Epilogue-One Year Later

I was tired, I was cold and I could have had murdered some chili fries right about now. The line of people that had been stretching in front of my desk all day had finally dwindled to the last person and I beamed up at them as genuinely as someone with five hours of sleep under their belt could. As I scrawled my autograph on the back page of the final book to be slid under my nose, I raked a hand through my hair and checked the time on my watch.

Great, taking into account the time difference, it had just become way too late to fit in a call to Damon back in New York. Not that I expected him to answer anyway after the blow out we had this morning.

I still wasn't decided on who had been to blame this time. On one hand it wasn't exactly my fault that Damon's birthday happened to fall right smack in the middle of my first book tour. On the other, it was kinda, maybe, slightly my responsibility when I had forgotten to book plane tickets home until the last second during what appeared to be the day everyone in America suddenly felt the urge to fly.

Ergo, I ended up with no chance in hell of me getting a seat to be back in time for Damon's big Three-O and a disappointed boyfriend.

It wasn't that having the chance to tour the country promoting my first published book wasn't a dream come true and everything that I could have had ever hoped for; I still couldn't quite wrap my head around the fact that Valley Publishing had taken a chance on me and my manuscript. They were a reasonably small publishing company, but a perfect fit for everything that I wanted; with a family like touch to how they treated their clients. With their help, people who weren't family or friends actually read and enjoyed my work, people I'd never met knew my name now.

So while the last thing I felt was ungrateful, it didn't change the fact that I ached for Damon. I ached for home. I ached for my life back in New York. And I felt hideous that I would be missing his birthday after I promised I would make it.

The tour had been going for two months, and up until about three weeks ago we had managed to fly out to meet each other most weekends. Then shit got crazy for us on both ends and his birthday was supposed to have been our bright spot to look forward to.

In the bookstore where my signing had taken place a giant map of the continental US took up one wall, after waiting a few minutes while I tried to remember the state we were currently in, I etched my finger carefully along one route. An idea slowly forming, I bit my lip cautiously and caught the arm of my manager walking by "What would you say the drive time would be from Mississippi to New York?"

He shrugged, tapping something into his Blackberry "I don't know? About twenty hours non-stop."

It was doable. If I limited the bathroom and snack breaks and drove through the night, I could be sliding into our bed on the morning of Damon's thirtieth. "Adam? I'm going to still be taking those three days off that we discussed."

"I thought you couldn't get a flight?". He processed the conversation we had just discussed and chuckled "Oh, you're going to drive? Good luck with that." Sighing, he relented and nodded "Fine, just be in Dallas by Thursday."

I grinned, hightailing it out of there with the adrenaline high that goes with every last minute spontaneous decision. After much bargaining and cashing in of IOU's, I managed to wrangle a car for that time of night and was pushing the speed limit on the freeway within the hour.

Then I drove. And drove, and drove, and drove some more. Endless miles of grey asphalt passing below my wheels and a radio that spat out static for the majority of the journey. The scenery grew monotonous fast and I was shooting five-hour energies like they were going out of style.

During one of the few allowed gas station breaks, my phone blared out it's ringtone, startling the cashier and me in the process. I shook the gas pump, shut the tank and flipped the cell open. "Damon?" I questioned, surprised. It was far into the small hours of the morning and couldn't think of a single reason he'd be up.

"Hey" He replied sheepishly. "I couldn't sleep."

"Why?" I focused on a raccoon making it's way across the deserted road while I waited for his answer, figuring if it was anything important he wouldn't sound so calm.

There was a beat of silence. "I didn't like how we left it yesterday morning." He sounded slightly annoyed at himself for giving in "And you always spout that crap about how we can't go to bed mad at each other."

I smirked, knowing this was his way of apologizing. "I love you too, Damon."

"Well, it's kind of hard not to." He teased, his voice considerably lighter. "Look, I don't even really care that you couldn't make my birthday. I was just pissed because I miss you. But we'll figure something out soon."

"Yeah, we will." I responded, no doubt in my mind that I was making the right choice finding my way home to him whatever the cost.

The gas station attendant finally looked up from his magazine and squinted his beady eyes, noticing what I was doing. "Hey lady!" he shouted. "No talking on cell phones around the pumps."

Damon went quiet on the other end of the line "What was that?" I could practically hear his mind catching up "Wait, why are you up so late?"

Shit, if I didn't end this now he'd work out what I was planning. "Just some late night meetings. Uh, very late night. That was Adam calling me back to work. Gotta go!"

"Elena! Don't you dare"

Wincing, I hit the end button before he could ask more questions and work out I was lying. "Love you, bye!."

From there on out it was a straight shot home, the sunrise as I was pulling into the city something pretty magnificent to see. Finally putting the car into park outside the house, I rested my forehead on the wheel trying to regroup the last of my energy and got out of the door. I blissfully stretched out my legs and decided my suitcase could stay in the trunk until later when I could persuade Damon to take it inside.

Removing my heels, I slipped inside the front door, making sure the key made as little noise as possible in the lock and tiptoed upstairs in stockinged feet. The house was almost unrecognizable from when I first started working for Damon six years ago. Now the staircase wall was lined with photos of us, of us with friends and all the places we'd visited. And both of our tastes were represented in all rooms of the house, making it feel more like home than any other place i'd lived in before.

It had taken Damon six months to get me to move in with him. When he'd eventually asked, there hadn't even been a second of doubt in my mind that we were ready. Our relationship had grown into something indestructible, something safe and everything I loved. Of course we had our bumps in the road, our insecurities, old ghosts, but we beat them one at a time, together. He was my best friend as well as my boyfriend.

Sneaking the door to our master bedroom open, I wasn't completely prepared for the warmth and love that ripped through me at the sight of Damon laid out in bed. I mean, Jesus, it had only been three weeks and we talked everyday. But with his face completely relaxed in sleep and the contrast of his skin against the black sheets I could barely stand the few seconds it took me to cross the floor and reach him.

"Rise and shine" I prompted, gently running a thumb along his cheek bone. As he squirmed under the sheets, I lowered myself to lay down next to him and pulled my hair out of it's high ponytail.

His eyes blinked languidly open and much to my consternation the blue in them still had the power to make my breath hitch, a fact he was proudly aware of. "Elena?" He jolted, confused, and scrunched his eyebrows together, gradually coming back to full consciousness. Abruptly pushing himself up onto his forearms, he ran a hand over my bare arm, then my cheek, finishing up with his fingers weaving through my hair. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"You didn't really believe I'd miss your birthday now did you?" I smiled and leant forward for a kiss, letting him prolong it as much as possible because it had been far too long since our last one. "I drove through the night." I explained as we eventually broke apart, his thumb swiping my bottom lip.

Looking half elated, half furious, his face darkened and he reprimanded "Baby, you're so crazy". He moved forward so our foreheads rested together "I could not be more happy to see you, but next time you get one of these ideas in your head I'd prefer to know before you go on some solo road-trip through seven different states with no sleep."

I rolled my eyes and pretended to be suitably chastised "Duly noted, old man." Grinning at his aghast expression, I announced "Speaking of, Happy birthday Mr. Salvatore."

"Well, it is now." Damon implied, propping himself up against the pillows and gathering me against his chest. "Thanks for coming home, Elena" he breathed against the crown of my head, dropping a kiss on my hair.

"Couldn't stay away" I shrugged, inhaling his scent and taking pleasure in just being with him. "I see you've kept the place up to your usual cleaning standards" I noted, glancing skeptically around the room with an eyebrow arched. The dress I'd left hung over the back of a chair months ago hadn't been moved an inch and the ensuite bathroom was still cluttered with my flat iron and left behind cosmetics.

Damon cleared his throat self-consciously, a scarcity with him "Having your shit all over the place makes it feel like your still home."

Smiling, I pledged softly "I miss you too, Damon." I cut a look up at him from under my eyelashes "But after I go back, I only have two weeks left and then I'm all yours again."

"About time, Miss. famous author."

I laughed, causing his chest to shake and tangled my fingers through his "Says the world-class business magnate." Yawning, I pulled the comforter back over us "Birthday boys get a lie-in."

Resting better then I had for a while, we indulged in sleeping and making love all day. Only prying ourselves from the bed so I could give him his present and get ready for the birthday dinner he had planned before he knew I was coming back.

I was simultaneously whipping the cream for dessert and flicking strawberries across the island at Damon who was trying to catch them in his mouth, failing miserably along the way, when the first guest arrived. Wiping my hands on the hastily tied apron around my waist, I moved through the hallway, swinging opening the door.

"Elena!" Alaric called, looking pleasantly surprised with a brightly wrapped gift and a bottle of wine balanced in one hand. "I didn't think you were going to make it home." Caroline poked her head around his shoulder, blonde curls bouncing "Oh thank God you did, it means the night is still salvageable. You have no idea how boring this city is without you or how much Damon mopes when you're gone."

"It's great to see both of you too." I gave them each a warm hug and chose not to comment on them arriving at the same time. Lately, Alaric and Caroline had been appearing together more often then not. When I'd interrogated my usually open best friend about my suspicions, she remained cautiously silent and only shot a sly smile my way. So either they had something going on or they were bonding over their favorite past time of teasing Damon and I without mercy.

Directing the pair to the brightly lit kitchen, I barely had the time to shut the door before Stefan and Lydia made their way up the drive and inside. With Stefan's help the Salvatore company had blossomed even further, making the pair untouchable across the board. Damon and Stefan's relationship had finally repaired itself, maybe not to the full extent it was before Katherine, but they were brothers all the same. Katherine had never taken up Stefan's offer to create a relationship with her daughter, but Stefan had proved himself good enough as two parents put together time and time again.

Lastly, Bonnie who was still working tirelessly as Damon's PR manager and Alberto who came off-duty with his wife, arrived, and our bizarre, dysfunctional family all congregated in the kitchen to celebrate the birth of the man who, whether he wanted to admit it or not, was the glue that held us all together.

As soon as I stepped back into the kitchen, the whole room was a hubbub of laughter, talking and the clang of cooking utensils. Caroline sat on top of one of the counters, swinging her feet and chatting noisily over Bonnie's head to Alberto . Damon had Lydia on one hip and was feeding her cookies from the jar, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by her father who was currently trying to reach across and get his daughter back before she was fully corrupted by sugar.

"I don't know why we were subjected to cooking the dinner" Alaric grumbled from bending over to light the gas ring on the oven. 'We're supposed to be the guests."

Damon smirked, and before I had time to clap a hand over his mouth, he proudly stated "You can thank my wonderful girlfriend for that. Not my fault she kept me occupied. All day long."

I pretended not to hear his comment or Caroline's loudly shouted "Gross", and went back to dicing onions before I got other ideas with what to do with the knife. After Alaric got all of the senior citizen jokes out of his system and Damon had stopped putting him in a headlock, we all settled into a routine of exchanging stories of days gone by while the dinner simmered in the background.

"-Anyway the next night, I made the moronic decision to go out with these idiots here" I indicated with my head towards Alaric and Damon and pulled my hair up into a top bun while I spoke. "I don't know what possessed me to think that hitting the Vegas strip with them would ever turn into anything but a disaster but hey, I was young and naive."

Alaric interrupted, groaned and ran a hand over his face "I don't think we need to tell this story. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas and all that?"

"Wait a second here" Stefan held a hand up, grinning "Let the lady finish her story."

"Why thank you, Stefan." I smiled pleasantly towards the younger Salvatore and continued as if I hadn't been disrupted, ignoring Alaric's protests. "You've got to remember this was like four years ago and Alaric was still going through that phase when he thought he looked good with frosted tips, hence he's a little sensitive about his knock-off Ryan Seacrest era." I smirked at Damon, wondering if he was going to chip in with one of his comments, but he was just watching me with a peculiar expression on his face.

"So it's like ten at night and these two must have been drinking every time my back was turned because they were wasted. I'm talking, this is going to hurt for a week kind of drunk. Somehow I ended up following them into one of the casinos, I think it was the MGM Grand or something, and Damon's standing there trying to emphatically convince Alaric that he can count cards."

I waited for the image to soak into everyone's mind. "Well, first of all, they were no where near a blackjack table. They were standing in front of a slot machine and wondering why Damon's supposed card shark tricks weren't winning them anything. And for the cherry on top we all got kicked out and banned from the MGM for the rest of our lives because all the security guards in the vicinity overheard my einstein of a boss shouting about how he was going to pull the next Ocean's Eleven."

The assembly of our friends in the kitchen burst out laughing, with even Alaric begrudgingly joining in, and my eyes automatically searched out Damon's to see his response.

He was stood watching me laugh, his face filled with reverence and his hand motionless and frozen over the chopping board, mid slice.

"Damon?" I questioned, baffled as I grew serious. "You alright?"

"Marry me" he exhaled earnestly. "Just, marry me."

The rest of the room fell pin silent, everyone else stopped what they were doing and like laser beams, honed onto the two of us staring unblinkingly at each other from opposite sides of the marbled island. "Oh my God" Caroline managed to whisper, eyes wide, before Alaric placed a hand over her mouth.

My heart was beating so fast with absolute awe that I couldn't move or speak or function. Damon evidently took my non-reaction as meaning he had something to worry about. "Look, I know this was a on the spot decision and I should have brought the ring first and gotten down on one knee, but I've never wanted something for so long or so bad before. I couldn't look at you for one more second without asking you to spend the rest of your life with me."

Forgetting about everyone else but him and without having to think twice about it, I picked up a paper plate from a nearby stack and a bottle of mustard and took five seconds to complete my project. Soundlessly, I held up the plate to face him and fought the widest smile of my life.

Damon took a second to read the Yes! scrawled out in yellow condiment and had jumped over the counter and had me swinging in his arms before I could blink. "You just gave me the best present I will ever get."

I smiled and flung my arms around his neck, secretly knowing it was really me who was getting the best present I would ever receive.

So thats the story of how the girl who thought she had lost her future, took the chance, and ended up with everything she could ever want. And she owed it all to a glass of spilled red wine.

The End

A/N- There are no words to express my thanks to everyone who has read this story and made it the fic it is today. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and stick with it. Also, I have some unanswered reviews on my last chapter that i'll absolutely still be responding to, but I wanted to get this last chapter out first.

So, I hope to see you all soon and fingers crossed for the show!