Chapter: 21 – The Clear Understanding [Featured Characters: Elena, Bonnie, Jeremy, Damon, Caroline, Stefan, Klaus, Matt and Rebekah]
Author: JenniferH (Arabian)
Rating: M (For future chapters/language, sex, violence)
Summary: Post 3.22 -- Elena grapples with who she is as a vampire, struggling for control as she tries to find herself and accept who she loves (spoiler: it's Damon!) while her friends and enemies grapple with their own choices in this new world.
Word Count: 3,920
Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries, and all her characters as presented, belong to Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, the CW, etc., etc., so on and so forth. ;)
Notes: Thank you to my group of wonderful beta-readers who made this fic a ton better than it would have been otherwise. Following canon here, so there will be Stefan/Elena and as portrayed on the show, but fear not, this is very definitely a Damon/Elena story (with other pairings referenced, and some featured (Stefan/Rebekah, Matt/Rebekah, Stefan/Caroline, Jeremy/Bonnie, Klaus/Caroline).
PREVIOUS CHAPTERS - 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20
Chapter 21: The Clear Understanding
Humming slightly to herself, Elena walked down the stairs, a smile on her face. At the bottom, she paused, surprised to hear game play and laughter coming from the other room. Following the sounds, she found Jeremy and Bonnie practically cuddling on the couch even as their eyes were glued to the road race on the television screen.
Bonnie let out a soft shriek and Jeremy dropped his controls, turning to look at Elena, his eyes wide.
Quickly pausing the game, Bonnie shifted and looked to Elena as well. “You scared us!” Then she jumped to her feet. “Ooh! You look fantastic, Elena. Mrs. Hardy’s suggestion was perfect for you.”
Glancing down, Elena took in the sleeveless gown of burgundy, a line of pearls adorning the v-neckline and the long black gloves encasing her arms. Reaching up, she carefully smoothed the line of her upswept do. “I looked at some pictures online on how to do the period hair. Is it OK?”
“Great.” Bonnie nodded appreciatively. “It looks so pretty all up and classic like that.”
Elena smiled. “Thank you.” She paused, raising an eyebrow as she fully took in Bonnie’s jeans and blouse. “Are you gonna get ready anytime soon?”
Grinning, Bonnie shook her head and flounced back over to the couch, making a point to snuggle up against Jeremy again. “Nope.”
Jeremy laughed and slipped an arm around Bonnie’s shoulders. “We decided to skip the dance and whatever crazy’s probably gonna happen there.”
Bonnie nodded. “Yup, we’re just gonna stay in, order pizza, play video games… and, you know.” She grinned and flashed a heated glance Jeremy’s way.
Looking down, Elena cleared her throat, feeling quite uncomfortable all of a sudden. “OK, then. Have fun.” And then feeling that she should probably say something guardian-like, she added sternly, “but not too much fun.”
“Hey, Elena?” Jeremy smiled sweetly at her.
“Remember that one time—“
“Jeremy!” Bonnie reached out and smacked him. “Don’t do that to your sister.”
“What? I was just gonna remind her about Denver and a certain motel…” he trailed off with a smirk and Elena blushed. As if on cue, the doorbell rang. With a narrowed look at her brother, Elena turned without a word, ignoring Jeremy’s voice following her to the door. “And Damon! He was there too.”
Stopping, she looked back and glared in his direction. “Jeremy, ssh!” Elena held still for a moment and exhaled slowly, and then she nodded. Turning back to the door, she opened it, a smile on her face. It was Damon… and he looked ridiculously good, wearing a black tuxedo, the bow perfectly tied.
He didn’t respond, and she laughed nervously, taking a step back.
Damon cleared his throat and entered the house. He was still, looking at her for a moment, his eyes warm. “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you.” She looked down at her dress briefly before taking in his finely-dressed form again. “So do you.”
A grin lit his face. "I know." And then he did that eye-thing of his; she felt a flutter in her stomach.
“Hey, Damon!” Jeremy called out with heightened cheer as he came up behind them. Elena’s mouth tightened into a grim line, the butterflies momentarily quelled. Damon rolled his eyes, but didn’t look away from her. “I think I should know what your intentions are for my sister.” It was Elena’s turn to roll her eyes at the exaggerated deepening of his voice.
“Jeremy, stop!” Bonnie hissed, laughter dancing along the words.
Still without looking away, Damon’s smile widened and he reached out, snagging one of the fake, fuzzy oranges on the shelf by the stairs. Lazily, he lobbed it in Jeremy’s direction. When she didn’t hear anything more pained than an indignant “Hey!” she figured Jeremy had enough time to sidestep the flying fruit.
“Jeremy, go away,” Damon said quietly.
With a laugh, Jeremy and Bonnie headed back to their game. Elena exhaled in relief and looked to Damon. He was still for a moment and then his eyes traveled from her face, down her body and then slowly back up again. The temperature in the room felt like it rose twenty degrees in those twenty seconds and her heartbeat sped up like crazy.
He held out his hand and she took it without hesitation. Stopping at the door, Damon ducked his head slightly. “I don’t have a corsage.” He looked up at her. Her eyebrows were slightly raised. “Elena, just because I’m going to a lame-ass high school dance doesn’t mean I’m doing the lame-ass corsage thing.” Shrugging lightly, he smirked. “I have a reputation.”
Elena grinned. “Thanks for the reminder.”
“Of my reputation?”
“No, about the corsage.” She smiled cheekily. “I’ll be right back.” Laughing at the wary look on Damon’s face, she skipped away and rushed to the kitchen. Seconds later she was back with a dark red rosebud. Damon straightened up and Elena lightly ran her hand down his lapel before reaching for the button-hole. Carefully, she placed the rose in place, concentrating on getting it perfect. She could feel Damon’s heated gaze on her, but she didn’t look up until she was satisfied.
“There.” She gave his chest a few pats and met his gaze. “I didn’t take you for the corsage type, so I took care of the… floral arrangement.”
Lightly fingering the rose, Damon smiled. “Good call.” He took a step back and bent his arm. A smile spread across Elena’s face, so wide and radiant that she could feel it all the way to her toes. She took his arm with a slight nod of her head.
Caroline glanced around the packed auditorium. Half of her was trying not to cry because she hadn’t seen Tyler anywhere. The other couldn’t help but be thrilled at how smoothly the dance was running and how perfect it all looked. Turning to the entrance, hoping against hope that Tyler would walk through the wide doors, she was instead rewarded with the sight of Rebekah entering on the arm of Matt.
With a sigh, Caroline shook her head, still in disbelief that Matt, Matt, of all people!, was into Rebekah. Narrowing her eyes at them, she noticed Rebekah sending an assessing eye around the room, followed by a proud smile. Caroline couldn’t help but follow suit. We do work well together, she admitted to herself with another glance at the beautiful decorations.
Looking back to the entrance, she grinned as Elena walked through the door… and then frowned at the sight of Damon with her. Ugh! She *actually* came with him? Elena, what is wrong with you?! Caroline took a deep breath and forced a bright smile back on her face for her best friend’s sake and made her way towards them.
“Hey, Elena!” She cried out as she drew closer, sparing a wary glance Damon’s way. Then her mouth dropped open as she took in Elena’s dress. “Yay! You look beautiful!” She reached out and gave her a quick hug, and then stood back, still holding Elena’s arms as she looked her up and down. “Oh my God, you look just like Lady Mary when Matthew *finally* proposed!”
With a shake of her head, Caroline was silent for a moment, staring at her aghast. “Lady Mary Crawley? Hello, Downton Abbey?! Elena, priorities!”
Elena laughed. “Uh, I’m sorry?” She looked up suddenly as a new song started, its pop beat filling the gym. “Ooh, I love this song.”
“Then let’s dance,” Damon offered smoothly. Caroline looked to him and saw that he was looking at Elena with the most disgustingly devoted smile on his face. She rolled her eyes, but Elena was gazing blissfully back at him, sending a hurried "See you later!" Caroline’s way as she followed him into the crowd, quickly wrapping herself around him. Caroline watched them go, her heart melting just the tiniest bit at how happy Elena looked.
“So they’re here.”
Turning to her left, she sighed at Stefan’s glum expression as he watched his ex and his brother practically dirty dancing. “Uhm, yeah.”
He finally looked to her, wearing a bitter smile.
“I’m sorry, Stefan.” She gave a quick shake of her head. “If you want to leave, I totally understand.”
“Nah, I’m good.” He plastered a broad, not quite genuine, smile on his face and held out his hand. “You wanna dance?”
His smile faded slightly into something more real and he laughed. “You’re not sure?”
“No, I mean, yeah, OK, if you want to. Let’s dance.”
“I do,” he declared right before he spun her onto the dance floor with a flourish. Caroline let out a quiet whoop of laughter, winding her arms around his neck.
“Everything looks great,” he complimented with a smile. “You did great.”
“Thank you.” And then she sighed, knowing that she had to give credit. “Ugh, I can’t. OK, fine, Rebekah really did help, but I still don’t like her.”
Stefan laughed. “It’s very big of you to share the glory."
“I know, right?” She giggled.
Swinging her around to a pulsating drum beat, Stefan grinned down at her and she smiled, relaxing in his arms. They were quiet, dancing in sync to the rhythm when gradually Stefan slowed down, barely moving at all. He was looking past her, his mouth a tight line. Caroline's smile faded. They turned slowly and she wasn’t surprised at all to see Elena and Damon in their line of sight and completely lost in each other’s eyes.
“Stefan,” she murmured softly. He didn’t respond; he just continued glowering at his brother and Elena.
Caroline sighed, her shoulders slumping as the fun of their dance began to fade. Looking away, she caught sight of Klaus at the punch bowl. When did he get here? she wondered even as he found her among the dancing crowd. A smile began to form before his eyes darkened and he frowned instead, his gaze moving between her and Stefan.
“Great,” she muttered as she tore her eyes away. Stefan didn’t respond. Shocker! Slowly, they spun around the room again, not in time with the fast beat at all, and Caroline noticed Matt and Rebekah at the far end of the dance floor. They weren’t totally wrapped up in each other like Damon and Elena, but they were definitely close. Too close.
Eyes narrowing, Caroline glowered at the two, surprised when Rebekah met her gaze and returned the glare. They locked eyes for a few seconds before Caroline finally shook her head and broke contact. Tyler’s not here. My ex-boyfriend is. And he’s dancing with my semi-stalker’s sister while I’m dancing with her ex. Who’s also the ex of one of my best friends. Who’s with his brother. She sighed. “Stefan, why is love so complicated?” Her voice was soft and she didn’t expect an answer.
“I don’t know,” he responded, surprising her. His tone was low. He was looking at her now and there was pain mixed in with his anger.
She smiled sadly as they made another slow circle while the music played a frantic beat. Her gaze fell on Damon and Elena again. They were still in their own world, looking completely, absolutely and totally in love. Caroline let out a long, steadying breath and closed her eyes. She opened them and they still danced, still lost in each other’s eyes, still looked… happy.
I give up, she thought. Elena is my best friend, I love her and if Damon is who she wants, then OK, fine, I give up. Someone in this town deserves happiness and Elena is overdue. Caroline looked up at Stefan, regret hanging on him like a second suit. We all are due for some happiness.
"It'll get better, Stefan. It will."
Tilting his head slightly, Stefan managed a smile. "How do you do it, Caroline? Stay positive in the face of all of this?"
She shrugged and smiled. "Dunno. Lucky, I guess."
Stefan slowed down even more and captured her gaze. His voice was heartfelt. "No, really. How do you do it? You're amazing. In the face of everything, you are... like this, I don't know, like a beacon of sunshine. You smile and," he paused, shaking his head slightly, a smile lighting his own face. "Caroline, you smile and suddenly it doesn't seem so bad."
"Oh." She was quiet, her eyes wide as they gazed into the sincere green of his. An unexpected warmth pooled in the pit of her belly and for a moment, all she could hear was the echoing sincerity of his words, all she could see was the light green of his gaze. "Stefan..."
“Do you mind if I cut in?”
Caroline’s head shot up, and she and Stefan froze.
“I don’t think Caroline wants to dance with you, Klaus.” Stefan's voice was hard.
Klaus was silent, his gaze boring into Stefan’s. His lips curved into a small, cold smile and then he looked at Caroline. “I think we should let Caroline decide that. Caroline, shall we dance?”
She shrugged, not wanting to give Klaus an excuse to do something... Klaus-like. “It’s OK, Stefan. I’ll dance with him.”
Caroline looked at him, warmed by the concern in his eyes. She smiled. “I’m sure. I’ll be fine. He won’t hurt me.”
A small grin lit his face. “Harmless, huh?”
She laughed. “Yeah, just like his sister.”
Stefan laughed too.
“Any time this century.” Klaus’s voice was biting, impatience layering every word.
Caroline sighed and stepped back from Stefan, her arms dropping to her side. She gave him a small nod of reassurance and turned to Klaus. “Let’s dance.”
She watched Stefan walk away, worry still lighting his features as he moved to just the edge of the crowd, his gaze not leaving the two of them even as Klaus drew her into his arms. They were silent as the song ended and a new one, a slow ballad, began.
Caroline’s eyes drifted shut, and pain squeezed her heart. “He’s not here. I think he left town already.”
She pulled back slightly and looked at him, taking in his wide smile, his bright eyes and she was suddenly too tired to play this game with him any longer. “It doesn’t change anything.”
“No, Klaus, it doesn’t.” They continued dancing, but his smile faded, a tightness entering his frame. “I’m not gonna lie, OK? I do feel something for you, but I really hate that I do. I don’t like you. I don’t like what you do, who you are. What you’ve done to the people I love. But, no, I can’t deny that I’m attracted to you and that you, I don’t know, intrigue me.”
She stopped and looked him straight in the eye. “But I hate that. Who I am right now, I can’t see myself not hating it, and me going anywhere like *there* with you. Not anytime soon. Like the next century soon. I *like* like you. I do. But I can’t be with you now. It’s just not gonna happen, Klaus.”
His eyes glittered; his jaw trembled, but he didn’t say a word.
Caroline gripped his arm a little tighter, tears clogging her voice. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, I’m sorry. I actually am. I look at you and I’m sorry that I have to say this, but I do. I just—“
“What about the next millennium?” And even if there was frost in his tone, there was still just the hint of a plea hidden in its cool.
“What?” She nearly cried.
“You said you couldn’t see yourself pursuing us in the next century, what about—“
“I don’t know, Klaus—“
He pulled her close to him suddenly, cutting her off and their faces were barely inches apart. “We do have centuries, millennia. We have forever, love.” Klaus paused and took a deep breath; the cold was gone, leaving only longing heat. “I will wait, Caroline.”
Her breath caught, and he closed the distance between their lips, stealing a kiss that lasted only seconds, but reverberated deep inside. “But I won’t wait the length of that forever.”
Klaus held her gaze for one moment longer and then he released her. Turning around, he walked away, leaving her on the dance floor.
She stood still among the moving dancers, closing her eyes to a few questioning stares.
Caroline's eyes flew open. It was Stefan.
He laid a comforting hand on her arm, squeezing gently. His head cocked slightly to the side as he looked at her, concern written across his face. "What did he say to you?"
Shaking her head, she forced a smile. "Nothing, nothing important. We should just go."
Stefan took a step back. "No, he doesn't get to do that. You did most of the work setting this thing up, you get to enjoy it. Don't let Klaus or Tyler or anyone else take that away from you. We're gonna dance–"
"We are going to dance. And smile and laugh and have a good time because you deserve it."
Smiling, a genuine one this time, she finally nodded. "OK, one dance."
"And we will smile and laugh."
She laughed. "Done and done."
It was his turn to smile as he drew her into his arms for their one dance. Caroline's eyes drifted close again as she buried her head in the crook of his shoulder. They swayed in time to the music slowly and she felt the tension ease out of her body. Pulling away slightly, she looked at Stefan, her voice in a near-whisper. "Thank you."
He was quiet, and his eyes were warm. He didn't speak, merely gave a slight nod and wrapped his arm just a little tighter.
Damon hummed softly, swaying to the music, feeling the weight of Elena pressed against him, her breath dancing on his throat. Bending down slightly, his eyes closed, he pressed a light kiss to the crown of her head.
She sighed. A happy sigh that made him smile. Pulling away just the slightest, Elena looked up at him at the same time and their gazes met. “Hi.” Her voice was soft, slightly husky.
“Hi,” he whispered back, dipping his head to capture her smile with his lips and breathe in her happiness. Their bodies came to a standstill as he cupped the curve of her jaw in the palm of his hand, as he kissed her and she kissed him.
They drifted apart, and she still wore a smile, but it matched his own. He felt like he was living in a fairytale and it was fucking fantastic! He got the girl, and he was only now beginning to truly believe it.
The car ride had been filled with talk of her recovery and it had been easy-going, tension-free. And then because he was him and he couldn’t go five minutes without destroying his any shot at happiness, he told her that Stefan was going to be at the dance with Caroline. To his surprise, she’d simply shrugged and reached out to grab his hand. “Stefan has nothing to do with us.”
And for the first time, he fully believed her because here they were in the middle of her high school, Stefan about twenty feet away – yeah, he’d noticed him sulking across the room – and yet Elena was in his arms. She was dancing with him. Smiling at him. Kissing him.
Damon had been so sure, so confident after that incident in her bedroom that he would get his shot, that they would have a chance. Or at least he’d told himself. And he’d believed it, really, because Damon didn’t lie to himself. But tonight, picking her up, seeing her look at him like he’d only dreamed of, he realized that he was indeed nothing but a big, fat liar. The whole confidence game he had played that she would leave Stefan and they’d be together had just been a band-aid, a salve for his aching, broken heart.
After all, there was only so much pain a man could take before he just decided to chuck his magic ring and take a walk out in the sun. So Damon had lied to himself, convinced himself that the sex meant something, that her cruelty meant that she loved him, that they had something and it was gonna happen. And glory be to all the saints in the universe! It was happening.
“This is nice,” she murmured as she snuggled up against him, swaying once more.
She laughed and pulled back again to look up at him. “I know we’ve only been here for like ten minutes, but…” She trailed off, biting her lip.
“You wanna blow this joint?”
Grinning, she nodded. “I just want to be with you,” she paused and glanced around at the horde of writhing teenagers, “not with everyone at my school.”
Her voice was light and her eyes danced. “Stefan who?”
It was silly. It didn’t mean anything. He knew that. He knew that she still cared for Stefan, probably always would and he was OK with that. But hearing those words from her mouth, even as a joke, was beyond incredible.
Damon grinned and didn’t care that it was almost certainly the dopiest grin a man could wear. “Let’s go.”
Giggling, she followed him without protest as they wound their way quickly through the other dancers. Reaching the entrance, she did stop and look over her shoulder. “I should say something to Car—“ Elena shook her head. “Never mind.” She looked back to Damon with a smile. “I’ll just call her tomorrow. Let’s go.”
Moments later, they stood by his car and Damon pulled out his keys. “Where to?”
“Is there any place around here from, you know, before when you were human that… was special to you?” She reached out and ran a finger along his cheek, her smile soft. “I’d like to see some place like that.”
Leaning against the car, he thought about it. “Have you been to the grounds of the plantation where—“ he broke off, deciding that his brother’s name would not pass his lips one more time that day. “Where I grew up?”
She nodded. “Yeah, once. I mean, there was no house left, it was outside the gate.”
“So you haven’t been on the grounds then?”
“Nope, I guess not. But the house is gone.”
“I know, it’s not the house. There was this watering hole. I used to go there and read.” He puffed his chest out. “Think, erm, deep thoughts.” He grinned, and then that grin faded into a somewhat shy smile. “No one knew about it, or at least knew that I knew about it.”
Elena smiled. “Let’s go then.”
Damon opened the car door for her and she slid in. His hand on the frame, he hesitated. “Your dress is probably gonna get ruined. Water. Dirt.” He raised his eyebrows. “Equals mud.”
She shrugged. “I don’t care. I just want to be alone with you, somewhere special.”
Damon nodded and swung the door shut. Slowly, he walked around to the other side and paused with his hand on the door handle. He looked up into the night sky, the stars shining and he smiled. For the first time in over a century, he believed in heaven.
Because he felt blessed.
TO BE CONTINUED
* Title from the song "Shall We Dance?"