Damon, for all of his unpredictability, was a creature of habit. Elena smiled as she let herself into the boarding house, her nerves disappearing for a moment as she saw him sitting in front of the fire, bourbon in hand. His right foot was resting on his left knee, tapping faintly to the rhythm of the music that played in the background. It was some form of symphonic metal. Damon had weird taste in music. She approached him as always, the quiet familiarity warming her heart. She noticed that his eyes had the same haunted, broken look they had had after the failed attempt to kill Klaus. He wasn't angry, he had been comforted by the knowledge that Elena didn't blame him or cling to any delusions of Stefan returning. She had seen the effect of that immediately. However, when he met her eyes, she saw that his held unanswered questions. It was time for her to put them to rest for good.

"Hey." She said, trying to break the ice. She gave him a reassuring smile, sitting next to him on the couch, nestling under his already outstretched arm. This was normal. They were best friends…who cuddled. It was a little hard for Elena to believe that she'd deluded herself into thinking there was anything innocent and platonic about what was between them. The position wasn't sexual, but the tension was absolutely palpable. This had been a long time brewing. "How're you holding up?" she tried gently. He took a long drink from his glass before he spoke.

"Did you mean what you said last night, about letting him go?" Elena's stomach clenched. This was classic, straight-to-the-point Damon. She had, foolishly, been hoping for a chance to warm up before taking the plunge. Oh well.

"Yeah, Damon, I did. I can't wait for him anymore. Even if he does come back, he's not coming back. I'm tired of chasing shadows. I can't ever trust him to be the person I thought he was." Damon's clear blue eyes flickered with hope. She loved his eyes. He could convey volumes of information without speaking, just by looking at her with those strangely expressive eyes. He was so beautiful in this dim, dancing light. She felt the all-too-familiar pull that came with the look he gave her. Elena desperately wanted to entwine her fingers in his dark, tousled hair and crash his lips to her own. She held back. This could not be about desperation. He had to know that she had thought about her decision, that she was serious about him. Damon looked away, obviously trying to control his own emotions. He broke the weighty silence with a ghost of a smirk.

"So, what should we do now that we have all this free time? I should warn you, I don't bowl." Elena smiled, enjoying the fact that she didn't have to feign annoyance. Damon's smirk widened with her encouragement. This was her opportunity to shift the conversation in one of two directions. She could slip into their customary, friendly banter. Or…she could work up the courage to do what she'd come here to do. It was a very odd feeling, being this nervous. She had never been uncomfortable telling anyone exactly what was on her mind. She felt a wave of fear wash over her and plucked his drink out of his hand, finishing it off in one gulp. He raised an eyebrow at her, but didn't speak.

"That's what I was hoping we could talk about." She watched as the playfulness on his face froze into a combination of anxiousness and resolution. He thought she was going to push him away. She set the glass she was still holding on the end table and reached for his hand. She knew the action was still ambiguous. He had no way of knowing if it was out of comfort or affection. "I owe you an apology. I've been lying to you." Damon's expression was so subtle that she knew no one else would see the meaning behind it. There was something like betrayal growing in his eyes. Shifting her body slightly, she turned to face him more fully, careful not to lose contact with the arm that was still around her. He shook his head suddenly.

"Elena, it's fine. I know things won't be like they have been. We were working toward a common goal. I'll still be here to protect you, but I don't expect you to keep this up. It's not like I've gone completely sappy. I'll survive, I promise." She could see the lie on every inch of his skin. It was the first time that Elena wondered if he knew how much she'd valued his friendship since he'd been cured of his werewolf bite. She'd thought he knew better where he stood with her.

"That's not what I meant, Damon." She spoke calmly, squeezing his hand. He kept his guard up, but allowed his curiosity to show. Elena's internal state didn't match the collected exterior. She felt like her heart was going to beat out of her chest, and she was starting to get a bit queasy. He had to have been able to hear it. She was surprised he could understand what she was saying past the pounding. Elena wondered that he hadn't figured it out yet. He was so cocky about their mutual attraction most of the time. Tonight was the most somber she'd ever seen him.

"What do you mean, then? What haven't you told me? Wait…Elena…tell me you didn't make another stupid, fucking bargain. Come on!" She almost laughed at his sudden outburst. She held it back, then it slipped, and she actually did laugh. Damon was looking at her like she was insane, which made it worse. Once she'd regained composure, she made eye contact, giving herself over to the rush of affection she felt.

"No. This has nothing to do with Klaus, or Stefan, or anyone but you and me." He suddenly understood the direction she was heading. Elena watched as his eyebrows rose slightly. "I wanted to pretend that you were wrong about everything. I was, I still am terrified by what this means for us. Damon, did you mean what you said before I…when you were sick?" A touch of his usual roguish spark returned to him at her obvious nervousness.

"Before you kissed me?" His wolfish grin melted her resistance, and made her (if possible) even more anxious.

"Yeah, then." He was baiting her. She could feel herself being backed against a wall as the power shifted in the room.

"Of course. You would have loved me in 1864." He waggled his eyebrows at her and fixed her with a smoldering stare. She needed to turn the tables without giving in to his teasing, and he had set it up wonderfully for her.

"I love you now. Just the way you are." He dropped his comedic mask, searching her face to see if she knew what she had said. She reached a traitorously shaky hand up to touch his face. "I'm in love with you, Damon. I can't chase Stefan anymore because I can't deny my feelings for you." He was staring at her. He didn't move.

"Wha…what did you say, Elena?" Damon looked like a dog on a leash, unable to close the distance between them. Elena smiled.

"I was an idiot. I'm in love with you, Damon… and I just want to be with you." Elena watched him for a moment, the silence suffocating her. "Please say somethi-." Damon responded by wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her onto his lap before she could finish her sentence. He moved a hand to the back of her head and gently urged her toward him. When there were mere inches between them, he met her eyes tenderly and whispered through his ragged breaths.

"I meant it, Elena. I love you too." She quickly closed the gap dividing them, pouring all she could into their second real kiss, filling it with promises for a future that their first couldn't have afforded. They had begun with what they thought was an end, but as they finally allowed their passion to consume them, they began to truly hope for a future.

So….? What do we think? I wanted to keep it rated "T" so that it wouldn't become more about their first time being intimate than it was about the declarations and mushy gushy stuff. ;) I'm a sucker for the mushy gushy stuff. Thanks to all of you who read, faved, alerted, and reviewed. It means a lot. I love reviews, so please leave them. :D