Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries does not belong to me. If it did, Alaric would be naked all the time.
Damon wasn't sure why the boarding house was a place where Elena felt safe, but he certainly wasn't complaining. She was curled up on the couch, laptop on her knees, doing, of all ridiculously adorable human things, homework. He was scouring through newspapers, trying to find a trace of where Stefan, or Klaus, or both, might be.
An advertisement caught his eye. "Thanksgiving, next Thursday."
She grunted in response.
"Oh, c'mon. I thought the Gilberts were all gung-ho about Thanksgiving? I've seen the photos."
He realised his mistake as soon as he said it, and cringed inwardly. Too late to take it back.
"Yeah. We were. But last year was bad enough, without… And now we don't even have -" She was pretending to focus, but her eyes were wet, and she swallowed, hard. Unspoken: she didn't have her parents, didn't have Jenna. Didn't have St Stefan.
They sat like that for a long time, and then he reached out, circling her ankle with his hand. "I'm sorry," he said, lamely.
"Whatever," she said, but at least she didn't slap his hand away.
Jeremy was a ball of fun at the best of times but apparently losing everyone he cared about had put him in a worse mood than usual. Damon groaned. Humans.
"Oh, come on, baby Gilbert. What did you used to do?"
"Don't do this, Damon. No one's feeling very thankful for anything."
Damon stood, patiently waiting for an answer. "Tell me or I'll break your neck again. Ruin everyone's week."
Jeremy didn't actually look too worried by the threat. "That would be the best night's sleep I've had in ages. Go ahead."
Jeremy rolled his eyes, set the game controller aside. "If I tell you, you'll go away?"
"Yep. For a whole day. Minimum. And if you want, I'll break your neck, too, give you that good night's sleep you're after."
Jeremy frowned. "Actually, I'll pass on that." He stood up, took a photo album off the shelf and opened it.
"Elena and mom used to go to this soup kitchen thing in the morning, work there until about one in the afternoon."
The photo was of a smiling, glorious Elena, so young (her eyes were so haunted now) and a beautiful Miranda Gilbert, in matching aprons, adorned with dancing turkeys. Charity work made Damon a bit nauseous (homeless people could be tasty, but they didn't smell great), but he appreciated the smile on Elena's face. Wondered if there was anything he could do that might put it back there for a while.
Jeremy was turning the page. "Dad and I used to do all the cooking. By the time they got home, we'd have all this stuff… all the old family recipes." He says this with a sneer. No doubt, thinking about recipes handed from generation to generation felt a little different now he knew his ancestors were vampire hunters. The name Gilbert meant something different to him now.
In a rare moment of introspection, Damon regretted that he and his brother had ever returned to Mystic Falls.
He turned another page. So many faces. Miranda and Grayson, Jenna, John. One year, Logan Fell. Different friends. Bonnie and her Grams. Matt and Vicki.
"We all took turns saying what we were grateful for." Jeremy paused over a photo of his parents, caught in a kiss. Ugh. Humans. Always emoting all over the place.
"Your family takes too many photos," Damon said, shutting the book with a thud. "We're having Thanksgiving. At the boarding house." When Jeremy tried to argue, Damon put a warning hand on his chest. "Nuh-uh-uh. You'll be there, if I have to prop your still-warm corpse in a chair. And no family recipes."
Irritated, Jeremy threw himself back on the couch. "Fine. You'll never get Elena to agree." He went back to his video game.
Damon wasn't planning on asking.
Bonnie was at the Grill, studying with Caroline. When had everyone become so studious? It was almost sweet. If they survived their senior year at Mystic Falls High School – a big if – they might even get into decent schools. Bonnie could do women's studies. Perfect. Grow her leg hair long enough to braid and start a campaign to have the Whitehouse apologise to the descendants of the witches burned in Salem. Caroline could… hang on, do you have to go to college to become an exotic dancer? Or maybe she could study to be a phlebotomist. Wouldn't be the first vampire to do that.
Damon took a moment to remind himself he was about to ask a favour, put on his most innocent face (not very innocent, but it would do in a pinch) and went inside. Bonnie was alone in the booth.
"Hey, Judg- Sabr-. Um." He smiled widely. "Hey, Bonnie."
She looked up, made a face dangerously close to her I'm-going-to-give-you-an-aneurism face and put down her pen, crossing her arms. "What do you want, Damon?"
"Who says I want anything? Maybe I wanted to tell you how positively lovely you look in that top." He cringed, shaking his head. "No, actually, not gonna lie. it's a horrible colour on you."
Bonnie quirked an eyebrow. "That's how you ask for a favour? Insulting my fashion sense?"
"What makes you think I'm going to ask for a favour?"
"I can count the number of times you've called me 'Bonnie' on my fingers, and every time, it's right before you ask me to do something life-threateningly dangerous."
Actually, she had a point, but not one Damon felt like exploring. "Can you cook?"
Caroline chose that moment to come back from the bathroom. She kissed Damon on the cheek as she slid into the booth. "I can cook. I'm an amazing cook. Like, really amazing."
Vampire Barbie never ceased to amaze Damon. She forgave as easily as she applied her lip gloss, and apparently, she had forgiven him for trying to eat her darling dad. Sweet, really.
"I can cook," Bonnie added. "I'm no Caroline, but I do most of the cooking at home." Caroline looked chuffed at the implied compliment, flashed dimples.
"Well, that's good news. Because we are going to throw Elena a surprise Thanksgiving."
The girls looked at each other, disbelieving, and then at him. Back at each other. And then they laughed. Caroline returned to her strawberry milkshake, sucking it up the straw.
Bonnie shook her head. "Yeah. Right. What are you really after?"
Damon frowned. "That's what I'm really after."
"You can't be serious, Damon. I mean, really? I don't think anyone's really feeling the thanks this year." Caroline inspected her nails. "Elena especially."
"I know why she's miserable. Why are you two such a pair of buzzkills?"
Caroline tossed her curls and made a face Damon barely recognised as disbelieving. "Because my sired, douchebag, hybrid, psycho boyfriend vervained me and chose Klaus over me? Sorry, 'ex' douchebag boyfriend."
"And because my boyfriend prefers the company of vampire ghosts. Again, sorry, ex. Getting the picture?" Bonnie returned to her homework, but snapped her head up again. "And before you start widening the pool, think hard. Everyone is miserable."
Now, see, Damon thought to himself, this is why it is really stupid to get involved with human crap. Then he reminded himself he was sitting with a witch and a vampire.
Hmm. Leverage. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and scrolled until he found the number he wanted.
"Who are you -" Caroline started to ask, but he raised a finger to silence her.
"Liz! Great to speak to you. No. No news. I'm having Thanksgiving at the boarding house and I won't take no for an answer. Pumpkin pie? Lovely." He shut the phone and regarded the girls with an intensity he usually reserved for killing things or protecting doppelgangers.
"I'm going to make this simple." He taps at the table with his index finger. "We are having a Thanksgiving for Elena. If you two throw yourselves into it enough, maybe you'll find yourselves cheering up too. I don't really care. But you will do this."
"You can't compel us," Caroline said, as though she wasn't really sure. Damon stood up, and she swept out of the booth to let him leave.
"Of course I can." He reached into his pocket for his bill fold and peeled off a few hundred dollars. "That's for groceries. And don't skimp on the cranberry sauce. I love cranberry sauce."
He gave them a smile and started to leave. Caroline called after him. "You'll never get Elena to go. You'll never even get her out of her room on Thursday."
"Sure I will, Barbie. You just focus on the cooking."
Elena's plan to stay in bed all day on Thanksgiving was a problem, but not an insurmountable one. Alaric knocked on her door. "Elena?"
"Go away, Ric."
He opened the door. She had her nose in her diary. "Help me out?"
"Come on, Elena. I need your help. Just for a couple of hours."
The problem with saying 'no' to Alaric was that it always felt like she was betraying Jenna's memory. She sighed. "With what?"
"I have to go by the boarding house and pick up a bunch of vervain. And I have to deliver it to the Lockwood's, and a couple of other places. Don't make me talk to Damon by myself."
"I thought you two had made up?"
Alaric just looked at her. "Fine," she said. "But I'm not showering."
"Have a shower."
When they got to the boarding house, Damon let them in with an oddly smug look on his face. "Welcome." He swept his arm, inviting them in. Elena put a hand on his waist, reaching to place a kiss on his cheek. He felt the warmth in both places and had to fight the urge to hold her close.
"Hey. Any news?" She pulled away and walked into the living room. And froze solid.
"Are those peas ready?"
"They've been ready for ages. If they were any more ready, they'd be sprouting again. Just let me -"
"I think the turkey has to come out of the oven."
"Where's the whisk? I have to whip the cream for the pie."
One by one, all her friends noticed Elena was there. Her jaw slowly dropped.
"What is this?"
Caroline was the first to react. "Surprise!" she cried, throwing her hands in the air. Jeremy came forward to give her a strong hug, and she thought again how much bigger he'd gotten in the last couple of years. Liz was whipping cream in a bowl, gave her a big smile. Bonnie was wrestling the turkey out of the oven, with help from Matt.
"You tricked me," Elena said, but to Damon's relief, she didn't actually look that pissed. The expression she wore was almost dreamy, as Jeremy pulled away and Caroline took her turn for a hug.
"Believe it or not, Elena, I used to enjoy Thanksgiving as well," he said, looping an arm across her shoulders, landing a kiss in her hair. "I know things are grim, but they're not all grim."
When they were all settled at the table, and eating Caroline's 'awesome' food, Damon found himself feeling smug. Sometimes, you can make a horse drink, apparently. Liz was complimenting her daughter on the cranberry sauce, and Caroline looked pleased as punch. Matt and Bonnie were snarking over whether pumpkin pie was real food or dessert. Alaric was shovelling turkey into his mouth like there wasn't another thirty pounds of it on the table, trading quips with Jeremy. Elena was smiling small.
Damon put his glass down. "Time for another tradition. Apparently, we're all supposed to say what we're grateful for." Elena slumped in her chair, and wasn't the only one to do it.
Caroline grimaced, sipping at the blood in her mug. Liz noticed, but didn't comment. "I told you, thanks are thin on the ground right now."
Liz put her cutlery down. "Thin on the ground, but we can come up with something, right? Some small thing we're thankful for?"
"Beautifully put, Liz. So you get to start." Damon smirked. Liz had come a hell of a long way in a year.
"Should have kept my mouth shut," she said, grimacing. "Okay, fine." She gave an awkward smile, patting her mouth with a napkin. Took a deep breath and chanced a look at Caroline. "I'm grateful that I know who my daughter is. I'm thankful she's still alive, and that I got a chance to… correct an old prejudice. I love you, sweetie," she said, one arm around her daughter's shoulders in a brief hug.
"Mom," Caroline groaned.
Damon watched Elena's expression. She was chewing at her lip, but looked otherwise relaxed. Maybe even happy.
Caroline flipped her hair over her shoulders. "Well, same here. I'm grateful you know who I am, for real, and I'm totally grateful you didn't stake me and that you rescued me from dad." She could barely look at her mother as she said this, but Liz watched her fondly, gave her shoulders another squeeze. Caroline smiled below her lashes.
Matt jumped in next, expression relaxed. "Fine. Easy. I'm grateful I'm not a vampire, a witch, a werewolf, a… hybrid? Or a ghost, or a doppelganger. I'm thankful I'm human." His expression changed as he looked at Elena. "I'm grateful Bonnie stopped Vicki in time. I'm grateful Elena's still alive, because…" he shivered, and couldn't finish. Bonnie put a reassuring hand on his arm.
"So what about you, Sab-" Damon grimaced. "Bonnie. What about you?"
She smiled brightly. "I'm grateful I can give you an aneurism any time I need to cheer myself up."
Elena giggled. "Bonnie…"
The sound of that giggle seemed to lift the remnants of gloom from the room. Bonnie smiled in spite of herself. "Fine, fine. Um… I'm grateful Klaus isn't in Mystic Falls any more. I mean, I know he could come back…" her shoulders sagged. "I'm thankful for this, here, now."
Jeremy gave a small cough. "I'm thankful Bonnie's still speaking to me. Because I wouldn't blame you if you weren't."
Bonnie gave a wry smile. "Yeah, well, you can julienne vegetables like no one's business."
Damon narrowed his eyes. Maybe there was a happy ending to be had there. If he cared, he'd be happy for them.
Alaric gave a twitch. No one else in the room would have even noticed, but he knew right away Damon had seen. Their eyes met, and Damon cocked an eyebrow.
Alaric looked at Elena, looked at Jeremy, and exhaled. "I'm thankful for every second I had with Jenna. I'm thankful that I have a chance to be here for Jeremy and Elena, because I think Jenna would want that."
He didn't look up again as he spoke. Elena reached out, placed her hand on his arm. He smiled, and it almost reached his eyes.
Damon nudged Elena. "So, 'Lena? What are you thankful for?"
She took a deep breath, leaned back against her chair. Thrummed her fingers against the antique tablecloth and sighed. Next to her, Jeremy gave her a nudge.
"C'mon, Elena. There's gotta be something."
She thought for a few moments longer. "I'm thankful for my friends. You guys are my family, now." She took Jeremy's hand in hers. "Our family," she corrected. "I'm thankful that you dragged me out of bed this morning, Ric, and so many other mornings since Jenna's been… gone." She took a shaky breath. "I'm thankful that Bonnie and Caroline were up at the crack of dawn cooking. I'm grateful that Matt let Bonnie send Vicky away in time." She sat up straighter. "I'm thankful, Sheriff – sorry, Liz – that you're still being a mom to Caroline." She gave her brother's hand a squeeze. "I'm grateful that you're still alive, Jer, because…" Twice this year she'd nearly lost her brother. He must have understood, because he squeezed her hand back.
She turned to Damon, eyes barely meeting before she glanced away again. She leaned against his side. "I'm thankful for you, Damon. I'm glad we've decided to let Stefan go."
Around the table, people sat up straighter. They hadn't talked to anyone about this, yet. Elena wasn't prepared to wait thirty years for Stefan to drag himself back to humanity. She wanted to get on with her life.
Damon looped a (decidedly thankful) arm around Elena's waist, ran a thumb along the soft skin at her hip.
The silence was deafening.
"Sorry to ask the obvious." Of all people, it was Matt who spoke. "What are you thankful for, Damon?"
Damon looked down at the girl by his side.
"I'm thankful for Elena Gilbert." He pressed his lips to her hair and raised a glass. "To Elena Gilbert."
Around the table, glasses were lifted. "To Elena," they all said, and for the first time in months, the smile on her face was genuine.
Best Thanksgiving ever, Damon thought.