I've been going through some things myself...So I'm in a bad mood these days… I really tried to be a good person, and I don't really understand why I am treated this way by the person I trusted the most. I'm in a lot of pain, but I guess that's all good for the story, since this is a painful world anyway.

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Chapter 8. The Third World

I could hear slow, heavy footsteps as someone either drunk or drugged made up the stairs. It pained me to realize that even Damon's footsteps screamed out depression. I quickly went for the staircase to greet him. As I stood on top of the stairs and stared down at the man in front of me, I could not recognize him.

His hair was longer and fell into his eyes, which were dead looking. Those once piercing blue eyes were now grey, and they lacked…everything. I used to think Damon could speak through his eyes, but now all they seemed to say to me is nothingness.

His face was more pointed due to weight loss, and he wasn't smirking. He wasn't grinning. He looked like he hasn't smiled in a long time. He was unshaved, something he had in common with his brother, and he missed quite a few buttons on his black, satin shirt. He missed a belt loop on his leather pants too. He was so…thin. He also stank of alcohol.

Seeing me stand in front of him, Damon's expressionless face finally broke into a tired grin which didn't quite reach his eyes.

"Elena." He slurred, reaching towards me, "I see you."

Tears rolled down my face as I took a few steps to him, "I see you too, Damon." I comforted him and put his arm around my shoulders so I could get him up the stairs. I mentioned for Stefan to help me, and he came down to Damon's other side.

"Bro!" Damon said happily, turning to face Stefan now, "I see Elena. You would too if you…if you went to the Grill with me and had a few drinks. Quite a few drinks." He chuckled to himself.

Tears came to my eyes again. I had never seen Damon so drunk; so desperate…All the way up to his bedroom, he talked non-stop, but I couldn't say a word back to him. I wondered how many days he spent like this, talking to his imaginary Elena when he was drunk out of his mind.

Stefan helped me get him onto the bed. By then, he was half-asleep. I bent down to take off his shoes for him but found out that he wasn't wearing any. Just socks. One red and one blue. Gulping back tears, I took them off. Damon grinned at me drunkenly from the bed. He was trying to undo his buttons, but he only made it worse. I hurried over to help him.

"Thank you." Damon said to me gratefully, "You always…always…take care of me…"

"I'll leave you two alone." Stefan said quietly from the back.

"Yes!" Damon told him loudly, "Please."

Stefan took one last look at us and closed the door behind him. As soon as he was out of the room, I burst into tears. I wanted Damon to be Damon, the careless, self-centered jerk he was. I didn't want him to suffer, and I definitely didn't want to see him like this…

Damon held out his hand to wipe across my cheeks clumsily, "Don't…" He said softly, "Don't cry…Please…"

I caught his hand and held it against my face, "Damon, I've come back."

His mouth twitched, trying to smirk in the way he used to, but failed at the end, "I know. I know you will. I'll…I…wait for you."

Choking back a sob, I climbed into bed next to him, and he happily obliged. I cuddled closer to him and winced at how thin he had gotten. I didn't know vampires could lose weight, but I guess they could when they're really depressed. I don't smell the alcohol anymore. All I smell was Damon.

"I love you." I whispered to him.

His breathing was even, and he did not reply. I thought he'd gone to sleep, but his arm around me tightened and brought me closer to him.

"I love…you…" He breathed into my ear. "And I'm so…so…sorry for…everything." It seemed to take him a year to get a sentence out, "It was all my fault…all my fault… And every night I think about what things could have been if I acted differently… What if I took you and ran from Mystic Falls…? What if I fed you my blood before the…the ritual? What if…I could be the vampire Klaus decided to sacrifice? At least that way…I'd…still be with you."

"Damon…" I felt like crying again even though I wanted so much to be strong for Damon.

"I tried to…to…change." Damon continued, "I tried to change what you've always wanted me to change. I'm…I'm wearing different colors…other than black." He gestured to his bare feet, but gave me a confused look when he saw that he wasn't wearing any socks, "I could have sworn I wore red and blue." He said to me in an almost pouty voice.

"You did." I told him gently while stroking his hair.

"And…" As soon as I confirmed that he did, Damon continued, "I've stopped…stopped feeding on anything alive…Not even animals…"

"Good for you…" I said sincerely.

"I did all I could think of to make you happy…" Damon murmured into my hair, "I thought it'd bring you back…I was certain it would. But it never did."

I tried not to cry so conspicuously as I scooted closer to him.

"And…did you see your puppy? I bought it for you…" Damon was slurring again, and I could barely make out what he was saying, "I keep him in the basement…Maybe that's why he hates me so much. But he would have liked you…He would have…"

Slowly, his voice trailed off and he fell into a deep sleep, his arm still protectively around me. Looking at him, I realized how much I cared for him. I've always cared for Damon, but I had never thought that what I felt towards Damon would surpass what I felt for Stefan. Right now, I was questioning those feelings. I bent down to kiss him softly on the forehead, and the frown he had been wearing slowly disappeared under my lips. I didn't know how long I laid there beside him and cried while stroking his messed-up, un-brushed hair, until I myself drifted into sleep as well beside the man that hasn't been sober since the day I left.

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Needless to say, I slept badly. I got very uncomfortable on my side, but I didn't want to turn and not face Damon. There were many moments when I drifted in and out of dreams, half aware of my surroundings and what happened in this troublesome, dejected world. I finally came completely awake at sunrise and couldn't go back to sleep anymore. Instead, I watched Damon. He looked very peaceful when he was asleep, not the drunken, plastered man I saw yesterday. I was under the impression that vampires didn't need sleep, but I'm guessing that Damon hadn't properly rested in two years.

It was well after noon that Damon finally started to stir. He frowned again, stretched, then finally opened those beautiful yet inert eyes. For a few minutes, he simply squinted at me through the sunlight, not at all shocked that I was lying beside him. I had thought he might have remembered what happened the night before until he clamped a hand to his forehead.

"Ohhhhh…" He groaned loudly, massaging his temples, "I must be so hammered…"

"Damon," I said quietly, laying a hand on his arm gently.

Immediately, he turned around to look at me, a million questions running through his eyes.

"You're not hammered. I'm right here."

Those sharp blue eyes widened in surprise. He watched as my chest heaved from taking quick breaths; something only humans did. He looked at me in disbelief as his gaze traveled to my face once more, as if mesmerizing every single feature. Slowly, his hand came to the side of my face to push away a lock of brown hair. It was then that I realized his hands were shaking.

Damon opened his mouth, but no words came. I tried to speak too yet couldn't for some reason. Instead, I laid my hand on top of his to assure him that I was real, and not another illusion. His hand jerked at my touch, his expression incredulous, as though he couldn't believe that he could actually touch me. It was a while before he could finally get a word out.

"…Elena?" He whispered, his voice croaked.

I gave him a watery smile. I hadn't realized I was crying again. I cried so much last night that my eyes were puffy and swollen, and a part of me had wondered if he could even recognize me. But he, unlike Stefan, did not mistake me for Katherine, for which I was grateful.

"Elena." When I didn't say anything in return, Damon repeated my name, this time with a trembling voice. As he reached over to touch my face, I found myself holding my breath, too nervous to move or say anything. However, Damon's hand hovered in front of my eyes, his shaking fingers inches from my cheek. He couldn't bring himself to touch me for some reason. His lips were slightly parted, and I was under the impression that he was going to say something to me, but still, he remained silent. It was slowly scaring me. True, it was impossible for me to come back from the dead, and I guess he knew that as well. I wanted to explain why I was here, but he didn't give me the chance.

He leaned in and kissed me.

In all my 18 years, I had never been kissed like that. Never. It wasn't a kiss of passion, no, but more of agony and despair. His lips crushed mine powerfully, and I could feel how chapped they were. Our teeth knocked together, but I didn't think either of us noticed. Damon's strong hand crept up to push against the back of my head, making sure I wouldn't pull away from him. He didn't need to do that; I wouldn't have moved away even if the ceiling fell down on us.

I tasted something salty, and realized that one of us must be crying – and it wasn't me this time. I opened my eyes to look at Damon. Even though his eyes were squeezed shut, a tiny trail of water was visible along his cheek. I couldn't believe this. In all the time that I've known Damon, I had never seen him cry. I had never seen him shed one tear.

Finally, after a century – or maybe even longer – we broke apart. I inhaled quickly to catch my breath, and Damon watched me in wonder. It was a while before I realized that we were still in his bed.

"Damon," I said breathlessly as I stood up, "I can explain everything."

Before I could take another step, Damon caught my wrist firmly and refused to let go. I turned to look at him. His eyes were hard.

"How long do you have?" He asked in a hoarse voice.

"I-I don't know. A few days? It depends on the weather."

Damon raised his eyebrows at me. Still holding on to my wrist, he stood up too to face me. There was still disbelief in his eyes as both his hands came up to my face and caressed my cheeks with his thumbs.

"How did you…?" His voice trailed off, unable to finish his sentence.

I knew what he wanted to ask. How did you come back from the dead? How did you manage to be alive again? How did you make your way here? How did you do it?

I wish I could tell him that I, indeed, had come alive again, but I couldn't. It wasn't true. There was no way to reverse death, and both of us knew it. Instead, I told him about traveling through parallel universes. I spoke until my mouth had gone dry, and he didn't interrupt me. As I mentioned how I came to this world, his eyes widened pleasantly in surprise, but unlike Stefan, who was thrilled to discover that I was in fact Elena, Damon's eyes darkened again when I told him I had come from another world.

When I was finished, I could feel Damon's hands on my face become limp. His shoulders sagged evidently to indicate his disappointment.

"So you are Elena," He said, "from another world."

I nodded.

"You don't have…the…the memories of the Elena in this world."

Slowly, I shook my head.

Damon swooped me into his arms so quickly that I needed a moment to understand what just happened.

"I don't care." He murmured against my hair, his arms crushing me, "I don't care. I just…I…"

"Damon…"

"No." Damon suddenly let go of me, almost making me lose my balance, "Elena, it was…it was all my fault. I'm so sorry. I…" He was repeating what he said last night, when he was drunk. He was still apologizing and blaming himself.

Slowly, he knelt down in front of me and hugged me around the waist, "I should have stopped it…I should have done…something…"

"Damon," I tried to speak in an even voice, "Damon, no, it wasn't your fault. Stefan told me what happened. You…You couldn't have stopped it."

Damon shook his head, his arms around me tightening, "No…No, I vowed to keep you safe. I vowed to die before I let anything happen to you, but I… But now you're gone and I get to live. And I just don't understand why…"

My shoulders started to shake as I cried silent tears. I couldn't begin to estimate the pain Damon was in. He blamed himself for my death, but it wasn't his fault. It wasn't. Stefan had told me how Klaus had that witch Greta snatch me from the Boarding House in the middle of the night. She casted a silencing spell so neither Damon or Stefan heard what was going on. No one had realized I had gone missing until Damon got up to check up on me a few hours later, and by the time they found me, it was too late. The ritual was almost finished, and I was long gone. Bonnie failed to bring down Klaus, and Klaus, after compelling everyone in Mystic Falls to never walk out of the shadows of my "sudden departure", had left.

It was nobody's fault, and definitely not Damon's. In fact, I was actually quite moved that everyone worked so hard to protect me. To know that Damon blamed himself for everything made my heart throb painfully.

"Please, Damon…" I knelt down too so I could see his face, and those empty eyes, "Please don't blame yourself."

"I come up with a million ways to save you." Damon muttered at the floor, "But it's all too late."

"Hey." I took his hands in mine, "Damon, look at me. I'm right here."

Damon embraced me again. "You were the best thing that ever happened to me." He said in my ear, "You know that, right? You do know that?"

I nodded, trying my best not to cry again.

"Please…please don't leave me again."

I squeezed my eyes shut as he begged me not to leave. I knew I must one day. I knew I must return to my world. Yet to feel Damon's desperation and misery so intense, I wanted to just stay here in this world forever. I wanted to be here for Damon and Stefan, to mourn for Caroline and Tyler's death, and to finally return to Aunt Jenna and Jeremy, who have been waiting anxiously for my arrival since I "left" two years ago. I thought of how much good I could do here and how much pain I could ease, and I seriously didn't want to go.

But what about your world, Elena? Asked a small voice in my head. Your own world is probably falling apart because you disappeared mysteriously one night. Jenna, Jeremy, Stefan, Damon, Bonnie, Caroline… They're all looking for you. Could you seriously do that to them? Could you just throw your life away to console the people here?

I chose to ignore those thoughts.

"Don't leave." Damon said to me, his expression unreadable. "Promise me."

I wish I could. But somehow, in my heart, I knew that if I did, I would leave him with a broken promise. I couldn't stay. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't. If I stayed to try to make everything right in this world, I would only be making everything wrong in mine. I wish there was a way to bring back the Elena in this world, but I knew there wasn't. You can't reverse death. You just can't.

Instead of answering, I simply held him closer.

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"So, Elena, what do you want to do first?" Stefan asked as he saw Damon and I make our ways down the stairs. There was a spark in his eyes that I definitely didn't remember seeing the day before. It was like someone was slowly blowing life into him again, and I wondered if that someone was me. "Announce you're back in town? Visit Jenna and Jeremy?" He asked eagerly.

There was a sharp stab on my heart when I heard those two names. I wanted to visit them, I really did, but a part of me was telling myself that it'd do more harm than good.

Instead, I took a deep breath and faced Damon, "I…I think I'd like to see my grave." I tried to speak in a nonchalant tone but it came out all wrong. My voice was choked and forced.

Damon's eyes darkened at my request, "Elena…"

"Please." I persisted. I felt like I needed to see it so that I can finally convince myself it was true. It was true that I was no longer in this world anymore. I needed some kind of closure to ensure that the Elena here wasn't coming back. Ever. "Come with me." I added.

Damon closed his eyes. He looked so hurt that I regretted making the request in the first place. He looked like I had just asked him to do the hardest thing in the world, which, I suppose, I did. I looked around at Stefan. His expression was unreadable, but there were deep frown lines on his face. Neither of them thought this was a good idea.

Finally, Damon nodded, "Okay."

"Damon!" Stefan said urgently.

"She's right, Stefan." Damon said in a final sort of voice, "She has a right to know."

It took a while, but Stefan finally agreed in the end. As the three of us went of the Boarding House, I couldn't help but wonder whether I made the right choice or not. Seeing your own grave was bizarre, and I wasn't sure I could take it. But somehow, I needed something to prove to me what happened in this world.

We took the path through the woods to get to the graveyard. I couldn't risk being seen by other people yet. Not when everyone else thought I was out of town instead of…well…dead.

When we finally reached the cemetery, I got a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't want to go in further, and I had to force my legs to move. Damon sensed my uneasiness and came by my side.

"If you want to leave, we can." He told me gently.

I shook my head. "No. No, I need to see this."

Damon nodded again and took my hand. Walking hand in hand with Damon somehow made everything a little better than it was. But it didn't dull the pain of losing Caroline and Tyler. Everywhere I looked, I saw posters after posters of a smiling Caroline, no doubt taped to every inch of this town by Sheriff Forbes. I couldn't imagine what she was going through. But when I thought of her, I thought of Jenna and Jeremy. It physically pained me to know they've been going through the same thing.

When we finally reached my parents' grave, there was so much going through my head that I couldn't even remember why I was here in the first place. Then suddenly the sight in front of me brought me back to reality.

"…There's….There's no grave." I said hollowly to Damon. "I don't understand…"

Damon squeezed my hand, "I'm sorry, Elena. Because we told everyone you skipped town, we couldn't get a headstone for you."

"It would be very conspicuous." Stefan agreed.

"But…" I spluttered, not really sure what I wanted to say.

"But we did something else instead." Damon said quietly.

Following his gaze, I saw a willow tree planted next to my parents' graves, shading them from the direct sunlight.

"Is that…?"

"That's…to remember you." Damon told me. I turned around to look at him, but he was determined to look anywhere but me.

To see the young willow tree standing beside me filled me up with emotions. I was so moved and so touched that Damon and Stefan did something like this for me, but also so sad that it proved my death. I was suddenly very confused. A million questions flooded through my mind, and I couldn't answer any one of them.

I came up to the tree slowly and touched the bumpy trunk. It felt…special to me. It felt…God, I didn't know how to describe what I was feeling.

I raised my head to look at the wickers floating in the wind. On a top branch, there was something craved there. I squinted, but I couldn't make out what it said. I turned towards Damon again with questions burning in my eyes.

Understanding me perfectly, Damon picked me up bridal style and made his way up the tree. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on that particular branch.

"We couldn't give you a headstone…" Damon murmured while tracing the carvings on the branch, "So…"

I bent my head to read the cravings.

Elena Gilbert, 1993-2009.

There was also a poem below it, but I couldn't read anymore. It was all real. I was dead. I couldn't believe this. I didn't know what to do now. I felt so empty, and so depressed. Silently, Damon carried me down again and hugged me close to him. He must have been suspecting this kind of behavior anyway. As I sobbed into his shirt for the millionth time in the last two days, I pictured my life here in this world. I must have been happy. I was dating Damon. I was friends with Stefan, Caroline, and Bonnie. I had a wonderful family. Nothing was wrong until Klaus came along.

I hated Klaus so much at that moment. I've never hated anyone in my life, but now I realized what "hate" was. I hated him for destroying everything I had so thoroughly.

"It's alright…" Damon said comfortingly as he stroked my hair.

But it wasn't alright. I didn't know when I had to leave, but when I do, I'd leave everything in a mess. And Damon and Stefan would have to deal with this whole thing all over again.

"Who else knows about my death?" I asked.

Damon looked a little startled that I would ask such a question.

"Just me, Stefan, and Bonnie."

"I…I want to see Bonnie." I said in a small voice.

Neither Damon nor Stefan spoke. I jerked my head up to look at them; at their pained expressions.

"No." I whispered, "No, Bonnie didn't…Not Bonnie…"

"She's fine." Stefan said quickly. "But…"

"She tried her best to bring down Klaus." Damon explained, "But the spell took too much out of her. She channeled too much power, and by the time she realized that, her body couldn't take it any more…"

I felt like someone had grabbed me around my throat to keep me from breathing. I wished with all my heart that this story didn't end the way Caroline's did.

"She slid into a coma."

"No…" I choked out.

"No, Elena, she woke up a year ago." Damon added, "But…But…" He shot Stefan a glance that seemed to say, "I can't tell her this." But Stefan looked away.

"But what?" I felt like my heart was about to jump out of my throat.

Damon sighed, "But she's lost the ability to walk. She's paralyzed from the waist down."