Elena woke up the next morning in Stefan's narrow bed. She recognized this before she was fully awake and hoped to heaven that she had given Aunt Judith some reasonable excuse last night. Last night - the very concept was extremely fuzzy. What had she been dreaming to make this wakening seem so extraordinary? She couldn't remember - jeez, she couldn't remember anything!
And then she remembered everything.
Sitting up with a jolt that would have sent her flying off the bed had she attempted it yesterday, she searched her recollections.
Daylight. She remembered daylight, full light on her - and she didn't have her ring. She took a frantic look at both hands. No ring. And she was sitting up in a shaft of sunlight and it wasn't hurting her. It wasn't possible. She knew, she remembered with a raw memory that pervaded every cell of her body, that daylight wouldkill her. She had learned that lesson with a single touch of a sunbeam to her hand. She would never forget the searing, scalding pain: the touch had imprinted a behavior on her forever. Go nowhere without the lapis lazuli ring that was beautiful in itself, but more beautiful in the knowledge that it was her savior. Without it, she might, shewould...
But she alreadyhad , hadn't she?
Not simply Changed as she had when she'd become a vampire, but died the true death that no one came back from. In her own personal philosophy, she ought to have disintegrated into nameless atoms, or gone straight to hell.
Instead she hadn't reallygone anywhere. She'd had some dreams about fatherly or motherly people giving her advice - and of wanting very much to help people, who were suddenly much easier to understand. School bully? She had watched sadly as his drunken father took his own outrages out on him night after night. That girl who never got her homework done? She was expected to raise three younger sisters and brothers while her mother lay in bed all day. Just getting the baby fed and cleaned took all the time she had. There was always a reason behind any behavior, and now she could see it.
She had even communicated with people through their dreams. And then one of the Old Ones had arrived in Fell's Church, and it was all she could do to stand his interference in the dreams and not run away. He caused the humans to call for Stefan's help - and Damon had accidentally been summoned, too. And Elena had helped them all she could even when it had been almost unbearable, because Old Ones knew about love and which buttons to push and how to make your enemies run in all the right directions. But they had fought him - and they had won. And Elena, in trying to heal Stefan's mortal wounds, had somehow ended up mortal again herself: naked, lying on the ground of the Old Wood, with Damon's jacket over her, while Damon himself had disappeared without waiting for thanks.
And that awakening had been of basic things: things of the senses: touch, taste, hearing, sight - and of the heart, but not of the head. Stefan had been so good to her.
"And now, what am I?" Elena said aloud, staring as she turned her hands over and over, marveling at the solid, mortal flesh that obeyed the laws of gravity. Shehad said that she'd give up flying for him. Someone had taken her at her word.
"You're beautiful," Stefan answered absently, not moving. Then suddenly he rocketed up."You're talking!"
"I know I am."
"And making sense!"
"Thank you kindly."
"And in sentences!"
"Go on, then, and say something long - please," Stefan said as if he didn't believe it.
"You've been hanging out too much with my friends," Elena said. "That sentence has Bonnie's impudence, Matt's courtesy, and Meredith's insistence on the facts."
"Elena, it's you!"
Instead of keeping up the silly dialogue with "Stefan, itis me!" Elena stopped to think. Then, carefully she got out of bed and took a step. Stefan hastily looked away, handing her a robe.Stefan? Stefan?
When Stefan turned around after a decent interval, he saw Elena kneeling in the sunlight holding the robe.
"Elena?" She knew that to him, she looked like a very young angel in meditation.
"But you're crying."
"I'm human again, Stefan." She lifted a hand, let it fall into the clutches of gravity. "I'm human again. No more, no less. I guess it just took me a few days to get fully back on track."
She looked into his eyes. They were always suchgreen green eyes. Like green crystal with some offside light behind them. Like a summer leaf held up before the sun.
I can read your mind.
"But I can't read yours, Stefan. I can only get a general sense, and even that may be going...we can't count on anything."
Elena, I have all I want in this room.He patted the bed.Sit by me and I can say "all I want is on this bed."
Instead she got up and threw herself at him, arms around his neck, legs tangled with his. "I'm still very young," she whispered, holding him tightly. "And if you count it in days, we haven't had many days together like this, but - "
"I'm still far too old for you. But to be able to look at you and seeyou looking back at me - "
"Tell me you'll love me forever."
"I'll love you forever."
"No matter what happens."
"Elena, Elena - I've loved you as mortal, as vampire, as pure spirit, as spiritual child - and now as human again."
"Promise we'll be together."
"We'll be together."
"No. Stefan, this isme ." She pointed to her head as if to emphasize that behind her gold-flecked blue eyes there was a bright active mind spinning in overdrive. "Iknow you. Even if I can't read your mind I can read your face. All the old fears - they're back, aren't they?"
He looked away. "I will never leave you."
"Not for a day? Not for an hour?"
He hesitated and then looked up at her.If that's what you really want. I won't leave you, even for an hour. Now he was projecting, she knew, for she could hear him.
"I release you from all your promises."
"But, Elena, I mean them."
"I know. But when you do go, I don't want you to have the guilt of breaking them looming over you as well."
Even without telepathy, she could tell what he was thinking to the tiniest shade of a nuance:Humor her. After all, she'd just woken up. She was probably a little confused. And she wasn't interested in becoming less confused, or in making him less confused. That must be why she was nipping his chin gently. And kissing him. Certainly, Elena thought, one of the two of them was confused....
Time seemed to stretch and then stop around them. And then nothing was confusing at all. Elena knew that Stefan knew what she wanted, and he wanted whatever she wanted him to do.
Bonnie stared at the numbers on her phone, concerned. Stefan was calling. Then she ran a hasty hand through her hair, fluffing the curls out, and took the video call.
But instead of Stefan it was Elena. Bonnie started to giggle, started to tell her not to play with Stefan's grown-up toys - and then she stared.
"Am I going to get this every time? Or only from my sister-witch?"
"Awake and good as new," Stefan said, getting in the picture. "We called as soon as we woke up - "
"Ele - but it's noon!" Bonnie blurted out.
"We've been occupied with this and that," Elena cut in smoothly, and oh, wasn't it good to hear Elena talk that way! Half innocent and wholly smug about it, making you want to shake her and beg her for every wicked detail.
"Elena,"Bonnie gasped, using the nearest wall for support, and then sliding down it, and allowing an armload of socks, shirts, pajamas, and underwear to shower down onto the carpet, while tears began to leak out of her eyes. "Elena, they said you'd have to leave Fell's Church - will you?"
Elena bridled. "They saidwhat ?"
"That you and Stefan would have to leave for your own good."
"Never in this world!"
"Little lovely lo - " began Stefan, and then abruptly he stopped, opening and shutting his mouth.
Bonnie stared. It had happened at the bottom of the screen, out of sight, but she could almost swear that Stefan's little lovely love had just elbowed him in the stomach. "Ground zero, two o'clock?" Elena was asking.
Bonnie snapped back to reality. Elena never gave you time for reflection. "I'llbe there!" she cried.
"Elena," Meredith breathed. And then "Elena!" like a half-chocked sob. "Elena!"
"Meredith. Oh, don't make me cry, this blouse is pure silk!"
"It's pure silk because it's my pure silk sari blouse, that's why!"
Elena suddenly looked as innocent as an angel. "You know, Meredith, I seem to have grown much taller lately - "
"If the end of that sentence is ¡®so it really fitsme better'" - Meredith's voice was threatening - "then I'm warning you, Elena Gilbert..." She broke off, and both girls began to laugh and then to cry. "You can have it! Oh, you can have it!"
"Stefan?" Matt waved his phone - first cautiously, then banging it into the wall of the garage. "I can't see - " He stopped, swallowed. "E-le-na?" The word came out slowly, with a pause between each syllable.
"Yes, Matt. I'm back. Even up here." She pointed to her forehead. "Will you meet with us?"