By the light of the moon
Disclaimer: The characters and other things from The Vampire Diaries don't belong to me. Credit goes to the rightful owners.
Chapter 8: A new dawn
The little boy weaved through the seemingly endless rows of headstones and freshly dug graves. He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him, his blue eyes bright with excitement and laughter, barely looking at where he was going because he knew the place like the back of his hand. It was a considerable feat given he was only five and he didn't live in Mystic Falls. To him, this cemetery was just another playground.
The smell of the freshly dug earth wafted to Damon's nose, irritating him, reminding him of death and what he lost…what he was burying today. He kept a stern expression on his face, focusing on keeping his eyes set in a stony glare as he tried hard not to blink…so the tears wouldn't fall. But Elena's soft touch on his arm, followed by her head leaning gently on his shoulder destroyed his resolve and he had to close his eyes to keep his emotions in check.
Damon blinked his eyes open to watch the grave filling up with soil, hiding away a part of him forever and forcing him to let go of the brother he always said he hated. He laughed bitterly on the inside how it was that he was the one alive when it was Stefan who most deserved the happy ending.
But then he shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind, failing miserably. Damon placed a hand over Elena's, reaching out with the other hand to wipe the silent tears that fell from her eyes. He looked around at the people with him, those who mourned with him and stood by him when they had every reason to loathe him. Forgiveness it seemed was not beyond his reach and somehow it soothed the emptiness Damon felt.
One by one, they stepped forward to drop a single white rose into the grave. Alaric and Jenna started; both said a silent prayer before quickly making way for Tyler to pay his respects. He was pushed forward in his wheelchair by Caroline, his old arrogance completely gone and replaced by a certain humility, the unexpected effect of being declared permanently paralyzed waist down, an unfortunate consequence of the battle with Klaus and the excessive power that destroyed parts of him.
Caroline knelt and touched the earth before throwing in her own rose as she cried openly before Stefan's grave. It was hard to lose someone who believed in her, especially when there were not many of those in her life. It was difficult to lose a friend who saw past the face, the tactless comments and simply trusted in her goodness. Caroline looked up only to meet Damon's eyes, finding that they both looked like lost children and didn't have a grown up's hand to hold on to.
Jeremy came forward, his jaw set as he faced another loss in his life. Stefan was the ideal older brother who looked out for him, not just because of his sister but because he was that kind of guy. It was Stefan who showed him that there was a choice to everything, that even if you were cursed it didn't mean you had to be the monster people believed you to be.
Bonnie took her place beside Jeremy and tossed in her rose, wondering how they came to this point. She could still remember when she was just beginning to come into her powers, manifesting as a strange psychic ability she never took seriously. Now, here they were burying one of the good guys, someone who saved her life more than once before. It wasn't right. The world will never be right.
Elena took a deep breath as everyone else made way for her and Damon to step forward. She felt Damon's hand release her, letting her go first. With shaky legs, she placed one foot in front of the other, concentrating on simply walking and trying to block out the sense of finality that was ringing in her ears. Elena wanted to scream, laugh hysterically and weep all at the same time. She wanted to be numb and not feel the pain that washed over her in endless waves. Elena wanted to get rid of the heavy weight of her guilt over not loving Stefan, who loved her so much. She wanted to turn back time and wish away Stefan ever coming back to Mystic Falls and saving her from that car accident…maybe then he'd still be alive.
But just when she felt she was going to lose everything to regret, a strong hand steadied her, helping her take those final steps towards Stefan's final resting place. Damon nodded to her as he threw in a single white rose, "It's time to say goodbye, Elena. We need to let him go."
"I don't want to," Elena whispered in a small voice, "There are so many things I could have done differently…maybe I could have…maybe this wouldn't have happened…if only I…"
"Elena, there is no 'if only' or 'what if' in everything that happened," Damon said softly, "I know you have so many questions but even if you get those answers, nothing will change. He's dead and we're not. We have to keep living or his sacrifice will be wasted. Let go, Elena."
Elena looked up at him, searching his eyes, "How can you ask me to do something you can't do yourself?"
Damon sighed before giving her a tortured smile, placing a hand over his chest, still unnerved by the steady beat that pounded away inside, "I'm the brother who wanted him dead and/or miserable for the rest of eternity and I actually made good on that promise for a good part of the last century, so I'm the only one who has the license to feel remorse until the day my heart stops beating again. It's all on me, Elena, not you. Besides, he'll haunt me if I don't help you get through this. So…ladies first," he said gesturing for Elena to leave the rose like everyone else before them.
Damon knelt by the edge after Elena had done as he had asked, a tear finally slipping through the cracks, releasing only a fragment of his turbulent emotions. "Remember when we rescued Elena?" he said to Stefan's casket that was barely visible now, "that night you told me, you forced me to turn because you needed your big brother? What if I told you the tables have turned and it's my turn to need my kid brother? This humanity crap was your dream, not mine, and I'm the one stuck with it. I'm living your dream, Stefan, and you won't even get to see it or laugh at me as I attempt to be someone I think I was never meant to be."
Damon took a deep breath and stood up to watch the grave to be filled, waiting for it to be over. He didn't know how long he stood there just looking.
"Damon," Elena said quietly, placing a hand on his arm, calling his attention gently, "It's time to go."
"I know," he responded, not facing her as he continued, "I'm leaving, Elena…just for a little while."
Elena's head turned sharply to him in alarm, "What? That's not…Damon…?"
"I'm coming back, I promise," Damon said stubbornly looking ahead, not daring to face Elena lest he lose his resolve, "Just be with your family, spend time with them without me to distract you…because when I come back I'm never leaving you and we'll get started on that life together I think I may have promised you at one point or another."
Damon finally turned to face her, his hands cupping her face as he spoke again, "I'm broken, Elena. I lost my brother. In more than a century, I've never really known how to live without him and our complicated history with him means I need to figure out how to live with that loss or we'll never work this out. I love you and I'm coming back for you. Trust me."
Elena could only nod and watch as he walked away from her, wondering if her heart could take it if he never did return.
"Sam!" his mother called out to him with an urgency that was sure to increase as the minutes passed.
Sam merely giggled and kept running towards the trees where he was somehow sure that there would be a stream nearby. He kept going until a hand snatched him up and his feet lost contact with the ground, a fresh round of laughter ringing in the air.
"Shhh," Damon said placing a finger to the boy's lips as he set the boy down gently, wiping away the matted hair on Sam's forehead as he knelt down to talk, "where do you think you're going, young man?"
"The stream," Sam responded matter-of-factly, as if it should have been obvious to Damon.
"And why are you going there?" Damon asked genuinely curious, raising an eyebrow at Sam.
"It's important," Sam insisted, slowing growing frustrated that he was being asked all these questions when he could already be by the water, "Please, can we go? I just want to see."
"Sam!" Elena yelled again panic rising in her voice that induced a look of guilt mixed with fear on Sam's face.
Damon rolled his eyes and picked up his son, "Let's get back to your mother before she reaches a higher note on the scale and alerts everyone within a five mile radius that we're back in town. It's going to ruin the whole surprise element. I promise I'll take you to get a good look at that stream before we leave but for now you're going to have to settle for getting a view of the cemetery while sitting on my shoulders. Sound good, kiddo?"
Sam nodded vigorously and climbed on his father's shoulders, his short legs firmly locked in place by his Damon's hands.
They hadn't walked far when they saw Elena hurrying towards them, a worried look on her face, one exceedingly familiar to Damon.
"You look stressed and worried, though still absolutely stunning," Damon called out from the far side of the porch, walking up to Elena casually, hands both tucked into his pockets.
Elena frowned, keeping her hand on the doorknob, "It's the result of worrying if someone was still alive or lying in a ditch somewhere."
"Sorry?" Damon said, his apology more of a question than a statement, annoying Elena even more.
"I don't think you are," Elena pointed out, crossing her arms in front of her.
"Yeah, I'm really not," Damon said smiling, reaching out and pulling her in his arms, "I'm guessing you missed me, which is a good thing. It means you still love me and the whole out of sight, out of mind thing is a complete fabrication."
Elena stubbornly stayed still even as his arms went around her, "You could have at least called once in a while."
"Elena," Damon started patiently, "if I heard your voice I would have come running back way before I should have."
"What if something happened?" Elena challenged, "You'd never have known."
"Ah, but nothing did. And even if something did happen, Tyler had all my contact information so that he could alert me," Damon said.
"Tyler?" Elena said, curiosity making her forget her anger.
"Yeah," Damon shrugged, "He's the one who still sort of hates me the most so he has no incentive to see me back so soon…unless it's an absolute emergency. Besides, the kid can keep a secret whereas Caroline would crack the minute you start playing truth or dare. Same goes for anyone in your household or Alaric, who I heard from the grapevine practically moved in. And since Bonnie was also on a mission to find her inner witch or whatever, I basically had no choice with my secret keeper. Can we just forgive and forget? I'm here aren't I, isn't that the important part?"
Elena glared at him before finally giving up and sighing, "It's the only thing that matters."
"There you are!" Elena exclaimed, the tension fading from her when she set her eyes on her son.
Elena reached for Sam and folded him in her arms, "Don't ever run away like that again, okay?"
"Sorry, mom," Sam said sincerely, his voice muffled as he buried his face in her hair, his little arms locked on Elena's neck, "I just really wanted to see the stream."
"Why?" Elena asked, pulling away to get a good look at her son as they walked back, perplexed at his statement.
"It's important," Sam said, sounding slightly exasperated at having to repeat his answer to another parent.
Damon smirked, "At least we know he doesn't play favorites—our dear boy gave me the same answer earlier. Maybe third time's the charm, Elena. Let me try again. So, Sam, what do you mean by the stream being important? It's just…water. We also have that at home. It's nothing new."
"Uncle Stefan said it's important." Sam said absently as he rubbed off some dirt on his arm, "He said to visit him there."
Alarmed, Damon exchanged a look with Elena as she set their son down on the ground. "Kiddo," Damon continued, "He's dead. See his tombstone right there? It says Stefan Salvatore, dead 10 years ago—the permanent kind."
Elena glared at Damon, who raised his hands and went on, "Alright, fine, it doesn't say exactly that. But it's close enough and it drives home the point I'm trying to make, Elena."
Elena shook her head and turned to her son, "Sam, what your father is trying to say is what do you mean Uncle Stefan told you it's important? How did he tell you?"
Sam frowned and looked hesitantly at both of them before continuing, "In a dream…Uncle Stefan was teaching me how to play football. He even said you taught him that. Then he said to visit him at the stream. He said it was beautiful this time of year. He wanted to see me and he had a gift for me."
"Damon," Elena said shaking her head, eyes full of anxiety, "I don't like the sound of this. We should go. Someone's playing with us."
Damon merely shrugged his shoulders and took Sam's hand, "Relax, Elena. It's probably nothing. Just a dream, like he said. I promised I'll take him and I will. I won't let him out of my sight, you have my word."
Elena wasn't convinced, not letting go of Sam's other hand, he took Damon's other hand and placed it on his own chest, "Can you feel that?"
"Yes, Elena," Damon said impatiently, "I can feel my own heartbeat, thank you. It's been pounding away inside me for ten years now."
"Exactly," Elena said pulling away, whispering fiercely, taking advantage of Sam being distracted by a stray butterfly to address Damon directly, "And that sound should remind you that you don't hear things a mile away. Somehow, you're stronger than normal but you're not nearly impossible to kill anymore. So can you not unnecessarily risk your life?"
"Relax, take a deep breath and let it out. We'll be fine. If you want, call the witch—," Damon said, pausing when Sam gasped and looked up at him, "I said witch, Sam, not the B-word. Don't worry. I'm not going to be sent to my room. It's not a bad word. Anyway, as I was saying, call her and tell her to check out what Sam saw. "
"I don't know," Elena said hesitantly, "Maybe we can at least wait until Tyler and Caroline get here."
"Hey, hey, look at me," Damon said seriously, "We've defied the impossible more than once in this lifetime and survived near misses with an apocalypse and prophecies. I know we've been dealing with changing diapers and our daily worries are now focused on what college Sam will get into years from now or what color paint to use for the kitchen, but I think I can handle a simple trip to the stream. Come on, Elena, live a little and trust me to protect our son—even if I am a frail human now."
"Fine, but I'm calling Bonnie," Elena said, rearranging the flowers on Stefan's grave nervously, fear gripping her as her mind went through the possibilities.
Damon nodded as he picked up Sam, leading his small family back towards the stream, hiding his own concern as they walked, anxiously waiting for Elena to finish her call with Bonnie.
"She's coming right over…they're just waiting for Caroline to finish ironing her hair," Elena said, ignoring Damon's snort at finding it humorous that if they truly were in danger, Caroline will come to save the day with perfect hair.
The sun glinted off the surface of the water making it sparkle, mesmerizing the young boy who was practically jumping out of his father's arms in excitement.
"Okay, Sam," Damon said setting down his son, holding him in place with his hands, "you have five minutes to be amazed by this very important stream and then we have to go. Stay where we can see you or no TV, chocolates or anything remotely fun until you're forty. Understand?"
Sam nodded solemnly before turning around to run to the edge of the stream, plunging his small hand into the water and splashing it on himself, playing around as if it were the most wonderful thing in the world.
"I met him here," Elena whispered looking at the water, "I got scared…the whole crow and the fog, something I've never thanked you for, by the way."
Damon smiled, arms encircling Elena from behind, "You're welcome. Glad to know someone appreciated my theatrics as a vampire."
Elena shook her head, trying to suppress a smile, "Anyway, Stefan found me, bloody leg and all," she sighed before continuing, her eyes trained on her son, "I can't believe he's gone, Damon. Just like that. Somewhere inside me, I really believed he would live forever. I can't believe he did that…"
Damon closed his eyes and rested his chin on the top of her head as they both watched Sam, "Elena, he did it for you and I'd like to think, maybe even for me."
"You think he knew we'd survive?" Elena asked quietly, "…you think he knew what it would do to us?"
Damon shrugged, "Maybe. Probably. Or he just lucked out that the supernatural stuff absorbed all that energy and died with it—vampire, werewolf and in your case, evil bitch doppelganger, all dead…leaving us like this—a little bit more than human. Either way, I'm pretty sure he imagined the happily ever after we're living right now. I'm sure I never did."
Suddenly Sam let out a piercing scream, paralyzing them with fear for a split second before they rushed towards the boy.
Damon reached him first and grabbed him, lifting him off the ground as Elena hurriedly inspected the boy for injuries, "Are you hurt? What happened?"
"I'm okay…I just found something…" Sam said sheepishly, trailing off as he opened his palm to reveal a ring, "Look it's like Dad's ring."
Elena picked it up and locked eyes with Damon, who nodded to confirm it was Stefan's ring, "Where did you get this?"
Sam pointed to the ground where an old leather-bound book was hidden beneath a pile of leaves. Elena shook her head, "Damon? Damon? I'm pretty sure we buried that ring with him. Oh my, where the hell is Bonnie? I'm going to pull out Caroline's hair. Damon, are you listening?"
Damon tuned her out, drawn towards the book that was achingly familiar to him on account of having made fun of it so many times—Stefan's diary. A sudden gust stopped him in his tracks and when he blinked the world had changed. He looked around and found he was alone.
"Elena! Sam!" Damon called out, "Not funny. Not the time for hide and seek..."
He stopped in his tracks when he saw Stefan looking at him with an amused expression on his face.
"What the…" Damon said, the color draining completely from his face, "Am I dead?"
Stefan laughed aloud, "No, Damon, you're not. This is just…just a visit. One I won't make again. I just wanted to check in on you…make sure you're on the right track and I didn't give up the girl for nothing…that kind of thing."
"Yeah, well you didn't and in case you decide on a second visit, might I suggest something less shocking? I am no longer safe from heart attacks, in case you've forgotten," Damon said glaring at Stefan.
"Noted," Stefan said smiling as he stood next to his brother, looking at the distance, "So, I see you've been busy. Sam's growing up so fast. You must be so proud to have a son like that."
"Too fast," Damon said, "I'm afraid of even missing a second of his life. I just wish he never has to see even a fraction of what we went through."
Stefan only smiled, "How are you doing, brother?"
"Are you going to force me to say I miss you because it sounds like you will…" Damon said lightly, turning serious, "because I do. Everyday. Sometimes I imagine what if I took your place…"
Stefan picked up a small pebble and threw it towards the water, waiting for it to sink before speaking, "It was my choice and my part to play, Damon. I knew what would happen when I made the choice to jump in that chasm. It was part of Aztlan, a small portion that cleansed the vampire from me, giving me life again. I figured that it would do the same to you when you took the power…and everyone else, as long as it wasn't too much."
"But since you were human when you did it again…it killed you." Damon continued, "Why didn't you just let us do it? You could have told us and we would have done it…you'd still be alive."
Stefan shook his head, "It required my blood, Damon. That's why even in this lifetime we were born as brothers just as before in Aztlan. Your blood to call out the power and mine to keep it from destroying."
"So why the hell didn't you do that when you still had an undead life to spare?" Damon asked incredulous.
"Because I had to make sure Katherine didn't use the power in the cave to turn human…or she wouldn't have had the chance to do what she did that saved Elena's life." Stefan answered, "It had to be me, Damon. Let's just leave it at that."
"So what comes next?" Damon said after a few moments of silence, "Is this some ominous warning or something?"
"Your life with Elena…happily ever after…anything, basically," Stefan said, "This is just the goodbye I never got to say, brother. That's all."
Damon nodded silently, unwilling to speak and show how affected he was, "So goodbye then, Stefan."
"Goodbye, Damon," Stefan said, "Do me a favor?"
"Anything," Damon replied.
"Tell Sam about me?" Stefan asked, "I'd like to be part of his life somehow…and give my diary to Elena, thank her for me…for letting me love her even if she was never going to be mine."
With those last words the world righted itself again and suddenly Damon was back staring at Stefan's diary on the ground.
"Damon!" Elena called out again, shaking him to attention, "What's wrong? Is that…?"
Damon nodded absently as he picked it up and handed it to his wife, "Here. Take it. He wanted you to have it."
Elena looked at him, completely confused but took the journal anyway, "Damon, what's going on? You're scaring me."
Damon kissed her on the forehead and picked up Sam, "We'll talk about it later, okay?"
Sam yawned and tugged on his father's shirt, "Can we go home? I want to take a nap."
Damon smiled, "Then let's go home."
With his free hand, Damon took Elena's into his as he held Sam close to him, content knowing that finally their past was truly behind them and there was only their shared future to look forward to.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed this story. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing! :)