Is it sick that I enjoyed every single review that said that you cried? Haha! Probably.
So here it is. This is the official end of Pretend You Love Me. It's bittersweet to see this end. This has gotten such an amazing response, I can't even comprehend it. So to every single one of you who has taken time to read this, thank you so much. And to every one of you who reviewed, they have meant the world to me. I know it hasn't been an easy ride and at times it looked bleak, but for those who have endured to the end, I hope it's been worth it.
Thanks to Jenn (elvishgrrl) for being such a wonderful beta. She's amazing.
He sighed and glared at the stack of papers on his desk. So many arrangements to make still, so many papers to sign. Days like today he wanted to say screw it all. How ironic was it that his birthday fell on the four month anniversary of the best and worst day of his life? The day his baby girl was born. The day his wife... he couldn't even finish the thought, even after four months. The past four months had been a crazy mess. Some of the hardest, yet most rewarding of his life.
A knock at the door pulled him from his morbid thoughts and he hollered out for whoever it was to enter.
Slowly the door creaked open and a grin broke out on his face as his two favorite girls came through the door. His breath caught seeing his wife standing in the doorway. Despite the fact that it had been four months since that day, every time he saw her was a blessing in his eyes. His girls had survived. Ella was burbling happily in her mother's arms until she took one look at Damon and a smile lit her face. It was the moment every day that Damon lived for. Ella loved to smile, but only for him.
"Happy birthday," Elena breathed, smiling at him sweetly. It took everything in him not to leap over his desk and take his girls into his arms like a crazed possessive father. He crossed the room and took a willing Ella into his arms before he freed one arm to wrap around his wife's waist and pull her close.
"My girls," he whispered against Elena's forehead before he pressed his lips against the soft skin there.
They stood there for several quiet moments while his heart swelled in pride. He felt like he'd climbed to the top of Everest. He had both of his girls in his arms and they were safe and happy.
"What do you say you bail out of here early and we'll go have birthday dinner, then when we get home, I'll put Ella to bed early," she purred suggestively, capturing his full attention.
He glanced at his desk, mentally calculating what could be left to deal with on Monday when Elena practically read his mind. "Giuseppe said he'd take care of anything that was time-sensitive."
"You talked to my father?" He pulled back and eyed her with surprise. Last time he checked, they could barely be in a room together without Giuseppe verbally ripping her to pieces.
"I think he likes me a lot more when Ella is around. He just can't seem to say no to anything when he's holding her," Elena said with a shrug, but there was a mischievous glint in her eyes.
"Sneaky, sneaky," he admonished playfully.
She gasped in mock moral outrage. "I'm afraid I have no idea to what you are referring."
He only smiled at her knowingly before kissing her forehead once more. "Let's get out of here."
"Mr. Salvatore?" the doctor's voice rang out in the silent waiting room. Every person inside jumped at the sound of the doctor's voice. Damon walked forward and waited to hear his fate. The fate of his wife.
"Your wife's blood pressure skyrocketed during the C-section and her heart just couldn't handle it, so it gave out," he explained clinically.
His heart stopped and his chest constricted painfully. He wasn't sure how much longer he'd remain upright after his wife's death was confirmed. He felt Stefan's strong hand on his shoulder, giving him the strength to see this through and telling him he'd be there to help Damon get through the rest of his life without his wife.
"But with the help of some quick nurses and Mrs. Salvatore's obviously strong will to live, she's going to be okay."
Damon stared blankly for several minutes. It couldn't be true. There was no way. He watched her die. Watched as her heart gave up and as she gave herself over to death.
And then it hit him like a freight train. Elena was alive. Elena was going to be okay. Tears that he didn't know he still had sprung to his eyes and his hands started shaking with sheer joy. He turned to Stefan who was beaming so brightly, his face looked like it may split in two. Damon smiled at him through his tears and next thing he knew, he was wrapped in his brother's arms in a fierce hug. And then the crying started. Sobs broke out from his smiling lips and he didn't bother trying to choke them back. He only gripped his hands into the fabric of Stefan's shirt and let them out. He listened to everyone else in the waiting room react to the news of Elena's survival and once he pulled himself together, Damon was being passed around the family. He held Jenna and Caroline as they cried, hugged Alaric and exchanged a few manly grunts of emotion with Uncle John and Jeremy, he even shook his father's hand and hugged his mother who'd shown up right as the news of Elena's delivery was announced.
"Can I go see her?" Damon asked the doctor after the small celebration.
"Of course," the man said with a smile before leading Damon to her room.
"How is the baby?" Damon asked as they walked down the hallway.
"The baby is good and healthy, but since she was born premature, we are going to keep her in the NICU in an incubator until she can maintain a stable body temperature. She seems to be doing fine breathing, but we can never be too careful with these things, so we'll keep a steady eye on her. She'll also be intubated for feeding until she is strong enough to suck on her own," the doctor explained. "But we will give you more information and take you to see her once your wife rests and feels up to it."
"Thank you," Damon said sincerely and the doctor seemed to understand that it wasn't just for the information.
He took a deep breath outside her room before he gently nudged the door open. The room was dim when he entered. His eyes landed on her sleeping form and studied her chest until he saw it rise and fall several times, confirming for him that she was actually there, she was alive. She'd survived.
He blinked back more tears, tired of crying in such a happy time, as he crossed the room to sit in the chair next to her bed. He was content just to sit and watch her breathe. But as soon as the skin of his fingers brushed hers, her eyes opened and he really realized that she was here to stay.
Her eyes filled with tears and she thickly whispered his name.
"Oh, baby," he breathed as he gingerly climbed onto the bed next to her and took her into his arms. He smoothed her hair down with one hand while her arms wrapped tightly around his waist and she cried into his chest. He spoke soft words to her to calm her down and soon her loud break down turned into quiet whimpers.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered as she pulled back to gaze at his face.
"I was so scared," he said hoarsely, his voice breaking, giving away just how close it had been.
"Oh, Damon," she cried as she leaned forward and pressed her tear-soaked lips against his. His hands cradled her face as he kissed her back, pouring all the love in his heart into it. All too soon, he pulled away and rested his forehead against hers.
"I love you so much," he said passionately.
"I love you too, Damon. God, I love you," she said as a few more tears fell down her cheeks.
They ate dinner at their diner. Elena told him about her day with Ella, the same thing she did every day when he got off work. He hated that he had to miss so much in his little girl's life, but the way she smiled when he came home from work made it all worth it. He was already wrapped around her tiny little finger. They also gushed about how perfect their child was. They weren't biased, that was just the way it was. She was the perfect baby. She had even been released from the NICU earlier than the doctors expected. She was developing right on schedule and Damon couldn't be more relieved.
The weeks following Ella's release from the hospital were very stressful and sleepless ones. They were both on high alert. Any noise she made in the night, they'd both jump out of bed and be at her crib side in seconds. Typically neither of them could go back to sleep after they'd freaked themselves out, so that left them much time to talk. They'd talked about everything: the miscarriage, the months that followed, Andie, his parents, and their relationship. They were finally on the same page. They'd finally cleared out all the skeletons from the closet. They'd also burned the divorce papers. It was a liberating moment for both of them.
"I think someone is hungry," Elena said as she eyed the whining baby in the carrier.
"I think you're right," Damon agreed as he signed their dinner bill. "Let's go home."
"Can we go see her yet?" Elena asked, bouncing with impatience.
"Are you feeling up to it?" Damon asked in response.
"I feel fine and I just really want to go see her. Please, Damon?" Her accompanying puppy eyes sent him over and he rose from the bed muttering under his breath how he prayed that his daughter never inherited that trait or he'd be screwed.
He poked his head into the hall and asked for them to be taken to the NICU. A few moments later a nurse appeared in the doorway with a wheelchair for Elena. Once she was settled in the - completely unnecessary in her eyes - wheelchair, they were off with Damon pushing her as they followed the nurse. Despite her aversion to the wheelchair, Elena could hardly contain her excitement when they passed through the double doors to the NICU. They quickly and thoroughly washed their hands and forearms before they continued into the neonatal nursery.
They were led through the row of incubators until the nurse stopped and gestured to the last incubator next to the wall. Moisture pooled in her eyes when they landed on the sleeping form inside.
"She weighs two pounds and eight ounces and she's fifteen inches long," the nurse read them her information off of her chart. "She'll remain in the incubator until we are sure that she can maintain a steady temperature and she'll have the feeding tube until she can suck on her own."
Elena tried to listen. She really did, but once her eyes fell on her daughter's face, nothing really mattered.
"Can I touch her?" she asked quietly, not taking her eyes off the tiny baby inside the Plexiglas box.
The nurse smiled warmly before flicking several latches on the side of the incubator, opening up two holes that Elena could stick her arms through.
"Can you help me?" she asked Damon, who nodded and helped her up out of the chair and held her close as they approached the side of the incubator. His hands stayed on her hips, mindful of her healing incision, to hold her steady as she carefully guided her hands through the holes.
Tears pricked her eyes when her fingertips brushed the satiny skin of her baby girl.
"She's so soft," she whispered in wondered awe.
Elena's fingers danced over the fine hairs on her head, then drifted to her tiny hand. Elena counted every finger and toe once and then once more to be sure.
"Do you have a name picked out yet?" The nurse said, interrupting her third count of the baby's toes. "Baby Girl Salvatore is an awful mouthful."
The three of them let out a peal of soft laughter before Damon and Elena exchanged glances before Damon spoke. "We're naming her Ella."
Elena felt herself smile so wide that it almost hurt.
"I'll go get the paperwork filled out and ready for you to sign and let you have a moment alone," the nurse smiled at them and then turned and disappeared out of the nursery.
"I can't believe she's ours," Elena whispered to him, smiling up sweetly at his face. She slid one arm out of the incubator and spoke again, "Feel her, Damon."
With one arm still wrapped firmly around her waist, he slipped his free hand through the arm hole. His fingers landed on the warm skin of her little leg.
"Hi, Ella," he whispered, she could hear how his voice was thick with emotion. "It's your mommy and daddy."
His voice and his words hit her hard and formed a lump in her throat. She realized then just how close she'd come to never meeting Ella or seeing Damon again. How devastating it would've been to leave them. It physically hurt her to imagine it.
"Hi, baby girl," Elena spoke softly, still trying to blink back her tears. "We love you so much."
With a hand still on Ella, she turned toward Damon and wrapped her free arm around his waist before she stretched up on her toes and pressed a soft kiss to the rough hairs growing in on his cheek.
Happiness nearly boiled out of her. She had the family she'd always dreamed of. And nothing could ever try to take them from her again, not if she could help it.
He was close behind her as she climbed the stairs to Ella's nursery once they arrived home. The lights were dim in the small room as Elena took her baby girl from her carrier and carried her to the rocking chair in the corner. Once she had Ella settled and happily feeding, her eyes landed on Damon who was setting out Ella's pajamas for the night.
She never imagined when she met Damon that he'd ever be going through a drawer of baby clothes to find the perfect outfit for a baby girl to sleep in. Yet, it seemed so natural for him. He'd fallen into the role of father so easily. Every time Ella would wake in the night, he'd stay up with her or he'd take Ella himself and change her or bring her to the bed so Elena could feed her. No matter how many times Elena would tell him to go back to sleep because he had to work in the morning, he'd still stay up with her. And every day when he returned from work, instead of wanting time to unwind in peace, he'd take Ella from wherever she was and watch TV with her, or calm her cries, or he'd let Elena feed her while he cooked dinner. He was everything she could've asked for in a husband and in the father of her child.
He turned and gazed at her as Ella finished her dinner with heavy eyelids. He crossed the room and easily lifted her from her mother's arms and took her to the changing table. A new diaper and a set of bright pink pajamas later, he was laying the sleeping baby in her crib and turning on the baby monitor. Elena tried to convince him that she'd be okay without it, but he insisted on keeping it on through the night.
His arm wound around Elena's waist as they stood together and watched their baby girl sleep. Occasionally Damon's hand would drift down into the crib and softly stroke Ella's little cheek. It was as if he was reminding himself that she was really here, she was really his forever. It was a scene that never ceased to pull at Elena's heartstrings. They finally backed out of the room and turned the lights off before setting off down the hall to their own bedroom.
"I had a great evening, thank you," Damon said to her as they entered their bedroom.
"You're welcome, but you haven't even opened your present yet," she said coyly as she closed the door.
"Elena, I told you that I didn't need anything-" When he turned to face her, his jaw fell open and he was rendered speechless. Elena had pulled her dress up over her head and stood before him in only her thigh high stockings, and matching bra and panties.
"Holy shit," he said as his eyes shamelessly raked over her body.
Before she could reply with a witty comment, he'd closed the space between them and trapped her between their door and his body. His lips were on hers a moment later. But instead of what she hoped would be a carnal and passionate kiss, he kissed her gently, cradling her head in his hands and almost worshipping her mouth with his.
It wasn't like they hadn't made love in the past four months. Since they'd received the okay from the doctor, it seemed like the only thing they did when Ella was asleep. But He was always gentle, always attentive, but tonight she craved his fire, his intensity that she knew he possessed in bed.
"Damon," she breathed as his lips moved to her ear and then down her neck. "It's been four months. I'm not going to break."
He pulled back and gazed at her for several long moments. She almost thought he was going to deny her, but soon she saw his eyes darken and she knew she'd gotten what she wanted.
He practically lunged at her then, his lips attacking hers with a carnal need and she returned it all the same. His hands came alive and explored the skin she'd exposed just for him. He growled out his approval as his hands cupped her still full breasts. The growl sent shivers straight down her spine and she wasted no time wrapping her arms around his neck and grinding herself against the bulge in his jeans. Deft fingers unclasped her bra and she whipped it off before wrapping her legs around his waist. Their lips never broke contact as he walked them over to the bed.
His body covered hers the moment she hit the bed and he ripped her panties off. His lips went immediately to her breasts while her hands went to the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head. She nearly screamed when his fingers found her warm, wet flesh. She allowed herself to absorb the pleasure before she surprised him and flipped them over. Her heart was in her throat, but she couldn't wait any longer to have him inside her. Straddling his hips, she went to work on his jeans.
"I don't want your fingers in me anymore," she whispered seductively as she tugged his jeans and briefs down his legs, watching with hungry eyes as he sprang free. She crawled back up his body, taking a moment to take him in her hands and feel the soft skin of his hard erection. Her lips continued up his chest as she positioned him and then sank down slowly, reveling in the feel of him inside her. A feeling she'd never tire of. His hands landed on her hips and she watched the pleasure cross his face.
She loved him like this, totally at her mercy. She couldn't help slowing things down a moment so she could just look at him. His eyes popped open as her fingers danced lightly across the skin of his chest and then traced the lines of his face. They were nearly panting as they stared at each other. What was only a moment ago hot and heavy now turned into something much deeper, much more tender. His fingers followed her lead, moving from their place on her knees upward, tracing aimless designs up her thighs and onto the soft skin of her stomach. He surprised her by sitting upright, still remaining inside her. She pressed a soft kiss against his lips as her arms wrapped around his shoulders, loving the feel of his muscles under her hands.
"I love you," she whispered against the shell of his ear, enjoying the goosebumps that appeared.
And then she started to move. Her lips devoured as much skin as she could find as his hands held her hips, helping her move with him. The only sounds that filled the room was the sound of skin against skin and their cries of pleasure as they moved in sync with each other, building them both up higher and higher until finally she found her release with him following right behind her.
Once they caught their breath, he wrapped an arm around the small of her back and laid her down gently on the bed, breaking their precious contact. He snuggled up next to her, running a hand through her hair as he stared at her face.
"That was some birthday present," he said, his voice low and husky and very satisfied.
"I can't say I didn't enjoy it," she replied, turning to face him. She caught a glimpse of his sexy smirk before it dropped off his face and his eyes went cold.
"It's been four months," he whispered, undiluted fear in his eyes.
"I know." And she did know. She woke up that morning knowing exactly what day it was. Knowing exactly how many months it had been. It was still too scary to think about too much.
"I almost lost you," he continued. It was the first time since that day that they really spoke about it. They had spoken about everything else that had happened between them, but never that day and looking at him now, she never wanted to discuss it again. She'd do anything to keep that devastated look out of his eyes.
"But you didn't," she replied passionately, cupping his cheek with her hand.
"And thank God," he breathed.
They lay in silence, staring into each other's eyes and reveling in their love.
"I have something for you," Damon said softly, breaking the silence, his hand still running through her hair.
"You do?" she asked, curiosity getting the better of her. "But it's your birthday, you aren't supposed to get my anything."
"Trust me, I'll be getting something out of it," he said mysteriously before rolling off the bed and leaving her cold without his warmth beside her.
She leaned up on an elbow, pulling the blankets over her chilly skin, and watched him rummage through his nightstand drawer. He made a sound of triumph when he found what he was looking for. Wordlessly, he handed her a small box. She tentatively took it from him and noted that he remained on the floor beside their bed. There was something unfamiliar about the way he was looking at her.
Inside the box lay the most exquisite diamond ring she'd ever seen.
"What is this?" she asked breathlessly.
"I wanted to know if you would marry me," he said shyly. "Again."
"Listen," he interrupted her, clasping her hands and the ring box in his. "I know you disagree, but I royally fucked up our marriage and I feel like this would be a fresh start for us."
She gave him a confused look, trying to process what he was suggesting.
"I want to renew our wedding vows," he finally said. Just then she realized that he was nervous. He thought she might shoot the idea down. So instead of a verbal answer, she wrapped one hand around the back of his neck and pulled his lips to hers. He kissed her back gingerly and she mentally rolled her eyes, obviously he needed the answer laid out for him plain and simple. Men.
"I think that's a beautiful idea," she smiled up at him before she replaced the ring on her left finger. The diamond looked even better on her hand than it did in the box.
His answering smile made her heart do somersaults. Without another thought, she pulled him into her to join her under the sheets.
There were a few things in this world was she absolutely sure of.
That Damon loved her with his whole heart.
And she loved him the same.
That they loved their daughter more than anything in the world.
And that they were going to make it.
They were going to survive.
They were going to be okay.
More than okay.
Welp, there you have it. It's officially over. I admit, I got a little misty writing this. Picturing Damon as a dad is just too precious.
Anyway. Again, thank you for sticking with me for all 21 chapters of this roller coaster of a fic. For those reading Dancing in the Dark, I have a good chunk written, so expect an update soon.
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Reviews are love. Especially on this chapter.