Disclaimer: I don't own them, I just like playing with their little lives.

Chapter 4

Elena held a copy of her book in her hands, unable to believe it was quite real. Alaric poured champagne. Liz admired the cover, the stylized image of a hooked fang and dark, spider-webbed capillaries.

"I still don't know if this was a good idea. It's a big risk, you know."

"Not so big. No one would ever believe it was a true story." Alaric draped a lazy arm across Elena's shoulders. His new wife's shoulders.

The book, it must be said, was the story of a girl, loved by two brothers. Two vampire brothers. It was melodramatic, full of major character deaths, and it ended with almost everyone the girl had ever loved, or who loved her, leaving her; dead, or just gone.

The epilogue, though, told of the man who stayed.

It was published under a pen name. If the denizens of Mystic Falls knew Elena had written it, the town would have emptied overnight. But it would never be a best-seller; few in town would ever read it, save those who knew it was true. Those who could be replied upon to keep their mouths shut.

Elena put the book down, trying to mask a proud grin. She twisted the wedding band on her finger.

"You have to sign mine, of course. And one for Caroline."

Elena giggled, reaching for a pen. "How is Caroline?"

Liz didn't answer, but took Elena's hand in hers. "I'm sorry, Elena. I don't think I ever knew how hard it was for you when she left."

Elena shook her head. Did not let the tears fall as she signed two copies of her book (her book!). "I missed them all. But I wanted them to have their lives. I wanted them to do what they wanted. And besides, I'm fine now." She leaned against Alaric's side. "I'm… perfect."

It would be months before she saw any money, so Elena was still working at the Grill.

She was sitting at home, working on a new book – no vampires – when her cell phone chirped. Alaric's name flashed on the screen.

"Where are you?"

"Well, hello to you too, husband. I'm at home, weaving literary brilliance. And wishing you were here taking my clothes -"

"You need to come down to the Grill," and she was surprised, because Alaric could usually be counted on for at least a few minutes of phone smut.

"I'm not supposed to be working tonight. 'Sup? They getting slammed?" She sat up straight.

"Just come down." He disconnected.

Alaric met her outside, stalking the pavement. Elena's heart beat like a bass drum, in her chest, in her mouth, in her stomach.

"You are completely freaking me out. What's wrong?" When she was panicked, Elena's voice was huskier than usual, and it was almost enough to unravel him.

Alaric took her in his arms, and held her close. "Caroline's here. With Tyler."

The world took on an unrealistic tint; Elena staggered.

"Because of the book?"

"Because of the book."

Caroline and Tyler were sitting at a booth with Liz Forbes, who was uncharacteristically silent, watching her daughter with a look that somehow balanced awe and fear. Caroline was relaying some thrilling tale, no doubt, but the sight of Alaric approaching with his arm draped over Elena's shoulder shut everyone up fast.

Caroline rose to her feet.

After a long beat, she spoke. "I'm so sorry, Elena," but as Alaric had predicted, the sombre mood lasted about forty-five seconds, before the girls were crying, hugging, and shrieking.

"You look so different," Caroline was saying.

"You… really, really don't," Elena answered. "I'm jealous. You're going to look like that forever."

"You got to grow up. Jesus, Elena, you look amazing." She eyed Alaric. "And you seem to be getting younger."

Alaric gave a wry grin, didn't tell her he drank about a fifth of what he used to.

(Elena was twenty-four; Alaric was forty. In the last year he'd realised that at some point, Elena would be a widow. Decided on the spot that he wanted that to be a long, long way into the future. He ate better, exercised more, drank far, far less.)

Tyler stood with his hands in his pockets. "Hey, 'Lena," he said, and she drew him into a hug. After a beat, he returned it. "I'm sorry, too."

"Hey. You escaped a life sentence as Klaus' bitch. I wanted you to have a life, too."

A voice came from behind them.

"Well, this is awkward."

Jeremy was taller than memory allowed, and had appeared in their midst like an unbidden ghost.

Elena threw herself at him, holding his huge chest. "My baby brother," she breathed, between sobs. "I'm so sorry, Jer… everything I said to you. I'm so sorry."

(Years of sporadic, terse emails and text messages, and he was here with her at last.)

"I'm sorry." He held his sister close, breathed in her scent. "I should have come back to you."

"I should have gone to you. I couldn't…" She was crying hard, as she pulled away from him, taking his hands in hers. "I was too scared to leave here, in case someone came back."

Jeremy put a thumb on her wedding band, looked at Alaric. "Shit, man. I thought you were gonna end up my step-dad. Or is it step-uncle? Not my brother in law." He shook Alaric's hand. "Congratulations."

Caroline hadn't noticed the ring, so another round of shrieking ensued.

"You know your mom was our witness, right?" Elena held her hand out, so Caroline could examine the simple, knotted silver band. "Us humans have to stick together."

Elena called Matt from the bathroom.

"Caroline, Tyler and Jeremy are here."

"Because of the book?" He chuckled.

"Because of the book. Can you come?"

"I'll be there in a couple of hours."

They ordered drinks, ordered food. Swapped stories. Jeremy was drawing comic books for a writer he described as 'moderately famous, if you're into comics'.

Liz said what Elena couldn't; "you should turn Elena's book into a comic." Jeremy smiled, blushed, saying without words that he'd already given it some thought.

Caroline and Tyler talked about their travel exploits. They'd seen half the world. Got married in an Elvis chapel in Las Vegas, and then annulled it, in case they decided to do it properly some time. At one point, they'd planned to climb Mt Everest, and then decided that sounded really boring. Went back to Paris instead.

Matt arrived, with Jenny in tow; more shrieking ensued.

Jenny whispered into Elena's hair. "You got married?"

Elena nodded. Glanced at Jenny's hand, the tiny diamond sparkling there. "When are you guys tying the knot?"

"March. Don't worry, you're invited."

At home, in Alaric's arms, Elena laughed, cried, kissed every inch of his skin. "They're all staying at the boarding house. I sort of wish we were, too."

Alaric thumbed her clit, buried himself in her, licked her neck. "This is our home."

"It doesn't have to be." She tightened her muscles around his cock, nipped at his ear.

"Do you mean…?" Alaric held her eyes, daring her.

"Yes, Ric. I mean it."

In the morning, as Elena began her morning ritual of violating her husband's mostly-sleeping form, there was a knock on the door.

She collapsed onto Alaric's chest. "Let's ignore it," she begged.

"Normally, I'd agree with you, but given the week we're having, that's probably Bonnie." He smiled against her lips.

Elena's heart quickened as she pulled on sweatpants and a singlet.

She opened the door with unnecessary flair.

"Hey, Elena," Bonnie said, chin quivering.

After a day that Bonnie and Elena spent catching up, they had a repeat of the previous evening's performance. The whole gang, plus Jeremy's girlfriend, Charlotte; Bonnie's girlfriend, Magenta; and Jenny. The 'significant others' knew the story, knew every word in Elena's book was true, and it was an odd feeling, to share such memories without the Salvatores there.

Charlotte maintained a look of mild panic a lot of the time, and stared fearfully at Caroline and Tyler, but Jeremy calmed her. She, Magenta and Jenny bonded like a newly formed fan club.

To be in the midst of the people Elena loved most again was equal parts pleasure and pain. Laughter won out over tears, but it was a close call. Pool was played, moments were shared. Elena groaned at requests for book signings, but filled them regardless, filled them with a cheesy grin.

It was different, this time, when they all rolled back out of town. Everyone had everyone's number, and a solemn promise to keep in touch. A promise Elena actually believed, this time. They made tentative plans to meet back here in a year's time. They made noises about booking out the whole of the boarding house. There were just enough rooms for the whole gang.

Elena leaned into Alaric's side and felt for the first time in years like a girl who didn't carry a curse.

It had been years since they'd done it, but Elena and Alaric made love in the back seat of his truck, unable to wait until they got home.

"I think…" Alaric whispered into Elena's throat. "I think I like being the happy ending."

"I like being your happy ending."

They lay on the back seat, sated and lazy. "Wedding bells now, and in a couple of years they'll be pushing baby carriages."

"You know I won't ever have children, right?"

The declaration came out of nowhere. Alaric tensed.

"The Petrova line. It dies with me." Elena's expression was fierce. Alaric nodded.

"I get that. We can adopt. Foster. Or just make love six times a day until we die of old age." His head was tucked against Elena's breast, his mouth moving against the silky flesh there.

"It's pretty great when plans A, B and C are equally perfect. You definitely don't mind?"

He answered by covering her mouth with his.

After a night of revelry, reunion and revelation, neither could safely drive, but the walk wasn't long.

Neither expected to find Damon on the couch, drinking bourbon, when they got home.

Already preparing for round two, Alaric swung Elena into the wall, sucking on her bottom lip, making her shriek, pushing her shirt up over her breasts.

Damon coughed loudly. "Don't mind me."

It was as if the air in the room dropped ten degrees.

Elena and Alaric froze like stones, for a moment. Only a moment. Alaric took an automatic, protective step forward, shielding Elena from a threat that didn't exist.

"The scene at the Grill was touching. I couldn't bring myself to ruin it." He was pouring another drink. "I bet you're asking yourselves how I got in here." Damon raised his glass to his lips. "I was surprised myself. I heard a rumour, once, years ago, about 'standing invitations'. If the occupants of a home actually love you, and bear you no ill will, believe that you bear them no ill will, and if, despite the fact that you're a vampire you actually bear them no ill will, you might get a standing invitation. Which means you can get into any place they call home. It's really rare." Somehow, he got through this with barely a hint of snark. Actually sounded a little sad.

Elena placed a hand on Alaric's waist. Silently begged for guidance.

"The fact that I walked in here with no resistance made me feel like a complete ass for staying away so long. But it's nice to know you don't hate me. Which you should."

"Damon." It was Elena who actually spoke, to Alaric's surprise. "What are you doing here?"

Damon drank slowly, slower than necessary. Alaric tangled Elena's fingers in his own. So much to say, and no one could speak, no one could move.

Damon stood slowly. "I shouldn't have come."

Elena took an awkward step forward, took him into her arms. Alaric watched as Damon nestled his face into his wife's neck, held her tight. He wasn't surprised that when he pulled away, Damon's eyes were wet. His mouth twisted in regret as he held Alaric's eyes, his arms twitching with the need to take his friend in his arms.

Alaric nodded, and a moment later, six years were rewound. Damon's faintly smoky smell and slightly cool skin were at once shockingly alien and achingly familiar. "I'm so sorry," Damon whispered against his ear, before drawing his head back, just enough to plant a soft kiss on Alaric's lips.

"Me too," he answered.

Elena poured drinks; bourbon for her boys, and gin for herself. She hadn't drunk bourbon again since the night she learned the boarding house had been sold.

It was late, after three in the morning, but they sat up and talked. Damon kept his eyes low, much of the time, as if he was ashamed.

"I had a brother for a hundred and sixty four years, and then I killed him." He shrugged, his attempt at nonchalance a total failure. "I did the right thing, and I'd do it again."

Elena took his hand. "Damon…"

He squeezed her hand in his. "It hurt like… Fuck. I did the right thing. I know I did. But I lost my fucking mind, after."

"How could you not have?" Alaric spread an uneasy arm across the back of the couch, but could not quite reach his friend.

"You don't look like Katherine any more." Damon gave Elena an appraising look. Took in her strong arms, and more.

Elena giggled. "Yeah. She pretended to be me once, last year, tried to hit on Ric, but she didn't fool him for a second."

"I read the book."

Elena nodded. "What did you think?"

Damon shrugged. "It was well-written, for a teenage romance novel. But the brothers were a pair of douchebags. I don't know what Eleanor saw in either of them."

"They had their moments."

Impulsively, Damon placed his head in Elena's lap. Alaric rested a hand on his shoulder, and Elena ran soft fingers through his hair. "I'm so tired. I've been tired for six years. I've been alone for six years."

"That was your choice, man." Alaric spoke more softly than Elena could ever remember him speaking. The anger was long gone.

"I made the wrong one. Can I stay? Just for a while?"

"Stay as long as you like."

(It doesn't matter who said that. They spoke as one, now.)

They were packed like sardines onto the couch, and it felt remarkably like home.

Damon breathed in Elena's scent, Alaric's scent. The combined scent that made up their home. "I shouldn't have left the way I did."

"Damon," she breathed into his hair. "We know why you left. We know."

"I shouldn't have left you that note."

This, she couldn't argue with. The note that she'd carried in her wallet for four years, unfolded and refolded, until the words were only ideas; I don't know. Sometimes.

She'd burned it the night she'd discovered he'd sold the boarding house. Burned it in the ashtray of her little red car.

"I couldn't have chosen Stefan over you. You know that, right?"

She couldn't help herself, tracing the contours of his face with her thumb. Hoping Alaric understood.

"He was your brother, Damon. You loved him. You -"

"Once he was the ripper again, there was nothing left of our Stefan. I could never have chosen that… shell over you. Please, Elena."

She tightened her hand in his hair. "It's nice to hear it." What shocked her about this was the realisation that she'd never missed Stefan, in all these years; only the brother she held now.

Damon ran his thumb over Alaric's wedding band like it was a talisman. "I've been keeping tabs on you two. But I didn't know about this."

"You have?" Alaric was surprised. He'd always thought that if Damon was ever close enough to pay attention, he'd have felt it, somehow.

"I just wanted to know you were both safe and having a life. When I saw you were together, I thought it was…" He wrapped a hand around Elena's waist. She tried not to notice that he could smell her arousal, lying against the top of her thigh the way he was. "I'm sorry. I don't know what I thought. But it's real, isn't it? It looks real."

Alaric snaked his arm tighter around his wife's waist. The tangle of limbs was getting ridiculous.

"It's real," he said. Elena leaned into him, but couldn't take her eyes off Damon's face. "We love each other."

Damon laughed, so full of regret.

"I thought I ruined you both."

"Life ruined us both, Damon. We put each other back together again. It took years. But we're good."

"We're better than good," Elena added.

Alaric and Elena lay curved against each other in their bed.

"I can't believe he's here." With his thumb, Alaric mapped the swell of Elena's hip. She leaned in to kiss him, as if to say it didn't matter, that nothing had changed.

They were almost asleep when Damon came in. He was naked. Climbed under the sheets, shocking a half-asleep Elena awake.

"Damon? What are you doing?"

He answered by closing his mouth over hers. She (sort of) resisted, until Alaric put his hand on her arm. Silently granting permission, though he couldn't have been sure he wanted to share his wife. Nor share Damon.

Damon stretched across Elena's body, turned to Alaric, then, and kissed him as well. Elena sat up, a hand over her lips, stunned into silence.

Cautiously, she reached a hand out to touch Damon's cool skin.

He turned to her. "Just one night, Elena. Just one time."

She looked to her husband. His eyes were clear, cautious and hopeful. "No ghosts in this bed," he said, as she ran a thumb across his lips.

Six legs, six arms ending in six wonderful hands. Three mouths. One aching, throbbing clit; two glorious cocks; more than enough holes to stick them in. Somehow the math worked perfectly and Elena had the sense she'd been given something back that she didn't even know was missing.

At times, she didn't know who she was touching, who was touching her. At one point, she was aware that she was lying apart, watching her men devour each other while she brought herself to climax with one gentle finger. At one beautiful moment, with Alaric buried inside her, his hands on her breasts, she kissed Damon over her husband's shoulder, and thought Alaric might be exactly where he belonged for the first time ever, quivering, needy and needed.

When at last they fell asleep, it was Elena between them.

In the morning, Damon was gone, but the bed didn't feel empty. He left a note.

"See you both soon, D." He'd also left his phone number, which made Elena smile.

Life went on.


The day after Elena's twenty-fifth birthday, she and Alaric hitched a trailer to his truck and put Mystic Falls in their rear view mirror. Alaric would start teaching at his alma mater in the fall semester and Elena would start a writing course at the same time.

Elena found herself grinning irrepressibly. "I never thought I could do this."


She punched Alaric's arm lightly. "You know what."

"Yeah. Still wanna hear you say it, wifey."

"You're an ass."

"Yeah." He pulled her across the bench seat, mashed a kiss into her temple. "Come on, Elena. You're the big-time writer. You're the girl with the words."

Suddenly sombre, she gripped his leg. "I didn't think I could leave here, ever. Have a life away from Mystic Falls, leave my parents' graves behind..."

"We'll be here once a year until us fragile humans are all dead. That was the promise, right?"

Elena nodded. "Once a year. The whole gang." She sighed. "Plus, total bonus, no more Founders' parties."

"No regrets?" he said, changing gear and pulling out onto the highway.

"No regrets," she smiled back at him.

Damon would always find them when he needed them, and there were no more ghosts in the bed.