fallinangelz21 (fallinangelz21) wrote in evening_ground,
fallinangelz21
fallinangelz21
evening_ground

Down a Crooked Path - Epilogue

TitleDown A Crooked Path
Author
: fallinangelz21
Fandom: The Vampire Diaries (tv show)
Pairing: Damon/Elena, (Stefan/Katherine), (Caroline/Tyler)
Rating: R
AN: Some loose ends should be burned. Sequel to Self-Inflicted Wounds.

Just in time for the premier of S4! My goal was to finish this before the new season started and I just barely squeaked by. LOL Thanks to everybody who has read this fic and left your thoughts about a given chapter. It's been a lot of fun exploring this version of Damon and Elena and I'm glad you've been along for the ride.

Thank you to my beta for being awesome. Without her, this fic would probably have gotten stalled out sometime during SIW when I was still trying to figure out how to kill Klaus.

I have a few more DE fic ideas, so stay tuned - I'll post them here for sure - but I think this epic has come to a close. I've got this version of DE pretty well set for eternity, but you never know... ;p

Thanks again, and enjoy!



Epilogue – Not Was

Curling her fingers into fists to hide the tremors raging through her body, Elena sat in the passenger seat of Caroline’s car, focusing every ounce of her self-control on patience. She was nearly home – just a few more miles until they reached the Mystic Falls city limits and then only a few minutes to drive through town back to the Salvatore house.

She could make it. She had to.

“Elena,” Caroline said, breaking the tense silence in the vehicle. Glancing at her friend, Elena noted the furrows of concern creasing the blonde’s forehead and the way she was worrying her bottom lip. Great. Here come the platitudes, she thought, pressing back into the seat in irritation.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she muttered through gritted teeth.

“But you’re beating yourself up over nothing,” Caroline insisted, ignoring Elena’s explicit request. “Nothing happened, that sales clerk is fine.”

No thanks to me. “I said I don’t want to talk about it,” Elena repeated, clenching her fists so tightly that her nails dug into her palms deep enough to draw blood. The scent hit her nostrils instantly, making her ravenous and nauseas at the same time. Uncurling her fingers, she pressed her palms flat against her thighs and leaned against the headrest in despair and frustration as she fought the bloodlust.

When was it going to get easier? It was supposed to be getting easier…

To Elena’s grim satisfaction, Caroline kept her mouth shut for the rest of the drive home, wordlessly handing over her shopping bags as she wrestled with the door handle in her haste to get out of the car. The dome light came on as she opened the passenger door, illuminating Caroline’s crestfallen features. Marshaling the ragged threads of her control, Elena offered her friend a pathetic excuse for a smile. “Thank you,” she said, forcing as much sincerity into her voice as possible. She was grateful to Caroline. Not only had she devoted the better part of the last month to helping Elena through her transition she’d kept her from making a horrible mistake that afternoon – one that would have changed her life forever. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

The blonde’s perfectly curled hair danced around her shoulders as she nodded. “Okay.”

Climbing out of the car, Elena slammed the door with far more force than necessary before blurring up the sidewalk to the house. Throwing open the front door, she barely slowed down long enough to kick it closed with her booted heel before blurring toward the back of the house, tossing her shopping bags in the general vicinity of the staircase as she passed.

So. Fucking. Stupid, she berated herself, storming into the kitchen without bothering to turn on the lights and yanking the refrigerator open so hard that the door bounced off of the cupboards. Grabbing a blood bag from the bottom shelf, she ripped it open, bringing the tube to her lips without bothering to warm it up.

The blood was awful – thick and cold, coating her throat like glue and hitting her stomach like rocks – but it did its job. Elena’s fangs descended as she guzzled it down, closing her burning eyes in relief as the fiery, demanding need that had been sitting like a boulder on her chest finally rolled away.

Finishing the first bag, she tossed it toward the sink, not caring when it bounced off of the edge of the counter and landed on the floor with a dull thwap. Grabbing a second bag from the still open refrigerator, she made short work of the contents, grimacing at the medicinal aftertaste as she sucked it down.

“Rough day?”

Startled, Elena whirled around, the tube of the nearly empty blood bag still trapped between her lips as her eyes widened. Standing calmly at the end of the counter, on the very edge of the pool of light emanating from the refrigerator, Damon watched her, his eyes hidden by the shadows. She swallowed, reluctantly lowering the bag from her mouth as she self-consciously licked her lips. She must be losing it. Damon hadn’t been able to sneak up on her like that in weeks.

Fantastic, she thought, her stomach turning as she threw the blood bag into the sink. It was like she hadn’t learned anything since she’d turned. Thrown off by a little bloodlust and suddenly she was a mindless animal, too focused on feeding to pay attention to her surroundings.

“Didn’t Caroline tell you?” she snapped, working hard to get the words out around her elongated canines. “I’m surprised she didn’t call you to tattle on me the second I got out of her car.”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he smirked, casually closing the distance between them. He studied her for a moment before bending down to retrieve the blood bag from where it had landed on the floor. His eyes never left hers as he tossed it into the sink. “What happened?”

“Nothing much,” she replied with a shrug as her canines began to recede and the heat around her eyes lessoned. With the hunger momentarily sated, she was able to focus all of her energy on self-loathing. “I almost killed someone, that’s all.”

“Ah.”

“It was so…stupid,” Elena fumed as tears flooded her eyes and the words poured from her mouth with ease. Letting Damon in – telling him the truth – was gradually becoming second nature again. “I know better, Damon. The salesclerk was just trying to change the receipt paper on the printer and he got a paper cut. There wasn’t even that much blood, but somehow I had him pinned to the floor and Caroline was yelling at me to stop while she tried to haul me off of him.”

“But she did haul you off of him,” Damon said, standing close enough for Elena to feel his body heat, but not yet trying to touch her. “Right?”

Closing her eyes, she braced a hand on her hip before nodding. “Yes. We had to compel the whole store to forget that they saw me leap over the counter and attack the poor guy like some kind of psychotic vampire ninja, but yes, she did. And I learned a brand new trick. Yay for mind fucking people, right?”

“Psychotic vampire ninja?” Damon snickered, ignoring the snide remark about compulsion. “I wish I’d been there to see that.”

“You think that’s funny?” Elena snapped, opening her eyes and glaring at her boyfriend. “God, yes, it’s just so funny that I almost tore a man’s throat out today, Damon. It’s absolutely fucking hysterical.”

“You’re a vampire, Elena,” he reminded her – as if she could ever forget. “And you’re fighting centuries of instinct. There isn’t a vampire in history who’s done what you’re trying to do.”

“So, you’re saying it’s hopeless? That I should just accept the fact that I’m a monster destined to rip people apart?” she demanded tearfully, smacking his hand away when he tried to touch her shoulder.

“You’re not a monster, Elena,” Damon replied, ignoring her desire to keep her distance as he grabbed both of her shoulders and dipped his head so that she had little choice but to meet his eye. “What I’m saying is that it’s fucking hard and that you shouldn’t beat yourself up over the almosts.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” she argued stubbornly, crossing her arms as she pouted like a child. “You never have almosts. You never-.”

“Elena…” Damon muttered, casting his gaze heavenward as he blew out a frustrated breath. “I’ve got a few years on you.”

“Whatever,” Elena mumbled petulantly, looking away. Deep down, she knew that he was right, but at the moment she didn’t care. She was tired of constantly fighting the cravings as she waited for the mythical day when she’d finally be able to handle the bloodlust and just be.

“Hey,” Damon commanded, taking her chin between his thumb and forefinger. Elena kept her gaze lowered, preferring to wallow in self-pity rather than be moved by words of encouragement. “Look at me.”

Almost against her will, Elena found herself doing as he asked, looking deeply into the crystal blue eyes she knew so well. The part of her that was still terrified over what had happened desperately wanted him to say the magic words that would make everything better. “It won’t change anything,” he said. “You know that, right?”

“What are you talking about?” she frowned. “What won’t change anything?”

“If you kill someone,” he stated bluntly, making her wince even as she held his gaze.  “That isn’t going to change what I think of you or how much I love you.”

Elena blinked.

Son of a bitch.

How did he do that?

How did he know of the fear that she’d barely allowed herself to think, let alone say out loud? The fear that if she killed someone – if she gave in to the bloodlust – she’d not only lose control, she’d lose the part of herself that made her Elena Gilbert. Something other than a mindless, killing machine.

Suddenly, she felt like the biggest whiny brat on the planet. He was so patient with her, believed in her so much and she was repaying him by acting like a child. “Damon,” she murmured, practically falling against him in exhaustion as he pulled her into his arms. Pressing her forehead against his shoulder, she eventually slipped her arms around him, clinging to him tightly. “I know you will. I’m sorry for being such a pain in the ass.” 

She felt his chuckle rumble through his chest as she snuggled closer. His lips brushed her temple as he said. “I suppose I’ll forgive you. This time.”

“Gee, thanks,” she said with a muffled laugh as she let him hold her and soothe away what remained of her agitation and the annoying, skin-crawling sensation of the bloodlust. As they stood there quietly, Elena did her best to soak up every ounce of comfort that he offered.  

She needed it – needed  to be reminded that no matter what else changed in her life, she’d always have him as her one constant.

~*~

Elena stared at the blood gushing from the bartender’s wound, paying careful attention to what her body was telling her. She hadn’t witnessed the accident – somehow a beer mug had shattered, slicing the bartender’s hand – but she’d instantly been drawn by the scent blood. Instinct raced through her, sharpening her senses as her mouth watered and her gums ached. Tightening her grip on her glass of bourbon, she waited for her eyes to burn as the bartender scowled and wrapped a towel around his hand.

Nothing.

The burn never came and within moments the ache in her gums eased. Closing her eyes briefly, Elena released the breath she’d been holding.

“Elena?” Damon asked, his strong, sure hand on her thigh, pressing lightly against her in reassurance.

“I’m okay,” she promised, turning away from the scowling bartender as he held his hand to his chest and caught the attention of one of the wait staff. Meeting her boyfriend’s gaze, she smiled. “Really.”

Damon nodded, brushing her hair away from her face and touching her cheek before turning back to his drink and his conversation with Alaric. Swallowing, Elena ran her tongue over her teeth before taking a large gulp of her drink. A member of the wait staff helped the bartender apply first aid to the shallow wound and in less than five minutes, he was back to work, sweeping up the broken glass as if nothing had happened.

Finishing her drink, Elena slid off of her barstool. “I’m going to go play pool with Caroline,” she said, resting her hand on Damon’s back as she leaned in to kiss his cheek. He turned his head at the last second, capturing her lips in a much deeper kiss than she’d intended.

“Have fun,” he said, his eyes sparkling as he pulled away, leaving her breathless. Rolling her eyes, Elena couldn’t help but grin as she headed toward the pool tables, weaving her way through the crowd.

Two nights before Christmas, the Grille was packed with regular patrons as well as college students who’d returned home for the holidays. Everywhere she looked, Elena saw groups of people hugging and laughing their greetings as if they’d been apart for years, rather than a matter of months. Catching snippets of conversations about classes and dorm life, her heart ached a little for Emory and the life she’d been forced to put on hold.

Nearly three months ago, at the beginning of October, she and Damon had returned to Atlanta long enough for her to file the proper paperwork to drop her fall classes and officially take the semester off. Her stomach had turned at the portion of her tuition that she wouldn’t be getting back, but she’d understood that it was her only option. She’d been able to handle Mystic Falls and events like the Founder’s Party, but she hadn’t been anywhere near ready to return to Atlanta. Clinging tightly to Damon’s hand and holding her breath, she’d barely kept her bloodlust in check as they’d made their way across campus. She’d needed more time to get used to her new life, to work on her self-control before diving back into the much bigger and less familiar city.

“Wait, what do you mean I lost?” Caroline demanded, her voice cutting through the din of the other patrons. Elena focused on it as she skirted around a group of squealing girls, all speaking simultaneously at maximum volume while jumping around and hugging. “I got the eight ball in. That’s how you win.”

“Yeah, but you scratched on the eight ball,” Tyler explained, reaching into the slot at the end of the table to hold up the cue ball. “That’s an automatic loss.”

“Since when?”

“Since always.”

Caroline glared at him, one hand on her hip, the other holding the cue stick as Elena sidled up to the pool table. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Well, don’t blame me,” Tyler replied with a shrug as he began racking up the colored balls for another game. “I didn’t make up the rules.”

“You’re supposed to let your girlfriend win,” Caroline insisted, nudging him playfully in the side with the end of her cue stick.

Tyler scoffed, easily maneuvering out of range as he finished the set up and rolled the cue ball down to the opposite end of the table. “Babe, you’re the one holding the pool cue, I can’t make you not shoot the ball into the pocket,” he said, winking at Elena.

“Whatever,” Caroline huffed, pouting as she crossed her arms almost comically. Noticing Elena, she said. “Play Tyler at your own risk. He cheats.”

“Caroline,” Tyler said, dropping his chin to his chest in exasperation. “It’s the rules.

Grinning, Elena grabbed a cue stick of her own from the wall, chalked it and lined up her first shot, being careful to keep her strength in check so that she didn’t send any of the balls flying across the room. Chuckling softly at the mental image of the patrons ducking under their respective tables for cover, she watched the break before standing back as Caroline took her shot without interrupting the flow of her argument with Tyler.

They fell into an easy rhythm, one game bleeding into the next as they teased and cajoled each other about bad shots. Caroline had just snatched the ball Tyler had been aiming at off of the table, causing him to scratch the cue ball into the corner pocket, when Elena felt the weight of a familiar gaze on her back.

Glancing over her shoulder, she met Damon’s eye and smiled. I love you, she thought for no other reason than the fact that it was true and she was happy –happy to be with her friends, happy that Jeremy would be coming home in a few days, happy that she’d be in Mystic Falls for Christmas with the people she loved, happy to be alive.

She was just…happy.

Really fucking happy.

That happiness had been hard-won. The explosive fight with Damon the night of the Founder’s Party had brought down the walls that had been separating them, but the foundation of the problems between them had stubbornly persisted. Her nightmares had continued as well – albeit with decidedly less frequency and intensity now that Damon had returned to their bed – and she’d lost count of the number of times she’d caught him staring at her with a tortured, guilt-stricken expression. True to his word, however, he’d stayed – refusing to hide from her even when his desperate need to put distance between himself and his failure had been written plainly on his features.

Every day, the tension between them had lessened and every week was an improvement upon the last, allowing Elena to focus more and more of her energy into figuring out how to live as a vampire surrounded by human prey. It hadn’t been easy. Despite her success at the Founder’s Party, she’d had some horrifyingly close calls where a sudden surge of bloodlust had nearly resulted in the death of an innocent bystander.

The incident with the sales clerk had been an unexpected turning point for her. Elena had been too upset to admit it out loud that night, but Damon’s assurance that he’d love her no matter what happened had eased some of the pressure she’d put on herself – the pressure to be perfect. The night had been another milestone, marking a shift in her transition and their relationship as they’d continued to heal.

Returning her attention to the game, Elena lingered by the pool tables through last call and, only when the overhead lights flickered on, did she reluctantly return the cue sticks to the wall mounts where they were kept.

“I’m going to miss this,” Caroline sighed, throwing an arm around Elena’s shoulders and voicing her exact thoughts out loud as they made their way toward the bar where Damon and Alaric were waiting for them. “Are you sure you have to go back to Atlanta?”

“I don’t have to go back, Care, I want to,” Elena clarified, taking her jacket from Damon as they headed toward the door in a group. The new semester began in mid-January, but Caroline had been lamenting about Elena and Damon’s departure for the past three weeks. “I have to go back to school. I’m already a semester behind.”

“Oh, whatever,” the blonde replied, waving her hand in a dismissive gesture. “You’re a vampire, you have all the time in the world.”

“That’s what I told her,” Damon muttered under his breath as he held the door open for the two women. Rolling her eyes, Elena was about to point out that he’d been the one to insist on only a semester off while she’d initially proposed a year, when she stepped out into the night and stopped in her tracks.

It was snowing.

Elena stared up at the cloudy sky, smiling as tiny, cold flakes hit her cheeks and instantly began to melt. A week ago, a cold snap had descended upon Mystic Falls and now, two days before Christmas, a four inch layer of snow blanketed the town. She’d always loved the snow – especially in December – but this year she was appreciating it on an entirely different level.

Covering up the faded leaves and brown grass of fall, the snow teased her heightened senses, smelling fresh and clean as it sparkled from bare tree branches and rooftops like millions of brilliant diamonds. She’d taken advantage of her high tolerance for the cold weather after the first snowfall, racing out of the house to play like a kid on Christmas morning. Damon had laughed at her enthusiasm, but she hadn’t cared as she’d knelt amidst the fallen snow, scooping up handfuls of it and marveling at how soft it was as it slowly melted and dripped from her fingers.

Trying to explain the beauty of the snow to her brother, however, had left him unmoved.

“I live in Colorado,” Jeremy had reminded her during his Thanksgiving break. “There’s snow in the mountains all year round and besides, it’s not like it’s never snowed at home when we were growing up.”

“Yeah, I know,” Elena had sighed, staring out of the big picture window at the smooth, sparkling expanse of white stretching across the front yard. Staring at it while the sunlight reflected off of the multi-faceted surface actually hurt her eyes, but she couldn’t look away. “But this is…different.”

Jeremy had rolled his eyes and Elena had given up trying to explain it to him.

Everything was different now. Becoming a vampire had changed so much for Elena, but she’d quickly learned that it was difficult to describe it to…humans. She didn’t have the words to adequately express how everything – sights, smells, sounds, feelings – were just so much…more. It almost saddened her to know that most humans would never appreciate the simple beauty of snow.

“Aw, what the hell man, seriously?” Alaric whined as he and Damon made their way out of the bar, escorted by one of the harried wait staff who quickly closed and locked the door the second the two men crossed the threshold. Glaring at the sky, the thoroughly inebriated teacher muttered. “If I wanted to see a white Christmas, I’d watch the damn movie.”

“Hey!” Elena cried, pretending to be hurt. “Stop insulting the snow. It’s-.”

“It’s beautiful, yeah, yeah, I know. I heard you the first hundred times you said it,” Alaric mocked, his tongue loosened considerably by the amount of alcohol he’d consumed. “You wouldn’t be waxing all poetic if you had to shovel this shit out of the driveway.”

Damon snorted. “When have you ever picked up a shovel?”

“Not the point,” Alaric snapped.

Elena bit her lip to hold back a smile as he continued to grumble, her gaze shifting to Damon. He winked at her, leaving her weak in the knees as he egged Alaric on in his drunken rant against the snow.

“Come on, Grandpa,” Damon teased, trying to take Alaric by the shoulders and guide him toward the Camaro. “It’s past your bedtime.”

Grandpa?” Alaric retorted indignantly, shaking out of the vampire’s grasp and proving he wasn’t nearly as drunk as he seemed. “Who are you calling ‘grandpa’, old man? You’re like a hundred and…” he frowned as he tried to quickly do the math in his head. “A hundred and a lot of years older than me.”

“A hundred and a lot?” Damon snorted. “And they trust you to prepare children for the real world?”

“Social studies and history,” Alaric reminded him. “Not math.”

“A lover’s spat,” Tyler mused, eyeing the squabbling duo. “Isn’t it cute?”

The vampire and the former hunter stopped in mid-insult, simultaneously turning to glare at the werewolf as Elena and Caroline burst out laughing.

“Aw, I don’t want this to end,” the blonde vampire repeated, bouncing on her toes as she grabbed Elena’s arm. “It’s going to be so boring when you two go back.”

“Are you kidding, it’s going to be awesome,” Alaric said, punching Damon on the arm before leaping out of his reach. “I won’t have to share my alcohol with this loser.”

“Share my ass,” Damon retorted, rolling his eyes as he shook his head. “As if I drink that cheap shit you guzzle like a-.”

The rest of his insult was lost as a ball of fresh snow hit him squarely in the face. Elena’s jaw dropped, her surprise quickly morphing into laughter as Damon blinked and clumps of melting snow slid down his face.  

“Seriously, Ric?” Damon demanded incredulously, wiping the snow off of his face, but the teacher was already gone, leaving a pristine trail through the snow as he ran toward the town square. The normally grassy expanse was covered in snow drifts where the town’s lone snowplow had dumped what had been scraped off of the streets. Damon shook his head before looking toward his girlfriend. “He’s not really trying to outrun me, right?”

“Damon…” Elena said, eyeing him warily as he brushed the remains of the snowball off of his shirt and jacket. “Play nice.”

“Fuck that, he’s got his ring,” Damon retorted, taking off toward the square in a blur of black against the white backdrop with Tyler close behind him.

“Come on,” Caroline said, grabbing Elena’s hand as Damon tackled Alaric to the ground before leaping back to his feet and pummeling him with snowballs. Tyler caught up, assisting the teacher at first until the human hit the werewolf with a snowball in his face as well. Eager to join in, Elena broke into a run as the fight turned into a free-for-all. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a snowball fight…

“Wait, hold on,” Elena said, stopping on the edge of the square and pulling Caroline up short.

“What?” Caroline asked, her gaze darting between the action to her left and Elena’s face. “We can totally take them.”

“I know,” she replied, grinning as her gaze swept over the gazebo, half-buried in a snow drift in the center of the square. There were drifts all over, some of them big enough to hide behind. Her gaze shifted to Damon as the last snowball fight she’d been in returned to her in vivid detail.

Payback’s a bitch.

“Then what are we waiting for?” the blonde demanded, tugging on Elena’s hand like an excited child.

“I have a plan,” she said, her eyes sparkling as her grin turned mischievous. “And I’m going to need your help.”

~*~

Dripping snow and feeling like a drowned and frozen rat, Damon made his way up the driveway toward his home. The temperature seemed to be hovering right around freezing and while the cold didn’t bother him, the fact that his goddamn hair and clothes were icing over did. Leaving the Camaro parked at the Grille, he’d walked all the way back to his house.

There was no way in hell he was ruining the leather interior by driving in wet clothes.

I’m going to kill her, he thought as he opened the front door silently and stepped into the darkened house. There was no fire burning in the grate in the living room and while he could smell Elena – after three months, her perfume had permeated the entire house once again – he couldn’t see or hear her.

Which was just as well for her…since she was about to die.

“Elena,” he murmured, stepping cautiously into the living room, all of his senses on high alert. “Come out, come out wherever you are…”

After a long moment of silence, he heard a whispered. “No.”

Damon smirked at the soft sound that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. She was probably upstairs, whispering down from the landing, but he couldn’t be certain. Elena had proven to be unnaturally skilled at utilizing her heightened senses to move silently through the house – especially when she was trying to sneak up on him.

Which she did often.

He suspected it was payback for the three years during which he’d held the monopoly on stealth in their relationship. In the past three months Elena had not only proven that she had a long memory for the little things he’d done to tease her over the years, but that she could also be very, very patient in choosing her moments for retaliation.

Case in point - an hour ago, she and Caroline had snuck up on him during their snowball fight and flipped him upside down into a snow bank. Revenge, she’d murmured through the layers of cold, wet stuff seeping into his clothes and skin, for St. Moritz.

He hadn’t understood what the fuck she’d been talking about until he’d scrambled his way out of the damned pile of snow. As he’d attempted – unsuccessfully – to brush most of it off before it melted, he’d had a vivid memory of their trip and Elena’s erotic striptease as she’d peeled away layers of wet clothing.

He’d been as proud of her as he’d been annoyed.

By the time his frozen brain had thawed enough for him to think about retaliation, Elena had disappeared and he’d been stuck with a guffawing and equally snow covered Tyler and Alaric in the middle of town at three in the morning. Leaving his idiot friends, he’d cast a longing look toward his car before setting off for home.

Creeping through the silent house, Damon realized that the games were far from over. Obviously, Elena wanted him to hunt her and since it was apparently a night for showing off, he decided to oblige.

It was time Elena realized just how good of a hunter he could be.

 

Especially when she was the prey.

“I’ve got to admit,” he said, keeping his voice low so that she’d have to stay close to hear it as he leaned into the living room and scanned the darkness. “That was pretty impressive.”

“I know,” she whispered after a few seconds of silence.

Definitely not in the living room, Damon decided as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Turning around slowly, he looked across the foyer into the library, squinting into the darkness. He was still convinced that she was upstairs, but the library was worth a look.

“How long did you spend planning that?” he asked, making his way silently across the polished floor.

“Years,” she admitted, the murmured answer feeling like a caress over his entire body.

Upstairs. Definitely, upstairs.

“Years, really?” he mused, raising his voice slightly to mask the creak on the second step.

“Since Switzerland,” she replied, confirming his revenge theory. She seemed further away, leading him to believe that she’d been standing somewhere that had allowed her to see him.

“That’s a long time to plan revenge,” he said, abandoning some of his care as he picked up the pace and ascended the stairs more quickly.

“It was worth it…”

Rolling his eyes, he smirked at the way she practically sang out her smug satisfaction at what she’d accomplished. Arriving at the top of the stairs, he looked around the landing, groaning internally when he saw that she’d opened every single door exactly the same amount. She could have slipped into any one of them and knowing her, she wouldn’t answer him anymore, leaving him to guess blind.

“Yeah, but does it really count?” he asked, assuming that the blatant challenge to her victory would flush her out as he listened sharply for any sign of movement.

Nothing.

“I mean, Caroline had to help,” Damon continued, thinking he’d heard movement in Stefan’s room and taking a few steps down the hall. “So, you didn’t get me on your own.”

Curling his fingers around the door handle, he threw it open suddenly, expecting Elena to start guiltily at being caught on the first try before she attempted to blur around him and back into the hallway.

But she wasn’t there.

Okay…

Frowning, he turned around, scanning the array of partially open doors as he tried to figure out where she’d be hiding – and more importantly why she wasn’t taunting him anymore with that ethereal whisper. She wanted him to find her – that was the point – but she was certainly making it difficult this time.

A sigh, so soft he thought he’d imagined it, caught his attention, drawing his gaze toward his bedroom. Narrowing his eyes, he noticed that the door was slightly more ajar than the rest of them.  Vague suspicions rose to the forefront of his mind, as he studied the door.

She wouldn’t be so obvious as to hide in his own room…unless she had something else planned.

Abandoning the hunt, he walked across the landing, vaguely aware of – and annoyed by –the water that he was dripping all over the floor. He’d have to wipe up the water soon before it stained the hardwood.

Which meant that the hot bath he was envisioning--for two--was going to have to wait.

Elena Gilbert had a lot to make up for…and he was going to enjoy making her pay up.

His bedroom door opened silently on its well-oiled hinges, allowing him to slip inside without a sound. He found her immediately, his gaze drawn to her as always – like a moth to the flame. Standing at the bathroom sink clad only in her red bra and panties, she seemed oblivious to his presence as he slowly approached.

Opening his mouth to speak, he snapped it shut again as the rest of the bathroom came into view.  She’d lit half a dozen candles, arranging them around the bath that had already been drawn. Damon’s chilled body ached with longing to slide beneath the steaming hot water. There’d clearly been more to her plan than a simple game of hide-and-seek, and while the red bra and matching panties stood out beautifully against her bare skin, highlighting every curve to erotic perfection, as far as staged discoveries went, this wasn’t one of her best.

Standing in a trance in front of the soap dish, completely oblivious to his presence, really wasn’t…

The soap dish.

Damon groaned inwardly.

Shit.

“Elena?” he said softly after clearing his throat. Jumping in surprise, she whirled around to face him, her hands clutching something to her heart.

“Damon,” she gasped, glancing down as she started guiltily before tucking her hand behind her back in a vain attempt to hide the little black box that he already knew she’d already discovered. Looking sheepishly around the bathroom, she added. “You weren’t supposed to find me yet.”

“Oh yeah?” he asked, playing along, waiting to see how far she’d take it before admitting to what she’d found.

“Yeah, I was…going to be waiting in the tub,” she explained, gesturing weakly with her empty hand toward the claw footed tub. “I figured you might want to warm up after your, um…fun in the snow.”

“Ah,” he said, smirking as he unzipped his jacket and began the awkward task of peeling the waterlogged thing off of his shoulders. Raising a brow, he asked. “So, what stopped you?”

“Oh, I…,” she stammered with a shrug, obviously scrambling for a lie. Finally, she closed her eyes and sighed, holding out her hand and revealing the velvet jeweler’s box that she’d found. “I found this and got distracted. Why didn’t you tell me you had my ring? And why the hell did you put it in the soap dish? It doesn’t exactly blend in.”

“And yet, it took you two months to find it,” Damon pointed out, chuckling as he tossed his sodden jacket to the floor and crossed to her. “Old habits,” he added with a shrug, taking the box and opening it so that the silver ring caught the soft glow of the candlelight as Elena began unbuttoning his shirt. “I brought it back after we went down to Atlanta to take care of your classes for the semester. And I didn’t tell you because I was going to give it to you for Christmas.”

“Re-gifting?” Elena asked, raising a brow. “Classy, Salvatore.” Her fingers trembled, however, as she struggled with the buttons and wet fabric of his shirt and when she looked at him her smile was strained. Damon saw the fear and excitement in her eyes during the brief glimpse she allowed him before refocusing on her work.

“Someone told me to keep it until she needed it, so I figure it’s not so much re-gifting as follow through,” he explained as her hands stilled, her fingers curling into the fabric of his shirt. For a long moment, he waited for her as she stood silently before him. He could practically hear the wheels in her head turning as she ran through the various ways that the next few minutes could play out. The mood between them had changed considerably, from playful to deliberate, and Damon felt the weight of it like a boulder on his chest.

“Damon?” Elena finally asked, lifting her head to meet his eye with an expression so nakedly vulnerable that it nearly squeezed his heart into mush. “Christmas isn’t for two days, but…can I-can I have it now?”


Click here for Part Two

Tags: fandom: the vampire diaries, fic: down a crooked path, rated: r
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