A/N Don't even know how to apologize properly for the looooooong delay of this chapter. Life has been more hectic than I care to think about, and I don't know when I'll next be able to write a story. But, kudos to Nina Dobrev's acting chops in 4x15, right? That girl rocks.

The soft morning light is the first thing that assaults Elena's senses. Damon's room is bathed in a warm, rosy glow, the rays glinting slightly onto the bed and their skin.

Completely sated and unwilling to move, Elena presses herself even closer to her vampire, greedily blanketing herself with him. Within milliseconds, his arms tighten around her, and Damon tips his head down to give her hair a sleepy kiss. She reciprocates with a kiss of her own near the hollow of his throat.

Almost instinctively, her hands and arms comfortably wrap around his torso.

The room being so peaceful, falling back asleep isn't that hard for either of them. Were it not for the ringing of Elena's phone on the nightstand, they actually would have done just that.

"Fucking technology," Damon says, irritated at the shrill sound destroying his moment. He growls for good measure, though it's a groggy growl without much menace behind it. The sound makes Elena smile. "Answer that before I crush your phone, sweetheart."

Elena shakes her head, disentangling their limbs as she reaches for the phone. The movement puts her squarely on top of Damon's body, their parts perfectly aligned and her hair splayed out near his face.

(Both of them are glaringly aware of the position's possibilities. Elena can feel a certain part of Damon already stirring to life.)

Still a bit lethargic, she presses the answer button and says a sleepy, "Hello?"


"Yes, Care?"

"Bonnie and I are at the Grill. Bring that stupid asshole with you and come meet us."

Elena rolls her eyes as Damon places sweet kisses on her neck and shoulders. It's enormously distracting, but his affection makes him all the more lovable. Of course, his kisses are filling her with urges too, and a moan so desperately wants to break free from her lips.

(Though, Elena doesn't think her friend would appreciate that sound.)

Caroline continues to chirp into the phone. "Are you up now? Get up, already!"

"What time is it anyway?" Elena groans, half from her friend's request and half from the feel of Damon's lips on her skin. She's already pressing herself against his hardness, desperate for friction.

"Hang up, my sweet," Damon whispers against her skin, his hands roaming.

Elena tries her best to keep speaking into the phone. "It's so early, Care! Can't I just come meet you and Bonnie later?"

(She doesn't express her wanton thoughts - can I have Damon first before I meet you guys?)

"For your information, it's no longer early," the blond vampire says. "It's ten-thirty! Haul yourself out of bed!"

Elena sighs in frustration, and Damon takes it as his cue to steal her phone. There's a halfhearted struggle to get the gadget back, but Elena eventually gives up. As always, the words out of his mouth are downright defiant, and his voice is rough as he speaks.

"Blondie, I'm not letting Elena out of my bed, and that's that. We have better activities to get to, so find someone else to bother!"

Before Caroline even gets a word in, Damon has already hung up, a smirk of triumph on his face. Elena would have found the look endearing, were it not for the threat of Caroline's temper now hanging over their heads.

Predictably, the phone rings again. Damon makes no move to answer, and yet he's also not letting go of the device.

"Give it, Damon," Elena says, still perched comfortably on top of him. "You and I both know that Caroline's not gonna stop until she gets what she wants."

"She can have what she wants in the afternoon." The willful Salvatore presses reject. "Now, it's only you and me. Can't we just have one selfish morning all to ourselves before the Scooby gang makes the day implode?"

Elena rolls her eyes, finding the petulant look on Damon's face completely adorable. "Okay fine, one morning. But then we meet them in the afternoon. Because I really don't wanna deal with a raging Caroline. Agreed?"

A wide smirk graces the elder Salvatore's face. "Yes, agreed. Now let's make this morning worth the interruption."

The familiar, predatory look goes back on Damon's face after that, and he quickly flips them over. Stretching slightly, he makes sure to press every inch of his body against hers.

(He makes sure to emphasize the closeness between two particular parts of their anatomy. Releasing a moan that makes Damon smile, Elena only hopes they'll both get out of bed sometime that day.)

Once his lips sink down into the softness of her neck, she's no longer sure if they'll be able to meet her friends. As long as she's with Damon though, Elena's fine with going along for the ride.

Damon only has three minutes of peace before his torture from Bonnie. To her credit, she only begins the hardship once they're already in a booth, relatively shielded from the roving eyes of the other townsfolk.

(Exactly as before, it's her witch powers against his completely-unwilling brain. Not wanting to be a pansy, Damon tries his best to look like he only has a giant headache.)

"Witchy, enough, please," he says, cringing from the pain. "I know I left, alright? I'm sorry, damn it."

A breath passes before Bonnie stops her punishment, a neutral look on her face. Caroline looks positively gleeful from what happened, though the set of her face belies the coming interrogation.

The blond vampire crosses her arms, looking squarely into Damon's blue eyes. She sees her face reflected in the orbs, astutely observing Damon's closeness to her best friend. Their clasped hands are not beneath her notice.

"Why'd you leave, anyway?" Caroline asks. "Do you fucking know the shit you put Elena through?"

Elena answers. "He knows that, Care. Everyone's told him that."

"But I'm back now," Damon says. The conviction in his tone is unmistakable. "And if you absolutely must know, I left for reasons you'd never understand. Let's leave it at that. Don't pry."

Caroline sips on her iced tea while evaluating Damon's vague answer. Bonnie starts snacking on her fries. Throughout the moment, Damon's hand remains on top of Elena's, their bodies snuggled closely beside each other.

The Bennett witch takes the newfound silence as her cue to speak.

"I've never liked you much," she admits, "and that hasn't changed. But for some reason, you make Elena happy."

"He does, Bonnie," Elena says. "A lot."

The young witch nods, her eyes still wary as they rest on Damon. "For Elena's sake, I'm not gonna say anything. But if you hurt her one more time, and I see her cry her eyes out again, I'm probably gonna try and kill you. Like, really kill you."

Elena's unable to say anything, gratitude blooming in her eyes at her friend's acceptance.

"We understand each other, don't we?" Bonnie says, eating another one of the fries. Damon wants to laugh at the combo of her apocalyptic words and strangely funny eating, but he refrains.

He nods in affirmation, looking to Caroline next. "Go on, Blondie. Make your threat."

Caroline shakes her head, a small smile on her face. "Oh no, I'm not gonna make a threat. Because I'm pretty sure that if you hurt Elena again, it will be him you'll worry about."

Everyone at the table follows the direction of Caroline's dainty finger, their eyes eventually landing on Elijah. The Original is dressed in a gray button-down and slacks, each one of his steps filled with dignified grace.

Damon wants to laugh and tell Caroline that Elijah is actually his confederate, but the set of the old vampire's face is enough to kill all thoughts of merriment.

"A word with you, Damon," he says. "In private."

"What is this about?" the Salvatore asks. "Something up?"

Elijah nods almost imperceptibly, glancing at Elena.

(That's the only cue Damon needs.)

Sighing tenderly, the raven-haired vampire places an adoring kiss on his beloved's cheek, then another one on the top of her head.

"Be back soon," he whispers, moving out of the booth. "Stay here with Caroline and Bonnie, okay?"

She squeezes his hand, communicating her trust in his decision. "Be careful."

To that, Damon answers with a small grin, raising Elena's hands to his lips for a last kiss. Then, he heads outside with Elijah, following the Original straight to the Mystic Falls cemetery.

All the way there, Damon readies himself for the onslaught.

"My brother is back."

The four words root Damon to his position under one of the graveyard's trees. Making a last ditch effort to salvage the mood, he says, "Which brother? Kol?"

Elijah sighs. "You know which brother, Damon. Don't play around. You know how Klaus is. Right now, he's convinced that a cure can be found to turn Elena human again. I think you know the consequences."

"Your brother's brain is off the fucking rails."

"Be that as it may, he'll unbalance the equilibrium we've all built up here, and I don't want that."

"Well you're protective today."

Elijah glances briefly at one of the trees, thinking. "I've made Mystic Falls my home now, and I'd like to maintain the peace. Also, I would be lying if I said I didn't want Elena's safety. The girl has grown on me, despite everything."

Damon grins. "She grows on everyone, except when she's enacting one of her suicide missions."

"The vampirism seems to have dampened that tendency," Elijah says. "Any ideas though?"

"We tell the others. I don't want to keep this from them. They could help."

Though the situation is serious, Elijah grins. "Tell the others, eh? My, how you've changed."

"Shut up."

The Original nods, following Damon back to the Grill.

To her credit, Elena's face remains neutral once the news about Klaus is shared. Still, Damon doesn't miss the way her grip on his hand tightens. Bonnie doesn't say anything, and neither does Caroline. Elijah keeps his stern face, arms remaining crossed on his chest.

The silence in the Grill's ladies' room is deafening.

No one notices anything outside of their immediate vicinity. The mention of Klaus being in town has reduced the five of them into a state of figurative tunnel-vision. Finally, it's Elijah who breaks the stalemate.

"Between the five of us, plus Stefan, my brother has a challenge on his hands. Elena, you know what Niklaus thinks. If a cure does exist, will you take it? He might be pacified if you do."

"I'll never take it."

Damon asks, "Why not?"

"If I become human again, I'll just be his bloodbag like before. Not to mention I'll be a huge risk. He may also force me to have descendants. I won't subject anyone else to what I went through as a doppelganger."

"Noble thinking, my dear," Elijah says. "Of course, Klaus will be none too happy at your decision."

"I know that."

Before anyone else can add to the conversation, Damon turns Elena's head towards him. Cradling her face in his hands, he stares straight at her, blue eyes meeting chocolate brown. No one dares speak except him.

"Sweetheart, this is just another challenge we'll all have to overcome. The good news is, we have Elijah on our side, and I'm back now. Or have you forgotten how good I am at protecting you and this town?"

Elena smiles a smile of hope. "I haven't forgotten."

"Good." Damon presses a quick kiss to her forehead. "Remember what you said to me, back when we failed to kill Klaus because of Stefan? Say it to me again, Elena."

The smile doesn't leave Elena's face. "We always survive."

"Yes we do. Just like before, we'll survive this and come out stronger on the other end."

The bathroom is silent again after that. The five of them are acutely aware of how dangerous Klaus is, but Damon's words provide a strong counterpoint to the simmering fear.

Perhaps they'll lose and Klaus will get his way, but in this moment, they believe hard enough in Elena's words.

It's all they can hold on to.

We always survive.

One last review?