EPILOGUE: 2 WEEKS LATER
"So, what do you think?" Elena smiled as she stepped out of the dressing room and spun around quickly for the judging committee—aka Bonnie and Caroline.
"Wow," Caroline whistled, raising an eyebrow in admiration. "You look hot."
Elena rolled her eyes, feeling self-conscious as several people turned to look at them. "Keep it down," she chastised, "Before they kick us out of the store." She paused, "Though, I'm surprised they haven't kicked us out already, considering how many outfits we've tried on without actually buying anything."
Bonnie grinned, "Don't blame Caroline for speaking the truth. You look amazing, Elena." Her gaze slid to the right, where several shoppers kept glancing over at the three girls. "See, that guy over there is even checking you out."
Caroline giggled, "You mean the guy whose wife is glaring at us?"
Elena felt her cheeks heat up, and she placed her hands on her hips. "Well, maybe they're all checking the two of you out, ever think of that?"
Caroline covertly smoothed down her silky emerald green summer dress. It was fitted so that it flared at her hips and ended just above her knees. "I think I'll get this," she decided, turning to Elena and adding, "See? We're buying stuff."
Elena only shook her head and turned back to Bonnie, "What about you? Are you getting that top?" When Bonnie looked uncertain, Elena wheedled, "Oh come on, it looks great on you. Doesn't it, Care?"
Caroline looked over Bonnie, studying the top with a calculated gaze. It was a grey and black patterned halter top with a plunging neckline that she had complemented with a short grey blazer and dark jeans. "Perfect," Caroline concluded after a few moments, causing both Bonnie and Elena to laugh.
"I'll get it," Bonnie said slyly, "But only if Elena gets her outfit, too."
"I will, but I'm gonna have to put the boots back—"
"What?" Caroline protested, "No, the boots are essential to the hotness of the outfit!"
Elena sighed, looking at herself critically in the mirror. She was wearing black skinny jeans tucked into knee-length black leather boots, paired with a dusky pink formfitting sleeveless shirt that was layered with black lace. "Well, it does seem essential," she admitted, "But it's way too expensive."
"Don't worry about it," Caroline said immediately, "I'll just pay for it on my card and you can pay me back later, okay?"
"No, I couldn't—"
"No excuses," her friend said airily, "Come on, let's go make the shop owner happy by spending tons of money." Elena eventually nodded, and turned to go back into the dressing room when Caroline exclaimed, "Wait! Where are you going?"
"To…change?" Elena said confusedly, "What's the problem?"
"We should just, um, keep these outfits on," Bonnie said haltingly, "Right, Caroline?"
"Yes," Caroline agreed enthusiastically, "I'll tell the shopkeeper to cut off the tags and stuff when we pay. Come on."
Elena didn't really see the point in this, but she followed her friends to the register nonetheless. While Bonnie was paying for her outfit, Caroline stopped Elena from rummaging through her purse. "It'll be easier if I just swipe my card for both of us. You can pay me back later, okay?"
"If you're sure," Elena said hesitantly. While they waited for the cashier to finish removing the security tags, she asked expectantly, "So, what do you guys wanna do next?"
Caroline peered outside, "Well, it's getting dark out…dinner?"
"Sounds good. The Grill?"
"Of course," Bonnie smiled and linked arms with her two friends as they walked back to the parking lot. A group of guys walked by, calling out to them.
Elena ignored them, but Caroline grinned proudly, "Told ya we looked hot."
Twenty minutes later, Caroline had parked the car across the street from The Grill. They had just reached the front door when Elena noticed the missing 'We Are Open' sign. "That's weird," she commented to Caroline and Bonnie, "Do you think they're still open?"
"Sure," Caroline dismissed, "When are they ever not?" She reached around Elena to pull on the door handle, swinging it open, "See?"
Elena stepped into the room, her eyes trying to adjust to the darkness. She stopped for a second, a feeling of growing apprehension coming over her. "Yeah, I can't see anything...maybe we should just leave and go somewhere else."
"Caroline?" Elena spun on the spot, her heart beginning to pound. "Bonnie? Are you guys there?" There was no response, and Elena had just begun to take a step backwards to hightail it out of there when several of the overhead chandeliers flickered on.
Elena jumped at the sudden noise, her mouth dropping open in shock as she stared in disbelief at the small crowd gathered in front of her. "What—" she sputtered weakly, "You guys scared me half to death!"
"That was the general idea," Caroline winked at her. She and Bonnie were standing at the forefront of a group that included Jeremy, Alaric, Tyler, Stefan, Damon, Katherine, and (surprisingly) Matt.
"Happy 18th birthday, Elena," Matt gave her a small grin as he walked forward and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek. "I know it technically doesn't happen till midnight, but where's the surprise in that?" He waved a hand behind him, "Like what we've done with the place?"
Elena looked around the room, awe filling her gaze as she took in the silver streamers and balloons that decorated every inch of the Grill. A large "18" hung from the ceiling near the bar, directly behind a banner that proclaimed "HAPPY BIRTHDAY ELENA," in large silver letters.
"You..." she could feel tears gathering in her eyes, "You guys did this all for me?"
"Well, Matt and Tyler did most of the decorating," Caroline said with a smile, "Though I was the one that gave them specific instructions on what to do."
"Yeah," Tyler snorted, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket and opening it. The long list began at this hand and ended some three feet later onto the floor. "Specific definitely describes your instructions."
"Oh shut up," Caroline said goodnaturedly, leaning over to give Tyler a kiss. "It wouldn't have looked this perfect if I hadn't told you two guys what to do."
Tyler and Matt exchanged glances before Matt rolled his eyes, "Yeah...that's probably true." He turned to Elena and slid an arm around her shoulders to lead her forward, "The Grill is all yours tonight. Consider it my gift to you." He steered her towards one of the tables, which was stacked high with wrapped presents. "Though you certainly have a lot of ones you can open, too."
Elena's vision blurred and she swiped a hand over her eyes, embarrassed. "You guys are gonna make me cry," she complained, laughing as she reached out to hug Matt. "Thank you," she whispered softly in his ear, "For doing all this. It means a lot that you...you know."
Matt tightened his arms around her, "Tyler told me everything that went down a couple weeks ago with that Klaus guy and my sister and everything...I know I wanted nothing to do with all this supernatural stuff, but you're still one of my oldest friends, Elena. You know I'd do anything for you."
Elena smiled as she released Matt and wiped away the rest of her tears. A smudge of black appeared on her finger and she groaned, "Well, there goes my makeup."
"Come on," Bonnie said kindly, "Let's go fix that while the rest of these guys bring out the food." She and Caroline both gestured to Elena, who followed them gratefully into the restroom in the back.
As Caroline helped her retouch her makeup, Elena stared at her curiously, "So, Matt is okay with you and Tyler?"
"I was surprised, too," Caroline admitted, "I don't know what Tyler said to him, but it must've been good."
"Hmm...and speaking of surprises," Elena raised an eyebrow pointedly, "That whole shopping date was a distraction?"
"And all the birthday plans for tomorrow like having a quiet dinner at my house...?"
"Decoy plans," Caroline replied promptly. "You only turn 18 once, Elena," she pointed out, "Might as well make the most of it."
Elena grinned, "You guys are the best." She jumped off the counter and smoothed down her outfit when she realized, "Oh! Was this outfit your gift to me? That's why you didn't want me to pay?"
"Actually, your outfit was a gift from someone else entirely," Caroline reached into her purse and pulled out a simple white card. She handed it to Elena, who quickly read over it.
I'm sorry I wasn't able to stay for your 18th birthday, Elena
But finding my family was of utmost importance to me,
as I'm sure you will be able to understand.
I have no doubt that our paths will cross again someday,
though it will hopefully be under better circumstances.
Take care and be safe,
"Can't say I expected that," Elena said, her chest tightening at the sentiment expressed in the note.
"We asked him to stay," Bonnie explained gently, "But you knew how much he wanted to get out of Mystic Falls." She smiled and held a hand out to her friend, "Ready to go back out there?"
Elena nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She let her friends lead her back into the restaurant, noticing that several of the square tables had been pushed together to create one long table in the middle of the room. A white tablecloth had been draped across it, and it was currently covered with every possible dish that she could imagine.
"The cooks have been at it all day," Damon explained, pulling a chair out for her, "Have a seat, birthday girl." Elena grinned back, a feeling of peace washing over her as she took her seat and dug into the extravagant meal.
"This has been amazing, guys," Elena announced later that night as all the plates were being cleared away. "I don't even know what to say—"
"Time to open the gifts!" Caroline interrupted excitedly, clapping her hands together. She shot an apologetic look at Elena, "There is cake, by the way. But I don't think we should do that till midnight. Come on," she stood up and began arranging chairs around the table of gifts. "Let's see what you got!"
Elena couldn't help but laugh as she followed her friend to the table and ran a hand along the pile. "I don't know if I even want to open them," she confessed, "They look so pretty all wrapped up!"
"I promise there's prettier things inside," Caroline winked, waiting until everyone else had taken seats around the table before she extracted a white, rectangular box from amidst the pile and handed it to Elena. "That one's from me and Tyler."
Elena shook it experimentally, flashing a smile in Tyler's direction as Caroline bounced over to her boyfriend and took a seat on his lap. "Hmm, feels kind of heavy," she said, undoing the ribbon and shaking the box open to reveal a sleek leather jacket. "Whoa," Elena gasped, running a hand along the material, "This is gorgeous..."
"It's because you're all badass now," Tyler offered teasingly, grinning when Elena flushed. She mouthed a 'thank you' in their direction before turning back around to contemplate which gift to open next.
To her bemusement, Katherine pointed at a silver giftbag, "That one's from me. Open it."
"Um," Elena hesitated, "Is it, ah, something dangerous?" When Katherine didn't answer, Elena shrugged and bravely pushed the tissue wrappings out of the way before pulling the object out. A startled laugh escaped her lips, "A curling iron?"
"Yes," Katherine said seriously, "Now you can look more like me."
"Just what we all need," Alaric muttered under his breath, earning a few laughs from the group.
Katherine ignored him and handed Elena a white envelope, "And this."
Elena cautiously tipped the contents of the envelope into the palm of her hand. "A plane ticket to Italy?" she frowned, "One way?"
"Look at the name."
"Katherine Pierce," Elena read out loud, "So your gift to me is..."
"Me leaving Mystic Falls," Katherine grinned, pocketing the ticket. "Admit it, that's the best birthday gift I could have given you."
Elena couldn't help the smile that tugged at her lips. "Yes," she agreed, "I think it is."
"Now mine," Bonnie pointed to a large gift wrapped in what looked like brown paper. Then, she reached into her purse and pulled out a small wooden vial. "This is the second part to it. Open that one first."
"Okay, now even I'm officially curious," Damon said, watching as Elena ripped the wrapping off the large gift. "What is it?"
Elena held it up, her expression bewildered, "A Welcome mat?" When Bonnie nodded, Elena blinked, "Oh...well, it'll look great on my porch Bonnie, thanks—"
Bonnie laughed, "Ah, but it's magical, Elena." She stood up and handed her friend the wooden vial. "It's a way to uninvite vampires from your home," she explained. "See, to be invited in, the vampire has to pass through your front door. If it's someone that you don't want to ever come in again, you wait until they leave and then sprinkle the powder from the vial over the mat." She grinned, "If the vampire shows up again, there'll be a forcefield that repels him—or her—away from your house."
There was a moment of silence.
"That," Jeremy declared, "Is awesome."
"Wow," Elena said, speechless. "That really is awesome, Bonnie. How'd you do it?"
"A witch never reveals her secrets," Bonnie winked, and returned to her seat. "Who's next?"
"Me," Jeremy quickly stepped in and handed Elena what felt suspiciously like a heavy book, "It's from me and Ric."
Elena looked over and smiled at Ric before unwrapping the gift in her hands. "A photo album?" Elena asked, laying it gingerly on the table before flipping it open. "Oh.." Her breath hitched when she saw the pictures inside it—Isobel from her college days, Ric from when he was married, Uncle John at previous family gatherings, her parents, Aunt Jenna, childhood pictures of her and Jeremy...
"I didn't want to make you cry," Jeremy hovered at her shoulder, wincing as Elena buried her face into his chest. "Okay, it's okay," he patted her back awkwardly, "I'm sorry—"
"No," she sniffled, "It's so thoughtful, Jer..." Elena turned to look at Alaric, "Thank you guys...you have no idea what this means to me..." Alaric nodded his head at her, giving her an understanding smile.
"Come on," Caroline said after a minute in a bright voice, "It's 11:55PM! Open your last present so we can go get the cake!"
Elena nodded quickly and reached over for the gift. She glanced upwards questioningly and Stefan gave her a small smile, "That one's from me. Be sure to look on the inside."
She slid the wrapping paper off to reveal a diamond encrusted journal. "Wow," she murmured, flipping to the the inside cover onto which there was an elegant gold engraving. "Amare Sine Timore," she read out loud, running her fingers along the script. "What does it mean?"
"It's a Latin phrase meaning to love without fear," Stefan quoted, "Flip to the back cover."
Elena obeyed, turning to the back to see her name engraved in the same golden script. Property of Elena Gilbert. "It's beautiful, Stefan," she said sincerely, "Thank you." She hesitated, biting her lip, "Is it from you and Damon?"
"No, just me," Stefan turned around to look at Damon—or, more accurately, Damon's empty chair. "Where did he go? I swear he was here a second ago..."
Elena's face fell, and Caroline quickly clapped her hands. "Never mind that, it's cake time!"
A minute later, Matt entered the room wheeling a cart with a glowing white cake on it. "This is from all of us," he said with a grin, "Eighteen candles, Elena. Remember to make a wish."
As her friends and family began singing Happy Birthday, she closed her eyes and smiled as the perfect wish entered her mind. Someone's watch struck midnight and she leaned forward to blow out her candles.
"Oh god," Jeremy groaned an hour later, "I don't think I can move."
"No one forced you to eat 3 huge pieces of cake," Bonnie chided with a loving grin as she leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek, "Can you stand?"
"But it was so good," Jeremy mumbled, swaying as he moved to his feet. "Is this what a food coma feels like?"
"Alright, I think it's time to get you home," Tyler clapped a hand on Jeremy's shoulder. "Come on, I'll drive—Matt, Ric, you guys want a ride?"
"My car is here, so I'll drive Bonnie," Caroline volunteered. She glanced at Elena, but Stefan shook his head at her. Elena sighed, gesturing for Caroline to go on without her. Several minutes later, the other seven people filed out the door, calling out their last minute 'happy birthdays.'
Matt paused, "I'm glad you had a good time, Elena." He nodded to Stefan, "Make sure you lock up? The keys are on the counter."
"Will do," Stefan answered, waiting until the door had closed before he turned to Elena. "Just sit here for a minute," he said to her, "Katherine and I will clean up the place." Elena nodded, closing her eyes as the two of them blurred around the room at super speed.
Within minutes, the place was spotless.
"I guess being a vampire has its perks," Elena acknowledged, "You guys ready to go?"
"There's something," Katherine began, reaching into her purse and pulling out an envelope. "I wanted your opinion on."
She handed it to Elena, who took it with a confused look. "You already showed me this," she said, "Your plane ticket to Italy."
"Read the name."
Elena glanced at it, her heart skipping a beat. Stefan Salvatore. "Oh." She shifted uncomfortably, setting the ticket down in the middle of the table. "What are you asking me, exactly?"
"Stefan needs to learn to control the blood lust, Elena," Katherine said, "I'm sure we can agree on that. He can't do that here, not in Mystic Falls. There's too much history...too many things have happened that will tempt him into becoming what he was with Klaus."
Elena took a deep breath, "I agree with that statement."
"You know I love him," Katherine said.
Stefan stayed silent.
"I know," Elena replied, her eyes narrowing. "In your own way...you do love him. So what?"
"You know I can help him," Katherine continued, "In a way that you, or Damon, or even Caroline can't. I'm not saying it'll take forever, Elena. Just a few months, maybe a year."
"Are you..." Elena tried to find the right words, "Asking my permission?"
Katherine glanced at Stefan, but he still didn't say anything. She stood up, "I'll wait in the car. Let you guys talk." Within seconds, she had whirled out the door.
"Elena..." Stefan finally spoke, "I'm not proud of the things I did...who I've become. That's not who I am."
"Drinking your blood...against your will—hurting people that I cared about..." He looked up at her, the pain palpable in his eyes. "I need to fix this. Become myself again."
"I understand," Elena said quietly, "I'm proud of you—choosing that you want to change, become a better person. That already sounds like the Stefan I met...the one I fell in love with."
He met her gaze steadily, "I'll always love you."
"And I'll always love you."
"Thanks," Elena said as Stefan placed the pile of gifts onto the coffee table. They were left staring at each other in silence for a few moments until Katherine loudly beeped the horn from the driveway. Elena winced, "She's gonna wake up the whole neighborhood! What time is it anyway?" She squinted at the clock, "2 in the morning?"
"I should go," Stefan smiled at her, a touch of sadness tinging his expression as he leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. "Goodbye, Elena."
She returned the smile, "Goodbye Stefan. Oh and...good luck. In Italy." He nodded to her, closing the door quietly behind him. Elena sighed after he left, turning around to study the living room. She had been expecting to see Alaric and Jeremy passed out on the sofa, but it looked like that had already went to bed. Figures.
Doing her best to keep quiet, she switched off the light and climbed upstairs—freezing when she saw light emanating from behind the ajar door leading to her room. Elena slowly pushed the door open, her mouth dropping open in shock for the second time that night. Glowing candles surrounded her room, and a tiny round table that she never seen before stood next to her bed, holding a single bottle of champagne and two glasses.
"Sorry I had to leave early," Damon said from his position on her windowsill. Elena could only gape at him as he made his way across the room to her and handed her a single red rose. "Sit," he said, grabbing the champagne and gesturing towards the floor.
She finally found her voice, "I guess those wishes really do come true."
"Nothing," Elena smiled tentatively and sat cross-legged next to him, watching as he poured out two glasses with a practiced hand. "What should we toast to?"
He tilted his head, considering. "To surviving another year," he said, his lips twisting into an ironic grin. "Because god knows that's hard to do in this town."
Elena laughed, clinking her glass against his. "I'll drink to that," she agreed, sipping at the bubbly liquid. After a second, she put the glass down and looked up at him. "Katherine and Stefan are heading to Italy."
"I know," Damon shrugged, "I think it'll be good for him. For a little while, at least."
"That's what I told them."
"They make quite a pair, huh?"
Damon studied her expression before standing up and offering her his hand. "I have a gift for you." Elena's lips curved upwards as she stood up and watched him walk over to the windowsill before coming back with two wrapped packages. He handed her a light rectangular one, "Open this one first."
She tugged off the paper, staring curiously at the front cover. "A sketchbook?" she inquired, "Well, I kinda suck at art, but—"
Elena obediently flipped to the first page, and nearly dropped the book in surprise. "Y-you drew this?" she stammered, "You're an artist?"
"I dabble," Damon said simply, "What do you think?"
"I...can't believe it," Elena sat down on the bed, her legs feeling weak. Every single page depicted memories that she had of Damon, dating back to the day of their initial meeting—the first time she had seen him in the Salvatore house. The next picture was the two of them standing in her kitchen (drying dishes or something equally as mundane), and then there were several sketches of them in Georgia, followed by their dance at the Mystic Falls pageant. "Wow," Elena finished flipping through the book and laid it beside her, "I can't believe you drew all that...How did you remember..."
"I remember everything," Damon murmured, so softly that she almost didn't hear it. "Do you like it?"
"I love it," Elena corrected, looking up at him. "Thank you."
He took a seat next to her on the bed and handed her the second, smaller box. "This one's from all of us."
"All of you?"
Elena carefully tore off the wrapping paper to reveal a square jewelry box. She raised her eyebrows at him, but he only nodded, silently urging her to open it. She undid the clasp and flipped the box open, her eyes widening at the stunning piece.
"Let me help you put it on," Damon offered, sliding the charm bracelet off the velvet encasing and clasping it around Elena's wrist. The light in the room bounced off the charms, causing them to shine brilliantly.
She held her wrist up, admiring it, "It's...breathtaking."
"I got the bracelet," Damon explained, "But everyone chose one of the charms." He held up her wrist with one of his hands so that they both had an unobstructed view of it. "The birthstone in the middle is from Jeremy and Alaric," he informed her, "They thought it was fitting." He paused, "Care to venture a guess at the other ones?"
"Sure," Elena examined the next charm with amusement. It was undeniably a tiny witch's hat. "Bonnie," she guessed with a smile. "And this other one looks like a wolf's head, which is kind of creepy...but sounds like Tyler." Damon grinned. "And this one next to it is a little blonde doll...very Caroline." She hesitated, staring at the next charm. "Is that a...tooth?"
"A fang," Damon corrected, raising his hands when Elena looked at him incredulously. "That one's from Elijah. I think he thought it would be funny. The man has a strange sense of humor, let me tell you."
"Oh, um, that's...sweet," Elena turned the bracelet around to see the last two charms hanging on the other side. "Oh, this one's pretty. A white lily? That's my favorite flower...Stefan always..." she trailed off, "It's from Stefan?"
Damon nodded, watching as she turned to look at the last charm. "That one's from me," he said unnecessarily.
Elena studied it carefully. It was a tiny red heart lined with silver. Upon closer inspection, however, she could see an old-fashioned key painted into the middle of it. "I love it," she said, glancing up at him. The intense look she had seen so often in his eyes had returned, but this time she didn't look away. "Does it..." she swallowed, "Have a particular significance?"
"You have my heart," Damon said softly, fingering the charm gently. "I wanted you to know that."
For what was probably the fifth time that night alone, Elena could feel tears well up in her eyes. "You have mine," she whispered, "My heart belongs to you. It always has." Damon stroked the tear off her face as she let out a sound halfway between a sob and a laugh, "I love you."
He smiled at her, "Took you long enough to figure it out."
"Yeah," she gave him a watery smile, "I've always been a little slow at these things."
Damon pulled her into his arms, his lips brushing lightly against hers. "Happy Birthday, Elena Gilbert," he murmured, coaxing her mouth open as he deepened the kiss. "I love you, too."
a/n- wow, that's probably the longest chapter I've written—ever! haha but it was so much fun writing a chapter where they got to be normal teenagers and have a normal life that I just couldn't bring myself to stop =P anyway, I hope you enjoyed my take on Elena's 18th birthday, and hopefully I delivered the epic Delena ending you were waiting for! thank you to everyone who's been reading and reviewing, you guys mean the world to me! xoxo