Well everyone, here were are. The final chapter. And it's short and sweet. I really hope you all have enjoyed reading this story as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I kind of have the urge to burst into tears; that's how much I've fallen in love with this one.

But one last time… I want to say thank you to everyone who has reviewed, subscribed, favorited, and read this story. Your support is the reason I was able to finish this after the S3 finale and I can't thank you enough.


Two Summers Later

The wind blew subtly, catching branches and blades of grass in its motion. Squirrels darted between white oaks and sparrows gathered on top of the gazebo. Rays of light streaked across the scenery, illuminating everything in brilliant tones of gold and pink. Running water from the stream cut through the noise, underscoring nature at its purest, making everything come alive. It was such a vast difference from the image I'd held of this place years ago. The one painted with harsh strokes of betrayal, dabs of mourning, splatters of tears, and the overall color palette of death.

Gazing at the image and listening to the subtle sounds of my tiny town, I knew that this place - the one I once held so much animosity and fear towards - was indeed my home. Maybe once I'd thought that title could be given to some distant destination offering solace from everything I was running away from, but not anymore. Those demons had been faced months ago, alongside the man who'd finally opened my eyes and got me to stop running. It only made sense that after overcoming all of that, I'd settled here with him, in the very town I'd been running from.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked, guiding me from the solitary moment I'd found myself in, only two weeks after I'd moved back to Mystic Falls and into his grandiose house.

He'd found me in one of my favorite spots, tucked away in his bedroom's window nook. At his intrusion, I turned my attention from the scene behind the screen just in time to see Damon saunter his way into the room. Even after the time we'd shared together, it still surprised me every time the mere sight of him had my lips curling into a smile and a sigh loading in the back of my throat.

"Nothing," I dismissed with a quick shake of the head, feeling the smile extend to my eyes. "Is Tyler all moved out?"

"Yep, the house is ours and ours alone," he replied, stepping across the hardwood to lounge on the king bed.

The tone of his voice and its implication stroked that deep spot in me, the one he'd only ever had the ability to reach.

The house was finally ours. It'd been Damon's choice to persuade his best friend to move in with his new girlfriend, the one who wasn't Caroline. They'd parted on pleasant terms, without a bad word spoken from either party. The distance, which so few could overcome, had simply been too much for their relationship to handle. It required a deep resounding love that they both wish they'd shared, but unfortunately it wasn't the case. Not like Damon and me.

That didn't mean Damon and I didn't have our fair share of fights. We did. Distance was hard, even for the strongest couples and I'd spent the occasional night crying into a pillow at Richmond over some silly argument I'd started simply over the fact of missing him so damn much. But at the end of the day, we always found ourselves back in each other's arms, whether it was in his bed here in Mystic Falls or my tiny twin in Richmond. It's where we both felt most comfortable anyways.

"I can't pretend I hate the sound of that," I mused, raising myself from the window and stepping to the edge of the bed. "But I have to ask," I inquired with one brow lifted, "who are you going to trick into cleaning it now?"

"What? I have to trick someone?" he countered, feigning shock before his arm swept out to pull me onto the bed with him. I released a giggle as my body suddenly became nestled between Damon's and his luxurious comforter.

"I thought part of the deal of you moving in here was that you became my personal maid," he taunted, sweeping stray hairs from my face to alleviate their interference. "I give you free board and you give me free services. It's a win/win."

His eyes glimmered mischievously above mine; his standard smirk firmly adhered to his lips, as I wrestled underneath of his hold. "I'm here for other reasons, you ass," I defended, resisting the urge to burst out into an uncontrollable fit of laughter as his fingertips pushed into the most sensitive divots of my sides.

"Okay, you're right," he succumbed. And I was right.

Of course I'd moved in with Damon for the obvious reason, but there were so many more factors that came into play. I was the sole member of his marketing team, the one responsible for the advertisements lining the highway, the organization with the women of the town's council for hosted events, the quickly spreading word of mouth that kept his business the success it was, and the employee that made it worth his while to stay late certain nights in order to reenact specific memories from when the place was a dusty pile of lumber. I'd done the tasks before I graduated because I cared for Damon and wanted him to succeed. Now, I did them because it was my job and his bar was as big a part of my life as it was his. If it tanked, we both went down with it – together.

His place was also a short drive away from my parent's old home. The one which currently housed two crazy parents chasing after their daughter who'd just discovered she could walk. My aunt, Ric, and their little bundle of joy were a mess. The best kind of mess; with laughter, fabric stains, and pictures flooding my aunt's Instagram account. Her latest had been taken in my old bedroom, which had been transformed into Isabel's nursery, and had my niece sprawled on the bed between a glowing Ric and Jenna's re-expanding tummy.

Damon's fingers slid down my sides to capture my hips and pull my body down the bed, flush against his. With a leg firmly wrapped around each of his sides, my eternal effect on his libido was evident against my center.

"And we should probably start taking advantage of those reasons. You have rent to pay," he demanded, smoothing his right hand out flat as it drifted from my waste and up towards my breasts.

The move and seductive, yet devilish, set to his lashes had my insides clenching immediately. Naughty thoughts and delicious intentions flitted into my mind as his lips fastened themselves to my neck, but I wasn't letting him get away with that one.

"Damon Salvatore!" I exasperated through laughter, resulting in a heavy blast of vibrations against my neck as he released chuckles along the delicate stretch of skin.

The lure of his seduction technique was still present. But resisting every urge to grind myself against the bulge tantalizing the space between my thighs, I reached behind me and latched my fingers onto the nearest pillow. Then I swung it at his face.

In my mind, the force I executed with that hit must have rivaled that of a professional boxer's swing. And when the pillow busted on contact, sending feathers exploding into the air, I was feeling pretty damn smug.

For a moment, Damon seemed to forget how to do anything but stare at me, complete with a bewildered expression splashed over his features, as white feathers gracefully drifted all around us. Then he blinked. And I knew all bets were off.

"Look what you did," he taunted, wrapping his right arm around my neck and pulling me into a complicated headlock. "Now you're gonna have to clean that up."

Laughter ripped through me, combining with the twisted position I'd found myself in, as I attempted to breath. It was difficult, but manageable as I threatened, "Don't start something we don't have time to finish. You know I'm meeting the girls in a half hour."

My dinner date with Caroline, Bonnie and Meredith had been scheduled for weeks and as much as I currently wanted to forgo special time with my girls to take advantage of the man contorting me into naughty positions, I couldn't. Not when it was Caroline's farewell dinner. It was the last time I'd see her in weeks, or at least until I got my butt up to New York to see her in the chorus on Broadway.

"Fine. I'll be on my best behavior," Damon conceded as he released his hold on my head and lifted to rest above me. His weight was evenly distributed between each arm and his mouth was just a breath away. "Besides, the good thing about having you here is that I can take advantage of you later."

"And I give you full permission," I replied cheekily, shifting my brows briefly towards my hairline before pressing a kiss against his lips.

When we pulled apart, his eyes remained locked on mine and his body didn't lift from the bed. There was adoration rimming those irises I'd fallen in love with, taking me by the heart and giving it a swift tug. We remained like that for a moment, in the silence that never felt forced or uncomfortable, before he inquired, "But really, what were you thinking about when I walked in? By the looks of you, you were thinking pretty hard about something.

"I was just thinking about us," I admitted truthfully, reaching to pluck a rebel white feather from his hair. "Me. Being here."

Understanding flooded his eyes before slipping down to his smile. "Who would have guessed that the girl who so desperately wanted to get away from this place has now decided to root herself here."

"Well, I guess things change," I mused. "People and mindsets included." Or at least they did when someone like Damon Salvatore entered their life and refused to back down. He'd been quite a force. One I hadn't regretted meeting and allowing into my life a single day since.

"I guess they do," he agreed softly, the tone of his voice mimicking the caress of his breath against the soft skin of my cheek.

"Now what are you thinking about?" I asked as his eyes studied me, searching my features as if I had the answer to every question on his mind. I liked to think that I did.

His eyes softened at my question and a smile lit his face as he replied, "I'm just thinking about that time I saw you stranded on the side of the highway. And how relieved I felt when I realized it was you."

"Relieved?" I interjected, lifting my hands to play with the random chunks of hair around his ears. "Because I was the only girl to ever resist that lure of yours and you needed to redeem yourself?"

"You were the only girl to ever resist my charm, at first," he clarified, enhancing the truth with narrowed eyes charged in my direction. Then they softened again. "But that's not the reason."

Damon maneuvered his hand slightly so it could mimic the movements of mine. With his fingers twined through strands of my hair he confessed, "Since the first time I saw you, it's felt different."

"Different?" I questioned with knitted brows. "Care to clarify?"

"This thing between you and me. It felt different; from the very beginning," he proclaimed, inching forward to place a kiss against my head. The touch of his skin and the weight of his confession had my nerve endings lit up like the Fourth of July. "And I went months after our first meeting knowing that and thinking I'd missed my opportunity, only for you to suddenly pop up on the side of the highway."

I frowned. "I was a bitch to you that day."

"But you were hot," he countered with his traditional smirk, "which of course made it okay."

"Naturally," I rationalized in amusement.

His eyes seemed to brighten in response before his smirk became a genuine mega-watt smile. The happiness radiating from it, which rivaled my own, was almost blinding. "It was then that I realized we had our chance. That this wasn't going to be some tiny blip of a relationship on our radars."

"When I was acting like a bitch to you on the side of the highway?" I countered, skeptical that my ice queen act had produced that sort of response from him.

"Even before then," he corrected, shaking his head slightly. "It happened when your mouth dropped and you realized it was me. You put up one hell of a front, but darling, you are 100% readable and I knew from the start that you felt it. You knew it was different too."

His confidence was turned on high, the very confidence that had led to this moment and us being here – together. It'd been both a turn on and an annoyance in the beginning, but now it was just a trait that I respected. Without that confidence, he would have given up on me and my unbreakable walls before I ever got the chance to feel what I did without them. For him.

"You always had faith in me and that intuition of yours," I commended. "Even when I went back to school."

"Well," he drawled, cocking his head to the side, "obviously I had my doubts, but – as you know – Caroline helped me deal with those."

There was a cunning little twist to his lips as I revisited the memory of Caroline finally coming clean. They'd both sat me down at the grill one night to tell me that when I broke things off with Damon and continued to live in my state of denial at school, she'd kept him informed on my dating life. Or lack thereof.

I hadn't been mad; not even close.

In a way, I'd been grateful. Thankful that her optimistic heart couldn't let the concept of Damon and I as a couple fade, while still respecting me and my state of denial enough to let me realize things on my own. She'd been a great friend, always will be, even if she had a big mouth.

"She always liked you," I mused, running my finger along the soft swell of his lips.

"With good reason," he replied.

"Very good reason," I agreed, before inching my hand around his neck to pull him into a slow, sensual kiss.

When we pulled apart, his voice was unmistakably huskier, as he proclaimed, "You know, sometimes I look at you and I don't think I could even begin to describe how much I love you."

"You don't have to say anything," I said - because it was true. The sweep of his thumb against my cheek, the gentle response of his lips against mine, and the affection streaming from his eyes said it for him. The man was still as consumed by this as I was.

With great effort, I lowered my voice to mimic the tone of his and mocked, "Because you, my darling, are 100% readable."

"Is that so?" he asked, eyebrows raised in a challenge.

"Absolutely." Of that, I was 100% confident.

"So you know what's about to happen?"

It was the very question I'd asked him by the river. Difference was, I didn't know what was about to happen.

"You're going to kiss me goodbye before I head off to meet the girls," I supplied innocently, giving it my best guess.

"Before that," he instructed, sliding his hand down the side of my body.

"You're going to say something sweet to make me love you even more than I already do?" I teased.

He scoffed, dipping his hand further south on my body. "That's impossible and I've been saying sweet things all morning. But you're getting closer."

"You're…" I started when his hand slipped into his pocket. "You're…" I tried again, but the action was too distracting. Especially when he pulled out a box and placed it onto my stomach. "Holy shit! You're going to propose," I exclaimed; the words fumbled from my mouth without any form of tact. It made sense considering the frantic and jumbled state of my mind.

Shock, awe, terror, exhilaration, and general hysteria broke out inside of me. Gears were cranking and thoughts were spiraling through my mind as I tried to get a grip on what was really was really happening. That was the inside. On the outside, my jaw just went slack and my body stiffened.

"Elena Gilbert, you are the most insightful woman I've ever met," he teased, laughing at my reaction. "One who apparently reads me remarkably well."

"Damon," I chastised, suddenly reclaiming the use of my motor skills and limbs as my hands shot to the sides of my cheeks. "You're proposing, stop making me laugh!"

Of course, he laughed again. The sound was beautiful, gripping me where it was the most effective – around the heart.

"Since the first moment I saw you, I knew that you were going to be a challenge. You didn't let me down in that regard, still haven't, but I wouldn't change anything about what it took to get us from that first night to right now. I've changed you. You've shaped me. Because of that, we've overcome more than any couple should ever be able to. And through it all, I never doubted us once and I doubt I ever will."

There was more adoration shining from his crystal blue eyes than I thought humanly possible. And despite the previously frenzied state of my thoughts, they all halted to watch him slide down the side of the bed, taking the box with him. I couldn't see his legs, but I didn't need to to understand he was on one knee.

He waited a second; probably giving my heart a second to regulate it's frantic beating, before he flipped the box open. Nestled inside was a single diamond. It was princess cut, glimmering under the streaks of light breaking through the window, and all mine if I wanted it.

My eyes seemed incapable of peeling from that vision, but miraculously they did as Damon's voice broke through the silence. "I have to ask you this one question because despite the odds, we're still here. I've gone a year and a half being separated from you, pretending that every other weekend was enough, and I don't want to go another day without you in my bed. So, Elena, will you marry me?"

Each word in his last question had come out distinctly separate, stretching its appealing invite into something otherworldly. There was hope on his features, the sparkle of them rivaling that of the very ring in his hands, and I couldn't believe that this was happening. How did I - Elena Gilbert and previous cynic when it came to matters of the heart – ever find this man? I had no idea. But I wasn't about to let him go.

"Yes."

The word came out as more of a squeak than anything as I launched myself from the bed and into his arms. In usual fashion, he saw my action before I'd even prepared for it, and caught me with both arms. His hands fisted into my hair, pulling me into him as my lips met his, creating the seamless fusion we'd just verbally established.

I kissed him with all I had, feeling elation pump through my veins with each glide of his tongue along mine. And when we pulled apart and he slid the ring onto my finger, I gazed down at it with eyes as wide as saucers.

"Do you realize what you just asked me?" I cried out in disbelief. The moment still didn't seem real to me, more like a happy ending from a ridiculous fairy tale I swore I'd stopped believing years ago, but it was real. This had happened. I was going to be Damon Salvatore's wife.

My eyes darted between the ring currently resting on my finger, shouting to the world that I was a claimed woman, and the blue eyes that whispered I'd never regret agreeing to it. And then I laughed, hysterically, feeling the weight of this moment get the best of me as liquid flooded my eyes.

"I've had weeks to plan for this," he said, excitement lacing through his words as his hands lifted to capture the sides of my face. "The real questions is do you realize what you just agreed to?"

As my eyes shifted from the ring and onto the man who'd reassembled the broken fragments of my past, I did. I knew exactly what I'd agreed to.

I'd been told that people came into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. With Damon, I'd anticipated it being the second, had been shocked to discover it was the first, but now I understood. It didn't necessarily have to be one or the other. He'd entered my life to claim all three. What had started as a summer romance had turned into the summer and the man who'd changed my life. It only made sense that he'd earned the lifetime that came with it.

So I pulled Damon closer, feeling the heat of his cheek as it rested against mine and savored the certainty behind my next word. Then I whispered, "Forever."


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