Put in my two-weeks' notice yesterday. My last day in Michigan is July 24th and then I'm outta here! Anyway, I'll try to get at least one more update before my move, but no promises. So happy y'all are liking the changes so far. Enjoy the fourteenth chapter! ~K


"Can I get you anything?"

Flushing the toilet, Damon pushed himself to his feet and stepped out of the stall, leaning heavily against it. "Nope," he said, finally answering her question after wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Just gonna rinse my mouth out. I'll meet you out there."

Elena hesitated, debating whether to leave before giving him a slow nod and doing as he asked. The instant the door shut behind her, Damon's shoulders sagged with relief. Plodding over to the sink and taking a look at his reflection in the mirror, he grimaced at the pallor of his skin and the dark circles under his eyes.

He looked like shit.

Turning on the faucet, he stuck his hand under the flow of water, and brought it to his lips, rinsing his mouth out half a dozen times until he felt semi-refreshed. He'd make sure to keep his distance from Elena and everyone else until he could get home to brush his teeth. Leaving the restroom, he returned to their table, giving Elena a reassuring nod when she immediately asked if he was feeling any better.

"Had to have been the food," he lied before carefully glancing at her to see if she believed him or not. Thankfully, she seemed to. "That's what I get for trying something new," he joked, though it fell flat, doing nothing to ease the worry in her eyes. "We should probably call it a night."

"Yeah. Yeah, let's get out of here and get you home," Elena agreed immediately.

Damon wanted to argue, to insist that he wasn't some sick little child that needed to be coddled, but she'd always been the Mother Hen type and when she was in Help Mode, there was zero chance of changing her mind or approach. The server returned with their bill and Damon snatched it before she could even make a grab for it.

"Nice try, Elena," he tsked, waving the tab back and forth teasingly as he offered her a tight-lipped smile. "For a job well done today, this one is on me."

"You don't have to pay for me," she protested as he ignored her and handed his credit card over to their waiter. "Alright, fine. Thank you, Damon."

Refusing to let Damon take his own cab, Elena climbed into the backseat next to him and they rode together. Damon leaned back against the headrest, closing his eyes against the feeling of his stomach tumbling over on itself like a load of laundry in the washer. In an attempt to distract himself, he focused in on the memory of one of the last times he and Elena had been in the car together before she'd left for Duke.

June 2005

"Damon, are you crazy?!"

He laughed at the way she gawked at him as he backed out of the driveway in Giuseppe's 1963 cherry red, Porsche 356B Karmann Coupe. The normally uninteresting car had recently been dubbed off-limits – earmarked as a birthday present for Stefan – and so it suddenly oozed with forbidden appeal.

Damon hadn't been able to resist.

"Your dad is going to kill you!" Elena declared, crossing her arms stubbornly.

"If there is one thing that me and my old man share, it's our love of classic cars," he beamed as he slid his fingertips over the steering wheel. "This one is a little too pretty, but whatever. Hop in, little lady, we're going for a spin."

"Damon, come on," she warned, glancing back toward the house as if she expected Giuseppe to come storming out at any second. "Seriously, get out."

"Nope," Damon said with a bright gleam in his eyes. "I'm leaving in five seconds. Feel free to stay here if you want." He started counting backwards, smirking as Elena huffed and pulled open the passenger door. "That's what I thought."

"Where are we going, anyway?" she grumbled as she clicked her seat belt into place.

"I dunno," he shrugged, turning the wheel smoothly to take the corner at the end of his street.

"You don't – what the hell? What, you mean this –"

" – is what going for a spin means," he chuckled, finishing Elena's statement as he handed her his iPod. "Now relax and pick a song."

They cruised along, turning down a back road as she browsed through his music list. "Nice choice," he nodded with a grin as she pressed 'play' and The Killer's "All These Things That I've Done" poured from the speakers. Hearing his stamp of approval, she turned up the volume. Damon whistled along with the beat. "Damn, I wish I could play guitar."

"And have yet another thing to make the ladies swoon over?" she giggled, rolling her eyes as Damon merely waggled his eyebrows and shrugged.

"Maybe."

"You're a pig," she said, tossing her hair over her shoulder and pretending to look disgusted. "Why are we friends?"

"You love me and you know it."

Elena's gaze faltered, focusing on the trees flashing past as she looked out the window. She rolled it down quickly and sucked in a gulp of fresh air.

"You alright?" he asked, turning down the music. "You're not getting carsick, are you?"

She looked over as Damon eyed her worriedly. "Yeah," she nodded with a tight smile. "All good."

"You better be," he said. "I don't want you puking in this car." He turned on his left-turn signal and headed back home.

"What are you doing?"

"Not taking any chances," he snorted, taking his eyes off of the road to give her a pointed look.

"Damon, look out!"

Snapping his attention back to the dirt road, his eyes widened at the deer standing directly in front of them. He yanked the wheel in an effort to avoid it, but the ground was mostly made up of loose gravel and the wheels couldn't catch. Fishtailing wildly, the Porsche Coupe crashed into a tree before Damon or Elena could register what had taken place. Damon's head smacked against the wheel upon impact, leaving him dizzy and in a hell of a lot of pain.

"Ouch," Elena said with a frown as Damon leaned back against the headrest. "Are you okay?" He turned to look at her, about to assure her that he was fine when she shrieked, "Damon, you're bleeding!"

Looking in the rearview mirror, he blanched at the stream of dark red blood running down his face. Bringing his fingers to his forehead, he winced as he made contact with the open wound directly above his right eyebrow.

"Think it needs stitches?" he asked, studying his reflection in the rearview mirror. "Eh, it's not as bad as it looks."

"We shouldn't take any chances," she said, grabbing his chin with her fingers and making him look at her. "You could have a concussion. We need to go to the hospital."

"You don't look hurt," he smiled, giving her an once-over as she cradled his face with gentle hands. "You're not hurt, are you?"

She shook her head. "No, I'm not hurt."

"I'm glad."'

"I got lucky." She turned his chin so that his wound was in the light. "It looks deep."

"I'm shocked you're not passing out on me," Damon teased. "I thought blood meant an automatic TKO for Elena."

She blinked in surprise, her fingers still gripping his jaw. "So did I, but I guess I'm too busy being glad we're alive to pass out right now."

Leaving the damaged vehicle where it was, they headed back to the Gilbert house on foot and eventually into the living room where their parents were playing Gin Rummy. One look at Damon's bloodied face and both sets of parents went into a frenzy of pissed, horrified, and worried outbursts.

"We're okay," Elena said quickly.

"The car…not so much," Damon added in a matter-of-fact tone.

Miranda rushed to Elena and took her by the shoulders, examining every inch of her. "Are you hurt?"

"No," she sighed. "I'm okay."

"You wrecked my car?" Giuseppe roared, jumping up from his seat as Damon's mother placed a calming hand on her husband's arm to keep him by her side.

"Stefan's car, honey," Lily corrected, trying to diffuse some of Giuseppe's anger.

"You wrecked Stefan's car?" he repeated, refusing to be mollified.

"Are you both okay?" Grayson demanded, joining Miranda.

"I am," Elena said again, but pointed to Damon's injury. "I think he needs stitches though."

"I don't need stitches," Damon scoffed, waving away his mother's worried look. "One of those weird-looking winged Band-Aid things will fix me right up."

Ignoring their children, Miranda and Lily marched the two car thieves out to the Gilbert SUV and made a beeline for the town's Advanced Urgent Care, while Grayson and Giuseppe set out in the Salvatore's town car to find the ruined remains of the Porsche.

Elena had had to bite her tongue to keep from sounding like a broken record while the doctor looked her over. She couldn't help the told-you-so look she shot her mother, however, when she was given a completely clean bill of health. Rolling her eyes at her daughter, Miranda thanked the doctor and headed for the waiting room, knowing that Elena wouldn't hear of leaving until she knew that her best friend was okay.

Forty-five minutes later, Elena breathed a sigh of relief as Damon and Lily finally emerged from the ER. Biting her lip to stifle the giggles at his Frankenstein-like stitches, she scooted over and let her best friend collapse onto the uncomfortable couch beside her.

"Not a word."

"What's that for?" Elena asked, pointing at the small orange bottle Damon was holding.

"Pain. Gotta be careful with these guys," Damon said, reading the label. "Have to time it right. Can't let 'em mix with my heart meds."

"Speaking of your heart," she began, "how are you not having a heart attack right now?"

"What are you talking about?"

She cupped her hand and leaned in to whisper in his ears. "Our parents are probably trying to figure out the quickest and quietest way to kill us."

"You worry too damn much," he laughed as he smacked her hand away. "Has anybody ever told you that?"

"Damon, this is serious."

"You're damn right it is." Lily's solemn voice broke in on their conversation as she and Miranda came closer. The teens gulped under the women's heavy scrutiny. "What the hell were you two thinking?"

Damon's mouth twisted in contemplation before shrugging and saying, "I was thinking Elena and I needed to have some fun."

"You two always have fun," Miranda said. "The only difference is that this time what you did was reckless. Don't start with me, young lady," she added, swiftly cutting her daughter off when she'd opened her mouth to speak. "You are so grounded."

"Needless to say, so are you, Damon."

He nodded, the punishment more of an inconvenience because he wouldn't be able to see Elena. "Fair enough."

"Wait," Elena frowned, ignoring Damon's groan. He rested his arms on his thighs and got comfortable, ready for the drama he knew she was about to bring by objecting. "I'm grounded? Why? What did I do? I wasn't the one who crashed the car!"

"You participated," Miranda scolded as Elena bowed her head in shame. "That's just as bad, sweetheart. What if Jeremy had come with you guys? He's getting older, but he's still impressionable, Elena! You're lucky you weren't hurt, or killed!"

"I know," she mumbled, glancing at Damon and unable to stifle her smile when he winked at her with his good eye.

"Your father's outside," Lily said, speaking directly to her son. She didn't have to say anything more; Damon was on his feet and by her side almost instantly. When she spoke, her word was law and he wasn't about to sass back like he might have done had it been Giuseppe. Placing a hand on Miranda's arm, Lily added. "I'm so sorry about this, Mandy."

"They're alive," Elena's mother sighed, lowering her voice to whisper, "I'm more relieved than I am angry."

"Giuseppe has always been hot-headed, but he really is just as thankful as we are," Lily said before slipping her arm through Damon's and guiding him toward the exit. "Time to go, honey – you won't be driving for a long while."

"I'll see you later, Damon," Elena grumbled, rising slowly to her feet.

"Bye, Elena." He waved halfheartedly to Miranda before dutifully following his mother out to their car.

Damon opened his eyes as the cab slowed to a stop in front of his penthouse.

"You're sure you don't want me to come with you?" Elena asked. Damon shook his head. "I can make you something to settle your stomach."

"Still the worrywart, aren't we," he teased before shaking his head. "Quit it." Paying for his half of the ride, he climbed out of the taxi and leaned in to say goodbye. "I'll see you Wednesday. Bye, Elena."

Treading slowly, he made his way to the front door where he punched in the security code and walked inside. As he waited for the elevator doors to open, he thought about that memory with…not quite malice, but irritation. It seemed like every single moment from his past that he'd successfully kept buried for a decade was suddenly flying to the surface, and he had no hope in hell at shoving them back down.

Some things never change, he thought as the elevator dinged and let him out at his floor. Elena Gilbert was still cute as hell and a gigantic pain in the ass – a fact that brought a smile to his lips until he froze at the sight of a pair of long legs and a flash of blonde hair. Fuck.

"Bex, I'm not in the mood," he growled.

"I saw a brunette in your taxi, Damon." Rebekah sauntered over to him, trailing a hand down his chest that he was too tired to remove himself. He sighed heavily at her next words. "A brunette that looked an awful lot like Elena."

"Nicely deduced. Are you done?" he replied shortly as his pocket buzzed. Retrieving his phone he saw a new text message.

From: The Pain in My Ass

Message: Thank you for today, Damon. Pass or fail, I would have given up without your help. I hope you feel better.

He nearly smiled until he remembered who else was in the hallway with him, watching his every move.

To: The Pain in My Ass

Message: No problem. After today, you shouldn't fail too badly. ;) Already feeling better. Thanks.

Masking his expression effortlessly, he shoved the device back into his pocket without waiting for a response.

"You know," the blonde said with a pout, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say the girl almost prefers spending her free time with you over her boyfriend."

Damon scowled, choosing not to tell her that Elijah had recently become an ex-boyfriend. "I wouldn't necessarily call it free time," he argued. "We spent the majority of the day with our heads in books."

"'Majority?'" she repeated, seizing on the technicality as he smirked at the way her blue eyes flashed green with jealousy. "What, you mean you did more than just study? Did –"

"Bekah–"

"Well?" she pressed, biting her lip and practically bouncing with the need to know what exactly he had in store for the brown-haired woman of his past. "Did you two do more?"

"Yes," he nodded, quickly amending his answer when he saw her eyes widen and she nearly squealed. "I mean, no, god, no. Not like that. I got her food."

"Like…a date?"

"Yes – no," he quickly answered, annoyed by all of her questions. "Jesus. Why are you here again?"

"I came to check up on you," Rebekah replied with a smile, stepping even closer to him. "I wanted to remind you about your little scheme to ruin Elena." If it was possible, her smile nearly tore her face in half, her eyes lighting up with malevolence.

He didn't answer, turning to unlock his door.

"What do you have up next for the 'Seducing' part of your plan, Damon?" she asked eagerly while he fished for his keys, grazing her fingernails lightly down his back. "You've already taken her out…is the next step bedding her?" She clasped her hands and pushed her lips together when he kept silent. "The next step is bedding her, isn't it?" Her voice was gleeful and her smile huge as her eyes gleamed wickedly. "That will absolutely level her!"

With a start, Damon realized that Rebekah was more into the Seduce and Destroy plan at this point than he was, and he chose to ignore her. He was exhausted, still felt nauseated and when he opened the door, she started to follow him into his foyer. Unable to deal with her pestering questions a moment longer, he shook his head, firmly placed his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back out into the hall.

Clingy little twit, he thought as he leaned weakly against the door and winced when his chest tightened painfully with his next breath. Kicking off his shoes, he trudged into the kitchen to grab a glass of water, and then the bathroom where he flicked on the light. Swallowing his pills, he took a few swigs from his glass and looked at his face reflecting back in the mirror. He looked a little better; his skin was regaining some if its color, but he still felt sick. Damon brushed his teeth, but skipped the shower. He was so damn tired. He'd just get up and take one in the morning.

Heading for his bedroom and seeing it was nearing 1 o'clock in the morning, he flopped into bed. His eyes were already starting to slide shut before he could think any more about what Rebekah had said in the hall before he'd all but slammed the door in her face. Sleep quickly pulled him under, the last image in Damon's conscious mind being that of a caring and annoyingly attentive brunette.

Damon spent most of his Sunday wondering whether or not Elena was relaxing or studying herself into the ground the day before her exam. Before he got ready for bed later that night, after he set his alarm for 4 a.m, he decided to send her a text.

To: The Pain in My Ass

Message: Go to sleep at a decent hour. You want that stuff to stick.

Her response came almost instantly.

From: The Pain in My Ass

Message: Yes, Dad…are you feeling any better?

If he were being honest, his chest was bugging him, he was more tired than he should have been for doing absolutely nothing all day, and it wasn't even 8 o'clock yet. He messaged her back that he was indeed feeling better and that he'd see her at work on Wednesday. He knew she'd be missing work for two days in order to take her test. He showered, brushed his teeth, and got into bed. He was asleep in minutes.

When he woke up the following day, Damon groggily looked over at his alarm clock, wondering why it hadn't gone off. He knew he'd set the time at the appropriate hour but he couldn't remember if he'd shut it off in his sleep. Seeing the time, he immediately jumped out of bed, throwing on a suit, and as soon as he looked like he didn't belong in a zombie movie, he was out the door and on the way to S&S in less than five minutes.

Moving through the halls of the firm as quickly as his condition would allow without sending him into cardiac arrest, Damon ran smack into Katherine who was wearing a typical skirt that ran a little too high on her thighs and a black blouse that dove just a little too far down her chest.

"Excuse you," she said with an amused expression. "Where's the fire?"

He glared at her. "He's gonna kill me," he panted, clearing his throat. Katherine had a habit of intercepting him before work to mindlessly chat his ear off with useless crap he didn't care about. He didn't have the time for her nonsense today. "Giuseppe's going to kill me, so if you don't mind –"

"Oh, I don't," she admitted with a concerned smile, "but your brother does. He's a nervous wreck."

"What?" he asked, his attention caught. "Why?"

"Because you haven't answered any of his calls and he thinks you're lying in a ditch somewhere."

Rolling his eyes, he tried to move past her, "Well, I'm not."

"Clearly."

"Kat, move."

There were two reasons Damon didn't physically move her out of his way. One, she might have had the talent to annoy the hell out of him, but Katherine was engaged to his brother. Two, he might not have been the woman's biggest fan, but he did respect her.

"Okay, okay," she grinned, holding her hands in the air but still refusing to get out of his way. "So…where's the newbie?"

"Elena's been here for a while now, she's hardly a newbie. And she's taking her bar exam so she won't be here today or tomorrow. Why?"

"Damon!" Stefan shouted, appearing behind his fiancée who turned to face him as he moved down the hall. "Where the hell have you been? Dad's flipping out!"

"Let him flip," Damon shrugged. "If he can land on his feet, I'll give him an award."

His little brother was – and had always been – observant. Especially when it came to Damon and their father's Cardiomyopathy. Stefan always knew when something was wrong and the fact that Damon's breathing hadn't evened out much in the twenty seconds he'd been standing there didn't help. His ashen face and weary eyes were also telltale signs that something wasn't right.

"Give us a second, Kat," Stefan told his fiancée.

Katherine protested, saying she wanted stay, to see what he obviously did, but he gave her a stern look. Knowing she wouldn't get her way, she rolled her eyes and pulled away from him, leaving the two brothers to go at it.

Glaring at his older brother, he commanded. "Break room. Now."

"Stef–"

"Just do it, okay?"

Damon rolled his eyes, already knowing what would be in store for him when he walked into the coffee room. Baby bro couldn't turn off the worry switch – just like someone else who had monopolized his thoughts for the better part of the weekend.

"Damon." Stefan poked his head outside of the break room, demanding. "Now."

Grudgingly, he joined his brother, the door closing behind him with a snick as Damon grumbled. "Here we go."

"Are you okay?"

"I really wish everybody would stop asking me that."

"Well, are you?"

"No," he snapped. "I'm not okay. I slept half the day away and you are royally pissing me off."

"You look like you're about to pass out."

"Yeah, well, I got over twelve hours of sleep and I'm still tired as hell."

"You look like shit too."

Turning around, Damon began to make coffee. He wasn't stupid enough to drink it after how shitty he'd been feeling over the last three days, but he needed to keep his hands busy so that he wouldn't smack his brother upside the head for being Captain Obvious. Pouring a cup, he handed it to Stefan and admitted. "I feel worse."

He gawked at him before replying in a harsh whisper, "What the hell is the matter with you? Go to the goddamn doctor, Damon!"

"Mom would be horrified to hear you speak that way," he said in condescendingly sweet manner, "Drink up."

"You're being ridiculous," Stefan muttered, clearly upset by the harsh way their mother had come into the conversation and knowing it was Damon's intention to hurt him. "Dad told me he saw you in pain last week."

Damon tilted his head in acknowledgement. "He would be telling you the truth."

"You're clearly still in pain," Stefan deduced with narrowed eyes as he examined him up and down. "Are you waiting for the Reaper to knock at your door, or what? Are the meds even still working?"

"Yes," Damon sighed. "They're still working, Stefan."

"Great. Then go to the doctor and get some antibiotics," he said, relief now evident in his demeanor. "Maybe you're coming down with the flu or something."

"And maybe you're getting on my last nerve, little brother."

"Well fuck, Damon," Stefan laughed humorlessly, throwing his hands up in the air. "I actually give a shit about you. Sue me!"

Damon smirked. "You made a lawyer joke, Stef." Stefan immediately scowled and Damon rolled his eyes, leaning against the counter, crossing his arms and shaking his head. He had always been a bit of a Drama Queen, but this truly took the cake. "Don't get your panties in a twist."

"Have you told Elena?"

Damon's jovial behavior vanished. "There's nothing to tell Elena."

"She should know!"

"There's nothing for her to know, Stefan!" Damon finally exploded. "Butt out! Christ, you're like a mosquito buzzing in my ear every goddamn hour of the day. Enough!"

Stefan scoffed, heading for the door before looking over his shoulder. His voice dropped as he twisted the handle. "Just get checked out, will you? I might not be able to have our mom there, but I'd like for my brother to be alive and by my side on my wedding day."

With that, Stefan walked out of the coffee room. Damon let out a heavy breath, rubbing his hands over his face. He eyed the coffee mug that his brother hadn't touched. He knew he shouldn't drink it, but he was still so fucking tired and he had a long ass day ahead of him. Consequences be damned, he took a sip of the still-warm drink as his phone vibrated in his pocket.

From: The Pain in My Ass

Message: Guess what? I survived the first half.

Damon's raised a brow in surprise to see that she'd texted him; not over the text itself, because they'd already been sending them back and forth, but that Elena had chosen to contact him to express her glee over something that clearly meant a lot to her. He thought over his response before pressing send.

To: The Pain in My ass

Message: Congrats. Now once you survive the second half, we can celebrate.

Elena responded immediately and Damon didn't bother to hide the smile. He replied as he took another swig of coffee. God, did he miss caffeine. Maybe another cup wouldn't hurt. He started the coffee maker up again as he thought about where to take her.

From: The Pain in My Ass

Message: Last time you said that to me, you hated me.

To: The Pain in My Ass:

Message: Nah. Was annoyed and caught off guard. We both deserve a break and I know the perfect place.

Damon intended to bring Elena to the best place he knew to unwind and relax after weeks of nearly going batshit crazy. Pass or fail, she had – as she'd said – survived the first part of the exam. He was sure she'd get through the second half without having a total nervous breakdown and she deserved a night of fun. Preferably with loud music, a good bartender and people who didn't give a fuck about their day jobs. It was decided.

As soon as they finished their shifts five days from now, on Friday evening, Damon was going to Billy's.

And he was going to bring Elena with him.


Well, that's that! Like I said, I'll try to get another update out to you all. Thanks for reading, and please review! ~Kate