I felt a little cheated by the ending of 3x22, The Departed. I wanted to see Stefan pull Elena from the water and the aftermath up to the scene where he is sitting over her body.

I'm absolutely certain the writers would have done a much better job, but here is my feeble attempt at filling in the blanks.

For Love

By

C7

Elena…Elena…Elena… The name ran through his mind as he dragged Matt's motionless form through the water, panic rising, constricting the muscles throughout his entire body, threatening his ability to get to the surface.

She was helpless. She was dying. He had to get back to Elena.

This is your fault.

She was still down there because he wasn't strong enough to get both of them out at once, because he couldn't trust his control, because of his renewed attempt at getting himself back on animal blood, because of his irrepressible hunger and his inability to restrain it.

She's suffering because of you. The devastating accusation echoed in his head, pain a jagged edge as it shredded his heart.

No matter what he had to do to prevent it, he would never be this weak again. Never.

Self loathing and rage pushed him forward, his body breaking free from the momentary sluggishness, slicing through the water as the dread gave way to a determined fury. He had to get back to Elena.

Breaking the surface of the water, Stefan pulled Matt with him as he made his way to the shoreline. A single heave lifted the human's body onto the land. Looking back to the spot where the truck languished on the bottom of the river, Stefan considered, for a fraction of a second, leaving Matt and returning to Elena. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. She would be just as devastated if he allowed Matt to die on shore as she would if he'd left him under the water.

The mortal's heart still beat, but the rhythm had slowed rapidly over the last several seconds, his shallow breaths coming on the rare occasion now. Matt Donavan would not survive his ordeal without some help.

How long had she been down there? How much time did he have to get her out?

Hurry, damn it! Hurry!

As he climbed onto the shore, Stefan's chest began to constrict while a subtle nausea rolled through his gut.

Elena. An anxious helplessness magnified the anguish beating at him, threatening his sanity. Elena.

A paralyzing fear endangered Stefan's purpose as he rolled Matt onto his back, an angry frown pulling at his mouth. He was wasting precious time. He had to get back to Elena.

For a brief moment Stefan contemplated pouring some of his blood into Matt's mouth and jumping back into the water. But in his near-death state, Stefan couldn't be sure if the blood would get into the moral's system. An act of neglect for Elena's sake that Stefan knew she would never forgive herself for. A callous act for Elena's sake he knew she would never forgive him for.

Instead of the blood, Stefan began to breathe into Matt's mouth, pushing air into his lungs in an effort to coax the human back to consciousness. After a few strong breaths, Stefan was encouraged by the increase in, and steadying of, Matt's heartbeat. A couple more breaths and a cough broke from the mortal. Relief washed over Stefan as he leaned back and observed his patient, the ghost of a smile forming along his lips.

Another bought of coughing. Stefan rose and started to make his way to the shoreline. "Matt?" He yelled over his shoulder. "Are you with me? Matt?"

"Yeah!"

Stefan barely had a chance to hear the human's strangled reply before he was submerged in the water swimming toward the one person he could not survive without.

Frantically, he pushed himself toward Elena, arms slicing through the water, legs propelling him forward.

I'm coming, Elena. Abject panic threatened once again as Stefan silently prayed for mercy. Please, God, I'm almost there. Just another few seconds. Please.

The truck appeared through the murky water, a helpless derelict dead on the river bottom. An unforgiving prison holding his heart and soul within its pitiless grasp.

A tiny trickle of relief briefly diluted the torrent of dread flowing through Stefan when he finally caught sight of Elena, his strokes becoming more fluid as the tension eased a fraction.

He was almost there. Elena was going to be okay. Like before, he would pull her out of the water, and she would survive. She would live.

But as he closed the gap between them, he was bludgeoned by the harrowing realization that something wasn't right. She was still…eerily, frighteningly still. And as he scanned her lax features, acknowledged her closed eyes, it hit him that he couldn't hear a heartbeat. Even through the confines of the water, he should be able to hear a heartbeat.

No…no…no…no!

A hot, murderous rage roared through Stefan as he ripped the confining seatbelt from around Elena's quiet body. Pulling her into his arms, he began to swim toward the surface, pushing back against the debilitating grief blackening his thoughts, disallowing the penetrating sorrow closing around his heart.

No! I won't let you leave me! I won't let you go!

He held tightly to the anger as it fueled his strength, enabled his power, moved him quickly through the water. In the next second, he broke the surface. Already close to the shore, he lifted Elena out of the water toward Matt, who waited by the river's edge.

"Take her!" Stefan lifted Elena higher.

Matt grabbed Elena under the arms and dragged her onto land as Stefan jumped out of the water.

"She's not breathing, Stefan." The fear in Matt's voice was unmistakable as he knelt beside Elena's lifeless body.

"You do the compressions on her heart. I'll give her mouth to mouth." Stefan buried the raw emotion threatening to overtake him, the callous turmoil promising to lead him away from his sacred mission, the fear, the pain, the sorrow, the guilt. With a fierce purpose, his entire being focused in on bringing Elena back. There was nothing else, no other reason for existence. Only her resurrection, only her survival. It could be done. It had to be done.

There was nothing else…nothing.

"But…" Painful doubt tainted Matt's voice as he stared back at Stefan, tears suddenly hovering in his eyes.

"No!" Stefan didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to think about it, didn't want to consider it. He knelt beside Elena on the opposite side from where Matt was positioned. Putting a hand under her neck, he straightened her head and opened her mouth. He then shot Donovan a resolute scowl. "She's gonna be okay. Let's do this."

Pursing his lips in a hard line of obvious determination, Matt positioned the heel of his palm over Elena's heart and pushed down firmly…one…two…three…four…five.

Stefan followed the action by placing his mouth over Elena's. The touch of her cool lips gave him pause, the unfamiliar sensation terrifying in its starkness, numbing in its truth. Elena lay before him…motionless…lifeless.

Would he ever bask in her soothing warmth again? Feel her gentle touch? See the tender, loving light shining in her rich, brown eyes?

'That's just in case there is no later.' His prophetic words from earlier in the evening cruelly mocked him. Not for one moment had he entertained the possibility that Elena would be the one unable to share the loving gesture, that she would be incapable of accepting his gentle kiss.

As an unbearable foreboding began to filter through Stefan's mind a frosty shiver skirted down his back, yanking him from the brink of the tortuous abyss. He shook his head against the rising fear before sealing his mouth with Elena's. He couldn't let himself get lost in the menacing darkness. Even as it called to him, he turned a deaf ear to the desolation it trumpeted.

A whisper of satisfaction moved over him as Elena's chest rose with his first, forceful breath.

After several minutes and no response, Matt sat back with a defeated sigh, a tear sliding down his cheek. "It's no use, Stefan. She's gone."

"No. Keep trying." A sickening dread rose up in Stefan, constricting his throat, tightening his jaw.

Another deep breath into Elena's lifeless body.

She wasn't gone. He hadn't lost her. He couldn't lose her. He was nothing without her…nothing.

"Matt, don't stop!" Stefan's strangled plea cut the silence before he covered Elena's mouth with his again. Another deep breath into her lifeless body.

"She's gone, Stefan. She's gone." Matt's pain-filled stare dropped to the ground before his eyes closed, the tears falling freely now.

No…no…no! A horrendous sadness started to close in around Stefan, dark, all encompassing, suffocating. Desperately, he battled the burgeoning sorrow, not ready to give up, not ready to let go.

Maybe… The hospital…Doctor Fell…maybe… If she injects Elena…maybe it'll be enough. Or maybe they can revive her the normal way. There've been miraculous cases…

You know it's too late. The bitter voice of reason interrupted his hopeful conjecture, reverberating through his brain, unyielding, unwanted, unforgiving. There's nothing you can do now. Matt's right. She's gone. She's past the point of return. Let her go.

Hell no!

Stefan refused to admit defeat. It wasn't an inevitability he was prepared to face. He could fix this. His hands rolled into white-knuckled fists as they rested in his lap. He had to fix this. She would come back to him. She had to live. There was simply no other option.

But even as he struggled against it, the harrowing doubt and immobilizing terror began to take root, brutal reality pushing its way through his thin wall of delusional possibility. Something deep inside him began to ache, a perpetual burn somewhere in the vicinity of his heart, a keen throb crushing his soul. He blinked away the beckoning tears, stubborn in his need to refute the pain, deny the defeat.

With a resigned grief hovering like an ominous storm cloud at the back of his mind, Stefan gathered Elena up in his arms, one last purpose at his disposal. He had no other hope than to take it.

"Matt, I'm taking her into town…to the hospital. I'll send someone out to pick you up." Although he teetered on the edge of sanity, Stefan fought to keep himself steady, his muscles coiled taut as he battled the imminent breakdown. For Elena's sake, he had to keep it together.

"Why, Stefan? Why did you save me first?"

Matt's quiet, mournful questions halted Stefan's departure. Turning his head, he looked down into the human's reddened, dejected eyes, a stab of pity causing Stefan's jaw to clench at the sight.

"For love, Matt." The answer came easily. The truth always did. "Because of her love for you, Elena made the choice that you should go first. Because of my love for her, I had no choice but to do as she wished."

No matter how much it destroyed me to do it. The callous declaration sounded only in Stefan's head as an unbearable anguish pounded at him, a queasy lunge in his stomach sending caustic bile rising in his throat. Closing his eyes, he worked to quiet the torment, temper the growing anger. His concentrated determination was once again beginning to slip away. The reality of his situation violently worked to grab hold, blurring his goal, jeopardizing his resolve.

Move…move…move! Stefan opened his eyes as a merciless urgency pummeled him.

He looked down at Donovan, who appeared utterly dumbfounded as he continued to kneel at the riverbank, Stefan's admission seeming to have a profound affect on him. The knowledge would be a tough burden for the mortal to bear, an unintended consequence of Elena's selfless act. As Stefan knew all too well, guilt was a profound weight that grew more cumbersome with the passage of time. He sympathized with Matt for the briefest of seconds before turning and heading back to town. Rigid purpose held him fast as he raced toward Mystic Falls, Elena held lovingly close to his heart, a precious being who cradled his sanity, his entire world, within her fragile existence.

In the matter of a few minutes, Stefan pushed his back against the emergency room door of Mystic Falls Community Hospital. It opened easily. He stepped through and began to search the large room, scanning faces in his quest to locate Doctor Fell. He didn't even know if she was working tonight. If he had to, he'd put some of his own blood into a syringe and inject Elena himself.

The place was busy and no one noticed him standing in the corner with Elena Gilbert draped over his arms. He was about to grab someone's attention when Meredith Fell appeared from behind a curtain surrounding one of the several beds lined up against the left wall.

The easy smile brightening her pretty face faded as soon as she set eyes on him. Turning her head, she told the nurse she would return in a few minutes and then stalked over to Stefan.

"I need your help." He quietly pleaded, once again feeling the hounds of panic biting at his heels.

Doctor Fell's frown deepened as she grabbed the stethoscope draped around her neck. Putting the earpieces in her ears, she placed two fingers over the would-be pulse in Elena's left wrist. After laying the chest piece over Elena's heart, she stilled, listening. A few seconds was all it took, her attention gravitating back to Stefan's face. "How long has she been like this?"

"I don't know…fifteen minutes?" The look of unabashed concern shadowing Meredith's expression caused Stefan's apprehension to magnify, his gut twisting into a hard knot. Despair joined the anxiety as he gazed down into the ashen face of the woman he would love for the rest of his life. A faint note of the mounting desolation entered his voice when he moved his focus back to Doctor Fell. "You've got to do something. Inject her with some of my blood…something."

"Come with me." Shoving the stethoscope into a pocket of her lab coat, Meredith pivoted on her heel and started walking toward a door on the far wall of the room leading further inside the hospital. Stefan followed quickly.

Once in the hallway, Doctor Fell indicated that they go left. Stefan trailed her down the deserted corridor until they reached another door at the end of the walkway. Behind the metal barrier was a staircase.

The dank odor of neglect invaded Stefan's nostrils as he stepped into the stairwell; and he balked at the familiarity of the stench. It reminded him too much of the cells beneath the boarding house, and a foreboding shudder rippled through his body. He didn't like this. Not one damn bit. They were wasting precious time.

"Where the hell are we going?" He impatiently insisted as he pulled Elena closer to his chest.

"Hurry, Stefan." A marked urgency marred Meredith's tone, but she offered no explanation as she descended the stairs.

Stefan allowed her to lead him forward even as every cell in his brain objected. Something wasn't right about the situation, a profound misgiving gnawing at his insides. But at this point, he had no alternative but to trust her.

At the bottom of the stairs Doctor Fell held open another metal door, and Stefan went through it. Meredith indicated the corridor directly in front of them with a nod. At the end of the dimly lit hallway was a set of swinging doors.

The ominous tension refused to release Stefan as he approached the entrance. On the wall to the right of the doors was an elongated patch of what looked to be old, yellowed, dried glue. As if a sign that had once hung there was now missing.

Doctor Fell pushed back one of the doors. "In here."

Stefan hesitated a moment before crossing the threshold into the darkened room, suddenly overwhelmed by the erratic belief that entering the space would forever change his life, a final consequence etched in stone. The stinging fumes of formaldehyde assaulted his senses when he entered, burning his eyes and throat. The dread intensified, his jaw tightening against the fear fighting to overtake him.

"Where are we?" He asked, even as an eerie recognition solidified in his mind.

"The hospital morgue." Meredith's low voice resonated from behind him, a dim light abruptly dispersing the blackness.

He flinched when the unexpected brightness struck his vision. But it was the odious conformation that took him aback, a brutal lash across the heart, a disarming kick to the gut.

This is wrong. Elena shouldn't be in this place.

Stefan's chest began to constrict with the pressure of an inescapable certainty. He struggled to move the air in and out of his lungs as the demoralizing veracity weighed him down.

Doctor Fell rejoined him as his stood just inside the doorway and pointed to one of the stark steel tables scattered about the unfriendly room. "Put her here, Stefan."

"No." Holding Elena closer, he backed away from the repulsive object as if it were engulfed in flame. "You've got to do something. Help her…please."

"There's nothing I can do, Stefan." A genuine sympathy resonated in Meredith's quiet voice. "She's gone. She's…dead."

"No." Denial his only path to sanity, he shook his head, unwilling…unable to believe. "No!" He buried his face in the soft, brown hair laying against Elena's neck as he whispered. "I won't let you go."

But the bleak truth loomed before him like a massive barrier of granite, too high to get over, too deep to break through. It walled him in, forcing him to face the devastating reality. He could no longer turn away from it, no longer run from it.

She's…dead. He heard the revolting words again.

There was no way to hold back the anguish now. It swept over him in an unchecked torrent, crashing against his heart, submerging his soul, causing his knees to buckle with the malevolent force. The will to continue his existence floundered in the rising sorrow, a profuse numbness spreading through him.

"Stefan…you need to put her down…over here."

The words drifted to him from somewhere far off in the distance as a gentle influence tugged on one of his shirt sleeves in an attempt to draw him forward. Blinking over the water standing in his eyes, he lifted his head and sluggishly did as the soft voice commanded, his deadened mind scarcely able to coordinate the movement of his muscles, the disabling misery momentarily robbing him of any desire to object.

He placed Elena on one of the metal tables as if she were rare crystal, slowly…gently. Through the blurring tears, he took her in. She was still, so heartbreakingly still. But her beauty continued to radiate. Soft ebony hair. Smooth flawless skin. Full perfect lips. Her beauty was there to see, but somehow muted. Sleeping Beauty, but no…not sleeping.

As he gazed down on her, Stefan finally allowed himself to see her…in this moment…in this reality, and the picture did nothing but magnify the agony pulsing through his every fiber. It terrified him. It enraged him.

He ran unsteady fingers down her velvet cheek and across her supple mouth. His reason for existing lay before him cold, lifeless…dead. Caustic bile rumbled in his stomach as his brow furrowed in furious disgust.

Dead. Elena is dead.

He shut his eyes, all at once incapable of perceiving the beautiful…the horrifying sight.

There was nothing left…nothing. He was lost, adrift in an ocean of sorrow and doubt, his precious compass torn from him, leaving him to wander directionless, hopeless. What to do? Where to go? How to survive? Why survive?

"There's something you should know, Stefan."

The low, distant voice again sifted through painful numbness, and when the words finally registered, he opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Doctor Fell.

"When Jeremy brought her in yesterday, she was in very bad shape. Much worse than I let on. She was dying and needed some very specialized care. The kind that we aren't prepared to give here. There was no time to get her where she needed to be, so I…I…."

"What?" A sudden throbbing in his head caused him to stumble back a step as an unthinkable possibility splintered his brain. "You what?" Stefan's adamant, raised tone bounced off the white walls of the morgue.

"She's got vampire blood in her system, Stefan."

For a brief second an odd sort of joy washed over Stefan. She wasn't really dead. She would come back to him. He hadn't lost her.

'I don't want to be a vampire, Stefan. I never wanted to be one.'

Out of nowhere, Elena's tearful declaration rang in Stefan's head, and his subtle euphoria vanished, a relentless shame overcoming him, thick, black, brutal. What had he done? How could he have let this happen?

"Oh…God…please no."

The crippling guilt wracked his body, a physical pounding through his chest. Its steely fingers pierced his flesh, shattering the bone that lay beneath to wrap a ruthless fist around his heart. An abrupt jolt ripped the organ from his body, leaving him stripped bare, his life force oozing from the gaping wound, desolate, destroyed. Actuality couldn't have been more horrific, more excruciating.

He'd done this to her. He was the reason she was here in this gruesome place, the reason she would become the one thing she never wanted to be. His weakness had betrayed her…his abhorrent, vile weakness.

Turning his back on Elena and Doctor Fell, Stefan hugged his stomach and leaned forward as a fresh, overwhelming wave of nausea rolled through him. He was successful in his fight to keep the sickness at bay, but his equilibrium faltered, his body swaying with the violent assault.

A metallic dragging sound hit Stefan's ears before something pushed against the back of his legs. "You better sit down before you fall down." Doctor Fell offered him a seat.

He took the advice, slowly pivoting the swiveling lab chair to face Elena's body. As much as it pained him to see her like this, he could not leave her. And when she woke up, he would be here. He would always be here…beside her, if she would have him.

"I'll leave you alone with her. No one will disturb you down here." Meredith placed a compassionate hand on Stefan's shoulder, giving a gentle, encouraging squeeze before she left the morgue.

Stefan's sight gravitated from Elena's body to get lost in the blurred scene before him, the intolerable grief…the paralyzing shame holding him in a malicious grip. Tears hovered in his eyes as he waited for his precious Elena to come back to him.

He couldn't even begin to comprehend her devastation when she discovered what happened. The misery suffered for her lost humanity. The helpless anger endured for her stolen mortality. The encompassing heartbreak she would experience over her hijacked future. They would all befall her, but how would she withstand them? A muscle tightened in Stefan's jaw as his heart began to ache for her.

Would she hate him? After everything he'd done over the last several month, she'd never lost faith in him, never stopped loving him. And he loved her all the more for her steadfast commitment to him, even as he knew he in no way deserved it. But now…after this? His frailty had cost her the one thing she held most dear. Could she tolerate him after this?

Forgive me, Elena. Please…forgive me.

And as the unrelenting guilt and sadness continued to toss him about in a merciless, vicious surge of emotion, the morbid silence in the room was shattered by Elena's sudden sharp intake of air.

The…Beginning