A/N: It's hard to place the setting, but I guess you could say it takes place in an AU of Castle after 5.19 and in an AU of TVD after 4.08.

A Vampire in the Family


1.

"Get down!"

The shout comes from behind them and the four drop to the ground. An arrow-like stake shoots over them and into their assailant's chest. He stumbles for a moment, before his face turns ashen and somehow, impossibly, veins start to rise on his skin.

"What the hell?" Esposito asks. "Yo, Beckett, you seeing this?"

"I think we're all seeing it, Javi," Ryan answers.

"Are you guys okay?" Behind them a young man - no older than sixteen or seventeen by the looks of it - comes jogging up to them as they get to their feet.

Esposito and Ryan draw their guns.

"Whoa," the teenager says, holding his hands up in surrender. It's comical due to the crossbow held in one of them.

"Whoever the hell you are," Kate says, drawing her gun. "You're under arrest for murder."

"Jeremy!" A young woman comes rushing up to the group and places herself in front of him. "You're not taking him anywhere," she growls.

"And that's interference," Kate snaps. "You're under arrest, too. Keep it up; I can go all night."

"She really can," Rick manages. He's been in some bizarre situations before, but this? Strange, even for him.

"Can we please talk about our dead guy? That wasn't normal," Esposito insists.

"You mean how he turned grey and sunken?" the boy asks. "He was already dead."

"I don't know what kind of game you're playing, but I'm ending it. Detective Ryan, cuff them."

"What do you mean already dead?" Rick asks, to Kate's annoyance.

The girl sighs in a put-upon sort of way. "Jeremy, I haven't had enough to compel all of them," she says. The boy - Jeremy - nods in resignation.

"What is going on?" Kate demands. "Compel us? Are you high? Is this from some new designer drug on the streets?"

All of a sudden Kate is tackled to the ground and her gun goes off.

"Kate!"

In a flash the girl is rushing the new assailant and forcing him off of Kate.

The assailant turns on her immediately and the others watch (four of them amazed) as she hisses, her eyes turning red and dark veins appearing under her eyes. Faster than is humanly possible, the two fight. It's an eerie blur before them; the... well, neither Kate nor her friends are sure what these two are, but they certainly aren't human.

"Jer!" She has the man on the ground.

The boy quickly shoots a stake at the two of them and the girl, impossibly, catches it without a blink. Then she drives it into the heart of the man below her. Just like the other one, his face turns ashen.

"That is so cool," Rick breathes.

"Castle!" Kate scolds, but she's transfixed. Who are these two? What are these two? How is any of this possible?

The girl stands up and the others can see her struggle to calm herself. Eventually her eyes clear and her face turns back to its normal appearance. She's quite pretty, if young.

"Who are you?" Kate asks. She wants to ask What are you? but she's not sure she wants to hear the answer.

"My name's Elena Gilbert. I'm a vampire. Those two men attacking you? Vampires." She says it so matter-of-factly that it's not that hard to believe her.

"I'm her brother, Jeremy. And for the record, I'm human," the boy clarifies.

"Bullshit," Kate says instantly, even though everything she's seen screams at her that Jeremy and Elena are telling her the truth.

"I think we all have a lot of questions," Ryan pipes up. "Least of which is what do we do with these two?" He points at the two slain vampires.

Elena sighs again. "I'll take care of it," she says. "As long as you promise not to take my brother away."

"Deal," Esposito says instantly.

"Javi!"

"Beckett, I don't think we want to play around with these two. You saw what they did."

Elena just rolls her eyes and goes to gather up the bodies while the others hash it out.

2.

"Castle, we don't know them! You saw what they're capable of!" Kate hisses.

"And I saw that they saved our lives, yours twice."

"She is dangerous," Kate insists. The image of Elena's darkened face and pointed fangs is hard to forget.

"I trust her, Kate," Rick says. "I don't know why, but something about her just makes me want to look out for her. Him too," he adds.

"He's so young," Kate concedes.

It takes a bit more convincing to get Kate on board, but in the end, she can't help but want to take care of the two orphans.

(Elena isn't invited into Kate's apartment until Kate needs help moving her things out and into Rick's place. Elena isn't offended- after all, she usually has a strong desire to eat people.)

3.

"I've read some of them," Elena says of Rick's books. "I really like the Derrick Storm books and Storm Fall was great. I haven't been much of a reader lately, but I used to love reading. And writing," she mentions as an afterthought.

"Really?" Rick is delighted to find that Elena, before her life had been taken over by the supernatural, had wanted to be a writer.

He's even more ecstatic to find that she still writes, just in diary format. "It's a start, Elena. Don't ever stop." He shows her his notes and his board with all the glee of a child on Christmas morning and Elena can't help but smile.

(Rick's one of the few humans Elena hasn't wanted to rip into so she can bathe in blood. It's a nice change.)

4.

Alexis is hesitant, but ultimately very friendly. Elena at first focuses on the girl's pulse, can hear it calling to her, just begging her to sink her teeth in and feel the girl struggle against the death that will claim her and-

"Do you want to grab some coffee? Maybe go to a movie?"

It's actually the first time since turning that anyone's asked Elena if she wants to do something so normal and human and... she breaks.

Alexis holds her as she cries and suddenly, Elena knows she would do anything to keep Alexis safe.

(Eating her is out of the question, obviously.)

5.

"You're a baseball fan too?" Kate asks Jeremy one day as he's watching the Yankees game.

"Yeah," he answers. "My dad and I used to go to games and I even used to play when I was little. I was really into it before my parents died."

"And then what did you get into?"

Jeremy looks away. Kate understands, she's been there.

"Jeremy, I know what losing a parent is like. It does something to you. It changes you so completely that you find yourself doing things-"

"Drugs," Jeremy says, voice blunt. "I got into drugs and nearly ruined my life. It would have stayed that way if Elena hadn't-" he stops and looks angry with himself.

"If she hadn't what?" Kate asks. She likes Jeremy, sees a lot of herself in him.

"She explained compulsion, right?"

Kate fiddles with the charm bracelet she wore - one of the dangling charms filled with vervain at Jeremy and Elena's insistence. "Yes." She hates the concept, hates that free will can so easily be taken away, hates the implications of the matter.

Jeremy explains the story, how Elena had asked a vampire named Damon to compel him to forget about vampires, about losing the girl he'd been crazy for who had nearly killed him. Kate finds herself holding him afterwards. Her heart breaks for the boy and all he's suffered. He's strong though, far stronger than anyone could expect from similar circumstances.

"So who's your favorite team?"

Jeremy snorts. "I like the Red Sox, but apparently mentioning that around here can get you hurt."

"It's serious business."

They decide to go to a Yankees game, just the two of them.

(Kate never voices how difficult it is to blame Elena for what she'd done. She understands too much about protecting her loved ones to truly hold it against the girl, even if she sometimes wishes she didn't.

6.

Martha is the grandmother they never had and the grandmother they never knew they wanted. She's vibrant, full of life, and a remarkable listener. She takes Jeremy and Elena under her wing as if she's known them their entire lives. She's fun to listen to; they love her stories, even if Rick, Alexis, and Kate have heard them all multiple times.

"I met one of you once," she declares, referring to the supernatural. "He was the nicest gentlemen I've ever met. He had style and class, a real fan of the arts."

This perks everyone's interest.

"How am I just now hearing about this?" Rick asks.

"Oh, Richard, please," Martha says dismissively. "You would have tried to have me committed."

"What was his name?" Jeremy asks, as the group of them sat in Rick's kitchen, sharing in the bonds of family on Thanksgiving. Even Ryan and Jenny have shown up, the newlyweds ridiculously in love.

(Elena likes Ryan - more so now that she doesn't want to eat him. It's surprised everyone how the two of them hit it off. There's an earnest, awkwardness to him that she loves.)

"You know, I can't remember right off the top of my head. There was a lot of wine involved. He had quite the collection."

They all have a good laugh and when Kate, Rick, Ryan, Esposito, and Lanie are called away to a crime scene, Elena and Jeremy trail them, just in case someone tries to hurt them.

7.

"He's never going to tell you the truth," Elena says as she looks through the glass to the interrogation room.

Inside Kate is grilling their suspect, growing more and more pissed that he won't give a straight answer.

Five college girls are dead, all from different sororities, within four months of each other. And this guy? He'd been listed as a contact in all of their phones.

"Most of 'em don't want to but Beckett has a way of getting her point across," Esposito assures her.

"No, I can see it in his eyes. He'll die before he talks."

"What are you suggesting?" Ryan asks. "Compelling him to confess?"

Elena shakes her head. "Just because he isn't talking doesn't mean he's guilty."

"No way," Esposito says. "You ain't pulling that vampy mojo on him. Beckett'll pull it out of him."

"I never suggested I compel him," Elena says. And it's the truth.

Ten agonizing minutes later, Kate storms out and demands the man be sent to holding. "We've got him for 24 hours."

It's funny how the security camera in holding seemed to malfunction for a few minutes later that evening, and that the uncooperative suspect told Kate everything he knew about the murderer the next time he was asked.

8.

Sometimes Esposito, Ryan, and Kate take Jeremy to the shooting range. He's damn good for a teenager and after seeing his work ethic and how fast he puts things together the three adults can't help but think he'd be a damn good cop some day.

(Watching the boy decapitate a trio of rogue vampires one night only seals the thought. It's a shame they need to have Elena compel Captain Gates to forget, however.)

9.

It's a dark and rainy night when he finds them. He appears from nowhere, startling them all, save Elena who for some reason, can just sense his familiar presence. The detectives react on instinct when they see his darkened eyes and the faintest traces of veins.

Elijah takes every round Kate, Ryan, and Esposito put in him and doesn't drop. (He doesn't even stagger.)

It's only Elena's screaming for them to stop and rushing in front of him that gets them to actually cease their fire.

"E-Elijah," Elena stutters as she looks up at him in amazement. "You found us?"

"Not my finest record, I'll admit," he says as if they aren't standing in the pouring rain and he's not just had more than twelve bullets shot into him. She's missed Elijah's sense of absolute authority, how safe and (and curiously enough, on-edge) he makes her feel.

"Elena, what is going on?" Kate asks, gun still raised.

She's drawn to him, finds herself looking into his eyes. "It's okay, you guys. We can trust him; he won't hurt us," is what Elena says to the others.

(Only because she's pretty sure saying "he won't hurt me" would do nothing to reassure them, especially Kate.)

10.

Elijah smiles - genuinely beams - when he sees Martha.

Martha drops the wine glass she's holding but he's fast and catches it inches above the floor with nary a drop spilled.

"Hello again, Martha Rogers," he says warmly, handing back her drink.

"Elijah," she says in wonder... Right before she slaps him across his face. "You could have at least let me know you were going to vanish!"

Elijah doesn't look the least bit surprised at her outburst. In fact, he seems almost amused by the matter. Elena is almost floored... anyone else probably would have lost a head.

"Were you two-" Rick tries to ask, looking back and forth between them. "Tell me you weren't-"

Elena says nothing, though Kate, Ryan, and Esposito can tell she's waiting for a response. They all notice the way she looks at him. (It's the same way he's looked at her since arriving.)

"We were not lovers, Mr. Castle," Elijah says simply, checking the lay of his tie in a mirror on the wall (as flawless as the rest of the suit he'd changed into). "I was a patron of several theaters Martha performed in."

"And then one day you simply disappeared without a trace," Martha says accusingly. "Then the most awful man started questioning me about you and anyone else who might have been... like you. It was ages before he was finally satisfied I knew nothing."

"Mikael." Elijah frowns. "I had hoped my leaving before his appearance would spare you his interrogation, but he was always persistent."

"Who's this Mikael dude?" Esposito took the longest to get a feel for, but now that she knows him there are few people Elena would want watching her back more. He's dependable and loyal - cute, too, for an older-brother sort of guy.

"A supernatural hunter who was devoted to destroying vampires."

"Wow."

11.

It turns into a long night full of questions about vampires. Elena is grateful, since she's not exactly the authority on vampires that Kate and the others have needed. Elijah is much better suited to answer their questions, since he'd been one the longest.

"So what," Kate asks Elijah, unimpressed. "You're a special vampire?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," he answers. "I am one of the Originals."

Rick, Ryan, and Esposito can't contain their snorts. He's so serious.

"He's one of the first vampires in existence," Elena clarifies, glaring at them.

"One of the first five created," Jeremy adds in, though he can't help but be amused at how unimpressed they are. Everyone they know has always taken the man seriously.

"Who were the other four?" Rick, ever the lore junkie asks. Elena can already see his mind spinning ideas for another novel. Too bad she'll have to inform him she has dibs. After all, who better to write it than someone who has lived it? She could dedicate the book to him...

"My three brothers and my sister," Elijah shares. "From us all vampires were made."

"And how exactly does make you special?" Okay, now even Elena finds Kate's demeanor funny.

"You've seen how strong Elena is, how fast she is?" Elijah inquires.

The humans, save Jeremy, nod hesitantly. Elena is downright scary when she's in action. (And Esposito will never live down how he had to have Elena open the pickle jar at the precinct - after he'd talked their heads off about his 'solid' new workout.)

"I say this without arrogance: what you know Elena and other vampires to be, I am more. I am stronger and I am faster. My compulsion will work on other vampires. I heal from injuries faster and my blood heals others faster."

"They rebuilt him," Rick says finally, unable to stop himself from commenting in his usual way, even if it meant pissing off someone who was undoubtedly the scariest man he'd ever met.

"They had the technology," Ryan continues. He never can resist following up Rick's comments, Elena's learned.

"Both of you, hush," Kate scolds before Esposito can chime in. (He looks devastated when he can't get in on it.)

Elena can't help it; she giggles and everyone save her sees the fond look Elijah gives her. (Smitten, they all think.)

"How were you even created?" Ryan asks finally. "And a whole family of you?"

The others look to Elijah curiously. He seems pleased at the thought Ryan has put into his query.

"My parents turned my siblings and I into vampires to protect us. They had no idea what the consequences would be. They didn't anticipate the bloodlust or the way our emotions would spiral out of control. When my father saw how we were affected by my mother's spell, saw the monsters we were capable of being, he decided to take action. He had my mother turn him and, channeling his anger and pride, made it his duty to hunt us down, my brother Niklaus especially. He chased us for nearly a millennia."

His words sink in. Elena can only imagine how long it must have taken him to come to terms with having a father who wanted him dead.

"Let me guess, your father's name was Mikael?" Esposito asks, taking a surprising leap of faith.

"You're very astute, detective," Elijah confirms.

Everyone is quiet as they take in the full meaning of what they'd just learned.

"Tough break, bro," Esposito finally says.

(Elena's almost certain that no one has ever addressed Elijah as 'bro' and lived to tell about it before Esposito.)

12.

Elena had been so worried about running into anyone from her old life, terrified that she'd be dragged back into the horror of it all, but Elijah seems to be the exception. It's beyond words, having him around to talk to, confide in. He apologizes for his sister, though Elena assures him he doesn't need to. There's just something so right about being around him. It takes her a while to realize that what she's feeling is happiness.

Elena and Jeremy's new friends can't help but be a little put out over how much time she spends with Elijah, even as they're happy for her.

("She seems so sad," Rick had said to Kate after their first meeting when Elena and Jeremy had saved them from a group of vampires. "Like nothing could begin to describe the loss she's experienced."

He looked through the two-way mirror, taking in the brother and sister sitting in the interrogation room, sipping coffee from styrofoam cups.

No one thought twice when Kate explained that Elena and Jeremy had been picked up when Esposito had seen them fleeing from a would-be mugger who got away.

"Her brother, too," Kate said, remembering how troubled he'd looked after he lowered his crossbow and asked if they were okay.

Sitting next to his sister in the stark room, he looked so young - both of them did. But there was a vibe between them, just daring anyone to try and hurt the other or separate them.

Rick would later call it their first unofficial "let's adopt the supernatural orphans" discussion.)

Ryan and Esposito in particular tease her mercilessly about it.

13.

Elena's been up in her room with Martha and Alexis for hours now, primping for her evening out with Elijah. It feels like a lifetime since she's worried about such intensive preparations for something like a date, but Elijah seems to inspire her. It's also their first "real" date and they are going to the ballet.

She's still getting ready when he shows up. He doesn't look surprised, Rick and Kate notice. He's dressed to the nines, his tuxedo perfectly tailored. His shoes have a gleam that would make Kate's academy instructor weep with pride.

"Good evening," Elijah says politely, taking a seat as if he owns the apartment. (It's something they've all noticed, how he commands the area around him wherever he goes, whether it is the apartment or a coffee shop.)

"Hi, there," Rick says. He hasn't been able to figure out if he wants to run in terror of Elijah or fan boy him. Elena obviously likes him - enough to date him, but still...

"Rick, could you give us a minute?" Kate asks, eyeing Elijah hard. Kate's taken the longest to warm up to Elena, but nothing, not even an 'original' vampire is going to get in the way of her making sure Elena is happy and safe.

Rick is gone before she finishes the question, hidden away in his office, but able to peak through his bookshelves and see. Elijah has no idea what he's in for, Rick thinks.

"I assume that this is where you question me about my intentions towards the lovely Elena," Elijah states with a raised eyebrow.

"No," Kate says, sitting down across from him and leaning forward. "I have a pretty good idea of what they are. You just need to know that I never stop. Ever. If you ever hurt her, no matter where you go, how fast you run, I will find you. I am that good. And original vampire or not, I will find a way to make you suffer and then I will end you. I. Don't. Stop. Are we clear?" The entire time she spoke she looked right into his eyes, forcing him to meet her gaze, commanding his attention.

"Crystal," Elijah says lightly, and only the barest relaxing of his hands gives him away.

"Good," Kate says simply. "Enjoy your date."

Soon after, Elena comes down the stairs, elegant in an evening gown the color of red wine with a black velvet wrap Kate recalled seeing Martha wear to a charity gala she'd attended with Rick. "Elijah," she greets, feeling breathless like she always seems to be when he's around.

"Elena," he extends his arm and she loops hers through it. He's the very image of a perfect gentleman.

"Hang on a minute, kiddos!" Martha shouts. She rushes down the stairs, camera in hand.

Elena looks like she wants to protest, but after sharing a look with Elijah (who looks amused - possibly at being referred to as 'kiddo') decides to indulge her.

Martha snaps several pictures of them. Alexis and Jeremy watch from their haven on the stairs, wearing wide grins. Even Kate is looking amused, and Rick is peaking around the door to his office.

"Alright, you two, go off and paint the town red," Martha commands with an imperial wave.

With a single glance at each other, they agree not to remind the others that "painting the town red" takes on a different meaning for vampires.

14.

It's a credit to their self-control that they actually make it through the entire ballet and back to Elijah's loft before attacking each other.

She doesn't know why, but she really, really wants to bite Elijah's neck. So she does. Blood flows into her mouth, different from anything she's ever tasted - it's so pure. Vaguely in the back of her mind she hears Damon's voice it's kind of personal and it sends her scrambling away from him, teeth tearing ugly gashes in his skin.

"What's wrong?" he asks, his voice low and frustrated. His veins are slowly disappearing; he looks as if he's about to lose control entirely and she almost forgets herself and jumps him again.

"I bit you," she says. "I drank from you."

"I was not complaining," he manages, obviously struggling to regain his composure.

"What does it mean?" she asks. "Damon just said it was personal when he had me drink from him and Stefan was angry, but he never explained what it meant."

Elijah frowns. "Damon had you drink from him?"

Elena nods. "Nothing was staying down after I first turned. I tried the animal blood thing but it wasn't working. I was so hungry and so weak and Damon offered and said not to tell Stefan. I asked why but he just said it was personal. I was so hungry and I couldn't stop myself. But it didn't matter, since it didn't stay down anyways. Even blood bags weren't working." She doesn't mention the reason why, however.

"And he so graciously offered up his blood?" Elijah looked furious, though his words were light.

"Why is it such a big deal?"

"Blood sharing between vampires is very personal," Elijah clarifies. "You might call our version of foreplay." He tilts his head, considering his next words. "Naked cuddling, if you will."

Suddenly Elena is furious and ashamed all at the same time. "He knew I didn't know what it meant and he still let me - How could he-" she shakes her head, trying to reign in her anger. "And Stefan didn't explain it either! He was angry at me! How could he be angry at me when I didn't know?"

"It was their behavior that was deplorable. You did nothing wrong," Elijah insists.

"What about tonight?" Elena asks, still raging. Of course Damon and Stefan would still be able to ruin her fun even though she'd long left them back in Mystic Falls.

"As I said, I was not complaining." He pauses. "Unless my advances were out of line?"

She shakes her head vigorously. "No! I liked your advances," she insists. "I liked them a lot. It's just..."

"Your anger at the Salvatores is more than justified."

Elena huffs. "Can we just go back to what we were doing?"

"I fear the moment has essentially been ruined," he answers regretfully.

She scowls. "Those two are in for it the next time I see them."

Elijah smirks. "I hope I will be there to watch you in all your righteous glory." (Indeed, it will be satisfying to see the Salvatores finally get what is coming to them - especially at Elena's hands.)

They retire to the balcony to watch the night turn to day, before Elena yawns (baby vampires still need their sleep, she's found) and Elijah carries her to bed.

(They get their moment, a few hours later. They get several moments, actually. Elena is so happy and glowing that later, no one has the heart to tease her. Except for Esposito.)

15.

For the first time in a long time, Elena and Jeremy are truly happy. Rick, Kate, Alexis, and Martha are all wonderful, and even Ryan, Esposito, and Lanie have become like family. They don't have to worry about what new danger will befall Mystic Falls, don't have to worry that one of them will be compelled ("I'll never do that to you again, Jer, I promise.") to do something terrible or forget something that would leave a hole in their lives. Elena's able to enjoy college and writing and Jeremy is finally able to enjoy high school again.

Jeremy's been starved for parental attention since their parents died, since they lost Aunt Jenna and later, Alaric. Elena knows she messed up in terms of looking after him ("I'm so sorry," she'd told him when he realized she'd completed the transition.) and regrets that she wasn't there enough for him.

Rick and Kate, and everyone else (even Elijah, at times) have taken Jeremy under their wings, providing the support and guidance he so desperately needs. It breaks Elena's heart that she couldn't give him that ("I need my sister, not another one of them.") but when she sees Kate and Jeremy taking off for a baseball game or Esposito and Ryan taking Jeremy to the shooting range, or even Alexis and Rick drawing Jeremy in to a game of laser tag, she feels hopeful that maybe, just maybe, Jeremy has a shot at a relatively normal life.

(Jeremy never tells her that he still goes out hunting for vampires (with Kate along for the ride) or that Alexis can see his tattoos, which have only progressed the more vampires he's killed.)

16.

Rick and Kate have been gone most of the day for the past week, working on a case that's beginning to worry even Elena.

"It just doesn't make sense," Rick tells her late one night. "The pieces of the map left with the bodies, the clues, the way the victims were chosen... none of it follows through, it's a dead end and the when all the pieces of it are put together, the X marks the spot marks nothing."

"What if the map isn't the goal?" Elena asked.

"What do you mean?" Kate asks.

She shrugs. "You're assuming the map is the endgame when it could be just one piece of a larger puzzle."

"That make no sense," Kate says instantly. "Why go through all the trouble?"

"Because sometimes the endgame is too horrible to say outright," Elena says.

3 circles of 12, false apparitions, a possibility too horrible to contemplate... Elena has lived through this kind of horror story.

Kate has a breakthrough later that week. Rick picks up on her steam and carries the plot through.

The killer is caught two days later, after a massive coordination of the NYPD with help from the FBI.

17.

Elena's long accepted the fact that she'll never be completely free of her past. There's a reason she and Jeremy have gotten all of their new family and friends on vervain, have helped them practice with stakes and crossbows, taught them to spot vampires the best they can.

Sometimes Elena feels as if everything is too good to be true. After all, she has Jeremy and Rick and Kate and everyone else. She has Elijah; wonderful, attentive (very attentive) Elijah. Life for Elena is good.

So naturally the Salvatores show up to ruin everything.

18.

All in all, Elena's not surprised she's been tracked down. The brothers never did know when to quit.

They come across her sitting in the evening hours in front of the park's fountain with Jeremy, Kate, and Rick; enjoying ice cream after a day spent visiting Rick and Kate's old haunts.

"So, Elena," Damon drawls, approaching them. "This is where you've been hiding yourself since the pair of you left Mystic Falls with nary a word to the people who've spent the last two years protecting your ungrateful asses."

"Damon," says Stefan warningly. "We discussed this."

"No, you droned on and on about it while I tuned you out," Damon replies, never once taking his gaze off Elena. "Anyway, your vacation's over. You're coming back to Mystic Falls."

"I don't see that happening anytime soon," says Kate, standing up.

Damon scowls. "I wasn't asking you. Do you have any idea what she is?" he asks, referring to Elena as if she isn't there. "What she's capable of?"

"We know what she is," Rick says, then adds, boldly, "Just like we know what you are."

Damon doesn't look like he knows what to say to that.

"Then you know that she's better off with her own kind," Stefan says reasonably. "Jeremy too."

The thing about Stefan is that he never intends to be condescending towards her (unlike Damon who has no problem with it and couldn't mask it if he tried) but he kind of is.

"So I don't get to decide what's best for me?" Elena asks, raising an eyebrow.

Behind Elena, Rick discretely sends a text to Elijah. At Bowling Green Park. Vampire brothers here.

"No, you're done. You don't get to decide anything anymore," Damon answers. "You're coming back to Mystic Falls if I have to drag you the entire way."

"I'm weak in the knees from all of your charm," Kate says dryly. She wants so badly to cuff this asshole - and the other one, for good measure - but Elena had made her swear not to try anything. ("You don't understand; they're obsessed with keeping me safe and they'll kill anyone if they think it will help that cause.")

"Please," Damon says smugly. "I'm irresistible."

"Yeah, compulsion works wonders," Jeremy sneers. He holds his hand up tauntingly, ring flashing. (Ring or not, Damon is no match for a Hunter and they both know it.)

Rick and Kate both look at Damon with undisguised distaste. Stefan, sensing the situation could easily turn violent, intervenes. "We just want to make sure you're okay, Elena, that you're not-"

"Not what? Turning out like you?" Elena asks, hitting Stefan where it hurts.

"Oh, come on, Elena! Just come back home. We broke up, remember? So now you and Stefan can go back to being the boring, perfect couple again and I'll be the asshole and everyone will be happy," Damon cajoles.

"Until you decide that I'm not living my life the way you'd like."

"If you weren't so helpless it wouldn't be a problem!" Damon snaps. "You couldn't even transition as a vampire the right way!"

"Which was all your fault, if you remember," Elena says, fury rising in her.

"I was trying to help-"

"Don't even," Elena warns. "It was hell."

"Get over it; you're not sired anymore, that's all that matters," Damon defends.

"I think everyone needs to calm down," Kate says, aiming her gun, which she'd been silently loading with wooden bullets, straight at Damon.

Elena looks ready to stake him and she would have before seeing Elijah standing behind the brothers.

"You're going to want to choose your next words quite carefully, Mr. Salvatore," he says, calmly yet menacingly, striding towards Elena.

Had he heard what Damon had said about her being sired? She hadn't revealed that part of her past to anyone here other than Jeremy. It was far too painful to talk about.

"And Elijah the Original shows up to defend the woman with the face of his old flames, because obviously third time's the charm," Damon says, undaunted. "Did she tell you what happened with your brother Klaus before she left Mystic Falls? I'm not the only vampire whose blood she's had."

"Klaus is very charming when he wants to be," Elijah parries, unbothered.

"Look, we just came to bring Elena back home," Stefan says tiredly.

"Without even asking her if she wants to leave with you," Kate says, shooting the both of them judgmental looks. "Or without asking how Jeremy feels about it."

"In case you haven't noticed, Elena can't exactly be trusted to make her own choices," Damon says impatiently. "And Jeremy's a just a kid; he doesn't get a say."

"You are really campaigning for douchebag of the year, aren't you?" Rick asks. Compared to this guy, Rick thinks he's a downright square. "Elena's perfectly capable of looking after herself, and her brother."

"Damon, Stefan, please, just go," Elena begs.

"Don't do this, Elena," Stefan pleads. "Please just come home."

"I am home," Elena says. "I have a life here and I don't want to be with either of you. I need to figure this out on my own."

Damon sneers. "I get it - you're a free vampire now and you want to be all girl-power and woman-hear-you-roar. But let's be real - sooner or later you're going to come crawling back to us. You need us. You're more like me and Stefan than you'll admit."

"I'm nothing like you," Elena says. And she finally finally believes it with every fiber of her being. "You're just going to have to get over it."

"Come home," Damon grounds out.

"No," Elena says. She lifts her head defiantly. "You don't get to tell me what to do anymore. Either of you."

"I think we've all heard enough," Elijah says, taking control of the situation. "You two should leave before Detective Beckett sees fit to arrest you." He smirks. "Last I heard, the inmates' food and drink is laced with vervain and I'm sure you two would rather avoid that."

Damon, however, has never been one to quit. He lunges at Rick, though he never makes it. Elena flies into his path and blocks him, surprising him with the sheer force of her strength. She pushes him back and before anyone can stop her, she shatters his kneecaps, fractures his arms, and snaps his neck.

"Elena..." Stefan is staring at her like he's never seen her before in his life. She remembers that look; he wore it after he saw her burying Connor's body, blood staining her mouth, and again when she'd told him to let the old Elena die.

"Just take him and go," Elena says, feeling her face shift back to normal. "And just... let them know that Jeremy and I - we're okay, and we're happy."

Damon starts to stir and with a long-suffering sigh, Stefan picks him up and throws him over his shoulder. "Take care of yourself."

"I'm learning to," Elena says.

And then the Salvatores are gone.

"Wow," Kate finally says.

"Yeah, wow," Rick agrees. "You have the patience of a saint," he says to Elena in wonder. "I mean, I know I can be annoying-" ("You are," Kate interrupts.) "-but those two... wow."

"Those are the Salvatores," Jeremy says dryly.

"No wonder you left," Kate says. "I'd have snapped long before you did, if they were always like that."

"Not always," Elena says with a shrug. "Stefan's issues have issues and Damon falls in love to where it blinds his judgment. They need each other more than anything."

"That thing you did, where you snapped his neck?" Rick says. "Awesome," he singsongs.

Elena shakes her head and begins laughing hysterically... until a heaving sob racks her body and she's crying. It occurs to them for the first time just how hard it was for her to take her brother, leave their home behind, and start over.

Kate's holding her as she cries and Elijah nods at the woman's stare and leaves silently; he is not what Elena needs at the moment.

19.

"If you had to do it over again, would you?" Kate asks late one night as they sit eating ice cream.

Elena has told her everything that happened when she turned, sparing no detail. From the truck going over Wickery Bridge to killing Connor to Bonnie finding a way to break the sire bond between Elena and Damon to Elena finally leaving town when Stefan and Damon tried to sneak the cure on her. It's the first time she's let it all out - not even her diary knows everything. There was no judgment in Kate, who's become the older sister she never had.

"As painful as it's been," Elena says slowly. "I'd make the same choice to turn, if the choice was ever really mine. It's been worth it, so I can be here for Jeremy. He's lost so much because of me and I couldn't just leave him all alone."

Kate smiles sadly. She understands - boy does she ever understand.

("She loves you," Kate tells him while he's upstairs cooling off after a fight with Elena. "I don't think I've ever seen a sister so devoted to her brother."

"I know." Jeremy sighs in frustration. "And I love her. It's just... it's hard sometimes, living with the choices I've made. Living with her, too. She's a vampire and I'm a hunter; we should be trying to kill each other. And for a while we were, but then she got stronger and so did I. You know, I didn't have to stay with her - I could have went back to Denver."

"Why didn't you?"

"Because one day I'm not gonna be able to call her my sister. I'll have to say that she's a cousin or a niece or a granddaughter. I'm going to grow old; she's not. It may not seem like it, but she needs me; I need to be with her so that she doesn't lose herself."

Kate hears what he doesn't say.)

20.

Elena has nightmares sometimes; of drowning, of feeding for the first time, of killing Connor. What scares her most is how sometimes the nightmares feel like fantasies, how she craves them. She doesn't even trust admitting it to her diary... somehow, if she writes it, it all becomes real and she's lost.

She thinks Elijah and Jeremy both sense it, can tell that Elena isn't the same girl she was before drowning, hasn't been since, and never will be again. And sometimes she even gets the impression that they're both okay with it.

(Maybe one day she'll admit that she's okay with it too.)

21.

A few months after the Salvatores' failed 'rescue' of her, Elena is found by Bonnie, Caroline, Tyler, and Matt.

This reunion is much preferable, though the precinct really isn't the place for it. All the men step away when Elena is engulfed in the two girls' embrace. Loud shrieks of glee followed by "we were so worried about you's" ripped away the peaceful silence.

"I've missed you all so much!" Elena says, crying.

"And we've missed you too!" The dark-haired one - Bonnie, is it? - says.

"Have you been okay?" the other one - Caroline, Rick thinks - asks.

Elena nods. "Yeah, I've been alright. I finally feel like I'm myself again."

"And you?" Matt pointedly asks Jeremy.

"I'm good," he answers. "Really," he adds, when Matt just looks at him.

"Jeremy, who are your friends?" Alexis asks. She's come over with Lanie to deliver a report to Captain Gates.

"Oh," Jeremy fumbles, blushing. "This is Bonnie Bennet, Caroline Forbes, her boyfriend Tyler Lockwood, and Matt Donovan. They're visiting from Mystic Falls. Guys, this is Alexis Castle."

"It's nice to meet you!" Alexis says brightly. "Any friends of Elena and Jeremy's are hopefully friends of mine!"

Bonnie and Caroline give Alexis speculative looks. They'd noticed the way Jeremy looked at her as he introduced her. Even Matt and Tyler are smirking.

"It's nice to meet you," Bonnie finally says warmly.

"You too! Jeremy talks about you guys all the time."

"Good things, I hope," Matt gamely says.

"Oh," says Alexis, looking earnest. "The best!"

"How's Mystic Falls?" Jeremy asks.

Caroline's face falls, and Elena knows the news isn't good.

"Damon's been throwing his usual hissy fits," Caroline answers. "Thankfully Klaus finally high-tailed it out of town. He's been lording his delusional superiority over New Orleans, last I heard."

"And Barbie Klaus?"

"Still trying her best to take over every dance committee possible," Bonnie smirks. "And failing again and again to secure a date with our very own Matt."

"She tried to kill me and we all know how that turned out," Matt says quietly with a shrug. He has the good sense to not talk loudly in a precinct full of cops and detectives.

"So," Alexis pipes up, seeing how tense the mood is turning. "There's a really great pizza place not too far from here. Are you guys hungry?"

To no one's surprise, Tyler, Matt, and Jeremy are starving, and so the group departs. As they leave, Elena turns back to see her new family, all smiling.

"Thank you," she says.

22.

The week is filled with the seven of them hanging out.

Elijah keeps his distance in order to give Elena some time to reconnect with her friends. She appreciates the sentiment, really, but it's for naught, since she just sneaks over to his place in the middle of the night anyways.

Bonnie does magic one night at Rick's place so that Rick, Kate, and the others can see that the world Elena and Jeremy have come from isn't all terrible. What surprises them all is when the flower that Bonnie has been nurturing before their eyes starts to slowly freeze. They look up to see Captain Gates.

"I tried knocking," she said. "I just came by to return your coat, Det. Beckett. You left it in my car."

"Did you-" Bonnie starts looking between the captain and the frozen flower. "Are you-"

Captain Gates laughs. "It's one of the few tricks I know. I never had as much of a passion for magic as my aunt did. I always preferred the concrete to the supernatural abstract. But I do have her old grimoire if you're interested."

Bonnie nods eagerly.

"You know about all of this?" Rick asks her.

Gates rolls her eyes. "I knew what Elena was the moment I laid eyes on her. It wasn't much of a stretch to feel that Jeremy was supernatural, too." She laughs. "Give me some credit, Mr. Castle."

"But I compelled you!" Elena protests.

"I just played along. Anyone from a line of witches knows about vervain, and you seemed desperate to keep your secret, so I didn't push."

"Are you from the Bennett line?" Bonnie asks.

"I don't believe so," Gates answers with a shrug.

"So you're okay with all of this," Kate says, wanting to be sure.

"It's not like the world at large needs to know about vampires, witches and the like. It wasn't that hard, covering for you all," Gates smiles. "I have to admit, it was funny watching you all scramble around for excuses every time you thought I might have seen something."

The detectives and Rick look dumbstruck; Elena just laughs. She knew she liked Captain Gates for a reason.

23.

Bonnie and Jeremy spend a day together and Elena and Caroline assure Alexis that it's not what she thinks.

"There's a history there, but they'd never act on it," Elena says.

"He'd never hurt you like that," Caroline agrees. "Neither would Bonnie."

"She's just checking up on him, making sure his subconscious detours are still in place, to keep him from spiraling out of control." Elena figures she owes Alexis the explanation.

Alexis nods. She doesn't tell them that she's not worried, that Jeremy has explained everything to her. The last thing needed is for it to become known that she's a potential member of the Five.

"I trust him," she says honestly. "And Bonnie."

24.

Elena feels like her friends' visit is over far too soon. But seeing them again makes her realize something important. She hasn't been homesick; she's been people-sick. And she knows now that she still has the people she loves in her life.

Bonnie, Caroline, and Tyler are already talking about applying to school near or possibly even in New York, and Matt's actually been offered a football scholarship at one of the smaller schools in the area. Suddenly it's like everything is falling into place and this time, Elena feels like everything could actually work out.

25.

"Thank you," Elena tells Elijah the night her friends return to Mystic Falls with their promise to keep the Salvatores in line and out of her hair.

They're sitting in front of his fireplace, glasses of wine in hand. It's dark and rainy outside just like the night he'd reappeared to her.

"For?" he asks, so nonchalantly that Elena thinks maybe he didn't have something to do with her friends' appearance.

"For knowing what I needed, and doing what I was too afraid to do."

"Am I that transparent?" he asks.

"Just to me," Elena assures him, resting her head on his chest. "I learned to read you a long time ago."

Elijah chuckles.

She lifts her head to look at him. "I love you," she says softly, finally.

"And I love you."

26.

Eventually things change.

Kate and Rick get married. Martha finally moves out and into a nice apartment a few blocks away. Alexis and Jeremy fall in love and Alexis, despite Jeremy's best efforts and to Elena's shock, becomes another one of the Five. Ryan and Jenny have a son, and Esposito and Lanie finally reconnect and get serious.

Elena enjoys college and the writing classes she takes. She enjoys watching her friends and family grow and fall in love. And, Elena has Elijah.

27.

It happens, eventually, a few years later, after Elena has finished college.

"I swear you have the most incredible genes! It's like you haven't aged a day!" Elena looks up from her laptop and sees the newly promoted Det. Hastings smiling at her.

All of a sudden it feels like all of the oxygen has been sucked out of the coffee shop where Elena's taken to writing her latest short story.

She collects herself and manages a smile. "Very good genes. Sometimes people would think my mom and me were sisters."

Det. Hastings laughs, completely unaware that she's just rocked Elena's world to its core. She picks up her coffee, and returns to duty, leaving Elena alone to her thoughts.

Elena knows that it's time. She has to sit them all down and have the talk.

28.

She's so late. She's been distracted all day, worrying about how she's going to broach the subject with everyone. She completely forgets she's promised to meet Elijah for dinner.

She finally shows up at his apartment (it may as well be called their apartment, given how often she's there). She sees the set-up without really seeing it: flowers and a gentle fire, lit candles on the dinner table, a five-star dinner...

"You're upset," Elijah says instantly when he sees her. He pulls his hand out of his pocket and moves to comfort her.

"How did you manage it?" Elena asks miserably. "How could you stand leaving when you loved where you were staying? When you loved the people around you? How did you do it over and over?"

"With great difficulty at times," he answers, leading her over to the couch by the fire and sitting her down. "I tried to not grow attached, but sometimes I found myself overly fond of certain places or people. It's hard, even when you realize that you'll be able to return in the future. But that's part of the price of immortality."

"Sometimes I think about what life would be like if I'd taken the cure," Elena confides.

"Why didn't you?" he asks delicately.

"Damon and Stefan were insistent - more Stefan than Damon, but for something so major it needed to be my decision. I couldn't go back to living that life again. I would have always had them watching my every step or be worried that Klaus would try to take me away. I wanted to live and I realized that I'd never be able to do that as a human."

"Our choices define us, Elena. Yours showed determination and strength. I admire that about you, your desire to forge your own path."

"I knew the choice I was making, both times, but I guess that when I came here and settled, I just let myself forget that one day I'd have to leave."

"And one day you'll get to come back, if that's what you desire," he promises.

Somehow the idea of New York City without Rick and Kate and everyone else that she's come to love seems so bleak. It doesn't feel like any kind of city she'd want to return to. They'll have lived their lives and... There it is.

They'll have lived their lives. Wonderful, fulfilling, extraordinary lives. Marriage and children, grandchildren and laughter. Glorious ups and gut-wrenching downs. Precious memories and moments filled with love.

Elena wants that for them, wants her family to have all of that, whether she's around to see it or not.

"I can do this," she tells him, laying her head on his chest.

"There's no doubt in my mind that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to."

Elena is quiet as she just takes in the moment. Then she recalls how she'd been late, how everything had seemed so perfectly set up, how Elijah had pulled his hand out of his pocket-

"Elijah?" she asks, taking their clasped hands and entwining their fingers.

"Yes, my lovely Elena?" He kisses the top of her head.

"My answer is yes."

29.

"Jer?"

Jeremy looks up and sees Elena standing in the doorway of his room. "Yeah?"

"Will you come for a walk with me? You and I need to talk."

Jeremy nods and closes the book he was reading, some epic poem for his humanities class.

"So what's up?" he asks as they walk through Central Park.

"It's been a few years since we've come here, right?"

He nods.

"And you've grown up."

"So?" He doesn't like where this is going.

"I haven't," Elena says plainly. "I've been here just as long as you and I still look the same."

"Elena, don't-"

"I can't stay here much longer, Jer," she says. "Sooner or later people will start to notice that I'm not getting any older."

Jeremy is quiet as they walk. She can see the wheels turning in his mind, processing what she's said, the full meaning of what must come to pass. He, like her, had let himself forget that Elena isn't human, and can only pass as one in a single place for so long.

"Do the others know?" he asks finally.

"No," Elena says, shaking her head. "I wanted you to be the first to know. You've been in this with me the longest and it's going to affect you more than anyone."

Jeremy nods. "But Elijah knows, right? I mean it's a new ring you're wearing."

She nods, looking down at the old (so very old) diamond and sapphire ring that's replaced her daylight ring (now on the opposite hand). "Yes. He's..."

"You love him."

"So much, Jeremy." She smiles. "And, he's helped me come to terms with this, ever since I noticed that some people are commenting on how young I still look." (There had been others, a professor from her college, one of Alexis's other friends, no one important in the grand scheme of things, but enough to worry her, especially since Det. Hastings's comment to her had made her realize that it had happened before.)

"So have you known for a while?"

"It really just hit me a few days ago. And before I said anything to any of you, I had to be sure that-"

"That what?"

"That I'd be strong enough to do this," she says, breaking into tears and flinging her arms around him.

"What am I supposed to do without you?" he asks, holding her tightly.

"Grow up, live, be happy."

"You can't leave me," he says, sounding like the lost boy he'd been when their parents had died.

"I have to Jer, I don't want to, but I have to."

(As hard as telling Jeremy is, she can only hope that telling the others won't be as difficult.)

30.

It is difficult. Even when she mentions an upcoming wedding, it's easy to see that the others are devastated and Elena hates a small part of herself for causing them pain.

31.

"Are you crying, Castle?" Kate asks.

"No," Rick says, wiping his eyes. "Are you?"

"No," Kate manages, trying to stifle a sob and failing.

"Yo, Castle, don't you ever change the air filters in this place?" Esposito asks, not looking at anyone.

"Yeah, the dust is pretty bad in here. Makes my allergies act up," Ryan agrees.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Martha says, holding out a box of tissues. "Just let it out."

The five of them break down.

32.

Elena manages to convince Caroline that yes, she does want a small, intimate wedding and no, she doesn't need (or want) doves released during the ceremony.

An entourage accompanies her as she searches for her wedding dress.

Everyone has an opinion and she ends up trying and rejecting dozens of dresses but in the end it's Kate's suggestion that has Elena standing in front of the mirror knowing she'll walk down the aisle in the dress.

"I love it!" Martha declares. "It's very 1920s chic."

Elena has a flashback to an awful night where everything went horribly wrong, but pushes it away. That was then and this is now; she's happy, she's strong, and nothing is going to ruin this moment for her. Everything about this dress is perfect - the color, the lace, the beading, the cut. She's never felt more beautiful in her life. "This is it," she declares. "This is the one."

(Caroline pouts - she wanted to see Elena at least try the poufy princess dress next on the list.)

33.

"Hello, ladies," comes a voice from outside the boutique.

Elena turns and see him. "What are you doing here?"

Kol grins widely. "I always did love New York."

Elena just glares. She can feel Alexis behind her just itching to attack Kol, rip his head off. She motions for the others to not move. "Tell me now, Kol."

"Is that any tone to take with the best man in your wedding?"

Elena gapes.

"Elijah asked you to be his best man?" Bonnie asks skeptically.

"Well, I am his brother after all."

"What game are you playing, Kol?" Elena asks tiredly. This was supposed to be a happy day.

"No games," Kol insists with his maniacal grin. "I merely wanted to say hello and inform you that Klaus and Rebekah won't be making the trip."

Caroline breathes a loud sigh of relief.

"I'll see you soon, Sis," Kol says. And he's gone before anyone can say anything else.

"What just happened?" Kate asks Elena.

"Elijah's younger brother, who makes Damon and Stefan seem almost reasonable," Elena informs her. "He's psychotic."

"I don't like him," Alexis says immediately. "I really don't like him."

"Get in line," Elena mutters.

"I'd rather deal with him than Klaus," Caroline informs them. "At least Kol doesn't delude himself into thinking he had a future with someone he doesn't."

Bonnie snickers.

"Has he finally given up?" Elena asks. She and Elijah never talk about Klaus.

Caroline snorted. "Bonnie finally made him see the light."

"What happened?" Lanie asks.

Bonnie smirks triumphantly. "Let's just call it a magical form of behavioral modification. He won't be bothering Care or Tyler any time in the next few centuries, give or take a millennia."

"That's one hell of a modification," Lanie says with a raised eyebrow.

"Alright, alright, kiddos. Enough of the dreary talk, there's a time and a place. This is about Elena and her wedding. We've found the dress and that's important, but there are other things to handle as well," Martha proclaims

"We already have the flowers, cake, music, bridesmaid dresses and location. Invitations have been sent. What else is there?" Elena asks curiously.

"Oh, there's just a little get-together later this evening."

"Get-together?" Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no.

"Just a little one, low-key, very classy," Martha insists. "My gift to you."

Elena sighs heavily. "Are we dressed okay for it?"

"We'll be fine, kiddos," Martha says. "Kate helped pick the venue and everything is already set up."

34.

Male strippers. This cannot be her life. Except it is. It's strange though; all she can think about is Elijah. Dollar bills are flying around her and the toned, gorgeous male strippers are gyrating and thrusting and all Elena wants is Elijah.

35.

"How was your day out?"

"I found the dress."

"Was there anything else of interest?"

"Kol."

"Ah. Is that all?"

"Male strippers, courtesy of Martha and Kate."

"Enjoyable?"

"They weren't you."

36.

"Did you have a good time?"

"Yeah, it was fun. Elena found her dress and your mother's surprise party was a hit. At least with those of us who aren't in love with a vampire."

"Mmm, male strippers?"

"Yeah."

"I could dance for you, you know."

"Sorry, Castle, all I have left is a stack of twenties."

"Ouch."

37.

Elena is pacing back and forth in front of the mirror. Her dress is fabulous, makes her feel beyond pretty, beyond special. Her hair is done expertly by Martha, and Caroline and Bonnie have snapped picture after picture. The venue is perfectly decorated (Caroline will be a millionaire one day.) and in ten minutes Elena will walk down the aisle and marry Elijah.

"You look nervous," Jeremy says, appearing in the doorway. "It's like you're getting married or something."

"Jeremy, I am nervous. Everything is going to change after today."

"It's always been changing, Elena. Everything for us has been changing and every time we've found a way to make it through."

"It's so unreal, Jer. I'll be gone and you'll be going into the academy and all of this will just be like a dream."

"You say it like we'll never see each other again," Jeremy says, exasperated. "But we will. This is just a vacation. A really long vacation."

"I love you," she says as she hugs him tight.

"I love you, too," he assures her, hugging back just as tight.

38.

Jeremy walks her down the aisle and when Elena's eyes meet Elijah's, she just knows that everything is going to be wonderful.

39.

Forever is a long time, but as they say "I do," Elena realizes that if anyone can handle forever, it's the two of them.

40.

"Are you ready for this?" Elijah asks as he guides her through a dance, light footed and sure.

"I think it's safe to say I'm ready for anything." She answers. "This isn't exactly the future I used to dream about when I was younger, but somehow it feels right. I'm in love, I'm married, and I have my family. It worked out, in the end."

"I'm so very happy it has."

Elena smiles at him. To her side Rick and Kate are similarly wrapped up in each other's eyes, as are Jeremy and Alexis. Even Caroline and Tyler look ridiculously in love.

41.

"Bonnie, what is it?" Elena asks. She's out of her wedding dress and into something more travel-worthy. Bonnie has pulled her and their immediate circle into a private room in the hotel where the reception was being held.

"I want to give you both your wedding gift before you take off."

"Okay?"

She presents them with two small ring boxes. Inside each is a silver ring set with a small green stone. "It's malachite," Bonnie explains.

"Thanks," Elena says slowly. She puts on the ring on her right middle finger.

"Elena!" Kate says, shocked.

"What?" Elena asks. "What's wrong?"

Alexis scrambles in her purse and pulls out a compact mirror. "Here."

Elena studies herself in the mirror. She doesn't look eighteen, but instead in her twenties, how she'd look if she'd never died. She looks at Elijah who has slid on his ring. He looks the same.

"How is it-"

"They're spelled," Bonnie answers. "You'll look like you're aging normally. Elijah's was trickier, since he's already ancient, but the ring will work on him, too - he'll start to look like he's aging. We just couldn't bear the thought of not seeing you again outside of special circumstances."

"Thank you," Elena says in a near-whisper, looking from the ring to her reflection. Finally she pulls off the ring and launches herself at Bonnie and wraps her in a tight hug. "Bonnie, thank you so much." She obviously won't be able to use it until she comes back in a few months, but knowing that she will be able to come back is… it's more than she could have ever hoped for.

"I guess this means we'll never be rid of you," Castle jokes, though his eyes look suspiciously misty.

"Guess so," Elena confirms. She looks at Elijah who is looking at his ring in wonder. "Are you okay?"

"I've never had the luxury of such protection from the outside world. To be able to have the choice to stay in one place is... wondrous."

"Yeah, well, we weren't going to let you both off the hook that easily," Tyler says with a smirk.

Elijah grants Tyler a rare smile. "I suppose it will be nice to have the good council in shock when they see our appearance."

"Yeah, my Mom couldn't believe it when she saw me. Or Caroline's mom - I've never seen her eyes so wide." Caroline snickers.

"I haven't worked out how to reset them, but that's coming," Bonnie says with a laugh. "We'll just have to use that for an anniversary gift."

"So now your secret is safer than ever before," Kate says. "This does mean we'll see you both at holidays, right? And graduation?" Jeremy would still be able to have his sister, and Kate and Rick wouldn't have to lose the young woman who had become a crazy mix of daughter and little sister to them.

Elena looks to Elijah, who smiles and nods. She practically bounces up and down. "I do want my honeymoon though. I can't wait to do some traveling, some writing, whatever I - or, we - want."

42.

"This place feels so empty now," Rick laments. "Even with all the time she spent over at his place, it always felt like she was here."

Kate nods. "And Jeremy's in college and Alexis has her own place."

"It's just you and me, all alone,"

"Not all alone, Castle, just without them for a while."

Kate's phone rings and the two of then perk up. There's a murder to solve.

43.

Four years later Jeremy is an up-and-comer on the force. Alexis is a brilliant med student. Elena is a best-selling author.

44.

"You can make it out to Caskett," they tell her.

Elena looks up and grins at the pair of them. Elijah is off browsing the history section of the bookstore (probably looking to see if the books he's authored in his lifetimes are sold), but there's no way he doesn't know. Jeremy even managed a day off of work to be here for the signing.

"To Caskett," she says out loud as writes a message and signs her name. "Be sure to read the dedication." She jumps up and hugs them tightly, her best-selling novel forgotten on the table.

"I've missed you so much," she says.

"We've missed you too," they say.

Elena doesn't have long to stay in New York, she's due for another event in Philadelphia in two days.

But for the night, they're all together, and everything is right in the world.

45.

For Rick, Kate, Jeremy, Alexis, Martha, Elijah, and the rest of my family, always and forever.

()()()()

A/N: This was an absolute blast to write. It started off as crack, and turned into something more. I originally wanted to write fic where Jeremy and Elena are adopted by Castle & Co. and this just sort of grew and grew and grew. I love it so much and I hope you all enjoyed it. (On a fun note, the baseball team Jeremy follows is a special little tribute to my brother, who is a HUGE Boston Red Sox fan.) Special thanks to LJ's Jedi_of_Urth for beta-reading this for me.