Well, here it is. The final chapter of TCWM. Thank you so much to all of you that have stuck with this story, especially during my huge hiatus. I really appreciate all of your support and reviews along the way. It's truly the reason I keep writing.

I hope you like the final installment. :)

"How is she doing today?" an unfamiliar male voice asked.

"A little better, I guess. It's hard to tell; really," another unfamiliar voice answered. This one distinctly female.

The sounds were muffled as Elena tried to focus on them. It seemed like she was buried under a shallow layer of dirt and the two voices were having a conversation over top of her. The weight of her body certainly made it seem that way. Her head felt full of lead and the surface of her body ached terribly. Everything hurt and although her curiosity was pleading with her to open her eyes, she kept them locked closed in fear of adding any more pain she wasn't sure she could handle.

"Just keep applying the ointment. At least we know that's having an effect," the male voice said. "We'll just have to go off of faith that the rest of her will heal with the skin."

There was a long pause as Elena tried to listen to anything; just something that would take her mind off of the sensation her body was currently experiencing. It felt as though her top layer of skin was disintegrating while she was alive. It burned everywhere and the feeling was almost enough to make her screech out in agony.

"This is going to destroy him if she doesn't wake up," the female voice finally said softly.

"It won't come to that," the male voice disputed in a tone that suggested he believed in what he was saying. "Just stay positive. I'll be outside with the livestock."

The subdued sound of footsteps filled the air as something cold slipped across Elena's cheek. The relief it brought was remarkable and without being able to stop herself, Elena released a soft sigh.

The cold substance stopped moving across her cheek when the female voice asked hesitantly, "Elena?"

At the moment, Elena had absolutely no desire entering into communication. All she wanted was that chilled substance back against her burning flesh. She remained impatiently silent as the voice spoke up again. "Elena, can you hear me?"

It took all of the strength Elena had inside of her to lift her lids open. Immediately she was blinded by a glare of bright light and her thoughts flashed to the burning inferno she'd been trapped in the last time she'd been conscious. She locked her lids back tight and responsively curled herself into a fetal position.

That was a bad move because as she did, shocks of discomfort attacked her skin. She released something in between a scream and a howl as she tried to fight back the ache.

"You're alright," the female voice soothed. "You're just healing. But you can't make sudden movements like that."

The pain slowly started to subside as Elena relaxed her body and reluctantly opened her lids. The same blinding light filled her vision before it gradually died down, allowing her to take in the petite female beside her. Her hair was an auburn color with streaks of blonde throughout and her eyes were a dull hazel as they peered at her with concern.

"Where am I?" Elena croaked out. But as soon as the question left her lips, she knew her answer. Her eyes roamed the familiar simple design of Bonnie' bedroom as they took in the single dresser against the wall and the tiny bed underneath of her. The only difference was the extra bed that had been moved beside hers.

"A friend's cottage," the female answered. "I've been told you've been here before."

Elena nodded her head apprehensively, hating the way her brain seemed to smash up against the sides of her skull as she did.

"How are you feeling?" the woman asked.

"Like I've been to hell and back," Elena deadpanned. "How did you know Bonnie?"

The woman smiled at her question and answered, "She used to supply me with herbal medicine from her garden whenever I needed it. I live relatively close by and she was really the only friend I had since my husband lived in Tyrus." The female then shrugged her shoulders and added, "She was great company."

"I'm sorry she's gone," Elena supplied earnestly, feeling a little nag in her chest.

"It's alright dear, you did what you had to do," the woman reassured with a comforting smile on her face.

Elena's eyes opened wide at the female's answer, but before she had the time to ask who this woman was and how much she knew, it was already being supplied to her.

"I'm Jenna by the way and I've been taking care of you for the past two weeks. You had us all worried there, but before we get to anything else, I wanted to thank you for what you did for my husband, Ric. He wouldn't have made it out alive without you and Damon's compassion."

Suddenly the memories flew back, bombarding Elena with everything her mind had tried to block out. The battle, the slaves, Damon's blood-drenched face, Elijah's hand on her throat, the fire, and the single black heart thudding against the ground.

The pain was no longer an issue as Elena lifted herself into a seated position and hastily asked, "Damon? Is Damon alive?"

Jenna shot back an inch at Elena's sudden movement, before she recomposed herself and assured, "He's here and he's fine. Luckily for him, vampires heal much quicker than werewolves. Don't worry he's been by your side every day since you've gotten here."

Elena took a few deep breaths to steady the franticly beating heart trapped inside of her ribcage. Relief was all she could feel flowing through her veins before it began mixing with the urge to see him. Her mind could focus on nothing else besides that desire.

"Where is he?" she frantically spat out, very aware that she was being extremely rude, but not giving a damn either way.

Damon was alive, that was all she cared about at that precise moment.

"It's alright," Jenna cooed. "He'll be back any second. He just went to the stream to get you some fresh water to clean your wounds."

"I don't need any water. What I need is to see him," she shouted back. Her mind was in a frenzied tizzy because until she did, the concept was almost unreal. She just needed to see his face for absolute confirmation that their suicide mission hadn't claimed either of their lives.

"And you will; just relax. You're body needs to heal," Jenna tried to reason. But Elena was already swiping her legs off of the bed and attempting to lift herself. She pushed back the searing pain washing over her and instead just focused on Damon's face. So much so, that she didn't even realize the image of him in the doorframe wasn't her delusional mind at all, but really him.

"Elena," he breathed; the sound of it coming out as though she was the answer to all of his prayers.

"Damon," she replied back; mimicking his tone because he was the answer to all of hers.

He set the pale of water onto the wooden floor and glided his way into the bedroom over to her. His hand then lifted to stroke through a few satin strands of her hair as he took her in. The beauty of his features was illuminated in a mixture of relief and gratification as a few tiny droplets of moisture appeared in the corners of his eyes.

They seemed to glow like crystals, setting his black pupils apart like never before, as they swept over her face. "Thank god you're alright," he said in barely above a whisper.

Elena distantly heard Jenna excuse herself from the room, but all she could focus on was Damon. His fingers were slipping feather like down her sensitive skin, but his touch didn't hurt. The chill they provided felt phenomenal as the tips moved tenderly along her cheek bones and jawline. And the heat they supplied in the base of her stomach was other-worldly.

"Thank god you're alright," she finally found the will to reply as her hands swept up to cup his cheeks in her palms.

"Does it hurt?" Damon asked as the pad of his thumb slid down her neck and over her shoulder. The concern on his face was nothing but what Elena expected and she was surprised to notice that with him in her presence, the pain was simply a dull vibration.

"Not that much anymore," she responded softly as her lips lifted into a slight smile.

Then she closed her eyes and inched her face towards his. His lips pressed carefully against hers; lovingly yet gently as they molded together. She was very aware of his hand as it slipped towards the back of her neck and into the nape of her hair. Her body instinctively arched into his as she pressed against his front; adoring the way the ripples down his chest inflamed her insides with lust.

She pressed her mouth more harshly against his as the passion ignited, only to notice the heat wasn't just their desires, but the skin of her lips. The inflammation started to become uncomfortable, but Elena urged herself to push on. She wanted him and she didn't care how sore the surface of her body was because surely the pleasure he'd provide her on the inside would surpass it.

But Damon sensed her discomfort immediately and peeled his lips from hers. His hands slid softly down to the sides of her hips and he held her at an arms distance. She pouted as a ghost of a smile spread across his mouth and he reasoned, "It's okay, we have a lifetime for that. I can be patient while you heal."

Elena closed her eyes for a brief second and let out a disappointed huff. He had a point and she knew he was right, but that didn't mean she approved of the situation. They'd just survived the fight of their lives and both had nearly been lost in the process. And all she wanted to do now was celebrate their victory together in a very specific way.

So she made her way to take a seat on her bed, figuring the position would be a good starting point for where she wanted them to head next.

Then she narrowed her eyes and sliced a conniving smile across her lips as she reminded, "You promised that if we made it through everything, you'd forever make it worth my while."

"And I intend to keep my promise; when you're ready," he refuted softly; making his way to her side and placing a light kiss against her cheek. It sent chills down her spine, but not just from her building arousal. Also, because his cool skin felt amazing against her raw cheek.

"But don't forget you promised the same thing," he added with a soft chuckle.

"And I'm ready to fulfill it now," she whispered; inducing her voice with the most seductive appeal she could produce.

She felt him vibrate at the sound of her voice and for a moment she thought she had him. But then he pulled back and sighed; one of those sighs that made her realize how unfair she truly was being. He was just looking out for her health after all.

"I'll make it up to you later down the road," he finally reasoned in a soft tone. "How about that?"

Elena rolled her eyes, clearly defeated, and declared, "I guess that'll work, but only because you saved my life once again."

"Ah, for saving your life after you insanely tried to step in and save mine," he countered. He clicked his tongue around in his mouth before he continued, "We're going to have to stop this because eventually it's gonna get one of us killed."

He then chuckled softly at his statement before Elena declared, "I could never stop trying to save you."

"Yeah, neither could I," Damon responded with a shrug and his signature grin. "But as much as I'd love to take credit for pulling you out of the fire, I can't. It was all Caroline."

"Caroline?" Elena repeated in shock.

Damon nodded his head in confirmation and explained, "She heard your howls; her and Tyler both. She went to your aid and Tyler came to mine."

"But what," Elena started before she cut herself off. "How'd she make it out alive?"

The heat of the flames stretched across her memory and Elena almost recoiled at the thought. She could barely grasp onto the fact that she'd made it out alive. It seemed extremely brave and almost moronic that anyone would throw themselves into that amount of danger to save another.

"Our skin's much more resilient than yours," Damon explained. "It took only a few minutes and a few sips of Tyler's blood for her to heal."

"And here I sit; just waking up two weeks later looking like my insides have been switched with my outsides," she responded bitterly and instantly regretted it. Of course Caroline had saved her; she would have done the exact same for the vamp. If anything she felt grateful and that should have been the emotion she'd shown Damon.

But Damon didn't judge her for it; he knew her too well to think she actually intended for that jealous edge to surface. "You don't look that bad," he reasoned with a grin on his face that only counteracted his statement. "But you'll heal eventually."

She rolled her eyes at his attempt of a lie. He'd never really been a good liar in her presence. "So that's how you were able to defeat Elijah?" she questioned.

Damon nodded his head and answered, "The only reason we both survived and won is because of those two. We owe them everything."

He then paused as his eyes shifted to the sides of their sockets; obviously deep in thought before he continued. "But yes, Tyler helped me. He was the one who got the heart unfortunately," Damon stated with a scowl on his face. "I would have loved the bragging rights to that story."

Elena thought he looked absolutely adorable with his features scrunched in the middle of his face and couldn't resist the slight smile as it spread across her lips. "I'm sure he'll give you a good cameo when he retells it."

"You give him more credit than I do," Damon scoffed.

Elena narrowed her eyes disapprovingly and countered, "And you're incredibly cynical considering he saved your life."

"Yeah well, he's not exactly on my good side right now," he supplied with a slight cock of his head.

"Has he ever been?" Elena retorted.

Damon seemed to consider this for a second; his lips curling upward on one side with his brows. "Briefly before he took a liking towards Caroline."

"Tyler and Caroline?" Elena spat out incredulously.

"Have been spending quite a bit of time together," he supplied with disdain practically dripping down his face. "Unfortunately, she's taken a liking to him as well. Right now I'm sure they're off picking apples together somewhere."

"Damon," she chastised with a tiny giggle. "You of all people should be supportive of a wolf/vampire relationship."

"And I would be, just not her with him," he practically growled out as his eyes focused on a spot on the floor.

"They deserve the right to be happy too," Elena softly reasoned.

His eyes then lifted from the floor and she could see every bit of the color she'd fallen in love with. They were clear as the sky now as his features softened from the tight scowl they'd previously been set. A smile replaced the thin line set across his lips as he questioned, "Are you telling me you're happy?"

She titled her head slightly to the side and reflected his same smile back at him. "Despite everything; you know I am."

"Good," he responded cheerfully with a quick flick of his brows. "Hopefully that means you'll be alright when I tell you that along with Ric and Jenna, two other vampires will be residing with us here."

Elena felt her eyes widen at the information he'd just flew at her. There were a ton of questions parading through her mind now, but one was the most important. "We're staying here?"

"It's secluded, safe, and right in the heart of the forest. You know how much we've always wanted that," he teased with a devilish twinkle in his eye that Elena couldn't help but laugh at.

"And besides, the magic Bonnie casted on this place makes it the perfect spot for two carriers to hide out. It even seems to magically sprout rooms depending on how many people need to reside here," he added.

Sprout rooms? she thought. Aloud, she conceded, "Alright, you have a point, but who are these two vampires that will be staying with us?"

"Anna and Trevor," Damon answered in a tone Elena was certainly going to have to get used to. He was chipper, entirely more chipper than she'd ever seen him and the feeling was contagious. Even her skepticism seemed to dissipate as he continued, "They both surrendered when Tyler tried to take them down and he didn't have the heart to kill them after that. Anna's a little distant right now since the wolves killed her mother, but Trevor's helped me train my teams for years. I trust him and you can too."

At the sound of his last statement, Elena found herself smiling from ear to ear. The extreme pull on her cheeks hurt a bit, but she didn't mind in the least. "Is Damon Salvatore speaking to me about trust?" she asked in an amused tone.

"What can I say, I've been told I've become somewhat of a softy," he replied in a joking tone as his shoulders rippled the motions of a shrug. He then brought his face towards hers and teased, "I'm rather embarrassed about it actually, so don't go running your mouth to Caroline."

Elena shook her head through the air and crossed her finger over her heart. She tried to keep up the faux serious nature of their discussion, but was finding it more difficult by the second.

"I wouldn't dare," she urged. "Don't worry, you can trust me," she added with the faintest giggle threatening to escape at the back of her throat.

"Oh, I've always known that," he responded with a soft kiss against her cheek, and this time there was no pretending necessary.

The rest of the afternoon and a good portion of the evening were spent informing Elena of what had happened over the past two weeks. Damon supplied her with every piece of information she'd missed. Starting off with the reason Elijah had been so difficult to kill and then moving on to the speech he and Caroline had given the vampire commoners waiting reluctantly outside of the castle. Tyler stressed how important it was for him to speak as well, but they figured it best not to show the werewolves in the audience that he had the ability to change at will. That would have brought up questions they didn't want to supply answers to.

Together; the three of them had stood united before the crowd of mixed species and explained the possibility of a new lifestyle; one where war wasn't necessary.

The werewolves were behind them completely. Elena had been correct when she'd assumed they no longer wanted part of this war. They were simply surviving and had no problem supporting vampires who shared this same notion. That included Damon, which came as a relief. Tyler later informed him that this unlikely support was because they'd seen him take down his own species and had developed a new respect for him. Apparently, anyone that chose the survival of everyone over their own particular species received a check of approval in their books.

The vampires were the ones that took some convincing. They'd lived by a ruler for most of their afterlives and feared that without one, things would turn to chaos. But eventually their opinions swayed and they fell in support behind the werewolves. None of them were trained killers, all of those had perished inside of the castle, and given a choice between a peaceful treaty amongst species and a war they weren't prepared for - well, the choice was obvious. They'd chosen the option that ensured their survival.

It took quite a bit of convincing, mostly from Caroline, but their group was able to leave Tyrus without choosing a new king to rule the city. In this new world, everyone was free to make choices for themselves and Damon swore that option of free-will would never be removed from anyone's lives again. Because they'd devised the impossible; a world where vampires, werewolves, witches, and humans were all equals. A world where each species co-existed with the other in harmony. It was the perfect world; one that had the potential to thrive and so far it had.

As the weeks went on, Caroline and Tyler traveled back and forth to Tyrus; always at night of course, just to check on things. The enormous wooden doors were never reconstructed, offering the city the feeling that it was welcome to anyone who chose to enter.

All four species currently resided in the city and inside of the castle. No ruler had been chosen and instead the population just lived freely. According to Caroline, the residents seemed happy and content with their new lifestyle. Almost as happy as Caroline appeared every time her and her dog returned from their private trips.

Elena slowly healed over time, with Damon adhered to her side every day and night. It took somewhere around a month for her scarred skin to return to its normal olive color and another few weeks for her pain to diminish completely.

She'd made a full recovery; still, Damon never felt fully comfortable leaving her alone. He wasn't sure if it was more for his benefit or hers, but right by her side was where he found himself more times than not. It was where he belonged, he'd known it since the first time her chocolate orbs locked onto his and he firmly believed that longing would never disappear.

As the months passed, the relationships throughout their little home deepened.

Damon and Tyler had somehow buried the hatchet and Damon even found himself considering the wolf boy a friend. His and Ric's friendship was more solid than ever and when Ric had shared the news about the child Jenna was expecting, Damon couldn't have been more pleased for his friend. Apparently, they were hoping for a girl and if this ended up being the case, they'd already chosen the name of Charlotte.

Trevor and Anna had started to share the same bedroom, which was only expected as the time progressed. They were the only unattached members of the household and libidos tend to get a bit rowdy over time.

Elena remained closest with Caroline, of course, and often Damon found himself searching for his girl only to hear she'd gone off with the female vamp for a sword training session. But she'd also developed a close relationship with Anna. Everyone here had lost at least someone from their family during the course of the war, but Elena seemed to offer Anna the most compassion and understanding.

Then there was Damon's relationship with Elena. It seemed to keep sparking over time; never losing the combustion effect it held when they first rediscovered each other. Most of their nights were spent rolling around under the sheets, but occasionally they'd find themselves against one particularly familiar tree.

They were practically inseparable and any fear Damon had about this lifestyle of social confinement disappeared after the first few weeks living in the forest. This was always where he'd felt most comfortable and with her by his side, he'd never felt more content or alive. He was never bored and Elena never failed to keep surprising him. Their desire for the other never faded and it was that thought that made him slip his arm around her now.

They were sitting on the edge of the stream watching the silver liquid flow swiftly between the rocks; the sound of the water soothing as she leaned into him. Her eyes were closed as she nuzzled her head against his shoulder and he watched her breath in the lavish scent of their surroundings. Her face was angelic with the faintest smile reflecting just how content she was in the moment and he couldn't help think that he felt exactly the same way she appeared.

They sat there like that for the longest time, both molded into the other because above anything else, this is what felt the most natural – the most right. And as the sun finally started to set on the horizon, casting streaks of purples and blues between the trees, Elena lifted her head to look at him.

"Do you think it's possible that this is going to last?" she asked; her doe eyes peering up at him with indecision shadowing her features.

"What do you mean?" he skeptically asked. "Us?"

"No, of course not us," she answered with a smile stretched across her lips. The falling sky of night had no effect diming the glow of her radiance as she corrected, "This peace between our species. This world we live in. Do you really think it will stick?"

Damon honestly wasn't sure. When you had two species with the capability to live for eternity; it was hard to predict what could happen. There was just too much time to take into consideration and only that time would tell if their peace stuck.

So, he gave Elena a gentle squeeze and answered, "I'd like to hope so; otherwise everything we did would have been for nothing."

She shook her head slowly through the air and countered, "I don't think that's true." But then she seemed to contemplate this for the longest second before she finally asked, "But what if it doesn't? Would you regret anything we did?"

At that, Damon found himself considering every choice he'd made over the course of their lives. The choice he'd made to save her family that started everything. The choice he'd made to keep his distance because he feared she'd perish. The choice to finally listen to Demetra and give in to his desires. The choice to kill Klaus and escape with Elena. The choice to come back to save Caroline. The choice to ultimately take a stand and destroy those that were limiting the happiness of others in this world. And ultimately, the choice to stand beside Elena throughout all of the others.

He knew he hadn't been the only one to make choices in the past few months; Elena surely made difficult ones on her own. But looking back he honestly couldn't say he regretted a single one.

So he shook his head slightly and smiled at her before placing a kiss against the soft skin of her forehead. "I wouldn't," he declared, "because every choice I made has led me right here to this moment with you."

She reflected the smile still stretched across his lips as hers approached his. They met and molded together, forcing everything beautiful about their surroundings to just fade into oblivion. In reality the kiss was over quickly, but time always seemed to extend unrealistically when their passion ignited. And as a result, Damon was surprised to see the tip of the sun still peaking over the horizon when they broke apart.

He felt Elena's body fall further against his as she nuzzled back into her designated spot on his shoulder. Damon noticed how perfectly she fit against him and understood that, without a doubt, he'd make the same choices again, as long as they resulted in gaining her.

And when Elena finally replied, "I wouldn't either," with conviction strengthening her statement; he knew they had nothing to worry about when it came to their future choices. Because he'd already made the most important one of his lifetime; and he was 100% confident that he'd chosen correctly.

Please read and review. :)

For those of you interested, I've already started writing my next story. It's going to be titled, "How Never Became Forever" and it should be posted within the next day or two.