I actually kind of like this a lot. I tried to do either of them justice, but I probably also failed. Also, all of this was written based off of one sentence. My God, what have I done? Btw, a future!fic.

Also: I loved Brave by Tawgs Salter while writing this. Especially the chorus.

to chat, or whatevs/ twitter: wesleyteeth


and that was when i loved you best.

Stefan and Elena find each other several years later. After the dust has settled and Bonnie's at her hip, strolling around campus, books piled heavy in her hands.

He stands in the shadows, increasingly aware of the cliché he has become – lurking, hiding, shadows.

He watches her – long brown hair tucked gently behind her ear, the wind teasing the ends, the frustration in the lines of her lips when she can't get it all to settle easily off her shoulder. He watches her laugh then – the moment completely forgotten, tangling hair disregarded – her head tilts back slightly and her eyes squint, skin crinkling around their corners; Bonnie must have said something funny.

He smiles to himself, steps further back into the shadow, careful not to catch a wandering eye. He won't be that guy, even if he has spent hundreds of years unknowingly being just that. (The one everyone stares at with suspicion – they see his mystery.)

He follows them back to their apartment. (A safe distance away, because he won't be that guy either – the one who stalks. She is not his prey.)

–;

She and Bonnie share a two bedroom apartment right off campus. It's fair in size; kitchen counters covered with yesterday's dinner recipes, coffee table stained with Bonnie's spilled coffee from this morning's rush, the television still paused on Elena's DVR recording (– The Bachelor she will say shyly and bow her head in embarrassment.)

Bonnie makes a dramatized comment about Elena's inability to ever get the key in the hole on the first try and Elena's laughing, trying to situate her books and the key in her grasp without dropping either.

"My God," Bonnie sighs, but then counteracts it with a giggle, "Let me get it. Again." She steps in front of Elena, who's laughing and stepping out of her way.

"Go for it, Witchy Perfect." She teases.

Bonnie opens the door with ease. "I told you. You have to jingle the lock a little – " she demonstrates to a laughing Elena, "first."

"I'm forever sorry, Ms. Bennett," she says in a voice materialized from all of the Jane Austen books she's read.

They both giggle as they stumble into the apartment – Bonnie talking about her Intro to Political Science instructor and Elena talking over her asking her preference for dinner.

Neither hear the knocking at the door.

–;

Stefan stands on the sidewalk opposite of their apartment. It's late evening, around the time when the sun's finally setting and the street lights are just beginning to buzz to life.

The sky's a pink color changing readily to a darkness. He walks across the street, waving at the car that lets him pass. He stands in front of their apartment, but not too long because he's not that guy. Then, with quick paces and no time to backtrack, he's at their door, hand raised to knock.

But no one answers.

He knocks again, growing impatient, so close to talking himself out of this.

It works.

He begins to walk away, feet shuffling clumsily away from the door, and he whips around with a held breath –

(one that he doesn't really need, but that solemn part of him that likes to creep up and tell him he wants this humanity, shoves it in his face and says breathe, Stefan.)

And the door swings open, Elena's head is turned towards Bonnie in the kitchen (stir the sauce, Bon!) She doesn't pay attention to who's at the door.

He stops abruptly, turns around right when she does, meets her eyes. His hands find his pockets, jeans rough against his alabaster skin. He looks at her – wide eyes, hair flitting around her face, mouth hanging agape – "Stefan?" She speaks, confusion and disbelief tangling in her voice.

He simply nods his head, words having betrayed him.

Her hand falls loosely from the doorknob, "What – What are you doing? Here?"

He steps forward, the planes of his chest inches away from her slender stature. He braces one hand against the door frame, closer to her now than in years. "I – I want – " he fumbles with his speech, with what he needs to say and what he wants to say and what he should have said. The list goes on, and he laughs almost bitterly. But then, voice low, "I wanted to see you." He tells her lamely.

"You wanted to see me?" She asks, an edge in her voice. She's regained some of her resolve – her eyes hard from the disbelief and the don't leave me, Stefan and the fact that he didn't listen. "After all this time – you just wanted to see me?" That's not good enough, never good enough she wants to tell him. (But maybe – )

"Yeah," he sighs, an explanation on the tip of his tongue. "No," he shakes his head already frustrated with himself. "I wanted to see you, talk to you. I need to explain it to you. All these years. I – "

"Stefan, I can't I – "

" – have to explain them, Elena." He says her name like a final plea. His words running together, quickly, so scared that she might close the door in his face, stop him before he even has a chance (even if he doesn't deserve one.)

"Stefan," voice strained, eyes hard again. "I can't. You have to go. You have to leave." She steps back inside, watches carefully for him to move his hand from the door frame before she closes it. She stares everywhere but his face – doesn't want to see it after all these years; doesn't need to because she remembers everything about him so clearly, it all hurts.

When she locks the door and walks slowly back into the kitchen, Bonnie's standing over the stove, stirring the sauce every few minutes, reading from a list of cooking instructions. She perks up when she sees Elena, "Who was at the door?"

Elena, face expressionless with hollow eyes and confusion running deep in her mind, meets Bonnie's eyes. "Stefan." She says, but it comes out as more of a question; the disbelief, his face.

Bonnie's hand goes limp on the stirring spoon, "Stefan?" She questions, with wide eyes and confusion in her brow. "Salvatore?"

Elena nods her head slowly. "What did he want?"

Elena blinks back the unwanted tears, "He wanted me."

Bonnie contemplates it, "After all these years," she says almost as an afterthought.

Elena traces circles on her wrist with her delicate fingers, fights against the lump in her throat to speak, "I'm not too hungry anymore. Think I'll go lie down."

"Oh, sweetie," Bonnie says in her almost-reoccurring-judgey tone. She walks to Elena and wraps her tanned arms around her. "Shh," she whispers against Elena's cheek. "It's going to be alright."

Elena simply nods, pulls away, and walks down the hallway to her bedroom.

Bonnie goes back to her sauce, worry mixing in with the spices.

–;

Elena doesn't really sleep that night. Not really; there's the tossing and the turning and the Stefan in her memories vying against the Stefan at her door and there's this thing with her heart and his heart and eternity creeping up in her thoughts.

She finds herself restless and slipping into Bonnie's room around three. She nudges Bonnie's sleeping figure with her knee, "Bon," she says quietly. Bonnie groans and opens her eyes sleepily. "Move over?" She asks sweetly and Bonnie obliges. Elena slips under the covers and thinks she'd rather fight her demons next to Bonnie than by herself.

And she finally falls asleep.

She misses her first class of the day, waking up disoriented around eleven, in bed alone. She looks at the clock and murmurs a curse before jumping out of bed and walking into the kitchen.

"Bonnie, how could you let me miss class?" She asks frantically.

"You needed your sleep. I got you coffee from that cafe we love, ran into Stefan, bought a few items on the grocery list, and managed to tidy up the apartment a little. Look," she points, distractingly, to the coffee table, "No rings on the glass anymore."

"Ran into Stefan. What does that mean?" Elena's eyes are wary as she is not prepared for the conversation, but has to have it.

Bonnie falters for a second, but then starts, "It means I went to get coffee, saw him brooding at the table by the window, sat down and we shared some insight."

"Bonnie, no, I – " She interjects.

"Elena, listen, I told him you didn't want to see him and that he needs to understand that."

Elena eyes her suspiciously, "Is that all?"

Bonnie fiddles with the stack on magazines on edge of the counter, "I may have asked him a few questions." She looks up at her cautiously. "Just for curiosity," she adds as an afterthought.

The part of her that wants to know everything wins out over the part of her that tells her he is bad, this life is good, no. "What did he tell you?" She asks after a few minutes.

And so Bonnie tells her.

–;

Elena makes it to her two o'clock class, sits with her pencil tapping against her notebook, thoughts off in some distant place away from the importance of the three major religions that surpassed all of society's ideas and standards.

(But not some distant place, not really. It's Stefan here and Stefan there and what he meant to her and what he told Bonnie and she can imagine the heartache on his face when he said I left for her, I had to, but she doesn't want to imagine it, doesn't want.)

She leaves class the way she came: thinking of Stefan.

–;

She goes to the cafe after class, sits in the seat by the window, and drinks her herbal tea.

She looks up when she hears the bell above the door chime for the first time since she came in. It's Stefan, just like she suspected. She remembers thinking she'd always know him so well.

He looks her way and cautiously walks over. He stands there for a second, waits for her to says something or nod her head. She nods and he takes the seat opposite of her.

"Bonnie told me she saw you here today. Told me that you said you've been coming here for weeks now." She waits for him to confirm, receives a solemn nod. "Why haven't I noticed you?" She lets out an amazed breath, "I've come in here everyday since August." She absently dunks her tea bag in and out of her mug, stares at hm, waiting.

He licks his lips in that way that used to set her off, and clears his throat. "I didn't want you to have to see me."

"God, Stefan, what does that even mean?" She grips the edge of the table tight, knuckles almost white.

"I didn't want you to see me, after all these years, sitting here drinking coffee. I didn't want to scare you."

"I've never been scared of you, Stefan." She deadpans.

His eyes close for a second, jawline prominent in his features. He opens his eyes to her, "I didn't want you to be though, Elena. I didn't want to give you the chance to be scared, for my own selfish reasons. I can't handle you being scared of me. Running away."

"Like you did?" She spits out before she's even filtered her thoughts. She cringes a little after she says it, taste the bitterness. Still doesn't apologize.

His always haunting green eyes bore into hers. "Yeah, like I left you." The words still sting her to hear. Hurt her. "So that's why I came to your apartment. I wanted to give you the chance to tell me to leave – always better than seeing you leave."

"Always better." She agrees, always. She waits. "Why are you here, Stefan, really?"

"I came back for you." Stefan's always struggled with being blunt, always trying to put it sweetly and prepare her. She notes there's at least one of many things that's changed about him.

"What makes you think I want you?" She deadpans, voice only a little icy. Because, given the chance she'd have Stefan right now, she would have had him since the first day of junior year and he never would have fucking left.

But he did, and she lost him, and so she's a little bitter.

"You shouldn't want me. I don't deserve that. I don't deserve you. But I want you, Elena. Always have." Stefan's selfless in his love, she notes one thing that will probably always remain the same.

"At least that hasn't changed," she says, hurt, to no one in particular.

"There's things you need to know, Elena. Why I left, where I've been. That I have never stopped loving you and missing you." He's being that guy – that cliché.

There's sincerity in his eyes, tears prickling at the corners. "Promise to tell me everything? 'Cause I'm going to need some time, Stefan." Her eyes are glassy with tears, "Give me that."

He nods. She sips her tea.

–;

She gets home late. Bonnie's sitting in the floor in front of the coffee table, eating takeout, watching reruns of ANTM. "Hey," she smiles up at her, "I was wondering where you were."

"I was, uh," she hesitates, "I was having tea with Stefan, actually." She'd been fiddling with her keys, when she finishes talking she looks up to meet Bonnie's eyes.

"Oh," Bonnie's mouth forms in the shape of an O. "How did that go?"

"It went. We talked. Still have a lot more talking to do. Then some more." She has a small smile on her face, "Talk a little after that."

Bonnie stifles a giggle. "Good, Elena. That's good."

"Mhm," she nods, and to change the subject, "got an egg roll left? I'm terribly starved."

"The Jane Austen in you is coming out again." Bonnie laughs and hands Elena an egg roll after she's tucked herself next to Bonnie.

She bumps her shoulder against Bonnie's, laughs, and tells her ANTM is better than ever this season.

–;

They're sitting on the steps outside of the campus library. Stefan's turning his to-go cup of coffee around in circles in his hands, detailing his trip to Paris.

"You'd love it there," he turns and smiles at her. She's sitting on the step below him, horizontal, with her back pressed against the stone railing and her legs crossed at the ankle right in front of him, nudging against his every time she moves.

She smiles at him, sips from her own cup, "Tell me you visited the Louvre Museum!" There's this excitement in her eyes that he hasn't seen in so long, hasn't much forgotten what it looks like, but still it's refreshing.

"You can't go to Paris and not visit the Louvre Museum. It's beautiful. I'll have to take you there someday."

She smiles, "Yeah, someday."

Then he tells her about Spain and Vienna, and "The croissants, Elena."

–;

She forgets he's not invited in two weeks later. She's just got out of class and he's there, waiting with a smile on his face (and God, she hasn't seen one of those in a while.) She tells him that he can walk her home, let her change, and they can go for dinner.

As they're walking, side by side, their hands graze slightly and it's like the beginning all over again. She feels younger, seventeen, when they were just starting out and he always pulled her to him that way, hand held tight around hers.

She gets another bout of nostalgia when he chuckles and says, "Elena," so softly it hurts.

They get to her apartment, and Bonnie's out, so she fiddles with the key for a good minute before Stefan takes it from her and, in one quick motion, has the door open for her.

She laughs, embarrassed. "Let me get changed," she says as she's walking in, "you can grab something from the kitchen if you'd like."

She walks back to her bedroom. And as she's pulling a new shirt on over her tank top, she realizes it's oddly quiet. "Stefan?" She calls out. She walks out of her bedroom when she hears no response. When she walks into the living room, fixing her shirt just right, she sees him standing at the doorway.

"I can't come in." He says.

She stifles a laugh, "I'm sorry. I forgot." She leans against the door, "Would you like to come in, Stefan?" And this is familiar and she's suddenly seventeen at her family's lake house and Stefan felt so good in that moment.

She clears her throat, steadies herself in reality (not yet, she tells herself), and pulls the door open more for him to walk in.

"Thanks," he says as he walks in, raising a hand to her waist, touching her for a split second before he pulls away.

They go to dinner shortly after and Stefan tells her about his time right after he left. Not how or what he felt, just where he went.

"Where did you go?" She asks, sipping from her glass of water. She can taste the bitter lemon she dropped in it.

"Richmond."

"Richmond?" Voice hard, tangled in a web of disbelief and confusion all over again.

"Yes," he says quietly.

"You were in Richmond? You didn't even leave Virginia." There's anger in her voice. "How could you stay in Virginia, Stefan? Why didn't you leave? You were that close?" A pause. "And you never came back," she accuses.

"Elena, listen I – "

"God, Stefan. Richmond." She pushes her chair back and walks quickly out of the restaurant.

Stefan follows her. "Elena, wait." He yells after her figure as she disappears around the corner. He runs after her. One second he's fifty yards away and the next he's standing in front of her.

She jumps when she sees him there. "I didn't mean to scare you," he says immediately.

"I'm not scared of you." She says and it feels like the same conversation all over again. "I was startled."

"Elena, listen. I had to leave Mystic Falls. But it was, God, so hard leaving you behind – "

"Then why did you?" She yells, tears falling from the corners of her eyes. "Why did you leave me, Stefan?" Her face falters, contorts into an expression of pain. "Why did you have – " A sob cuts off her words.

Stefan wraps his arms around her, and at first she fights against it, but then she buries her face in his shirt.

Shh he tells her all the way home.

–;

He opens her door for her, and takes her to her room. She's still crying with an occasional hiccup. It's late and she's tired and she's sad and Bonnie's still not home.

"Stay with me," she tells him once he has her on her bed, and he's pulling the covers up around her.

"Elena," he whispers, his voice betraying his intent to walk away.

She grabs a hold of his fingers, "Stefan," she swallows back the lump in her throat, "please."

He nods slowly, "Okay, okay." He whispers to soothe her. He sits on the bed, his back against the headboard, Elena laying against his torso.

He runs his fingers through her hair, "It's going to be fine," he tries to assure her. He feels her tears seep through his shirt and wet his skin.

"Stefan," she sits up then, eyes trained on his, voice so soft, "did you ever just ache for me sometimes?" She clarifies, "When you were away."

"Elena," his voice is grainy and dry, "stop." He whispers.

"Did you? Because," she pauses, tears falling down her face, "I ache for you. All the time."

Her voice sounds so fucking sad. His eyes slip closed and there's tears prickling at the corners again, and he's overwhelmed with how did I let this happen?

"I love you so much," He whispers against her cheek as he kisses her there, then tenderly on her lips. "So much." He can taste the salt from her tears, hear the whimper she releases.

She falls asleep against his chest.

–;

Bonnie has three coffees on the counter the next morning. Stefan greets her politely and, "Bonnie, it's not – "

"It's okay, Stefan. I know what it is." She smiles. "I got you a coffee."

He smiles, takes his coffee and Elena's, and as he's walking back to her room, he turns around to her, "What exactly do you know this is?"

"Simple," she gives him her Bennett smile, "you two love each other. You've always loved each other. You're always going to love each other. So it took a lot of time and it's going to take a lot of work, but you guys still have time, Stefan. What else would it be if not epic?"

He smiles and walks back to Elena's room, who's waiting with a smile on her face.