Elena Gilbert stepped onto a smooth expanse of grass, the spongy blades col apsing beneath her feet. Clusters of scarlet roses and violet delphiniums pushed up from the ground, while a giant canopy hung above her, twinkling with glowing lanterns. On the terrace in front of her stood two curving white marble fountains that shot sprays of water high into the air. Everything was beautiful, elegant, and somehow familiar.
This is Bloddeuwedd's palace, a voice in her head said. But when she had been here last, the field had been crowded with laughing, dancing partygoers. They were gone now, although signs of their presence remained: empty glasses littered the tables set around the edges of the lawn; a silken shawl was tossed over a chair; a lone high-heeled shoe perched on the edge of a fountain. Something else was odd, too. Before, the scene had been lit by the hel ish red light that il uminated everything in the Dark Dimension, turning blues to purples, whites to pinks, and pinks to the velvety color of blood. Now a clear light shone over everything, and a ful white moon sailed calmly overhead.
A whisper of movement came from behind her, and Elena realized with a start that she wasn't alone after al . A dark figure was suddenly there, approaching her. Damon.
Of course it was Damon, Elena thought with a smile. If anyone was going to appear unexpectedly before her here, at what felt like the end of the world - or at least the hour after a good party had ended - it would be Damon. God, he was so beautiful. Black on black: soft black hair, eyes black as midnight, black jeans, and a smooth leather jacket. As their eyes met, she was so glad to see him that she could hardly breathe. She threw herself into his embrace, clasping him around the neck, feeling the lithe, hard muscles in his arms and chest.
"Damon," she said, her voice trembling for some reason. Her body was trembling, too, and Damon stroked her arms and shoulders, calming her.
"What is it, princess? Don't tel me you're afraid." He smirked lazily at her, his hands strong and steady.
"I am afraid," she answered.
"But what are you afraid of?"
That left her puzzled for a moment. Then, slowly, putting her cheek against his, she said, "I'm afraid that this is just a dream."
"I'l tel you a secret, princess," he said into her ear. "You and I are the only real things here. It's everything else that's the dream."
"Just you and me?" Elena echoed, an uneasy thought nagging at her, as though she were forgetting something -
or someone. A fleck of ash landed on her dress, and she absently brushed it away.
"It's just the two of us, Elena," Damon said sharply.
"You're mine. I'm yours. We've loved each other since the beginning of time."
Of course. That must be why she was trembling - it was joy. He was hers. She was his. They belonged together. She whispered one word: "Yes."
Then he kissed her.
His lips were soft as silk, and when the kiss deepened, she tilted her head back, exposing her throat, anticipating the double wasp sting he'd delivered so many times. When it didn't come, she opened her eyes questioningly. The moon was as bright as ever, and the scent of roses hung heavy in the air. But Damon's chiseled features were pale under his dark hair, and more ash had landed on the shoulders of his jacket. Al at once, the little doubts that had been niggling at her came together.
Oh, no. Oh, no.
"Damon." She gasped, looking into his eyes despairingly as tears fil ed her own. "You can't be here, Damon. You're... dead."
"For more than five hundred years, princess." Damon flashed his blinding smile at her. More ash was fal ing around them, like a fine gray rain, the same gray ash Damon's body was buried beneath, worlds and dimensions away.
"Damon, you're... dead now. Not undead, but... gone."
"No, Elena..." He began to flicker and fade, like a dying lightbulb.
"Yes. Yes! I held you as you died..." Elena was sobbing helplessly. She couldn't feel Damon's arms at al now. He was disappearing into shimmering light.
"Listen to me, Elena..."
She was holding moonlight. Anguish caught at her heart.
"Al you need to do is cal for me," Damon's voice said.
"Al you need..."
His voice faded into the sound of wind rustling through the trees.
Elena's eyes snapped open. Through a fog she registered that she was in a room fil ed with sunlight, and a huge crow was perched on the sil of an open window. The bird tilted its head to one side and gave a croak, watching her with bright eyes.
A cold chil ran down her spine. "Damon?" she whispered.
But the crow just spread its wings and flew away.
I AM HOME! I can hardly dare to believe it, but here I am.
I woke with the strangest feeling. I didn't know where I was and just lay here smelling the clean cotton-and-fabric-softener scent of the sheets, trying to figure out why everything looked so familiar.
I wasn't in Lady Ulma's mansion. There, I had slept nestled in the smoothest satin and softest velvet, and the air had smelled of incense. And I wasn't at the boardinghouse: Mrs. Flowers washes the bedding there in some weird-smelling herbal mixture that Bonnie says is for protection and good dreams.
And suddenly, I knew. I was home. The
Guardians did it! They brought me home.
Everything and nothing has changed. It's the same room I slept in from when I was a tiny baby: my polished cherry-wood dresser and rocking
chair; the little stuffed black-and-white dog Matt won at the winter carnival our junior year perched on a shelf; my rolltop desk with its cubbyholes; the ornate antique mirror above my dresser; and the Monet and Klimt posters from the museum