Epilogue: Ouroboros


Every breath that is in your lungs

Is a tiny little gift to me

-The White Stripes


Six Months Later

DAMON

My brother's girlfriend is wrecking my kitchen but I don't know if it's fascinating or infuriating. She's using things no one but me has ever touched and she's using them like a hurricane uses wind.

Every surface in the kitchen is covered in food, discarded utensils and serving dishes. She never reuses a spoon, she just forgets where she put it and gets out another one. She starts everything in a bowl that is too small and has to switch to a bigger one and if that didn't create enough dirty dishes, when the food is done she has to switch it to a prettier bowl to serve it out of.

"You know, for an organizational Nazi, you're kind of ADD in the kitchen," I tell her, crowding her out of the section of counter I want. "I haven't decided if you're cooking or having a food fight with yourself."

I toss two used metal bowls across the room, landing them both perfectly in the sink and set the only clean cutting board in the place down in front of me.

"Genius knows no boundaries," she says prissily. "And Stefan already said he'd do the dishes since we're cooking."

"Stefan also said you should stop cooking, because it's a barbecue for vampires," my brother's sardonic voice drifts in from the hall. He sticks his head around the corner. "It's kind of an oxymoron."

"I'm sorry," Caroline says, cocking her head and giving him a look that says she's anything but. "Something about a tray of blood bags just doesn't say festive to me."

"And a real vampire barbecue would have too many guests to fit into the Gilbert backyard. But-" I point my knife at Stefan. "That's an idea for next weekend."

"Classy," Caroline says, switching her glare over to me.

"Have fun with that," Stefan says cheerfully to me, coming into the kitchen long enough to give Caroline a kiss on the cheek before making his escape.

"You better not even think about bailing on this," she calls after him.

Wisely, he doesn't answer.

I reach over and snatch a bottle of yellow mustard out of her hands. "What are you doing?"

"Um, making potato salad." She reaches for the mustard and I hold it out of her reach.

"Making honkey potato salad?" I say scornfully. "Who else would ruin a perfectly good meal by adding cheap, road-cone-colored crap?"

Caroline punches me in the stomach and snatches the mustard out of my hands in the instant before I recover.

"Honkeys don't make potato salad," she informs me. "They buy it ready-made at Walmart. And this is an old family recipe."

"Why don't you keep your trailer park family recipe out of the kitchen of my historic mansion?" I suggest, swiping the mustard out of her hands right before she squeezes it into the bowl and taking a glass jar of chardonnay Dijon out of the fridge to replace it.

"Do I need to put you two in separate corners again?" Elena asks from the hall.

I turn to answer and forget how to use words.

She's wearing a white eyelet lace sundress that exposes her fragile collarbone and sets off miles of soft olive-toned skin. Her hair is in a high ponytail, the silky strands trailing down over one nearly bare shoulder. She crosses one cowboy-booted foot over the other and leans against the doorway, watching us with amused eyes.

"Only if you intend to ring a little bell and give me a shot at a knockout punch afterward," Caroline says, stealing the cheap mustard out of my suddenly motionless hands.

In that dress, Elena looks soft and adorable and loved and just a little bit mischievous.

And she's all mine.

"I'm putting it in," announces Caroline, squeezing the plastic mustard container enthusiastically so that it makes a rude noise. "I'm putting it all over the potatoes."

Elena smiles, her eyes sparkling at me.

Caroline's fingers dab at my chin and I flinch, swatting her hand away.

"What the hell, Blondie?"

"Oh, sorry," she says innocently. "You just had a little bit of um," she makes a slurping sound. "Running down your chin there."

I narrow my eyes dangerously at her and then we're off. Caroline darts around the kitchen island, shrieking "Elena!"

I'm only a half a step behind her as she blurs out the doorway but Elena catches me by the belt buckle and I screech to a halt, the hardwood floor groaning in protest. That's going to leave a mark.

She leans back against the doorway, still holding my belt as she smiles coyly up at me. "Going somewhere, handsome?"

"Nope," I decide, bending to steal a kiss. She tastes like cherries. I trace the crease of her lips with my tongue, savoring the flavor.

Her small hands are fisted in the material of my shirt, pulling me closer. I trail my fingertips over the curve of her cheekbones, then toy with the downy hairs at the nape of her neck, the ones that were too small to make it into her ponytail.

Elena makes a pleased little sound, her lips curving against mine as her hands sneak under the back of my shirt and I nudge my knee in between her bare thighs. Her breathing catches and she wraps one thigh eagerly around my hip. I catch her leg behind the knee, the skin silky and freshly shaven.

I deepen the kiss, stroking my tongue languidly against hers. I feel the sweet bite of her nails in my back and tighten my grip on her knee, opening her to me so I can push the aching bulge in my pants against her center.

She moans deep in her throat and I hear Caroline calling to us. I should let Elena go, or at least take her upstairs. I'm not opposed to pushing Caroline's buttons by giving her a little show, just not at Elena's expense. But God…

That dress.

This girl should have songs written about her, art made of her, a home built just for her. Every cushion and curtain and chair made exactly to her taste.

I smooth my cheek against her neck, feeling her faint, lovely pulse.

"I love you so much," I tell her hoarsely.

"I know," she says, her voice smiling at me.

I kiss her chin, her cheek, pulling back to see her eyes.

"I want you to have…everything," I finally say, unable to think of the words for what I mean.

"I do," she whispers and kisses me. I let her have me, her nails scoring the back of my neck as she attacks my mouth, fierce and sweet.

"Oh shit," I remember, feeling like I'm peeling my skin off as I try to step back. "Caroline."

"She said she was leaving," Elena gasps, wrapping her boot around my thigh so I can't move away.

I narrow my eyes and smirk. "You're just saying that because you want my body."

"No. Well, yeah," she grins. "She said and I quote, 'Tell Mr. Snooty-pants he can do his own cooking if he's going to be like that. I'm leaving.'" Elena rolls her eyes. "She said that part twice. Loudly."

I slide my hand slowly up her thigh, the eyelet lace of her skirt bunching around my wrist. "You think she took Stefan with her?"

Elena's head falls back against the doorway and I can see her pulse fluttering in the hollow at the base of her throat. "Uh-huh," she says, her voice squeaking a little.

"Are you just saying that?" I tease.

"Uh-huh," she agrees breathlessly.

I reach the luscious curve of her backside and groan because it is totally bare. I push my erection against her, my head rolling back on my neck in surrender.

"God, Elena, do you have any idea what you do to me? Especially when you refuse to wear panties?"

"Feels like about seven inches of heaven from here," she says breathily and I laugh and growl all at once, bucking rudely against her one more time because it just feels so fucking good.

"Okay, eight," she says agreeably.

I grin and kiss her ear before I nibble it just a little. "Are you wet for me, sweetheart?"

"Damon," she gasps, a flush creeping up her neck.

"Are you?" I persist, tracing the line of her neck with my tongue and teeth.

Her hands are running all over my chest under my shirt like she can't get enough of my skin under her hands. It still embarrasses her when I talk dirty, but it gets her really hot, too.

"I bet you want me to push that little skirt up and fuck you right here," I growl.

I dig my fingers into her ass and she strains against me, rubbing herself against the outline of my cock.

"Please, Damon," she whispers urgently. "I do. I want you right here."

I pin her to the wall with my hips and she gasps eagerly as I move the straps of her dress off her shoulders, roughly shoving her dress and bra down until her breasts are exposed, the bunched fabric pushing them up for my approval.

I bend to place a chaste kiss on each of her sweet pink nipples. She arches her back, rubbing her breasts into my mouth and I bite the curve of her cleavage with blunt teeth, stroking her with my tongue as blood rushes to the surface of her abused flesh.

"Bite me hard," she begs and I fumble with my zipper as my canines lengthen eagerly. I slide my fangs gently into the inner swell of her breast, her nipple hardening against my cheek as her blood flows freely over my tongue.

Elena lets out a throaty moan that hits me right between the legs. I finally manage to get my zipper down, my dick bouncing free as I shove my jeans out of the way. I wrap my fist around my cock and guide it under her skirt.

She jerks when I touch her, but then her hands tighten on my back and she tilts her hips to ease my entry. Instead, I wet my cockhead with her arousal and slide it between the lips of her sex, rubbing it all over her.

"Damon, God, I love you," she half-sobs.

I swirl my tongue around her nipple, licking up every drop of blood so that it won't stain her pretty dress.

"You always say that when you want me to let you come," I tease breathlessly as I straighten, enjoying the heavy-lidded look of her dark eyes.

She smiles, her kiss-swollen lips sexy as sin itself.

"I love you," she says, wrapping her tongue around the words like she's licking me instead. I jerk against her, nearly slipping inside without intending to.

She kisses me, wet and soft. "Adore you." Her hips curl invitingly. "Can't live without you."

Her tongue traces the line of my jugular and I vaguely realize I'm panting, my fist sliding up and down my cock. Elena hisses and I feel her teeth sharpen, canines descending against my neck and I fumble with shaking hands, pressing against her slippery opening.

She bites me and I slam myself home with a shout. Blood drips freely down my neck as Elena cries out, but then her mouth fastens hungrily over the twin punctures and I cup her bare ass, lifting her so I can plunge deeper.

She wraps her legs around me and I set a punishing rhythm, her hot little tongue drawing on my vein and lighting every aggressive masculine instinct I possess on fire. I want to mark her, claim her, own her.

My hand wraps around the back of her neck, catching her hair in my hard grip as I pull her head back so I can take her mouth. She moans against my tongue, tearing my shirt open and pressing her breasts to my chest.

"Fuck, Elena!" I groan, pumping too hard, too rough.

I should be sweet for her, I want to be. Instead I drape her legs over my elbows and push her against the wall, slamming into her deep and ruthless. Her fingers grip my hair, her breath strangling in her throat as her inner walls clamp down on me.

I groan through my teeth and slow so I can feel the waves of her pleasure beseeching me to join her. My orgasm is pounding at the back of my head, the base of my spine, but I won't let it go yet. Instead I stroke her slow and firm, pushing her to take more, feel more, drown in every scrap of bliss I can create for her.

I want to make her happy. Sweet fucking Christ, let me make her happy.

I go still inside of her to let her settle and when her legs go limp, I hold her up. Finally, she sighs and lays her head on my shoulder and I pull out, the friction on my still-swollen flesh raising goosebumps all down my legs. I cuddle her into my arms and take her upstairs.

She licks the blood from my neck and sighs again, nuzzling her head against my shoulder.

"Barbecue," she says vaguely. "We're supposed to get ready."

I tighten my arms around her. "We will. But I need you first."

She raises her head, her brown eyes sleepy and puzzled. "Need…me?"

I kiss her forehead. "I always need you."

I kick my door shut behind us, even though we're alone.

Once I set her back on her feet, I take a long minute to look her over. She looks adorably debauched, her perky ponytail mussed and crooked, her innocent lace dress bunched under her bare breasts, nipples chafed and red with a hint of blood marring her creamy skin.

She reaches for me, stealing under my torn shirt to press her palm over my heart as she smiles up at me, a wicked light growing behind the sleepy satisfaction in her brown eyes.

My breath hisses out between my teeth as she wraps her other hand around my throbbing erection.

"You didn't even take your pants off," she teases. "Fucked me with your jeans still on."

Something about that dirty word coming out of her shiny, cherry-flavored lips makes me screaming hot. I pull out the rubber band holding her ponytail and spear my fingers into her messy hair, pulling her mouth up to mine.

"Damon?" she says between kisses.

"Mmm," I rumble into her mouth, thrusting my cock into her fist.

"Will you do something for me?"

"Yes."

It's the only answer I have for her.

She kisses my throat and bends, pushing my jeans down. I toe off my shoes and let her undress me, shrugging out of yet another ruined shirt to stand naked before her.

Elena smiles, her eyes sparkling and turns her back on me. "Unzip me?" she says hopefully.

I push her hair out of the way and scrape my teeth over the nape of her neck, feeling her shiver under my tongue.

There's a little hook at the top of her zipper and I unfasten it with great care, pinching the tiny zipper pull between my fingers and drawing it down an inch at a time as I kiss every bit of smooth skin I expose. The zipper is very long and the last kiss nestles just above the curve of her bottom. I help her out of the dress and take off her boots, kneeling at her feet.

She touches my cheek, suddenly shy in way that makes something tug painfully in my chest. I wrap my arms around her with my cheek against her flat belly and she cradles my head fiercely.

"I love you," she murmurs. I kiss her belly, her hipbones, her thighs and then somewhere more intimate. She gasps when I slip my tongue between her lower lips, resting it against the swollen bud that marks the most sensitive part of her.

Elena threads her fingers in my hair, her hands moving restlessly as I toy gently with her. I'm painfully hard, so I stand back up and turn her away from me, hugging her from behind, my cheek resting on the top of her head. Her arms close over mine even as she pushes her ass against me, wanting more. I nip her shoulder and grip the nape of her neck commandingly, bending her over the bed.

I wait for her to steady herself with her hands and then I urge her legs apart and press inside of her, my eyes rolling back into my head at the sensation.

I build the rhythm slow, my hands caressing her all over her back and thighs and breasts and arms.

She's slick and yielding for me and I swear I could lose myself in the velvet fist of her around my cock for a century or six without blinking.

I feel her begin to pulse into orgasm before I'm ready so I push hard, slow and powerful strokes rocking her up onto her toes.

She's moaning my name like a prayer and when she peaks, she goes utterly silent and that feels right. As if there's no space left for sound in a moment this powerful.

I hold her tightly and finally let myself go, her body embracing me, welcoming me. Adoring me. And it feels like the only thing I've ever wished for.

# # #

ELENA

I'm trying to decide when I love him most. It's silly and juvenile and more than a little infatuated, but I can't help myself. I don't want to.

It might be when he's like this. Relaxed and sleepy. Unguarded, his body shifting toward mine only unconsciously, his hand falling between us with the fingers flexing carelessly until they brush my skin and then easing again. It makes me wonder what he's like when he's alone, what he was like in all those years before I knew him.

It might be when he's at his snarky, sarcastic best, not a chink in his arrogant, infuriatingly beautiful armor. Because I absolutely know what's beneath and I'll never tell.

It might be every secret kindness that no one will ever know was him, the credit lost entirely because he'll never lavish it on himself.

His eyes open and they're shatteringly blue and I have no idea what he's thinking. That might be it, too.

He catches the very end of a lock of my hair and rubs it between his fingertips, the hint of a smile touching his lips.

"What's that look?" he asks me.

It feels too trite to tell him, the words ordinary and inadequate on my lips. "Have I ever told you how glad I am that it was your blood that turned me?" I ask him instead.

His smile goes rueful. "Just because I didn't give it to you myself. Otherwise I'd be lined up for my eternity of Disapproving Elena Face."

I shake my head. "I would have been mad at first, but in the end I would have been grateful. It's weirdly appropriate, you know? That it was your blood that saved my life and made me feel more of everything. Just like you do."

"Gave you homicidal tendencies and an out of control temper." He smiles brightly. "Just like me."

I touch his lips and he nips at my fingertip. "You gave me what I always wanted. The ability to protect the people I loved."

When he doesn't answer, I smile. "And made it so you don't have to worry about me anymore."

"Yeah, it's great," he deadpans. "Never worrying about you."

"Probably like I never worry about you, huh?" I ask with a little laugh.

"You know what I never worry about?" he asks.

"Hmm?" I'm slightly distracted by the way the sheet angles low across his hip.

"How late we are to the barbecue that you guilt-tripped all our friends into going to."

"Oh God!" I leap out of bed, glancing around for the time, which of course I can't find because Damon doesn't have a clock on his bedroom wall. "I forgot all about it!"

"Course you did," Damon says, stretching ostentatiously. "With this body to distract you?"

"Tell me about it," I say dryly, tossing him his shirt. "Cover that thing up before I get myself into trouble again."

He holds up the shirt, grinning at me through one of the rips in the fabric.

"You're right," I tell him. "That's just more trouble. I'm getting you a burkah."

"That's rich coming from you. Were you really going to go commando to your own uber-wholesome family barbecue?"

I shimmy back into my dress and give him a smile that feels as wicked as he looks. "I knew if I wore panties, you'd just rip them. I'm surprised the dress survived, to be honest."

"I would never hurt that dress," he says adamantly. "But if you don't put on some underwear, that resolution is going to be sorely tested."

"I wouldn't mind sorely testing you," I purr, getting all in the way of him trying to put a new shirt on. He nibbles at my bottom lip.

"Explain to me again why we have friends?"

"To give me a reason to let you out of bed?" I offer, turning my back on him. "Zip me up?"

He groans. "It's like you hate me."

"How'd you guess?" I agree, holding my hair up away from the zipper and peeking back at him through the crook of my elbow. He zips my dress, hooks the tiny hook at the top and drops a kiss on the skin still left bare.

"You better get out of here," he warns, slapping my bottom lightly. "I've got cooking to do, since Caroline ruined the potato salad at the last minute."

"You should buy some real honkey potato salad from Walmart," I tell him as I pull my boots back on. "And see if she can tell it apart from her family recipe."

"That's my girl," Damon says approvingly, a devilish gleam in his eye.

"Damn right," I agree.

# # #

My backyard is like a Twilight convention: hot, older vampire guys, teen girls and werewolves. Granted, Twilight conventions probably don't have a gay bartender to man the grill, but all that means is that their burgers are probably overcooked and wouldn't come with the blue cheese crumbles, cracked black pepper and baby kale that Kyle insists is essential to casual dining.

Damon and I came late and claimed seats near Stefan and Caroline, who somehow managed to restrain herself from lecturing us on the connection between respect and punctuality.

"I don't understand why you think that a barbecue is the best social setting for a bunch of people who don't need to eat," Stefan tells me. "It made more sense when I was the only vampire, but now the only human left is Matt."

"As you might have noticed, our girl is an optimist, Stefan," Damon says cheerfully, stretching an arm across the back of my lawn chair. "Besides, Jeremy'll eat enough for all of us, even if he's not strictly human."

"She is not your group girlfriend," Caroline hisses. "Any more than I am your group girlfriend."

"Why, Caroline, are you propositioning me? I always pegged you for a swinger," Damon says with a sexy little half-smile.

"Have we already forgotten what happened last time, Damon? I asked you very nicely not to use the phrase 'our girlfriend.'" Caroline says threateningly.

"Nicely?" he snarls.

I stifle a sigh and move behind him, rubbing the suddenly knotted muscles of his shoulders.

"Yeah, you better get out the Valium hands," Stefan remarks, not budging from his relaxed posture. "I can still feel the tree branch I took in the gut trying to protect this pretty little neck." His hand slips under golden curls to caress the neck in question.

"Valium hands? What is that supposed to mean?" I frown at him.

"Yeah, Stefan," Damon says with mock indignation. He pats my knuckles soothingly. "I would have said Spanish Fly, baby."

Caroline is still looking peevish, probably remembering what her revenge had cost her.

"Caroline, I told you the Camaro was sacred," I remind her mildly.

"Yeah, do you know how much it cost to get it cleaned?" Damon demands.

"Obviously I do. You sent me the bill," Caroline says, examining her nails.

"You could have paid it," he suggests acidly.

"Yes, I could have," she agrees with a smile. "But after the grocery bill, I figured we were even. Do you know how many boxes of Count Chocula it takes to fill an entire classic convertible to the roofline?"

"Roughly three hours with a snow shovel and a whisk broom," Damon says darkly. "That's how many. Not to mention that there is now a suspiciously crunchy sound when I roll my windows up and down."

"Yeah, well you ruined my entire shoe collection," Caroline shoots back. "Even my Christian Louboutins and how a straight man knew that they were my favorite pair I have no idea."

"I just didn't get why you needed a hacksaw," Stefan complains.

"I didn't," Damon points out. "I could have easily broken them with my bare hands." He flares his eyes at her in satisfaction. "The hacksaw was more fun."

"He knew they were your favorites because I mentioned it once," Elena says. "And an elephant never forgets."

"How is he an elephant?" Caroline asks, disgusted. "He's barely, like, six feet tall."

"As in 'hung like an,'" Damon says with an artificial smile designed to irritate.

Caroline leans back in her seat. "Oh please. I've seen your little business," she waves an imperious finger in the direction of his pants. "And it's more mom and pop than international conglomerate, I'll tell you that."

"Blondie, you don't have to lie to make my little brother feel better. He can handle the truth," Damon mocks, with just the hint of an emphasis on the word 'little.'

Without changing expression, Stefan kicks Damon's chair out from under him and only superhuman reflexes keep him from sprawling to the ground. Without commenting, Damon picks his chair back up and sits down.

Caroline gives me an amused look and I blush. Stefan bursts out laughing. Six months ago, my eyes would have bugged out at the sound of such uninhibited mirth from my ex-boyfriend, but now he's like this all the time. Which stings a little, but I try not to show it. What matters is that he's happy, not that I wasn't the one who made him that way.

"What?" Damon asks.

"Oh, did you miss the non-verbal admission that I got the lion's share of the family jewels?" Stefan asks, his cheeks flushed with humor. "Because I read it loud and clear."

I raise an eyebrow at Caroline and now it's her turn to blush. Damon's eyes bounce back and forth between the two of us for a moment and then he relaxes back in his chair and kicks his foot up on his opposite knee.

"You never could read women for shit, Stef. Which is probably why you never learned how to make up for your little handicap in bed."

I abandon Damon's shoulders and sit back down. They can go on like this for hours. It's all too incestuous, Caroline and I pulling off the brother switch and it really ratcheted up the penis anxiety. Caroline and I could settle it in a minute because they are exactly, freakishly, the same size and we both know it, but where would be the fun in that?

"You know, if you guys are going to continue measuring, you should run along and let us have some girl talk," Caroline suggests, waving her hand.

I notice that she gestures with her left. In the last couple months, Caroline has been approaching ambidexterity.

"What did I tell you about pointing that disco ball at me on a sunny day?" Damon asks, irritated.

"You're just jealous that Stefan got a ring on my finger before you got one on Elena's," Caroline taunts.

I twine my ring-less fingers with my boyfriend's and we share a smile.

"If you were human, the timing would have me scoping for a baby bump." Damon squints at her waistline. "Actually, now that you mention it, did you siphon off a little vampire cure before we shut off the magic tap?"

She makes an irritated sound and throws her cell phone at him. He catches it and tosses it to Stefan, who nods in acknowledgement. They made a deal after Caroline broke her third cell phone that if Damon provoked her into throwing it, he also had to catch it instead of allowing it to shatter.

"Okay, no cure then, or you'd be back to throwing like a cheerleader instead of a quarterback," Damon concludes. "The engagement must just be further evidence of Stefan's terminal level of pussy-whipped-ness. How long did you have to withhold sex to get that cubic zirconia, anyway?"

"He gave me a diamond," Caroline volleys. "You gave me a cubic zirconia."

I wink at Damon, suppressing a smile. Of his recent spree of practical jokes, that was one of my favorites.

"Oh, I'm pussy-whipped?" Stefan challenges. "Who bought Elena twelve of the same two-hundred-dollar shirt last week? Not everybody wants to dress in a uniform like you, Damon."

"Sometimes, when Mummy and Daddy really love each other," Damon returns in a mocking falsetto, "they don't like to bother with pesky things like buttons."

I give Damon's shoulder a push and roll my eyes. "Take it elsewhere, boys."

Caroline covers her eyes. "Oh, God, Jeremy's doing that horrible thing again. Damon, will you please talk to him about that?"

"The thing where he crosses his arms and pushes out his biceps?" Damon asks, cringing.

"Uh-huh," Caroline agrees without uncovering her eyes.

"It doesn't seem to be chasing any of the girls away," I remark dryly. "I've given him the safe sex talk and now I'm wondering if I need to give him the man whore talk."

"That's what he gets for having my brother for a role model," Stefan says cheerfully.

I kick him sharply in the shin and glare a warning. Stefan holds up his hands innocently.

Caroline gives him a look.

His shoulders sag a little. "Oh, come on, babe…"

Damon stands up and sweeps Caroline a surprisingly courtly bow.

"Thank you, for beautifully illustrating my point." He blurs back so that the arc of her purse misses him by a bare inch, then he gives me a charming smile and strolls away toward Tyler, Jeremy and a girl with a pink streak in her hair who's wearing red Chuck Taylors and a cheap push-up bra whose straps keep peeking out from under her tank top.

"I'd better go provide an actual role model," Stefan says, dropping a kiss on Caroline's cheek before he follows his brother.

Once they're safely on the other side of the yard, I pretend to yawn while I whisper to Caroline. "More chocolate on the way. I think I may have gotten sea salt and caramel flavors this time, too."

"You think?" she frowns. "What did you ask for?"

I shrug. "I don't ask Damon for anything. It's more fun to drop little hints. The more subtle, the more likely I am to get it. It's like a game with him." I lean back in my chair, not bothering to suppress my smile. "Best thing I ever did was tell him I was sad I didn't have a picture of him when he left town."

"I thought you were pissed about that," Caroline protests, touching up her lip gloss.

"Only because the photographer tried to like, molest him!" I say indignantly.

"He was naked, what did you expect?"

"She specializes in nudes, so I don't know, maybe some professionalism?" I glance across the yard at where Damon is standing with Jeremy. Jeremy punches him in the arm while the pink-haired girl looks back and forth between the two of them, looking a little tongue-tied.

Damon smacks Jeremy lightly and then they both start arguing with the space to the left of the pink-haired girl.

I groan. "I told them not to talk to Ric when other people are around. They are way too blasé about the fact that other families don't have imaginary friends."

"It's not like repeatedly compelling Jeremy's girlfriends can make them any dumber," Caroline says unkindly. "So wait, what was the chocolate hint?"

"I got a cheap bar of sea salt chocolate the other day and frowned at it in front of him."

"Are you kidding? Are you playing CSI here or supplying my sweet tooth?" Caroline says, outraged. "Get serious, woman."

"Yeah but the week before I made sure I left out a caramel bar." I smile. "He'll get it. It's adorable how proud he is of himself when he figures out my hints. He goes all super-casual, you know how he does. Do you know what he got me for our two-month anniversary?"

"He celebrated your two-month anniversary?" Caroline asks, eyebrows raised.

I nod smugly. "Emerald earrings that I'd looked at in a store window once."

"That's pretty good," Caroline admits.

"Emerald earrings that I looked at while I was shopping with Aunt Jenna," I clarify dryly, "and we happened to run into him in town. Whereas, when I was dating Stefan, he couldn't even remember to keep coffee in the house for me even though he knew I was useless without it in the mornings. No offense."

"You must be kidding," Caroline says scornfully. "He never messes up my coffee and I take it one Splenda, three tablespoons of 1% milk. I'm a total psycho about it, I measure. Anyway, the other morning I caught him making it with the measuring spoons out and he wasn't even embarrassed." She sighs and pretends to fan herself. "Now that's a real man."

Damon and Jeremy have devolved to wrestling in the grass and my boyfriend's shirt is rucked up, revealing sleek back muscles that are making me think about quitting this party early. Or maybe what's getting to me is the fact that he's obviously holding back to make Jeremy look good in front of his new girlfriend.

"Those Salvatore genes are really something," I marvel.

I hold up a hand silently and Caroline slaps me a dainty high five.

"Score," we agree.


Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who has read, re-read, and/or reviewed this story! I appreciate so much all the warm and enthusiastic support. This story took a lot of time to create and I'm so happy that you all enjoy it.

If you'd like more from this universe, I created a sequel called Happily Ever After: Salvatore Style. It's a book-length peek continuing this story forward as Damon & Elena and Stefan & Caroline live happily ever after in the boarding house together. Except that Caroline and Damon start a prank war with each other. And then there is a bet about who can hold out without *ahem* the longest. And also there's the matter of the stuffed unicorn. Oh, and the whole Princess Bride thing. It's funny and heartwarming and not as stabby as this story, so please go check it out if that's your thing. ;)

If you like stabby, I did a Season 5 rewrite (starting from where the show started, not where this ended) in the same style as this story, so check that out if you'd like an alternate version of S5. It's called In Time We Trust.