Elena Gilbert collapsed with a groan onto her bed. It was the night before Christmas Eve and she had just gotten some last minute shopping done with her best friends, Bonnie Bennett and Caroline Forbes. She hadn't gone shopping like that since her parents died and forgot how much energy it took, especially when Caroline got on a roll. Caroline as a vampire had even more energy.
Sitting up, Elena glanced over at the bags of things she had gotten. She still needed to wrap them, especially the gifts for Stefan and Damon Salvatore. She rose and walked over to her closet, pulling out another gift she'd bought some months back before so much had happened. It was a first edition leather bound book that she remembered Damon telling her he had enjoyed before he had been turned into a vampire back in 1864. She had found it, purely by accident. Even now, she didn't know what possessed her to purchase it. Especially since she wasn't dating Damon, she had been dating Stefan at the time.
Then everything changed. Katherine returned to Mystic Falls; Damon killed Jeremy and only by the miracle of an enchanted ring kept him from really dying; Katherine compelling her Aunt Jenna to stab herself in the stomach, causing Elena to break up with Stefan; Elena finding out about her fate as a Petrova doppleganger; Everything.
Taking the book in hand, she walked back over to her bed and sat down. She brushed a hand over the front of the book, feeling the worn leather beneath her palm. She wasn't sure, now, if the gift would be appropriate. She wondered if it would mean too much. She needed to make a decision soon, because she was attending a small get together at the Salvatore boarding house tomorrow where she would exchange gifts with the brothers. While she and Stefan were still not dating, and she had to admit that she wasn't sure if she wanted to be with him. It's possible that you don't love him anymore, not the way you once did.
Sometimes her mind went in directions she didn't entirely understand. At least that was what she told herself.
With a gentle sigh, Elena placed the book on her bedside chair and laid back. Her eyes felt heavy all of a sudden and the headache that had started forming behind her eyes since she got home grew a bit. I'll just rest my eyes.
Elena's eyes cracked, shivering as she felt a cool breeze brush across her skin. She lifted her head, noting that her room was dark except for a strange, yet soft blue glow.
"Did Aunt Jenna forget to turn the Christmas lights-- AH!" Elena jumped and shoved herself back against the headboard of her bed, her eyes wide as she stared at the figure that should not be standing in front of her. Especially not glowing.
"Hello, Elena," the figure said with an almost angelic voice.
"Hell-- hello," she said. Elena had never, entirely, been a stranger to her ancestors over the years, but since meeting the Salvatores and learning of the dark history of Mystic Falls, she had begun to do a bit more research. So she knew all about her great-great-great grandparents on the Gilbert side. The very grandparents that had been members of the Founding families, and therefore the Founder's Council.
What she never expected was to wake and find the apparition of her great-great-great grandmother standing at the foot of her bed.
"I'm sure you are wondering why I'm here," Ella Gilbert said.
"Um..." Elena said. "That's... that's an understatement."
Ella shifted her glowing form to rest on the end of the bed in a proper, seated position, twisting at the waist to look at Elena. "You are quite conflicted, my dear granddaughter."
"Conflicted?" Elena questioned. "I... I don't understand. Why are you here? You never did answer that."
"Because of your conflict," Ella said. "Your heart is conflicted."
Ella smiled and reached over, patting Elena's hand. Elena shivered, the air was warm and yet cold around where here grandmother had touched her.
"You know of the story "A Christmas Carol" I assume?" Ella asked.
Elena's eyes unconsciously glanced to the book she had gotten Damon. Ella's gaze followed and a soft smile turned the corners of her mouth up. "Ahhh... yes a good story," she said. "I remember when Mr. Dickens first published it."
"You... you do?" Elena asked.
"I was ten years old," Ella said. "Father managed to have a copy sent to him from a friend in London. It was a tradition to read it to us on the eve of the holiday."
"Oh..." Elena said.
"I am getting off track," Ella said. "As for the story... you could say that I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"I'm hardly Ebenezer Scrooge," Elena said. "I don't need a lesson in Christmas cheer."
"No, you aren't him," Ella said. "But your heart is hardening and it is conflicted." She watched her granddaughter many times removed. "It is time to visit some images so that you can open your heart again to see the truth."
"I... I don't understand," Elena said.
"You will," Ella replied. She got to her feet, extended a small, elegant hand to Elena. "Come, my dear. We don't have much time."
"Time?" Elena asked.
"You know the story, Elena," Ella said. "You know that you have two more spirits that will come to visit you this night. Now, take my hand so we can begin this journey."
"This is insane..." Elena said.
"I assure you, there is a reason for it all," Ella said, smiling softly at her. She wiggled her fingers a bit. "Trust me?"
Elena waited a moment, staring at the slightly glowing hand. She had to be dreaming, but at the same time she began to wonder if that truly mattered. She had been dating a vampire, who had a vampire brother, her best friends were both a witch and a vampire and another friend was a werewolf. Why was the Christmas spirit of her ancestor so ridiculous? Though she did feel some hesitation, Elena reached her hand out and wrapped her fingers around her grandmother's. Then her bedroom was gone.
Elena looked around as mist began to dissipate from around her form as she stood beside her grandmother. She paused as she stared at the tall evergreen inside the opulent sitting room. Candles flickered on a few different tables and she watched two young men, barely teenagers, standing in front of the tree, placing bows on the branches.
"You know that Father is going to be displeased when he sees this," a familiar voice said from the lighter haired boy. Elena found herself fascinated. It wasn't nearly as deep as the one she was used to, but she immediately recognized Stefan's voice.
"Christmas is a time of joy and cheer," the other boy said, obviously older but he sounded a touch more innocent then the too serious tone of his brother. One would think he were the younger of the two, but Elena knew the cadence of Damon's voice. Like Stefan's, his voice was not as deep as the timbre he had now, but that of a young teenager on the cusp between boy and man.
"I do not remember a time after my fifth winter that we celebrated the holiday," Stefan said.
"I swear when I marry and find the one I love, Christmas will be a bright celebration in our home with our children," Damon commented. "Mother would not have wanted us to not celebrate."
"I wish I could have known her," Stefan said quietly.
Damon turned his head to study his brother. He reached over and squeezed his shoulder. "I wish you could have--."
"What is this?" a deep voice said from a nearby door. Elena lifted her head and saw a man standing there. It was obvious that he was the Salvatore's father. While she noted much more of a resemblance to Stefan, she could see some of Damon in him too. So this was Giuseppe Salvatore.
"It's a Christmas tree, Father," Damon said.
"I know what it is," he snapped. "Why is there one in this house?"
"We thought--," Stefan started.
"It was my idea," Damon interrupted. "The holiday is tomorrow and we've not had a--."
"Get rid of it," Giuseppe said. "Now."
"But Fat--," Damon said.
"I said get rid of it," Giuseppe said, anger filtering into his tone. "I said that we will have no such frivolity and I meant it. You had no right to defy me, Damon."
"Mother would want us to have it," Damon said, that stubborn streak that Elena knew so well showing through.
"How dare you," Giuseppe said, advancing on his sons. "How dare you deem to know what she would or would not have wanted."
"I am not so young that I do not remember that it was her favorite time of year," Damon said, standing up to his father.
"I said you had no right to defy me," Giuseppe said. "You are showing how truly disappointing you are." Elena could see Damon's back go rigid with anger.
"Come, Stefan," Giuseppe said, his voice softening ever so slightly for his younger son. When he noted the boy would follow, his gaze hardened when staring at Damon before turning on his heel. "Damon, I want that ridiculous tree gone before I return."
There was silence as he left the room, Stefan making his way past his brother to follow. Before he did, he rested his hand on Damon's shoulder. "I'm sorry, brother." He squeezed his shoulder as Damon gave one sharp nod and soon the older Salvatore brother was the only one left in the room.
Damon lifted his head to look at the tree and Elena could see a single tear escape from the corner of his eye as it slid down his cheek. It made her heart ache.
"I promise," he whispered. "I promise you, Mama, that I will celebrate. Even if it's alone." He reached up and took a ribbon off the branch and tied it into a bow before tucking it into his pocket. Elena watched as the light faded and it seemed as if Damon was silhouetted by candlelight
"I remember the young Salvatore men," Ella said. "I was pregnant with my first son, your great-great grandfather, when we settled in Mystic Falls before the town was established. Damon was but a mere five years old."
"You knew them?" Elena asked, awed.
"I did," Ella said. "It was almost three years after my son was born when young Stefan was." She looked past Elena to watch Damon. "It is surprising how Damon would want to enjoy the holiday."
"Why?" Elena asked.
"Innocenza Salvatore succumbed to a form of child bed fever just a few weeks before the Christmas holiday," Ella explained. "Stefan was but an infant, practically newborn."
"So that's why their father doesn't..." Elena trailed off, looking at Damon.
"Hm mm," Ella said. "But not Damon. All because Innocenza loved the holiday so. And Damon loved his mother a great deal. It did break his little heart to lose her, but to lose Christmas as well..."
"Why are you showing me this?" Elena asked. She looked at her ancestor. "By rights, because of who you are, you should hate them."
Ella gave Elena a soft, yet sad, smile. "Dear Elena, the Salvatore brothers were not monsters. Still are not, despite what you think. They were simply young men besotted by a beauty that was never real. They were manipulated by that monster they thought they loved and who they thought loved them. That love blinded them, especially Damon."
"Seems to be his MO," Elena murmured.
"And all for nothing," Ella said. "For Katherine never loved him. Damon, technically, died for nothing. All he wanted was true love and acceptance of the one he adored."
"And what of Stefan?" Elena questioned. "He lost the same."
Ella smiled sadly. She reached a ghostly hand up to brush along Elena's cheek. "No, my dear, he didn't."
"What do you mean?" Elen asked.
"You shall soon see, but that is not for me to show you. Another shall," Ella said. Elena turned, noting a change in Damon as he matured into the man she knew now. The room brightened and she noted that they were in some sort of bar. She looked and saw that Stefan was sitting in a corner, reading a book. Damon didn't move, but she sensed that he wanted to.
"He won't," Ella said, answering Elena's mental question. "He never does, not once they separated. Despite Damon's feelings after what happened, he always ensured to find Stefan during Christmas just to see him."
"He acts as if he doesn't love his brother..." Elena frowned. "And why do you keep showing me Damon?"
"You shall soon see," Ella said again. Elena's frown deepened and her head turned as the lights dimmed once again and a single sentence came from Damon's lips.
"Merry Christmas, brother." Once more the world faded until the light only surrounded Damon. Then he, too, was gone.
Elena started to speak, but her grandmother lifted a hand to silence her. "In time, my dear," she said. "We do not have much time."
"Yes, yes, I know. Two more spirits are coming to visit," Elena said. All she received was a smile from Ella and soon Elena found herself outside of the Grille. It was a familiar sight but it even felt familiar. Almost as if...
"Elena, I don't understand," she heard Matt say. That's when she remembered.
"I'm sorry, Matt," Elena said softly. "I just... I think we need to break up."
"It's right before Christmas," Matt said, the sound of his voice causing her to wince all over again. Her timing had been poor.
"I know... I should have... I should have done this sooner," Elena's past self said. Past self... only a year ago, but the current Elena felt as if so much time had passed since this night. Years even.
"Yeah, you should have," Matt ground out. "So why are you breaking up with me? Find someone else?"
"No," Elena said immediately. "No, but I just... Matt... you are too safe!"
"Safe?" Matt asked, confused. "What do you mean safe?"
"Things with us are too predictable," Elena said. "I want something more... I'm sorry." She quickly turned away from Matt and hurried away from him before he could respond. The world once again faded, the only image was Matt’s crestfallen face.
“Why are you showing me sad things?” Elena asked.
Ella said nothing, merely gave her a gentle smile. The unanswered questions were beginning to annoy Elena more and more. Her mouth opened, intending to ask yet another question, when she heard an achingly familiar voice.
“Elena, sweetheart, what is it?” It was her mother.
“Mommy, why do you love Daddy?” Elena asked.
Miranda Gilbert laughed, setting down the book she had been reading. “And what makes you ask that?”
“I remember this,” Elena whispered, watching her eight-year old self crawling into her mother’s lap to sit and talk.
“I just wonder if I will ever like a boy the way you like Daddy.”
“Ahhh but you will,” Miranda said, stroking her daughter’s dark hair. “You will. One day, you will meet a boy that will make your heart beat faster and you feel slightly tongue tied.”
“Did you feel like that with Daddy?”
“Oh yes,” Miranda said. “Your daddy was a bit of a rebel too. A bad boy. I remember that I thought I didn’t like him at all. He always seemed to be causing trouble or breaking hearts.”
Little Elena’s eyes got big as she looked at her mother. “How come you started liking him if he was such a bad boy?”
Miranda smiled at her daughter’s innocence. To Elena, a bad boy was like when Matt took her cookies at lunch or pushed her into a mud puddle Easter Sunday and got her pretty new dress dirty.
“Your daddy never walked away from me,” Miranda said. “Even though I thought he was a bad boy, he was never bad to me. And if he ever was, he made sure to do what he could to make it okay.”
“Did he ever not make things okay?” Elena asked.
“A couple times,” Miranda admitted. “Sweetheart, sometimes, there are things people will do and there is nothing, really, that can make it okay. But you have to learn and know that sometimes it is okay to move on. Especially if you love them enough.”
Older Elena frowned as much as her younger counterpart did. Why would such a memory be brought to her now, in light of what Damon had done just a few months ago to her brother? She turned to look at Ella, noting that the lights around them were darkening and Ella was fading.
“You’re leaving?” Elena asked.
Ella nodded. “I have shown you what you’ve needed to see from the past,” she said. “So my time is done. But another will shortly take my place. Listen and learn, Elena. Your future, your heart depends on it. Take what you’ve learned tonight and you will see where your heart lies...” Then she was gone and darkness enfolded Elena in its embrace.
“Elena,” a soft voice said. “Elena, sweetie, wake up.”
“Five more minutes, Mom,” Elena murmured, snuggling into her pillow more.
“Elena, you need to wake up.”
“Mom, I--.” Elena suddenly found herself wide awake. She quickly sat up, staring at her mother’s smiling face. “Mom!”
“Hello, sweetheart,” Miranda Gilbert said, offering her daughter a wider smile.
“But...” Elena started, frowning. “How...”
“Surely your grandmother explained?” Miranda asked.
Elena’s frown deepened a moment then started to relax. “So... that wasn’t a dream?”
“You can take it for what you will, sweetheart,” Miranda said. “But you are being visited by three spirits tonight.”
“You... are the Ghost of Christmas Present?” Elena asked.
“I am,” Miranda said, smiling softly. “Unlike with Ella, we have but one stop this evening.” She reached her hand out to her daughter. “And we should not waste time.”
Elena got up from her bed and carefully walked to her mother. She wanted to engulf her in a hug, tell her how much she missed her, but something kept her from doing so. Perhaps it was the thought that this really was all a dream, but then why did it all feel so real?
“Where are we going?” Elena asked her mother, taking her hand.
“To a place where you can learn the truth,” Miranda said. The world faded around them, though not for long. Soon the surroundings of Elena’s bedroom were replaced by the snow dusted circular drive of the Salvatore boarding house.
“Mom?” Elena said, frowning.
“I know who the Salvatores are, Elena. What they are,” Miranda said. “But your heart lies in this home and as long as you are happy, I can not begrudge you that.”
“Stefan and I broke up, Mom,” Elena said. “We had to.” Miranda said nothing to that statement, merely drew her daughter forward. When Elena hesitated, Miranda laughed softly.
“We are both just spirits right now, Elena,” Miranda said. “They can not hear us, nor can they see us. And doors mean nothing to what we are right now.” With that, she pulled Elena through the solid wood of the door.
“Damon, I need you to answer me,” they could hear Stefan saying.
“Stefan, stop,” Damon said, his lean form passing the opening of the parlor. He had a glass in hand. From the darkness of the liquid, Elena could tell it was blood and not liquor.
“Think of it as an early Christmas present for me,” Stefan said, following his brother. Miranda and Elena moved closer.
“Like hell,” Damon said, turning to face his brother. “That is not a Christmas present.
“I need to know, Damon,” Stefan said. “You need to answer it. Just... tell me.”
“What do you want to hear, Stefan?” Damon asked, his normal snark missing. “You know the answer. Do you really want to hear the words so you have carte blanche for kicking my ass?”
“Technically I don’t have the right to kick your ass anymore,” Stefan said. “And despite how I might feel about it, I need to hear your words. I need to know what my brother is feeling. I need to know... Damon, I need to know why you’ve done some things and--.”
“What things, Stefan?” Damon interrupted.
“Damon, please,” Stefan said. “Just... tell me. I won’t hold it against you, I won’t hate you, I won’t bring it up again. I just need to know.” He watched his brother, knowing that he was hurting them both with this line of questioning. “Do you really love Elena?”
“What does it matter, Stefan?” Damon questioned, dodging. “We know it doesn’t matter.”
“Because I need to know,” Stefan said. “I want to know.” Damon turned his back on Stefan, setting his glass down. Elena glanced at her mother, who merely watched Damon and Stefan. She turned her attentions back to the brothers.
“You always told me that Mother used to say that truth would set--,” Stefan started.
“Fine!” Damon said, spinning quickly. “Yes! All right? Yes, I really love her.” His brow furrowed and he shrugged. “There, I said it. Happy?”
“Not really,” Stefan admitted. “But you knew I wouldn’t.”
“Then why, Stefan?” Damon asked. For once, Elena watched as Damon didn’t antagonize his brother, didn’t bait him with anything, simply asked.
“Why was it so important you know?” Damon continued.
“Because I needed to know,” Stefan said. “I need to know where your feelings were for her. So I could understand your need to protect her as much as I do. Your need to make things okay with her again.”
“My need to make things okay with her again, which is impossible, by the way, is because I fucked up,” Damon said. “Whatever my romantic feelings are for her aside, I fucked up. I took out my grief and anger and heartache on another human being and I never should have. I should have told you that night that I couldn’t see Elena, that I couldn’t be the one to protect her that night.”
Stefan frowned, a frown mirroring itself on Elena’s face. “You mean the night with Jeremy?”
“Of course I mean the night with Jeremy!” Damon said.
“What happened that night, Damon?” Stefan asked. “I’ve guessed since that night that Katherine got to you, I told Elena that too, but I don’t know how and you’ve never said.”
“It doesn’t matter, Stefan,” Damon said, picking up the glass of blood again. He took a sip, his eyes getting a distant look. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to Elena!” Stefan said. “She has a right to understand why you’d kill her brother!”
“No, Stefan, it doesn’t,” Damon said, staring into his glass. “Because it’s you, brother. It’s always going to be you.” His eyes shifted to stare into the fire that crackled in the fire place. “Just like with Katherine.”
Elena’s breath caught in her throat. Stefan shook his head. “Damon...”
Damon let out a harsh laugh, glancing over his shoulder to his brother. “I shouldn’t be surprised when I asked for the truth that night,” he said. “Who’d want the disappointing Salvatore brother?” He shifted to look at Stefan better. “Father didn’t, he had you. Why would Katherine when she had you too?” His frown deepened. “And Elena.”
Damon turned his head to stare at the fire. “I gave her up, Stefan,” he said. “So why are you asking me all this?”
“What do you mean you gave her up?” Stefan asked, frowning. “You haven’t even told her how you feel.”
“Yes I did,” Damon said. “Though selfishly.”
Damon continued to stare in the fire. “I told her I loved her. Told her I didn’t deserve her, but you did. Then I made her forget.”
Elena gasped. “What...” Her words were but a whisper.
“Listen, my daughter,” Miranda said softly.
“What do you mean you made her forget?” Stefan asked. “She always wears...” Realization stole over his face. “The night we got her back from Elijah. You are the one that returned her necklace.”
“Yep,” Damon said. “And I took one selfish moment before making her forget and disappearing from her life.” He took a swallow of his blood then waved his hand a bit. “Emotionally, of course. Wasn’t going to leave it just to you to keep her safe.” He gave Stefan a typical Damon smirk.
“She’s going to be pissed with you when she finds out,” Stefan said.
Damon’s vampire speed was barely seen by Elena and Miranda, but within a split second he was in front of Stefan, shoving him to the wall and their faces inches apart.
“She’s never going to find out, do you hear me?” Damon hissed at his brother. “You are not going to tell her.”
“I would think you’d jump on any chance to--,” Stefan started.
“Wrong,” Damon snapped, releasing his brother. “Elena’s made it very clear that she loves you, Stefan, and that it’s always going to be you. She cared about me at one time, but I shattered that the night she said, verbatim, what Katherine had not even hours earlier. I won’t, no, I refuse to burden her with my love.”
“Love isn’t a burden, Damon,” Stefan said.
“It is when it comes from me,” Damon said. He moved away from his brother. “You got your Christmas wish, brother. You got the truth. Now keep it to yourself and live your life. Wish everyone a merry Christmas for me. I’m bowing out of the festivities this year.”
“No!” Stefan and Elena both spoke. The room dimmed as Stefan hurried after his brother. Elena whirled to look at Miranda.
“He can’t,” Elena said. “He can’t just... why? Why would he do that?”
“Look in your heart, Elena, you know why,” Miranda said. “But if you need it said... Damon’s heart has been shattered. It’s always being shattered. Even now, Stefan forced him to admit something he had locked away so that Damon could continue to be around you without wanting you to return his affection. That type of force has consequences.”
“This has to be a dream,” Elena said. “Damon would never be that honest with Stefan. And why would--.”
“Elena, it was necessary for you to know these things,” Miranda interrupted. “Look into your heart, as I said. There you will know the reason why you are seeing the things you are.”
“This is insane!” Elena said. “It’s like you are trying to tell me my heart is telling me I meant to be with Damon! Why show me all this?!”
“It is not for me to say,” Miranda said. “Come, daughter. You have one more spirit to see this Christmas Eve.” Elena wanted to jerk her hand away, but she knew it was inevitable that the world would fade away into nothingness. She allowed her mother to take her hand, feeling her mother’s fingers squeezing her own before the world did in fact fade around her.
“Elena...” The voice was so close, so familiar. “Elena, wake up.”
Elena’s eyes cracked and she shifted her head to look over. Stefan sat on the edge of her bed, smiling softly at her. Elena pushed herself up and brushed her long dark hair out of her face.
“Stefan... I had the strangest dream,” she said. “One of my ancestors and my mother... They were visiting me as the ghosts of Christmas past and present and were showing me...” Her voice trailed off as she looked at Stefan more closely and noticed that there was something just slightly off.
“It wasn’t a dream, was it?”
Stefan laughed lightly. “No, it wasn’t,” he said. “I’m here as the ghost of Christmas yet to come.”
Elena sighed softly. “I thought ghosts were dead,” she said. “I mean my ancestor... my mother.”
“Well to be technical, I am dead,” Stefan reminded her. “Remember?”
Elena’s nose wrinkled. “Yes, thank you for reminding me,” she said. “But you know what I mean.”
He grinned. “I do,” he said. “But we’re wasting time.” He got to his feet, reaching his hand to her. “We have to go.”
“Stefan...” Elena said, but she got to her feet, reaching to take his hand.
“Elena, we need to go. There’s just a few hours left till Christmas,” he said. “And you need to see this.”
“I don’t know if I want to,” Elena said quietly. “Not after all I’ve already seen.”
“I know,” Stefan said. “But you need to. So your heart will know.”
“Stefan, everything I have seen... it’s like my heart is trying to tell me that I belong with Damon,” Elena protested. “How can you be one of the spirits to show me something that points to that?”
“It is what it is,” Stefan said, giving her a sad smile. “Come on.” He closed his fingers around her hand and soon the room was fading once again.
As the lights grew brighter, Elena noted that they were in a home that looked a lot like the Salvatore boarding house, but there were differences as well. She frowned, trying to determine where they were.
“Stefan, this really was a great idea,” Elena heard Bonnie say. “Coming to Italy to get away from Mystic Falls as perfect.”
“Italy?” Elena breathed, looking at Stefan.
“This is one of the Salvatore villas that remained in the family for years,” Stefan explained. “It was rather run down and no one lived here. Damon bought it about twenty years after we were turned into vampires while he traveled Europe and had it restored. Kept it up all those years too.”
“I sometimes forget that your family is originally from Italy,” Elena said.
“Not surprised,” Stefan said. “I don’t exactly look Italian. Those looks went to Damon.”
“Who is this?” Elena heard Jeremy’s voice. She turned and her eyes widened. He looked older. She realized that he would be if this was in the future. Just how far in the future was this? Elena shifted to see a portrait of a beautiful woman with long black hair and warm blue eyes. Even in the strokes of the painting, she could feel the warmth in those blue depths. She also reminded Elena of someone...
Stefan from the future lifted his head and smiled softly. “My mother,” he said. That would explain why, Elena thought. She reminds me of Damon.
“She’s beautiful,” Caroline said. She didn’t look a day older, for obvious reasons. Elena knew that she never would age since becoming a vampire, but seeing it was another story. Especially now as she saw her standing beside Jeremy and Bonnie.
“I see Damon in her,” Bonnie said.
The future Stefan nodded in response to Bonnie, walking over. “Both of our parents were Italian, but Mother had, what people consider, the more classic Italian look. She was from southern Italy, Father was originally from northern Italy where many Italians were fairer from family blood being mingled with other Europeans. I look much more like our father and Damon took after our mother.”
“Which is why Giuseppe always had a hard time dealing with Damon,” a female voice said from behind Elena. She whirled around, her eyes widening as the woman from the portrait stood in front of her where Stefan had been.
“What... what happened to Stefan?” Elena questioned, her voice shaky.
Innocenza Salvatore smiled at the young woman that held both of her sons’ hearts in her hands. Only she knew that one son was meant for her over the other. “Sometimes the fates choose to send ghosts with no familiarity to those who need to see, other times it’s easier for them to send familiar faces. In this case... it was both,” she explained.
“I don’t understand,” Elena said.
“It was necessary for one of your ancestors to show you the past,” Innocenza said. “It only made sense to send your mother to show the present. For ease of mind, they started showing you the future by having my son bring you this far. Now it is for me to show you the rest.”
Elena blinked a few times. None of this made sense to her, but more and more she wondered if she was simply losing her mind or dreaming. Innocenza’s words filtered into her mind. “You said Damon’s father had a hard time dealing with him... because of how much he looked like you?” she asked.
“Yes,” Innocenza said. “But that is not the tale you are to see tonight. Watch and listen.”
Elena frowned deeper, but knowing Dickens’ story as she did, she turned to focus on those that were there. Immediately she wondered where Damon was, noting his absence.
“Is Damon joining us this year?” Jeremy asked, slipping his arm around Bonnie. Elena’s eyebrow lifted towards her hairline at the movement. She also noted that the tone of his voice when asking the question seemed to be more ritual than inquiry.
Caroline, who was pouring blood into two glasses, straightened and walked over to Stefan with the glasses in hand. She handed him one of them, exchanging smiles before answering. “No,” she said. “The last thing we got from him was declining the invitation again.”
“Can I ask you two something?” Bonnie asked. Stefan and Caroline both nodded before she continued. “Damon hasn’t come to a Christmas gathering with any of us in fifteen years. Why do you continue to invite him?”
“In the hopes that he’ll change his mind and join us,” Stefan said.
“He hasn’t since he bailed on Christmas back in 2010,” Bonnie said. “Why would he now?”
“Because Elena would want him to,” Caroline said softly. “Even if he denies it.”
Jeremy’s jaw clenched and relaxed. “She should be here with us,” he said quietly. Everyone fell silent or lowered their heads and it made Elena’s heart clench. She didn’t take her eyes off any of them as she spoke to Innocenza.
“I’m dead, aren’t I?” she asked quietly.
“Yes,” Innocenza said, her voice as quiet. “But Elena, this is but one possible future. What you discover and let your heart know... this outcome does not have to be.”
“How did I die? Was it something to do with Damon?” The moment the last question left her lips, Elena regretted them. She turned to look at Damon’s mother, expecting anger to be on her beautiful features but all she saw was sadness.
“Damon... blames himself,” Innocenza says. “But that is not for now. Watch and listen.”
The corner of Elena’s lips curled downward but she listened and turned to focus on the group again. Stefan took a swig of the blood in his glass, obviously fighting with some sort of emotion. Elena surmised it was over losing her, but for the first time she noted his arm around Caroline in a possessive way that he used to show her.
“Ric checks in on him,” Stefan said. “To make sure that he hasn’t...” He let out a sigh. “I keep hoping to get my brother back.”
Caroline looked at Stefan and squeezed his waist with the arm that had slid around him. “We all want that,” she said. “None of us have been the same since that day.”
“Elena and Mother wouldn’t want us to be melancholy,” Stefan said, putting on a brave smile. “And in his own way, neither would Damon. I think dinner’s ready, why don’t we eat and celebrate instead?”
All agreed and as they gathered various glasses, making their way out of the room, it started to fade around Elena’s vision. Darkness fell around her before slowly starting to lighten, but not by much. As Elena looked around, her heart began to pound harder and harder in her chest. They were standing in a cemetary.
“Why... why are we here?” Elena asked.
“Could you not have guessed?” Innocenza asked, stepping up beside her. “Knowing that you are gone?”
Elena looked to her right, but Innocenza was not looking at her. Instead her gaze was focused ahead, looking at a lone figure. Elena squinted her eyes slightly then a soft gasp escaped her lips. Though disheveled and unlike any time she ever saw him, Elena immediately recognized Damon’s lithe form.
“An annual ritual,” Innocenza says. “Two graves. That’s all he comes to Mystic Falls for is to visit two graves on Christmas.”
Elena moved closer to Damon, noting how bad he looked. She’d seen him drunk and seemingly broken after finding out Katherine wasn’t in the tomb so many years ago, then again that fateful night he came to her room and broke Jeremy’s neck. She’d never seen him this bad, however. She’d seen tears in his eyes; she’d seen him sad and angry, but this shell of a man was worse than any of those images she’d seen before.
“I broke my promise,” Damon whispered harshly. “I break it every year, don’t I? I keep promising you both that I’ll leave for good. That I’ll leave the memories behind and move on... but here I am. Another year, another Christmas.”
Damon knelt in front of the grave marker, his fingers reaching out to brush along the stone. Elena could see how shaky he was. Vampires didn’t need to breathe, but Elena saw Damon’s body shudder with a shaky breath as he released... something to the cold winter air around them.
“I failed you, Elena,” Damon said. “I failed everyone. I promised to protect you. I told everyone I would. I even swore on my mother’s grave that I would... but I failed. I was such a disappointment in life, it’s crossed over into death.”
Damon lowered his head, his back hitching again, but this time Elena heard the sob he tried to contain. When he lifted his head, the sight broke Elena’s heart.
“Why did you have to sacrifice so much for him? Why couldn’t you listen to me for once? Why did I have to be such a monumental fuck up to destroy the fragile relationship we had that you wouldn’t listen to me?”
Damon lowered his head again and sobs shook him over and over. His right fingers toyed with the ring on his left hand. He looked at the grave marker again, the sobs having eased but the tears still falling.
“Sunrise will be here soon,” he said. He slipped the ring from his finger. “I’m keeping my promise this time. Maybe not how you or my mother envisioned I would.” He rested the lapis lazuli ring on top of the stone before straightening.
“Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll see you both in the hereafter,” he said. “But I’m probably going to hell instead of heaven so I doubt it.”
“No,” Elena said, horrified at the realization of what Damon was doing. “No, he can’t!”
“I love you, Elena,” Damon said to the stone. “I only wish you could have remembered when I told you face to face.” He let a bitter laugh release from his chest. “Doesn’t matter now... it wouldn’t have mattered then either.”
Elena watched as Damon’s throat worked as emotions tried to strangle him. That mouth of his, so often turned up in a smirk, quirked in a way she was all too familiar with. Bitter disappointment and sadness.
“Good-bye, my love.” Leaving the ring where it lay, Damon turned and walked away from the stone. The only time he paused was amongst the older stone markers that lay amongst the original cemetary of Mystic Falls before its expansion and Elena knew it was to say good-bye to his mother.
“No,” Elena said, running to her grave marker. She tried to grab Damon’s ring, but her fingers passed through metal and stone, her eyes filling with tears at the implication and seeing her name engraved in the stone. She had known it was hers because of the things Damon said, but to see it was another thing. She shook herself and spun around to see Damon’s back disappearing.
“No. No, Damon! NO!” Elena screamed after him, but he couldn’t hear her. She swung herself around to look at Innocenza’s sad face, tears spilling onto Elena’s cheeks.
“He can’t do this!” she said, her voice full of pain.
“But he does,” Innocenza says. “Damon has blamed himself for your death and it’s caused him to lose everything he felt he had left to live for. Now it’s just too painful for him.”
“But...” Elena said, her voice bordering on panic. “Stefan said that Ric checks on him. Ric won’t let him--.”
“By the time Alaric Saltzman finds Damon’s ring when he comes here to find him, it will be too late,” Innocenza says. “Rituals that have been born over the past years will cause him to be too late to do anything about it. Damon knew that.”
“What... what do you mean?” Elena asked, her face wet with tears.
“Alaric gives Damon his peace, then comes to find him in the morning and he always finds him here, at your grave,” Innocenza explained. “My son is a smart man and he planned this accordingly. He knew that the sun would be up by the time Alaric would be here to check on him. All he left was the ring that would protect him from the deadly rays. All Alaric will find is the ring and all he will be able to take to Stefan is the ring.”
“No,” Elena said. “No!” She spun around, trying to find Damon. She tried to move, tried to pace, but she felt as if she couldn’t move.
“Please,” she finally said, her tone pleading to Damon’s mother. “Please, it can’t end this way.”
“Look in your heart, Elena,” Innocenza said. “You know what lies there. What you try to deny.”
“I won’t be Katherine, I can’t be,” Elena said, crying. She collapsed to her knees, her fingers reaching to the hem of Innocenza’s gown. “Please, he can’t die. I can’t lose him!”
“Only you can change the outcome,” Innocenza said, her voice growing distant. Beneath Elena’s fingertips, her gown disappeared and she was gone.
“Remember, Elena, only you can change the outcome,” her voice echoed around the darkness that surrounded Elena. “Look into your heart. There you will find the answers that you seek.”
“No,” Elena sobbed, folding in half, her forehead on her knees. “Damon, please, no.”
“I love you, Elena,” she heard Damon’s voice suddenly say. “And it’s because I love you that... I can’t be selfish with you.” Elena’s breath hitched but her sobs lessened as she started to sit up.
“Why you can’t know this,” she heard his voice continue. “I don’t deserve you. But my brother does.” Elena looked around, but she couldn’t see him. Darkness was all around her. She got to her feet, trying to find Damon but she knew she wouldn’t.
“God... I wish you didn’t have to forget this,” she heard Damon say. “But you do.”
Elena sat straight up, gasping for air as if she had been held under water. She looked around, her eyes wide. No darkness surrounded her, she was back in her own room and her own bed as if it had all been a dream. At first she thought it had been, but then the memories hit her and her fingers lifted to touch the vervain pendant at her neck. It was almost as if a fog had been lifted from her senses, as if Innocenza helped her to see... now she understood what Damon had confessed to Stefan about compelling her. Now she remembered.
“Hey,” Jeremy said, standing in her doorway. “We’re gonna be late if you don’t get ready.”
Her eyes were wide as she looked at the door. Apparently enough to concern her brother and he came over to her. “Elena? What’s wrong?”
“Damon,” she said. “I have to get to Damon.” She scrambled from under her covers and tripped, banging her leg on one of the wrapped Christmas presents on her floor.
“Whoa, easy,” Jeremy said. “We’re going to see him at the party.”
“No,” Elena said. “No, he’s not going to be there!”
“Elena,” Jeremy started.
“Jeremy, call him,” Elena said. “Please, call him and tell him he has to be there.” Before her brother could say anything further, she ran past him to the bathroom. As much as she wanted to rush off to the boarding house, she wanted to be presentable. And she hoped that standing beneath the hot spray of water would clear her head some to help her understand what it was that Ella, Miranda, Innocenza and even Stefan wanted her to know. Though her heart already knew and it meant finding Damon, talking to Stefan, and making all of this right.
“Thought you weren’t joining us?” Stefan asked his brother as he strolled down the steps into the parlor.
“Got a call from Jeremy,” Damon said. “Apparently Elena frantically demanded I remain.”
“He say why?” Stefan asked, concerned. He hoped that nothing more with the prophecy was coming to light at the moment, not when he or Damon couldn’t be there to protect Elena.
“Nope,” Damon said. He walked to the sidebar to pour himself a drink. “Figured an hour or two of feigned joyousness can’t hurt too much.” He gave his brother a wry grin. “Unless, of course, I have to watch the two of you make out beneath the mistletoe.”
“Damon,” Stefan said, wincing at his brother’s tone.
“Don’t worry, Stefan,” Damon said. “I’m just teasing. Mostly.” He gave his brother another smirk before moving to the fireplace just as the door opened.
“Hello!” Caroline’s voice rang through the boarding house. There were other voices behind her. Damon could hear Bonnie’s voice as well as that of Alaric. Which meant that Jenna, Jeremy, and Elena weren’t far behind.
“If it isn’t vampire Barbie,” Damon said with his smirk still firmly in place.
Caroline made a face at him, setting down the abundant amount of gifts she had in bags. She came over to give him a slightly awkward hug. “Merry Christmas, Damon,” she said.
“You too, Caroline,” he said. Despite all his bravado, this was still a favorite holiday of his and it brought back fond memories of his mother. He only wished that he could be happier during the holidays.
“Merry Christmas, Stefan,” Caroline said, moving over to his brother to give him a hug. Damon tried not to read into how the two lingered in their hold just a bit.
“Merry Christmas, Caroline,” Stefan said, giving her a smile when they pulled apart.
“Where’s Elena?” Caroline asked and no sooner had the words left her mouth did Jenna, Jeremy, and Elena walk into the boarding house parlor room. For a moment, Elena was caught by Damon’s gaze, but as was expected in Damon’s mind, she immediately went to Stefan. He looked away with a shake of his head, downing the drink in hand when he heard her soft tones.
“We need to talk,” she said to Stefan. Soon the two had disappeared from the room. Trying to shake the bitterness that was welling in his throat, Damon moved to the sidebar to pour himself another drink. He would give a customary ten minute appearance before disappearing to his room for the rest of the day.
“Stefan...” Elena started. She brought Stefan to one of the side parlors, instead of to his bedroom. She needed to tell him the truth, but now she wasn’t sure if she could go through with it. Memories washed over her from the previous night and she knew that she had no choice.
“I know we aren’t together,” Elena said. “And... I think it should remain that way.”
Stefan blinked where he stood. Of all the things he expected to hear from Elena, that was not one of them. “But... why?”
“Because I want something more,” Elena said. She paused, realizing she was using the same words as she had with Matt. Was she doomed to repeat the hurtful things to everyone she loved?
“Stefan...” Elena started. “You helped me live again and despite everything going on right now, I needed that. I’ll always love you for showing me that being happy isn’t going to diminish the pain I feel or make me a horrible person to be happy again...”
“I hear a but coming,” Stefan said quietly.
“But I realized that I’m not in love with you,” Elena said. “My heart... it doesn’t skip a beat when I see you. I don’t ache deep in my soul when we’re apart. I think...” She bit her lip a moment before continuing. “As much as this may hurt you to hear it... I think I made myself love you because another love terrified me with how consuming it felt.”
Stefan frowned a moment, trying to process what she was saying before his face actually softened into understanding. “You love Damon.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t said in anger. It was said with some sadness, but also understanding.
“I do,” Elena said. “It took... well you wouldn’t believe me if I told you what it took, but yes... I realized that I love Damon. I want to be with him if he’ll have me.”
Stefan moved over to Elena and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Are you sure about this?” he asked. Despite knowing that Damon did love Elena, there were decades of dark times behind Stefan’s worries.
“I’m positive,” Elena said. Stefan gave her a sad smile and a nod before hugging her close. She took comfort in his hold before pulling away to leave the side parlor and find Damon. Elena paused in the doorway, her hand resting on the wood when she turned back a moment to speak.
“You know, given the chance, you and Caroline would be good together,” she said.
“What?” Stefan asked, surprised by the comment.
“She brings out the best in you, Stefan, without you even realizing it. You do the same for her. You compliment each other very well,” Elena said. She gave him a very gentle smile. “Something to think about.” Then she was gone.
Damon tried to drown out the sounds of the Christmas festivities in the parlor below, but despite all the heartache and how much he wanted to just walk away, it still was one of his favorite times of year. He glanced over to the pile of presents that he had. The majority of them were for his brother, but he had a few for others. Alaric, Jenna, Jeremy, Caroline, even Bonnie. Despite all his bravado, he was a softy at the core when it came to the holiday.
He picked up one of the wrapped packages off his desk, staring at it. It was one of the gifts he was giving to Elena, but he didn’t know if it would be appropriate or not. He had to mull over in his brain as to why he wanted to give her such an item when he heard the faintest of footfalls enter his room.
“Party’s downstairs,” he said. He knew it was Elena; he could smell the scent of her shampoo.
“Why aren’t you down there?” Elena asked.
Damon turned slightly to look at her, giving her a small smile. “Figured I made my token appearance,” he said. “And back up here I came so everyone can enjoy themselves without the big, bad vamp.”
“I wanted you to be down there with us,” she said.
“So sorry to disappoint, again,” Damon said.
“Don’t,” Elena said. Damon turned to look at her more, confused by the soft, pained tone of a single word.
“Elena, you should go downstairs,” Damon said, uneasy with the look on her face. “Stefan’s probably--.”
“Stefan’s hanging out with Caroline and opening gifts,” Elena interrupted. “As it should be. And I won’t let you bail on us this Christmas. Or any other Christmas in the future if I have any say in it.”
Damon’s brow furrowed as confusion stole over him. “Wha--,” he started to ask.
“And I promise I’ll start to listen more,” Elena interrupted again, pushing off the door frame to walk over to him. “And I promise that I’ll stop sacrificing myself for others.” She stopped in directly in front of Damon. “But you have to promise me that you’ll do the same.”
“What are you talking about?” Damon asked.
“I know, Damon,” she said. The confusion merely increased on Damon’s face, so she pushed on. “I know how important Christmas is to you because it was important to your mom. I know that despite all your supposed hatred for Stefan, you still made sure to at least see him during Christmas. Even if he didn’t see you.”
“El--,” Damon started.
“I know that you love me.” She didn’t let Damon speak, she needed to get her words out. “I know, now, that I am more like Katherine than I ever wanted to be and... that stops now.”
“You aren’t...” Damon said.
“I am,” Elena interjected. “And I know that you compelled me to forget you ever telling me that you loved me because you needed to let me go, but you were wrong.”
“Stefan...” Damon spit out. “Dammit, he--.”
“Didn’t tell me,” Elena finished. “It sounds insane, but I had a little help in finding out but it wasn’t Stefan.”
“What kind of help?” Damon asked. If he had been human, his heart would be pounding. And he’d be flushed red with embarrassment.
Instead of answering right away, Elena uncurled the wrapped package from her chest and presented it to Damon. “Open it,” she said softly.
“What kind of help, Elena?” Damon asked again, ignoring the package.
“Open this, Damon,” Elena insisted. “It... it’ll explain.”
Damon rolled his eyes slightly, but took the package. He could already tell it was a book by the weight of it in his hands, but it wasn’t until he opened it that he knew what it was. A flurry of emotions filled him as he read the title of Dickens’ classic, ‘A Christmas Carol’. He remembered telling Elena how it was still one of his favorite books and it warmed him to know that she remembered. And that she went to all the trouble of getting him the leather bound copy.
“I love you, Damon,” Elena said. His head jerked up, shock obvious in his pale blue eyes. “I love you, I’m in love with you, my heart is yours.” She gave him a shaky smile as emotions filled her. “And I hate that it took three ghosts to show me our pasts, our present and your future to realize what I really felt. Yet I’m incredibly grateful at the same time, especially because it meant meeting Innocenza.”
Damon thought Elena was going insane at the words she was telling him, until she spoke his mother’s name. While anyone that did a search on the Salvatore family could have easily found the name out, he knew Elena had no reason to investigate the family that way. And he knew that neither he nor Stefan had ever told Elena their mother’s name.
“You... met my mother?” he asked.
“Crazy, huh?” Elena said, dashing away the tear that slipped down her cheek. “But she was the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.” She reached a hand up and brushed her fingers along Damon’s cheek, noting he was too startled to move away from her touch. “You look so much like her. You have her eyes.”
“Elena... this sounds so insane,” Damon said quietly.
“I know,” Elena said. “But it doesn’t change how I feel.” She gently bit her lip and finally moved her hand from his face to take the book from his hands and lay it on the desk beside the wrapped gifts there.
“I love you, Damon,” she said. “I want to be with you. I want to show you how much I love you and I want us to be together.”
“I--,” Damon started.
“You deserve me, Damon,” Elena said. “I don’t want you to ever think you don’t. And next time... let me decide who deserves me instead of taking it from me.”
“How can you remember what I told you?” Damon finally relented.
“I heard you tell Stefan the truth,” Elena explained. “During the present visit. And right before I woke up after the future one... I heard you. In my head. Almost like the things I saw released the compulsion.”
Damon shook his head. “This sounds so insane.” Despite his words, Damon’s arms found their way around Elena and drew her against his chest.
Elena’s own arms slipped around his waist, her head tilting back to look at him. “You and your brother are vampires, I have an evil look-alike stuck in a tomb, my best friends are a witch and a vampire respectively, and another friend that I grew up with is a werewolf, yet you find the idea of the ghosts of Christmas insane?” Her tone was definitely teasing.
Damon only conceded her point a little with his patented smirk. “Actually, I was more referring to the fact that you love me,” he quipped.
Elena wrinkled her nose. “Shut up and kiss me,” she said. Damon couldn’t deny her and lowered his dark head to hers, brushing their lips together softly before fastening his mouth onto hers and kissing her deeply, letting the love he felt for her flow between them. It seemed almost an eternity before he lifted his head, only long enough to speak.
“I love you, Elena.” Her answer was to simply draw him back into another kiss.
“Where are Elena and Damon?” Jeremy asked Stefan as they stood by the fireplace.
“Right here,” Damon said. Jeremy’s brow arched a bit as he saw the older Salvatore’s fingers interlocked with Elena’s. He glanced at Stefan, but he gave no outward signs of being upset. Only a soft smile was on his face as he watched his brother with his ex-girlfriend.
“Elena, that necklace is so gorgeous!” Caroline said, hurrying over to take a closer look.
“My Christmas present from Damon,” Elena said, smiling. Even though Elena still continued to wear the vervain pendant that Stefan had given her upon Damon’s insistence, she was glad that the cameo pendant lay just above it to allow her to wear both.
“It looks antique,” Jenna commented.
“I didn’t realize you still had that,” Stefan mentioned. Jenna, Bonnie and Caroline looked over at him. He smiled before explaining. “It was our mother’s cameo.”
“Was just waiting for the right time to give it to someone special,” Damon said.
Elena walked over and slipped her arms around his waist. “Merry Christmas, Damon.”
Damon smiled and lowered his head, giving her a soft kiss. “Merry Christmas, Elena.”