the past year was one filled with grief and sorrow- sometimes more anguish than they believed they could endure. but also a year that taught them how to mourn in a manner that did not result in self-destruction.

. . .

eli rummages through his closet for the small box. it was a wrapped, brown package about the size of his palm and garnished in only a gold ribbon tied loosely and inelegantly around.

the dainty girls eyes gleam as he sits beside her on the bed and hands her the small present.

"eli, you really shouldn't have. this isn't an occasion that calls for gift-giving."

"open it."

clare rolles her eyes in faux annoyance but begins unwrapping the present regardless. she sets aside the wrapping paper before holding up the silver necklace. a small medallion with three names and a date etched into the metal hangs loosely from the chain. her thumb skids over the carving and a collection of emotions skitter across her face before a placid smile settles.

"that was the day he first introduced us. at the park," she nods to herself, her voice soft and distant as she recalls the memory. eli hums an acknowledgement, watching as she slowly unfastens the lobster clasp and hands it to him.

clare turns her back to him and he reaches around her, fastening the chain around her neck. his hands fall to her shoulders and he leans forward, placing a soft kiss against her pulse point.

"i want you to know how proud i am of you." his says, his breath fanning hot and quick against her neck. "i want you to know that i am aware this hasn't been easy," he continues almost inaudibly.

clare's eyes flutter shut as leans against the older boy. she says nothing.

his hands slip down, clutching her waist tightly. "i want you to know that i will always be here for you. and that you'll never have to go through something like this alone." his hands slid beneath her rucked up dress and she flinches from the chill that his hands extract.

his hands push gently at her shoulders and she falls back against the mattress as he hovers over her, muttering something that she doesn't quite register. his hands move against her skin, his breath warm and moist at the crook of her neck.

his movements are careful and agile, and she wonders if he's afraid he'll break her.

her hands move to the nape of his neck, and she mutters that it's okay. that she's okay.

his fingers are nimble as he unbuttons her dress, tugging it off of her body and tossing it to the floor. she licks her lips and watches as his eyes visibly cloud over.

he ducks his head into her neck and sucks greedily at her collar bone. her back arches and she moans his name as quietly as she can manage.

it's a rare occurrence is too far gone to allow himself the pleasure of admiring the way she's splayed out before him. his eyes dart and linger. his hands and mouth touch everything they can.

eli pulls his shirt over his head in one swift motion, hands returning to the girl below him as quickly as they left. his lips latch on to her neck once again. she whimpers quietly and he's aware that it's due to his neglect of her lips. the grip in his hair tightens, pulling him up so that they're face to face.

her pupils are blown and the mere sight of her – debauched and so completely exposed – causes his breath to catch in his throat. his lips crash against her recklessly and a bit painfully. the kiss all teeth and tongue and pure vehemence. her hands drop and she claws mercilessly at his back.

eli pulls away from the kiss long enough to haphazardly strip out of his jeans. his eyes flicker to clare's as he hooks his fingers onto the edge of her panties. she nods once and doesn't tell him that he doesn't need to ask permission. he slides her underwear off and presses a kiss against the inside of her thigh. his lips trail upward until her reaches her chest. clare sighs and arches her back when eli sucks on the exposed skin.

he slowly unclasps her bra and tosses it absentmindedly before his lips are back on hers. his body presses flush against her, eliciting a muffled moan between rigid breaths. they've reached a stage where their breaths and sounds mingle. moans and frantic gasps of air merge and become indistinguishable.

clare's hand trails down his chest in a taunting manner and eli curses under his breath as her fingers slip into his boxers. he pulls away just enough to watch her expression- her lip trapped between her teeth in concentration. eli doesn't know whether it's an innocent action or if she's fully aware of the effect that she has on him.

her hand wraps tightly around his erection, snapping him out his reverie. he groans involuntarily and bucks into her hand. her grip tightens and his hands clutch the sheets below him as he struggles to keep hold his body weight up. the pressure is enough to send him over the edge and so he grips her hand, his voice hoarse and low when he speaks, "wait," he swallows. "i won't be able to…" and she nods quickly.

clare sucks in a breathe as she watches eli rummage through his nightstand for a condom. her palms sweat when he sits up, straddling her as he slips it on. her heart hammers against her chest when he positions himself at her entrance. her eyes shut tightly as he slides into her, his hips rocking as gently as he can manage against hers.

she grips his shoulders tightly enough to bruise but he doesn't comment. he holds her close and kisses away her tears before they can fall.

. . .

eli doesn't know how long they've been sitting in silence, but he doesn't quite care to. it's dark out and the only sound is from the neighbors air conditioner bombinating.

"eli?" clare's voice sounds worn and exhausted and eli tightens his grip around her waist instinctively.

"hmm?" he hums, nosing at her curls.

"what if…what if things go back to the way they were now that i've stopped therapy?" she asks and he wants doesn't want to admit how much the trepidation in her voice scares him.

eli doesn't tell her that won't happen. doesn't say that she's stronger than that because he knows this was never a matter of strength. this was never about her being it weak. it was simply a plight of despair conquering willpower.

"then i'll be here," he says after a minute.

and clare doesn't response. but eli can sense the tension escape her body as she settles against him. her body relaxes and radiates serenity.

and for once eli believes that it truly is okay.

that she's okay.

A/N: Well, that was the final chapter. Hope you enjoyed! Feedback would be very much appreciated.