I don't own anything. All rights belong to CW, only the storyline and the additional characters are mine.
Free In Our Love
I wish I hadn't seen all of the realness
And all the real people are really not real at all
The more I learn, the more I learn
The more I cry, the more I cry
As I say goodbye to the way of life
I thought I had designed for me
Life is a funny thing; it expects you to get up every single time that it has brought you down on your knees as you beg it to release you from the endless pain that it is putting you through. It expects you to fight back until you're bleeding and to scream until your throat is sore and dry. Time after time, you're supposed to straighten your shoulders, hold your nose up high and walk away and show the world, and everyone in it, that you're stronger than life itself. That you're brave and reckless, and that if you want to, you can make it through anything.
But what life doesn't consider is the fact that human beings get tired of fighting after a while and give up. They realise that there isno way that they could ever win that battle against evil. It would always permanently be in their lives no matter how hard they try to defeat it. With time, they just get used to the pain. It grows to be a part of them, a constant reminder of their past and the baggage that would always accompany them on their journey.
Because that's exactly what pain is – a reminder that you'll never be able to forget the hurt and the pain, the anger and the sadness of your past. Not even the moments that you want to forget more than anything, they're engraved onto your memory like scars are engraved onto your skin, burning and aching in sorrow. These moments are the ones that leave their mark on you the most. They change you in ways you never thought possible, make you question every decision that you've ever made in your life and all the people that you've decided to let in.
Is it right? Am I making a mistake? Is this all there's ever going to be? Is this who I am supposed to be? Do my decisions really decide who I'm going to be? What if I ought to be someone completely different?
Thousands of questions and yet no answers.
Life is a big mystery, an enigma just waiting to be solved by you. Gradually you're getting closer to the answer, to figuring it all out and yet, you're not even near to knowing the truth. There are many things that you learn with time – like Physics or Math, a new language or sometimes even how to deal with anger and sadness, grief and loss, but there are also those things that you will always be seeking the answer to. Like what's the point in all of this? Would anyone ever miss me? Why is it that I'm never good enough to be kept around? Who gets to decide how I live? And how is that even fair?
But isn't that the point in the end? Some mysteries - no matter how small or big - are just meant to stay unsolved. Some for the better and some for the worse.
I stirred, slowly waking up from a deep and yet restless sleep. I pushed my head against the back of my pillow. My eyes were pressed shut, my breathing uneven as an unbearable sting of pain shot through my head, making me bend in misery under the comforting warmth of my blanket. Every limb in my body hurt, every fibre of my body was screaming in sorrow. I dug my nails into the thick material of my quilt, desperately pulling it over my shivering body as I tried to recall the events of last night.
At first, it was just flashes, just tiny pieces of memories. Everything fused together into one big and unknown blur, the pain in my head robbing me of every ounce of concentration that I had left in my body. My heart raced against my ribcage, pumping in an unusual rhythm. I wanted to scream out, let it all out at once, but I kept quiet as images and voices, words and unspoken thoughts slowly started to flow back to me, one memory at a time, my consciousness trying to make sense of them.
There was Elijah, Grayson, and Molly. Their mouths moving, words filling the room and repeatedly playing back to my ears like an echo. Miranda. How they had contacted her, told her about my life and me and how she had judged us without really knowing our past. How she was planning to rip me out of my new life, away from all the people that I had grown to love. The place that had in some way grown to be my home – it might not have been where I truly belonged, but it was the closest I had ever come to a home up until now.
I remembered walking through the streets of Mystic Falls, heavy raindrops pouring down on me. Only one destination, one name repeating itself over and over again in my mind. Just like a song, a silent prayer. Something – someone - to grab onto for dear life, someone to cling on to as if they were my last lifeline, someone to stop me from toppling off the edge, from breaking down once and for all. I remembered his face, the unbelievable purity in his ice blue eyes as he stared down at me with such intensity in his gaze. I looked up at him, my head tilted to the side as those whispered words left my pale lips.
Confusion was written all over his face, and I knew he didn't understand. Just like everyone else, he had no idea. I had chosen to make every person in my life believe that I was perfectly fine, he believed that I was perfectly fine. I had lied.
The images of what happened next were unclear, nearly as if I wanted to forget what I had done. I'd pushed them somewhere deep inside of me, somewhere where I would never have to find them again. I could see myself removing his hand from cheek, giving him a last sad smile before I did what I do best – I ran away.
I groaned, pushing my face harder against my pillow, my head pounding, and my heartbeat increasing. I was shivering at the memories of the cold rain running down my pale skin as I kept running, my breathing quickening from exhaustion. I had been afraid, scared of my own feelings and what they were doing to me. The part of me that felt something so deep and unexpected for him wanted me to tell him the truth about my past and about me. It practically begged me to, but I couldn't. So I kept running, running until there was no more breath left in me and I collapsed onto the cold concrete ground.
Extreme heat was radiating from my body now instead of the shivering cold from last night. My hands clutched my blanket in agony. I felt sick to my stomach, the pain in my head growing stronger and more painful with every minute that passed, nearly as if it was about to explode.
I took a breath and closed my eyes in exhaustion, the door of my room opening in silence, the person on the other side clearly not wanting to wake me. I cracked one eye open, watching him as he skulked over to my bed before he carefully sat down next me. He gently touched my cheek, stroking it softly with the pad of this thumb, murmuring some words, which I could barely understand.
Gathering up all of my strength, I opened my eyes again and looked up at him, his face filled with worry and concern as he noticed the lack of energy that was contained in my body, the pale white of my skin and my tired eyes.
"Hey, you're awake," Grayson smiled softly. "How are you feeling?"
"Just peachy," I tried to smile back at him, but failed miserably.
"Oh baby girl," he shook his head lightly. "I thought we had agreed on no running away anymore. Who knows what would have happened to you if we hadn't found you last night."
"Yeah, I know and I'm so sorry. I just needed some space to think about her, about you, about everything."
"I get it, Elena, I do," he said, his voice soft and gentle, and yet I knew just how serious he really was. "But you can't keep on running away whenever things get complicated."
"I know, but…" I sighed, how could I explain something to him that most of the time I didn't even understand myself? "It's hard to let go of something that has been a common occurrence ever sin-since you can remember."
"You know," he began on a soft note. "I used to be just like you when I was a teenager, when the going got tough, I ran. I always did," he ran his hand nervously through his hair before continuing. "And then when your mother told me about you, my first instinct was to run again because that's what I had done all my life."
I nodded as I tried to sit up in my bed. "So, you guys gave me away. I understand it now, Grayson, you don't need to explain anymore."
"Yes, I do," he insisted. "We were scared, young, and alone and most definitely not ready. I know it's no excuse but it's the truth," he continued, his voice sincere and gentle. "It's not something I'm proud of. I let my fear get to me and back then, that meant losing you. If I could take it all back now, I would and I want you to know that."
"I do know."
The truth was that I did. Most people would probably expect me to hold a grudge against him, against them, but how could I hold something against them when I did the same thing? They got scared, so they ran. Wasn't that what I had been doing since, well, forever? I had taught myself early enough that nothing and no one was worth feeling any pain over, at least not over a long period of time. You get hurt, you try to forget, and you move on.
And sometimes, when the hurt just got too much and the memories were too painful, I ran and hid behind the walls that nobody was capable of breaking down. And in most moments, I was thankful that no one tried hard enough to look behind my façade because all they would find would be a damaged and broken toy.
"Don't be like me. Don't realise what you could have had when it's too late already," Grayson sighed softly, stroking the back of my hand. "You have to stop running eventually, baby girl."
"You say it like it's that easy."
"That's because it is," he emphasized. "You just have to find something worth staying for."
I looked up at him, my eyebrows knitted together in thought. "What was your reason to stop running?"
He smiled. "You."
My eyes shot up to his, my heart racing as I tried to register his words, repeating them over and over again in my head. Me? Of all the things and all the people in his life, I was the one person to make him stop running? In all the time that I had been alone and imagined how my father was like, the times that I wondered about the reasons why he gave me away, why he never chose to stick around, those were the last words I had ever imagined him to say.
"Me?" I croaked, my throat feeling completely sore all of the sudden.
Maybe, if Grayson had found his reason to stop running, I would find mine too someday.
"When you showed up at the service station a few weeks ago, I was certain that I wanted to have you in my life, but I could have just run away again, pretend like you never showed up in the first place," he took a deep breath, his eyes lingering in the distance. "But the moment I laid my eyes on you, all grown up and strong, I knew that you were my daughter and that I couldn't let go of you again. Till this very day, you're the only person that ever made me regret running, baby girl."
"Hey," John's head popped through the door, his gaze moving between the two of us before he noticed that he just had walked into a private conversation. My dearest uncle, ever so slow. "I didn't mean to interrupt, I could just came back-"
"No, no, of course not," Grayson waved off. "What did you want, John?"
"Two of Elena's friends from school are here to see her."
"Wait," I said, my gaze wandering between the two of them, confused about what was going on. "How late is it?"
"It's five o'clock in the afternoon," John said, entering my room. "How are you, little Gilbert?"
"Oh my god," I gasped, not paying any attention to his following words. "Did I sleep that long? Why did none of you wake me?"
"Elena," Grayson snarled, his gaze definitely disapproving, his lips pressed together. "You nearly got yourself pneumonia last night. You were drenched wet when we finally found you! Unconscious." He got up from my bed, his eyes locked onto to mine, his voice strict and serious, and yet worried. "I might add."
I buried my head in my hands, the guilt eating me up from the inside as I thought about the events of last night, about how much they must have been worried. It was all still kind of a blur, just fractions of moments melting together into one big moment, nothing really making sense. I couldn't see the stars or the moon, just the ice blue of his eyes following me around as I slipped into complete darkness, and his voice, the rough velvet tone of his voice e in my echoing in my ears.
It was strange how I could barely remember anything after leaving the Boarding House, just wetness and gasping for air as I ran. And his image, always his image before my eyes as I kept running, my heart pleading me to turn around and run back straight into his arms. My head kept telling me to go on, to never stop, and just keep running until I ran out breath.
I eventually did.
"I didn't mean to worry you guys, I'm sorry."
"We're just glad you're doing fine, baby girl, " Grayson planted a soft kiss on my temple, as I watched John nod from the doorway.
My eyes shot up at the shrill sound of my friend's voice, only on time to see the blonde mop of hair flying at me. Her arms were quickly thrown around my neck, her grip crushing my already fragile body. I let out a quiet chuckle as I hugged her back gently, trying to regain my breath as best as I could.
"Care, oxygen!" I choked out. "I need to breathe!"
"Right, sorry," she let go of me, a soft smile playing on her lips as she sat down beside me, her worried eyes looking up at me.
"Hey," Matt entered the room, giving me a shy smile, his hands buried in the pockets of his navy blue jeans.
"Alright, I think my job here is done," Grayson clapped his hands together, already shoving John out of the door as he continued talking. "And remember, baby girl, you will always find another reason to run, but you can never really escape your past. Eventually you'll have to face it."
I nodded softly. "Thank you, Grayson."
"Come on, John, let's go," he smiled. "Oh Caroline, Matt, It's nice to finally meet you both."
"You too, Mr. G."
With another nod in my direction, both my father and uncle disappeared through the door, closing it behind them and leaving me alone with Caroline and Matt. I had never had friends that came over to visit me after school. Even when I missed school for weeks after Frank beat me up, or because he refused to let me into the house because I was home five minutes late and I ended up having a really bad cold, whatever happened to me, nobody ever cared.
I had always been the outcast, the strange kid that had no parents. I was the one who always wore clothes from last season, the girl that everybody either did his best at avoiding or just laughed at when I walked past them. So Caroline and Matt being there, for no particular reason, without me having to invite them over, it was strange and new. Yet, somehow, it felt good.
"Are you okay? Jesus girl, I was so worried when I heard that you weren't coming to school! What were you thinking?" Caroline exclaimed.
My mouth fell open in shock, surprise clearly written all over my face as I tried to process the rushed words that were leaving her lips. Maybe it was because of the light fear that was evident in her voice or the anger. Maybe it was just the expression on her face - the same that Grayson had when he entered my room that morning, – but I felt bad. I felt guilty about being so reckless, about not caring what would happen to me if I had kept running yesterday.
I hesitated, smiling uneasy at her. "I'm sorry?"
"Oh sorry is not gonna cut it, Missy," she snarled. "Your uncle John told us that they found you on the street in the rain! Unconscious! What were you even doing out there in those terrible weather conditions?"
"Would you believe me if I said that I was going for a walk?"
"In the middle of a bloody thunderstorm? Are you insane?"
"Hey, Caroline," Matt interrupted the fury that was Caroline Forbes, his voice gentle and soft as he talked, his doe eyes locked to mine. "Let her breathe. She had a rough night already, cut the girl some slack."
I smiled lightly at him, my nerves going down. "Thanks Matt."
"Ugh, I'm sorry 'Lena," she sighed. "I just… I just can't comprehend what must have made you go out yesterday night. When you didn't come to school today, we were all so worried that something might have happened to you."
My heartbeat raced against my chest, blood rushing through my veins, my head pounding. My eyes bulged out of my head, my throat tightening up. The people in this town surprised me time and time again. These people had known me less than two months and they treated me like we had known each other our whole lives while people that I had met over the years in foster care, grown up side by side with, they didn't even greet me when they passed the street anymore.
I gulped. "You were?"
"Of course we were, silly," Caroline chuckled. "We're your friends and it's our duty to be worried about you."
"I'm good," a small smile snuck upon my face. "Thanks for checking up on me."
A comfortable silence unfolded itself between the three of us, none of us willing to break it, seeking comfort in the presence of each other. From all the places that I had been to since I was born, the several orphanages, the foster care homes, the families who took me home with them only to give me away again a few months, sometimes even weeks later, nothing had ever felt as close to home as Mystic Falls did. I had never come across people that I could call my family, be it by blood or not. But here, these people, every single one of them, it felt like I had known them my whole life.
I didn't know if it had anything to do with the fact that Grayson was indeed my father or that I had come here on my own will, not forced by the people working in foster care or anyone else, but I liked it here. A lot, actually.
There was Grayson, John, and Jonas, Caroline and Matt, Stefan and Bonnie. Tyler. And then, then there was Damon. Damon and his ice blue eyes. There was the velvet tone of his voice and the butterflies that fluttered in my stomach every time he spoke to me.
"Are you sure you're okay? You don't look okay."
In some weird way, I already felt connected to every single one of them, to him. It was like all those years that I had been searching, seeking for a home, people to love, was finally coming to an end.
"Jeez, what a compliment, Matt."
"Oh shut up, Care," he snapped, his eyes searching for mine as he tried to figure out what was wrong, what I was hiding all this time.
I looked up at my friends, shrugging. "I just… had a very bad night, I guess."
Matt sat down on the chair in the corner of my room, his head tilted to the side, his lips bend into a light smile. "Do you wanna tell us what happened?"
"I needed to take my mind off a few things," I fiddled with my hands in my lap, trying to form a reasonable answer. "It's complicated. Yo-you wouldn't understand."
Both of their gazes were focused on me. They didn't have to say anything. I knew, just by the way they were looking at me, that they trusted me to tell them the truth and that even after the telling them, they would still be there to listen. And somehow, I actually believed it. In that moment, I was sure I could trust them. If not them, those who were worried about me just because I didn't show up at school for a day, who else could I trust?
Of course, there was Elijah, but he wasn't there. He was sitting miles away in Richmond, taking care of Amelia and Jensen just like he once had been taking care of me. I was here, in Mystic Falls, with Caroline and Matt, with my father. So maybe, just maybe, it was about time that I stopped relying on him and started relying on new people.
"You know how when you're a little kid, the whole world seems so beautiful and peaceful, sometimes even perfect to you and you dream of having this happy ending and all that kind of stuff? You just believe that everything is always going to stay that easy for you and that you're always going to be that happy," I began telling my story, my voice broken, yet soft. I didn't even know where I was going with my point; I just knew that once I started talking, I couldn't stop.
"When I was a kid, what most children enjoyed and lived for was nothing but a dream in the distance for me. There was no picture perfect world in my eyes unless it was the one in my imagination."
"I'm not saying that I had a horrid childhood because not everything about it was entirely bad, it was just… different from what you expect when you're only a little girl," I avoided their gazes, looking off into the distance as familiar images filled my head. "Remember that guy and that little blonde girl that showed up at the parking lot yesterday after school?"
"Yeah, and there was this other guy that came shortly after Bonnie and I left, wasn't there? Short brown hair, tall and handsome?"
"That was Elijah," I chuckled.
"Who are they?" Matt butted in. "Your friends from Richmond?"
"You could say that," I smiled lightly to myself, thinking about all the times that I had lived through with those three people. "They've all been a very big part of my life back there and they still are," shaking my head, I looked back at Matt. "But that's not the point here."
"Then what are you getting at, El?"
"You asked me what happened last night and I want you to listen to every word I'm about to say and to understand that I might not be who you think I am," I took a deep breath. This was it, the moment that could possibly change everything, the moment they would find out who I really was. "But I don't want you guys to think any less of me either, even if my words might change your entire view of me."
"Elena, you're scaring us," Caroline sulked, clearly worried now. "Whatever it is that you're gonna tell us is not gonna change the fact that we're your friends and that we love you."
"The little girl's name is Amelia. She's only six but has a heart made out of gold. And the guy, that's Jensen. He might seem a little distant at first, but once you get to know him, he's the biggest sweetheart you'll ever meet. Especially with Amelia," talking about them, the pictures of their faces roaming before my eyes, I realised how much I missed them. "If I didn't know any better myself and if I hadn't seen the scars and the bruises, I would have thought that no one in the world could ever hurt those kids, but," I panted heavily, clutching onto my blanket as it was my life. "But the undeniable truth is that nowadays, not even the youngest of us are spared by society and the cruelty of people anymore. Especially not if they've been on their own for their whole lives."
"You have to know that Amelia and Jensen, they're foster kids," I breathed out. "They've been passed around between dozens of families in the past years, more than they can probably remember. And the truth is," this was it. "So is Elijah, and so am I. I'm one of them, one of those kids that sit on the porch of the orphanage every single day and wait for someone – anyone – to pick them up and take them home with them, to some place that would make them feel whole and wanted, loved, for once."
"It took me a while, but I feel like I finally found that place here in Mystic Falls with all of you guys. I came here to find my real father and I did. I found Grayson and he decided to take me in and finally be a family."
I finished my story off, trying to look anywhere but at them, my throat sore and dry, and my heart nervously pounding inside my chest. I was scared, terrified even, that they would never be able to look at me the same way again, and that in their eyes, I would not be worth it anymore. That I was nothing but trash, a broken toy ready to be taken to the garbage heap.
When I first came here, I wanted a new start, a new life away from my past and all the emotional baggage it brought with it. And now, here I was, pouring out my roots to my new friends – ones that until now had seen me as one of them, as someone normal with a normal background and a normal family, a normal life.
"So that's why you always call him Grayson instead of Dad," Caroline finally broke the silence, her words barely louder than a whisper. "We had no idea, Elena…"
"It's because I didn't want you to. I've kept it to myself ever since I was a little girl. The only people I ever let myself care for before I came here and moved in with Grayson were Elijah, Amelia and Jensen," I shrugged nonchalantly. "When you're building up those thick walls around your heart all your life and when you start getting used to people always leaving you, it gets harder every day to find the strength and the will in yourself to trust someone again," for the first time since I started talking, I looked up at them, my eyes locking onto theirs. "But I want to trust you guys, I really do."
Matt laid his hand on mine, squeezing it softly. "We're not going anywhere anytime soon, El."
"Yeah, we're here for you," Caroline nodded. "Whatever you need, Matt and I are both just a phone call away."
"Thank you, guys," I breathed out, a sudden wave of relief rushing over me. "You have no idea how much that really means to me, but… But that's not everything to it, yet."
"What else could there possibly be?" Caroline cried out.
"Sorry," she muttered, her eyes glued to the ground.
I chuckled lightly, knowing that everything was going to be okay eventually. They didn't look at me any differently even though they knew the truth. There was no pity in their eyes, no disgust or abhorrence. Instead there was worry and love, something soft that reminded me of Elijah whenever he was about to pull me in for a hug. They knew my story, and they hadn't run away yet. They were still here and that counted for more than either of them could ever possibly imagine. It meant everything – being accepted for who I was, past or no past, with all my flaws and quirks.
"Last night, I found out that my social worker, Mollie, had contacted my birth mother because Grayson wanted her to, something about her having the right to know that I'm living with him now," I explained. "Long story short, turns out she wants me to move in with her and her new family… In New Jersey."
"What?!" Caroline exclaimed, making me jump up in horror. "She can't do that! I mean… She can't, right? She isn't allowed to just take you away from here, is she?"
"I'm afraid she can, Caroline."
And that was what I was scared of the most, that she would take me away from Grayson and everyone else, force me to go and live with her and her family, not even bothering to ask what I wanted. With whom I wanted to live and where. Because Miranda couldn't possibly understand. All that she probably wanted was for her family to be reunited, to have back the daughter she had given away as only a teenager. Would she really care about what I wanted?
"But this is your home now, why would she do that?"
"I don't know," I sighed. "All I know is that I want to stay here, with all of you."
Matt gave my hand another squeeze, smiling softly, his gaze holding both mine and Caroline's in an intense glare that said more than words could ever express. He wanted me to stay here, too, because just as I had, they had also grown used to the fact of having me around and eating at the lunch table in the cafeteria with me, of driving me home whenever I was in need of a ride, of going on crazy shopping trips just because we felt like it. Those were all the things that all of us had got used to over the weeks, rituals that none of us really wanted to let go off.
"Oh come here, you sick girl," Caroline pouted, spreading out her arms for me to fall into. "Let momma hug you!"
One week later.
Taking a mouthful of my freshly made waffle, I leaned back in my chair and mentally prepared myself for the long day that was ahead of me. A week filled with lots of tissues and cough sweets had passed, and I'd had enough time to recover from my night out in the rain. My cold was nearly gone for good, but that didn't stop the memories of my past from haunting me. The face that I wished to never see again, images that bound me to my past in ways that I didn't even want to think of, and memories of moments that nobody knew of, they were constantly replaying in my head. There were nights where I would wake up drenched in my own sweat, my screams piercing through the silence of the pitch-black night. It had been months – years - since I last had those nightmares. Yet something in my conscious must have changed since that rainy night because his face came back to haunt me every second of the damn day.
I tried my best to push away the memories and hide them in the darkest corner of my mind, leaving them there to rot and hopefully never be found again, but somehow they always found their way back into my though. They tore away at my conscious until my whole attention was focused upon them. My mind couldn't concentrate on anything else but those images, be it within the day, at night or the early morning hours. They were always there, smirking at me, waiting for me to notice them. Something wasn't right, like my brain was trying to tell me something that I couldn't comprehend.
"Back to school, huh?" John entered the kitchen, grinning at me and pulling me back into reality. "Excited?"
I looked up at him, my gaze indicating anything but excitement. I wasn't all jittery and fussy to go back and spend time with my friends again, but it was the thought of seeing Damon, of having to explain to him what happened that night which made me all nauseous and full of unwanted anxiety. What was I supposed to say to him? I couldn't possibly tell him the truth; not without having to answer an amount of questions that even I didn't have the answers to.
I knew that I had to face him eventually, that one day in the near future – if I really wanted our relationship to go on, which I did – I would have to tell him the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I would have to tell him about me, my family, everything with no exceptions. But not today, not before I was ready to do so. Until then, he would have to just trust me as I trusted him with my heart.
"Never mind. Stupid question," he waved it off. "I mean what nerd is excited nowadays to go to school, my fault."
"Oh no, John, you've got the complete wrong idea. This is actually my excited face," I shot him a sarcastic grin before dedicating my whole attention back to the waffles on my plate.
"I feel sorry for the guy who gets with you one day," he sighed, the slight dimples in his face indicated that he was trying his hardest not to laugh.
"What is that supposed to-" I got interrupted as John snatched the waffle out of my hand, completely ignoring any of my protests. "Hey! Give me my waffle back, you bastard!"
He grinned cheekily as he took a bite from my waffle."Delicious! Gray really has to reveal his secret to me one day, don't you think?"
"Alright, this means war," I groaned as I pushed up from the chair, ready to get my waffle back.
Before I was able to walk over to John, my father walked into the kitchen. There was a goofy smile on his face as he came to stand between the both of us, clearly knowing that we were in a fight. Just like every other morning… afternoon… or evening, for that matter.
"What are we kids fighting about this morning?"
I snarled, my arms crossed over my chest. "Your precious brother stole my waffle. Again."
Grayson shrugged his shoulders.
"He's your family too, so don't put it all on me now. I didn't choose to share the same DNA as him and neither did he. Believe you me, " he leaned in close to me and whispered loud enough for John to hear, "I would rather not."
"Okay, okay, I get it," John pouted, raising his hands up in surrender. "Today is 'Let's Say Mean Stuff about Uncle John Day', but there is no need to rub it under my nose, too."
I knitted my eyebrows together, my lips pressed tight as I spoke, and the sarcasm literally dripped from my tongue. "But that's every day, John, I thought you knew that."
"You know what? I don't-"
"Shit! I promised Caroline that I would show up early at school for once," I cut him off in sheer panic, no longer paying any attention to John. I slipped into my old leather jacket and picked up my school bag from the marble floor. "See you later guys!"
Without glancing back in their direction, I hurried into the small hallway of the flat, slipping into my favourite pair of black Chucks. I couldn't be late again. Caroline would kill me if I were, especially since I had her promised not to be. I sighed as I laced up my second shoe and then scurried around the hall in search for my keys. The last time I had seen them had been about a week ago, just before my night out in the rain, and they had been in –
"Elena! You forgot your keys! They were in the-"
"Thank you, I was just searching for them," I smiled softly at him as I took the keys from his hand and placed a small kiss on his cheek. "But I really have to go now. Bye, Grayson."
I noticed him smiling to himself out of the corner of my eyes as I turned around to leave the house. "Bye, baby girl."
It only took me a mere five minute – one that included a lot of running and gasping for air, some deadly falls and once dangerous collision with Katherine Pierce - to get to Mystic Falls High. Hundreds of students had already began to crowd on the schoolyard as I tried to push my way through them all in order to find an one over-bubbly blonde mop of hair and her companions. In all the years that I had found myself in some school in some town, not once had there been a school in which I had gotten close to feeling this I did in this one. I felt embraced and welcomed, people were looking out for me and caring about what happened to me.
In the matter of moments, I had become one of them. I was no longer someone who was just standing in the wings, watching the other kids as they enjoyed their years together, but somehow, I had become one of those kids and not the outcast for once.
Unlike before, I wasn't isolated from the world.
This time, I was a part of it.
"Has any of you seen Elena? She said she would-"
"I'm here! I'm here!" I jumped in, completely out of breath from the entire journey. "Sorry, I-I completely forgot the time while eating breakfast."
Shouldering my bag, I looked around myself and took in the faces of every single one of them, reminding myself that this was really happening and that I wasn't just imaging it. I smiled at Caroline and her blonde shiny hair, her cyan eyes sparkling with excitement as she laughed. Matt and the uneasy smile that marked his lips every time that I looked at him. Bonnie, and the way her hair curled towards the end of it, her chocolate coloured skin and then Stefan, the way his green eyes glimmered in the sun, his sandy hair distinguishing him from his brother.
They were all different from one another and yet, all those people had grown to be the best of friends. I just happened to be lucky enough that they had decided to let me be a part of their group, their own kind of family.
"Oh you know," Caroline crossed her arms over her chest, her new Armani purse hanging lazily from her arms, her voice chirpy and filled with irony, and yet excitement. "It's not like we expected anything different from you. You're always late."
"There is still fifteen minutes before class. That's a new record for me," I reminded her. "Normally showing up five minutes after the bell is an achievement for me."
Matt bumped my shoulder lightly. His blue eyes were radiating a sense of happiness as he looked down on me. "Got to give her that, Care. She's right."
In that moment, for whatsoever reason, a quote that I had picked up from a poetry book once jumped back into my head – Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things. Whoever said that, woman or man, they were right. Sometimes, the biggest events were the ones which left you with the least exciting memories and it was the smaller ones which gave you a reason to smile. Then and there, in that moment, I was smiling and I was… nearly happy.
"How are you?" Bonnie gave me a quick hug, smiling a genuine smile. "Finally recovered from that horrible cold?"
Maybe even the closest to really being happy that I had come to be in a long time.
"I'm good. I'm ready to get back in the game with you guys," I grinned, strangely looking forward to whatever silly high school activity they had planned for the day. "So, what's on our schedule for today?"
"Ah, see? That's the spirit I like to see!" Caroline cheered, clapping her hands together in excitement. "So, the guys and I thought that we could-"
"Elena, baby, glad to see you back in the hallways of Mystic Falls High," a bright smiling Tyler Lockwood put his arm around my shoulder, placing a small kiss on my cheek, his eyes wandering around the group as he continued. "Got to say, it was quite boring without having you around to tease this past week. Caroline and Bonnie turned out to be quite boring."
"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is who I like to I call my best friend," Caroline scoffed silently in the background. "Nice."
I chuckled quietly to myself as I watched both Bonnie and Caroline roll their eyes at Tyler, who was obviously enjoying himself. The guys just shook their heads at him. It felt good to be back at school with all of them, to be back to laughing and joking with them as we had done before my night out. It was a strange and yet wonderful feeling of familiarity and being around them made me forget my issues for a few seconds and just enjoy myself, enjoy the time that I had with my friends.
I smiled, bumping into his side lightly. "I missed you too, Tyler."
Within the whole week that I had been absent, after the day that Caroline and Matt had both stopped by together and every day after that, another one of them had visited me. One day it would be Stefan and Matt, Tyler and Caroline, or Bonnie and Stefan, and they would always bring me new stuff and tell me new stories to keep me updated on what was going on at our precious school. Caroline's stories mostly included Katherine Pierce and her minions, and the new ways she had found to torture her at cheer practice.
"Don't let his sweet words deceive you, El," Stefan butted in, clearly amused by the whole situation. "That guy just wants to get into your pants, isn't that right, Ty?"
"Shut up, man," Tyler stepped away from me to push his friend hard in the chest, both laughing and grinning from ear to ear as they continued their little play fight. I smiled secretly to myself; I guess boys never really grow up after all. "Nobody asked you."
"See? Told ya," Stefan let out a hard laugh, already preparing himself to run from every other punch Tyler was holding out for him.
"Oh, I'm gonna getcha, Stef!" Tyler shouted. "Best start running from the great Tyler Lockwood!"
Laughing loudly, our heads shaking in amusement, the rest of us followed them in a slow place into the inside of the school. Not much had changed in the last week and in some way, it felt good knowing that when I was strapped to my bed, not everything was changing around me. Most of the things were just as I left them. It gave me some kind of reassurance, a warm feeling that comforted my shattered insides.
We walked along the hallways, Caroline and Bonnie telling us their newest gossip, Matt and I listening quietly as they talked while Tyler and Stefan had dissolved into thin air.
That was when I saw him. Through an open door to a classroom, his muscled body moving gracefully around the desk as he picked up some papers, studying them with care and diligence, I saw the cerulean eyes that had plagued my dreams. My heart skipped a beat, the thousand butterflies in my stomach were flying around like crazy as I watched him, completely oblivious to everything else around me. None of it mattered – not Caroline's chattering, not Bonnie's newest gossip on Katherine Pierce and her minions or Matt's love for football – the only thing that seemed to make sense to me right then and there was looking at him.
I wanted to explain my absence to him and why I hadn't called or texted him at all or refused to answer his. Now was the moment to do so, maybe the last one that I would get in a while. It was now or never, literally.
"Guys, you can go ahead without me. I, um," I stopped in my tracks as I tried to think of a good lie, my eyes holding the image of his slender figure in that classroom, my thoughts already drifting off to the words I was planning on saying to him. "I still have to get my chemistry book from my locker."
Caroline raised an eyebrow at me, her lips turning into a sceptical smile. "You mean the one that's nearly falling out of your bag?"
"What? No," I looked down to my bag, and indeed, there it was. My chemistry book – way to go, Gilbert! "I me-meant my physics book, of course. Sorry."
"Ehe," she nodded, her gaze clearly indicating that she didn't believe me. At all. "You want us to come with you?"
"No!" I responded too quickly, my voice too harsh, too panicked, and scared. Taking a deep breath, I tried again, this time more gently, slower. "I mean… I'm fine, thanks. I'll catch up in a few minutes, don't worry about me."
"Alright then," Bonnie smiled, waving me off and pulling Caroline with her before our blonde friend could interject with anything else. "We'll see you in class."
"Yes, I'll be right back," I smiled back at her, taking one deep breath after another before all three of them disappeared out of my sight.
It was clear to me in that moment that as much as I wanted to avoid this conversation, sooner or later I would have to face it anyway, whether I wanted to or not. So, before I could over think my decision and decide against it, I turned around and walked over to his classroom. There was no going back anymore.
I knocked lightly, leaning against the doorframe of the classroom, a nervous smile sitting on my lips. "Think you can fit in a few minutes for me?"
His eyes shot up from the papers that he was correcting, widening in shock or maybe surprise – I couldn't really tell. Something about the way he was staring at me made my heart beat faster and the uneasy feeling in the back of my stomach disappear, the way his eyes softened when his gaze landed on my face, our eyes connecting, our hearts binding together as one. I didn't know how or why, or even when it had happened, but in that moment something clicked in me. It was as if I had known it all along but just wasn't ready to hear it yet – all the reasons for my behaviour, the way I relied on that man ever since I got here, how I could not stand being away from him even if being with him was wrong in so many ways.
Then, as if a magical bond was pulling us together, we took small steps towards each other, our eyes staying locked, my body aching for his gentle touch, the back of my mind remembering how it had felt to be so close to him. Looking at him, I remembered the way our bodies had spoken to each other the night we had first met, drawing the other one in, fitting perfectly together like they had been made for each other all along, just waiting to be reunited.
"Elena," he whispered after a long pause of silence, the pad of his thumb stroking softly over my slightly reddened cheek.
Smiling, I leaned into his touch, savouring up every bit of the moment as if it could be our last one together, not ever wanting it to end.
I put my hand above his, slowly pulling it away from my cheek and intertwined our fingers. "Hey, Damon."
"How are you? I managed to find out from my little brother that you were sick and couldn't come to school," he played with my fingers as he leaned back against his desk. "I have to say that I had my doubts when you were gone for a whole week. I thought you had just gone off without a single word or goodbye," he shrugged, looking up at me. "I was worried."
I chuckled dryly, suddenly feeling the tension in the room. "What can I say? Once I get sick, I get really, really sick."
"Well, I hope, um," Damon bit his lips nervously – I had never seen him like this. He wasn't his usual confident and cocky self. "I hope that you're doing better now."
"Yeah, I still got a bit of a cold, but other than that," I nodded absently, already mentally avoiding the conversation that we were about to have. "I'm completely fine. Thanks."
"Of course," he took a deep breath and I could feel what was coming – the thing that I was trying to postpone the best of my abilities. "Listen Elena-"
"I know what you're about to ask me, Damon, and I understand that you have a lot of questions right now," I interrupted him, my voice low and quiet as if I was afraid of my own words. "But I'm not sure that I can give you the answers that you want to hear."
"Any answer would be good at this point of time."
"I know and," I stammered because inevitably, I had no idea what to say. "I-I'm sorry."
Damon got up from his desk, letting go of my hand as he spoke. He seemed exhausted and yet angry, cold at the same time. "So, I take it that you're not going to tell me what happened the other night."
"I can't, Damon," he was now turning his back on me, running his hands nervously through his pitch-black hair. I had a feeling that this was going to end differently from what I had planned when I came here, but I had to go through with it now. There was no do-over in this case. "I just… I can't."
"You can't, or you don't want to?"
That was the million-dollar question. There was a part of me that was sure that Damon could be trusted and that he would never betray me. That part wanted to just let all of my guards down for once and tell him about all the things that I had been through in my life, things that I had never even dared to tell anybody else because I was frightened of the consequences. That part wanted to trust him, needed to trust him. Then there was the other part of me, one that I myself wasn't very proud of. The part that didn't let anybody in, that scared everyone off because it was sure that nobody would care enough to stay. That was the part that would always get into my way whenever I tried to be happy. It would erupt in the back of my mind, whispering, mumbling, and trying its hardest to tear me away from everything that even came close to happiness.
So maybe, a part of me was ready to tell him, but I myself wasn't. One day, I was sure that I would tell him if he was still a part of my life, but right now, I couldn't. There was just too much to lose, and with having lost as many people and things in life as I had already had, I couldn't afford to lose him too. Not now that I was getting used to having him around, to laughing with him, to kissing him… to simply being with him.
"Both? I guess," I sighed, placing my hand on his back to get him to look at me. "I just… I don't want you to look at me in any other way than you do right now. I like you, I really really like you, and I don't want this thing that we have going for us here to change."
He turned to face me, his eyes sparkling with what could either be joy or sadness. "And you think telling me would change all of that? Don't you have a little faith in me?"
"That's not it, Damon, and you know that," I contradicted, my voice slowly gaining strength and confidence. "I just don't have enough faith in myself to tell you right now," his eyebrows knitted together in question and it seemed like he wanted to protest at one point, but he let me continue anyway. "And someday, when I'm ready, I'm gonna tell you everything. I promise. But that day isn't today."
I smiled sadly, my hand searching for his as I kept talking, my head tilted to the side. "Right now, I just want to enjoy this. Us being together, no worries and no problems aside of when our next date is, or if we're going to eat Italian or French food for dinner. Just us, can you do that for me? Please?"
A tense silence fell upon us, neither of us daring to speak up, only the even sound of our breathing filling the room. I was scared of what his next words might be, and yet anxious to hear them. I could only hope that he trusted me enough to give me a chance, that even though I didn't pour out my heart to him when he asked for the truth, he would still want me in his life.
I looked up at him in surprise, expecting every answer on the moon but not this one. "Okay?"
"I said okay," he nodded softly, intertwining our hands once again. "If that's what you want, then I trust you."
A big smile spread on my face, his words taking a load off my mind. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me just yet," he grinned cockily – definitely back to his old self – before he leaned towards me, his arms looping around my waist as he pulled me closer. His lips pressed gently against mine, the soft and delicate taste of his making me moan in pleasure, the familiar scent of his cologne making me pull him closer to me, my hands slowly going around his neck. He pulled back after a few seconds, excessively early if somebody asked me. "Now you can thank me."
I cocked my eyebrows at him. "Cocky much?"
"Mhm, I missed this. You," I planted a soft kiss on top of his lips. "Kissing you, being with you."
Without another word being said, my lips found his again in a moment of passion. Both of our control was shot and we lost ourselves in the other. Damon nibbled softly at my bottom lip, making me crave the smooth motion of our tongues colliding together even more. God, I had no idea how I had been able to survive one week without his kisses, the things he could do with his tongue making me go crazy, let alone all the years before I had even known him.
And as if the universe had a way of telling me that I was going to miss his kisses for a little while more, once again, my phone vibrated in the back pocket of my jeans, indicating that I was getting a text message. Whoever that was, I was going to kill them for ruining my perfect moment with Damon after a week of being apart, of not being able to touch him, to feel him against me.
Damon let his head fall back in annoyance. "Can't you just-"
"It's Caroline," I groaned against his lips, eying the text message that I had just received on my phone. "She wants to know where I am. I've been taking up way too much time getting that physics book out of my locker."
"Guess you gotta go then, pouty."
"Argh, couldn't they give us another five minutes?" he chuckled lightly at my protest to leave. "I was really starting to enjoy myself here."
"Starting to, huh?"
I nodded cheekily, pulling his lips down to mine again, our tongues losing themselves in a passionate battle. His lips were smooth and gentle; his tongue tenderly playing with mine and his hand was rubbing over my back. Nothing else mattered in that moment, and yet I knew that if I didn't leave soon that somebody would catch us eventually. That was the last thing that was supposed to happen.
"I really gotta go now," I pushed him away from me, telling myself not to fall back into his trap again as my gaze landed on his smooth lips, calling me to press my own against them for the umpteenth time that morning. "The others are waiting for me and you've got a class coming in any second."
"Come by my house tonight?" he pulled me back by my arm, smiling down at me, his eyebrows wiggling. "We can continue this extremely interesting conversation that we just had and this time, no bell in the world will interrupt us."
I pretended to consider his option even though I already knew exactly what I was going to say. A light blush crept up onto my cheeks, a small smile playing on my lips, as I stepped away from him and started to stroll towards the door before turning back one more time to face him, waving him goodbye as the words left my mouth, making him light up in response.
Then I see you standing there
Wanting more from me
And all I can do is try
Then I see you standing there
I'm all I'll ever be
But all I can do is try
All of the moments that already passed
We'll try to go back and make them last
All of the things we want each other to be
We never will be
And that's wonderful, and that's life
And that's you, baby
This is me, baby
And we are, we are, we are, we are
In our love
We are free in our love
A/N: SO SORRY! I had basically no time to write at all and as I was on holiday these past two weeks, I finally found the time! Big thanks goes as always to my beta Molly, and to all of you who've reviewed, followed and favourited my story. Hope you enjoyed the chapter!