I don't move back in right away. I don't even move back to Darling right away. We spend the weekend together, talking and cuddling and doing some.. other things. And then I go back to New York, where I continue with my life, and he continues with his back in Darling, as if nothing had happened. The first thing I do when I come back is shred our divorce papers into million tiny paper strips. There's no point in keeping those anymore.
Despite our plans of renewing our vows, we don't tell people for another two weeks. We try to ease them into it - my parents, Damon, Caroline. When they find out, my parents are bewildered with a mix of surprise and happiness, Damon simply shrugs, saying he had always known that this is how we would end up, while Caroline pointed her index finger at us and cautiously told us not to screw it up this time because she can't handle anymore drama.
We don't rush things. We wait. We may be technically married, but we've been apart for little more than six years and despite our old feelings still residing in our hearts, sometimes we seem alien to each other. He still knows how I like my coffee and I remember that he starts his morning newspapers backwards, but it surprises him when I don't burn his eggs. I tell him I've been learning how to cook, which surprises him even more. We're strangers to one another in a way we walk and, sometimes, even talk. Just like every couple in the process of getting to know one another is. We give each other space and we give each other time to get used to one another before we become Stefan and Elena we used to be. We never go back to being those same people though, or that same couple, but we evolve into something new, better, maybe even grown up. We still do immature things, like have a food fight after which I have to search for little bits of cookie dough stuck in his hair, or have sex on the kitchen floor on top of spilled flour. I fly to Darling often, which makes my parents happier than I've seen them in years, and he visits me in New York where I show him all of my favorite places. It's easy for him to build a relationship with Bonnie and he says that, in spirit, the two of us are very alike.
But when he gets used to my footsteps in the middle of the night, when he hears me trying to sneak out of the room, to the bathroom, without the fear of me leaving, and when I get used to his scent on my sheets all over again, is when we decide it's time for us to move back in together and start living our lives as if we're truly married. I make an arrangement with Katherine and promise her I will be available to her in at least three out of five means of communication at any given time. Bonnie cries as I pack my things and I promise her that we'll be in touch. Plus, it's not like we'll actually stop working together.
We don't move back into our old house. Neither of us thinks that's a good idea. There are too many happy memories in that house, but so many painful ones as well. And in some cases, pain trumps over happiness. We can't move on with the ghosts of our past haunting us. So we stay in his fathers house.
My new job, and the fact that I'm not in New York anymore, allows me a lot of free time. I start a project of redecorating our house, and he doesn't say a word about it, even though I do it because of him more than because of myself. That house never felt like a home to him, not since his mother died. And even though his father has been good to them, since his wife died he was more of a plant than a human being, so the house Stefan grew up in was never as warm as home should be. That's why the idea of building us a house, a home, excited him so much when we were younger. Because the house he had as a child was nothing more than a roof over his head. So I make it ours. I paint it in the colors we like, I hang our pictures on the wall, I make it brighter, more inviting, maybe even warmer, and he moves through it easier, happier, as if he's moving through a place where he truly belongs.
My mother gets equally surprised and excited when I ask her for some advice when it comes to cooking. I actually find out that I enjoy it - it must run in the family! I'll never be as good as my mom, but at least now I can invite people over for dinner and proudly say that I've made everything on the table without worrying that someone might get food poisoning.
Bonnie visits, often. She says that the office feels empty without me, even though it's full of people, especially new people, since the business is expanding. I think that's why Katherine catered to all of my requests, because both of us know my article is a huge chunk of the success pie, but neither of us said anything about it. Bonnie says that country air does her good, that New York suddenly became too big and too crowded for her taste. Sometimes she even jokes about moving to Darling, if she finds some nice farmer to settle down with. The more she jokes about that, the more I think she's actually considering it. I wonder how would Katherine feel if half of her staff moved to another state.
I've been getting a lot of fan mail, which is kinda weird, since answering it takes more time than writing an actual column. Katherine's thinking about opening a Q&A section in the magazine, which would only mean more work for me, but I don't mind. I have plenty of time.
I start going to Will's grave more often with time. It feels weird, being there, living there, sitting in my house just few feet away from where he's resting, and not visit him. So I go and change his flowers. I talk about my day. I talk about Stefan. I tell him we're okay now and that he has nothing to worry about. It wasn't his fault, us driving away from each other, it was ours. I try to imagine how he would look like now, at 10 years old, but the only picture I can conjure to my mind is a picture of Stefan when we was that same age. And with time, it becomes enough. Sometimes I cry, because I haven't been to his grave in years, and sometimes I cry because he's not here with us anymore. I apologize to him over and over again, for getting him into the car that night, for not visiting him for six years. Sometimes Stefan and I go together, and sometimes we both talk to him, while sometimes both of us cry in silence. We don't talk because we don't need words to understand how the other is feeling. We know.
I feel free. I feel happy. I feel like this is where I belong, where I've always belonged. This is my home.
Having Elena back means so much more than her simply being a part of my life again. Elena's always been here, she's always been in my life, since the moment I beware conscious of myself. She's in some of my earliest memories. She's as essential to me as much as my limbs or organs are. With her here, I feel complete.
By the end of the summer I ask her to marry me again. It wasn't something I had planned on doing that day. I didn't make a big, romantic gesture. But the words came as natural to me as holding her in my arms does.
We were sitting in our backyard, the last traces of sun hiding in her eyes, burning from within. She looked so beautiful, so peaceful, just gazing into the distance. She looked older to me, curiosity in her stare replaced by quiet wonder, which is when I decided that we should renew our vows soon, so I proposed it to her as an official mark of the new beginning of the rest of our lives. She was quick to say yes.
We're wiser now. Tougher. Our skin is thicker and we've developed this shield around us, one that repels the things that once upon a time could have caused commotion.
We renewed our vows in early September in our backyard. Caroline helps her decorate and it turns out more glamorous than our actual wedding had been. But we were kids back then, we couldn't even afford to throw a real party, but now both of us have a steady income.
Bonnie cries while we repeat our vows to one another, this time more eloquent than the last - we've loved each other just the same, but we were just out of high school, our words still cheesy, unreal, our sentences streaked by things we have heard on television.
I tell her she's my light, my life, my love, my everything. I vow to never leave her, and to never let her go. I promise to cherish her, even when she's being an annoying pain in the ass. She tells me I'm her companion, her savior, the love of her life. She vows to never turn her back to me, to love me on odd and even days.
She feels different to me. She is different. But she's still her in her core, in all the important ways.
In the ways that count.
She's still mine. And she always will be.
We don't talk about having children. He doesn't mention that he wants them, and I don't mention that I don't. Sometimes I wonder does he remember Matt saying that I don't want to have any children, or did that slip his mind.
It doesn't matter in the beginning because we act like newlyweds, but after few years pass, I start feeling the burden of it. My mother starts mentioning grandchildren through evasive jokes, Bonnie openly asks me did I change my mind, and Caroline keeps talking about the joys of motherhood. Everyone around me are asking these questions, giving speeches, mentioning children and the joy of having them, except my husband. It creates this invisible weight above my head, threatening to crush me.
I'm on the pill. I've been on the pill of years. I'm careful. I'm afraid. I'm paranoid.
Few times a year my life gets so hectic that I basically live in a suitcase. I travel from Darling to New York, from New York to whatever location I've been assigned to, from that location to New York, and from New York back to Darling. I barely remember to eat properly and for two weeks everything else in my life disappears or turns into a secondary value. My work becomes my priority, which really isn't a high price to pay considering that I'm mostly free for the rest of the year. When I come home I'm tired and starved, but I also miss my husband so much that I think about ravishing him the entire flight home.
So I guess that one day, or maybe several day in a row, I forget to take the pill. It really doesn't matter if it's one day or seven, because one day is all that it takes for my body to open itself to the possibility of having a baby. Just one day, the right time of the month and a whole lot of coincidence are all that it takes for my worst fear to come alive.
Bonnie has a nicer word for it - fate.
I knew that I'm pregnant right away, I just wouldn't let myself realize it. I became an expert in making up excuses to myself for my morning sickness, even though I was aware of the truth from the get go. So I kept making excuses until there were no excuses left. One morning, while I was making coffee, my brain conjured an unusual thought - you shouldn't be drinking so much caffeine with a baby growing inside of you. I covered my belly with my palm, I smiled as the cotton of my shirt pressed against mine not so flat stomach, which is when I realized I've been so incredibly stupid, so irresponsible. I'm such an idiot. I should have seen the doctor by now, I should have made sure that the baby is okay, I should have.. I could have killed my child simply because I convinced myself that by not having anymore children, I'm keeping the memory of the only child I had alive.
So I went to the doctor and no surprise there, I was already two months pregnant. When I came home Stefan was already there, sitting by the table, looking through some papers with a furrowed brow.
"Hey," he says once he notices me walk in, soft smile warming his features.
"Hey," I reply. I pull out the chair and sit by the table, right next to him. "We have to talk."
He shifts his attention from the papers to me instantly. That sentence scares him so much, much more than I've realized it would.
"Yes?" he says, his voice full of anticipation.
"Look, I don't want to beat around the bush, so I'm just gonna say it," I look him straight in the eye, my voice quivering slightly. "I'm pregnant."
His eyes widen much more than I thought humanly possible. "H-how?" he stammers. I stare at him down. "I mean, I thought you're on the pill," he explains once he realizes how stupid his last question was.
"I was. I am. I must have missed it once. Or maybe several times. I don't know," I bury my face in my hands.
Silence fills the room. Neither of us says anything. I continue breathing heavily into the skin of my hands, trying to remember when I missed taking the pill. But I can't, because when I did forget to take it, I must have been either tired, or in a rush.
"And how do we feel about this?" he breaks the unwavering silence.
I slowly raise my head up, trying to stop myself from crying. "I keep thinking about Will. He was such a nice boy. He would enjoy having a brother or a sister. But I don't deserve to have another baby," I shake my head, squeezing my eyes shut to keep the tears in. I can't allow them to spill all over my face.
It's not that I don't want to have anymore children. Am I afraid? Yes. I'm afraid of losing them, one way or another. I'm afraid of screwing up their life, royally. I'm afraid of million other things that could go wrong. But that's what every person who's about to become a parent is afraid of.
What I'm afraid of the most is forgetting him. I'm afraid that if I have another baby, the image I have of him in my mind will blur until I can't remember his face anymore. I'm afraid of loving another child, of raising him and giving him things I'll never be able to give to Will. I'm put off by the hypocrisy of it.
"What in God's name are you talking about?" I hear a thump. When I open my eyes, he's kneeling in front of me, ready to place his palms on my knees. "Elena, you gotta stop blaming yourself. Because you're the only one. No one else ever blamed you but yourself. You were trying to help your child."
"But what about Will?" I cry out.
He gives me a sympathetic, but confused look. He has no idea what the hell I'm talking about.
"If I have another baby, what happens to him?"
"You'll always be his mother. You never stopped being his mother, and you never will. Even if you become someone else's mother."
I cock my head to the side. "And how do you feel about this?"
He gives me a soft look, and then shyly averts his gaze, a small smile playing on his lips. "I've always wanted more children."
I gasp. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Because I knew how you felt about it and, in the end, it is your body. I did hope you'll change your mind eventually, though. That you'll realize what you're realizing now. But I never wanted you to realize it this way. I wanted you to realize it on your own, not be pushed into realizing it."
I smile, looking down at my belly, still invisible under my shirt. "But I did realize it. And I'm happy. I'm not gonna lie, when I realized I'm pregnant, I panicked. But there was a moment before that when I felt truly happy about it. When I realized that there's a child growing inside of me, I felt blessed."
He takes my hand in his, intertwining our fingers. He kisses my knuckles. "I'm glad."
"Charlotte," I say calmly. "Charlotte please stop hitting yourself in the head, sweetie."
Bonnie laughs on the other side of the line. "Sounds like you have your hands full," she snickers.
"She keeps looking herself in the mirror and slapping herself in the forehead," I sigh, moving towards my daughter who's standing in front of the mirror in my bedroom, getting her palm acquainted with her forehead.
"Well, did you ask her why she's doing what she's doing?"
"Of course I did," I wrap my fingers gently around her tiny little wrist just as she's about to slap herself one more time. She pouts at me, as if I took her favorite toy away from her, so I smooch her cheek before taking her in my arms. She giggles into my ear. "She says there's a boo boo on her forehead."
"Boo boo!" Charlotte squeaks and points her index finger at her forehead.
"There's no boo boo, honey. Mommy wiped it off, remember?"
She squints at me, as if she knows I'm lying.
"What's a boo boo?" Bonnie asks, a bit concerned for her Goddaughters safety. And sanity, probably.
"I have no idea," I huff, watching my daughters face as she tries to remember how and when I wiped the boo boo off.
"Ah, the joys of motherhood."
"You'll find out soon enough," I tease.
"Girl, please. The world is not ready for me to have a child yet."
Bonnie didn't have to move to Darling to find someone to settle down with, she found him in her favorite bakery in the jungle we know under the name of New York. She started whimpering when he bought the last glazed donut, so he waited for her to exit the bakery and handed her the donut in exchange for her phone number. Four months later, I'm dancing at their wedding. Bonnie never did things the conventional way.
"Children have a habit of popping up unannounced."
I put Charlotte down on the floor of her bedroom and she goes straight for the crayons. She takes a bunch of them in her chubby hands and attacks the wall. It was Stefan's idea to allow her to draw on the wall. He has read somewhere that such freedom improves child's creative flow, or something like that.
"Elena, you're the only married grown up who keeps getting knocked up by accident."
"Bonnie!" I hiss at her over the phone, blushing.
"What?" she asks innocently. "None of your children were planned!" she makes a point.
I put my free hand on my bulging belly.
Will was an accident, and so was Charlotte, and I can't say that this baby was planned either. So yeah, it's true, all of my pregnancies were somewhat unplanned. A surprise. And I wouldn't want them any other way.
"By the way, Katherine keeps yelling at the interns, using your name to terrify them. Whenever someone screw ups, she says how you're miles away, with a small child at home, another one on the way, and you're still her best writer."
I roll my eyes. "Well, I would think my talent and years of experience have something to do with it."
"Or you fell into the toxic waste as a child and this is your superpower."
"Maybe," I laugh it off. "I guess we'll never know."
She stays silent for far too long, so I immediately know that something is wrong. Bonnie never keeps her mouth shut for too long, unless there's something distracting her. "Bonnie, you still there?" I ask, thinking our line might have been cut off.
"Yeah, yeah," she says, "It's just that your laughter still surprises me. I can't get used to it, since it's not the laughter you had when I first got to know you. I never thought you'll be this happy."
I smile. I am happy. I have a wonderful life. I'm married to the most amazing man in the entire universe who treats me as if I'm the only woman on the planet. I'm married to the only man I've ever been in love with, the only man I'll ever be in love with, and I'm building a family with him. I'm lucky enough to have him thank me every night for giving him the most amazing children the world has even known. I have a job that I love which allows me enough free time to do something I've always wanted to do - write children books.
I'm a wife, a mother, a writer, a daughter, a friend and I'm happy. I'm loved. I'm fulfilled. I'm complete.
"Oh Elena, I can't wait for you to see this cute little outfit I've ordered from Europe for Charlotte's birthday," Bonnie squeals into the phone before I have a chance to respond to her previous statement.
"Bonnie, you're gonna spoil her rotten," I look at my daughter who's trying to draw a blue sun on the wall, on top of a something that looks like a horse she drew few days before. She's gonna need another wall.
"Of course I am," she responds, not even trying to deny it.
"Elena?" I hear Stefan's voice coming from the hallway. "I'm home!" he announces.
Charlotte drops the crayons at the sound of his voice. "Dadda!" she says through laughter, waddling across the room on her little chubby legs, her big, brown curls bouncing around her head.
"I have to go, Stefan's home, but I'm gonna talk to you soon. We have to discuss which pictures we're going to use for my new article." We're a team, Bonnie and I.
"Sure thing. Give my best to Stefan," she says.
"Will do. Love ya."
"Love ya too, Elena."
I follow my daughter out of the room, only to catch her already comfortably placed in her fathers arms.
"Look what I found wandering around the halls," he tickles Charlotte's tummy, and she smiles the most perfect smile known to mankind.
I come closer to him and he gives me a peck on the lips. "Hello, beautiful," he says as soon as he parts his lips from mine. I blush at the sound of those words. I don't think I'm ever going to stop blushing at his compliments. I'll probably be 80 years old, still blushing like I'm 17.
"And hello to you too," he lowers himself to talk to my belly.
"Dadda!" Charlotte yells to get his attention back. "No boo boo," she points towards her forehead. "Mommy made it go away."
He grins at her. "Did she now?"
She nods seriously, as if I actually did something grand. Like I performed a magic trick of some kind.
"Well, isn't your mommy just the best mommy in the whole wide world?"
She looks at me, her lips puckered in a soft smile, dimples visible in her chubby cheeks. "I love you, mommy," she says.
I'll never get tired of hearing those words, no matter how many times she says them, and I really do hope she never stops saying them.
"Mommy loves you too," I press my lips against my palm and blow her a kiss.
"I don't know why she was so surprised by my decision," Stefan argues as we get ready for bed. "She's been with me since day one and I don't know a person more qualified for the job. She knows the business as well as I do, and her taking over will take a big chunk of the burden from my shoulders. Plus, they have two kids and another one on the way, they could use the money."
"I think that's just it," I explain. "Not a lot of people would promote a pregnant woman."
Caroline got pregnant with her third child two months after me, and both of us are super excited about the fact that our children will basically grow up together. Experience life together, since the moment they're born, just like we did. From kindergarten until college, and hopefully even further.
"But she's family," he makes another point.
"I know, I know," I put my notebook down. I'm working on another book for children, but I hate using my laptop for that. I like to write the concept by hand, then I type it only so I can send it to Bonnie, since she's the one illustrating the books.
"But I can't wait to see Damon's face when he finds out she'll be making more money than him," he grins.
I give him a pointed look before crawling under the covers. "You're evil," I try to stay serious, but the corners of my lips go up as I say those words.
He brings his face closer to mine. "And you're amazing."
He presses his lips against mine and kisses me deeply.
"And how's my little champion?" he asks once he pulls his lips away from mine.
"He's been calm today."
He lowers himself so his head is near my belly.
"Calm? I'm not sure I like that."
"Oh, well, I enjoy it thoroughly," I say.
But he ignores me and continues talking to my belly.
As I watch him, I realize all over again, and not for the first time today, that I'm the luckiest woman in the world.
The day I came back to him was the best decision I ever made.
AN: So here we are, at the end of our journey. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing this story. Your feedback means so much to me, and I'm glad you enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
And I've noticed some of you didn't enjoy it as much. I had some time to catch up with your reviews before writing this chapter, and I've seen some reviews in which someone pointed out that I, along many other Stelena writers, treat Stefan like a doormat. Of course, you're all entitled to your opinion, but I feel as if I should explain myself.
1) Most of my stories are from Elena's POV because I'm a female and it's easier for me to identify with her character. I love Stefan, and he's a fascinating character, but when it comes to AU's, I'm more interested in Elena's character, because in all honestly, I don't find male characters out of SF related stories particularly interesting. So when I write Stefan as a human, I emphasize the human side he has on the show, and that side is pretty much connected to his love for Elena. But he isn't, and is probably never going to be, a center of my attention in AU's. As a human, Elena is for me a much more interesting subject.
2) In almost all of my stories I try to emphasize Elena CHOOSING Stefan, not the other way around, because that's something that we, in the very end, didn't get on the show. Stefan choosing Elena had always been a given.
3) I don't see the point in Stefan turning his back to Elena in this particular story just because she got to explore herself through another romantic interest, and he didn't. He didn't need to explore himself. He was never unsure of himself or his wishes. They both suffered a tragic loss, but everyone experiences pain differently. With the loss of their son, they both lost themselves, but while Elena was ready to swim back up, Stefan kept pulling her down. She was trying to fight for them, but she lost both her son and her husband, and she couldn't take that loss, so she tried to escape it. And by leaving, she left Stefan feeling the same way she did from the moment Will died to the moment she left because of Stefan's behavior. I'm not saying she did the right or healthy thing, but her decisions were real and flawed and that's how I wanted them to be. And it is simply not true that Stefan didn't grow just because he didn't have another romantic interest. He didn't need another person to grow, he did it by himself, with a little help of Damon and Caroline. He got back on his feet and created a multi-million dollar business. The point is that Stefan knew that he messed up and he took it stoically and he steered his frustration toward something positive. Elena thought that her leaving was the right decision and she latched herself on to Matt in order to forget her past life. I didn't give Stefan another love interest not because I didn't want to see him happy but because that would be so out of the character I was creating. Stefan always wanted to be with Elena, Elena always wanted to be with Stefan, and I didn't want to keep them from each other just for dramatic effect.
And since some of you are asking, both my twitter and tumblr accounts are buffysummerslay :)
P.S. New story coming out tomorrow, I hope I'll see you there as well ;)