A/N: Thank you SO MUCH for all of your awesome reviews! I'm truly overwhelmed by your wonderful response to this story. It was so nice to be writing and posting a DE story again. Till (hopefully/maybe/someday) next story, here is the final chapter to this one :)
The ground caught fire with unnatural ease but the flames lasted only for a second before they were doused by the rain, which suddenly started streaming down in torrents.
Somehow the rain seemed to be the best proof that wherever they were, Sybil wasn't in control here. She seemed momentarily confused, and Damon took this opportunity to turn back toward the car to see if Elena and Jeremy were OK. But the car was gone.
Elena was standing near where the car had been, her eyes fixed on Damon in a bewildered, questioning expression.
Without trying to explain anything, Damon grabbed Elena's hand and ran with her toward the nearest building. They were both rain-soaked, but only until they came inside, and a wave of warmth made their clothes instantly dry again. And this didn't surprise Damon any more than the fact that when they closed the random building's door behind them, they found themselves inside the boarding house.
He looked around the living room, and for a few moments it felt like home again, this place where they had danced in silence, where Elena had told him she loved him, where they had once been playing house all summer, oblivious and immune to anything that wasn't them, that wasn't happy. The boarding house before the ghosts from the past and bad choices' aftermaths had wrecked it.
Absently, Elena followed Damon's gaze, beginning to realize that something more than a little strange was happening around them, the rain echoing in her head like a melody she felt she knew very well but couldn't place. Yet a part of her suddenly knew that it had something to do with Damon's favorite memory of them.
"Something has changed," Elena murmured pensively. "Between you and me. Since yesterday. How can everything change in one day?"
She should be asking hundreds of different questions but somehow this was the most prominent thought on Elena's mind right now. It felt like the entire world turned upside down and she just wanted to make sense of it, of them, before she could consider anything else.
Damon gave her a sorrowful smile. "That yesterday happened years ago, Elena. And our tomorrow is decades away from now," he added quietly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
The sound of the fireplace crackling quietly in the background replaced the torrents of rain and for a few moments they were looking at each other in silence.
"How is that possible?" Elena finally asked, no longer sure what she was really asking about, so it didn't seem to matter much that Damon also appeared to be answering a different question.
"I don't know how I survived all those days, weeks, months without you, Elena," he said dejectedly with a grimace. "I need you. I'm trying to fight it on my own, but... it's getting darker and darker out there, and I don't know how much longer I can fight."
He cupped Elena's face in his hands and she instinctively leaned into his touch. And even if she didn't know what exactly he was talking about, he knew that she understood. She always did.
"That woman said... that we were in my head?" Elena whispered, her voice barely audible. It was such a strange thought yet the confusion seemed to be fading off her mind. The surreal scene she didn't want to think about couldn't be ignored, if only because it had to be dealt with. Elena drew a sharp intake of breath. It seemed that somewhere between practicing a fake smile in front of the mirror and the future she couldn't now remember, she had developed a habit of dealing with problems head-on.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Elena felt hot tears gather under her eyelids. Damon's weird behavior was beginning to make sense now. The way he looked at her. Like he knew her. Like he loved her. She smiled through her tears because this felt like the best thing to hold on to, even if everything else was still hazy and unclear.
He behaved as if he loved her because he did.
There seemed to be a void between the past and the future, and Elena had always heard that what mattered most was the present but now it seemed that the present was precisely what they did not have.
"Am I asleep?" Elena asked quietly, struck by the thought. She slowly opened her eyes, the question echoing in her head as she did so.
Damon nodded slowly, gathering her to him, and only then Elena realized she was shaking. For a brief moment, the rain outside sounded more like shards of glass crashing against the polished floor of a wedding venue.
"Long story. Magical coma." Damon's hands touched her cheeks, and they felt warm, felt real. And it was raining again. "You are asleep and I'm thinking of you all the while. Until we will meet again. You told me to live my life in the meantime but... I can't. The world is a dark, empty place without you, Elena. And I didn't know it could be any different before we met. But now that I know what it feels like to be happy, to love you, to be loved by you, living without you hurts every minute of every day, and I just wish I could fall asleep too, sleep until you wake up."
"Don't say that," Elena replied on an impulse, so many feelings rushing to the surface of her mind even if the memories of particular events, memories of time were still missing. What she was feeling felt utterly timeless anyway, and perhaps she didn't need to know anything else for now.
Damon smiled brokenly, his forehead falling against Elena's. Was it a dream miraculously dreamed by both of them, somehow? If so, maybe they should just accept the consolation the dream was giving them. He couldn't give up. He couldn't give up on their future. One day they were going to be together again, and he had to persevere until that day would come. No matter the obstacles, he couldn't give in to darkness. There was enough light in Elena's love for him to carry him through more than one hell.
"It feels too real to be a dream," Elena whispered, smiling faintly against Damon's lips when he kissed her. The kiss was gentle, but it filled her with incomprehensible warmth, it made her feel invincible, like everything was possible, like he knew everything about her, like she loved him.
Because she did.
"I don't know what it is exactly but... I know that it's the real you in my arms, and it's the real me kissing you," Damon spoke under his breath, holding her in an embrace. "We are real. Even if we are not really here."
Mirroring his gesture, Elena cupped Damon's face in her hands. "Why am I dreaming about you?" She asked softly.
"Isn't it self-explanatory?" Damon asked, returning her smile. "A tall, dark stranger and all?"
Elena chuckled under her breath. "Believe it or not, that's not my type."
"So what's your type, Elena?" Damon asked, squinting.
"Isn't it self-explanatory?" Slowly brushing her fingertips over the skin of his face Elena smiled again. "You."
Tightening his embrace around her, Damon trailed kisses across Elena's face before pressing his cheek to hers. He closed his eyes. "We were happy," he murmured, and Elena wrapped her arms around his neck, thinking how strange and amazing it was that his voice alone was making her feel happy. "But then all good things came to a halt, and now you are asleep for years to come and I…" Damon winced. "I'm not doing the best job trying to hang in there while you are sleeping."
"But one day we will be happy again," Elena said earnestly, feeling as if her words carried more strength than she could endow them with without remembering everything that had happened between them. They rang true and she wanted both of them to cling to them. "And you have to hang in there," she added, pressing her lips to his.
"Seriously?! I didn't want to believe it but... here it is!"
Damon and Elena abruptly lifted their heads and looked at each other in surprise, torn out of the moment, not sure what was suddenly happening around them.
In which case usually Caroline was happening, Elena thought, and sure enough, it was Caroline who was standing in the boarding house's doorway, shifting her indignant gaze between them.
"Well, the fact that we're in your head, and not mine, certainly explains quite a few things, however I have to say I'm a bit concerned how to interpret the fact that you keep imagining people interrupting us at most inopportune moments," Damon said under his breath.
Blinking back the tears Elena shrugged, smiling a little. "Maybe I'm trying to lighten the mood?"
"So? Do you have anything to say? Or you just want Stefan and I to infer that you are dumping us and opting for jumping each other's bones instead?" Caroline continued fuming, and only then Damon and Elena realized that Stefan was standing behind Caroline in the open doorway, no sign of rain outside, only the sunshine all around Stefan and Caroline, and despite their irritating personalities, it seemed very befitting of them, Damon thought.
Tilting his head toward Elena, Damon gave her a disbelieving look. "That's what you call lightening the mood?"
Elena bit her lip, stifling a smile.
"I have an idea," Damon said in mock cheerfulness, smiling at Caroline who was glaring back at him. "If this... mentalverse is so crowded already, more people won't hurt it anyway and may even help us figure out how I seamlessly traveled from my head into Elena's. In other words, let's head to Bonnie's. Can we do that?" Damon asked as an afterthought, giving Elena a hesitant look, because it felt a little preposterous to be bossing around in Elena's head, although she didn't seem to mind.
Elena exhaled slowly. "We can try, I guess."
Caroline and Stefan looked at each other in confusion.
"Great," Damon said with a smile, and taking Elena's hand in his, strolled out of the house, giving Caroline and Stefan little choice but to follow.
"Tell me, Elena, do you secretly resent my car?" Damon asked when despite scanning their surroundings very carefully, he could still see no sign of his camaro, which forced them to just walk to Bonnie and her grandmother's house. Assuming it would be where it was supposed to be, of course. There was no guarantee Mystic Falls in Elena's head mirrored the real town.
Elena snorted. "Well, I'm sure it's not here for a reason. Maybe I was jealous of it? Did you like it better than me?"
"Nah," Damon said dismissively. "I liked you both exactly the same."
Elena narrowed her eyes at him, he kissed her, and they both smiled.
And Elena thought that if there was one reliable proof they were in a dream, it was the fact that Caroline didn't even comment on that.
"Is that all?" Sheila asked slowly, with all the usual dignity in her voice, her gaze fixed on Damon, although Elena was sure she was somehow also aware of facial expressions of everyone else in the room.
She and Damon were sitting on the couch across from Sheila, while Stefan and Caroline were occupying nearby chairs. Bonnie was sitting next to her grandmother with possibly the most hilarious expression Elena had ever seen her wear.
It was rather puzzling to think she was technically... imagining all of it? Dreaming it up? Whatever the correct technical term was. If only she could find a way out. She may have been in a magical coma, but Damon wasn't. And they had to find a way to get him out of here.
Damon nodded. "Pretty much."
Elena straightened up, trying to recall the question Damon was answering. It seemed that she zoned out in her own head, and the amused smile that lit up her eyes at the idea didn't escape Damon's attention.
"Having some interesting thoughts within what's essentially your thought?" Damon asked with a smirk, reaching out for Elena's hand. She intertwined her fingers with his.
"I think it's sufficiently interesting that we came to ask for advice people whom I'm technically imagining, right?" Elena asked with a hint if humor in her voice.
Damon seemed to ponder this for a second, the expression on his face making Elena smile even more.
"Is he…?" Caroline asked in a rather loud whisper, leaning toward Stefan.
"Crazy? Clearly," Bonnie deadpanned, although Elena suspected she wasn't referring to Damon's story as much as to his opening claim that they were besties.
"So… you are from the future?" Stefan asked, and there seemed to be more resignation than humor in his tone.
Damon rolled his eyes. "No, I'm not from the future, Stefan. I'm from the one and only present. And this is not the past, but some kind of a dream. I was reliving one of my memories of Elena, and then it somehow transitioned into Elena's dream, and now it's our dream in Elena's head-"
"Yes, you've already said all that," Bonnie said flatly. "Three times."
Damon sighed in exasperation. "For the sake of argument, Bon-Bon, could you at least try to believe me?"
Bonnie raised her eyebrows. "Bon-Bon? Really?"
"Guys, this isn't helpful," Elena cut in with a sigh.
"You mean you actually believe him?" Caroline gave Elena an incredulous look.
"Well, it's Elena's dream, so I'm sure she believes him," Bonnie replied with a wry smile.
"You didn't invite me in, and yet I came in. Doesn't it add credibility to my claim?" Damon suddenly asked, addressing Sheila who had been listening to the banter in silence.
Elena frowned, wondering at the idea for a second and then finding it beyond startling that she seemed aware of all of their supernatural circumstances even though at that point in the past where her memory was still apparently stuck, she didn't even know that vampires existed.
Sheila smiled a little. "Perhaps it does," she allowed. "For the sake of argument, then, I'd say there may be an explanation for what you have described."
Elena and Damon exchanged hopeful glances before they looked to Sheila again.
"If you were dreaming about the exactly same moment from the past, your subconscious minds might have merged, and now your minds are one."
Stefan's forehead wrinkled in thought while Caroline blinked rapidly.
"I'm trying to decide if that's romantic or creepy," she said with a thin smile, breaking the silence that fell in the room.
"But if our dreams have merged, and I can't wake up, how do we make Damon wake up?" Elena asked matter-of-factly, leaning forward in her seat. Even if she was merely tapping into her own subconscious, she felt that the answer was going to sound more believable if it came from Bonnie's grandmother. Not to mention that considering that she was a witch, who knew if Sheila's real spirit was not present in her dream?
"The same moment from the past bound your minds together, so only the same moment from the future might unbind them."
Elena opened her mouth to ask another question, but then the room in which they were became empty.
"Seeing that we've been technically talking to ourselves this whole time anyway, I guess the sudden exit doesn't really matter," Elena said slowly, a deep frown forming on her forehead, her gaze darting to Damon when he covered her hand with his and squeezed it lightly.
"I'm not in a hurry to go anywhere. In fact, I'm very much in favor of staying here," Damon said, draping his arm around Elena, and leaning his head against hers. "So Sybil is the only problem that remains. She must've slipped into your mind while spying on mine," Damon concluded gloomily. "She doesn't seem to be able to do much, but we have push her out for good before she figures out how she may cause some damage around here."
Damon made an unintelligible noise, lost in thought, his eyes fixed on an unidentifiable point in space, as he was trying to come up with a plan to get rid of Sybil the very next time she'd show up. If he could stay here with Elena, in Elena's mind, until Elena woke up, wouldn't that be just best for everyone? He would be safe from all the darkness. He wouldn't have to suffer or fight. And Elena wouldn't need to worry about him making more terrible mistakes.
Elena turned around in his arms, and gripped his shoulders, making him look at her.
"We have to get you out of here. That's what we need to do. That's the only thing. You need to go home," Elena added shakily, caught off guard by her own words having such an effect on her, making her suddenly feel so utterly sad. But as painful as it was to imagine Damon leave, she felt it was the right thing to do.
"I'm not going anywhere," Damon said a little petulantly.
"Yes, you are," Elena insisted. "You need to wake up and go home."
Damon twirled a lock of her hair around his finger, and kissed it before letting it fall back onto Elena's shoulder. "You are my home, Elena."
With a warm, amused chuckle Elena placed her palm on his cheek and brushed her lips against his. "I wish I remembered everything about us. About you. Our life together must have been a fairy tale. One thing though," she continued before Damon had a chance to react to her idealistic assumption. "That memory of us in which we met here. You said it happened differently here than it really did?"
"Yes, what really happened was that I came to see you, I spent a few moments looking at you, and then I left before you woke up," Damon said in a voice which grew more and more gentle as he spoke. His fingers skimmed across Elena's face in a tender gesture.
"Then how could we be thinking about the same memory? If I didn't know it happened?"
Damon smiled. "I told you about it a couple of years afterwards."
Elena snorted under her breath. "Of course. So... how do we come up with the same future memory?"
"Like I said, I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere," Damon said with a smile, rising to his feet, pulling Elena with him. "Do you want to go on your very own private tour around Mystic Falls, Elena?" He asked with a lop-sided smile. "First stop, the porch of your house where we first kissed."
Elena acknowledged this piece of news with a smile which turned into a gasp when gusts of wind suddenly flew across the room, transforming it into the very spot Damon had just mentioned.
"That was very cool, Elena." Damon looked around the porch before giving Elena a wink.
"Thank you but this kind of happened all by itself," she said with a bewildered smile. "I just…" she trailed off, squinting into the distance. "Do you remember that day when you drove by and saw me at my cheer-leading practice?" She looked back at Damon who nodded, wondering what Elena meant by recalling that memory. It didn't seem particularly significant. "We barely knew each other then," Elena continued. "And you couldn't have looked at me for longer than three seconds. Yet you guessed exactly what I felt like in that moment. No one else knew, no else noticed. I was doing my best not to show it."
"You told me later that some things could matter again. You were right," Damon said in a low voice.
Elena gave him a small smile. "Yes, but cheer-leading wasn't one of them. And I did quit, just like you said I should. Because you were right too. There was no point in doing something that was making me feel miserable."
"That's what life without you is like. Miserable," Damon said with a grimace.
"I know that," Elena said and the tears in her eyes made Damon's heart clench not only because it hurt seeing her cry, but because of the realization that he knew only too well that look of determination accompanying the tears. "Because I know you as well as you know me. And maybe that's why your car isn't here because it's a car, a symbol of the possibility to leave? And I know you don't want to leave, and I don't want you to leave either. But giving up on everything because one thing is making you miserable? That's not the way to go. I may be asleep, but Stefan isn't. Neither is Bonnie. And you said you had another friend, Enzo? They and I'm sure many other people are all out there and they need you. They need you to be there, with them. You can't abandon all of them because you miss me."
Maybe it was the matter of being in her own head or maybe it was because she wished with all her heart for it to work. But Elena was sure it would. When Damon had told her about their first kiss, his words had immediately taken her mind, her heart to that place, that memory. It had to work the other way around too. She just had to make him think about the future.
"We are not dreaming of each other, Damon," Elena said, trying to catch her breath. She was doing this for him, and the thought was giving her strength, even as she was feeling the excruciating pain burn her inside out at the thought that in three seconds, two, one, she might not be able to see him or touch him anymore. Not until she would wake up, someday. "We are with each other. Always. I love you," she whispered, repeating the words with a smile when he kissed her. "Wherever and whenever you are. This is why any moment of your life is and will always be our memory," she said, endlessly relieved, despite the overwhelming sadness splitting her apart, that she was right, that making Damon think about any future moment of his life had to be enough to wake him up. The lights flickered around them, the rain was pouring down again, and out of the corner of her eye Elena saw Damon's car parked in front of her house. "One day I will wake up. But you... you need to wake up right now."
"Finally! I was worried I'd have to throw you into the fire or something equally poignant to wake you up."
The words seemed to drift to Damon out of nowhere, although the voice sounded raspy, steady, and perfectly familiar. With the greatest effort Damon slowly blinked his eyes open, his blurred vision quickly regaining its focus, Enzo's face in front of him coming into view.
"Please no amnesia. I've had a long day. Double duty thanks to your indisposition, if you know what I mean," Enzo muttered, studying Damon's face as he seemed to be still in the process of shaking the remnants of sleep off his mind. "And the answer to your question that you're probably about to ask is that you've been out for many hours."
With a groan, Damon ran his hands across his face and sat up. He looked around the dimly lit space that suddenly seemed smaller than before.
"And the answer to your question is... right now."
"What question?" Enzo asked, looking Damon up and down, trying to keep his voice even.
"When does it end. This morning. You asked when does it end." Rising to his feet, Damon brushed the dust off his clothes and gave Enzo a tired, crooked smile. "It ends right now. Let's get our lives back."
"You do realize we're not technically alive," Enzo murmured matter-of-factly.
"You're ruining the momentum."
"You kind of ruined it first when you left me to die in flames."
"That was the momentum. Years ago. Can we move on?"
Enzo nodded, narrowing his eyes in another smile, and Damon thought that considering the situation they were in, it either meant that Enzo had gone insane or that he was already in the middle of executing a plan.
"Can you focus? Because I'm only going to say it all once."
Damon widened his eyes at Enzo, annoyed by his attitude, because he wasn't in the mood for riddles.
Enzo took a breath and then delivered a concise speech that Damon was sure he would never forget for as long as Elena and him would live their long and happy human lives together.
"I've been back in touch with Bonnie for a while now. She got her powers back. I let her know about your dream-world ventures. Do you know that you talk in your sleep? Well, you do. I figured what was going on, and I told Sybil about your dream-ventures too, to lure her into your dream. While she was there, Bonnie linked your mind to Elena's, so Sybil would follow you into Elena's mind. And then Bonnie could mess with Kai's spell. I know, Kai warned you not to try undoing the sleeping curse, but Bonnie figured how to free Elena from it without undoing the spell. She just had to replace the person under the spell. So when Sybil went into Elena's head, Bonnie transferred the spell onto her. Brilliant, eh? So now Sybil's asleep and Elena's awake. Tyler's driving her back from New York. They should be here in... " Enzo consulted his watch. "45 minutes. You're welcome, and yes, you can buy a sea coast mansion for Bonnie and I as a wedding gift."
It was the longest 45 minutes in the history of time, Damon was sure of it. He was also sure he didn't blink even once while gazing into the dark road, waiting for the lights of Tyler's car to appear on the horizon, illuminate the darkness, and the side of the road near the forest where they were set to meet.
He was barely aware of anything else that was happening around him. Bonnie and Enzo sitting in an embrace on the trunk of the car into which they had put Sybil for now. Stefan watching him. Caroline complaining how when Bonnie dies, and Sybil wakes up, she'll be the one left to deal with her, because by that time everyone else was also probably going be dead.
"I may still be around," Stefan offered. Caroline narrowed her eyes at him in a bright smile.
The headlights nearly blinded him and Damon held his breath, watching the car approach. His heart was beating furiously in his chest and every moment seemed to be happening in slow motion, not fast enough, even though his mind was reeling, and he felt the ground slip from under his feet so very fast when he broke into a run, getting to the door as soon as Elena got out of the car.
He immediately swept her into his arms, and she wrapped her hands around him with a stifled cry. Pressing kisses all over her face, Damon smiled against Elena's lips when she laughed.
They were supposed spend a hundred years apart, but instead their hundred years together was about to start.