Somewhere through the mist, and the Earth shattering, core breaking sound, I can hear Damon calling my name.
He says my name twice; no, he hisses it, through his teeth. His voice sounds urgent, desperate, distorted; like he's breaking from the inside, and his vocal cords have shattered, barely producing any sound.
Caroline is on the floor next to me, tiny, disdained groans stuck in her throat, vibrating while she's trying to push herself off the ground. My first instinct is to help her, so I wrap my fingers around her elbow and pull us both up.
I don't even need to move to see him, to see them. He's on the floor, looking at me with such despair in his eyes, while she's lying in front of him, her head placed in his lap.
She's not waking up.
She doesn't look like she's asleep. If she ever fell asleep next to you while you're still awake, or woke up before her, while she's still asleep, you would know that this is not her sleeping face. But there's no blood on her, either, which is a good thing.
How many times have I went to medical school? How many lifetimes have I stolen to educate myself in the same thing over and over again? And now I can't think of a single way to help her.
The only thing I can think of to say is that he should get her to a hospital right away.
Since I've met Elena, she's been in a hospital five times, which if five times too many for a 19 year old girl.
The first time I've seen her lying in a hospital bed was actually before we officially met, right after her family's accident at the old Wickery Bridge. A woman with strawberry blonde hair was squeezing her hand, intertwining their fingers, and a skinny boy with hair falling in front of his eyes was sitting in an armchair in the corner of the room, distanced from them both physically and spiritually. I remember the moment the woman, who I later found out was her aunt, told her that her parents are gone. I remember her shriek, tears pooling out of her eyes with an incredible speed, her inconsolable cries. Her pain was too familiar and too personal, which made me look away. I've seen too much and too deep into someone I don't really know. I've maybe saved her physically, but I should have known that I could never save her from this. That's the first time I felt guilty because of Elena Gilbert, but certainly not the last.
The second time Elena ended up in a hospital was because of me. I've put her there after I bit her, after Klaus made me turn it off and made me feed on her. I haven't actually seen her lying in a hospital for the second time, but I remember the guilt of putting her there. I remember asking myself, night after night, how did I hurt more - physically or emotionally? The third time was when she fell and bumped her head, which was completely out of my control, but when you love someone, when your main mission in life is to protect that person for any and every kind of pain they might experience, you feel like everything should be in your control.
The fourth time was probably the worst one, because she wasn't lying comfortably in a hospital bed, and I wasn't waiting for her to open her beautiful eyes. I was actually dreading of her doing exactly that, because I knew that she never wanted to be a vampire, and I was afraid she might blame me for becoming one. She was ready to die, but she wasn't ready to become one of us, and everything this life entails. I didn't know Meredith gave her some of Damon's blood the last time she was here. No one did. And I could handle everyone else blaming me. I could handle Matt cursing me for saving him instead of her, and I could handle my own brother pointing his finger at me, accusing me of murdering the woman I supposedly love. I could handle the whole world giving me an evil eye, but one thing I couldn't handle is her looking at me like the rest of the world does.
Thankfully, she never did. She thanked me, which made my lungs bubble with fits of ironic laughter, because here she was, thanking me for letting her die. But that doesn't mean I won't carry the guilt of letting her die inside of me for as long as I live. I would let Matt die instead of her without giving it a second thought. Matt would die instead of her without blinking. His life never mattered that much to me, but it did to her. And the matter of saving her life over someone else's was never my choice to make, nor was it Matt's. It was hers. My choice was to respect her wishes.
Today is the fifth time, and it feels like final. And even though her protection is out of my jurisdiction these days, the guilt is still present, and the finality of the situation increases it. I feel like all of this, her current situation, could have been avoided if I made different choices, as if I'm some sort of a catalyst in her life. If I loved her differently. If I saved her instead of Matt, if she never became a vampire, if I never lost her to my brother. Or if I didn't love her at all. If I turned around and left town before implementing myself into her life.
Damon is not going to kill Bonnie, nor is he going to let her die. Despite his best efforts to hide it, he cares for Bonnie deeply, profoundly. Plus, Elena would never speak to him again, and he loves her too much to risk that happening again.
I don't get a say in it, not anymore. It seems that none of us do, except Damon. Like he's the only one who's going to miss her. Like Bonnie will never go crazy with guilt of living and slash her wrists. No one thinks I'm a threat, since I've moved on, so I can't possibly miss her that much to go crazy with grief and do something irrational I'll regret later. It's a crazy logic, that Damon is the only one allowed to suffer or to make decisions about what happens to her, but it's a logic all of us accept, and I don't even know why, nor do I have time to ponder over it.
Elena hasn't been mine for two years already. And one and a half of those two years I spent thinking of her as of a painful reminder, a walking, talking memory that just won't stop teasing me with throwbacks at a not so distant, happier past.
I've been living two years without her by my side. It was hard, but I've managed. I found a way to live without her. To do something more than survive. I like to think she had taught me how.
But a lifetime without her seems insufferable.
She chooses an appropriate setting for our goodbye.
The same place I brought her to several years ago. A perfect place when you need to clear your head. Noisy with the sounds of nature, but at the same time so quiet, so peaceful. So far away from everyone and everything. Here you can say whatever's on your mind without the fear of someone hearing you.
A perfect place to bury your secrets, say things you normally never would, leave your soul in the wilderness.
"Hang on," she says, trying to catch her breath. "Anyway, I just need two seconds," she says through a soft smile while searching for a place to sit down.
Oh God, she's breathing again, and I can't even find a way to begin to explain how wonderful that sound is, how well it suits her. Inhale, exhale.
"You're the one who chose a five mile hike to say goodbye," I make a point.
"This isn't goodbye, Stefan," she shakes her head.
Then why does it feel like it? Why does it feel like she's telling me to give her up, once and for all?
"Besides, this hike, it's where I told you I didn't want to be a vampire."
Yes, she did. That's why I brought her here in the first place. So she can cry and shout into the wind all the things she never dared to say to me in the silence of my embrace.
"I thought it would be fitting, considering.."
Some would say ironic.
She outstretches her arms, signaling for me to help her get up.
"Because you're a weak human again?" I smile at her. It's a joke, and I know she'll perceive it as such. When has Elena ever been weak?
I take her hands into mine. I wrap my fingers around her soft skin.
I don't want to let you go.
She smiles back at me, and I feel like thousand bucks.
"You knew I never wanted to be a vampire," I hold her hand in mine until she steps down on flat surface. "Even before we took our first steps on that mountain, you just wanted to hear me say it out loud."
Of course I knew she never wanted to be a vampire. Someone whose soul burns so brightly should never play with so much darkness. And as much as I wanted to be with her forever, I never wanted her to be a vampire either. I just thought that saying it out loud would make the whole thing easier on her. I thought it would make it easier on me.
I don't think it helped either one of us.
Our forever has been cut short because of it, which is quite ironic. I wanted to spend an eternity with her, and once I got a chance to do so, she slipped through my fingers.
But maybe forever is not woven out of unlimited time, but out of never ending memories that will play over and over through time - past, present and future - never forgotten, their importance never minimized, or ruined.
"Ah, a lot of good that did."
"I guess what I'm trying to say," she turns around to face me, "Is that you knew me better than anyone. You always have."
It wasn't that hard, knowing her. Elena was.. Elena is.. she always was and always will be a part of me. From the moment she walked into my life or, better to say, from the moment I dove into hers, I had a feeling as if I already know her. And it wasn't because she looked like Katherine. I didn't have a deja vu. I didn't look at her face and thought that I've already met her, because from the moment she had opened her mouth, so confused, so distracted, mumbling - it's a long story, it's the fog, it's making me foggy, that's the Hitchcock one, right, with the birds, we have history together - I knew that there's no one else like her. But the more she talked, the more familiar she felt, as if this is only another in the series of lifetimes we're spending together.
No, knowing Elena, understanding Elena, that was never the hard part. It was as easy as knowing myself.
"Which is why you already know how impossible it is for me.."
To find the words to say goodbye?
"To find the words to say goodbye."
I shake my head. This is real. This is not a dream. I'm not hallucinating. This is not like one of those times when I hallucinated her while I was trapped inside of a box, drowning over and over again. Why am I only realizing this now?
"Don't," my eyes fill with tears.
My heart is stuck in my throat.
It's hard for me to breathe.
"I can't do this, not now. Not ever."
Please don't make me let you go.
It's my turn to say goodbye. How do you say goodbye to someone who's essentially still alive?
I walk over to her coffin - this feels so incredibly wrong - and I look down at her.
She's still everything she was when I met her, and so much more. She doesn't deserve this. She doesn't deserve to spend next 60, 70 or 80 years of her life in a box. She doesn't deserve to have her life depend on her best friends death. She'll miss out on her whole life, and the life of the people she knows and loves, who will most likely be gone or incredibly old once she wakes up. Who says I won't be gone as well?
I have to be here. She's counting on me to be here when she wakes up. She's counting on all of us. She will wake up in a completely different world, and we'll have to show her the ropes.
I'm trying to hold back tears. I don't want to fall apart, I can't. I feel like it's not my place to do so.
I take her hand into mine. I close my eyes. Clench my jaw. On my way to meet her, I allow one single tear to travel down my cheek.
In that tear, I drown.
She takes both of my hands into hers.
"Thank you for bumping into me that day in the hallway," her voice cracks.
It was my pleasure.
We both smile.
"I never thought I would ever be happy again, and then.." she makes a small stop, filling her lungs with air. She's holding back tears. "Then I met you."
I instantly remember a conversation I had with Rebekah awhile back.
"I didn't think I would ever feel that way again."
"You changed everything for me. You quite literally saved my life. I love you so much."
I love you..
Those words keep buzzing in my ears. I remember the first time I've told her those words, those exact same words, in a moment of desperation, while clinging on to her. She was so young, so innocent, and I made her carry so much of my weight.
I love you so much.
I've been so selfish because I love you so much.
"Which is why I can't wait to find out what new life you have chosen for yourself in 60 or 70 years when I see you again."
She's so much stronger than me. She allows herself to cry.
We both release a desperate laugh.
"I can guarantee it won't be high school."
No, I did that only for her, and no one else.
I don't know what to say? What's there to say? How to say goodbye to the love of your life? To the only woman who has made you happy in 160 years you have spend on this Earth? The only person who made you feel alive again?
"Just be happy."
How? Please tell me how. Please give me instructions, a manual, an advice. Anything.
She has made me happy. She taught me how to be happy again. Here mere existence makes me joyful. How am I supposed to spend yet another lifetime without her in my life? Especially now when I know how it is to have her in it.
"I'll see you soon," she tells me.
Yeah, in a blink of an eye.
"I'll see you, Elena."
She starts walking away, pulling her hand out of mine, I grab on to her fingers, holding them, envisioning her until the tips of her fingers leave my skin.
I open my eyes and there she is, still lying in that coffin, one place she doesn't belong. I let go of her hand, placing it gently back in its rightful place.
If we really did know each other before, in some other lifetime, if we really are doing this over and over again, then I can't wait for a lifetime where we don't have to do this ever again.