He's not expecting it when it happens.
Of course, he knew it would happen, but he hoped it would be much further down the line. He is barely on his 200th calendar, the boxes of January crossed out in yellow counting down the days, a constant reminder that she is on her way. He just hoped she lived a very long and happy life before hand.
He sits in his armchair in front of the fire, hers placed carefully next to his side, tapping his fingers along the rim of his half empty glass. Journal open on his lap as his jaw ticks with the lack of inspiration.
"You're still brooding I see."
He hears it come from behind him, a voice full of cheer and happiness and everything that he lost all those years ago.
It takes him a lot longer to register just what it was, or who it was. His head turning towards the doorway, the light shining through momentarily setting him in a daze.
But she's standing right there. Arms crossed over her chest in waiting, smile taking over the entirety of her face, her hair perfectly curled, her dress carefully chosen. And she takes his breath away.
"Not exactly the welcoming I was expecting." She frowns, walking over to meet him by the fire, stealing his glass and finishing the last drops as she sits.
He finally smiles then.
Full and wide before it finally breaks into a laugh. She has been here for only a second and already she has taken over any control.
She didn't even knock.
Before she can utter another word, he's up and out of his seat, running to scoop her out of hers and pull her into an embrace. Her feet coming clean off the ground as he lifts her and holds her tight. So tight, she would have thought he became a vampire again in the afterlife.
"Stefan!" She giggles when his own laugh tickles her ear.
"A little early aren't we." He replies, muffled by her hair, his face buried deep in her neck, absorbing everything he can.
She slaps his arm as she tries to squirm out of his grip. "Stefan let me go I need to breathe!"
He finally pulls back, hand reaching for her cheek as he beings to stroke her skin. Just relishing in the feel that he gets to do this again. Ironic as it may be but, he's never felt more alive.
"I thought you might be missing me so I cut the wait a little short." She begins, answering his previous question. Her eyes drop down his body and back up to meet his, smile dancing playfully. "Clearly I was right."
She leans into him gladly when he pulls her against his chest, fingers moving to thread through her hair.
"That's still my line."
"You can cook."
Without even needing to turn around she can hear the surprise in his voice. But, she can't help the smile as she peers over her shoulder and sees him leaning in the doorway.
"I've had a lot of time to practice."
He drops his head as he smiles, eyes still lazily gazing at her when she turns back to the stove.
"Did your practice teach you that you have to actually turn the stove on?"
Lip crushed between her teeth, she spins towards him fully, grabbing the nearest towel off the counter and throwing it in his direction. As expected he catches it easily and scrunches it up in his hand as he approaches her.
"There's nothing in there yet, stop trying to put me off."
"Putting you off huh" he hums, finally reaching her and wrapping his arms low around her waist. "How about now?"
She swallows hard as his lips land to her cheek, softly and barely there, but she feels as if they have engrained into her skin.
He moves slowly down her jaw reaching the dip in the neck, staying there for a while to lavish her skin.
"Is it still distracting?"
Her hands find their way into his hair, gripping tightly onto any strand she can find as she gets lost to the heat he has insisted on creating in the kitchen.
"I see you've settled in nicely."
She hears the door open a second later than she should.
They pull apart, Stefan smiling to himself as he watches the emotions spread across her face. Panic, embarrassment, disbelief and finally, happiness.
She pushes Stefan away a little further, taking a step closer to the new visitor. Her smile only slightly teary.
"Welcome home baby."
It's slightly odd at first.
Having three people in the house after all this time alone. But he can't deny that it doesn't make him smile when he sees them in the living room. Caroline on the couch, wrapped up head to toe in a blanket and she stares intensely at the scrabble board between her and Liz.
It's become their routine over the last century or so, no matter what they were up to or who they were visiting they would always make time for Friday game night. It was Liz's idea, she insisted she had more time to spend with her son-in-law.
"Should I take a guess at who's winning?" He asks as he takes the seat opposite them, elbows resting on his knees.
Caroline grunts in reply making both himself and Liz laugh sympathetically.
"That would be me."
He watches on as Caroline scrutinises her letters, finally turning them to Stefan to ask for help.
He shakes his head as he slumps further into his seat. "Now that would just be cheating."
She grunts again and it makes him smile harder. He's nearly on the floor by the time she's finally decided on her word and quite simply goes with the word "cat".
It's safe to say Liz won that game and the one after that that Caroline demanded they play, Stefan offering a few lines of guidance.
It's when she curled up on his chest listening to his words of reassurance that Liz walks in with a bowl full of ice cream and three spoons, smiling as her daughter's eyes light up.
She snatches the bowl out of her hands and reassumes her position in Stefan's side.
"Now this is something I can win at!"
The other two share a look as it's quite clearly there in both of their eyes.
They wouldn't change her for the world.
Stefan watches as they dance.
Both their hips swinging in sync, their blonde hair mixing into one and their voices wailing above the music.
He can't think of a time where he has been this happy, content. Carefree enough that when Lexi hops off the table and extends her hand for him to take he actually considers it.
"Oh come on Stefan! You're supposed to be having fun." Lexi shouts, still twirling in a circle on the spot, Caroline encouraging her all the while.
He shrugs as he leans further back into his seat, legs kicked up on the coffee table in front of him.
"I'm supposed to be at peace and my peace-" he waggles his finger in their direction. "Does not involve dancing."
"Come on Stefan dance with us!"
He can't stop the smile when he looks over to Caroline, seemingly having the time of her life. She's spinning and kicking and doing pretty much anything she can on the small table without injuring herself.
"See" Lexi interrupts, re-extending his hand out to him. "Your wife is having fun now so can you."
A minute passes before he sighs, finishing the rest of his drink and abandoning his empty glass before he rises off the couch and makes his way onto their make shift dance floor.
Caroline laughs happily when his hands find a place on her waist and his feet find a rhythm with hers.
"Why does it only work when I mention you?" Lexi asks finally joining them.
"Something about me making him dance."
It only makes her laugh harder when he dips her hard as punishment.
If he had to pick a picture to describe happiness he would choose this one.
The one where he lies in bed, light from the rising seeping through the curtain, nothing but silence filling the room. Caroline perched on his bare chest, her fingers stroking patterns into his skin as he hums in response.
It's only been a week since she arrived, but it already feels like forever.
A forever filled with walking through the town, hand in hand as he catches her up on all that she missed. Taking trips anywhere in the world and seeing the amazement on her face as he tells her this is something they can do now. Watching as she cooks with her mom and bonds with his best friend, their conversations mostly surrounding their embarrassing stories of him. The hours spent in this very bed, losing themselves in each other, filling each and every sense.
He peers down at her and smirks at the fact that she's already staring, her lids hooded and her smile satisfied.
"Hey" He whispers, fingers tangling in her hair.
She plants a kiss on his chest, snuggling in closer as she loses herself in his own patterns that he draws on her scalp.
It feels like hours before she speaks again, hushed and soft that he almost misses it. Almost.
"This makes me happy. You make me happy."
He hasn't heard those words in a while and he can't say it doesn't light up everything inside of him.
And that's the funny thing.
Because no matter where he is or what dimension he's living in. He only needs her to feel alive.
"You make me happy too."