*DISCLAIMER* I don't own it. None of it. But I really had fun playing with this universe and am so grateful to all TPTB for creating this amazing universe and these characters.
*A/N: So, this is it. Just a very short little wrap-up, epilogue to glimpse the future for our couple. And while I usually hold some angst into the bitter end, this one is primarily fluffy fun. I really, *really* hope it works for you. The road in this fic was SO painful for them that I felt the joy had to be just as big. I toyed with it a few different ways, and this is the only thing that felt right. And the final scene is silly, but I couldn't resist it. So, yep, I'm worried sick about letting you all down, but there it is. It just doesn't work any other way for me. And there are much larger time jumps – so check the tags!
I want to take a minute to thank every person who reviewed Slow Burn Summer. I've laughed and "aww'ed" and teared up at so many of the unbelievably sweet comments you've left me. You people rock so hard that despite a crazy busy home and writing life, I don't think I can abandon this couple. I don't have time for fic anymore, I really don't, but you make me want to write. You make them irresistible.
Anyhow, to those who I've heard from all along, I ADORE YOU. Please leave me one last review – I wait with bated breath to see your thoughts and I will miss them and you so much. *sob* And if I haven't heard from you, please, please take one moment to review now. Cuz this is it.
Lastly, if you have any requests –ESPECIALLY for one-shot, short ideas- please let know. I'd like to put out a few shorter pieces before I dive into another long one. I can't promise to tackle everything thrown my way, but you never know when something can strike inspiration!
Thanks again for everything. I so hope you're pleased with the Happily Ever After. This has been an amazing ride for me – and I'm so grateful to have had so many supportive readers with me. *hug*
***SIX WEEKS AFTER THAT NIGHT – ELENA'S POV***
Caroline warned me this would happen weeks ago. She said it was totally inevitable and I'd better start planning for how the hell I was going to deal with it. And somewhere deep inside, I knew she was right. I knew it, but I tried not to think about it.
Truthfully, I didn't have to try very hard.
I haven't thought about much of anything but Damon for the last several weeks. Damon making me chocolate chip waffles, or stealing the remote control, or driving to Walmart at two in the morning, because I felt like ice cream, and then kissing me in between bites until the sun was a pink stain in the eastern sky.
It's easy to not think with Damon. Hell, almost everything with him is easy. And since he's one of the most difficult people I know, I have no idea how that's possible.
So, no, I didn't think about Stefan coming home from his little vision quest, or whatever it was he was doing, not even when we pulled into the boarding house driveway five minutes ago. We stopped by to pick up mail on our way to the Grill, and we were talking a mile a minute, arguing about the sexual overtures in old animated Disney movies, and then—
Well, then, I thought about Stefan coming home.
Because he was home.
Stefan is looking up at us from the couch in the boarding house, pale and tense and smiling so tightly I'm sure his face will break. And I'm smiling back, that perfect, plastic smile that doesn't touch my eyes at all. All I can think about is Damon's hand in mine, our fingers tightly interlaced not two feet from Stefan's nose.
"Hi," I finally manage.
"Hey," Stefan says.
And Damon says nothing. I'd look at him to try to gauge his reaction, but I feel like I've been turned to stone.
"So, you're back from your uh…" I'm not sure what to say here. Sojourn? Desert wandering? Spiritual Journey? I don't say anything. I just trail off into nothing and squeeze Damon's hand. Hard. Like, would-you-freaking-say-something hard.
Stefan eventually swallows thickly. "Yeah, uh, I just got back."
"Right," I say.
"Well," Damon finally says, blowing out a little puff of air. "I'm glad this isn't awkward as all hell."
It doesn't exactly break the ice, but I feel it give a little, loosening my ribs just enough to let me breathe right. That's Damon for you. He doesn't ignore the elephant in the room. He puts it in a tutu and waltzes it around, until no one can do anything but laugh. I look at him then, biting back a smile.
His lips don't move, but I see the happiness in his eyes.
And just like that, I know this is okay. This isn't a thing. I mean, for Stefan it's a thing. But not for us. Maybe we're too smart to go there. Or maybe we've just been through too much crap to bother.
Damon shrugs a shoulder and releases my hand, sliding his fingertips along my palm. "I should probably run upstairs. Pretend to look for something so you guys can have a strained post-breakup conversation," he says with a smirk. And then he pauses, tipping his head towards Stefan. "Unless you want to throw each other around the room."
"We did that not too long ago," Stefan says, half-smiling.
"Right. Wasn't exactly my best day," Damon says, casting a brief guilty look towards me.
Stefan nods. He doesn't say that this probably isn't his, but I guess that's pretty obvious.
"I'll be somewhere else," Damon says, and then he smiles at me and walks towards the stairs. He doesn't look back. I love him so much in that moment, because he doesn't need to look back.
"Damon," Stefan calls, and Damon's at the top of the stairs then, obviously surprised by his brother's voice.
He pauses, not quite looking at Stefan, but not quite looking away either.
"Thank you," Stefan says. "For your letters. They…helped."
Letters? I feel the threat of tears in my eyes when Damon ducks his head, clearly embarrassed. And then he disappears into his room, to give us time.
"He wrote you letters," I say softly.
"Every week," Stefan says just as quietly. "He used to be quite the pen pal. When he left for the war, I'd get sometimes two and three letters at a time."
We share a smile, but there's no missing the pain in his eyes. "Did you know?" I ask him, taking a seat on the opposite end of the couch. "Did he tell you about…"
"About the two of you?" Stefan tilts his head left and right, like he's weighing out his answer. "Not in exactly those words. But I got the picture."
"I'm sorry," I say, though I'm really not. And I'm not this apologetic girl anymore, so I look up, trying to be more clear. More honest. "I'm not sorry I'm with him. But I wish it didn't hurt you."
"I know," he says. "And I'm good with it."
Off my dubious look, he amends that. "Well, maybe not good. But I get it. I know what it's like to be loved by Damon. And he loves you more than he's ever loved anyone."
I open my mouth to retort, but that seems stupid and wasted. He does love me more than anyone. I feel it in every look and every touch. And Stefan's right. There is nothing in this world quite like being loved by Damon Salvatore.
"Are you going to be able to handle this?" I ask him, because, frankly, someone has to. We can't dance around this forever. "Are you back to stay?"
He shakes his head. "Maybe for a week," he says. "But after that, I'm heading out."
"Just a week?"
He smiles and looks down at my hand, the hand Damon was holding when we arrived. "I'm not sure I'm ready for much more than that. Besides, I need to find Katherine."
I feel the blood drain from my face. "Katherine."
He nods, looking distant. Conflicted. "She followed me. When I was with Klaus. And she saved my brother. I don't think she has anyone else, to be honest."
"But…I mean, she's Katherine. Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"No," he admits, and then for the first time in maybe ever, I see the resemblance to Damon. I see the brotherhood in the wry, self-depreciating grin he's wearing. "But I don't think I can live with myself if I don't try. And I'm always better when I'm saving someone."
"She has to want to be saved, Stefan. You're the one who told me she was pure evil."
"She loves me," he says. "It's strange, but it's not evil, so it's something."
I shake my head. "You can't honestly think that her loving you is going to change anything."
"It changed Damon," Stefan says, eyes flicking towards the stairs.
And I don't say anything to that. Not anything at all.
We sit in quiet silence for awhile, and then I look up, seeing the clarity in his eyes. The set of his shoulders which looks for once more relaxed than tortured.
"You look good," I tell him. "You're figuring this out."
"Yeah?" he asks, smirking in an odd way. "Took me long enough."
"Well, Salvatore men tend to be late bloomers," I say breezily.
And he laughs at that. We aren't exactly friends now. I know that. But we're something like it. And that's good enough for me.
***6 MONTHS AFTER THAT NIGHT – DAMON'S POV**
I don't ring the bell. Hell, I haven't rung the bell at this house in months, but Ric answers the door anyway, scotch in hand and brow arched. Oh, yeah. The little asshole has probably been planning this all day.
"Ric," I say and my voice is a low warning.
One he doesn't give two shits about clearly, because he blocks the door with his big, lumberjack shoulders and looks out over the trees, like he's deeply in thought.
"You know, Elena's a special girl," he says at length.
"Young. Impressionable," Ric says slowly, completely ignoring me. "Beautiful, of course, but I'm sure you've noticed that part."
"Are you serious with this?"
He swirls his scotch and furrows his brow for all its worth. "I just thought you and I should have a little chat before you take her out. Man to man."
Oh, he's serious alright. Seriously about to get his ass kicked. And he knows it, too, because I can see the laugh about to burst out of him. But he keeps that solemn, fatherly tone nonetheless.
"You do realize you're a little old to be dating my not-stepdaughter, don't you?" he says, and he's starting to crack, grin slipping through.
"You do realize your head's coming off at the shoulders if you don't get your ass out of my way."
"Alright, alright," he says, stepping back.
But then his eyes do a quick sweep down the length of my suit, all the way down to my shiny black shoes. And I know it's coming before he opens his mouth.
"Nice tux, Edward."
I lunge for him, corsage box flying from my hands. He bolts back into the house, cracking up. I'm vaulting the kitchen counter, one hand already around his neck when she clears her throat from the kitchen doorway.
"Do you think we could save the wrestling match for after prom?"
I see red. Not because I'm pissed, but because that's what she's wearing, a strapless, crimson thing that clings to her waist and floats around her legs. No sequins or bling, just softly draped silk in a color that makes my mouth water. In more ways than one.
Ric gurgles, reminding me that I'm actually still strangling him. I pull my hand away, sparing him the briefest look of apology before I'm staring at her again. Transfixed.
"You look beautiful, Elena," he rasps out.
I need a word. Any word. Stunning? Gorgeous? Breathtaking? Nope, none of them are good enough. When she refused to let me take her to New York for a dress, I'd expected a hundred yards of taffeta hell, some sparkly confection that I'd tease her about for the next twenty years. Now I can barely keep my jaw off the floor.
Ric gives me a little shove between the shoulder blades and I realize I've been standing here gaping mutely since she arrived. I walk up to her, taking her hands and giving her an obvious once over.
"Well, I guess if this is the best you can do," I say with a mock shrug.
She just laughs at me, with her soft eyes and almost unbearable beauty.
Then I kiss her neck, just beneath her ear where I won't smudge the make-up she doesn't need, but obviously spent time on. "I'm speechless, Elena. Really."
"Me too," she says, smiling as she runs her hand down my jacket lapel. "Then again, you've always cleaned up nice. Even back when you were a smug bastard."
"What can I say? It's a talent."
"Cleaning up or being a bastard?" she teases.
"Touch'e. Alright, goddess of mine, are you ready for all of this?"
"Do I get a corsage for my senior prom?" she asks, lips curled in amusement as her eyes flick to the upside down plastic box under the kitchen table.
"Yeah, that. Ric's so clumsy," I shrug.
"Mm hm," she smirks, toying with my collar.
"He should really talk to a doctor about that. He is getting older."
"He's also still standing right here," Ric says, but he ducks under the table anyway, handing me the box.
"Here, take some pictures," Elena says, handing over the camera as I'm strapping orchids to her wrist. She's always ready with that sort of thing. Always the one to pack the lunch or make the reservations. Or remember the damned camera.
We pose and preen until I'm sure I'll see spots in my vision for the next two months. And I still can't believe I'm going to a fucking prom, but…it is what it is. What my girl wants, she gets.
"Okay, since I'm blind can we go?" I whine after another snapshot of us with our heads tilted in like idiots.
"Yes," Elena says, picking up the smallest purse I've ever seen in my life. What the hell does she have in that thing? A book of matches? Half a toothpick?
"Where are you headed?" Ric asks.
"Dinner," I say, rubbing my hands together and winking at Elena. "And trust me, I have pulled out all the stops, so it's going to rock your world. After that, I thought a walk through downtown, maybe a drive out to the coast."
"Um, prom, Damon. We will need to make an appearance."
I pull a face. "We can't skip that part? I mean, we got the pictures."
"We're going," she says airily, plucking a wispy shawl off the chair and sliding it around her shoulders. "Everybody's there. Jeremy and Bonnie and Tyler and Caroline."
"Um, exactly," I say in a sing-song replica of her, rolling my eyes.
"We're going," she repeats, applying a touch of gloss to her bottom lip.
"Fine. Can I eat a teacher?"
"Spike the punch?"
She cuts her eyes to me. "Maybe."
Ric clears his throat and straightens his tie. "You do realize I'm chaperoning this event?"
I sling an arm around Elena's shoulders. "I think it might be a little late to keep me in line."
We slip outside, promising to see Ric later at the dance. I walk her to my newest vehicle, a cherry red 1969 Mustang Fastback. I bought the car because it looks like sex on black tires. Plus, watching Elena stroke her hands up and down the hood, oooh'ing and aaah'ing was better than porn.
"Thanks for picking my favorite color," I say, glancing down at her dress.
"Please," she smirks. "This isn't for you. I wanted to match the car."
I laugh and she curls her fingers in my jacket, looking up at me with puppy eyes and a little pout on her lips.
"Stick that lip out a little farther," I tease her.
She does and I kiss her once. Twice. I just can't help it. And I pull back now, because if I don't, I'm going to drag her back into that house so I can push that dress up to her hips and take her against some random wall.
Later, I remind myself. She didn't get all gussied up so I could nail her quick and hard. And that dress is exquisite. Probably cost her a small fortune. Come to think of it, I'm starting to wonder if she splurged on new goodies underneath, too.
"You thinking about sex?" she asks, crossing her arms.
"Well, I am awake," I say, but then I take her waist and pull her closer. Close enough that I can feather my lips over the hollow of her throat. "Actually, I'm wondering what you've got on under this little frock."
Her hands slide inside my jacket, fingers tracing their way up to my chest. "Nothing special. Black. Tiny. Too expensive. You'll probably hate it."
"I'll bet," I breathe, and now we're both going downhill fast.
I ease a knee between her thighs and she's dragging her fingernails lightly over my zipper. We're breathing so hard we could do voiceovers for sex scenes. Appropriate, since we're about to play one out on the hood of my Mustang.
"Damon?" she asks, all low and husky.
"Yeah?" I reply, eyes at half-mast and hands searching for a way into her dress.
"Can I drive?"
I pull back, grinning and shaking my head. And she just smirks, clearly proud of her little ruse.
"Manipulation, ulterior motives…you're coming along nicely, Elena," I tell her.
She just grins, eyes sparking with mischief. "So, is that a yes?"
I toss her the keys without hesitation. "Baby, you can take me anywhere."
"Good," she says, and then she kisses me quick and hard. "Because I plan to take you everywhere."