A/N: Sorry it took me so long to get this chapter posted. We had our car broken into and among the things stolen was this chapter. So I had to find time amongst all the holiday craziness to find time to rewrite it. Thank you all for your kind reviews and for following this story. Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Chapter 16

The man sat behind the lights so he was partly enshrouded in shadow. He was new, an addition the team that had already worked me over. Prone on the dirty floor, the coppery smell of blood hung in the air like a fog, and I couldn't even muster the strength to lift my head to get a full look at him.

My body had been shutting down making any movement difficult. He pulled a chair into the room and sat down straightening his suit jacket as he crossed one ankle over the opposite knee. From what I could see, the suit looked expensive and he wore Italian leather shoes.

"I take it the message my associates passed along was not enough to persuade you into departing this fair little burg and exiting the lives of Elena and Stefan," the man said, a slight English accent apparent in his voice like the two smash brothers that had been working me over for days.

"Fuck. You." Not my most original come back, but it was the best my brain could conjure up as my body fought going into shock.

"Their techniques tend to be a bit...brutish. Maybe I will be a better messenger." He recrossed his legs making him seem as if he was prepared to be there for a long time.

"So you're here to deliver rainbows and sunshine," I snarked after spitting out a mouthful of blood.

"No, but maybe my message will be a tad more," he stopped as if considering his words carefully, "motivating."

He reached down picking up an object, sliding it across the floor towards me. Instinct somehow guided my hand up and I stopped the object in front of my face. Rolling my head slightly I saw it was an open laptop and there were two active windows open sharing the screen space. Squinting slightly to focus, I saw grainy video footage. The videos bobbed and weaved as if people were walking while carrying video cameras. The image on the right was ascending a set of steps. An ornate wooden banister, persian rug runner covering the steps, floated into view. Stairs I had tred almost every day of my life. I sucked in a painful breath and hoped I was wrong about what I would soon see. Then the images showed my brother's bedroom. My eyes swung to the image on the left and saw as a hand pushed open a door and the video briefly focused on a large picture of a horse hanging over a queen size bed. Shit, fuck, fuck, fuck. Someone was in both Stefan and Elena's bedrooms.

Mustering my last reserve of strength, I managed to get my arms underneath me in hopes of pushing myself to my feet. "I will kill you if you touch one hair on either of their heads."

"Conserve your strength, Mr. Salvatore. Keep watching," he said ignoring my insult.

Whoever was filming Stefan's video panned the camera over Stefan's sleeping form. Then a syringe came into view and was set on the nightstand. "Heroine." The man in the room with me offered as explanation for what I was seeing on the screen. The amount in that needle would cause an overdose for sure. My eyes moved to the left and, like with Stefan, the video panned over a sleeping Elena. Duct tape was set on the nightstand and the covers were slowly pulled away to reveal her sleeping body in tiny sleep shorts and tank top. "I doubt I need to explain the plan for Miss Gilbert."

Adrenalin coursed through me and I surged to my feet. "If you're ready to meet your maker, I can make that happen," I growled. The surge was all my body had to give and I collapsed on the floor in a heap after one step.

"Damon, Damon, Damon. Did you really think you could protect them? Elena will hate you if you allow these terrible things to befall them when you had the power to stop it all. All I ask is you sign the letter, leave town never to return. You comply and you have my word that they will go back to their little lives unharmed." If I had been able to see his face I would have guessed he was smiling smugly at me. Rat bastard.

My resolve weakened. I couldn't let anything happen to them, not when I could stop it. I growled at being too weak and powerless as usual to help those I love. There's no choice but to comply.

"Tick, tock, Mr. Salvatore. My associates are not patient men," he said.

"Promise me. I leave and they get to live their lives, follow their own path, pursue their own dreams in New York. Free from our parents and the judgment of this town. Promise me they live free and I will sign anything you want and I'll leave for good." The feeling of defeat and sorrow threatened to pull me under but I knew I only had to fight it a little longer before I could let it take me away.

"You have my word and that of my employer," he said as he nods at the door. I can only assume the man that always seems to be lurking, the one who spoke on behalf of Grayson was yet again hovering near the door. A fountain pen was tossed at me before the not so nice Englishman slid a piece of paper under my nose.

He made a mistake. He emerged from the shadows in his moment of triumph and I memorized every inch of him. The brown hair, angular nose and jaw line. The expensive suit and shoes, even the ring on his finger and especially the sound of his very grating voice. I vowed someday to seek vengeance for all this against him, his heavy fisted English brethren and the shadow man acting as Grayson's mouthpiece. With this thought in mind, I signed away my happiness of being near the woman I love and the only real family I had left. Then the pain returned. The hired hands driving home the message never to return.

My mind tries to swim to the surface through the black sea of sleep. A tightness around my neck has me thrashing my sweat coated limbs, attempting to get away from my tormenters and the pain. My arms and legs are tangled in the sheets and blankets hampering my escape. "Damon, Damon," I hear in the distance. Blindly reaching out I grasp what I feel on my neck and wrench it away from me. My eyes shoot open and my body moves with a mind of its own out of the bed landing on the floor in a heap. My chest is rising and falling like I've just run a marathon. Looking up I see Elena with disheveled hair kneeling on the bed peering down at me rubbing her wrists.

"It was just a dream. You're okay," she whispers moving to get out of the bed.

Crab walking, I scramble backwards away from her as fast as my four limbs will move before rolling over to push myself into a standing position. Then I sprint, yes sprint, to the bathroom slamming the door closed and quickly twisting the lock. Facing the mirrors, the fear and pain from the dream is etched on my face and the shaking limbs tell the same story. My fingers wrap around the edge of the counter and I hold on as tight as I can forcing it to anchor me in this storm of emotion swelling in and around me.

I knew I felt something warm near me last night as I drifted off to sleep. Turns out that something warm was Elena crawling into my bed where she was able to witness me at my weakest. I never wanted Elena to see me like this. The worst part is in my sleep induced delirium, I think I hurt her. Its bad enough Alaric has had to pull me back from the edge when these dreams hit, but it never should have been Elena.

In her kitchen, when I failed at pushing her to admit she had feelings for me, I forgot what I really am. A broken man. Those diary entries showed she really did love me, but that was before I was turned into this. A man full of demons, a lesser man than what she deserves. Shit, fuck, fuckity, fuck. Can things in my life get any more screwed up?

The sound of the door opening has my shoulders tensing. Stupid old house and stupid old locks. Seems as if some of my bad boy tendencies rubbed off on her and Elena has learned to pick locks. I refuse to look despite feeling the heat of her drawing nearer. A countenance of pity will face me so what's the point in turning to see it for real when I can already see it in my mind's eye. I thought my heart shattered all those years ago, but reading those journals and having her love at my fingertips to have it disintegrate like a sick cosmic joke is more than I can bear.

"Damon," she says softly. Even her voice is beautiful. Life really sucks.

"Is this really what you want to love, Elena. You loved the boy who was your friend that was whole and strong. That Damon died cold and bleeding in a field in the middle of nowhere. This," I wave my hand at all my marred skin, "is all that is left."

"Do you still love me?" Elena asks her voice hard.


"Do. You. Still. Love. Me?" She asks again, her words staccato and her voice rising.

"You know I never stopped!" I scream back at her finally allowing myself to face her. What I see is one pissed off woman. Not exactly the reaction I was expecting. Of course, with Elena, you never know what to expect.

"The girl you fell in love with was broken Damon. A step-ford child doing whatever I was told and trying to make everyone happy. Do you think I'm suddenly well-adjusted after spending four years playing Mom to a difficult teenage boy, pacifying an overbearing Uncle, and dealing with an absentee mother? All of this while also mourning my father as well the love of my life who I wrongly thought abandoned me. A love I let slip through my fingers because I was a coward. I don't think that makes me girlfriend of the year material. If you can love me through all of that why is it so hard for you to believe that I wouldn't love you for what you were forced to endure," Elena yells, her arms flailing around as she talks.


"If anything it makes me love you even more. Because, again, you are the selfless one. The one that was forced to sacrifice yourself, so that the rest of were safe. And, again, you let us make you the bad guy even though you were doing something brave and heroic." Her voice and expression soften as she steps closer and I am frozen in place.

"We survived Damon. We went through hell and back but through everything we survived. You always pushed me to live my own life. I'm finally ready to do that. The question is, are you willing to live it with me and let me love you?" she asks, her body trembling waiting on my answer.

The only sound in the confined space is my harsh breathing. Can this be real? The two of us ready to love each other on equal footing? I'm such a jackass. I have dreamed a million dreams of Elena saying she loved me, fighting for us to be together and on the brink of that momentous occasion, I'm trying to push her away. My mind shuts down and my body reacts on some baser caveman instinct and I lunge across the small space separating us. She is up in my arms, her legs wrapped around me hitting the bed so fast we probably broke a land speed record. Since my mouth no longer functions due to all the blood having left my brain for my nether regions, I hope my actions answer her question.

Somehow I end up on the bottom and Elena surfaces from our kiss for air. Those brown orbs bore into mine as if reaching inside me and latching onto my soul. There is hunger and love shining through straight at me. A view I had fantasized about so many times but never thought would be a reality. Air fills my lungs and it's as if I'm a newborn pulling in my first breath to start a brand new life. A life where Damon Salvatore gets the girl, where I'm loved.

With a shaking hand I reach out and stroke her cheek in total awe of the woman hovering over me. She's right. She and I have both been through lots of shit, but here we are, together. A bit worse for wear, but here in each other arms. A place neither one of us ever thought possible.

"I ended things with Mason." Her eyes are earnest trying to convey what is growing between means something. It's a fresh start for us, one in which I plan to take full advantage.

"I know." She narrows hers at me. "We bugged your phone."

"Why does that not surprise me?" She gives me a full smile. A smile I have been waiting four years to have aimed back in my direction.

"Because you know I'm a nosy bastard." I give her an unapologetic smile in return.

"I love you Damon. You are my heart, my soul, my today, tomorrow and forever. I've always been selfish when it comes to you. Brave Elena claims you and I will keep being selfish and I not let you go," she says softly before turning her head and kissing the palm of the hand at her cheek.

"Please tell me this real. I love you too fucking much to survive if this all a dream." My vulnerability is on full display. A state I only can be in with Elena.

The tables turn and Elena seems to be at a loss for words. She leans over and kisses me, showing me instead of telling me that this is all real. I am yet again lost as I feel her body move against mine. She only breaks from our kiss to pull her tank top off and then its skin on glorious skin. It's a feeling I hope I never grow tired of. She moves slowly down my body, licking, sucking biting. Its attention no one has ever given to me. The woman I have been with in the past just wanted to get off themselves and figured I would take care of myself in the process. When she reaches the tattoo bearing her name, I can feel her trace every line, every shadow of the script. She looks up at me with hooded eyes as her hand traces Stefan's tattoo. In that moment it's as if a tether forms between our souls and every moment of suffering, every moment of pain that led me to her has been worth it. I will fight to the death for her and, by the look in her eyes and the tightness in my chest, I know she will do the same for me.

Resuming her course down my body, I anticipate her target. She make quick work of my boxer briefs and eyes me appreciatively. Reality is so much better than fantasy, she engulfs my hard length in her warm mouth. She tenuously laves at my shaft at first and I am reminded all of her firsts are a gift I will always remember and appreciate. It doesn't take her long to find a rhythm as I entwine my hands in her hair. I want to watch but after a few moments my head falls back against the bed the feelings becoming too much. As if on instinct she brings me to the brink then knows just when to back off to prolong the experience. When I can take the teasing no longer, I reach under her armpits and haul her up so our bodies are aligned. The ensuing kiss is hard and deep. Reaching between our bodies I align us and slowly enter her. Her gasp of pleasure and the fact she fists me like a glove has me grasping for any measure of control I can cling to so the festivities don't end before they ever really get started.

Sitting up and taking Elena with me, we are lined up nose to nose staring into each other's eyes connected but not moving. Her hands move to my shoulders and start to circle around to my back. I quickly reach out and grasp her wrists halting her movements. She slowly leans forward, never breaking eye contact and kisses me gently. "I want you Damon. However you come," she says against my lips.

My eyes widen at her response. "Broken and scarred, Elena. That's how I come," I admit in a flat tone.

"Then that's how I'll take you and is will show you every day that I love you just as you are." Her words come out like a vow which triggers me releasing my hold on her wrists.

As her hands roam the twisted and mutilated skin on my back, she starts to roll her hips. The pleasure races up my spine and I move to meet her body's command. The sensations of her body against mine, the smell her skin make me forget my own name let alone her hands are touching skin I can barely look at in the mirror. We move together like practiced lovers. I manage to stem my release until her tightening around me, calling out my name. Then I follow Elena with my own release which shatters my very existence.

Sated and forever changed, I lay on my back with Elena's head tucked under my chin as she lightly traced her tattoo on my ribs. Her hands stutters slightly over the scars beneath the tattoo. "Tell me. Please," she whispers into the dark.

I've dreaded this moment. I've never wanted her to know any of this, but if we are to have a real shot at things I have to confess what happened to me four years ago. If I don't, it will weigh heavily between us and we will collapse under the weight. So I launched into my story, sparing the gorier details. She learned that I was taken on the way to see her and Stefan off for Homecoming. How my captors at first just tried to bribe me to leave, tried psychological methods such as showing comprising pictures making it seem as if she and Stefan were sleeping together. But they quickly learned it was all futile and turned to ever more violent techniques. Hence all the scars.

"You never figured out who was behind it?" Elena asks.

This is the question that I had been really dreading. How do I tell her that for four years, I thought it was her father that had me tortured? "There was a man at beginning. He kept his face hidden. Said he was just the one delivering the message. Turns out he was trying to falsely accuse someone else. The two that inflicted the most harm and the final man that convinced me to leave, I think we're all hired guns. The brain behind the operation is still not known but I have a short list of suspects." A list that I have a whole team digging into as we speak in the hopes that the end result will be finding Jeremy.

"Who did you think was originally behind it?" Elena's body tenses knowing the answer will be hard to hear.

"We are looking at a number of people in town. There may be a tie to between what happened to me and what happened to Jeremy." She gasps and I roll partially over her as if my body will somehow protect her from the harsh truth.

"Mason?" She questions and I nod. She was always too smart for her own good. "My mom." My eyes close and I bury my face in her neck nodding slowly.

"Who else?" She whispers.

"My dad. You Uncle." My words are muffled by her hair but the tear that falls to my face indicates she heard. I can't imagine the betrayal she feels. One of the people that should have loved her and protected her, most likely betrayed her. Betrayed her brother and betrayed me.

She takes in a long breath and slowly exhales and I can feel she is trying to pull herself together. I will never understand how she thinks she is weak. Most woman would be in the fetal position wailing at the world about the news I just delivered. Not her. One lone tear escaped and she probably fought harder than King Leonidas in leading his band of 300 Spartans against Xerxes to keep that tear at bay.

"Who did you originally think was behind what happened to you?" Elena asks snuggling closer. Damn, I thought I managed to dodge that question.

"Just know, that with we know now...I was wrong." I stroke her back gently trying to figure out how to break the news.

"Damon," she says with a tone of warning. She can tell I'm stalling. Not that I am trying to hide that I am stalling. This is not news I want delivered. Elena loves her dad and will defend him with every ounce of strength in her, which is a lot.


She bolts upright in bed somehow managing to get out from under me before I hold her down. "You thought my father was behind what happened to you. He loved you!"

"The lurking shadow man had a recording from him. He knew things only you, Stefan and Grayson knew. My modeling contract, our plan to either emancipate Jeremy or have you named guardian," I explain gently pulling her back in my arms.

"He wouldn't have done that to you." Her eyes are pleading with me to believe her.

"I know, but I've experienced more hate than love in my life. It didn't take much for me to believe he would take any measures necessary to protect me from the likes of me. If you it my daughter with the likes of me, I may done something drastic too." I have her a wan smile.

"Damon," she says softly. For a brief moment pity fills her eyes before she shakes her head and a fierce determination fills them instead.

"So how do I help solve this?" she asks.

A knock on the door has us both turning our heads. "Sorry to interrupt love birds, but you need to get downstairs. Now," Alaric's muffled voice comes through the door.

"Gotta go," I exclaim with a smirk. Talk about saved by the proverbial bell. I start pulling on jeans and a shirt. I want Elena nowhere near this investigation.

As we emerge into the hall I see Alaric pacing the hall at such a furious pace, I'm surprised he hasn't started a friction fire under his feet. Before I can ask what is going on, I hear a voice float up from the foyer. My body instantly goes on alert as I recognize who has returned home.

Alaric mutters profanities as he tries to grab me but he is too slow to stop me as I run for the stairs descending them two at a time. Standing in all his pompous glory in a charcoal pin striped suit sounded by Gucci luggage is Giuseppe Salvatore. He looks up due to the noise I am making on the stairs and a grimace covers his face. Knowing your father hates you so much to allow you to be tortured would put anyone into a murderous rage and I am no different. I hear Alaric and Elena chasing after me but I have one mission and that is to lay hands on my bastard of a father.

"Why am I not surprised to find you back now that Miss Gilbert is about to get married. Have you come home to ruin even more lives?" My so-called father sneers.

Just as I make it to the foyer a body comes flying out of nowhere and pins Giuseppe to the wall an arm at his throat. The action is so sudden I freeze where I stand and Alaric and Elena bump into the back of me like a bad slapstick comedy routine. Shock and fear permeate from Giuseppe like a bad stench as my little brother is the attacker pinning him in place.

"Stefan, what on earth are you doing?" My father asks his tone turning stern. Stefan has always been the good son, following every rule my father ever laid down. Just a hint of consternation from the old man would have Stefan polishing his halo to prove he's been a good boy.

"Did you know? Did you know what they would do to him? He's your god damned son." I glance at Alaric and a look of satisfaction spreads across his face. He must have told Stefan everything. About the my father fronting the money I supposedly took to leave, the false money trail leading back to me, and the evidence showing that my father was or is somehow involved in what happened to me and what maybe have happened to Jeremy. "You're supposed were supposed to protect him. How could you let them do that to him?"

Stefan's body is shaking. Not from the effort to hold a struggling Giuseppe in place, but from the anguish and rage. Stefan's arm pushes harder on our father's throat and his face starts to turn red and his breathing becomes labored. "He's the only one who ever really loved me. Saved me more times that I can count, all while we all treated him like shit. Like an unwanted member of the family. You wouldn't even acknowledge I had a drug problem while he did everything to keep me from an early grave."

The cracking in Stefan's voice propels me to action. As much as I want my father to suffer, I don't want it at the hands of my brother. The burdens Stefan carries are too heavy and I won't add to them. But I am so fucking proud of him for standing up to our dad and on my behalf no less. I've missed him all these years and just like nothing will stand between me and Elena, nothing will stand between me and having my brother in my life again. Moving forward I stand my behind my brother. Giuseppe's eyes track my movements and the fear in them ratchets up a few notches. Wrapping an arm around Stefan's chest, I pull back gently.

"Let's try and not kill dad Stefan. It's messy and I don't feel like replacing carpets today." Stefan's arm stays in place and my father is clawing at his arm desperate for air. "Come on Stef, live up to the hero hair and let the old man go. I can much more interesting ways to make the man suffer."

With a curt nod, Stefan releases his old and I pull him back a few steps. Giuseppe takes a large breathe, hands at his throat. He quickly tries to regain control by straightening his tie and jacket. My arm still wrapped around Stefan, I step back and turn on my heal taking him with me. I gently push him towards Alaric and Elena. With a wink at Elena to wipe the concern off her face I turn again to face my father. He starts to walk past me but I place a hand firmly on his chest stopping his forward momentum. Smirk firmly in place on my face, I reach into the back of my jeans to retrieve the gun I have kept on me nearly every moment I have been back in Mystic Falls. The gun gripped firmly in my hand, I let my arm hang all the way down at my side. I wrap my free arm around my father's shoulders and start to guide him into the next room. The presence of the gun is not lost on Giuseppe as I feel his body start to quake against me.

"Time to let the skeleton's out of the closet, dad," I quip as I practically drag Giuseppe along beside me. He glances over his shoulder at Stefan, Alaric, and Elena trailing behind me. Begging with his eyes for help. Hate to break it to my old man, but there is no help coming for him.

A/N: Please leave a review and let me know what you think!