This is another short dash into Mystic Falls. It was inspired by the last Stelena scene in "Murder Of One". I suppose this could be considered a "missing scene" coming at the end of the episode and before 3x19.

An Inconceivable Solace

By

C7

The wood began to splinter in his grasp, the ancient white oak giving way under the preternatural pressure strangling it.

Stefan looked down at the prized stake, his white-knuckled fist trebling ever so slightly from the power he exerted. If he wasn't careful, he'd only have one stake to turn over to Klaus. A dangerous consequence as the hybrid knew there were two weapons unaccounted for.

Stefan closed his eyes against the unbearable sorrow fueling his rising anger.

Through the early-evening stirrings of the forest surrounding him, a human heartbeat drummed steadily in his ears, Elena's scent still lingering around him. She was leaving the boarding house. His jaw tightened against the profound craving she fostered, the unrelenting ache a constant reminder of how much he needed her, how deeply he loved her.

Since the day Klaus lifted the compulsion, the battle to keep his humanity buried had proved nearly impossible to maintain. Fear of the excruciating pain and guilt that would result if he didn't fight the only thing supporting his purpose. But with the ghost of his love for Elena hovering in his heart, the temptation to feel was too great. He would quietly suffer through the anguish if it afforded him the luxury of Elena's love. In the end, his vengeful rage against Klaus had done little to shield him from the one thing he wanted most in all his pitiful existence.

A deep sigh left Stefan as he opened his eyes, resolve mixed with the agony wracking his mind. None of it mattered now. He may not have been successful in killing the love Elena held for him, but his alienation of her had resulted in something almost as insurmountably heinous.

He looked up at the star-filled sky, struggling to swallow the bile rising in his throat as he whispered. "I've lost her."

"You really believe that?"

The unfamiliar voice had Stefan swiftly pivoting on one heel to face it, fangs bared, shocked disbelief racing through his head. His body coiled tight, ready for an attack, he cautiously surveyed the sudden arrival. Wondering how the man had gotten this close without a sound, Stefan realized that he heard no heartbeat, felt no warmth radiating from the stranger.

He had to be seven feet tall, if he was an inch. Blonde hair cropped close to his collar, blue-eyed. Stefan supposed he would be considered handsome by most, straight nose, strong jaw, full mouth. A long black overcoat covered what appeared to be a very sturdy body. He looked normal enough, but there was something…something was definitely…off. Still no heartbeat.

"Take it easy, Stefan. No need to get all…ripper on me." The man pulled one hand from a coat pocket, raising it chest high, palm out, in a gesture of surrender before a dark frown sullied his features. "But…I mean really? After all you've put her through, she stands there and tells you that she never stopped loving you and all you take away from it is that you've lost her? What am I missing here?"

Stunned by the familiarity the questions conveyed, Stefan took a step back. The blood drained from his eyes and he focused, an annoyed curiosity taking hold. "Who the hell are you? What the hell are you?"

"The name is Chamuel." An easy smile played across his mouth as he bowed his head in introduction. "And I'm…well, I'm an angel."

Surprise held Stefan silent for a moment, his brows lifting slightly as he heard the confession. He recovered quickly, however, a dubious note entering his tone. "An angel."

"An archangel actually."

Stefan took a deep breath before clamping his mouth shut, robust laughter threatening to bubble forward. Why he bothered trying to stop it he had no idea. This was crazy. The guy was obviously a nut, or…was he? He wasn't human. Stefan doubted vampire or hybrid. So…an angel? Not likely, but he'd play along. He still had to figure out what this guy was up to, if he posed any danger.

"Do I have to show you my wings?" Chamuel stuffed his hand back into his coat pocket as he stepped forward, the moment's irritation disappearing from his expression. "Is it so hard to believe?" He cocked his head a little to the right, a kind amusement brightening his face. "I believe in vampires. How about showing me a little common courtesy?"

"Whatever." Stefan shrugged, his patience growing thin. A sharp condescension edged his voice as he crossed his arms over his chest, the stake tucked neatly against a forearm. "So you're an angel. What are you doin' here? Come to warn me of my fate? Tell me that Hell awaits?"

"Your place in Hell is pretty secure at the moment. I don't think you're in any danger of losing it. But I remain hopeful." Chamuel made his way over to Stefan, coming to stand a foot or so in front of him.

"What do you want…angel?" A renewed anger shaded the inquiry, a hard frown pulling at his mouth while Stefan looked up into the serene face of the stranger.

"So stubborn." Chamuel uttered softly as he shook his head, almost as if speaking to himself. Lifting a hand from a pocket he placed it on Stefan's shoulder. "I want to tell you that you're worthy, Stefan. As hard as it is for you to accept, you can forgive yourself. You can like yourself. It's okay."

A bitter retort languished in Stefan's mind while a soothing warmth began to spread throughout his body. It radiated from his shoulder where Chamuel touched him, a powerful, accepting calm washing through his thoughts. The cynical anger lost its potency as a peaceful reassurance took hold. For a moment, Stefan allowed himself to bask in the tranquility, easily giving himself over to the contentment. He was so tired, so very tired.

'You can forgive yourself.' The statement echoed in the back of his mind.

Could he? Could he really? After all that he'd done. Was forgiveness possible?

No. The headstrong rejection came quickly, bursting through the calm, splintering the fragile satisfaction.

Rage once again worked its way to the forefront as Stefan pulled himself from Chamuel's grasp, breaking the contact, severing the heavenly influence. And as the realization of what just happened sank in, Stefan, for the first time since their meeting, believed he was in the presence of an angel. And although miraculous on some level, in the end, it changed nothing. True forgiveness wasn't possible, especially from himself.

"Get away from me." Stefan pushed himself away from Chamuel, putting several yards between them.

"You're a willful fool, Stefan."

"No, I'm a pragmatic vampire. I know what I've done, and I know what I deserve."

"What you deserve." Chamuel repeated the words as a corner of his mouth quirked upward. "I'm all about tolerance, Stefan."

"I've never prayed for tolerance." Scorn saturated Stefan's voice, a sudden need to deny the weakness moving over him.

"Oh, yes you have." A short chuckle left the angel. "You know, I've never seen anyone try so valiantly to be good and, on occasion, fail so brilliantly at it. You're struggle has been spectacular to watch, especially in failure. But you're strength of will is…extraordinary at its worst, unparalleled at its best." Chamuel took a deep breath and nodded before continuing. "Your mother was right. There's a goodness in you that permeates your soul. It really is rather remarkable. After all the darkness and death, it somehow manages to shine through, however dimly. I suppose that's one of the reasons I still pay attention."

"My mother?" Stefan's memories of her were vague, but there was love. There was always love. The recollection brought with it a momentary repose as he allowed it to fill his mind.

"She prayed a lot for you and Damon, mostly Damon. But she had a sincere belief that you were special in your purity. That you would touch the world somehow…make it better."

'…make it better.'

The simple words mocked him and humiliation shattered the tranquil state of Stefan's thoughts, followed quickly by a painful sorrow that threatened to bring him to his knees. He lifted a hand to his stomach as it began to churn, a nauseous wave pounding his gut. His attention shifted to the ground before his closed his eyes, losing himself in the debilitating grief.

I'm sorry, Mother. Forgive me. Silently he sought absolution from a beloved woman who had not lived long enough to see what he had become – evil, murderer. Tears beaconed as the sadness deepened.

After a few seconds Stefan's attention returned to Chamuel. With a bitter resolve he pushed back against the devastating heartache, allowing resentment to pull him out of the useless pool of despair, determined to be hard, unyielding. It was far too late to mourn his mother's certain rejection. Dropping his hand back to his side, he worked to keep his voice steady. "I guess it's a good thing she wasn't around long enough to be disappointed."

"Ah…she's aware of what's goin' on down here. Believe it or not, she still has your back. She's a very obstinate…persuasive woman." Another short bark of laughter passed the angel's lips. "One more reason I still pay attention. She hasn't stopped believing in you, Stefan. Or your brother, for that matter. You know what they say about a mother's love? Yeah, it's true."

A small tendril of relief wafted through Stefan as he listened to Chamuel's declaration. He knew he could be nothing but a colossal disappointment to his mother, but learning that she continued to love him sparked a tiny flame of hope. Hope for what, he wasn't quite sure at the moment. He only knew it was there. And he welcomed it.

"Nobility and carnage." Chamuel's strong timbre broke the momentary silence. "Not a reasonable combination, but you somehow manage to pull it off. You're a fascinating creature, Stefan Salvatore. Salvageable? Not so sure. But definitely fascinating."

"Thanks. It was nice to meet you too." Stefan didn't try to hide the sarcasm. He wasn't sure he could have even if he wanted to. Raising a hand, he tossed the angel an uninspired smile as he waved, irony continuing to drip from his words. "Well, don't be a stranger. I'm sure you've got my email address."

"I'm not finished." Chamuel sounded genuinely offended by Stefan's offhanded dismissal.

"Oh?" Stefan raised his eye brows as he stopped his retreat, confusion tainting the insincerity in his tone. "You need to talk to Damon now?"

"Damon's another circumstance all together." The angel waved a hand in a sideways motion, as if physically disregarding Damon as a viable subject for discussion. "I'm not here for him. I'm here for you."

"Why? Why are you here for me?" A forceful irritation began to blossom as Stefan turned his full attention to his visitor. "What could you possibly…."

"Elena…Stefan. Elena."

"No." Stefan obstinately shook his head. He couldn't talk about her. Not now and not with this…stranger. And as he unwillingly recalled Elena's hesitation, the horrendous anguish came flooding back and every muscle in his body tensed with the onslaught, his jaw clenched tight as the pain had its way with him. Closing his eyes, he battled the overwhelming sorrow. He'd lost her, and he couldn't bring himself to face it. The wound was too fresh. It hurt too damn much. "No!"

I'm not doin' this. I'm done.

Turning, Stefan stumbled slightly as he started to make his way back to the boarding house, a sickly acid crawling up the back of his throat, the grief a physical ache throbbing through him, nearly paralyzing in its strength.

But before he got two steps, he ran headlong into Chamuel. A brick wall, more like it. The towering angel was solid as the proverbial rock, tremendous power held in check, but present nonetheless.

"Get outta my way." Stefan growled as a frustrated rage flared, refusing to look Chamuel in the face.

"You really are a pigheaded SOB, aren't ya?"

Stefan's head shot up, his mouth set in a defiant line as he stared daggers at the unwanted obstruction, his words deliberate when he finally spat them out. "Go…to…Hell."

A slow smile curved Chamuel's lips as his head moved from side to side. "Not likely."

"I'm through talkin' to you. Let me by." Stefan's fury continued to boil, blood rushing to his eyes, sharp fangs lying against his lower lip.

"Don't even go there, Salvatore." The smile vanished as a granite mask slid into place, the tranquil features suddenly harsh, agitated, frightening; his voice holding a threat more severe than his words. "I can have your soul roasting in Hell before your body hits the ground. You're not goin' anywhere until I'm finished with you."

As Stefan looked up at the fierce creature blocking his path, he supposed he should have been scared shitless, but he wasn't. Not really. He was defeated. He was tired. He was miserable. But he just couldn't muster frightened. And he simply didn't want to have this conversation any longer. "Just leave me alone."

Stefan retreated a couple of paces, giving the angel some room, but made no move to escape. The will to fight steadily drained away, along with the anger. Exhaustion took its place as he became resigned to the fact that he wasn't going to get what he wanted, the inevitability of the situation looming before him like a massive tidal wave, threatening to drag him lower than he already was.

Head bowed, he stepped around Chamuel to walk back to the center of the clearing where the encounter had begun. The sooner he allowed the interaction, the sooner it would be over. Whether he survived or not remained to be seen.

For a moment he allowed everything to slip into the background, concentrating on the soothing space around him. The woods teamed with renewing life. Although the days and evenings remained cool, spring had arrived and nature was beginning to reestablish itself. Closing his eyes, he let the simplicity wash over him, pacify him.

When Stefan sensed that Chamuel had joined him in the clearing, he opened his eyes and cast the angel a sideways glance, curiosity getting the better of him. "I thought an angel would be…I don't know…angelic. Sweetness. Light. Stuff like that. Not so much, huh?"

"We're warriors too, Stefan." Chamuel pursed his lips as he seemed to give the inquiry further consideration. "Sweetness and light, eh? Well, I don't do much visiting. Guess my people skills are a little rusty. But it should be noted that you can try the patience of an angel. I suggest you tuck that information away for future reference."

A faint smile touched Stefan's mouth. "Done."

"She's in love with you." Chamuel moved around to stand directly in front of Stefan, capturing his gaze with a knowing, deliberate look. "She loves you. Concentrate on that."

"She's in love with Damon too." The devastating ache began to creep back into his chest, a tightness in the muscles, a dull throb around his heart. The realization that Elena had given her love to his brother had been a swift kick in the gut. One that he wasn't sure he would ever recover from. He didn't want to think about it. He didn't want to talk about it.

"Have you heard her say she's in love with him?"

Stefan broke eye contact with the angel as he shook his head. He looked up over Chamuel's shoulder at nothing in particular, the heartache so brutal as to be almost numbing as he whispered. "She doesn't need to say it."

"Yes she does, Stefan." Chamuel's voice held a hard note as he insisted. "She most definitely does." The angel took Stefan by the upper arms, once again garnering his attention. "But what matters more is that you say it, that you feel it. Because in the end, it's about the love you give. And that's the main reason I still pay attention. You're capacity for love and compassion is…well…inspiring.

"Terrific." Stefan blinked as the embittered word passed his lips. He found no compliment in Chamuel's declaration, only a reminder of his vulnerability. "But it's what got me in this mess in the first place."

"And it's also what's getting you out." Chamuel dropped his hands from Stefan's arms, slipping them back into his coat pockets. "I suggest you continue to go with that."

"I love her with everything I am. I want to be with her." Anger joined Stefan's pain as he considered the necessity of letting Elena go. "I'm no martyr."

"Saint Stefan?" A short laugh left the angel. He appeared to contemplate the possibility for a brief moment before shaking his head. "No. But who knows…maybe that reservation in Hell 'll get lost along the way."

Stefan shot the angel an incredulous smirk. "Heaven?" They both knew it wasn't within his realm of possibilities.

"He's a merciful god." Chamuel shrugged. "Anything can happen."

Shaking his head, Stefan shifted his attention to the ground. Even coming from an angel, he didn't believe it for one minute.

"Look, Stefan, I'm not telling you to martyr yourself for the feelings Elena and Damon have for one another, whatever they may be. I'm telling you to hold on to the love you have. Nurture it. See through its prism. Continue to allow it to guide you. Nothing more, nothing less. And above all, try turning some of that love your way. You might be surprised by the happiness it affords you." Chamuel gave Stefan a friendly pat on the back as he cocked his head to one side. "How's that for sweetness and light?"

Stefan couldn't help but chuckle. He was beginning to like this angel, a lot. "Not bad."

"Good." Chamuel clapped his hands once, as if to offer an announcement, his pleasant features relaxed, content. "Now that you're no longer disappointed in me, I'll take my leave."

"But…." Stefan took a step toward the angel. To what purpose, he wasn't sure. He certainly wasn't going to be able to keep him from going, but…he wanted to, his keen disappointment surprising.

"No, Stefan. Just remember what I told you, and you'll be okay." The angel placed a palm over Stefan's heart, his smile gentle, comforting. "You're gonna be okay."

As before, a relaxing warmth spread throughout Stefan's body, centered at Chamuel's touch. However, this time the comfort seemed more potent, sweeping away everything but the desire to get lost in it. Stefan closed his eyes as he was helpless to do anything but give himself over to the peaceful haze blanketing him mind. And as he floated on the restful cloud of contentment, he was no longer conscious of the world around him.

Bolting up into a sitting position, Stefan looked around trying to get his bearings. Confusion assailed him when he realized he was in his own bed. He looked down. Boots, jeans, gray shirt. He was dressed in the same clothes he had on…when? How long had he been back? How did he get back?

He still held the white oak stake.

What the hell happened?

Was it a dream? It felt so real. Painfully real.

Taking a deep breath, he placed the piece of wood on the bedside table before swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He sat, elbows on knees, with his head in his hands, the…dream running through his mind as he tried to figure out what exactly he had experienced.

It had to be a dream. Nothing else makes sense.

Conversations with angels just weren't part of his reality. Yet…he couldn't quite shake the feeling that maybe this time his reality had been thrown for a loop.

'She loves you. Concentrate on that.'

Stefan lifted his head. Leaning back slightly, he stared at the ceiling. He wanted to block out everything except the fact that Elena loved him. It was a truth he treasured above anything else. But Damon's unwelcome shadow lurked in the back of his mind, and he found it almost impossible to gain any comfort from the certainty of Elena's love, not if she shared it with someone else. If that was a selfish attitude, then so be it. He would remain forever selfish in his desire for her commitment.

Dropping his attention back to the floor, Stefan worked to keep the crippling sadness at bay. When it was all said and done, it would be Elena's choice. And no matter what she decided, he would have no alternative but to accept it, as impossible as it would be to consider walking away from her. And as much as he tried, he knew he could never prepare himself for losing her. Nor would he be able to truly accept her loss. But the possibility stared him in the face, and it hurt like a thousand kinds of hell.

'You're gonna be okay.'

Dream words once again played in his head and this recollection gave Stefan pause, as an odd sort of relief accompanied it. The ever present pain continued to be as devastating as ever, but it was tempered somehow by…hope, a powerful hope that up until this moment had been absent. He sat up straighter on the bed in surprise as a misty warmth, reminiscent of the comfort he'd experienced in Chamuel's presence, drifted over him. The sorrow dulled as he allowed himself to embrace the solace, an unfamiliar optimism flickering to life. Maybe, just maybe, he would be okay.

The sound of someone bounding up the stairs captured Stefan's attention. In the next instant Damon came striding through the doorway, a heavy scowl in his face. The first thing Stefan noticed was that he was empty handed.

"Where's the stake?"

Damon drew a heavy breath as he came to a stop at the end of the bed, his hands gripping the footboard as he leaned forward. "We've got a problem, little bro. We've got a big problem."

The End