A/N: Leading off from their final scene in 3x14. Warning of severe angst (aka get your tissues ready).
She hated herself a lot longer than she should've. Spent months, years going over the words she could've said, what she should've done. Asking herself whether she could've been better for him, fought harder for them. If doing it all differently would've change things. If she had locked the door, forced him to stay there with her until he agreed.
Agreed to what, though, she thinks. To love her again?
He leaves without telling anyone, including Damon who seems to fall deeper into a hole he can barely crawl his way out of without the help of alcohol and a lot more blood. Elena thinks he's lost his mind but can't do anything about it because she honestly thinks she's lost hers too.
One night when they're alone and he's staring at the front door she gets up, kisses his cheek, pushes her face against his ear and whispers that it's okay. Like she knew he wanted to leave before he did.
He's gone by sundown. He doesn't ask her to come with and she doesn't offer.
Klaus, Elijah and the rest of their family perish, as Esther had promised but somehow it doesn't make any difference. None whatsoever, with them both gone.
A year passes and she loses the meaning of time and tries to trick herself into believing that time didn't matter at all. That it didn't make any difference.
Jeremy comes back. That makes a difference, if not the most progressive and she finds herself falling back, almost too easily, into a life that didn't require her to wonder if she'd make it through the day.
She marries Matt the year she graduates and falls pregnant the year after.
There's something about being pregnant that she just can't put her finger on. There's something about the way her belly stretches and she stretches and that this thing growing inside of her stomach somehow belonged to her.
It's a hell of a pregnancy, even for her first one. She vomits almost every day. Twice in a day if she's lucky. Three times if she's not. Matt starts taking Mondays off and then Fridays even though she grumbles and complains that he didn't need to and that he'd be wasting his maternity leave the architect company he worked at was giving him. But he ignores her, gets her to sit on the couch and plants her feet in his lap because he was completely crazy about her and completely crazy about this baby they were having together.
She's crazy about it too. Scared as hell but excited. Nervous. She lies awake most nights worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Thinking about all the things that already have.
She'll love this baby. She'll love it and love Matt and love this life, she will, she tells herself on the nights that are the longest.
Finding that it wasn't exactly a lie if she believed it enough to pretend that it wasn't even a lie to begin with.
Stefan paces the floor of the greyhound bus depot in a small shack town in the middle of nowhere. The bus had been scheduled to come in around 6 but it's running late, almost 20 minutes past the hour. He hates waiting.
He doesn't do too much waiting these days, travelling from state to state and revisiting the parts of America he'd been missing and felt like rediscovering. He's a nomad but he likes it and he's used to it. He doesn't stop anywhere for longer than a period of a month because he doesn't want to fall in love with any place even though he knows nowhere is going to feel like the place he fell in love with most. But, he fears it, knowing that he could. Knowing that he could set up a home and a life away from Mystic Falls that would be just as good, if not better than the life he had set up there. The life, he left there.
Elena, that life.
She's the color of the sky when it's just tinted purple and in another's women's laughter that doesn't sound quite right but fills his ears enough for him to imagine that it is, that it's her perfect laughter.
He walked away from her that night, not thinking he was going to leave. Not thinking it was going to be the last time he saw her but knowing it had to be. Knowing that there was no other choice even though his heart pounded and his chest pounded and he cried for those first two days without her, cried for two days straight.
Two years have gone by and he can picture her face, could draw it with his eyes closed across the palms of his hands.
He has no idea how she is, no way of knowing. When Damon found him, he told him that she was fine, that she was planning to graduate and go to college. He talks to his brother every other day, maybe every other third day if they're both stuck in places where they can't get to a phone. His brother seems happier in Europe that he ever remembered him being and yet Stefan knows, can tell just by his voice that it was tipped against something else entirely; the way he was trying to be happy without her.
Stefan stops moving, ducking his body when he hears, so clearly, the sound of a bus engine. It's still a few miles away but he starts to prepare himself, dragging himself over to the darkest corner of the terminal where visibility was best. He's been drinking human blood, though he doesn't kill. Slipping into his brother's steady routine of being able to rob a person blind but fix them up and leave them like he'd found them. He can't really understand how it became easy to not want to mindlessly tear people apart but he thinks it has something to do with the distance and the way he fell into caring about anything else, needing to, above caring about her.
The feed lasts less than 10 minutes and he compels the man before fading into the cool night air of the south. He's found himself a little apartment just off a main road and he's fond of it, it was completely hidden anyway and he could be protected, invisible, from anything or anyone.
Which is why he's surprised to find Matt Donavan sitting outside on the porch, looking as though finding him had been easy.
She wishes her mother were there.
To say the right thing and tell her what to do even though her mother had always let her children make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes.
Having a baby wasn't a decision.
Though losing a baby really wasn't either.
Matt doesn't look much different to the last time Stefan saw him. And it's almost been three years. He's grown a couple inches taller and looks fuller. Looks like a man rather than a boy and Stefan wonders if he should be seeing the irony of that as much as he is.
Matt doesn't say anything, looking at the floor and for a person who had travelled miles to see him, Stefan finds it odd that the need to speak didn't seem to be a need at all.
He takes a couple steps and leans up against the wooden poles of his porch, thinking already, his throat aching the same way it always seemed to whenever he thought of her, of Elena.
She's dead, he suddenly imagines, that's why Matt was here, and he almost loses his grip on the wood and he's so lost, overcome by the mere thought to notice that Matt had come to stand, now looking right at him.
"She's not dead." He spits out hard, like he's read Stefan's mind but Stefan knows that his entire resolve just went from being steadily calm to an obvious panic in less than a couple seconds. He needs to swallow a few times before he can speak.
"Why are you here then?"
Matt looks away with a smile on his lips that is too bitter and too desperate to come off the way he's probably hoping that it does.
"What, Matt?" Stefan asks, maybe a little too loudly and Matt drops back into the chair behind him like he couldn't keep standing. When he looks up again, there are tears on his cheeks.
"She lost our baby."
It's like he's been kicked in the mouth. He stumbles backwards, turning his back to Matt and almost trips down the porch steps. The words don't make logical sense in his brain even though he's picturing it all, her pregnant and her married and her older and beautiful and together and perfect. Just the way he hoped and wanted.
"She won't talk to me, she won't talk to anyone. I don't know what to do anymore, I won't take her to a hospital but I can't lose her, Stefan."
Stefan wrings his hands through his hair. He's trying to breathe clearer because it's not coming out right at all and it's overwhelming, the sudden sadness that seems to push down on him. The grief for her, for what she had lost. And fuck, she had lost too much.
In his mind, he has already left but he feels Matt, just behind him, opening his mouth to ask anyway.
"Please Stefan, I think you're the only person who could help right now."
In his mind, he is already there.
She's asleep more than she is awake but it feels like she's caught in this dream, like she's unsure what's floating around in her mind and what's floating around in reality.
It wasn't anything she did or ate or said or any mistake she made. It just happened because sometimes things just happen without cause or reason. When the Doctor had told her that, squeezing her arm before the operation that would remove the dead and unborn baby, Elena could feel the cracks in her spine like it was breaking the same way her heart had.
Matt's gone and she knows it, had known all along even though they all think that she didn't. She knows she's on the verge of tipping right over that cliff or falling before she even had the chance to look.
So she doesn't blame him for leaving. Not even a little bit because she sleeps, and leaves too.
It takes them two and a half days. Matt drives the entire way even though he's not in any state to but he insisted and Stefan had let him, knowing there would be no point in arguing it. He could've used his speed and reached Mystic Falls quicker but leaving Matt alone would be more dangerous than having him drive his truck down a highway as he's crying and trying to shift gears at the same time.
They come up to a house Stefan doesn't recognize but figures belonged to the two of them now that they were married and had adult lives. They needed an adult house. But it looks nothing like anything she'd pick out and that pisses him off a little even though it was none of his business anymore, what type of house she might or might not like.
"It happened a week ago. She had to have surgery on Monday. She hasn't said anything since. She won't get out of bed or hardly eat anything. We both cried when it happened but she hasn't cried again. She just…she isn't there and it scares me. I can't do it, I can't be in the house anymore, I can't be there knowing I can't help her."
Stefan nods and pushes open his car door, moving in a way that didn't allow hesitation or second guesses. He hasn't had to be brave in a while; feels like he can barely be brave for this. He can't blame Matt for giving up because he gave up on her that night too.
The house is too quiet; the only sound he can hear is her heart beating, slowly, like it's forgotten how to do half the work it should be doing. He heads for the bottom of the stairs, thinking as he takes each step, about how he should do this without scaring her. But as he comes to the landing, he knows that there was no real way to come back into her life again, at this moment, now, to be here for her. No real way that wasn't anything but scary.
She's awake, her body on the side of the bed furthest from the door and for a moment that feels impossibly short, he watches her in private. She's too thin, he can tell even with the layers of clothing she had on. He hadn't noticed how cold it was before but the air seems to press up against him as he looks at her bundled up beneath sweaters, jackets and a thick blanket.
"You came for me."
His head falls against the side of the doorway because he suddenly can't keep it up right; she's too small, drowning in that bed of blankets and layers.
"I always knew you would."
His feet seem to carry him into the room, seem to carry him over to her before his mind has caught up but it's like he's been pulled towards her. Like he's been pushed, effortlessly and with such a force that makes him question how he could've possibly been apart from her to begin with.
"Of course I did." He whispers and pulls back the sheets, wriggling his hands beneath the curve of her back.
He kisses against her hair, feeling her bones and her heart and her grief, pushing against his own and walks them both out of that bedroom, out of that house.
Towards something else entirely.