Hi everyone! I've missed you! It's been a while since I've written our favorite pairing, but when my good friend badboysarebest decided to host another DE Author to Author Holiday Exchange, I couldn't help myself. I chose to fill Mirna's (sauriemilia) prompt because she's an amazing author and incredible friend. It's definitely out of my comfort level and completely different from anything else I've written before for these two, but I wanted to run with the idea and have a little fun with it. Of course, nothing like this would EVER happen on the show, but that's the fun of these things. We get to write out our fantasies and hopefully you all end up liking it. *Fingers crossed you do*

FYI: I started this right after 4x05 aired. Everything up until that point is canon, but nothing after. So, no sire bond, Elena didn't have a revelation about her feelings, DE haven't gotten down 'n dirty and Damon's still cool with Professor Shane. Also, there is some bondage involved. Just wanted to warn you before you started in case that's not your cup of tea.

Big thanks to Rachel for looking this over for me.

"This cannot be happening," Elena exasperates, raking her hands through her chestnut locks in frustration as Damon jerks the wheel in the opposite direction. They were fishtailing. Again.

They'd only been located an hour away from Mystic Falls when the sky had decided to crack open and unleash an onslaught of heavy snow on top of them. They'd been faring well, determined to get back home, until the inches of white flakes covering the asphalt had piled up, causing their mode of transportation some difficulty – even with Damon behind the wheel.

On another night, the choice to pull over and spare themselves the frustration would have been an obvious one. But not tonight. It was Christmas Eve and Elena had made it abundantly clear that by no means would she settle for spending the evening with anyone other than her brother.

Unfortunately, as Damon manhandles the steering wheel and screeches the car to a halt on the side of the road, it becomes clear this is exactly what he's about to ask her to do.

Beating him to the punch, Elena shakes her head dejectedly and insists, "No. There has to be something you can do."

"In case you've failed to notice, I drive a classic; not an all-terrain Land Rover," he retorts. "So unless you plan on running back to Mystic Falls, I can pretty much assure you that this is happening."

"Maybe if you hadn't chosen to take the back roads and stuck to the highway - like I asked - we wouldn't have this problem," she shouts back, frustration coursing through her anxious limbs as she fights to keep them on her side of the vehicle and not around his throat. "We definitely wouldn't be stranded in the middle of nowhere."

"It was the shortest route!" he defends, agitation present in the set of his jaw and grip of his hand on the steering wheel.

"Also the one with the most twist and turns!"

His eyes narrow and his left hand clenches around the steering wheel as he takes a deep breath. "Fine. Blame it on me. I don't fucking care," he mutters, releasing his hold on the wheel and pointing his index finger in her direction. "But before you start acting all smug, just remember, we're still not getting home."

She groans. If she had to choose anyone other than Jeremy to spend the evening with, it would be Damon. But this still isn't supposed to be happening. For as long as she can remember, she and Jeremy had sat in front of the tree and exchanged one gift each on Christmas Eve. The others were left for the actual day, but that night had been theirs – their tradition. Things had definitely changed since last Christmas and yeah, maybe she wasn't human anymore, but she needed this. If she started losing grip on the traditions she held as a human, it was only a matter of time before the rest of her started to slip.

"Damon," she urges, attempting to lower her voice a few octaves but failing miserably. "It's Christmas Eve and I shouldn't be spending it with anyone other than Jeremy."

He scoffs, adding an eye roll for good measure. "Sorry to burst your bubble, but spending the holiday with a pissed off vamp isn't exactly the evening I had in mind either," he deadpans. "Even if that vamp is you."

She flinches at the undercurrent of his last statement. It's easy to forget how destructive her words can be when he hides everything so well behind a fortress of sarcasm. But she doesn't mean it, never has. The decision to halt the forward progression of their relationship right after the destruction of her previous relationship with his brother's was a mutual one. She doesn't want another ghost of an ex-boyfriend she can't shake and he doesn't want a lover whose heart isn't completely his. But the feelings are still there on both parts and she never wants to lose that. Their friendship is the closest thing she feels to something real anymore.

He's not looking at her. Instead his eyes are sweeping their surroundings, and although her temper is still boiling, she takes a deep breath to calm down. This isn't Damon's fault. If it's anyone, it's hers. She'd asked him to join her on this useless trip to Whitmore College in hopes of gaining more information on Bonnie's new friend, the professor. There was something off about him that she couldn't quite pinpoint, but the guy had checked out clean. Damon had simply gone along with her plan and now she was giving him attitude because of it. He hadn't earned the 'tude, but she at least needed him to understand.

Lifting her hand to grip his shoulder, Elena lowers her voice and explains, "I'm sorry, I'm starving and I'm letting the cravings get the best of me. It's just… I'm the only family he has left, Damon."

Noticing the change in her demeanor, his face falls slightly. He never fails to understand when she needs him to. Nodding, his previous arrogance slips from his features and he declares, "And I get that, but there's not a chance in hell we're getting back tonight, Elena. Maybe tomorrow morning once a plow sweeps through, but not tonight."

And he means it. That's easy enough to see. They were officially stuck.

"So, what are you suggesting then?" she asks as her hands sweeps through the confinements of their vehicle. "We spend Christmas Eve in your car? How festive."

"No, I suggest you call your brother, explain we're stranded," he insists, shaking his head from side to side. Then that familiar smirk slips into place. "And then we go have some fun."

"Fun?" she asks, incredulous. "We're in the middle of nowhere."

"There's sure to be a house somewhere around here."

Damon's eyes hold a mischievous little twinkle she's become far too accustomed to. It normally appears right before he does something that requires reprimanding. "Why do I have the feeling that your idea of fun and mine are completely different?"

"Because we've learned in the past that you're incapable of relaxing enough to enjoy my type of fun," he retorts. His irises briefly disappear beneath his lids before that tempting blue latches onto the chocolate of hers. "But, hear me out. It's a holiday, which means you get to take the night off. We're miles away from anyone who could sneak up on you and get your conscious riled up. Why not take advantage of it?"

She shrugs. "Moral reasoning."

"Morals schmorals," Damon barks. "You're wound tighter than a jack-in-the-box. Another day and you're bound to pop. So if anyone needs a night like this, it's you." His brows furrow before he shakes his head and corrects. "Actually, scratch that. It's me. I need a night like this."

"You?" she asks, failing to swipe the perplexed look from her face.

"Yes," he answers smugly. When she says nothing in return, a lopsided grin graces his lips and he captures her cheeks in the palms of his hands. "And you. We both need this."

She hates to admit how powerless she is against the look he's giving her. It insists she recognize the trillion ways he understands her and her needs over anyone else. That, combined with the firm hold he has on her face, result in her surrender.

He's right anyway. After the past few months she's had, she did need this.

"Fine. Just let me make sure Jeremy is alright first."

His lopsided grin transitions into a genuine mega-watt smile. "Call away."

Rolling her eyes, Elena attempts to contain her enthusiasm as she reaches for her phone. It's one thing to be excited about where the night might take them, but it's another thing entirely to give Damon the satisfaction of witnessing her enthusiasm. He'd enjoy it far too much.

However, when a female voice picks up her brother's phone on the second ring, she can't hide her surprise. "Caroline? I take it Jeremy's with you?"

Damon's narrowed eyes reveal he's just as shocked by her brother's location as she is. Well that, and the fact that he's eavesdropping.

"Yep," Caroline answers. "I figured with the weather, it would be easier for us all to get together tonight instead of tomorrow. Everyone is here." Caroline seems to sense the crack in Elena's heart at the same time she feels it happen, because she adds, "Except you."

Grateful that her last statement held the same remorse Elena currently feels, she explains, "Yeah, you can blame the weather."

"So you're stranded," Caroline assesses before releasing a dramatic sigh. "With Damon."

"Correct on both accounts." Elena can already envision the frown lines creasing her best friend's forehead over her predicament, and before Caroline has the chance to throw out warnings or something for Damon's ears to pick up, Elena switches the subject. "But hey, is Jeremy around?"

"Yeah, he's over by the fireplace with Stefan. Let me get him."

At the sound of Stefan's name, Elena's body stiffens. She's avoided speaking to him since the night he finally admitted what she's known for so long – that he can't love her as a vampire. He'd tried, really tried. And she'd tried to pretend she was fine with that. A part of her understands. If she isn't okay with herself as a living dead how does she expect him to be? But another part, the larger part, can't get over how utterly sad that reality is. She'd loved him despite his worst, through every ripped body and awful mistake, but he can't do the same in return. It's tragic, certainly hasn't helped the image of the monster she currently views herself as, and she's still battered and pissed off.

Not wanting the risk of possibly having to speak to him, Elena hastily replies, "Actually that's alright. Just explain what happened, that I'm fine and that I'll hopefully see him tomorrow. Well, depending on if the storm lets up."

After a pause, Caroline finally questions, "You sure?" It doesn't surprise Elena. Her friend still holds hope that she and Stefan would exit their dark tunnel with intertwined hands, but Elena knows better. When you love someone, really love someone, you accept every side of them. She'd done that with Stefan and when he couldn't do the same, she was finally given the push she'd needed to let go.

However, she still didn't want to talk to him.

"Yeah," she assures. "And, Caroline, tell Jeremy I love him."

"Of course. Merry Christmas, Elena."

"You too."

When she disconnects the line, Elena drops the cell into her purse. Images of her friends all gathered around the Forbe's Christmas tree with smiles on their faces infiltrate her head. Thankfully, she's only given a second to feel sorry about her situation before Damon speaks up beside her, reminding her she's not alone.

"Like I said, you need this night too."

When she turns to face him, his eyes hold the same understanding they'd possessed before, but this time she knows it's about Stefan. She and Damon haven't talked about his brother, nor his views on the reason things had ended, but they haven't needed to. When it comes to her, his feelings are painted on his face, no matter how indifferent he tries to appear. And from what she's gathered, she's honestly not sure if he's more excited that things have finally reached an end or disappointed with his brother for the reasons behind it.

But she doesn't want to get into that sort of discussion tonight. Tonight he's offering her something only he can offer: a time out. And damnit if she's not going to take advantage of it. So, she slips on a smile, throws Stefan to the back of her thoughts, and declares, "Yes, I do. Now let's go find our house."

They dash through the forest – unaffected by the bitter cold, frozen droplets drifting from the sky, and icy earth below – stopping only once so Elena can pelt Damon's cheek with a wad of snow. His eyes flash with a wicked warning. It's a sign most would fear and she probably should too, but in the blink of an eye, it's gone and she's laughing, savoring the freedom this night offers and the company of the only man she can be herself with without judgment.

He lets the act go unreciprocated, which she hates to admit leaves her a little disappointed, before their pace picks up again – he resembling a lion and the ultimate predator he is, and she, an effortless gazelle. She's never felt much like a predator; an accidental death trap, yes, but never a predator. And when they finally see the glaring Christmas lights of a home, she still doesn't want to be one, despite the hunger clawing at the back of her throat.

"We can't use compulsion to get in," she says as they reach the front porch. There's a blow up snowman curling against itself in the front yard, almost as if it's laughing at her words.

Damon turns his artic eyes in her direction, brows lifted. "Then how exactly do you expect us to get in?"

"Improvise," she replies confidently. "We're smart. This shouldn't be difficult."

"No, compulsion isn't difficult," he scoffs. "Persuasion might be."

"Not for someone with your charm," she insists, stroking the ego that's already five sizes too large.

"Whatever." He rolls his eyes, shaking his head, but she doesn't miss the slight curve of his lips before he turns and knocks on the door.

It takes three doors to find the one they finally step through. Like Goldilocks and her bears, the first two just aren't right. Compulsion isn't the issue. Damon's a charmer and, like she already assumed, it requires nothing more than a flash of his pearly whites and bat of his lashes for women to welcome him into their homes. Instead, it's the two children peering around the corner in the first house, just visible through the front doorframe, and the yapping dog at the second that has Damon's fingers twitching against his thigh. She's not exactly thrilled about the presence of children or the possibility of a dead house pet on such a sacred evening – or ever.

But when a couple, whom Elena assumes to be in their late 20s, opens the door to the third house with no animals or toddlers in sight, she knows they've got it right. This house is their winner. Immediately, she takes the reins on the invite.

After some back and forth, Elena firmly establishes the lie that she and Damon are part of the Washington Redskins cheer squad and their bus broke down a mile away. With a little widening of her doe eyes for effect, she enhances it with the notion that they're desperately trying to get home to their families for the holiday, but there's no cell reception for any of their squad to call AAA.

The woman's skeptical, but the husband's eyes ravish Elena's figure, taking in every inch of her exposed skin peeking from under her red cotton dress. It's enough to soften the guilt creeping down her spine at the mental image of her fangs soon sinking into the skin of his neck.

After a little hesitation from the woman and more ogling from the man, Damon offers to chuck Elena through the air to prove their honesty. A simple tumble through the sky, really. His voice is dripping sarcasm of course, but there's a smirk on his lips that insists he'd love nothing more.

With a sigh, the woman waves her hand through the air, inviting them in and motioning the way to the phone. It's all Damon needs to cross the threshold and wrap his hands around each of their necks.

"You'll do whatever we say and won't remember a thing tomorrow morning."

His pupils dilate along with theirs, completing the compulsion, when Elena rips his hands from their throats.

"What the hell? I thought we agreed no compulsion?"

"I was only playing along with your game to keep you entertained. But our agreement broke as soon as you made me a cheerleader." He steps forward, breaching necessary space and sending her heart on a thumping rampage. It happens whenever he's too close for comfort, or too close for rational thinking. Her heart's always been a few steps ahead of her head when it comes to Damon. "Now we're doing things my way."

She takes a necessary step back and crosses her arms over her chest. "And what way is that?"

"The way that includes compulsion," he replies, throwing a smug smirk onto his lips. "Obviously."

"Not funny."

His eyes glance at the distance she's placed between them and then back up to her face. Next comes his sigh before his voice drops the edge it maintains around everyone but her.

"Look, Elena, you're a vampire. Own it." He's pleading with her, practically begging her to crack out of her shell. Then his typical snark returns. "Now get that stick out of your ass and have a little fun with it."

She yelps as his hand smacks her rump, her own dropping to her sides and her jaw clenching while she mentally prepares another argument. But before it launches, she notices the sparkle in his eyes. It's taunting her, showing her a sign of the one she's capable of possessing if she truly let loose. It's been so long since her eyes sparkled.

So, with a wary glance at the couple still standing idly by the open door, she finds her last reservations dissipating. Still, if she goes through with this, she needs him to promise one thing.

"Just promise me you won't kill anyone tonight."

Humor dances across his eyes as he throws two fingers into the air. "Scouts honor." He's mocking her, but there's no doubt in her mind he'll keep the promise. Then he reaches for the door and pushes it closed, locking them in the house. "But you really are a buzz kill."

Two hours later, Elena's spinning around the living room with grace, belting along to Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'. She's never been a great singer, but her lungs are giving it their best shot and Damon's laughing along, his head thrown back against the top cushion of the couch. She feels alive. Maybe it has something to do with the plastic cup of Rikaloff – yeah, these people don't exactly scream classy - in her hand or the blood creeping down her chin. Maybe they've thrown her into a haze, made her forget who she is. But she doesn't think so. Because there's something about this moment that feels right. Freeing. And as she takes another dramatic twirl in front of the crackling fireplace, she lets that feeling sweep through her, throwing her arms in the air with reckless abandon.

"Another dance, partner?"

The ogling homeowner named Mike wraps his arm around her waist, stopping her mid-spiral, and pulls her against his chest. It's the seventieth dance they've shared throughout the evening, or somewhere around that number. She's stopped keeping track. He's had a few drinks as well; the scent of vodka is seeping through his skin, but it doesn't stop her from smiling back at his drunken gaze. She takes a quick glance at Damon, who's running his hand across Mike's wife's neck on the couch, before she fastens her teeth into the skin of Mike's.

The blood shoots down the back of her throat, coating her taste buds in its velvety delight. Elena surrenders to her urges, sucking another satisfying gulp from Mike's healthy vein in over her tongue.

"That's right, baby. Take all you need." And she does. Maybe even a little more. Although the taste of him and the sound of his voice has her insides twisting in revulsion, she drinks until she's satisfied, all the while ignoring the way his hand starts walking its way a little too far south.

"Need me to take care of that?" Damon asks from his position on the couch.

At the question, she smiles against Mike's neck. Where Stefan's always viewed her as a fragile baby bird, Damon's given her room to grow since her transition – given her the ability to fight her own battles. She appreciates the gesture, but doesn't take him up on the offer.

Unhooking her fangs from Mike's neck, she pulls back enough to reply, "I've got it," and yanks the human's hand from her ass. He squirms when she pulls his arm behind his back and traps him against the wall.

Something in the newly dark cloud of her psyche insists she kill him. He's scum and he'd probably deserve it. But she pushes the urge aside. Murder's not her style; at least she doesn't want it to be. Killing Connor had been her one slip-up. She can accept darkness for a night, but she doesn't have to let it consume her.

Besides, tomorrow's Christmas and she doesn't want him to miss out on whatever redneck tradition he and his wife have in store for their pathetically mundane life.

So instead, her pupils dilate, expanding and requiring the same from Mike's. "I think it's time for you to take a nap."

He slumps to the ground just as Mariah's song fades. Damon's clapping sounds at her back, pulling her attention away from the unconscious man on the carpet in front of her and straight over to the couch.

"I guess that means you'll be sharing my dinner?" he questions, fangs pressing against his bottom lip as his top curls into a satisfied smirk.

Elena narrows her eyes in his direction, all the while hiding her own smile. "Or maybe it's time to put her to bed too."

"Oh, c'mon. Just one sip," he purrs, sweeping his hand along the woman's neck, removing strands of hair to reveal his tiny pair of prick marks. "Patricia here is delicious."

He rolls the last word, making it sound exactly like its meaning, and she savors it. She adores his way with words and the response it has on her middle. Secretly always has.

Patricia nods her head in agreeance with his statement, lifting her wrist into the air as an invitation. The vein pulses right beneath her delicate skin, each pump another verse of a siren song that lures Elena closer. When she lands in front of the pair, Patricia's smiling and Damon's observing. Her eyes land on his, never breaking the connection as she avoids the awaiting wrist and presses her fangs through his existing puncture marks in Patricia's neck. Then she pulls. Drinking in the visual of his cerulean irises as she does the same with the woman's blood.

He chuckles as the first wave crashes against the back of her tongue. She fights to keep her eyes locked on his, tempting him. To do what? She doesn't really know, exactly. But he does.

Damon's eyes maintain the imaginary line she's established as he lowers to Patricia's throat. Not too close to Elena, but just close enough that he overrides her senses. Patricia may be slipping down her throat, but Damon is everywhere else. Engulfing her; devouring her. Violet spider web veins streak from his eyes, shifting him into the monster she's seen many times before, but never this close. She hates to admit he's devastatingly beautiful like this. The urge to run her fingertips along the intricate pattern surrounding those sapphire spheres almost has her hands lifting, but she resists. Somehow.

Then his fangs dip below his upper lip before he sinks them into the woman's neck. His eyes are only a few inches away, so close they could almost be kissing, but there's something about this act that's much sexier than a kiss. They're both drinking from the same source, simultaneously taking life from another. Patricia's blood is coursing through both of their veins, connecting them in a way that was previously foreign to Elena. And the sadistic notion that it's clenching her insides, turning her on, has her pulling back. Panicked and terrified.

"You don't like it?" Patricia asks, throwing Elena's personal insecurities into the air for all three to notice.

"The problem is, she did like it," Damon mutters as he raises his head and twists to look Patricia in the eyes. "Take a nap."

The guilt's hitting full force, like clockwork. Overwhelming. And she spits out the words that have played repeatedly through her mind since the day she transitioned and the first urge to tear into someone's flesh gripped her. "This isn't me. I'm not this person."

He scoffs, avoiding eye contact as he lifts Patricia's body off of the couch and onto the free chair. Elena's thankful, considering she can't bear the thought of him looking at her after that scene.

When Patricia's positioned properly in the chair, Damon finally remarks, "You're right. Because you're not a person anymore, Elena. You're a vampire. I don't know how many times I need to repeat that before it actually sinks in."

He's frustrated, usually is whenever he's not 100% captivated by his love for her. Often she wonders what has him so hooked. To him, she can't imagine how she can be seen as anything other than a monumental disappointment.

"But this is evil," she whispers, still refusing to lift her eyes from her now clenched hands in her lap. "I am evil." There's no denying that now. Feeling what she does, experiencing the effect it has on her, there's just no way left to refute it. She's no longer human, merely a portion of herself combined with everything else she's never wanted to be.

"This isn't evil. This is fun," he counters, reclaiming his seat next to her on the couch. It's only the two of them now, nothing resting in between. At least not literally. "Tomorrow morning they'll wake up with a killer hangover, but otherwise get to live out their futile lives."

"No. You're wrong." Not about the pair surviving the night, but about everything else.

The tips of his fingers feel like satin as they lift to stroke the base of her chin. "Look at me." His voice is commanding, contrasting the delicate touch of his fingers, and although the action is heavy, her eyes lift to his.

A ghost of a smile plays on his lips at her obedience, but there's a sincerity in his eyes that's almost blinding. "I did this too, and now I need you to answer me honestly. Do you think I'm evil?"

It's a term she's associated with Damon more times than she can count. But as she studies the face and ultimately the man in front of her, the only logical answer that comes to her mind is, "No."

Because this is now her best friend. The man who's risked his life to save her and so many of her loved ones, the one who's always put her before himself. He's done some monumentally awful things in his existence and he's walking darkness. Everything about him portrays that, which sets apart his bright eyes. They're the distinguishing factor, they reveal what lurks beneath, the portal to the selfless, caring person he ultimately is. And despite his hard edges and circumstantial past, she's come to discover his center is warmer than she's ever given him credit for.

"Then get off the pity-party express and lighten up," he insists. "Because up until a few minutes ago, you were actually enjoying yourself. How devious."

He's mocking her with his last words, but despite herself, she smiles. His mission to lighten the mood is successful as she switches the topic.

"Compelling them to let us open their Christmas presents was kind of fun," she admits, cocking her head to the side and contorting her smile into a leer as she revisits the memory they created only a half hour prior.

"Too bad you made us rewrap them."

"I'm not stealing Christmas presents from someone else!" she chastises, playfully reaching beside her to slap him across the shoulder. When she returns to her side of the couch, she feigns a dramatic shiver and insists, "Besides, I didn't want them anyway."

He smirks, as though he's just read her mind and knows exactly which gift of the measly five they opened has revolted her so much. Of course he does. "Yeah, the riding crop's not exactly your style." His arm sweeps around her shoulders, pulling her closer. "However, it sure was fun watching you open it. I don't think I've ever seen your eyes so big."

"I was shocked!" she defends, scrunching her nose in distaste. "Who gets someone a sex toy for Christmas?"

It's a rhetorical question, but he answers it anyway.

"Someone with an interesting sex life."

Her eyes narrow, leveling him with a glare. "Or someone who enjoys pain." Caroline had insisted she read one of her BDSM books a while back, but honestly, she'd only made it to the first scene involving some sort of flogging device before she shut the cover and threw it back onto her bookshelf.

"It's not about the pain, Elena," he counters, rolling his eyes in faux annoyance at her ignorance. "It's about handing over your trust to someone else, giving them control of your sexual experience, and having enough faith in them to get you to your ending."

"It sounds like you've had your fair share of BDSM experiences," she accuses, eyebrows raised.

He laughs, throwing his head back slightly, offering a delicious sight of his elongated throat and the expanse of muscles lining it. "I'm a century and a half old, Elena. We get bored and like to experiment. Does that really surprise you?"

"No," she replies in earnest before leaning her head back against his arm. Without look at him, she mutters, "I guess you've participated in every sex fad."

"In the bedroom? No. Everywhere else? Yes."

She rolls her eyes and deadpans, "Again, not surprised."

He smirks one of those devastatingly handsome smirks he's patented over his lifetime. It's the one that's probably had the ladies spreading their legs, offering the opportunity to experiment with each of the different styles of sex. And considering their topic of conversation, she begins to feel a bit uncomfortable. It's one thing to flirt with your achingly attractive and highly active best friend, but another to discuss the actual activities he's participated in. Even if the images have her tongue dancing behind her teeth.

Desperate for a different distraction, Elena implores, "Do you mind if I switch topics?"

His free hand flies nonchalantly through the air. "Go ahead."

She turns to look at him, aware that this might not be the best topic to approach since she's supposed to have freed her mind from this and the fact that she hasn't keeps frustrating him, but he's the only one she feels comfortable with to bring it up. It's been on her mind and she needs a sounding board. "Can I be honest with you about something?"

"You're honest with me about 90% of the time and I like to think I handle it relatively well."

Ignoring his jab, she lets out an unnecessary breath of air and admits, "I'm just confused."

His head cocks to the side in speculation, and before his mind has the chance to lead him down roads that involve their tangled triangle of affection involving his brother, she adds, "About me. Who I am anymore. What's right and what's wrong. Just everything."

The last word comes out with a rush of air, before she continues. "I'm fighting these urges all of the time and it's hard to differentiate anymore between what's me and what's them. I couldn't tell you the last time I've actually been in complete control of myself." There are no tears slipping down her cheeks, like she's felt so many times before. Because in a way, it's a relief to finally admit it out loud.

She doesn't entirely understand who she is anymore.

He studies her, his eyes never deviating from hers. His mouth opens and closes a few times before his brows finally peak – signifying he's landed on a response.

To her surprise, he lifts himself from the seat, grabbing her hand to drag her along with him, and suggests, "Elena Gilbert, we may be stuck in the middle of this bumfuck town, but I suddenly have the perfect Christmas gift in mind. One I think you'll enjoy. Immensely."

The way he drawls the last words has her nerves lighting up like the tree in Rockefeller Center. And before she has a chance to form a response, they arrive in the main bedroom of the house.

"While you were dirty dancing with Mike around the tree earlier, I did a bit of snooping. And considering your interest earlier, I think this might help me get you to understand." That familiar mischievous twinkle flickers through his blue orbs, alerting her to prepare herself.

She does, but when Damon opens the closet door and reveals a tiny room stocked to the brim with sex toys, her jaw still drops. Cleary, she didn't prepare enough. There are items she recognizes hanging along the wall: more riding crops constructed from various materials, feather dusters, handcuffs, bondage equipment ranging from soft rope to steel chains, blindfolds, a sex swing. But there's even more she doesn't.

Her dead heart pounds furiously in her chest, from terror and surprisingly, arousal. It confuses her, causing her to take an instinctive step back. What the hell is wrong with the homeowners whose house they've chosen to spend an innocent holiday night in?

"Easy," Damon chuckles, reaching his hand to gently wrap around her upper arm. "I'm not showing you this to scare you. Though, from the scent I'm picking up, that's not all you are."

Damn her infuriatingly confusing body. His eyes are narrowed, but beneath his thick lashes, it's obvious that her scent's had quite the response on him. His normally vibrant irises are at least three shades darker than usual. Her muscles clench instantly.

"Then why did you show me, Damon?" she hisses, pulling her arm out of his hold. A heady mixture of lust and embarrassment spirals through her.

He chuckles, amused, before reaching into the closet to remove the chains from their hook. Her eyes widen in shock when he explains, "It's a big step, I know. But I want to use these on you tonight."

Her head starts sashaying back in forth in opposition when he cups her cheek with his free hand, halting her motions. "Be my submissive and I'll show you that, despite what you think, you're still in complete control."

She can't deny that the thought has her mind switching into overdrive, flitting through luscious scenes of her beneath his body, arms tied above her head as his tongue explores the sections of her skin that have been aching under their recent loss of touch. She's always felt a physical pull to Damon, there's no denying that. He's sex on legs, temptation at its finest, and she's overcome countless opportunities and blaring desires for longer than she can really admit. Since she transitioned, those urges had been cranked on high. Each scent of him, each smoldering gaze, each brush of skin, each fight and every sarcastic word had wound her further into a taut rubber band.

However; so many of her relationships are messy, this one claiming the very top spot, but there's something so permanent about their endless dance. What they have right now is real, a friendship that ensures they'll never be done, with a potential for so much more. For now, though, it's what works. Neither wants to tarnish that, they've agreed on that fact. Frankly, this was stretching the band of their friendship into something she's not sure they can step back from.

So she hides her slew of hysterical thoughts under sarcasm and retorts, "That seems a bit backwards to me. You strip me of my control and somehow I manage to realize I have it?"

His eyes narrow again, flooding with understanding as a smirk slices over his lips. "You're nervous. You're hearts going crazy."

"Your point?"

He inches forward to rest his cheek against hers and whispers in her ear, "You find the idea tempting." She wants to disagree, but it wouldn't be the truth and he knows it. So she remains silent just long enough to feel the pull of air as he breathes her in. She feels a fraction of her resistance slip away with it.

When he pulls back, that appealing, infuriating smirk still plays on his lips as he explains, "I know what I'm doing, Elena. You need proof and no words are going to give that to you. Let me show you that you're not the monster you think you are." His words paint such an appealing picture when he adds, "Just give in to what we both want."

Her knees nearly buckle at his words and the smooth delivery in which he's offered them. She wants to give in, even if she's never done something this wild before, but there's still the obvious factor. "What if we can't handle it?" What if this broke the delicate mold their relationship survived on?

The pad of his thumb caresses her cheek and she leans into it. "We can," he insists softly, willing that truth into the marrow of her bones as she gets lost in the depth of his blue orbs. If she's being honest, this is her favorite aspect of their connection. The truths that fall from his lips and the ability he has in making her accept it, always. Sometimes she wonders if she'd follow him into the sun without her ring if he insisted.

"What happens in bumfuck, stays in bumfuck," he murmurs, his lips tugging slightly on one side at his joke. "I can handle it and so can you. You just have to trust me on that fact."

"I do," she breathes. It's something they established quite some time ago and it's stuck ever since. She trusts him inexplicably.

He nods in response, the slight tug of his lips morphing into a full smile under the weight of her words. "Now. Do you trust me with your body?"

"Yes." It's not a lie. She's always trusted his capabilities with it. She's just never trusted herself with him and her body.

"This is where you give up control," he instructs. "From here on out, you follow every order I give without hesitation." The smile falls from his lips, as though his next words bring him physical agony to speak out loud. "Otherwise, I punish you. I'm sorry, but you need incentive to obey. It's part of how this works."

"Punish me?" she counters, giggling and breaking the previous heat of the moment. Although Damon's a fierce creature to behold, the thought of him actually hurting her is just unfathomable. Besides, she's a vampire. "In case you haven't noticed, those flimsy tools won't really have an effect on my newly industrial skin."

His brows lift towards his hairline, his lips tugging again at the side in amusement. "Are you already defying me?"

"Maybe," she taunts, secretly gaining a bit of pleasure in it. "What are you gonna do about it?"

"The next time, I take you over my knee." He delivers the line indifferently. No emotion whatsoever.

Her eyes widen and she barks back, "Asshole. You wouldn't…," but before she's able to finish, she's contorted over his knee with her bare ass lifted into the air. Her dress is lifted around her waist and she's infuriated. Not only is Damon seeing her lacy underpants and section of bare behind for the first time, but she can't even get a sight of his reaction.

With his hand raised, he smugly states, "I don't need pain to punish you, Elena, the degradation of me smacking your ass and the effect it has on your ego does the trick." Her face is enflamed, signifying his assumptions are correct. She squirms beneath his hold, desperate to free herself, but she's a baby compared to him, and therefore no match against his strength.

When she finally settles and accepts defeat, his hand rubs against the porcelain skin of her ass cheek. Despite the position she's found herself in, the circular motion has desire spiking up her spine. With his head lowered to the side of hers, he purrs into the shell of her ear, "Now, get on the bed so I can finally do to you the things I've wanted to since I first laid my eyes on you. I assure you that you'll be thanking me for my present by the end."

There's something about the authoritative tone of his voice and the insinuation of his words that has her body obeying immediately. She certainly never envisioned her first sexual experience with Damon happening quite like this, but apparently her body has no qualms about it.

Once she's maneuvered herself from his lap and settled towards the top of the king mattress, he smiles. "Good girl."

There's something so condescending about the phrase, but something inside of her tightens in delight. What the hell was happening to her?

Damon's body lands on top of hers, his mouth a breath away, his hands gliding along the slight curves of her arms and lifting them above her head. She tilts her chin back in response, inching her lips closer to his and he smirks, studying her reactions to his touch. Currently, he's nestled between her thighs, his arousal settled against her center. It's taking all of her restraint not to grind herself against him. Apparently, choosing to go through with this plan gave her body the go ahead to act on the impulses it had been fighting for months. It was ready. She was ready.

But he didn't lower his lips to meet hers. Instead he reached beside the bed to lift the chains, wrapping one around her right hand, binding her to the headboard. "Like I told you before, this isn't about pain." He repeats the same action with the next chain, wrapping it around her left hand and locking it around the other side of the headboard, as he continues speaking. "I won't be using any of those ridiculous toys on you because they won't affect you the way they would a human anyway. This is just about you giving over complete control so I can get you to reach your climax. Let me please you."

His eyes bore into hers, revealing the significance this moment holds for him, and she wishes for just a second that her arms weren't bound. She wants to pull him into her chest and insist her belief in him, that she's just as nervous over this as he is and the truth that a large part of her has wanted it for so long.

She wants him to know that it's important to her too. He's important to her. But all she manages to say is, "Okay."

And just like that, the softness in his eyes diminishes as he reprimands, "But please don't speak to me unless I ask you to." When she scowls at what he's insisting, he cocks his head to the side, running a soft finger along her jawline. "Do I need to fling you over my knee again? Complete control remember."

With the way her hands are restrained, he has it. With her, her body, and her heart right now. For just this moment, he has all of it.

When she remains silent, he leans forward to place a feathery kiss against her forehead. She's not sure this is the way a scene like this is supposed to go down, but she's thankful regardless. If she's offering all of herself to him tonight, she needs him to be gentle about it.

Much to her disproval, as he slides down her body he avoids contact with the swells of her breasts and eager apex of her thighs to repeat his earlier actions with her feet. They're spread open, offering her heated entrance to him. If her dress wasn't still in place, she'd feel exposed.

"These chains are merely for my visual. Well that, and they turn you on," Damon explains while his fingers play with the cool metal along her ankles, making sure the restraints aren't too tight. Right on cue, arousal strikes between her thighs, pooling low in her belly. He smirks, noticing the new aroma in the air. "I know you're strong enough to break them, but I'm telling you not to. Keep your arms above your head and your legs spread for me. Can I trust you to do that?"

She nods, unsure if she's allowed to speak and deciding it the safest option. She's ready for this to begin and doesn't want the risk of delaying the main event any longer.

"Very good," he purrs, delight dancing in his topaz irises, before he bends beside the bed once again. This time, his hand reemerges with a single piece of black cloth.

"Now I'm going to blindfold you," Damon says, stretching the fabric over her eyes and shifting everything into a sheet of black. "It'll heighten your senses."

Not like she needs any help with that.

However, he's right. As soon as her sense of sight is eliminated, the other 4 kick into high gear. His intoxicating musk curls inside her nose, the sound of his heart rate beats out the synonymous rhythm of hers, the taste of vodka on his breath slips between her lips along her tongue, and the sudden pressure of his lips hits hers.

It's gentle at first, the swell of his lips contorting to the shape of hers, his motions lazy and sensual, but it heats quickly. Their first kiss had lit a spark inside Elena, the second had powered the connection they continuously shared, but as this one intensifies and the kiss transition into something much rougher, she feels her brain start to short-circuit from the electrical current running between them. He sucks her tongue between his teeth to meet his own, stroke for stroke. One kiss blends into another as their tongues clash, hungry, greedy. She can't help it, her arms pull against her restraints, eager to dive into the raven strands of his hair, and a moan sounds in the back of her throat.

At the clank of chains, Damon stops their motions instantly. She wishes she could see the expression crossing his face.

But then his lips brush against hers, sweeping across the swollen arches, as he murmurs, "As much as I adore the obvious effects I'm having on you, Elena, I need to you to try harder to fight it. Keep control. I can't have you breaking this couple's headboard." His tongue slips inside of her mouth, finding hers once again as he resumes their previous dance. She melts like butter under the combined lax motions of his soft tongue and sharp snips along her lower lips by his blunt canines. All the while, she fights the instincts inside of her insisting she break the damn chains restraining her hands, enabling a good grip on his face so she can drag him deeper down her throat.

Between kisses, he insists, "However, the moaning is fine. Actually, I prefer it."

With his erection pressed firmly against the lace panties covering her scorching heat, she doesn't waste time releasing one deep into the caverns of his mouth. His lips smile against hers and once again she wishes there was no blindfold influencing her ability to visualize Damon's reactions to this scene. They've both waited so long for this moment, playing their parts with expert levels of responsibility and patience, it hardly seems fair. If his expression resembles any bit of the one she's currently sporting, it's bound to be incredible.

A shiver rockets up her spine as his lips leave hers and his tongue curls under her earlobe. When he bites down gently with his teeth, another moan escapes this time into the air, a shot of lust aims straight towards her center. He follows it with his hand, running his fingers along the soft curve of her sides before sweeping back up to the swells of her breasts.

Damon pinches each nipple through the cotton of her dress, swirling the hardened peaks between his fingers. She cries out at the pain – or is it pleasure? She's not sure. Somehow he's managed to meld them into one.

Immediately after her response, she feels his dick twitch in his pants. "This dress needs to go." She doesn't need a visual to pick up on the tone drop in his voice. It's even huskier when he states, "I hope it's not one of your favorites."

The ripping of fabric vibrates against the walls and the chill of air against her exposed skin has goose bumps rising across her flesh. She's instantly aware of how bare she is, how exposed her breasts are without the dress, and how little barrier now remains between Damon and her sex. She should be nervous; surely his gaze is sweeping over every inch of previously uncharted skin, but all she feels is excitement. It's swimming through her veins, once again igniting her nerve endings and charging her body.

A moment passes before his hands adhere themselves to her naked breasts. One cups and massages while the other slides down to offer his thumb passing over her sensitive peak. "Perfect," Damon murmurs, sending his breath dancing across her skin. And when he inches forward to capture one in his mouth, she loses herself in the sensation. His tongue swirls around, only interrupted when he decreases the space between his teeth and bites down.

Another cry of pleasure releases from her mouth and into the air. She has to fight not to buck her hips against his, desperate for contact where all of her blood seems to be centralizing. But somehow she resists, clinging to that bit of control Damon's demanded from her.

However, it's getting more difficult by the minute, but she barely manages to hold on as his mouth trails its way back up to hers and he finally begins to descend one hand south.

In some small portion of her mind, she's aware that her lips are crashing against Damon's in a bruising kiss and that she's successfully keeping her hands above her head and her legs spread for her lover. But she's mostly focused on the searing trail he's leaving as his fingers feather down her exposed abdomen. He takes his time, making sure to elongate her ache for him. And it's working.

Finally, a single finger slides under her skimpy lace to graze against her delicate skin, and the yearning within her hits an all-time high. She rips her mouth from his, throwing her head back as a groan sounds in her throat.

"What do you need?" he asks, his voice low and soft like velvet.

She remains silent a moment, fighting the urge to shift her hips ever so slightly so his finger can dive into her core. That's what she needs.

When it dawns on her that she's been given permission to speak, she breathes out, "Touch me." Blood is circulating beneath Damon's touch, gripping her. The heightening of her other senses is overwhelming, blood is sweeping beneath her eyes, but she takes a deep breath. He's required she maintain control and that's exactly what she's going to do.

With one last chaste kiss, Damon leaves her lips, trailing his way down her collarbone, along the peaks of her breast and towards her awaiting center. She breathes a heavy sigh of relief when his mouth reaches the skin just above her panty line. Then another when his tongue teases her through the fabric of her panties.

She's pretty sure she's using all of her control now, but when he inches back and slips a finger between her folds, she grasps onto more. A single fang - or at least she's almost confident that's what it is - catches on the top elastic of her boy shorts. Then the sound of ripping fabric fills the room again. Desire and satisfaction coil deliciously inside of her, clenching her muscles around the digit inside of her.

Damon slips it in and out, extending his thumb to graze along her sensitive bundle of nerves. She tries, really tries to resist, but when he pushes another finger inside of her warm heat and spreads his fingers, stretching her, she grinds her hips into his palm.

His free hand sweeps out, wrapping around her leg to press against her abdomen, crushing her hips into the mattress. "As much as that's fucking turning me on, you can't do it. Control, Elena, you have it, even when it feels like you don't."

"Okay." She wants to groan again in frustration, but masks it with another moan instead. The fingers still nestled inside slowly begin to move again, his thumb spiraling against sensitive button. The motion is intoxicating and the threat to get lost in the pleasure of it all is still there, but she follows his command, knowing she can do it, wanting to please him. She focuses on the strokes as they continue the slow, sensual rhythm he's established. Whimpers sound from her mouth and her fingers twist inward, clenching into fists, maintaining control, when his tongue latches onto her button of nerves, replacing his thumb.

"You taste better than I could have ever dreamed," he says, lapping up her juices before he pulls her clit between his lips. He alternates between sucks and flicking his tongue. It's the most glorious sensation she's ever experienced. But then he sweeps his two fingers against her g-spot in a come-hither motion. Once. Twice. A third time. Before she begins to lose count. He uses inhumane speed as the sensation begins to resemble that of a vibrator and it's too much. His words, fingers and mouth are just too damn much. She's too close.

"If you don't want me pulling this train up to the station on my own, you'd better get inside of me. Now."

The words fire from her lips before she has the chance to actually acknowledge what's happening. When she does, all motions stop, on both of their parts. Her chest stops heaving under the sudden approach of her orgasm, his tongue leaves her throbbing bud, his fingers pull out, and they both stop breathing. Everything is silent. Everything is caught in suspension.

When you're suddenly given an infinite supply of time, you stop focusing on the seconds. But this one stretches on painfully as she waits for his reaction. Is she in trouble for speaking when she wasn't supposed to? Has she shocked him dead with her plead to have him inside of her? Both are plausible options. But she can't see a damn thing to gauge which option it is.

The blindfold covering her eyes slides from her face. As her eyes adjust, his blues come into focus. They're resting mere inches in front of hers, imploring for a gut reaction that her words hadn't been spoken with the certainty they had. He's giving her the option to back out, and her heart clenches at the thought.

She's supposed to use control, not speak when she hasn't been addressed, but neither matter in that moment. Just because she rips her arms free from the bindings doesn't mean she can't control her urges. It means she chooses not to have them restrained away from his cheeks anymore. Her fingers grip into his skin, willing him to understand the words she's going to say because she chooses to say them.

"I want you inside of me."

The effects of those words stretch across Damon's features instantly. It's blinding, gratifying, and downright beautiful. But it lasts a second before he whispers against her lips, "Good girl." For some reason this one has the most impact, wrapping her heart in death grip. This act may not happen again for a while, but it's happening now and the reality of that settles deep inside her chest.

He's in motion, dropping his jeans to the floor and removing his shirt to reveal the ripple of abs and trail leading below his boxer briefs. As he slides them off, springing his erection from the confinements, she watches him, simultaneously taking the opportunity to free her ankles from their restraints.

The submissive portion of their session is over. She wants her hands on him and her ankles wrapped around his waist now. No restraints, whatsoever.

When he settles back on top of her, she hooks her legs around his trimmed waistline, titling her hips to offer him perfect access. His erection presses against her folds, tantalizing her flesh. Without hesitation, she wraps her fingers around his back. It's all the invitation he needs before sinking into her core, all of the way to the hilt, in one deep thrust.

The air fills with simultaneous sounds of pleasure – a moan from her and a guttural groan from him – as her opening stretches to accommodate him. Lust spills into his eyes, casting them into a shade of navy as he repeats the motion a second time. When he pulls back a third, Elena pulls back as well, meeting him for the next thrust as they settle into a steady rhythm.

Her hands dive into his hair, pulling his lips to crash back against hers because she just needs more. With each slam of their bodies, she feels herself inch a tiny bit further towards her end. But she's not ready for it to end yet, and he picks up on it. His hand wraps around her waist, pulling the soft swells of her chest against the hard planes of his as they switch position.

They're sitting upright in bed, her legs still knotted behind his waist and her slick entrance wrapped around the dick in his lap. He resumes their rhythm, each of his hands white knuckling her hips and increasing the speed, hitting delicious spots deep within her. She feels it throughout her entire body, including the stretch of skin on her neck his teeth dive to play with. The awareness has her head tilting to the side, offering him a taste.

His warm lips connect with her skin when he declares, "I'm going to bite you and you're going to vamp out. But you won't reciprocate and you absolutely will not come. Not until I say you can."

Apparently the dominant/submissive section of their session wasn't over.

She pulls back; just enough to catch the connection of his eyes, and protests, "What?"

"Just trust me on this one," he replies, firing another deep thrust into her slick heat.

She's so close to release. What he's asking is impossible, but for some stupid reason, she nods in acceptance.

She's anticipating another 'Good girl', but he bypasses the response to stretch his fangs beneath his lips. The veins extend, shifting his eyes into pools of black before they sink through her skin. He pulls the liquid from her bloodstream, tasting her, savoring her. The next pull is in sync with his next thrust. Each suck coincides with a thrust; when he takes, he gives in return.

She grinds her hips into his, building the friction that's increasing both inside of her and on the outside. It's too much this time. Her eyes transition to red as the blood pulses around her lashes. She's turned on, her climax is a few strokes away, and she can't hold back. She needs blood.

The feeling rips through her, overwhelming her, her sense on overdrive, as Damon pulls back from her throat. "Don't drink. You're stronger than the urge," he commands and miraculously, she manages to slip her lips back over her canines. She wants so badly to please him, to prove him right, prove she's bigger than her cravings.

Because she is. Blood is still filling the veins around her eyes, the smell of her own blood is still tantalizing the back of her throat, and she's holding on for dear life, clinging to whatever cliff she can to keep herself from falling over the edge and coming apart under her orgasm. But she's fighting it off. Winning.

She breathes in and out, focused on making this work. Damon smiles, blood glistening at the corners of his lips, when he proclaims, "Come. Now." He plunges into her one last time and she does. She convulses, flies apart at the seams, clenching down around him in glorious spasms.

With her head thrown back and his name crying out from her lips, he joins her, releasing his own heavy groan against her neck. She continues to ride him, milking him for everything he has, and when he's finally spent, she laughs. It's a glorious feeling.

For the first time since her transition she's taken control and there's nothing her conscious can throw at her to dispute that fact. Despite her urges, she didn't drink, and even at her most vulnerable, she was able to withhold her orgasm. She owned who she was and relished in it.

Feeling satisfied and content, her body exhausted for the first time in weeks, she shifts her head back slightly and grabs Damon's cheekbones between her palms. "Thank you for my Christmas gift," she proclaims - exactly as he insisted she would.

"It was my pleasure. Hopefully I made spending time away from Jeremy worthwhile," he replies, nuzzling his nose into the satin strands of her hair. "We all have the urges, Elena, but that doesn't make you a monster. Don't mistake them for lack of control, because like I insisted earlier, you had it just now. You always do."

"Which apparently means I'm not the best at being submissive," she laughs, shaking her head at what they've just done.

He pulls back, cocking his head to the side. "I'd have to disagree, but I'll prove that point to you some other time when we're ready." With a wink, he smirks at her, obviously satisfied, before finally pulling out and rolling over to the edge of the bed to dig through his jeans. When he comes back to nestle beside her, he hands her a box and admits, "This is your real gift."

She smiles, giddy excitement bubbling inside of her as her fingers unclip the clasp of the tiny box and spring it open. Nestled inside is a small silver heart necklace, similar to the one Stefan gave her a year and a half ago.

"It's beautiful. Thank you," she declares, turning her smile on high before she presses her lips against his. The necklace represents so much more than just a simple necklace, and they both know it. It's a sign that he'll wait for her heart to mend, however long it takes, because she already has his. That's the beauty of eternity, after all. They have all the time in the world to bicker and grow and come together.

"You're welcome."

When they separate, she hands the necklace back to Damon so he can clasp it around her neck. Once it's firmly in place, he slides onto his back, lying down onto the bed and she curls into his side. His arm wraps around her back as she nuzzles into him, tracing lazy circles into his bare chest. It's natural. The heart around her neck light, unlike the previous one which felt entirely too heavy towards the end.

Glancing above her head, she grimaces at the image of broken metal and insists, "I'm going to have to buy them a new headboard."

He chuckles softly, the vibrations flowing from his body to hers. "See. You're too considerate to be a monster."

She giggles in response, making a mental note to make the purchase tomorrow, well the next day considering most stores were off Christmas Day, before closing her eyes.

As the haze of everything begins to drift away, the reality of what they've just done begins to take its place. And without lifting her head, Elena twists it to look up at him and begins, "Damon, what happens n-"

But he silences her by covering her mouth with his hand and repeats, "What happens in bumfuck, stays in bumfuck. I'm not going to have you ruin our night by over-analyzing it to death." And with a quick kiss against her forehead, he assures softly, "We're fine."

She kisses his hand, knowing full well that they are. There's a 36 year old bottle of bourbon waiting in her room for him, but she wants to give him a special gift of her own on their impromptu Christmas Eve. Her fangs extend before they pierce into his skin. She expertly makes three marks in the distinct shape of a triangle - two up top and one on the bottom. Tiny droplets of crimson blood rise from the wounds. Dragging her finger through the liquid, she draws the shape of a heart into his hand – her heart.

Then she clasps her hand around the heart on her neck, looks up at him, smiling, and whispers, "Merry Christmas, Damon."

The heart she's offered isn't a completely healed heart and they both know it, but she wants him to have it, if only for the night. He deserves it for helping her repair a fraction of the damage today. A portion Stefan created and a portion this afterlife's created. It's not an entirely selfless act on his part, but helping her start to love herself again the same way he does, whatever version that entails, is the only way they'll ever be able to work in the future.

Neither knows what that future brings besides the other eventually. After tonight, he could choose to be lost with her now, and she could choose to let him, but neither will. It has to be right and there's still a ways to go. But for this not-so-innocent Christmas Eve, they fall asleep together; a mess of tangled limbs, ignoring the real world and all of its imposing obstacles. Both with their hearts clutched in the palm of the other's hand.

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