A/N: Second oneshot as part of the A2A Christmas Exchange, cross-posted from my livejournal account. Hope you like it!

Prompt by pureheart151: It's been nearly two months since Elena and Damon have left Mystic Falls - in order to teach Elena how to feed properly without hurting someone, to keep her bloodlust under control, far away from her friends and family - as Christmas arrives. When Elena gets a phone call from home (from who is up to you) to wish her a Merry Christmas, she realizes how much she really misses her friends, so Damon decides to make it up to her by giving her a Christmas that she'll always remember. (Including a visit from her family and friends on Christmas itself is optional)

The sand was cool and smooth beneath her feet, the wind tangling her hair around her neck and shoulders as Elena stood watching the grey waves roll into shore. The sky was the colour of steel as she blew out a breath, the sharp wind tugging at her deep blue shirt. She wrapped her arms around herself, out of habit now more than necessity; she didn't feel the cold like she used to before. The bottoms of her jeans were wet and heavy from their contact with the salty water, but Elena barely felt the dampness, too busy digging her toes into the coarse sand beneath her feet as she concentrated on her breathing.

The beach was almost empty, the cool December weather keeping all those except the hardiest of people inside their homes, drinking hot chocolate and sitting down in front of roaring fires, trying to keep out the cold. Elena had been here for a little over an hour, slowly making her way over the dunes and down to the water's edge, kicking off her sneakers and socks to let her feet encounter the softly undulating sand beneath her. In all that time, she had encountered three people; a young couple clearly in love, holding gloved hands as they walked along the sand bank, the wind turning their cheeks pink as they snuggled close together, whispering and giggling together. Elena had smiled wistfully at them, turning her body in time with theirs as they passed, keeping herself upwind. She could still smell them, of course; it was inevitable now, no matter what precautions she took. But she did her best, tuned her ears to listen to the whistling wind rather than the pumping of their hearts, concentrated on her breaths as she pulled them in through her mouth, willing the veins under her eyes to stay smooth and calm, the bloodlust to make itself known and then allow itself to be tucked away.

This was the first lesson he had taught her; acknowledge the feelings for what they are. He hadn't put it quite like that, of course; blunt and right to the point was much more his style. Truthfully, Elena had always appreciated that side of him; the obfuscation that society requires had always made her feel hemmed in slightly, even as she participated. Not him though; he played by his own rules, and with her new life, Elena found herself appreciating his candour all the more.

"You're a vampire now Elena, be a vampire. Accept what you are and own it."

He'd said it all blasé, of course, a little smirk pulling at his lips, which Elena had long ago learned was more affectation than actual amusement. But she'd gotten the point of what he had been trying to teach her; understanding and accepting what she is now will help her learn to control it. Which was what she was doing now, as she shoved her hands deep into her jeans pockets and hunched her shoulders slightly, looking as though she was protecting herself from the wind; in reality steadying herself for the blast of the sweet coppery tang that she knew was about to hit her in the face.

The jogger was tall, pale blue sweat suit stained darker around the neck as the man pushed his pace along the water's edge. Elena wrinkled her nose, but not in distaste; time was when the smell of sweat would turn her off, make her feel slightly sick. She could remember laughing and slipping away from Matt as he slung an arm over her shoulders after football practise, pushing him in the direction of the changing rooms and scolding him into taking a shower. Now though, the scent of sweat just told her that blood was pumping around a nearby body faster, and her senses would sing at the thought of how much sweeter it would taste.

She thought about holding her breath, but then that would just make this whole exercise pointless; she needed to get used to this feeling, needed to know how it felt so that she could counteract it. Elena ripped her eyes away from the neck of the approaching jogger with force, following the line of his shoulder and down his arm, to where he was clenching tightly to a thin black lead. Scampering along by his feet was a small brown dog, ears flapping and tongue lolling out, its head moving to the side every so often to snap at the sand as it flew up in its wake. Elena dug her toes into the sand harder and clenched her jaw as they got closer, breathing shallowly through her mouth as she waited for the scent to hit. Surprisingly, the distinct smell of wet dog washed over her first, and Elena looked closer at the little Yorkie. His long brown hair was straggly and damp, covered with sand from where he'd obviously been rolling around in the dunes. She was so busy watching the cute little thing clearly having the time of its life that she almost wasn't prepared for the moment when the smell of blood crashed over her. She wobbled slightly, torn between wanting to jump on the man and needing to run in the opposite direction as far as she could go, but then another scent wafted over to her. It smelled like blood, but at the same time was utterly repugnant, and Elena felt her face pull into a grimace as she realised what it was. The smell of the dog's blood, so much like what she constantly craved and yet so very different, made the hairs on her arms stand up on end and her scalp prickle, and she suddenly found herself wondering how the hell Stefan had managed to drink animal blood for so long. She shuddered at the thought.

The jogger and his dog were both suddenly upon her, and Elena was shocked enough to return his smile before she even realised she had decided to as they passed her on their way down the beach. The smile stayed on her face a moment longer as she realised she hadn't even had the urge to strike. She stayed where she was, on the now silently empty sand as she looked out over the steel coloured water.

"You didn't tell me you were coming out."

The voice came from just behind her, and she smiled again. Even now that all her senses were heightened, he could still sneak up on her. One day she would have to get him to teach her how to do the same.

"I just needed some air."

The tails of his dark shirt flapped against her arm as he stepped up close beside her, and Elena felt tension that she hadn't even known was there bleed from her shoulders. Even now, when she was as strong as the next monster, he had the ability to make her feel safe, just by being close by. And he thought he was so scary. Idiot.

"You didn't feel like letting me know? I could've been worried."

"You knew where I'd gone." She turned her face away from the shore and fell into two deeps pools of blue. Of course he would already be looking at her; he was always looking at her.

"I just needed to... I wanted to try it on my own."

He nodded, then looked around the beach before turning back to her. "Well, I don't see any corpses lying around, so unless you've buried them somewhere for me to find later, I'd say you did it."

Elena smiled at him. "I did. There were only three, well, three plus a wet dog, but I did it." She laughed as his nose scrunched up at the mention of the animal, because she knew just what he was thinking. But then she remembered what had happened this morning and the smile slid off and she looked down at her feet.

Damon watched her for a moment, then said, "I heard. Judgy called. You okay?" He pulled his hand out of his pocket and touched his forefinger to her chin, pulling her gaze back up to meet his.

Elena tried to smile, but knew she'd failed. "Yeah, she just wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas. I just... I hadn't even realised." She blew out a breath, concentrated on the feel of his fingers stroking lightly down her throat. "I knew it was coming up soon, I just hadn't been paying all that much attention to it. And I know it's stupid. Why worry about one little day when you're gonna live forever, right?" A tear rolled down her cheek and he caught it with his thumb. "It's just…it's Christmas, you know?"

Damon gave a small smile, one of those rare genuine expressions that he always seemed to reserve just for her. "You know, we have a week until Christmas. We could always go back?"

Elena closed her eyes and placed her hands on his waist, letting her head rest against his chest as she felt him smooth her hair down over her shoulders. "I can't. It's too soon. I'm not ready. I would never forgive myself if-"

"Hey, it's okay," he shushed her. "We won't go back until you're ready, it's okay." His hands rubbed soothing circles into her back, stopping the panic from rising within her. When she felt calm enough to pull back, he slung his arm around her shoulders and turned her away from the water. "Come on, let's go back inside. I made hot chocolate!"

"You know how to make hot chocolate?"

He shrugged as they made their way back up over the dunes. "I ate a culinary school once. You'd be surprised at some of the things I can do."

Elena laughed, picked up her shoes and followed Damon up the path back to the road, leaving as much of the emptiness inside of her as she could on the shore of the deserted beach.

"Morning, sunshine!"

"Ughhh!" Elena scowled as the curtains in her room were flung open by a far too chipper Damon.

"Mmhmm, we've already established that you're not a morning person, but I've brought coffee. And breakfast! Drink up!"

Elena cracked open one eye to see Damon standing at the end of her bed, mug of steaming coffee in one hand and a bag of O-neg dangling from the other. "M'not hungry," she mumbled, pulling the covers up over her head and curling into a tight ball.

"And I'd be upset by your lack of gratitude if I actually gave a damn." Damon threw the bag of blood onto the pillow by her head and yanked the covers right off the bed.


Damon smirked at her, giving her pyjama shorts an obvious leer. "Mmm. They've always been my favourite pair." He pointed at the blood bag. "Now eat your breakfast, you're going to need your strength today." He put the coffee mug down on the dresser and picked up her clothes from the day before off the floor, turning to dump them into the laundry basket behind him.

Stupid OCD vampire, Elena thought to herself grumpily. She sat up and pulled the blood bag towards her, pulling off the cap and taking a deep draw of the viscous fluid. She felt the veins under the soft skin below her eyes make themselves visible and she swallowed down the ball of shame along with the blood, noting with mild shock that it wasn't as hard to do as it had been only a couple of months ago. She quickly downed the rest of the bag and stood up, rolling her eyes at Damon as he gave a low wolf whistle, giving her body an appreciative sweep.

"If you want me up, then you're going to have to leave so I can get dressed." She placed a hand on his arm and pushed him towards the door, her other arm reaching out blindly to grab at the coffee.

Damon pouted and then winked, opening the bedroom door. "There's more blood waiting for you downstairs. I'll get more coffee on the go."

"More? Are you trying to make me fat?" Elena stared at him over the rim of her mug, wondering why he was suddenly forcing blood on her. Usually he told her to eat whenever a craving hit, or when she was about to find herself around humans.

Damon just threw her a knowing smirk as he backed out of the room. The sound of him humming floated to her as he made his way downstairs, and Elena choked on her mouthful of coffee as she recognised the tune.

I like big butts and I cannot lie, you other brothers can't deny...

She giggled to herself as she shut the door behind him and rooted in her closet for something to wear for the day. The sound of her own laughter echoing off the tiles as she entered the bathroom jolted another surprised laugh out of her. She stepped into the shower and turned up the heat, thinking about her progress as steam rose up around her. They'd been staying here for a little over two months now, a tiny little cottage in a small town by Kerr Lake. Elena remembered arriving in a daze, locked in her own grief and guilt over her most recent attempted attack on a friend. Matt had only shown up to try to apologise – not that he had anything to apologise for – but the smell and sound of his blood pumping so beautifully just under his soft delicate skin had been too much for Elena to take. Caroline had arrived and pulled her off just in time, and Elena had locked herself away in her bathroom while her friend helped heal Matt and clean up the mess. Less than an hour later, Damon had broken the lock on the door and strode into the bathroom to find her curled up in a ball in the tub, the blood of her friend still smeared across her face, hands and clothes. He'd picked her up and wiped her down, and then finally carried her near comatose form down the stairs and into the passenger seat of his Camaro, grabbing a bag from Caroline on his way out the door. Just over an hour later they had pulled up outside this little house, and Damon had carried her upstairs and into one of the bedrooms, laying her down on the bed and stretching out next to her, stroking her hair as she cried herself to sleep.

"Shh, it's okay. I'm going to help you. It'll all be okay."

And they'd been here ever since, Damon teaching her methods to control her new hunger, holding her close and rubbing her back when it all became too much for her to handle. The small town they were in was mainly just for tourists, so at this time of year the place was practically empty. That made it easier for Elena, walking down the streets with a tight grip on Damon's hand, her nails digging into his skin whenever they passed a human. Yesterday had been the first time she had gone out alone; Damon had never gone more than a few steps away from her, knowing she felt she wasn't ready to be left alone yet. But yesterday at the beach had been a breakthrough for her.

She stepped out of the shower and walked back into her room to get dressed. She still felt a small twinge of disappointment that it hadn't been Stefan here to help her through this transition, but it didn't hurt anywhere near as much as it had at first. Stefan had his own issues to deal with without adding her on top, and it hadn't been until she turned that Elena really understood just how much of a problem Stefan had with blood. It had been a shame to break up when they had been so close to finally working things out, but surprisingly it hadn't hurt as much as she'd thought it would.

Elena tugged a comb through her hair and pulled out her hairdryer, her heightened hearing picking up Damon whistling to himself in the small kitchen downstairs before she turned it on. Weirdly, it hadn't felt at all weird living here with Damon, spending practically every waking moment with him as she learned to control her new urges. They cooked together – even though neither of them needed to eat, Damon told her that eating food helps with the feelings of hunger – and ate together, played Scrabble and Monopoly in front of the fire in the evenings, even though neither of them needed the extra heat any more. They'd even gotten massively drunk one night, Damon teaching her how to play Poker and goading her into downing shots of bourbon when she lost a hand. Elena smiled as she remembered that he'd ended up drinking far more than she did, before he finally threw the pack of cards out the window in defeat. They'd been having a lot of fun here together, but nothing more than that. Not yet anyway, although that feeling of lust she'd always had simmering just underneath the surface for him had begun to make itself harder and harder to ignore as the weeks had gone by. But she hadn't acted upon it. She wanted to feel fully in control of herself before she did anything, needed to know that it was her making the decision herself and not her newly heightened emotions.

Hair done, Elena pulled on a bright red top she found at the top of her drawers and picked up her phone to check the time. Her good mood dissolved as she noticed again the date: Christmas Eve. She took a deep breath, tucked her phone in her pocket and opened her bedroom door. An overload of smells washed over her, and she stumbled back in surprise.

"Is that...is that a turkey?" Elena leaned against the doorframe of the kitchen and watched incredulously as Damon pulled open the oven door and removed a beautifully cooked turkey with one hand as he stirred a pot on the stove with the other.

"Extra blood bag is on the counter there," he gestured over his shoulder with the wooden spoon. "Drink it up, you'll need it."

"What's going on? Damon?" Elena drifted over to the counter and opened the blood bag, taking a quick pull of the liquid as she glanced around the small room. She saw a tureen of fresh roast potatoes sitting off to one side, a bowl of steaming vegetables balanced carefully next to it.

"I'm riding a bike, what does it look like?" Damon set the turkey down in another dish and then turned to her. "Well? Finish that blood and then help me bring this stuff into the dining room. Make yourself useful." He bumped her with his hip as he moved past her and into the adjoining room.

In a daze, Elena sucked up the rest of the blood and threw the bag in the garbage can, grabbing a bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes and following Damon. She gasped out loud and almost dropped the bowl as she entered the room: it had been decorated beautifully, everywhere she looked. A deep red tablecloth lined the wooden table, tinsel in red and gold hung around the window frames and over the chintzy watercolours adorning the walls. A small, real, Christmas tree stood in the far corner, decked with sparkling lights and shiny glass baubles.

"Damon..." Her voice was breathy, and she felt like she had lost the ability to form words.

Damon just took the bowl from her hands and placed it on the table, before shepherding her back into the kitchen. He pushed another mug of almost scalding coffee into her hands. "Drink, it'll help."

"Help? Damon, what..?" Her voice trailed off as Elena looked back through into the dining room and saw that the table had been set. There were six places.

She whirled around to face Damon, intent on finding out just what was going on, and then the doorbell rang. Damon smirked at her and gestured for her to drink her coffee as he brushed past her. She took a big gulp, and noticed the bitter aftertaste of whiskey on her tongue. She knocked back the last of the drink as she heard Damon pull open the front door.

"About time you got here, Blondie. I was beginning to think I'd lost out on my beauty sleep for nothing."

And then Elena heard the most beautiful sound.

"And we all know you need as much of that as you can get." Caroline pushed past Damon and came to a sudden stop just inside the kitchen door. "Merry Christmas, Elena!" She squealed and jumped on Elena, wrapping her up in a tight hug full of perfume and blonde curls.

Elena hugged her back after a moment, shocked out of her frozen state as her friend squeezed her tight. She looked over Caroline's shoulder and almost choked on her tears as she watched Bonnie, Matt and Tyler crowd into the kitchen one after another.

"You're going to be fine, we've got you covered," Caroline whispered as she felt Elena tense up at the sight of Matt.

"Room for one more?"

Elena stumbled out of Caroline's embrace as the last person she expected to see walked in through the doorway.

"Jeremy!" She ran over to him and threw her arms around his neck, relishing in his soft laugh as it rumbled through his chest.

"Hey, 'Lena," he said softly, squeezing her close. "Where's the food, I'm starving!"

"You're always starving," Elena laughed as she leaned back again, reaching out a hand to squeeze Bonnie's shoulder and smile at Tyler and Matt.

They made their way into the dining room and sat down together, Caroline exclaiming loudly at the gaudiness of the paper hats the boys put on their heads immediately. The front door clicked softly closed and as Elena glanced back through the doorway she saw the shadow of Damon as he walked away down the path.

"Ooh, champagne!" Caroline giggled and pressed a glass into Elena's hand. "On three everybody? One, two-"

"Merry Christmas!"

Elena stood on the front step, waving as Tyler's car and Matt's new truck pulled away from the curb, her friends and her brother all hanging out of the windows as they yelled raucous goodbyes. They were all headed back home to spend Christmas Day with their respective families, Jeremy going with Bonnie. The day had been amazing, full of screaming and laughter, jokes and jostles as the six friends had enjoyed an early Christmas dinner, before sitting down in the living room to play an obnoxious game of Pictionary. The boys had won, of course, having both Jeremy and Tyler on their team, and Caroline had loudly proclaimed the unfairness of it right up until Tyler bundled her forcefully into the car.

And not once had Elena felt an urge to attack. This had been her ultimate test, and she had passed. She was ready to go back home.

Instead of going back inside, Elena pulled the door closed behind her and set off for the beach, looking up as stars began to poke their way though the darkening sky. As she reached the dunes she kicked off her flats, letting her toes sink into the cool, dry sand as she made her way closer to the shore.

He wasn't hard to spot. The moonlight glinted off his pale skin, giving him an ethereal, almost otherworldly glow. The slight breeze played with his dark hair, making it dance across his forehead as he stood staring out over the water. She stepped up quietly behind him, mouth open to say something and make him jump.

He beat her to it. "Have fun?"

Elena sighed. "Some day you're going to have to teach me that sneaking up on people thing."

Damon snorted elegantly. "Sure. Doubt it would work on me, though."

"Why not?" She moved to stand next to him, mirroring the way they had stood the day before. He turned to her, and Elena found herself once again drowning in pools of pale blue.

"Because I always know where you are."

He said it so simply, with none of the bravado that usually saturated his words, and Elena found herself accepting the truth for what it was, without trying to find a way to explain it away. Because she realised now that he never managed to sneak up on her either, not really. She would always feel him just a moment before he made his presence known, making her smile instead of jump. She would always be able to feel him near her, because she loved him.

"You didn't have to sneak away, you know." She stepped closer, putting her hands on his waist.

He shrugged slightly, lifting a hand to brush a lock of hair behind her ear, his thumb stroking across her cheek. "It was your Christmas present."

"Thank you. It was the best present I've ever had." She smiled at him, pressing her cheek into the palm of his hand.

"So, I take it there were no accidents?"

Elena grinned. "Nope, it went perfect. I didn't even feel an urge."

Damon quirked his lips into a smile and stroked his fingers down her neck, making her shiver. "So, does that mean you think you're ready to go home?"

Elena gripped his waist tighter, letting her fingers clench tightly in the fabric of his shirt as she stepped even closer. She raised herself up onto her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his, before leaning back slightly.

"Yes. I'm ready."

The small waves slid up around their feet, soaking into their jeans as their feet sank further into the wet sand, and the breeze tugged at their hair and clothes as they tangled closer together. The beach didn't feel so empty any more.

A/N: Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and a fantastic start to the new year! Reviews are love :)