Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created by L.J. Smith, as portrayed in the TV series created by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec. All rights to their respective owners. No copyright infringement intended.
Author's Note: I'm so sorry, but this will have to be the final chapter – including an epilogue because it'll be too short to call a chapter otherwise… Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. I hope I didn't disappoint you… Enjoy!
~ XVI ~
"Why didn't you tell me?" Damon said as soon as Elena picked up the phone.
She knew straight away what he was talking about. "I couldn't."
"Why would you want to protect him?"
"I wasn't protecting him. I was protecting you. Your relationship is already so strained, and I couldn't bear to be the one to widen the gap between you. Especially after what happened to Stefan."
"The issues between my father and I are our issues. He had no right to bring you into it."
"It doesn't change anything, Damon. I won't make you choose between me and your family."
"And that's one of the many reasons why I choose you, Elena. You're selfless and caring and I'm sure the rest of my family will love you as much as I do. Or, no, on second thought, I don't think that's humanly possible."
"I'm not asking you to give up your career or your life in the States for me, but I want you to come back to Italy and meet my aunts and uncle. Nonna's been asking about you, and I…"
"Damon," Elena stopped him. "I quit my job."
"What? I thought you were just taking some time off to see your family?"
"Well, I did… only permanently. I resigned and I gave up my lease. I've put everything into storage and I'm staying in my parents lake house until…"
"Until what?" Damon said breathlessly.
"Until I figure out a way to relocate to Italy."
"I was thinking I could find a job at Smith Publishing's subsidiary in Rome. Elijah said he would write me a letter of recommendation if I decided to apply for a position there."
"Is this really what you want?"
"I want to write. I want to give it a chance for real and I want to be close to you. I know I'm not welcome at the estate, but…"
"If my father says you're not welcome here, I'll leave the estate in a heartbeat."
"No, Damon, that's exactly what I didn't want to happen."
"I don't care, Elena. I want to be with you. Whatever it takes."
"So I can book my flight back to Italy?" Elena said, biting her lip.
"If you don't, I might hijack a plan and pick you up myself."
Elena laughed. "Then I'd better start looking for tickets."
Elena looked nervously around the arrivals hall, trying to find a familiar face in the crowd. Not just any face. Damon's.
When she spotted him, her whole face lit up and she ran into his arms. They clung to one another for dear life, only pulling back to reacquaint their lips with each other.
"There's no way I'm letting you go now," Damon murmured against her lips.
"Well, I could only get a three month visa, so I'm gonna have to go back to the States for a little while before…"
"I'm not marrying you to stay in the country, Damon," she shook her head.
"Who said that's why I'm proposing?"
"Are you…" Elena looked at him, dumbfounded.
"I know it's not as romantic as the first one, but…" he reached into his back pocket and produced an antique looking ring and slipped it on her finger. "It was nonna's. She wanted you to have it. I wanted you to have it. So what do you say to a wedding in Tuscany?" he looked at her in anticipation.
"I promised my mom I would let her help with the planning…"
"Then we'll fly her in. Your whole family," Damon said, suddenly enthusiastic.
"What about your father?"
"My father doesn't get a say."
Elena fell silent, trying to collect her thoughts.
"Running out of excuses, aren't you?" Damon smiled.
"I'm just overwhelmed… but of course the answer's yes, Damon. Yes, I'll marry you."
When Elena finished the novel she had begun working on at the lake house, she sent out her draft to several publishers under an alias. Eventually, she found an editor willing to take a chance on her, and months later, when she received a number of copies of the finished product, she got out a pen and wrote a special dedication in one of the books.
I have changed the names to protect the innocent. Unfortunately, that also means protecting the guilty. This is a true story, and You should know that the character James Gerbil is an exact depiction of Your immigration officer John Gilbert, whom I believe was recently promoted.
It has been confirmed that he did in fact accept bribes, threatened and coerced impressionable minds to achieve his personal goals. What You wish to do with this information is entirely at Your disposal, but I would like to think there are still honorable men to be found in the United States government.
Elena Gilbert Salvatore
Elena put down the pen and leaned back in her chair.
"You want me to bring your mail to the post office, signora?" the black-haired, green-eyed woman whose belly locked ready to burst at any moment asked.
"Grazie, Rosa, but I will take it myself. You should not be running around in this heat."
"Neither should you, cara," Sophia admonished her, entering the parlor with a tray of lemonade and biscotti.
"I'm fine, nonna, really. I'm only in the first trimester", Elena rolled her eyes. How's Giuseppe?" she asked as Sophia sat down beside her.
"Better. He has let go of his anger, and I believe the cancer respects him for it."
"Yes, I know, illnesses do not listen to reason," Sophia rolled her eyes. "But the truth is, he is happier than I have seen him in years. I believe you had a lot to do with that."
"Me? No, nonna, Giuseppe hated me, he didn't even speak to me until Damon told him the news about the baby."
"Say what you will, cara, but if it were not for you, Giuseppe would never have had to face the truth about his sons. Losing Stefan was devastating for him, but when Damon said he would choose you over his family any day, Giuseppe was forced to reevaluate his opinion. Then when Rosa told me what she had overheard John promise Stefan…" Sophia shook her head. "I am so proud of you for having the courage to come back. But then I always knew you were brave," Sophia smiled and sipped her lemonade.
"It wasn't bravery, nonna," Elena said, her heart full of warmth. "It was love. When it's real, you can't walk away."
"That is very true, cara."
"Did you… um… did you get a chance to look at the book I gave you?"
"I did. It's very good. But I do feel something is missing…"
"You describe the hardships and the love that conquered all, but where was the passion?"
"You thought it lacked passion?"
"Cara, there can never be too much passion," Sophia winked.
"I just didn't feel comfortable writing every detail of… you know. Besides, that's your grandson!"
"I did not mean I wanted to read the details, but perhaps the rest of the world would."
"It's just… it's private."
"Well, you will have another chance for your next novel."
"You promised you would write my story, did you not?"
"I did," Elena smiled. "And I always keep my promises."
"Glad to hear it," a velvety voice drawled from the doorway.
"Ah, I will let you two have some time together," Sophia excused herself and kissed Elena's cheek before she left, squeezing Damon's hand as she passed him.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Salvatore," Damon said and kissed her lightly.
Elena smiled against his lips. "Don't you ever get tired of calling me that?"
Elena laughed and Damon flopped down beside her on the couch, flinging one arm over her shoulders and leaning down to her belly. "And good morning to you, bambino."
"You know, it might very well be a bambina…"
"Doesn't matter," Damon smiled.
"So, how's the construction work on the new winery going?"
"Actually…" he said, taking her hand in his and kissing her palm. "It should be finished later this afternoon. What do you say we christen it tonight? I had Roberto stack the hay loft..."
"I'd say… I'd like that very much, Mr. Salvatore."