Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I in any way associated with, TVD. I'm just taking the characters out for a spin.

Afterward

Elena Gilbert died one bright and shining morning sometime after her eighty-second birthday. Her family - adopted daughter, grandchildren, various nieces and nephews - had all come in the months since the diagnosis to say their goodbyes. They would be comforted, when the news of her passing reached them hours later, to think the family matriarch wasn't alone in her final moments. A young, blonde nurse had sat with her, holding her hand.

"I'm sorry," Caroline said.

"Don't you dare," Elena said. "I'm not afraid. I've done this before, remember?"

"I wish I could go with you."

"No, you don't."

The bed shifted, sinking more from Caroline's slight weight than Elena's. Elena rested her head against Caroline's, smiling at the memory of countless sleepovers. Caroline's bones felt sharp against Elena's thin skin. She might have told her to move but everything hurt these days and at least this pain was worth it. She sighed wistfully, missing days when it was three of them wrapped around each other in a tiny bed, laughing and giggling until they couldn't keep their eyes open.

"I wish Bonnie were here," Elena sighed.

"I'm right here," Bonnie said.

Elena opened her eyes to find dark hair where a moment ago there had been blonde. Bonnie's bones didn't hurt the way Caroline's had. Nothing hurt anymore.

It should have been shocking and perhaps a little bit sad.

Elena and Bonnie laughed. They laughed and jumped and danced and when Jeremy joined them they began all over again.

"Come with us," Bonnie said. "Everyone's waiting."

"Mom, Dad," Jeremy said. "Jenna, Ric, John, Isobel. They all want to see you."

Being in between destinations as they were, there was nothing at all in any direction. All the same, Elena looked over her shoulder as if back at the life she had left behind. She thought perhaps she could hear Caroline crying.

"I can't," she said.

Jeremy hugged her tight and Bonnie held her hand until the very last. Then they were gone.

People passed Elena by. At first it was all children she had watched grow. She hugged her daughter and grandchildren and, with a kiss, sent them on their way. Then came children she had never known but in whose eyes she saw Bonnie's fire or whose smiles were crooked like Jeremy's.

Of her friends, Damon was the first to pass her by. He let her hug him but the passion seemed to have left him where she was concerned. He waited with her for a time, how long she couldn't tell. In this place she didn't know a second from an hour and only knew that she never waited so long that she became bored. Caroline and Katherine came almost together.

It was the same as it had been when Elena first arrived. She and Caroline hugged and laughed and didn't care what Damon or Katherine thought of them.

"You're waiting," Caroline said, knowing Elena well enough to understand the look in her eye.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't you dare," Caroline said and laughed. She raced away, dragging Damon along behind her, though he looked like he wanted to stay. They caught up to Katherine, who, ever impatient with their childish antics, had set off ahead of them. Elena watched them walk together, holding hands like some strange family, until it struck her that she might be intruding, removed as their lives were from hers now.

It wasn't long before Stefan came. She was afraid suddenly. She felt seventeen and awkward and afraid he could see on her face how much she'd thought about him since their first, unfortunate meeting.

"Elena," he said. So much was wrapped up in that word. Tears and apologies and confessions and entreaties for forgiveness.

She took his face in her hands and kissed him once, just a chaste touch of the lips. His arms wrapped comfortably around her waist. He fit her, as he always had.

Were they still on this side, there would have been more to say. She might have told him how she'd always kept a bookshelf and a drawer empty in case he came. He might have told her that he'd known, that he could never stay away, that he'd always loved her, and she would have said the same.

There was no need for that though. They bore none of those old insecurities that needed soothing. Free as they were from all that had ever held them down, all that had ever kept them apart, they knew, and hand in hand, they walked on.


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