AN: I'm very, very sorry for leaving you hanging like this! It was almost as if my brain decided that the story was finished, and couldn't be bothered to give up anything more. But since so many of you asked for an epilogue, and I really wanted to write one, here goes: the epilogue. I hope some of you are actually still out there to read this...
Also, a big hug to my dear beta Shadowfaxangel for making this long journey with me! And to my readers, a warm call to read Shadowfaxangel's first story. Please, check it out and leave her a kind word!
Especially for kjewls, as a thanks for her amazing, always inspiring reviews, I put in an actual Dawson's Creek quote somewhere in here ;) I know how much you love your parallels, Julie!
And so, here's the epilogue to Shadowdancing... Enjoy, one last time!
The next morning...
When Elena left the boarding house, dressed in clothes she'd been lucky enough to have scrounged up in Stefan's room, her phone started playing the Kesha-song that Caroline had put in Elena's phone especially for her. She fished the phone out of her bag, and noticed that she had about 10 unread textmessages. Oops.
As soon as she held the phone to her ear, she heard a high-pitched squeak, "Finally! You couldn't have let me know you were okay? I sent you like a gazillion messages!"
"Uh... I was kind of busy..." Elena felt herself blushing. It was lucky that Caroline couldn't see her face.
But Caroline wouldn't be Caroline if she didn't immediately go for the heart of the matter. There was a clear note of amusement in her voice when she said, "Hmm, I see! So you and Damon made with the hot make-up sex all night, and you just forgot about everything else?"
"Um... First we had the mother of all fights, but yeah, I guess you could say we kissed and made up," Elena admitted, then added mischievously, "Several times, to be exact..."
Caroline giggled at Elena's uncharacteristic lack of discretion, "He's good, isn't he?"
Way to be reminded that Caroline had been there, done that too. Elena scowled and muttered, "Please, Caroline! A friend with a good memory is quite insupportable in this case!"
"What can I say? The compulsion wore off when I died! I can't help but remember stuff, you know," Caroline said candidly before changing the subject, "Anyways, it's good that you picked up this time, because I was almost on my way over to check on you. When you didn't answer your phone, I was starting to think Damon might really have eaten you!"
"Well..." Elena chuckled at Caroline's choice of words, her hand drifting unconsciously up to her neck to touch the bite marks that had healed completely, courtesy of Damon's blood.
Elena heard Caroline's swift intake of breath before she asked suspiciously, "You let him feed from you?"
"What if I did? He's got it under control, Care!" Elena protested.
"I suppose, but… um… It seems there's more to biting than just the feeding, Lena..." Caroline cautioned.
"I know. Damon told me," Elena hesitated for a fraction of a second. "I really wanted him to do it, Care. It was amazing..." Her voice turned dreamy, "... and he tasted so... I never thought..."
"What? You so didn't!" Caroline squealed so loud that Elena had to hold the phone away from her ear. "He made you drink his blood?"
Elena replied softly, "I asked, Care. I wanted to. So, so much. And he made me fly to the moon and back... It was just that kind of feeling."
Caroline was silent for a moment, taking it all in, "So, are you guys now like... the fangy equivalent of married?"
Elena thought about that for a moment, "Hmm, I don't know if I'd go that far, but I guess that we do have some kind of bond now…" Then she conceded with a smile, "Well, until death do us part... That bit seems to be the same. One way or another, that's when the bond breaks anyway."
"Um... I suppose congratulations are in order then?" Caroline inquired uncertainly. Then she snickered, "Hey, you should throw a party! Invite some friends! Cut the cake!"
"Caroline!" Elena warned. She could almost hear the wheels turning in Caroline's head.
Caroline sulked a little, "But it's been so long since I got to organize a nice, big party..."
Elena considered. Perhaps she'd better throw Caroline a bone? She'd never hear the end of this otherwise... "Um, Care, why don't you throw me a birthday party instead?"
"But your birthday is still two months away!"
Elena laughed, "That should give you sufficient time to plan. I'll be expecting to celebrate my coming of age with a bang!"
"And so you shall!" Caroline exclaimed, already mentally compiling the guest list.
"Can we have dancing too?" Elena cajoled.
Caroline gave a hoot, "Dancing? Don't you mean sexy times on the dance floor with one Damon Salvatore? I'm sure that can be arranged!"
She sobered suddenly, "Remember when I warned you about Damon, before the contest? I was right, wasn't I? You didn't stand a chance… While you were busy watching your feet, Damon just danced his way into your heart..."
Elena merely smiled.
Two months later…
"So… Stefan is really gone this time," Caroline mused as she handed the piece of paper back to Elena after perusing it carefully.
The final days of August were upon them now, and the weather had decided to make an effort for Elena's birthday party. It was a sultry evening, and the air was humid with the first traces of autumn, turning the sliver of moon and the starry sky over Mystic Falls slightly blurry.
Caroline and Elena were sitting alone on barstools at the bar that had been improvised on the flagstone terrace leading off the Salvatore Boarding House, waiting for people to arrive for the party that Caroline had singlehandedly put together. There was food, drinks (liberally spiked with liquor, courtesy of a little compulsion by Caroline) and even a real salsa band. Caroline had had all summer to plan, and she'd gone all out on this one.
Elena silently accepted the thick, slightly off-white sheet of paper, her eyes scanning the curly handwriting that filled it. Not that she hadn't read the letter enough times by now to know its contents by heart…
My dearest Elena,
First of all, I need to apologize for leaving without saying goodbye to you. Again. I thought it was for the best. I never wanted to cause you pain; and yet I still ended up hurting your fragile body and your beautiful soul. I couldn't face you with that knowledge, because nothing I can say or do will ever make it right. I do not dare ask for your forgiveness, even if I still hope you might be willing to forgive me someday.
For now, I'm taking a page from Damon's book. I'm going to try and learn how to control my bloodlust, because I can no longer allow it to control me. It's something I should have done a long time ago. Like a 150 years ago. But it seems I've had to learn my lesson the hard way. It took losing you to make me finally understand what Damon has been telling me for so long now. A vampire drinks human blood. It's who we are; it's in our nature.
It's time I came to terms with the fact that I am no longer human, that I will never be human again, no matter what I do. For the longest time, I tried to hang on to my humanity by pretending to be as human as I possibly could, because I thought nobody would ever be able to love a vampire. We aren't very lovable creatures…
But Damon never tried to hide his true nature. And yet you love him, despite the fact that he's a vampire; maybe you even love him a little because of it? And he loves you. Never doubt that, Elena.
However much it pains me to admit it, you loving Damon can only mean one thing… I was wrong. It's not what you are that makes you unlovable; it's who you are…
I will always regret losing you, but I have only myself to blame. Don't think I don't deserve this, because I do. Fate has finally dealt me the hand that I've had coming. I forced my brother to turn, thereby taking away his chance to choose this life for himself. It's strangely fitting that, even being a vampire, he turned out to be the better man in the end. Whereas I, who entered into this sorry state with my eyes wide open, have been blind ever since, and it has cost me everything. I see that now. I tried to be something that I am not; I never gave you a chance to get to know the real me. I only showed you the mask of Stefan Salvatore, the vampire who would be human… What an epic failure he turned out to be. He was never real…
Let's face it. I can't change what I am. I'll be a vampire for all eternity, and I will have to learn to accept all that that entails: the never-ending rollercoaster ride of emotions, the insatiable hunger, the incessant craving for human blood… The idea of living forever is simply insupportable if I can't learn how to control all that. Being in control would mean I can feed without killing, that I don't have to kill if I don't want to.
It's possible. Damon knows how to do it; he's a vampire who drinks human blood, but he's choosing not to kill for it. He's doing it for you, Elena. But whatever the reason, I want to be able to make that choice too. I want to change who I am, so I can finally stop living a lie. I want to get rid of this counterfeit facade of humanity that no longer fits me, and learn to just be myself, Stefan Salvatore, vampire. I know it will be hard, but I have no choice. I have to change; otherwise, I might as well take off my ring and meet the dawn.
So this is where we part ways, Elena. I'm leaving Mystic Falls, maybe not forever, but at least for a long, long time. I'll understand if you never want to see me again, and I'll respect your wish. But if you should ever change your mind, just ask Damon. He'll know where to find me. I wish you all the happiness in the world, and remain,
"Elena?" Caroline interrupted Elena's thoughts as she sat staring blankly at Stefan's letter. "Do you really think he's gone for good this time?"
Elena replied quietly, "Looks like it..."
"Hey, birthday girl! Why so glum? You've been complaining for over a month that it was all kinds of weird having him locked in the basement at the boarding house. Well, he's not there any longer; you and Damon can get as loud as you want now," Caroline said with a wink, taking a sip of her girly-colored drink and deftly avoiding the pink cocktail parasol.
Elena blushed and chided softly, "You know that wasn't the only reason I was uncomfortable, Care."
Caroline pursed her lips at Elena's soft-spoken words, "I know, Elena. But you have to admit that it's awkward… Having an ex with majorly upgraded hearing in the house is bound to put a serious damper on your love life with his brother… in every meaning of the word."
When Elena looked at her crossly, Caroline looked a little contrite and said, "Sorry, sorry! You know me. My mouth has a tendency to be quicker than my brain. So why aren't you happier that he's gone?"
"I'm not sure. I think I'm just surprised that he went off without a word..." Elena replied uncertainly, not sure whether she really would have wanted to see Stefan before he left.
Caroline raised an eyebrow, "You could always have gone into the basement and talked to him, you know. He wasn't exactly going anywhere. Why wait until he's gone to let your conscience get the better of you?"
"I know," Elena grumbled, annoyed at herself. "I just couldn't bring myself to go and see him, figuring he'd be there another day. And now, suddenly, he's gone and I..." She trailed off.
Caroline watched her for a second, then said kindly, "And you worry about what he's going to do now that he wants to learn how to embrace his inner vampire..."
"I guess," Elena admitted with a shrug. "I'd feel better just knowing where he is, though."
Caroline squirmed on her stool and pointed at the letter, "You can always ask Damon. It says here that he knows, right?"
"Yes, but I don't want to ask him," Elena fiddled with the fabric of her white dress and avoided Caroline's gaze. "He still gets a little growly whenever I bring his brother up in the conversation, so I'd rather avoid that particular topic for the time being…"
Caroline was silent for a moment. Then she seemed to suddenly make up her mind. In a whisper that was so quiet that Elena almost didn't understand, she said, "Cuba... He's gone to Cuba."
Elena's eyes widened as she processed that information. When she found her voice again, she exclaimed, "Cuba? How do you know?"
Caroline's face fell a little. She fidgeted and looked away from Elena, who extended her hand to lay it on Caroline's leg comfortingly, "Hey, Care, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you, and I'm glad you told me. I was just a little surprised that you… I mean..."
Caroline looked up and searched Elena's face before replying quietly, "He told me when he came to my house last night, to ... to apologize. He said he'd always liked me, and that he was sorry for what he did to me ... that night," She bit her bottom lip, worrying it between pearly white teeth before continuing, "He thanked me for helping Damon take care of him while he was... um... "
She trailed off, unsure how to refer to Stefan's recent bout in the Salvatore's basement, and Elena patted her hand, "It's okay. You did do that, even after what he did to you, so he should be thanking you..." She thought about that for a moment, then frowned, "Why Cuba though?"
Caroline expelled a relieved breath, glad that Elena seemed genuinely okay with it. She really must have moved on from Stefan then. Her impish smile quickly returning to her lips, she said lightly, "He's gone there to take dancing lessons..."
Elena's mouth fell open this time. Finally she spluttered, "You've got to be kidding me!"
Caroline laughed out loud at Elena's incredulous expression and her voice was filled with mirth as she confirmed, "Nope. He said that it obviously worked for his brother, so he wanted to see whether it might not do something for him too. Besides, he needs something to take his mind off the bloodlust while he learns how to control it."
"That's true, I guess, but... dancing? He said he hated to be on public display!" Elena was still not buying it.
Caroline shrugged, "Perhaps that was the old Stefan? I'm sure Carmencita will be able to- "
Elena interrupted her at the mention of the pretty salsa teacher, "Whoa! What? Carmencita? What does she have to do with anything?"
Caroline smirked, "Damon suggested that Stefan pay her a visit. It seems that she knows about… " Caroline looked about her, but even though they were still alone on the terrace, she discreetly pointed at her teeth, "… and she said that if she couldn't have one Salvatore, she'd gladly make do with the other…"
Elena shook her head, unsure how she was supposed to feel about that. Unbidden, a tiny smile curved her lips as she imagined starchy Stefan being ordered about by the curvy, vivacious salsa teacher. She'd give him a run for his money, that one! Perhaps Damon was right in sending Stefan there? Only time would tell, but she did feel better knowing that Stefan wasn't just brooding in a dark corner somewhere alone.
Caroline watched the expressions flit across Elena's face. When Elena finally looked up again, she seemed prepared to accept the situation, and Caroline remarked, "So, that leaves the path wide open for you and Mr Sexy Salvatore to walk into the sunset together, hmm? How's that working out for you by the way? You seem happy..."
Elena's expression took on a faraway look, and she smiled dreamily, "Oh, I am. I never thought..."
Caroline suddenly looked behind Elena and breathed, "Oh, boy…"
Elena started, "What?"
Caroline kept looking over Elena's shoulder, her smile growing wider. She chuckled, "Oh, just enjoying the view…"
Elena turned around to the glorious sight of a dark-haired, dark-clad man in closefitting leather pants and a figure hugging black t-shirt sauntering up to them, a cocky grin on his lips.
"Hello, Elena, Caroline. See something you like?" Damon purred as he halted before them with toothy smile.
"Mmm, yummy leather pants. For me?" Elena murmured, her eyes fixed on the gleaming leather.
"That's my cue to leave," Caroline quickly slid off the barstool and disappeared without another word.
"All for you, " Damon said in reply to Elena's question. He looked down and plucked her hand from her lap, lazily raising it to his mouth. She licked her lips when he flipped it around and pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist, right over her crazily racing pulse. Her eyes widened when she felt his warm tongue lightly graze her skin.
His eyes lowered, long lashes brushing his cheeks, but Elena's gaze was unblinkingly trained on him, as unable to tear herself away as if she'd been hypnotized. Damon went on to languidly kiss the palm of her hand, causing a flutter in the pit of her stomach that felt like a thousand butterflies had taken up residence there and were fighting to get out.
When he suddenly looked up at her from underneath his lashes, his eyes were hot. The impact of those piercing baby blues was like a physical caress as he murmured, "Happy birthday, my love..."
His thumb was rubbing slow circles in her palm, and she could feel herself slowly melting as warm tingles spread through her body. He pulled on her hand, very gently, as if he wanted to draw her in, and she leaned forward, entranced. Their mouths met and fused together, and they exchanged a strangely dreamlike kiss, a sweetly intense meeting of lips, hearts and minds. His other hand cupped her jaw, and he leaned into the kiss, his tongue slipping into her warm mouth...
Her eyes drifted closed, and her free hand came up of its own accord, to wrap around his neck, bringing him closer to deepen the kiss that made her hungry for more, much, much more. Her mind started to drift, imagining stripping Damon's toned body of his t-shirt, placing a trail of kisses down his chest, all the way down to those leather pants that fit so tight they seemed almost spray painted onto his body…
The sound of an amused cough broke them out of their intimate cocoon. Elena blinked as she felt Damon draw away from her, and for a moment she was confused, having lost track of where she was for a while. Then reality snapped back into place...
Her birthday party. She looked around her, to see that they were suddenly surrounded by smiling, familiar faces. There was Caroline, once more sitting on the barstool next to her, a Cheshire cat smile on her lips as she watched them. Ric, winking conspiratorially at Damon as he casually slung one arm around Jenna's shoulders; a Jenna who was clearly still undecided on where she stood on the topic of her now-ex-ward's new boyfriend. Jeremy, long limbs slightly awkward as he lounged against the bar and surreptitiously tried to catch blushing Bonnie's eye (what was going on there?). Matt and Tyler hanging further back, both of them seemingly vying for Caroline's attention (what was going on there?)...
All eyes were on her, and Elena blushed profusely at the way she'd completely forgotten about her surroundings. To think she'd been imagining... Oh, god! She was shameless. Not that Damon was entirely without blame, since his mere presence was enough to turn her on, and one look at the smirking devil by her side told her that he was very well aware of it!
Her high color didn't really diminish as she accepted all the birthday hugs and kisses, because too many of her friends were wearing entirely too knowing smirks, as if they could all read her mind and knew exactly that her naughty brain had been about to stray into NC-17 territory…
When all the birthday wishes had been accepted and her friends started wandering off looking for drinks and food, Damon leaned against the bar next to her, his voice a low purr in her ear, "Not that you aren't pretty in red, because you are, but you could give a fire-engine a run for his money... What are you thinking about to be blushing so prettily, Elena?"
As if he didn't know, the blackguard! She'd get him back for that! She gave his black leather pants and closefitting, black tee a thorough once-over, and raised dark, lust-filled eyes to his. The obvious direction of her thoughts instantly sent Damon's mind spinning out of control.
He groaned and whispered, "Seriously, Elena! Keep looking at me like that, and I'll move this bit of your birthday bash upstairs and turn it into a party for two!"
Elena had recovered her composure by now. She raised an eyebrow in perfect imitation of the vampire next to her, and retorted, "Seriously, Damon! It's my party. I can't disappoint Caroline by disappearing so soon!"
She cast a furtive look about her to make sure there were no supernatural ears anywhere in the vicinity to overhear her as she lowered her voice and murmured impishly, "Later… who knows? I shouldn't have to remind you that anticipation is the purest form of pleasure..."
He frowned a little as he unexpectedly felt her hand caressing his butt cheek through the soft leather, "Just what game are you playing, Elena?"
Elena gave him a wide smile and said in husky tones, "Why? Do you wanna play with me?"
"Always, Elena," His voice was just a breath in her ear, "Tell me. What are the rules of this game?"
Her finger slipped underneath his shirt, unseen by anyone, and she ran a manicured fingernail along the edge of his pants, sounding uncannily like Katherine for a moment, "No rules, Mr. Salvatore. No rules..."
The slow smile that lit up Damon's features made a frisson of excitement run down her spine. He noticed her shiver and purred, "God, Elena. I've totally corrupted you, but you are absolutely delicious... No rules it is! Be prepared to lose!"
Elena raised an eyebrow, "What makes you so sure I'll lose?"
He smiled smugly and did his eye-thing, making her stomach do somersaults, "Because I'm gorgeous, and irresistible, and you simply can't say 'no' to me..."
Elena rolled her eyes in mock-exasperation, but her smile betrayed her, "You are cute, Damon, but your ego needs several ZIP-codes! It's way too big for poor little Mystic Falls!"
Damon hadn't heard anything beyond her first words. "Cute? I'm so not cute! Have you met me?"
The salsa band had now finished tuning the instruments, and struck up its first song of the night. Elena slid off her chair and grabbed Damon's hand to drag him onto their temporary dance floor under the stars. He came willingly, taking in the elegant lines of her simply cut, little white dress and her extremely high-heeled white pumps that made her legs seem endless and gave her a somewhat coltish appearance. The white material contrasted beautifully with her olive skin, making her stand out like a fresh flower between the gothic-styled youth of Mystic Falls with their clear preference for black on black, livened up only by the occasional splash of imperial purple or adventurous grey. Was it any wonder this town was attractive to vampires? They already got their color schemes matched…
The wooden floor underneath the multicolored strings of party lights was still empty, but Elena didn't seem to care. She turned towards him with a mischievous smile, "Oh, I've met you alright! You're cocky, arrogant, conceited, but…"
Damon was quick to take hold of her hand and draw her flush against his body in a single tug. "But you love me anyway."
She smiled into his eyes, "I do. I love you just the way you are…"
The pace of the music quickened, and they couldn't talk anymore, but their bodies spoke louder than words when they moved through the intricate steps of the dance as if each knew the other's next move before it was made. They were poetry in motion, so engrossed in each other that neither of them noticed the lonely figure that was watching them dance from the shadow of the distant trees, blinking furiously to keep unwelcome tears at bay.
When the music slowed, they did too, their movements turning languid and sensual. Damon's eyes had gone an enchanting shade of bluish-green under the artificial lights, but they were just as intense as ever, and filled with emotions that made Elena tremble as he said softly, "I love to dance with you, Elena. If only this would never have to end…"
She swallowed and looked up, hopeful eyes raised up to his face, "It doesn't have to end, you know…"
Damon's eyes widened a fraction in surprise, and his voice was rough with feeling when he said, "You mean…?"
"I want to dance with you forever, Damon…" The whispered words hung in the still air between them, until Damon crushed her body to him. Under the distant trees, only the leaves moved in the breeze.
AN: And so, that was it. I can hardly believe this 'little' story has kept going for so many chapters (some of you know that I was aiming for something like 20-25 LMAO), but my little summer fling with Delena turned into a full fledged romance that lasted all through autumn and well into the winter. I enjoyed myself immensely writing this, and thank you so much to everybody that has been reading, alerting, adding to favorites, and especially reviewing! I must have told you before, but it's true that this story wouldn't have gone on as long as it has if it hadn't been for all of your wonderful feedback! :D
And so, if you liked it, please leave me one last review on this chappie? Or drop me a word on the whole story… I'd really like that. Thanks again, and perhaps we'll meet again someday ;)
BTW, you can also follow me on Twitter. I'm val_victrix :-)