“I love this place
But it’s haunted without you
My tired heart
Is beating so slow
Our hearts sing less than
We wanted, we wanted
Our hearts sing ‘cause
We do not know, we do not know
To light the night, to help us grow
To help us grow
It is not said, I always know
You can catch me
Don’t you run, don’t you run
If you live another day
In this happy little house
The fire’s here to stay…”
Damon learned a lot about Elena Gilbert because of her childhood home. Through the pictures on the walls, the books that line her bedroom wall, and all the spaces in between, he learns little things about her that she would never say out loud. Things that Stefan would never know because he didn’t bother to look. Stefan wasn’t interested in Elena’s life before him, only her future with him.
The pictures are Damon’s favorite. Pictures of an Elena barely tall enough to see over the couch, her dark hair spilling around her, her adorable face scrunched up with laughter. Pictures of an even tinier Elena hovering protectively over a baby Jeremy in their playpen. Elena and Bonnie and Caroline in their cheerleading uniforms, fresh-faced and grinning. Matt and Elena, age thirteen, covered in mud from head to toe (he never got that story out of them.)
Pictures of Elena at every age and she smiles in every one of them. But in the ones after her parents’ death, her smiles are not half as bright. And Damon is one of the ones who understand that Elena’s smile was never the same after that.
The hall is filled with pictures of Elena’s accomplishments. Cheerleading competitions, horseback riding, the fourth grade science fair, junior miss Mystic Falls. But Damon’s favorite is the picture of sixteen-year-old Elena at a piano recital, her hair pulled back, head cocked to the side, eyes closed in concentration, her graceful hands resting on ivory keys. He’s never seen her look so peaceful, not even in sleep.
It’s not just the pictures that he learns from though. The books. They’re everywhere. Bookshelves stuffed passed capacity. Dog eared copies with sticky notes on every page, Elena’s loopy scrawl noting the use of prose, of setting, of characterization; the observations of a writer.
Her much loved copy of The Secret Garden is his favorite. The notes she took are not half as neat, and not as thorough in their investigation, so he suspects it was her first one. Her copy of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is the most heartbreaking. Scrawled on the title page is a note from her mother, dated only a couple days before the accident. The book is only half done. Elena never finished it.
Jeremy always had one of his sister’s annotated books on his bedside table, so Damon knows he’s not the only one who admires her contribution. He’d even caught Ric reading a couple at some point. Ric liked her copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the best. Caroline liked A Little Princess, and Bonnie liked Arabian Nights. Matt had his own special copy of Treasure Island, and Tyler had a copy of The Jungle Book with the telltale signs of Elena’s work. From what Damon can tell, she stopped after her parents died.
But the most interesting thing he learned about was the attic. He’d never actually been up there, but he’d seen it, from the through the doorway. It was one of those attics that you could walk around in, with high vaulted ceilings, and large windows. There was a staircase that lead up to it. It was the place that Elena spent most her time with her dad.
Jeremy had told him more about it than Elena had, the old Oriental rug that always smelled like cognac and cigars, and their father’s cologne. (He once saw Elena sprawled out on it like a cat, her nose pressed to the rug, silent tears streaming down her face). The upright Baldwin piano painted olive green by Elena when she was eight. The record player and the speakers that were once bigger than her. The collection of records that Elena loved more than life itself because they reminded her of her father. (Sometimes late at night Damon can hear the strains of the Beatles heartbreaking “Yesterday” resounding through the house, Elena’s sobs barely covered by John Lennon’s voice.)
The music sheets all piled on top of the piano, the half-finished sonata that Elena had been composing since she was thirteen but hadn’t touched since she’d gotten home from the accident. (Once he heard the piano music coming from the room and his dead heart almost stopped, but then he recognized the famous notes, Fur Elise.) The old red velvet chaise that Grayson would sit on as he listened to his daughter play. The ancient afghan that Elena always wanted when she was sick.
The attic was Elena’s place, but he stole his way up there that fateful night, to scope the half-completed masterpiece into the back pocket of his jeans, her copy of The Secret Garden already pressed to his chest, the pictures of her and Jeremy tucked into the pages. He pulled his jacket over the music and hurried down the stairs, the smell of smoke thick in the air.
Later that summer, when he presents his salvaged treasure to her, she cries and presses a kiss to his mouth, breathing her thanks against his mouth. He smiles into the kiss and knows he choose the right things to return to her.