A/N This story is meant to be a companion piece to one of my completed stories, "What Was Lost", set four years later. Having said that, you absolutely do not have to have read "What Was Lost" to read and understand this story. I'd recommend it of course, but that's more for purely selfish reasons of me wanting you guys to read and review all my stories! :) This chapter is very angsty. PLEASE don't give up on this story after one chapter - it gets better. Elena is on a self-discovery journey. I promise the angst will be worth your while! Just keep reading. :) Thank you in advance for letting me know your thoughts by clicking on the little Review link at the bottom of the page.
*DISCLAIMER* I do NOT own Vampire Diaries or the characters associated with Vampire Diaries. No copyright infringement intended.
Find The River
Chapter 1 - Homecoming
"Hey now, little sleepyhead,
The read on the speedometer says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve.
Don't be shy. Your just deserve
Is only just light years to go.
Me, my thoughts are flower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon.
I have got to leave to find my way.
Watch the road and memorize
This life that passed before my eyes.
Nothing is going my way.
The ocean is the river's goal
A need to leave the water knows
We're closer now than light years to go.
I have got to find the river
Bergamot and vetiver
Run through my head and fall away.
Leave the road and memorize
This life that passed before my eyes.
Nothing is going my way.
There's no one left to take the lead,
But I tell you and you can see
We're closer now than light years to go.
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
Fall into the ocean.
The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow.
None of this is going my way.
There is nothing left to throw
Of ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rose of hay.
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naiveté.
Pick up here and chase the ride.
The river empties to the tide.
All of this is coming your way."
- "Find The River" lyrics and music by R.E.M.
Elena Gilbert felt a conflicting blend of both melancholy and excitement as she loaded the last of the bags and boxes into her car. Slamming the lid down on the overstuffed trunk, she stepped back inside the small apartment she'd shared with her best friend Caroline Forbes in Richmond over the past four years for one final look around.
This space held a lot of memories for her, many of which she knew she would look back on fondly in the years to come. Time spent studying, laughing and drinking with Caroline and sometimes her other best friend, Bonnie, too, if she happened to be visiting. Moments when they comforted each other, complained about their boy problems, ate brownie-chunk ice cream and watched sappy girly movies together. Those rare occasions when they weren't talking to each other, because each of them had a tendency to speak their minds and to be incredibly stubborn about their opinions. Thankfully they also were both very quick to forgive each other and to hug it out. She and Caroline had been close friends since way back in first grade, and there was very little she could think of that could drive a permanent wedge between the two. God knows Elena had come close a few times, though.
She walked through each room, closing blinds and opening closet doors to be sure everything was emptied. Caroline already moved the last of her stuff out a few days ago, but Elena had to write her last exam yesterday, so she'd decided to wait and pack up the remainder of her things and head out today. This apartment that they'd spent these past years learning and growing together in suddenly felt so much larger now.
So much emptier.
Her footsteps echoed hollowly on the linoleum.
Satisfied that no trace of their time as students living here remained, with the exception of the rosey pink that Caroline had insisted on painting her bedroom, Elena locked the door behind her and trotted down the steps to her fully packed car. All the muscles in her entire upper body ached from loading boxes for the last few days. Tyler and Matt had helped the two girls as much as they could, and the majority of her belongings were already waiting for her back in the house that she grew up in, but this was the final load and she had wanted to do this last bit, take care of these last few moments here, herself. She knew it would give her a sense of closure on this part of her life.
Taking one final glance behind her at the dark red brick building that had been her home away from home for the entirety of her university attendance, she slipped into the driver's seat and turned her key in the ignition.
She didn't know what exactly was waiting for her in back Mystic Falls, as far as her future went. There were some issues that needed to be faced, decisions that needed to be made. Important ones. Probably difficult ones. Quite possibly painful ones. But there were also most of the people that she loved, that she'd been missing, and that she couldn't wait to catch up with again. Visiting only during holidays and summer breaks had been hard on her, but her program was a demanding one and she'd decided during her first year that she needed to spend as much of her free time studying as was humanly possible if she planned on not wasting her tuition money. Her friendships hadn't suffered too much for it, but her relationship with her boyfriend definitely had.
Elena sighed softly to herself as she thought about Damon. He'd been eternally patient with her, but then again he had all the time in the world to be eternally patient. He let on that the long periods of time between them seeing each other, which during this final year only seemed to extend longer and longer, was understandable. That it didn't bother him too much. She was fully aware that it actually did, not only because she could still read him like a book, but also because it bothered her. However, she also knew that she had to do this. He was too much of a distraction and she had needed to focus everything she had on her studies and assignments. It wasn't until last night, lying in bed in her tiny room for the very last time after an evening out with a couple of university friends and a celebratory glass of wine or two, that she finally felt the relief of the weight of her education being lifted off her narrow shoulders. That she began to realize the enormity of the distance she'd allowed to grow between them.
Honestly, Elena had no idea what their current status even was right now. The word 'strained' came to mind. And 'detached'. She wasn't truthfully certain if things were salvageable between them or not at this point. She thought they were. She hoped they were. But for so very long she'd had no concept of living her life without him in it. Then one day a few months ago she'd realized that she was already doing just that. And it wasn't lonely and empty and soul crushing like she'd thought it would be. Sure, she missed him. When she thought about him. But she no longer spent 99.9% of her time thinking about him. She was doing just fine on her own, thank you very much. She was confident, capable and completely self-sufficient. She no longer felt like she needed him beside her in order to make her feel good about herself. Over the past four years she'd grown into quite the independent woman. She'd come a very long way from the broken and often lost girl she used to be and she was really quite proud of herself.
Elena didn't even know if she would stay in Mystic Falls for very long or not. The time had come to look for a real job and there weren't many satisfying journalism roles to be found in a small town. She felt like she was hurtling rapidly towards a huge crossroads in her life where she would have to make some very major decisions that would affect so much. Everything was about to change. Again.
Pushing those intimidating thoughts away for a moment, she thought about the fact that she would be seeing her brother Jeremy in a few days for the first time since Christmas holidays. And Bonnie was already back – Caroline had texted her last night to say she was planning a girls night for the three of them to catch up tomorrow evening. Soon she would see most of her loved ones again, feel their arms around her again and this brought a smile to her face.
Elena turned up the radio and began to sing along with Florence and the Machine as she angled her car onto the on-ramp to the highway. She was going home.
The only sound echoing in the cavernous room was the low ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner overridden intermittently by the crackling and popping of the fire behind the grate. Damon was sitting in the drawing room of the Salvatore boarding house, staring unseeingly into the fireplace with a crystal tumbler containing two generous fingers of untouched bourbon clutched in one hand. The pads of his fingertips silently tapped out random patterns along the side of the glass. Wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer-briefs, he had restlessly stood up, sat down and paced around the large room for a good part of the afternoon. He was bored. He was jittery. He was uncharacteristically nervous. He knew she was coming home sometime today.
This had been the longest stretch he'd gone without seeing her since the day they'd met, some six years or so ago. She'd last returned to Mystic Falls over spring break back in February. Easter weekend had come and gone and she'd claimed she had too much studying to do to visit over it this year. It also seemed like whenever he offered to drive there to see her any more, she found yet another reason to put him off. A while ago he'd just stopped suggesting it. Even though he knew she was currently in the process of moving all her things back, he'd decided he wasn't going to offer to help her out until she asked him to. He considered it a small test to see if his assumptions were wrong. They weren't. Unsurprisingly she hadn't asked.
They had spoken briefly on the phone yesterday afternoon – he'd called to congratulate her on the huge accomplishment of completing her last exam. He'd actually been hoping she'd ask him to come, not only to help her pack and move stuff but also to spend that last night in the apartment in Richmond alone with her. Disappointment had enveloped him when he'd realized she wasn't going to and so he'd kept their short conversation light and easy. As if they were only good friends and not two people that had professed their undying love for each other so many times over the past four years that he'd lost count. As if they had not nearly died for each other, had not saved each other countless times. As if they weren't made for each other, as if they didn't belong to each other and weren't meant to spend the rest of eternity blissfully in each other's arms.
He would never end any encounter with Elena without telling her that he loved her. Too many times in the past they had nearly lost each other, and he'd vowed he'd always say those words to her as often as he could, just in case one time it turned out to be the last time. And that conversation was no different. She'd replied the same way she always seemed to any more, with a quick and flippant "You, too" before ending the call. It wasn't the same, but he never said anything about it. It just made his heart ache.
Things had been so good for so long; it was hard to pinpoint exactly when their dynamic had begun to change, when her passion for him had begun to wane. And that was just how he perceived it – that she no longer desired him and was trying to let him down slowly and gently. Over the past few months he'd retreated back into the old sarcastic shell to try to protect himself, as had been his habit before they'd finally began their unconventional love affair at the end of her senior year of high school. For once in a really long time, she hadn't even called him out on it, though. He wasn't honestly sure that she'd even noticed. She hadn't paid him enough attention lately for it to even sink in that he might be hurting over her deliberately enforced distance. Which only made him sadder. She used to be so attuned to him, as he had always been to her. Where did their connection go? How had they somehow allowed so much to come between them?
Damon wondered if she would call him when she got back. Would she come over? Was she perhaps expecting him to be at her place waiting for her? He contemplated that for a moment. He could go over there and meet her, smile as he helped her unload her car, pretend like everything was normal. He could. He even got up and set the glass down on an end table, with every intention of going upstairs to shower and put on something more…presentable. But a few seconds later he just fell back down onto the cushioned leather of the wing chair. He honestly had no idea if his face was still the first face she wanted to see when she got back, like it used to be.
He decided he wasn't up to pretending today. If she wanted to see him, she knew his phone number. She knew where to find him. He downed the amber liquid in a single gulp and reached for the bottle to refill his glass. Moping around here would be so much less irritating if he was so much less sober.
When Elena passed the big "Welcome To Mystic Falls" sign along the side of the road into town later that afternoon, she felt an acute sense of relief wash over her and her pleasure to be home grew palpable. She had always felt an incredible feeling of belonging envelop her each time she returned to the town where she'd grown up, and right now was no different. She was even more excited to see everyone and everything again.
Parking her car in the driveway of her childhood home, she paused to take in the large two storey white house with the big black-shuttered windows and wide wrap-around front porch with it's white pillars. So many memories were created within those walls. Some wonderful, some horrible, but they were all hers.
Elena was a tad surprised that no one came out to greet her. They did know she was coming home this afternoon, right? She visibly wilted at the idea of having to unload the car all by herself.
She shifted a few bags onto one arm and walked up on the porch. For a second her thoughts wistfully danced back to her first real kiss with Damon so many years ago, shared in this exact spot. Turning her key in the lock, she stepped into the brightly lit front entranceway. Her brother wasn't expected home for a couple more days, but she'd thought Ric might be here, in anticipation of her arrival. Or Damon. Preferably both. Those old familiar butterflies danced through the pit of her stomach for a second at the thought of seeing him and she furrowed her brows. Had she told them when she'd be home? She thought she had. But the silent house had the distinct feeling of emptiness about it.
Frowning, she brought the bags in her hand up to her old bedroom and tossed them into the middle of her floral bedspread.
She pulled her cell phone out of her purse and contemplated who she needed to reach. There seemed to be a hundred reasons both pro and con on going with her first instinct, so instead she decided on a safe bet and called Caroline. She knew her friend would definitely pick up.
"Elena!" Caroline squealed into her ear when she answered. "You're home? Did you get my messages about tomorrow?"
"Yes and yes. Hey, I was wondering if you could maybe do me a favour?"
"Sure. What's up?" Caroline chirped, as usual bursting with more positive energy than a room filled with Elle Woods impersonators.
"Well, um…no-one's here and I kind of need some help unloading my car. And you're so much stronger and faster than I am…" Elena trailed off, hoping her play on Caroline's self confidence in her enhanced vampire abilities would do the trick.
"No problem - I'd be happy to help! Only…can it possibly wait an hour or two?" She mock-whispered, "I'm kinda with Tyler right now, if you know what I mean."
"Say no more - I get the picture. No rush, no rush at all. In fact, I can probably call Ric actually. Don't stress yourself out to get over here quickly," Elena hurriedly assured her. She smiled at the happy tone in Caroline's voice when she referred to Tyler. She remembered when she used to feel that giddy when she spoke of Damon to her friends. Speaking of which, she heard his name mentioned and it brought her focus back as she caught the end of her friend's most recent sentence.
"…you just ask him?" Caroline questioned.
"Um, yeah. You're right. Thanks again, Care. See you tomorrow then. Have fun with Tyler!" Elena swiftly ended the call.
Why hadn't she just called him and asked him to help her out? Shouldn't he have been the first person she contacted? The first person she wanted to see?
She swallowed past a lump that was beginning to form in her throat. What was she so afraid of, anyway? They had made it this far together – surely something as stupid as not having seen each other in a couple months wasn't enough to drive them apart permanently? But it was more than just that, and she knew it.
Rapidly she dialed his number before she could talk herself out of it again. It went straight to voicemail. She didn't know if she was disappointed or pleased about that. Faltering for words for reasons she couldn't articulate, she just left a quick message.
"Damon, I'm back home now. If you're not busy later, maybe we could hang out?"
She hung up. 'Hang out'? Really? What the hell was wrong with her lately? Why did she feel so awkward about talking to him, spending time with him? This current sense of detachment didn't really make sense to her and she knew she'd deliberately been focusing all her attention on her studies more than ever lately in order to delay thinking about this. However, she no longer had any more excuses for avoidance.
Elena crossed her legs on her bed, sighed and dropped her face into her hands. Now that her life was completely open and waiting for her, it should be so much easier than this. She should be eager and ready to take on the whole world with the man she loved by her side. It pained her greatly to know that his presence in her future not an absolute given in her mind any longer.
His phone beeped again, another persistent reminder of a message waiting to be checked. It had made that irritating chirping noise at him at least once every fifteen minutes or so for almost half the afternoon, like a pushy salesman that wouldn't take no for an answer.
Damon's head was heavy with alcohol-induced fog as he lifted it off the end of the couch and blearily glanced towards his unrelenting phone. He reached out towards it with a shaky left hand and managed to scoop it up before his fingers fumbled it onto the hardwood floor. Maybe he should have just let it fall.
He covered his eyes with one hand as he held it up to his ear with the other to listen to the damned message that wouldn't leave him alone. It was from Elena. A part of him was surprised that she'd called. Groaning, he tossed the phone back onto the coffee table with a clatter.
'Hang out'? She'd said maybe they could hang out? What were they - buddies now? Chums? Pals? Seriously? Was she fucking kidding him? He knew every inch of her body better than he knew his own, for God's sake. He knew how to expertly elicit sounds from her that would make even the Marquis de Sade blush. Hell, they'd done things that would definitely make him blush! Damon smirked at the memories. Maybe he was taking all this far too personally. Maybe. But he doubted it.
He glanced over at the phone on the table again. She would be expecting him to call her back. It had already been a couple of hours since she'd left the message – surely by now she'd be wondering why he hadn't yet.
Damon reached out his hand again, hovered it in the air over the phone for a beat, then pulled it back. Was he ready to talk to her? The possibility that he was currently too drunk to keep the mask of detachment in place over his vulnerability crossed his mind, and he decided the answer for tonight was gonna have to be a 'no'. One night of him not coming running when she called wouldn't kill her. Not after so many nights of her not asking. She'd just have to get over it.
And then he groaned in frustration, as, once again, God laughed in his face. He sobered up quickly as his vampire hearing quite clearly caught the crunch of her tires pulling up outside and the subsequent sound of her light steps approaching the big wooden front door.
A/N The original idea was inspired by the beautiful song by REM of the same title, but just to reassure you there won't be song lyrics preceding every chapter like "Under My Skin" has.