She wanted to go to college. He wanted to go to Florence.
"Or Kyoto. Or Capetown. Ooh, Buenos Aires! Come on, Elena. Tango. Cowboys. What's not to like? College can wait; we can always compel you into any school you want later. The Sorbonne, maybe."
Elena threw her mortar board at him. He caught it easily, toying with the tassel as she shimmied out of her graduation robe. Caroline's "Stayin' Alive" themed graduation party started in half an hour, and Caroline was not a fan of her guests arriving fashionably late. Elena stepped into her dress—gold, in honor of her new school. "We aren't having this discussion again. I'm going to college. The world can wait for four little years."
They'd had this argument every day for the past six months, ever since they'd sat down with a stack of college brochures. Damon argued that he could give her a far better education than anything she could learn in some stuffy ivory tower. He was probably right. But if they were off in Kyiv or whatever place Damon insisted she needed to see that day, she wouldn't be here for Jeremy's last year of school. She wouldn't get to see Matt and Caroline during holidays. She'd have to really say goodbye to Mystic Falls, once and for all. And Elena just wasn't ready to do that. For all the blood and heartbreak and graves here, Elena couldn't leave it behind just yet, couldn't embrace the new weirdness of her life. Maybe once she'd had four more years to grow up, four more years to adjust to her life as a vampire, four more years of adjusting to her life with Damon, maybe then she'd be ready to cut the last ties.
Things had been quiet the past few months. Sure, there had been a little scuffle with Rebekah, a nasty incident where Esther haunted Jeremy through his ring, trying to twist his thoughts against vampires and remold him in her own perverse image, but they'd dealt with both of those easily enough. No, the hard things had been remembering how to go to school without ripping her classmates' throats out, how to balance time for homework and time with her friends with Damon's demands on her attention, how to live on cold, unsatisfying bagged blood, how she was going to get into college with her grades. But somehow, everything worked out. She'd survived. They'd survived. And day by day, they worked on doing something more—remembering how to live.
It was hard. Fighting and surviving were simple. Remembering how to smile and laugh, mending fences with Stefan and Caroline and Jeremy, that was hard. Finding a natural rhythm with Damon when their moments together weren't stolen between battles, learning how to be together, that was hard. Some days, getting out of bed was the hardest part of all. But Elena grew stronger, learned to manage her grief and guilt. After all, pain shared was pain halved, and every night when she awoke screaming, visions of bloody throats and vacant eyes fresh and raw, Damon was there to hold her, to make her laugh, to soothe her back to sleep.
"Easy for you to be patient," he grumbled. "I've waited almost two hundred years for a girl like you; you just lucked into me." He crossed the room and zipped the back of her dress, snaking one arm around her waist.
"Whatever happened to that whole 'life can never be boring as long as I'm with you' thing you told me once?" she teased, relaxing against his chest.
"Oh, that's true. That's very true. But there are degrees of fun, and four more years living with your kid brother in Mystic Falls while you commute to Hollins is fairly low on the list. But I'm sure we'll find some way of amusing ourselves." He pressed his lips to the back of her neck, sending lightning bolts dancing up and down her spine.
Elena smiled and turned in his arms until she faced him. "I think we're going to be a little late for the party."
He grinned as she pulled him onto the bed. "Okay, but you're telling her this was your idea."
At first, Elena reveled in the routine and the normalcy, pretended to be a typical college student, went on spring break with Caroline, spent evenings helping Jeremy fill out his own college applications. Damon spent his days substituting at Mystic Falls High, which never ceased to amuse her or irritate Jeremy. For a while, that was enough for all of them. But once Jeremy headed off to the University of Colorado, the trappings of that life she'd wanted, the one with the white picket fence and the good job and the pleasant tyranny of a mundane life, it all seemed to matter less and less. What mattered was the call of adventure, the siren song of the open road and the endless unknown Damon offered her. As soon as she stepped off that graduation stage with her History degree in hand, they drove for the airport and boarded the first plane out of town. It didn't matter where they were going, only that they went together.
There were years when they slept in a different bed every night in their thirst to see everything, experience everything. There were months where they scarcely left their bed, caught in an endless, ferocious embrace that threatened to devour them both. Damon showed Elena worlds she'd only dreamed of; Elena showed Damon the world with new eyes.
Sometimes, companions joined them on their travels. One long summer saw Damon, Elena, and Stefan on a yacht in the Greek Isles, drinking ouzo in the shadows of fallen temples. There was no awkwardness between them now, no bitterness over the love they'd lost, only a fondness for the people they'd once been and what they'd given each other. They were a family again, all three of them. Elena and Caroline spent long months together in New York, just the two of them, playing at life in the city. Once, Elena caught a glimpse of a familiar pair of brown eyes in the back streets of Cairo, a knowing smile just like hers. They'd nodded to each other and Katherine melted into the throngs.
Sometimes Damon and Elena put down roots for years at a time, dabbling at jobs—Damon in libraries and museums, Elena with children- as the spirit moved them, making friends, but inevitably moving on, always on. But no matter where the world took them or how many years passed, when the air grew chill and the harvest moon rose full and fat, they found themselves in Mystic Falls, raising a glass of bourbon and laying roses on so many graves.
It took a decade for Elena to brave feeding on people again, another quarter century before the nightmares stopped. But time lost its meaning the day Jeremy died. Jeremy had been the last remnant of her human life, had been ever since Matt died a decade before, when his great heart just stopped beating. Being with Jeremy, with his dark-eyed children and then grandchildren, had reminded her of what she could have had, if only she'd chosen differently. But the day they brought him home to Mystic Falls and buried him next to all those who had gone before, Elena buried her regrets with him. That was the day eternity truly began.
Together, Damon and Elena danced and laughed their way through the centuries. They still fought. They still hurt each other with cruelties both casual and calculated. Their love was never going to be one of daisies and sunshine; it would always be one of thorny roses and stormy clouds punctuated by brilliant lightning.
Damon pushed Elena to embrace the wildness within her, just as she pushed him to remember the goodness lurking inside him. Their love grew and evolved, becoming something deeper than words and truer than feelings, always remaining a love that consumed them both; a love full of passion and adventure, even a little danger. It was a love that made them whole, and a love that gave them both the strength to live.