Every breath,
every hour has come to this

A Thousand Years - Christina Perry

One month later:

Most of the morning had been spent on hair and make-up. Jenna had made it her duty to fuss over every brown ringlet until they fell perfectly into place around Elena's tanned bare shoulders.

The yellow prom dress that sat just right against her svelte figure had been a last minute thing. The simple elegance of it was just as flattering as the cut, low on her shoulders with just enough beading and sequins to tastefully decorate her chest. It ruffled at the bottom and she spun once, watching as the fabric danced with her every movement. She couldn't imagine picking anything more perfect.

Elena studied herself in the full length mirror on the back of her bedroom door. Though the bright dress lit her complexion in a way she couldn't help but appreciate, something about the girl that stared back at her was different. Familiar; warm, yet somewhat vacant, almost matching the reflection of her bedroom around her. She'd noticed it in herself the day she had returned home. Though nearly a month had passed since that tear-filled reunion, she still was left unable to put her finger on it.

So she reached instead for her necklace. She had not taken it off since the day she'd found it sitting atop her things. Where he had put it. Where she was meant to find it.

Back then, it had been her last beacon of hope. Of knowing that no matter how deep the darkness grew – no matter how twisted her life became, there had been someone out there watching over her. Someone who cared enough to try to keep her from harm.

When she finally realized that darkness was only brightened by perspective, it became something else. Something she would see every time she looked in the mirror. The only part of her that never seemed to change; its antiqued silver still cool under her touch. The deep red of the stone glinting back at her in the soft light. A small piece of her old life that had survived to see the new.

But at that moment it clashed against the brightness of her gown. She unlatched it and set it gingerly upon her vanity.

"Can we come in yet?!" Jenna's impatient voice came from just behind the closed door.

Elena ran her eyes over herself, a strange lightness in her chest where the pendant had sat for so long. She took a deep breath to steady herself. "Yes, I'm ready."

Jenna burst into the room followed by Jeremy, who leaned a shoulder against the door frame.

Jenna crossed her arms under her chest as she took a moment to appraise her niece. "C'mon admit it… I'm pretty amazing."

Elena smiled back at her. "We really did pull it together, huh?" she turned to look over her shoulder into the vanity mirror. "It's still kinda hard to believe I'm actually going..."

Jenna stepped behind her to adjust a rogue curl. "Senior prom is a rite of passage Elena. And you better believe it because you worked too hard not to… And so did I – have you seen your hair?" Jenna quirked an eyebrow at her over her shoulder.

Elena blinked at her reflection, her lips easing into a soft smile. She had missed nearly two months of school and, to everyone's surprise, had caught up in less than one. Though, she had also failed to mention her enticing tutor to them, not having the slightest inkling of how to begin.

Elena turned back to face her Aunt, pulling her into a warm embrace. "Thank you Jenna. I look amazing."

Jenna pulled back from the hug just enough to look at Elena for a moment, her eyes growing damp with unshed tears. "I wish your parents were here to see how beautiful you look tonight."

"I doubt they're missing it," Jeremy quietly chimed in from his perch in the doorway, drawing their attention to him as he made his way over to wrap his arms around both of their shoulders.

"Now don't you start," Jenna lightheartedly scolded Elena as she hurriedly dabbed at her own eyes with the back of her hand. "That makeup was expensive."

As soon as she got in the car, the guilt struck. It had weighed heavy on her mind since yesterday though it did nothing to diminish the bubbling excitement.

She'd known the minute she discovered the neatly folded set of directions that she would not be attending her high school prom. Tucked under the lid of the dress box that had shown up on her window seat the night before. The elegant penmanship alone giving away her caller.

He had left her to her family for a while, releasing her friends and family from their compulsion and respectfully ducking into the background as she retethered bonds that only she was aware had been broken – leaving only two frayed.

Elena would only call him every so often, light topics – history homework and simple questions. Because even though she knew he would answer her every inquiry with nothing but honesty, she also knew he suffered. He needed time and she would respect that, just as he had done for her.

She had given a sad smile to the address at the bottom of the paper, it being proof enough that even in grieving he hadn't strayed too far. She did not recognize the street name but she knew how to get to it.

The sun hung deep in the sky as she drove; paved streets giving over to dirt roads that ran deep into the woods of the outer skirts of Mystic Falls. She drove in silence through the trees, her nerves causing her hands to feel slick against the steering wheel. Space from him had given her time to collect her thoughts. At first she questioned herself. The secrets she would have to keep. Her sanity. Turning it over and over in her head until it nearly drove her mad.

Only days ago had it struck her – clicked firmly into place; her emotions coming in in swelling waves for the first time without the stifling cap of fear. Now she feared something else entirely. Something that sent butterflies fluttering deep in her belly when she spotted the glowing lights through the trees ahead.

The brush opened up to a paved drive way, curved tastefully around a moderately sized fountain that illuminated in the night. A manor of a house towered three stories high behind it. It was bricked, with white pillars decorating the entrance in a way that added an aged charm.

As she drove into the driveway, the porch lights revealed plywood and workbenches through the tall front windows, hinting at the building's incomplete state. She couldn't help but smile at the sight.

He was having a home built in Mystic Falls.

She pulled her shawl tight around her shoulders as she stepped from the car and made her way toward the front door, stopping short when she heard it. The faint sound of music just came in over the slight breeze from somewhere in the distance.

As she reached the front corner of the manor, she realized that the sound was coming from behind it. The louder it grew, the more familiar it became to her straining ears.

She slowed as she reached the end of the side of the house, her heart hammering in her chest in a way she struggled to fully understand. She knew him. She had spent days and days in his presence alone. And somehow it seemed her heart had chosen to ignore that and simply longed for more after their time apart.

She gradually turned the back corner and froze.

The backyard was flawlessly landscaped, short green grass covering every inch of the clearing that met the edge of the dark woods. The area was lit warmly by ropes of twinkling white lights that cut across the sky in every direction, crossing and weaving amongst themselves. In the middle was a canopy of crème colored lace, draped listlessly over the web of ropes. Thick strands of it hung down almost to the ground in scattered places, the soft night breeze causing them to curve and sway with the music.

Her state of awe was broken by the dark outline of a suited figure shifting just behind a cascade of white. She pulled her shawl a little tighter around her shoulders.

He used the back of his right hand to gracefully shift the barrier of lace to the side. And she saw him.

The soft light framed him. Resting on broad suited shoulder. Dancing over the lines of his jaw, his nose, his mouth. Its usual firmness was slackened by the ghost of a smile, residing more in his dark eyes than upon his lips. Eyes she'd never known to look so bright.

A beat later and her shawl and high heels were left behind as her bare feet paced across the cool grass to close the distance between them. The ruffles of her dress draping so dangerously close to the ground is all that kept her from running.

When she reached him, she wrapped her arms up around his shoulders just as he pulled her firmly into his own. Her head rested at the curve of his neck as her fingers trialed idly through the hair at the back of his head. His arms wrapped securely around her waist, holding her close. They stayed that way for a long moment.

She just barely noticed as he began to sway them slightly from side to side as the music dawdled on around them in the crisp night air.

Even with a month's worth of distance nothing had changed. She could feel it within herself as easily as she could feel the steadying rise and fall of his chest beneath her cheek. Only one thing was different.

"You cut your hair," she lifted her head to look up at him, her eyes taking in his newly shortened style as her fingers continued to explore it. Her painted lips eased into a grin.

"And you've curled yours," he acknowledged softly, lifting a hand from her waist to spin a chocolate ringlet around his forefinger. He backed away just enough to take in all of her, the strands sliding from his finger to bounce back into formation. His eyes ran slowly down the length of it, across her glowing face, her dress, before rising back to find hers. "You look absolutely radiant, Elena."

Elena felt her cheeks warm, "Thank you – for all of this," she diverted her eyes, running them along the beautiful display of twinkling lights above before looking down at how the sequins that lined the neck of her gown glistened because of them. "I owe half of that to you."

His brow quirked. "And the other half?"

She heard his smile in his tone and turned her gaze back up to find it.

"The rest is Jenna's handiwork. When she saw that I had already gotten a dress without her opinion, she decided to take out her frustration on my face and hair." Her eyes regarded him with light amusement.

He hummed a low sound of content and it jogged her like a long lost favorite melody. His hand reached up to softly coax one of hers down from his shoulder. "I'll have to remember to thank her for that someday."

And they danced.

For a while only the sound of softly drawn strings filled the space around them. He led and she followed without fail. His hand curved softly around hers, the other pressed delicately against her hip. She reveled in it, this time finding much more than just a sense of protection in his hold. She leaned into him.

"I missed you Elijah," she whispered after a long moment, her eyes holding on to the top button of his suit. "I wasn't sure what I was going to feel after everything went back to normal – after all the fear and pain was gone...but to be honest, I'm not too sure what normal is anymore…" She slowly willed her gaze to rise. "The only thing I'm sure of is you."

His obsidian eyes burned with such a warm undercurrent that she swore she could feel it sink in and sizzle under every inch of her skin. His hand released hers to gently stroke her cheek.

"Normal is the way you took Jeremy into your arms the night I brought you home. It is in the tears you shared with your Aunt well into the late hours of the night," he spoke as if she were breakable though he knew well enough that she was not. "It is in anything that makes you happy with where you are, Elena. A sense of normalcy is incomparable; leaving some to believe it is just out of their reach."

She considered his words for a moment, blinking away the tears that threatened her at the memory of finally being able to return home. Much different recollections helped to dry her eyes.

"Then normal is the way I feel when I'm with you," she pressed her hand against his on her cheek. "It's what I felt when you allowed me to help you – how you let me think for myself and make my own decisions. It was in the way you helped me to stand back up every time I got knocked off my feet… what I felt when I woke to discover that you saved my life." She slowly curled her fingers around his. "It's what I feel when you look at me the way you are right now…"

He pressed his lips down upon hers. There were words, millions of them, pelting him just behind his closed eyes as he pulled her close to him, inwardly swearing to himself that he'd never allow her forget exactly what normal was if it brought such claims to her lips. He wanted to taste each one of them. To somehow portray the regard in which he held her, though he knew he simply could not.

He pulled back from her and she yearned forward, her lips lingering over his until he gently coaxed her face only inches away with a soft smile.

He would try.

"I love you Elena," he breathed in a whisper.

She felt his words wash over her, her lips still tingling from their kiss, the sensation seeping down her neck, sending electricity down her spine, causing her to curl her toes into the soft grass.

Knowing it was one thing. Hearing it in his resonant voice was something else entirely.

She pushed up onto the balls of her feet to plant another soft, sweet kiss to his mouth. Because now, she could.

"I love you too Elijah."

And they danced.

One step closer...

This story has been my baby since I decided to sit down at a keyboard and begin writing it. Now that I'm finished, I'm almost not sure what to do with my free time (sequel maybe?). It being my first multi-chapter fic, I can read through it and see just how much I've grown as a writer. That being said, I went through some of the earlier chapters and fixed just enough to help the ending flawlessly connect with where it all began. You may want to re-read over them if you haven't in a while!

On that note, to all of you who have taken the time to read through this fic, and especially to those of you who have stuck with me from the very beginning, I simply can't express the level of gratitude and appreciation I hold for you. You all have been positively lovely and made it easy to remember why I began writing this story during those times when inspiration faded. I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.

I'll most certainly be back for more.