A/N: This was prompted by my dear friend Morgan (morvamp)'s answer to an anonymous question on tumblr. I couldn't stop thinking about it; I saw this as an opportunity to tackle the triangle head-on, which I've been dying to do. It won't let me post the link to her answer - inbox me if you want it (and you should; it's beyond flawless.)
Anyways, this is the conversation I think Stefan and Elena deserve to have. It will never actually happen, of course, but I had to write it. I wanted to do justice to the couple I've always respected. I'm a D/E shipper through and through, but S/E makes me sad these days. It's hurt me to see the pure love they had so tainted, and I had to honor that. This is categorized as D/E instead of S/E because this is about S/E coping with the reality of D/E...hope that makes sense.
Also, this is my 20th fanfic for the TVD fanbase and my 40th overall. Woohoo!
P.S. I wanted to write Stefan as more noble and self-sacrificing, but he's not like that anymore. And as much as it breaks my heart, I know he won't go down without a fight – and an ugly one at that.
P.P.S. I listened to With Wings by Amy Stroup while I was writing this. Oddly fitting, I think.
Thanks as always to Carla (Lizzy85Cec) and Morgan (LiveLaughDreamInspire). I don't know what I'd do without you two! Title from Already Gone by Kelly Clarkson (unoriginal, I know). Thanks for reading, and enjoy :)
Do you love me enough to let me go?
Elena sees Stefan when she least expects it.
She's not ready to see him, of course. Just like she's not ready for whatever's going on with her and Damon (seriously, who knows what they're doing anymore?), she's not ready. She's been avoiding him since he told her she's better than both him and his brother (she's honestly not so sure about that), because she just can't do it. She's not ready for the tears and the anger and the bitter sting of the end, the final realization that there's no salvaging them. She's not ready for any of it.
But she wakes up to a familiar sight, with one particular exception. Stark sunlight pouring in through her slightly open windows, shadows dappling her freshly painted walls, her alarm clock beaming five a.m.
And Stefan standing by the foot of her bed.
"What are you doing here?" She asks in horror, immediately pulling her covers up past her chin. She realizes with a visceral shock that she no longer feels comfortable around him, and the thought makes her sad.
He smirks wickedly, and she glares at him, trying to settle her rocketing pulse. She dislikes him so intensely right now, mostly because she doesn't know who he is anymore. She saw a flash of the Stefan she knew when they went to see Bonnie's mom (she can still remember the pain in his eyes when she told him she kissed Damon, can still hear his soft footfalls as he walked away, can still almost taste the barely disguised hope in his voice when he told her she was better than him, than both of them), but only a flash. It wasn't enough to fix what's so soundly broken between them.
She's not sure if anything can fix them.
"Just checking in on you," he says flippantly, reaching out to touch the sliver of ankle peeking out from beneath her covers.
She cowers away from him, wishing for some ridiculous reason that Damon would show up at her window like he usually does around this time every morning. She doesn't know when the sight of a homicidal vampire became more welcome than the sight of her once-loving ex-boyfriend, but there it is.
Stefan must see her eyes dart to the window, because he softens, releasing her ankle. "Oh," he says, studying the floor as intently as if it holds the key to killing Klaus. "You're waiting for Damon."
A tingle of sympathy rises in her throat at his hurt tone, but she bites it down. Like he said, she's stronger, tougher now; she refuses to take crap from anyone, especially him. No matter how forlorn he may seem, she can't feel sorry for the man who ripped her apart methodically and purposefully.
Instead, she holds his gaze defiantly. "I am."
She doesn't owe him any further explanation than that.
His eyes widen, probably because she's never looked at him with so much contempt, and he says suddenly, viciously, "You would never have kissed him if I hadn't left with Klaus."
She sucks in an unnecessary breath, wondering if he's been planning that line, waiting for the perfect moment to drop this bomb on her. It's a low blow and he knows it (he must also know that he's caught her completely off-guard), but she also knows that that doesn't matter right now. He's ceased to care about her feelings. He's just trying to hurt her.
She closes her eyes for a brief moment, sternly telling herself to find the courage, somehow, to keep looking at him. She can take the pain in his eyes. She can do this.
So she refuses to be baited. "No, probably not," she acknowledges, ignoring the burning sensation in her chest, the needling reminder that she once gave everything she had to the boy in front of her.
A boy she doesn't even recognize.
Stefan raises his eyebrows incredulously. "You're actually admitting that?"
She sighs, wishing she could avoid this. Her thoughts flit between random subjects, settling on anything but this annoying, sad conversation. Where is Damon anyway? He usually comes by to check on her before she goes to school; he must be running late. Or maybe he's hurt, or finally gotten tired of tending to her every need…she shakes off the unpleasant thought. There will be time to smooth things over with him later. Right now, she has to focus on Stefan.
"Yes, I'm admitting that," she says tiredly, rubbing her eyes, "Although I have no idea why you even care, honestly. We both know that I'm not Katherine, even if I'm afraid that I'm becoming her. No matter what I thought I felt for Damon, I would have ignored it, because it would never have been enough. It could never have been more than what I felt for you. You were my everything, Stefan. Whatever Damon and I had was nothing compared to what you and I had. Nothing."
Stefan's eyes brighten, involuntarily she's sure, and she considers leaving it at that. It's what he's come here to hear, obviously. He wants her to say that if he hadn't left with Klaus, they'd still be deliriously happy. And she thinks they would be.
But that's not what happened, is it?
She doesn't want to hurt him – she used to, but now she's moved on. She just wants him to go away; she just wants this damaged thing between them to be over for good. But she recently decided to be more emotionally honest. He may not deserve her love (she doesn't think they deserve each other anymore). She thinks, though, that he deserves the truth.
"But you did leave," she reminds him quietly, hugging herself beneath her covers; somehow, this is still difficult to articulate. "And things changed. I saw this side of you I never knew existed. And I got to see the side of Damon he'd never let me see, the side of him you never let me see."
Stefan cocks his head, confused.
"You made me think Damon was a monster," she explains. "You refused to see the good in him. It was all so black and white for you, Stefan. And it's never been that way for me."
"So you're saying this is my fault?" Stefan breaks in angrily, the veins in his forehead threatening to burst.
She curls her fingers around her sheets, trying to keep still. She wishes he didn't sound so disparaging. He's not really listening to her, and she hates how disconnected she feels from him. She doesn't know when they became two people who can't even look each other in the eye.
When they became two people who can't even exist in the same space.
"No, of course not," she says evenly, pretending that this conversation isn't rupturing her insides. "I'm saying that when you left, I finally got to know Damon. I finally got to see that he's more compassionate than people ever give him credit for, and more wounded than he'll admit. I got to see that he makes me feel more alive than anything else in my crazy life."
Stefan lets out a strangled breath, clearly shell-shocked, but Elena keeps going. She won't spare his feelings. Not now. Not after everything they've been through.
Not after he broke her heart and she broke his.
"So no, if you hadn't left, I wouldn't have kissed Damon," she says. "I would have loved you, probably forever, and I would have never explored what was going on between me and Damon. And I think I would have been happy."
Stefan's eyes light up again, and she takes a deep breath, steeling herself for what comes next. He isn't going to like this. But she's done being so goddamn selfless all the time. It's time to do what she wants for once.
"But I'm so glad it happened, Stefan," she says earnestly, wishing this were easier but knowing it couldn't be, not when she once loved him so much. "I'm so glad I let myself give in. I'm the furthest thing from guilty." She pauses, hugging herself tighter still. "Of course it would never have happened if you and I had stayed together."
He doesn't say anything.
"Can you understand that?" She continues pleadingly, needing him to forgive her for some reason. "Can you understand that nothing could have ever made disloyal to you? I didn't want to be. I still don't want to be. But we're over, and I owe it to myself to give this thing with Damon a chance."
Stefan drops his gaze mournfully, and she's surprised to find that she might cry. Of course she expected this conversation to be emotional, but she didn't expect to feel so…lost.
At last, Stefan shakes his head slowly, once, twice, then once more. "I still love you, you know."
She closes her eyes. Even a month ago, those words would have made her heart soar with joy. Now, though, she doesn't know how to feel.
(Or if she even feels anything at all.)
She's silent for a long moment, unable to speak.
"I still love you, too," she says at last (she could lie to him, but what would be the point?). "I probably always will. But it's different. I don't think we were meant to be, Stefan. We were wonderful together, and I won't ever forget that. I don't think I can."
She looks away thoughtfully. "You were a really important part of my life, but we've both changed. I can't pretend I don't love Damon, and I won't apologize for it."
Stefan's eyes fly up to hers. "Love?" He echoes hoarsely.
She claps a hand over her mouth, taken aback herself. She doesn't know where that came from. She's finally, somehow, put a name to the complicated mess of emotions swirling around her head, her heart, the same emotion that's given her butterflies in her stomach and haziness behind her eyes – you name the lovesick symptom, and she's probably got it.
She doesn't know how she feels about the realization just yet, but she knows it's true.
"Yeah," she says confidently, brimming with repressed feeling (she doesn't really want to have this conversation with Stefan, but she knows she has to). "I love him."
She shrugs off her covers, pulling a sweatshirt over her head and walking over to him. "It's funny," she muses aloud, avoiding looking at Stefan directly. "That's the first time I've said it aloud."
He shoots her a poisonous look, so hot and full of anger that she flinches. "Convenient timing," he spits out, his eyes glittering with unfettered repulsion.
She bites down hard on her tongue and clenches her fists, willing herself not to slap him or punch him or reenact any of the deliciously violent scenarios running through her head. She can be the bigger person here.
She has to be.
"Oh, like how you only decided you still care about me when you found out I kissed Damon?" She retorts, taking care to keep her voice tightly controlled. She doesn't want to fight with him.
(She does, of course, but she knows she shouldn't.)
Stefan rocks back on his heels in anguish, and again, Elena catches a glimpse of the man she once loved so dearly. "Touché," he manages to choke out.
She can't help herself; she touches his cheek, savoring the smoothness of his skin beneath her hand one last time. "I'm sorry," she says honestly. "I never wanted to hurt you. But I also don't want to lie to you."
"He'll ruin you," he growls harshly, batting her hand away (all she can hear is the wild rush of blood in her ears). "He'll break your heart. He's not meant to love, Elena. He doesn't know how to, not anymore."
Elena steps back from him, indignation flaring in her veins. She chases it away with a concentrated effort, reminding herself that hitting him won't get her anywhere.
Even if it would be all kinds of satisfying…
"See, that's where you're wrong, Stefan," she says steadily. "You think he doesn't deserve me, but all he did while you were gone was try to bring you back to me. He never tried to turn me against you. He had the decency to respect my feelings for you, unlike you. He always thought you deserved me, but he was wrong."
Stefan laughs humorlessly. "You really think that he's not just trying to get with you to get back at me for stealing Katherine all these years ago? You really think he actually loves you? You really think –"
He's cut off by the sharp sting of her hand against his cheek. They both recoil instinctively.
She claps a hand over her mouth again, ashamed. She's slapped him. Again. She's slapped the man she once thought was her soul mate. How has everything changed so drastically in only a few months?
But it doesn't matter why or how – not really. All that matters is that everything is so very, very different now.
"Don't you dare," she snarls, tears burning her eyes. "You left me, Stefan. You had so many chances to take me back, so many times we could have worked through things. But you just kept destroying us."
Stefan opens his mouth to say something, probably to protest, but she cuts him off, shaking her head vigorously.
"You don't get to come in here and insult your brother," she says forcefully. "You don't get to try to turn me against the one person who was there for me when you weren't. He gave me everything you didn't. He made me laugh and kept watch at night and looked after my friends. He loves me, and if you don't believe that, then you can get the hell out of my house!"
Stefan grimaces, looked chagrined, and she falters. Sometimes she's so sure she hates him – or, at least, she hates what he makes her feel. But right now, all she feels is regret. Regret that their fairytale was corrupted like this. Regret that things can never go back to the way they used to be.
Regret that he may never find peace.
"I didn't mean that," she says softly, reaching out to take his hand but thinking better of it. "That was…" She trails off, searching for a word that can describe the jagged shards of their relationship. "That was too far."
He nods, averting his eyes, and they're quiet for a long moment.
Where do they go from here?
Finally, Elena lets a single tear fall. "I didn't want it to be like this," she whispers, taking a tentative, hopeful step towards him.
Stefan meets her halfway, his hand automatically finding the hollow of her cheek. She leans into him gratefully, if only for a moment, because even after everything that's happened, there's still a part of her that considers him her home.
"No, Elena," he says, and there it is again: the reminder that the Stefan she loved is still in there somewhere. "I should be the one saying that."
Normally she'd protest, but tonight she's too tired. She doesn't want to pretend anymore. They spent so much of their relationship lying to each other – her about her feelings for Damon, him about his dormant dark side – and she can't help wondering how different things might have been if they had only been honest with each other.
"We've both done things we shouldn't have," she says quietly, sadly, holding his gaze until it becomes unbearable.
She wraps her arms around him, sinking into the familiar, warm haven of the broadness of his chest, breathing in the smell of mahogany and soap that used to lull her to sleep. She doesn't know why she does it, exactly; she only knows that she can't let him leave without touching him again.
There's no hesitation in his immediate return of her embrace, no disconnect in his rough hands on her back, no disgust in his head buried in her hair. She doesn't realize she's trembling until his soothing fingers skim the planes of her shoulders.
She lets herself linger for a long moment, basking in the wistful remembrance of all the times his arms were her only solace from this harsh world.
She pulls back at last, her cheeks wet with tears, her heart aching. Stefan smiles weakly, and she realizes that this is the end for them. There is no love triangle anymore; their end doesn't have anything to do with Damon. She and Stefan simply broke each other. They broke the powerful bond between them.
They just broke.
It's indescribably sad, and Elena lets her tears freely fall. It feels like they've broken up several times since he left with Klaus, but this one is real. She feels the finality of it in her bones, the same way this behemoth of feeling for Damon has settled in her veins.
And it hurts. It hurts so much, in fact, that she has to plant her feet to keep herself from trying to take him back.
(She knows she can't.)
He turns to leave, and she pulls him back with a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry," she says, and she means it. She's not apologizing for anything she's done, only for the circumstances that have torn them apart.
Only for the things they couldn't control.
He looks down at her hand, then into her eyes. He looks devastated, and she swallows, hard. She has no idea what he expected when he came here this morning, but she knows he sure as hell didn't expect this. After all, how could he have ever predicted that they would be this painfully honest with each other?
"Me too, Elena," he murmurs after a long moment, extracting her hand from his arm with excruciating gentleness. "Me too."
And with that, he's gone, leaving her with nothing but the whisper of the wind to remind her that he was ever there at all.
When Damon finds her a few minutes later, she's sitting on her bed, sleek, noiseless tears streaming down her face. She's staring into space, lost in thought; he has to shake her a few times before she realizes he's there.
His hands are on her face, and she blinks, shakes her head.
"Damon," she breathes gratefully, unable to control the wild, inappropriate torrent of happiness that explodes in her chest.
He looks at her, that piercing blue boring into her. He looks worried, of course.
"What's wrong?" He asks her urgently, sweeping her hair off her face, his thumbs reaching beneath her swollen eyes, taking away her tears like he takes away her pain. "What happened, Elena?"
She closes her eyes at the sound of her name. She shouldn't feel so safe and calm after such an emotional, traumatic break-up, but she does. If Damon's with her, she's realized, everything is simply more manageable. She knows that like she knows that Caroline's favorite color is yellow.
(She knows that like she knows that he's her past, present and future.)
She covers his hands with hers, touching her forehead to his. "Stefan and I talked," she says, ignoring the way he stiffens, "About everything. It's over. I mean, it's been over for a while, but this was…this was real."
Damon takes a deep, shuddering breath; she knows it pains him to hear about this (he doesn't like to see the two people he cares about most hurt each other). "Are you okay?" He asks haltingly, his breathing laborious, his fingers curled almost too tightly around hers.
She nods, squeezing his hands. "Yeah," she whispers, her tears beginning to slow. "Or, at least, I'm going to be okay."
He kisses her forehead. "Are you sure?" He asks quietly, such concern in his voice that she starts to cry anew.
She bites her lip, feeling so much in this moment with him. God, he's changed everything for her...
"I'm sure," she says, trembling. "I'm going to be okay because I love you."
He goes completely still.
She releases his hands and threads her fingers through the hair at the back of his neck, her eyes still closed, her forehead still leaning against his. This isn't the best timing, of course. This isn't good timing at all. But she doesn't care; they can talk about it later. After all, he said, "It's right, just not right now." And for her, that's not entirely true. For her, it's right, it's right now.
It's the most right thing of all.
He doesn't say anything, instead merely kissing her forehead again, this time so reverently that she almost can't breathe. She doesn't really want him to break the silence. For now, she just wants to sit here with him, quiet, happy.
So that's what she does. She closes her eyes, breathes him in, and welcomes the dawn of a new day.
With him, there's always sunshine.
Please let me know what you thought! I've never written S/E before, so any constructive criticism is more than welcome.