Elena was in the living room, drinking a glass of Rick's favorite bourbon and thinking about the last 3 months.
After that last call she got from Katherine, she confided in Bonnie about her conversation with the other doppelgänger, about the supposed lead on Stefan and Klaus's whereabouts. The two girls it would be best if they still tried to figure out and get a lead themselves, so they continued working on that with the other part of their Scooby gang as Damon used to call it, though only the two friends knew of Katherine's plan and involvement. So, the search went on and on, always hitting dead-end after dead-end. Every day for 3 months.
Jeremy got a job at the Grill and worked with Matt and the two got closer, for which Elena was more than happy, because they both needed it. Matt for the most part got over his anger and fear of their formerly secret reality and was trying to be as helpful as possible. Caroline's mom also overcame her first feelings and was closer to her daughter than ever. Caroline and Matt got close again after Tyler's funeral. They weren't together, but they had this romantic and cute non - romance going on and everyone was making bets on when they'd get back together. Elena's bet was the party for the start of the school year. Rick… Rick was a mess. Losing Jenna and Damon in the matter of days wrecked him. Even though never said it out loud, he had become pretty much an alcoholic this summer. Every night he'd get so drunk he'd pass out and Elena and Jeremy would have to carry him to his bed. Elena knew she had to talk to him that it couldn't go on like this, but she didn't have the strength. Actually, she felt so exhausted that she didn't know how she went through her days.
The nightmares about Damon's death hadn't stopped. They were accompanied by nightmares about her parents', Jenna's, Isobel's, John's deaths as well, but those about Damon were the most constant ones. Every single night. It was unbelievable how much more she missed him every day.
Of course she missed Stefan, too. Stefan had been the reason she began to love life again after giving up her child and losing her parents. Stefan was her first real love. Stefan was her rock in many times. Of course she missed him a lot. Some days she'd wish he could just be here and tell her it was all gonna be ok.
But missing Damon was so much more. Knowing he was gone for good, knowing he would never smirk again, never drink his scotch again, never make a sarcastic comment again, knowing she'd never see him, touch him, smell him again… Knowing he took his last breath in her arms… It made Elena go crazy. And even if one could take this out of the equation, she missed him. She missed his surprise visits in her bedroom at night. She missed the way he could always see through her. She missed his protectiveness. She missed him calling her out on her shit. She missed those moments when he let his guard and walls down and she saw the true, real, raw Damon. God, she missed him, all of him!
Even if she sometimes hated herself for it, she realized one of the reasons she needed for Stefan to come back is to have some connection to Damon. Because as much as the two Salvatores were different, there had always been something that was so… common in the two of them. Elena knew it was wrong to want Stefan partly as a reminder to Damon, but she didn't care. Not at all.
She now slept in one of Damon's shirts. After a month she had finally been able to go back to the boarding house. The first time she stepped inside she was ready to break down. She did that when she went upstairs in Damon's room. The second she saw the bed she collapsed on it, hugged the pillow that still had a hint of the smell of his cologne and cried till she couldn't breathe. When she put herself together, she took a couple of his shirts, his favorite scotch glass, and a couple of his books. She now read only those books. She now slept only in those shirts. She now drank a bit of liquor only from this glass every night. Some nights she even slept in his bed.
Elena knew that it was probably unhealthy, but she ignored that. She needed that. Because she loved him.
She wasn't really sure what kind of love it was – it was not just platonic, it was not the way she loved Stefan. She wasn't sure when or how it happened. All she knew was she loved him and always would. Just like she'd always love Stefan. And nothing like it at the same time.
All of that was going through Elena's head when she heard a knock on the door. It was after midnight and she was freaked out about who might be at this hour, but something in her told her it was something good. So she took a deep breath and went to open the door. What she saw rendered her breathless.
There, at the door, stood Stefan.
Elena couldn't breathe, couldn't speak. All she could do was pull him in the tightest of hugs and hold on to him for dear life as he held her just as tightly.
After what felt a million years they let go and pulled away, looking at each other, both with tears in their eyes.
'How?' was all Elena could say.
Stefan led them to the couch and caressed her cheek when she sat next to him. Then he smiled a little and said:
Elena smiled too.
'I knew she'd succeed. But how? Where is she? Where is Klaus?'
Stefan took a deep breath and started telling her everything.
'When I went to Klaus, I promised him a decade with him in exchange for his blood. As much as I love you, I didn't think twice before I did it. After I got your message… It was easy to leave with him, Elena. I turned it off. I just… couldn't. I still can't. So I turned it off and left with Klaus. We traveled and killed. And I enjoyed it. Soon I found out he wanted to make hybrids, and I tried to help him. But he was unsuccessful. I figured out it might have something to do with you being alive, but even if my emotions were off, I didn't say anything. We went to Chicago. Turned out I had met Klaus and his sister Rebekah back in the 20s and he compelled me to forget because they were on the run. He let me remember and we awoke his sister because he thought she could be helpful with the hybrids. That is when Katherine found me. At first I told her to get lost. But then she said that you were a wreck, that you needed me. That I didn't have to be Klaus' little bitch. That Damon would kick my ass if he could. And that was like a wake up call for me. Katherine and I started working together to destroy Klaus. With the help of a witch, we managed to contact the original witch, the one who put the curse on Klaus. Turns out it was his mother. She turned all her children and her husband to insure their safety, but after a while realized what she did and regretted it. Klaus killed her and made his siblings believe their father did it. A friend of her, Bonnie's ancestor, helped her and kept her body. Klaus kept her locked in a coffin just like all his daggered siblings. She helped us, we awoke the other Originals, we awoke her and found her husband who had a white oak stake – the only thing that can kill an Original. By then I had left Klaus and he was hunting us all down. We worked together to defeat Klaus. We were all working on a plan, or at least we thought so. Esther performed a spell that linked all the siblings so that if one died, they all would die and one of them, Finn, was helping and the plan was for her to kill him and for them all to die. But it also meant all vampires would die, because we all originate from them. Elijah helped us stop Esther and Finn. Katherine and I, we killed Esther with the help of Katherine's witch, and made everyone believe she left to find another way to get rid of all vampires. Finn didn't believe us, but he got killed soon after, Klaus killed him. After that, we found a spell that allowed us to… mortify Klaus. It's the same spell that was used on Mikael, the father of Klaus and the others. We took him down. He's… petrified, frozen and buried deep in the ground and the place is spelled, so he can't be woken up. Elijah and the others left the country and I got his word we'll never hear from them again. That was a month ago. After that, I was free to come back. But I didn't instantly. I still had problems with the bloodlust and Katherine had to help me get in control. And also… I wasn't ready. To come back here, where it all started. Where Damon and I were born and raised, where we died and turned, where we became brothers again and where he died… I am still not completely ready, but I am ready enough to come back to you. I… I missed you so much, and I couldn't do any of it without thinking about you. I need you in my life to be able to… go on and live in a world where my brother doesn't exist. Cause with him gone, if I don't have you near, I have no reason to live.'
Elena listened carefully through every word Stefan said and let it all sink in. Klaus was gone for good. Stefan was back…
'Stefan, I… I don't know what to say. I can't even process it all except that fact that Klaus is gone and you are here… The rest is just a blur and right now it doesn't matter to me. You're back, you are here and… God, I missed you!' she said before pulling him for a long waited kiss. He kissed her back with the same longing, need, love and gratitude as she did. No words were needed – they said it all with that kiss.
When they went to Elena's bedroom, she put on Damon's shirt she slept in and laid next to Stefan. He hugged her, not questioning why his girlfriend slept in his brother's shirt. He… got it. They laid in silence for a long time, just reveling in the feeling of having the other beside them. But the silence was heavy with the weight of an inevitable topic lingering in the air.
It was Elena who first addressed it.
'He… He wanted me to tell you he was sorry. He didn't say it, but I know he wanted you to know he loved you. So much, Stefan… I am sure he wanted you to be there, but he understood you were fighting for him.'
Stefan tightened his hold on Elena, before speaking with raspy voice.
'I… When Klaus ordered Katherine to take the cure to him, I thought she would never do it. I thought she would just take off to Brazil. And when I got your text and read 'Katherine came'… I have never felt such joy in my life. But then… At first I couldn't process it. But then… Then I remembered watching him walk through the cemetery and disappearing in the horizon and… I turned it off that very second, Elena. I… I couldn't. I still don't know how I will get through every day. He's… was my brig brother. He taught me how to get on a horse when we were little. He told me stories about our mother even if I could see how much it hurt him. He stayed with me when I had nightmares. He protected me. He… Even after we turned and he had sworn to make my life miserable he still had my back. He was the only constant thing in my life. We may have done so much to hurt each other, but… He was still my brother, my best friend, even when he was my worst enemy. And… I told him I loved him just once in our whole lives. I was 4 and it was Christmas. He gave me some toy of his I really wanted, and I said I loved him. But our father then said that we were going to be real men and real men don't do sentimentalities, especially with one another. And unlike Damon, I wanted to please him. So I not once again in our human life told him I loved him. And after we turned… It was so complicated. Or so we thought. I am so stupid. I should have fought harder for his forgiveness. I should've told him I loved him…'
'He knew, Stefan. Just like you knew that despite all, he loved you and that he'd die for you.'
'Did he… Was he…'
'I think he was in peace. He blamed himself for what he had done, and I told him I had forgiven him everything. He… kind of admitted he missed being human, or at least his human self. He told me he wished I had met him when he was human cause I would've liked him then, and I told him the truth – that I liked him just like he was, good and bad.'
Stefan smiled a little.
'I am so glad you were with him. He loved you so much, you know that, right?'
Elena left out a sight and smiled through her tears.
'I do. And I love him. I don't exactly know how, in what way or what it means, but I love him, Stefan.'
"I know, and it's ok.'
The next morning Stefan and Elena were woken up by Jeremy. Everyone gathered in the Gilbert house to welcome Stefan back. It was the first time in a long while when everyone was smiling genuinely. Even Rick was in a good mood. It was the first ray of light after a long darkness. After a kind of celebration, everyone got back home, Jeremy went to work and Rick decided to finally get that much-needed haircut. Stefan and Elena were left alone and Elena decided to ask him something that was important to her.
'Where is Katherine?'
'She is in Mrs. Flowers' B&B. She said she wanted to stay for a few days and then she'll be leaving. I offered her to stay at the boarding house but she refused. Why?'
'I want to see her and talk to her.'
'If you are worried about the month she and I…'
'It's not that, Stefan. It may sound weird but… We bonded. We have some sort of understanding and she gets some things no one else can. And I wanna talk to her. Also I wanna thank her. After all, she's the reason you are here.'
Stefan just nodded, though Elena could see that her words surprised him, but as always, he gave her freedom to make her own choices.
'I will go see her now and I will call you later.'
Elena knocked on the door of Katherine's room and in response heard 'You know I heard you when you were downstairs, don't you?' which she took as 'come in'.
Katherine was drinking a glass of wine (or at least that's what Elena chose to believe cause it would've been way too disgusting if it was blood), sitting on the edge of the bed. Elena sat in the chair across of her.
'So, did you show Stefan last night how much you had missed him?'
'It's none of your business, Katherine.'
'I'll take that as a no. Not gonna say I am surprised though. After all, you are miss Goodie two shoes.'
'Cut the crap. It's not what I am here for. I wanna say thank you.'
There was no need to specify what for, they both got it.
'Hey, I got a pretty good deal out of it too. Finally not running from Klaus after 500 years. That is something.'
'Don't act like you did it just for yourself. I know part of it was for revenge, and part of it was for you, another for Stefan, but I know it was also for me. And you brought Stefan home without making a move on him, even if he's the man you love. So don't lessen what you've done and accept my gratitude. So, thank you, Katherine.'
The vampire tried to smirk, but instead a real smile appeared on her face.
'You are welcome, Gilbert. But don't let it spread, it will ruin my reputation.'
'Not a chance – you may do good, but you are still a bitch.'
'And what are you gonna do now?'
'Stay around a few days, take care of some things. Then probably gonna go to the Bahamas. 500 years and I still haven't been there. About time to change that.'
Elena nodded. She was about to stand up and leave, when she stopped herself and turned to Katherine again.
'I know it's not gonna be easy with us looking the same and all, but you can stay longer if you want to. You are welcome at my home, and at the boarding house too.'
'What, are we BFF-s now?'
'No. But you are a friend. And you should know you are always welcome here.'
'Thanks, but no thanks. I do what I have to do and then I am out of here. Have freedom to enjoy.'
'As you wish. But the offer is always on.'
With that Elena stood up and headed to the door. She stopped though and once again turned to Katherine.
'Can I ask you something?'
'You just did.'
'Why didn't you make a move on Stefan? You had the perfect chance. You spent months with him, you were kind of his savior, and then you spent 1 month just the two of you. I know you love him, so I am wondering.'
Katherine raised her eyebrows and smiled bitterly.
'You know why. The same reason your bed didn't see any action last night.'