. A future!fic in which they are on-and-off for decades. They have an understanding.

well, I've been afraid of changing
'cause I've built my life around you


Elena is twenty years old when she leaves Mystic Falls.

She doesn't move far away, though. Her freshman year at a nearby college behind her, she decides to find an apartment closer to campus, and she plans to spend the summer looking for a place to live. Her plan is to be moved in and settled by the time the fall term begins.

The commute is a killer, and the only reason she waits that long is to see Jeremy get through high school and graduate. He's going to move away to start school - all the way across the country - and he makes it clear he doesn't want her to go with him. She understands; who wants to go away to college with their big sister following along behind them? It's decided that, come September, they'll sell their family home and keep the lake house, and then go their separate ways.

They'll never live together again, not like this, so they make an actual effort to spend as much time with each other as possible. Fights come up, but for the most part, they get along better than they have for years. They know they need to get the house packed up, but somehow they never seem to get around to it. Instead they rock-paper-scissors over household chores, avoid cooking at all costs, and nothing changes, not really. The only argument they get into involves paint colors for the living room and kitchen, a mild fight that lasts a week until Jeremy realizes he doesn't care, he just doesn't want to paint. It's a shallow victory for Elena, since she's the one who's going to be the one to do the job.

The two of them pack like lazy children who've never moved anywhere in their entire lives and think it's an easy task that can be pushed off, avoided until the last possible moment. By the end of July, half-filled open boxes litter the house, creating paths they use to travel from room to room. They'll get to it.


They come home one afternoon to find Damon sitting on the floor of their half-cleared living room. The two of them stop short and stare at the sight of him wrapping something in newspaper before placing it carefully in the open box beside him.

"What the hell are you doing?" Jeremy finally asks.

Damon glances up, sneering as he says, "What's it look like I'm doing? Sorry, that's a stupid question. Clearly neither one of you know what packing looks like."

It's Elena's turn to state the obvious. She hasn't seen or heard from him in several weeks and as far as she'd been aware, she'd left things a mess between them, so she's more than a little thrown. "You . . . broke in . . . to pack . . . for us?"

"It was either that or call the Hoardershotline myself."

Jeremy takes that as his cue to leave, turning right around and heading for the door without so much as a word. So much for family togetherness, although Elena can't bring herself to blame him. Damon looks like he's about to start handing out orders, and if she didn't think he'd follow, she'd turn and leave, too.

Hell, she'd run.

Choosing between the Salvatores had turned out to be an awful mistake. Vampirism had heightened everything for her, and making a choice hadn't been any help at all because her feelings hadn't been as clear-cut as they'd once been.

Stefan had tried to be what she'd needed, and together they'd tried to recapture the magic of their early days, but there'd been no going back, no recreating what they'd lost. She'd broken things off with Stefan at the end of last summer, just before she'd started her freshman year at Biltmore College. By then it had been more of a mutual decision than anything else; he hadn't been what she'd needed and vice versa, and they'd vowed to remain friends.

But when life as a vampire had been too hard or too lonely, it had been easy to slip back into old patterns. Too easy, really. Stefan had always seemed to be there whenever she'd turned to him, ready to take her back and try again.

The trying had always failed.

And as she and Stefan had drifted further and further apart she'd been drawn inextricably closer to Damon.

"Have you been here long?" she asks, stepping further into the living room.

"Long enough." He gestures to the three carefully labeled boxes neatly taped shut and stacked against the wall. "You know I live for this shit. Why didn't you call me for help?"

Elena sighs. Things with Damon had been a different story. There'd been nothing easy about it, just a painful push-and-pull that had never gotten them anywhere. They hadn't been friends, but they hadn't been lovers either, a situation that had frustrated them both. She'd flirted with the edge, come close to crossing the line with him, only to back off and run.

A relationship with Damon - a real, adult, lasting relationship - was such a foreign concept to her that she couldn't begin to imagine it. They'd screw it up, they'd hurt each other, they'd consumeone another, something Elena wasn't ready for.

She didn't want to be swallowed up by love.

Setting her purse down, she crosses her arms and raises a brow. "Clean break from both of you, remember?"

"Ah, yes, the 'I choose me' speech." Rolling his eyes, he turns back to the task at hand. The cycle had continued over and over - she'd pull away from one while gravitating toward the other - until six weeks ago when she'd sat them both down. She'd explained that she needed to concentrate on herself and that she thought they should all just move on. Stefan, supportive as always, had agreed. Damon's eyes had called bullshit, but he hadn't voiced it, and he'd stayed away.

Until now.

"About that," he says without looking up from the box he's packing. "I actually came by to tell you that I'm leaving town."

Her entire world tilts a few degrees to the side. "You're what?"

"Why do you sound so surprised? Do you think you're the only one ready for their life to quit revolving around the other two?" He doesn't sound the least bit bitter, just calm and reasonable, which is a pleasant surprise. But then, because he's Damon, he can't just leave it there. He has to keep talking. "I also thought it might be easier for you to stick to your guns without yours truly around to tempt you. I mean, let's be honest . . . we both know your self control's kind of shaky where I'm concerned, am I right? I'm just trying to help you out here, Elena. Be a pal. That sort of thing."

He may be teasing her but he's not exactly wrong and they both know it. By the time he's finally done talking she wants to either hit him or kiss him, which makes her smile even as her eyes well at the thought of being truly separated from him. She blinks away her sudden tears and snarks right back. "Thanks for the concern, friend, but I can't help noticing you didn't seem to get very far."

"Oh, so you wouldn't have minded at all if I'd disappeared into the ether without a word?" He lifts a knowing eyebrow then turns back to the task at hand. "When no one answered I broke inby using my very own key. I was going to either leave a note or wait until you got back, but either way, I got distracted by chaos and disaster."

"It's not that bad," she protests, laughing. "But you're right, I should have called you. I suck at this stuff. You've already done more than we've done all summer."

"Well, don't expect this every time you move." Pointing to the patch of floor beside him, he says, "Come sit down and learn how to do this right. You're going to be moving every five years or so for the rest of forever. Might as well be organized about it."

She spends the rest of the afternoon packing up her living room with him. She shares stories about her parents that she hasn't thought of in years, and Damon asks the right questions but doesn't let her dwell. Instead, he keeps her busy, fetching more paper and bringing him more tape when the dispenser runs out.

"I'm dumb," she blurts out of nowhere, watching his hands as he carefully wraps the base of her grandmother's hurricane lamp. How in the world had she been so naive as to think that all it would take was some grand 'I choose me' speech and everything would change? Just saying she wants to move on won't make it happen. She needs to actually do it.

And as usual, Damon is two steps ahead of her.

"You're not dumb," he says, concentrating on carefully stuffing the glass funnel with paper. "You're just young."

Clean breaks are a myth, she thinks, wondering how she's going to cope with waking up and knowing that Damon's not just a phone call away. Maybe they just don't exist. Especially not when you love someone and you're both going to live forever.

"I don't mean about the packing."

He glances over at her briefly. "I know what you meant."

When he leaves that evening she walks him out to his car, noting the duffel bags in the backseat. He kisses her, cupping her face in his hands, but he keeps it relatively short and sweet with a minimum of tongue involved. This isn't goodbye, after all.

"See you soon," he says. She watches him drive away and reminds herself that this is exactly what she wanted, exactly what she needed from him.

As she turns and walks back toward the house Elena begins to smile. Choosing herself was the best decision for all three of them, she's more sure of that than ever now. And while her freedom may feel bittersweet, freedom also means she can always change her mind.

She has all the time in the world to figure it out.

but time makes you bolder


Nine years later, Bonnie's wedding brings her back to town.

Damon crashes the reception, because of course he does. In the middle of a pleasant conversation with a few fellow guests, Elena hears him before she sees him and turns away mid-sentence to scan the crowded room. She spots him instantly, and her breath catches at the sight of him even as her heart begins to pound away within her chest.

He's wearing a dark, perfectly tailored suit like he belongs here, like he'd been invited, and Elena knows that's not the case. She'd helped with the guest list herself and she clearly remembers Bonnie making a point of not inviting either Salvatore. Bonnie and Stefan had lost touch soon after graduation, and as for Damon, she didn't know where she'd send an invitation to even if she wanted to. Who knew where Damon even lived, anyway? Bonnie was also of the opinion that Damon would make an ass out of himself at some point, and then she'd end up frying his brain right in front of God and everyone she knew.

"Besides," she'd added, smiling somewhat fondly. "He'd probably 'forget' to bring a gift, anyway."

He's saying something to Bonnie now, that familiar smirk stretched across his beautiful face, but Elena can't quite make it out over a sudden swell of music. As she watches, rooted to the spot, Bonnie accepts a kiss to the cheek with a wry smile and points him toward a corner table full of older ladies and one empty chair. "If I didn't know any better, Bennett, I'd say you were expecting me," he tells her, amusement evident in his voice.

Behind Elena, the string quartet finishes their song, and in the quiet that follows she says Damon's name. His attention clearly caught, he lifts his head immediately and their eyes meet across the distance. She smiles, giddiness sweeping through her, and he smiles back, his eyes crinkling up at the corners. Then he drops her gaze to give her unflattering brown-and-green bridesmaid's dress a slow once over, eyebrows lifting in obvious, exaggerated judgement.

Elena laughs in response, rolling her eyes, and as a waiter walks past, she sets her empty glass on the tray he carries and picks up a full one. Her attention is diverted for no more than a few seconds, three at the most, but apparently that's plenty of time for a middle-aged woman to walk up to Damon and ask him to dance.

She watches as Damon graciously accepts, amused despite her disappointment. You can't crash someone's wedding and then turn down the bride's tipsy relatives when they approach you, especially when you're not sure which woman's a witch. When he glances at Elena and briefly widens his eyes over his partner's shoulder, she raises her glass in a mock salute before taking a drink.

It isn't long before Tyler sidles up beside her with a drink of his own in hand. "Will wonders never cease," he says as he tips his chin in Damon's general direction. "You wanna dance?"

Due to their shared Founding Family heritage, the two of them had learned how to do a rudimental waltz together at the tender age of twelve, so pairing up for the remainder of the song requires next to no effort. As they step and turn in tandem, Elena listens with half an ear while Tyler fills her in on the last several years of his life. She's too distracted by brief glimpses of Damon to pay much attention.

Damon seems to be similarly affected, because every time she gets a look at him he's looking back.

When the corner of his mouth lifts and he gives her a wink, Elena feels a delicious warmth bloom deep within her, a heat that spreads like fire through her veins. She offers him a quick wink of her own in return as the music fades to a close.

Tyler lets her go with a glance over her shoulder and a kiss to her cheek, saying, "Always nice to see you, Elena. Keep in touch."

When she turns to make her way through the crowd, she stops short at the sight of Damon right behind her. Only a foot apart, she's struck by the sight of him up close, by the startling beauty of his face and those intense, intelligent, gorgeousblue eyes. Damon's just as caught as she is, his gaze sweeping over her face before lowering to take in the bare shoulders and cleavage created by the halter neckline of her awful dress.

As they stare, she wonders for a crazy second if the witches in attendance can literally see sparks fly, if it actually looks like an arc of pure electricity leaping between them, because that's exactly what it feels like. A new song begins and she steps in close to slide her arms around his neck, and when Damon pulls her against him she feels the sizzle of awareness burn bright and hot between them.

His hands settle on the small of her back and her eyes drop of their own accord to the curve of his mouth and the softness of his lower lip. Right then and there, Elena knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she's going to sleep with Damon before the night is over with.

"Hi," he says softly, warmly, his voice full of affection, and she drags her gaze back up to his.

She means to return it, to let him know how much she's missed him, ask him about his life and how he's been. What comes out is: "If we leave right now do you think anyone will notice?"

Damon blinks, once, then glances around at their fellow guests. "Probably. Aren't you the Maid of Honor? And also, do we care?"

"No. Ugh.Yes," she sighs, deflating a little. "Caroline will kill me and I want to see Bonnie off."

"How much longer til that happens?"

Elena thinks back to what Caroline had told her over the phone the day before. "I don't know, half an hour, I think? Longer?"

Damon lifts an eyebrow, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. "I can work with that," he says, nodding decisively.

Elena spends the next twenty minutes in the backseat of her rental car, the taffeta skirt of her gown hiked up around her waist and his head between her legs. She's babbling nonsense and tugging at his hair when she picks up the sound of her own name, the strident tone cutting right through her hazy, happy fog.

Caroline had apparently taken notice of her absence. And from the sound of it, she's standing right outside the reception hall's back door, her voice pitched low and fierce.

"Elena Gilbert, you get your butt back in here, I mean it. You've got things to do! Go be a dirty skank with Damon on your own damn time, right now we need the Maid of Honor."

Damon lifts his head and her eyes are drawn to the shine covering his face from nose to chin. "Duty calls," she groans regretfully, sweeping the pad of her thumb over his slick lower lip.

"'Duty' sounds a lot like a schedule-happy killjoy who needs to dislodge the stick," Damon says, nipping at her thumb.

"I heard that, asshole."

"Meant you to, Barbie."

Elena interjects before things can get any less friendly. "I'm on my way, Caroline, be there in just a minute," she says, then lowers her voice for Damon's ears only. "I'm sorry, I don't know how long I'll be . . . but I want . . . "

"Come by the house when you're done. Stefan's still in France," he says, sitting up and reaching into the driver's seat to grab her underwear. Pocketing the damp material he adds, "By the way, I'm keeping these."

"Aren't you coming back in with me?"

Damon glances down at the prominent erection straining against the fly of his pants. "No?"

His expression is pained and she knows she shouldn't laugh but she can't help it. She leans up to kiss him, tasting herself on his mouth. "God, I've missed you."

"I did get that impression, yes," he says, and grabs for her chin when she tries to pull away so he can kiss her again, once and then twice more before letting her go.

The next morning, she wakes up in the Salvatore boarding house, and before she even opens her eyes she's assaulted by scents and sounds so familiar she feels eighteen all over again. Except she's never woken up in this particular Salvatore's bed before, and she's certainly never been spooned naked by him, either.

After leaving him to his own devices in the back of her car, more than two hours had passed before she'd been able to get away. Damon had been waiting for her at the boarding house in an armchair near the fire in the living room, watching the flickering flames when she'd finally shown up.

"Took you long enough," he'd said, setting his glass down on the small table beside him as she'd stepped out of her heels. Walking up to where he'd sat, she'd gathered up the skirt of her gown high enough to straddle him, too eager to pick up where they'd left off to acknowledge his teasing remark. Their lips had met as she'd melted against him, his mouth opening under hers as his hands skimmed up her thighs and underneath the bunched material. Keeping her underwear had been a stroke of genius on his part.

After that things had moved rather quickly.

Sex with Damon had turned out to be everything she'd ever thought it would be, only more. More intense, more passionate, but also more loving, tender at times, almost sweet. And more than anything else, being with him had felt . . . right. In ways she'd never felt before, not with anyone else.

It would be so easy just to stay here, wake up the next morning and the next just like this, snuggled down under the covers in the comfort of his arms. They can't remain in Mystic Falls for longer than a brief visit, so when he leaves she could leave with him, be with him, and they could stay together, forever. She's more than just a little tempted by the idea.

Hasn't she had this very daydream a hundred times over the years, a thousand?

But it's not what she wants. Not right now. There's so many things she still wants to do, see, know, learn-and while she knows she could do all that with Damon by her side, it wouldn't be the same. She wants to stay single and carefree and do exactly what she wants to do exactly when she wants to do it, without regard to anyone else's wants or needs.

She doesn't want to hurt him, get his hopes up only to run back to her life. But the truth is, she likes the life she's been building for herself. She lives in a cute, shabby little apartment in a big, beautiful city, she holds down a job and she's made a few friends. And all of it belongs to her alone. For the first time she's not someone's daughter, sister, friend or girlfriend. She's just Elena.

She doesn't want to compromise.

She wants to be free.


"Don't care," he grumbles. "Too early."

"Damon," she begins again, blowing out a breath. "I can't stay."

Damon doesn't answer for a moment or so, and she thinks he's either fallen back asleep or he's simply ignoring what he doesn't want to hear. But then he pulls her closer to him and buries his face in her hair, inhaling deeply.

"Maybe I can come see you in New York sometime this summer," is all he says, his voice a sleepy-sounding rumble in her ear.

She knows she's being selfish, she knows how much it costs him to stay away and let her have all the time she needs to figure out what she wants from life. But if he's still always two steps ahead of her, then he already knows what she's just figured out: they'll be together someday. Like he said once - it's right.

It's just not right now.

can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
can I handle the seasons of my life?


Elena sits soaking in a claw-foot porcelain bathtub on her fiftieth birthday and cries while Damon washes her hair.

She doesn't think of Her Life as it Should Have Been all that often. It's pointless, and Elena doesn't like to worry about things she can't change, not anymore. She's learned not only how to pick her battles but how to spot a lost cause; she doesn't waste time on fighting fights she knows she can't win, and for the most part she no longer flails at the injustices of the world, either.

But sometimes . . . sometimes she gets knocked sideways by a random thought, and then she has to sit down and be still. Otherwise she might just tear the world apart with her bare hands.

She'd been getting undressed and had happened to glance at herself in the bathroom mirror, at the body of a teenage girl eternally on the cusp of true adulthood. Of course she'd been thinking of her age all day, but it hadn't truly hit her until just then. Inside, she's a woman fully grown, and she'll never really look the part. As she'd studied her reflection she'd wondered, would I have had grey in my hair by now? Crows feet, laugh lines?

Stretch marks?

Her brain had skittered away from the thought.

She'd continued to undress and then she'd climbed into the tub, intent on a long, leisurely soak. She'd planned it so she'd have plenty of time to get ready, but instead of turning on the taps she'd wrapped her arms around her knees, laid her head down and started to cry.

She'd wound up missing her own carefully arranged, supposed secret birthday party. Caroline was bound to be upset - everyone in their group lives separate lives scattered far and wide, and she knew it wasn't an easy task, getting everyone together in the same place, at the same time. She'd also known Caroline would understand once she'd talked to her about it, but she'd have to get out of the tub first and she didn't think she could do that.

Her phone had begun beeping ten minutes after the party was supposed to start. She'd ignored all the calls, all the voicemail alerts, every text message notification, focusing instead on the steady in and out of her own breathing.

Time had passed and then she'd heard a key turn in the lock of her front door, followed by the sure and steady footsteps she'd know anywhere. She'd lifted her head to find him standing in the doorway, taking in the situation.

"Sorry I ruined the party." It was the first thing she'd said to him face-to-face in nearly three years.

"So what? Fuck it," he'd said. "Whatever this is already looks like more fun than hanging out with any of those people. What are we doing, crying in an empty bathtub about how we're old and life's unfair? I'm in."

Shrugging off his jacket, he'd laid it on the counter then unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt and rolled up the sleeves. He'd twisted the faucet handles on and, as the tub had begun to fill with water, he'd disappeared, returning a moment later with a large wine glass filled to the brim with a vintage red left over from New Year's. In his other hand he'd carried a large, empty cup.

He'd set both the wine and the cup on the floor beside the tub and then stripped quickly, saying, "How do you not have any bubblebath? Scoot up."

She'd sniffled as she'd made room for him to settle in behind her, turning off the water as the level rose dramatically with the additional body. It was a tight fit, sitting between his legs, but when she'd made to lean back against him, he'd stopped her with a hand between her shoulder blades. "Tilt your head back."

Slightly confused, Elena had obliged as he'd shifted behind her. He'd poured water over her hair then, slowly, again and again, using the cup he'd brought in with him. The heat of the water had begun to relax her and she'd tilted her head in different directions to give him better access. Once her hair was thoroughly soaked, he'd reached past her for the bottle of shampoo on the shelf beside them.

If she'd found the water soothing, it was nothing compared to the touch of his hands. They were gentle, tender yet firm, as he massaged the shampoo into her scalp for long minutes at a time. His fingers had slipped through the wet strands, teasing apart the few tangles he'd come across. Hot tears slipped from the corners of her closed eyes as she'd let herself think about how she might have spent the evening celebrating, had she gotten to live out her natural, human life.

Who knows? Maybe she'd have still wound up spending her birthday bawling in a bathtub while Damon washed her hair.

Only the picture they'd have made would have looked a little different.

Damon doesn't ask her to talk about it, thank God, but he doesn't need to, either. It's enough, more than enough, just to have him with her, just to have his touch and feel how much he loves her. It makes her think about the best parts of her eternal life, the parts she'll have forever - Damon himself, but also Caroline, Tyler, and of course, to a lesser extent, Stefan. Her family. The one she'll still have after her brother passes on, when Bonnie's spirit crosses over to join her ancestors'.

The worst of her sadness eases away as he rinses out the soap with cupful after cupful of warm water, leaving her a little embarrassed as she finally leans back against him.

"I must be a real mess." The wine glass is slippery with condensation when she lifts it and takes a long, generous swallow before continuing. "This isn't how you usually try to make me feel better. This is - this is like a scene from a movie or something. Or a book called 'How to Comfort a Woman' that you read somewhere once."

"Are you complaining?" He gives a lock of her hair a swift, somewhat playful tug then reaches over her shoulder to take the glass from her grasp, and from the sound of it, drink the rest of it in a few healthy gulps.

Setting it back down, he sweeps her hair to one side and plants a kiss to her shoulder, and then his hands begin to wander and slowly explore. Down over her shoulders and back, around her waist and up over her ribs to cup her breasts and tease her soft nipples into hardened peaks with the sweep of his thumbs.

She shifts in his hold, tipping her head back against his shoulder, but it's such a tight fit she can't do much more than lie there and enjoy his touch. So she does exactly that, her body responding to a different kind of comfort.

"If you're done stewing, let's dry off and go to bed," Damon says, his mouth near her ear. "There's birthday sex to be had and youknowhow I feel about fucking in water, so up you go, babe. Come on."

As the last of her tears begin to dry on her face, Elena laughs so hard she ends up snorting.

oh, mirror in the sky
what is love?


The tickets turn up in the mail one particularly dismal afternoon in March, on an otherwise crappy day. She'd hit the snooze button two times too many that morning, reluctant to leave the warmth of her bed and face the world. Instead she'd wanted to lie there and drift and listen to the rain pelting the windows of her apartment. When she'd finally checked her phone there were several missed calls and it was much later than she'd thought, so no time for anything but a quick shower and a ponytail. No time for coffee either, but it didn't matter anyway. She'd forgotten to go by the store and pick up more cream.

Work is hectic and when she comes back from her break that afternoon, there's a stack of mail waiting for her on her desk. She sits with a sigh and rifles through it, wondering what fresh hell awaits her. As a junior editor she spends most of her time reading submitted manuscripts, but after the morning she's had, Elena doesn't expect anything good to fall into her lap today.

One envelope's been marked Personal but there isn't a return address, and when she opens it there's no note inside, either. Just a small fortune's worth of first-class airline tickets with her name on them, dated for the end of July, along with a travel brochure.

The brochure's glossy cover had been nothing but a shot of white sand, cloudless sky and turquoise ocean, with 'Kamalame Cay - Andros Island - Bahamas' written across the top. Paradise. The inside of the brochure listed all sorts of features and accommodations that emphasize privacy and seclusion, but all Elena can see are the pictures.

Her first instinct is to call him. She wants to tell him that she'll consider it, wants to thank him for the lovely gesture - but really she wants to argue with him. The cost is absolutely ridiculous, for one thing, and even though she knows money means less than nothing to him, the fact remains that it's her turn to pay for a trip.

She'd already begun to make plans to meet him somewhere in the fall, nothing this extravagant, certainly, but still. It's almost like he'd somehow known about her idea to drag him to Ireland for a long weekend in November, and had swooped in to nip that shit in the bud.

She doesn't call him, because there isn't any use protesting; if she doesn't go, he'll just wind up on her doorstep. Or she'll come in to work one day to find him at her desk, cheerfully chatting with her co-workers while he waits for her. He'll do something fun like introduce himself to her boss as her long-term part-time lover, and then she'll have to compel the people around her to forget all about the blue-eyed stranger making everyone uncomfortable. Elena knows from experience that it isn't worth the hassle.

So she tucks the brochure into the top drawer of her desk and sends him a one-word text: Asshole.

His reply comes back instantly, as if he'd been sitting somewhere with his phone in his hand, waiting. It's just a ;) but it warms her immeasurably, making her smile even as she shakes her head.

She spends the rest of the afternoon shopping online for scandalous swimwear and thinking of tropical islands, a whole week with nothing to do and no one else around but Damon Salvatore.

The months pass by and the next time she sees him he's knocking back a drink in the airport bar,with a redhead at his side keeping him company. Damon stands up when he notices her approach, pulls some bills from his wallet and tosses them on the bar beside his half-empty tumbler of bourbon. To the sputtering surprise of his companion, Elena walks right up and finishes his drink in two healthy swallows.

"Hi," she says, leaning in, but they've never really been big on hugging and for her it's enough just to look at him, just to see his face and breathe him in. Evidently he feels the same because he makes no move to reach for her, either.

Elena doesn't even want to kiss him, not yet, not in such a busy, bustling public place with an interested audience watching them. All of that will have to wait for later, for when they're alone with plenty of time, because once she starts touching him she doesn't plan to stop for a good, long while.

Damon must be thinking along similar lines, judging by the way his eyes darken. She knows that look, remembers it well and has thought of it often over the years. That look means amazing things are in store for her immediate future.

He glances at the extra-large tote slung over one of her shoulders and the purse in her hand. "Is that all you brought?"

She shrugs, smiling up at him. "Am I going to need much more than a few swimsuits?"

"Nope," he answers, one corner of his mouth lifting. "Let's get out of here, then."

They have to take a seaplane to the island, and once there, she hardly looks around. They are barely inside the door before he pulls her bag from her shoulder and lets it drop to the floor, catching her up and carrying her, stumbling, toward the first bedroom he can find.

They make the most of the 'private' and 'secluded' aspects by fucking every which way all over the place like they're starving for one another. And just when she thinks she's had enough- that she can't possibly handle any more-he does something to change her mind. He'll kiss her sweaty forehead, or nuzzle his nose into the crease beneath her breast to make her laugh and squirm and the next thing she knows she's rolling them over, climbing on top, and they're starting all over again.

It turns out she didn't even need to bring a whole swimsuit, let alone three designer ones. She spends almost the entire week topless, soaking up the sun in a pair of red bikini bottoms that tie at the hips. Damon spends almost the entire week tugging at the strings.

Her next-to-last afternoon there she awakens from a light doze to the sound of distant thunder. She's sprawled across the bed, alone, but when she concentrates and listens, shifting through layer after layer of noise, she finds him easily.

Deciding to join him, Elena roots around in the tangled bedding for something to wear. She comes up with the bottom half of a black bathing suit and a light-weight white button-down shirt missing most of its buttons, and as she wanders through the villa, she winds her hair up into a loose knot on the top of her head. After expending so much energy she's more than a little hungry, and she figures she should probably feed soon. A glance at the clock tells her it'll be awhile before the resort's housekeeping sends someone.

Passing through the kitchen, she snags a bottle of beer from the fridge before continuing on her way outside. When she slides the back door open, she notices the breeze rolling in off of the ocean has turned a little cooler and she's glad she bothered to put on a shirt.

The villa has a large deck wrapped all the way around it, making the most of the view with different groups of seating spread out around the house. When she steps outside she doesn't see him immediately, so she walks around one corner and then another until she spots him.

There's a hammock suspended from the roof of the deck, rope covered with cloth. Damon's stretched out, ankles crossed, one arm tucked behind his head and a pair of black swim trunks slung low on his hips.

As she approaches, he looks up from the book he's reading. "It's about time you rolled your lazy ass out of bed," he says, setting the book face-down on his stomach. "I was about to come wake you up."

"How did you even have the energy to move?" she asks. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."

She hands him the beer she's carrying so she can climb in and join him. After a wobbly first attempt, Damon plants a foot on the deck to stabilize the hammock and she manages to settle in with her head at the opposite end.

She wishes she'd thought to grab a pillow from one of the deck couches but her arms will have to do. She crosses them behind her head, which parts her shirt and lifts her breasts, nipples pebbling in the breeze. "Hey, eyes up here," she says, nudging his shoulder with her foot, laughing. "There's been enough of that for now. I want to know what you've been up to."

"Hey, if you're going to show 'em off, I'm going to look. They're looking right back at me, anyway." Twisting the cap off of the beer, he flicks the lid toward the grass and takes a swig. "I've been out here, hanging out alone while you slept the day away."

"You know what I mean. What've you been doing with yourself?"

"The usual. You know, wandering around," he answers, passing her the beer. "Did Barbie tell you, I ran into her and Lockwood a few months ago?"

Elena pauses in the middle of lifting the bottle to her mouth. "What? No! I haven't heard from her in months. She's supposed to come stay with me for awhile this fall. Where did you see them?"

"Some run-down bar in Oklahoma, of all fucking places. Can you believe it?"

"I didn't even know she and Tyler were back together," she says, and finally takes a drink. "What were they doing there? What were you doing there?"

The three of them had caught up over shots, apparently, and laughed about that one time where he'd almost died after preventing one of them from killing the other. It wasn't so funny anymore and Tyler had taken the first swing, and then there'd been a drunken free-for-all. Caroline had settled matters by breaking a bottle over the back of his head and telling Tyler to knock it off. After that there may or may not have been karaoke involved, and Elena's determined to find out everything she can from Caroline, including any and all available evidence.

"You let Caroline win?" she replies innocently, only to get a light slap to the side of her thigh for her trouble. She laughs, trying to picture it.

"It was a pathetic little squabble compared to some of the shit I've been in. I don't know if I'd even call it a brawl, because if it ends in singing for strangers then you're not doing it right," Damon answers with a smirk. "The best bar fight I've ever been in went on for nearly an hour and ended with the place going up in flames and everyone getting arrested. 1966, some shitty little roadside bar somewhere in Mexico. God, that was a good fight."

They pass the bottle back and forth as he tells her all about how he'd had to basically compel half the town to get himself out of it, and how using compulsion gets tricky when you can hardly speak the language and you're drunk off your ass and trying to explain why you don't have a scratch on you. While he talks, he keeps the hammock swaying lazily back and forth by pushing against the deck with the ball of his foot, and Elena closes her eyes as she listens to the rest of the story. There's a storm brewing several miles out to sea, and the rolling thunder mingled with the beer has her drifting pleasantly.

"Say something to me in Spanish," she asks, a smile stretching across her face. If he knows even a little Spanish, then Elena figures it's a sure bet the first thing he'd learned was how to speak to a woman. He doesn't answer for a long moment, so long that she opens her eyes to look at him. His gaze has drifted southward again, and he's eyeing her bare breasts with renewed interest and more than a little appreciation.

"Tienes unos pechos hermosos," he says, pitching his voice low and a little rough, deliberately using the tone that never fails to curl her toes. Long ago, it was also the tone he made sure to use whenever he was coaxing her into trying something new. Apparently it will also never fail to make her want to kiss the smirk right off of his face, either.

Lowering her arms, she tries to be careful as she moves to sit up, but getting anywhere in a hammock is clumsy work. Damon watches her struggle for a moment to maneuver, amused, but then he reaches for her waist to pull her to him. She somehow manages to land on top of him without flipping them over, and it's something of a miracle, really.

They're chest to chest, legs tangling as the hammock sways crazily, ropes creaking. Elena gets her hands on his face, the stubble on his jaw tickling her palms. They're so close, all she can see is the beautiful blue of his eyes, and all she can feel is Damon's body beneath her, solid and strong, warmed by the sun.

She can smell the beer on his breath and she means to taste it on his tongue, but first she has to know. "What did you say?"

His fingertips slip beneath the band of her bikini bottoms as he answers with a wink.

"Nice tits."

can the child within my heart rise above?


She brings her date back to her apartment one night and he can't keep his hands off her as she fumbles with her keys. Giggling, slightly drunk and incredibly horny, Elena barely manages to get her front door unlocked while being groped and fondled by a delightful boy forty years her junior. When the door swings open, however, she takes a breath and stops short, sobering swiftly.

The scent of whiskey is unmistakable. Which means, whatever this is, it's serious. Opening up her senses, she hears the unmistakable sound of a vampire heart beating sluggishly away somewhere within the dark recesses of her apartment.


Turning, she smiles reassuringly up at David, her young, clueless, lovely distraction. "You need to go," she says. "Right now."

His forehead wrinkles in confusion. "Baby, what's wrong? I thought we were -"

"We were. I'm so sorry, though, I really am - I'm not feeling so well all of a sudden," she says, and it's not even a lie. It's not like Damon to turn up unexpectedly, and if she can smell the alcohol from here then she knows there's something wrong. Catching her human's eyes, she compels him for the first time without a moment's hesitation. "Go home, David. Don't call me for a few days. Don't drop by. We've been having so much fun but we just need a little break, that's all. I'll see you on Saturday. We'll go ice skating like you wanted."

"Saturday," he repeats with a nod and a smile, likely already thinking of the date they've just made as he turns to leave. Elena stands in the hall with her hand on the doorknob and watches him walk away, waiting until the elevator doors close behind him before going inside.


"In here, you little hussy."

His voice drifts toward her from the back of her apartment, slightly muffled, his words more than a little slurred. Having learned from decades of experience, Elena knows that nothing about that spells anything good.

She walks through her darkened living room and down the hallway toward her bedroom, noting the low light from her bedside lamp spilling from her open door. And there he is, stretched out on his stomach across her bed, fully dressed with the side of his face pressed against the mattress, mouth open. One arm dangles over the edge, his hand wrapped around the neck of a mostly-empty bottle of bourbon.

From the looks of it, he's had a busy evening. There's several years' worth of her journals in a stack beside the bottle, her most recent one clutched in the hand beside his head where he'd obviously fallen asleep while reading. There's a black duffel bag resting on the floor on his side of the bed and his watch and wallet are on the nightstand, and then he'd obviously given up and flung himself down because he still has his shoes still on.

Sighing, Elena walks around the bed and sits beside his legs. Grasping one of his ankles and lifting, she tugs his shoe off his foot by the heel and tosses it in the general direction of his duffel bag, where it lands with a dull thud. "Tell me what's wrong," she says softly, and a moment later his other shoe joins the first.

He doesn't open his eyes, doesn't move, either, just lets his leg flop back onto the mattress. "What makes you think something's wrong? Why is it always 'tell me where it hurts, Damon?'"

"You don't usually show up like this, for one thing. I thought we were going to meet for Christmas," she says, watching his face. "What happened?"

"Maybe nothing happened. Maybe I just wanted to see my girl and didn't want to wait for winter." Between one heartbeat and the next he has her flat on her back and he stretches out along the length of her body, pressing her into the mattress with his weight. Grabbing for her wrists, he drags them above her head and holds them there with a firm grip. They're nose to nose, so close their lips brush, whisper soft, like his voice when he speaks. "Maybe I'm just tired of waiting, Elena. Ever think of that?"

It's too dark and he's too close for her to see his eyes clearly, but the words don't sound right to her ears, and it's not because of the slight slur. Her heart flutters uncertainly, but what he's saying just doesn't quite ring true. Similar comments have cropped up from time to time over the past decade, and while Elena's fully aware that she's begun to test his patience on the issue, she can tell there's more to it than that. Something's upset him, something she suspects might have nothing to do with her at all.

Elena draws her legs up along his sides and plants her feet on the bed for leverage, but it doesn't take much strength to roll them. Once she's got him pinned beneath her, she presses a kiss to his mouth before sitting up and straddling him. "Damon," she says gently. She finds the button at the bottom of his shirt and begins to unfasten it. "Are you going to tell me what's really wrong? Or do you want to sleep it off, and tell me in the morning?"

Beneath her, Damon leaves his arms above his head as she continues to unbutton his shirt. His mouth twists to the side like he's trying to think of how to phrase what he wants to say. Finally, "It's Stefan," he answers. "He's not . . . doing so great."

Her hands still halfway up his torso. "What? How do you know? He usually calls me . . ."

"And then you call me to deal with it if you can't talk him down, " Damon finishes. "This time he called me directly. About three months ago. He said -"

"Let me guess. He said what he always says. He's slipped up and now he doesn't know if he can stop," Elena says, making quick work of his remaining buttons.

"And that he's sorry. So very, very sorry," Damon adds, doing a spot-on impression of Stefan at his most contrite, his eyes following Elena as she climbs off of him and gets out of bed.

"Hey," she scolds mildly as she toes off one shoe and then the other before heading for her dresser. Pulling out a pair of yoga pants and a baggy t-shirt, she begins to get undressed.

"I know, I'm an asshole, it's just . . . will he never get it? Nothing helps long-term, nothing sticks. Animal blood, mixed blood, blood bags, nothingworks. Is he ever going to learn how to control himself?" The question is rhetorical, so Elena says nothing, just lets him continue as she unbuttons the fly of her pants and lowers the zipper.

She pushes the denim down over her hips and thighs and kicks them the rest of the way off. Her knit top is the next to go, followed by her bra, and then she's standing in her socks and underwear. When she glances back at the bed, he's rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow, his head resting on his hand while he watches her.

Elena pulls the baggy grey t-shirt down over her head but decides against pulling on the soft pajama pants. They'll just be in the way later, anyway. Heading for the bathroom with a small bundle of clothes for the basket she asks, "What triggered it this time?"

As she takes her time washing the makeup from her face and brushing out her hair, she listens while he hits the highlights of the past several months. Damon tells her what shape he'd found his brother in, and how this time hadn't been as bad as the last, so that was something, at least. He'd been staying with Stefan in a rented house on the outskirts of Vancouver while he slowly helped him re-adjust to human blood, and as he talks she can hear he's found the last of the whiskey.

"But I don't want to talk about Stefan anymore, I didn't come here to talk about Stefan," he says, surly and sleepy and sad. "Sick of Stefan. FuckStefan. Hate him."

Elena flips off the bathroom light and leans a shoulder against the doorframe as she watches him. He's sprawled out on his back again, shirt half-off, pants undone and open. He's staring up at the ceiling of her bedroom like there's a secret winning formula written across it. Hate Stefan? "Liar," she says softly. "How long do I have you for? Before you go back."

"Three or four days. Who knows. Barbie and her wolf are staying with him while I'm gone. More power to 'em," he answers, and closes his eyes with an unhappy sigh. She can tell he's fading fast and wonders whether to finish stripping him or not. "I don't even want to think about going back. Not right now. Just come here, Elena."

Pushing away from the doorframe, she walks toward the bed and crawls into it beside him, settling against him with her head on his chest and an arm around his waist. She feels him press a kiss to the crown of her head as his hand strokes slowly over her back.

"You should have called me," she says after a long moment. "I could have come up and helped you. I still could. Or you could have just talked to me."

"It's not the same as seeing you," he says, his tone matter-of-fact and mild but with a subtle streak of bitter.

She has no reply to that. What can she say? When she's hurting, upset or stressed out, she knows she can always call and talk to him, but he's right - it's not the same. There is no substitute for being with each other in the flesh.

It's not long before the hand on her back stills and his body begins to relax. When his breathing evens out, she knows he's fallen off to sleep, or more likely passed out. She should really get up and turn the lamp off, put her journals back on the shelf and get the rest of his clothes off him. Or at the very least try to pull the covers over them.

There'll be time for that later, she decides. Once the alcohol leaves his system and he's had several hours' of rest, he'll wake her with his hands on her body and his mouth on her skin, hungry for her touch and her attention. She'll give it to him, gladly, whatever he needs, and then she plans to pry the rest of the story out of him, even if it takes the rest of the night. There's more to it than what little he'd told her.

There always is.

But for now Elena lets him be and lies there with him, curled up to his side, savoring the feel of him, the very smell of him, the sound. Three days, she thinks, maybe four. Just eighty hours or so, time she knows will pass in the blink of an eye, nothing more than a brief break. A time-out from their lives. It isn't enough, Elena muses sleepily.

It's not long before she feels herself slip slowly toward sleep.

and if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills
well maybe the landslide will bring it down


The town is exactly what she pictures when she hears the word 'village' - quaint and cozy. Picturesque. Untouched by the passage of time.

That's not at all true, of course. There are power lines everywhere, solar panels on terra cotta rooftops, a cell tower designed to blend in with the surrounding architecture. Sitting in the back of the cab, staring through the window, all she's focusing on are the narrow, cobblestone streets crowded with people. They're on foot, on bicycles and mopeds, chatting and laughing and yelling as they go about their lives.

As her cab continues winding its way through the small Italian town, Elena does her best to tamp down on the butterflies erupting in her stomach. This is the culmination of months of thorough, tedious research, but if she's wrong and Damon doesn't live here . . . she doesn't know what she'll do. Caving in and calling him is not an option. Even if she falls short of her goal, Elena's put too much time and effort into finding him to take the easy route now.

If she'd wanted a simple answer, she could have just called Stefan. He would have told her where to find his brother without a moment's hesitation, he'd have drawn her a map if she'd asked. That, of course, would have been too easy, bordering on cheating - she'd needed to look for Damon on her own, even if the process had been frustrating, time-consuming and purposely difficult.

In many ways, she's still as stubborn at the age of seventy-three as she'd been at seventeen.

She'd often wondered what Damon did and where he went when not with her. When asked directly, his answers had always been invariably vague, her questions brushed aside and the conversation redirected. Invariably, her attempts to pin down the specifics of his day-to-day life had turned into something of a game between them, an inside joke that had lingered through the years.

However playful, the subtext had always been crystal clear: Elena could ask all of the questions she wanted about his inner, private life, but until she was ready to share it with him he'd continue to not answer.

The realization that she wanted to be with him, fully and for real, had been a gradual one, long in the coming.

She hadn't woken up one morning and thought to herself, today's the day. I'm ready. She hadn't had a sudden, startling epiphany while sorting through the laundry or anything like that. It had been more like a slow shift inside her, one that had felt as natural as breathing.

She'd spent months now digging through his family's public records, sifting through birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, wills, partnership agreements, property transfers and deeds dating back hundreds of years. Online only got her so far, English a bit farther, but with the help of a translator she'd finished her search in Italy and set out for the tiny Tuscan town of Montepulciano - the birthplace of Damon's maternal grandparents. She'd found the address to a property passed down, generation after generation, listed under an unfamiliar name, and she'd followed a hunch.

Her cab pulls up in front of a small, relatively modest two-story stone home on the outskirts of town, and as soon as Elena steps out of the car she knows she's found him. Damon lives here, right here, in this beautiful house that looks like it belongs to another era entirely. She's as sure of that as she's ever been about anything in her life.

She can already picture what the inside looks like, how it's furnished, what objects surround him. The walls will be lined with shelves full of books, a rarity these days. A large fireplace will be the focal point of his living room, and there will be glass lamps and old clocks scattered about, and maybe she'll find a framed picture of her perched on the mantlepiece.

There won't be a single speck of dust.

Hoping that her research had been right, Elena's brought a suitcase with her, and she grabs it from the trunk of the cab. In the morning she'll arrange to have the rest of her belongings shipped, but for now she'll be able to make do with a few weeks' worth of clothing. He'll have everything else she'll need.

There's a stone path that leads from the street to the front door of the house, and as Elena follows it she thinks, that there should be a swell of music or something, because this really could not be more dramatic.

Although, sometimes a touch of drama is exactly what's needed, and grand gestures are called 'grand' for a reason.

When she gets to his front door Elena lifts a steady fist to rap her knuckles against the wood, but before she can make contact the door swings open, and there he is.

"I was just about to knock . . ." Her hand remains poised in the air for a moment before she drops it lamely to her side, her voice trailing off.

Elena knows that it doesn't matter how long she ends up living, she'll never be able to get over the look on his face when he sees her standing on his doorstep and understands what it means. This will be the moment she looks back on whenever life gets hard or sad and she needs to think about something truly good and beautiful. He gathers himself together quickly, though, and stands aside, pocketing the keys he'd been holding.

"No need," he replies, his smile growing wider by the moment.

Elena steps over the threshold and into his home, letting go of her suitcase to reach for him.

Damon shuts the door behind them, laughing as he pulls her to him.