Stefan uses his arms to brace himself as he staggers up the stairs. His fingers brush on a painting and he frowns, that wasn't there two minutes ago was it? He looks up into the stern eyes of one of his ancestors and lets out an amused snort. He really hopes he doesn't look like that ever.
"You do sometimes!"
He blinks in surprise, his brain foggy but recognising the voice.
"Did I say that out loud?"
"Yep, you've been talking to yourself for a good two minutes."
There's the faint sound of squeaking coming from somewhere above him. There's the sound of something heavy dropping onto something soft. The sound of springs giving, catching the weight and compressing with it before being released and being set free again.
"In your cave Stefaaaaan."
He follows the noises, squinting against the light that suddenly blinds him on the landing and stumbles into his bedroom.
"It is not… a cave!" He manages to slur out. Then he sees what she's doing and straightens, "stop that!"
Caroline takes another jump, knees bending before she springs up and touches the ceiling.
"But it's fun!"
"My- my bed- is not a bouncy castle."
"It is now." Caroline smirks at him, her balance wobbly as she lands.
"Get off, you'll break it."
"Are you," she sways to a stop and he winces as he sees two, three of her before she settles into one whole Caroline again, "are you calling me fat?!"
"No, nu uh, but that bed is old."
"You're telling me. You should redecorate in here you know." She drops with a flop into his covers and her eyes widen with what he knows is her I have a brilliant idea that's going to cause Stefan pain face. "You should let me do it!"
He shakes his head vigorously, collapsing on the bed beside her and trailing his hands over the soft bedspread. "You'll make it colourful."
"Colour is good for you Stefan."
"That doesn't even make sense."
She lets out a laugh, it's clear and light and he never realises how much he needs to hear it until he does. He's so lucky her laughter is never in short supply.
He's just, ridiculously lucky to have her at all.
"Awww, Stefan, you say the sweetest things when you don't realise you're talking. We should get you drunk more often."
Trying to glare at her is almost impossible at the best of times but now he can't even bring himself to try. He drapes a hand across his face instead and sighs, "So, are we finished yet?"
"Not even close." Caroline leaps up again, somersaulting from the bed and then trips a little bit. She giggles and straightens the curtains, apologising to them under her breath.
"It's my turn so think of something really tough."
"But my brain is starting to hurt."
"Stefan! Don't go to sleep nowwww."
"Shhhh! You'll wake Damon up."
"Oh please, that boy sleeps like the dead." Caroline snorts at her own pun and bites down on her fist, trying not to laugh out loud and failing. "Oh my god I've just thought of your next dare!"
"No it's your turn, and I might pick truth."
"Truths are borrring. You'll probably get all- all broody on me," she wiggles her fingers around, "and start talking about things that'll totally kill my buzz."
"Thanks," he huffs crossly.
She ignores his pout and grabs his hand, "come on, let's go and see who can jump further from the roof."
This is how evenings with Caroline generally play out these days. They'll go to have dinner or see a movie or anything seemingly normal and he'll wake up on Alaric's kitchen floor with his brother standing over him looking unfairly amused or he'll discover he has a new tattoo around his left arm. Tiny words saying bite me underneath two bold bands of black wrapped right around his bicep. Stefan was the only one who didn't find the irony funny and had insisted on having it removed immediately. Caroline had called him a Fun Sucker and then laughed for a good two minutes at her own joke.
She has the worst sense of humour ever.
Stefan should really stop agreeing to go out with her at all. She makes him do reckless things and feel like he's weightless. And when they're trying to see how fast they can spin his car across the asphalt of the school parking lot at four am or throwing popcorn at the newest, tragic horror movie remake he barely recognises himself. He laughs. Caroline has informed him, somewhat proudly, that he is in fact the owner of eight very different laughs.
He dreads to think what she'll make him dress up as for Halloween. She'd been covertly narrowing her eyes at him all week, as if sizing him up and muttering things like eyeliner and whether or not there's possibly somewhere in Mystic Falls that sells pirate hats that look half decent.
Stefan has a feeling he's going to Tyler's Halloween party as Jack Sparrow. It will be mortifying.
But he doesn't ever tell her no. He could if he wanted to he knows. She's bitten her lip and shrugged off more than one invitation to go out or do something together but every time he'll shoot an arm or wave away her dismissals and tell her when they can meet. He likes hanging out with someone who doesn't expect anything more from him than to let his hair down. Caroline's words, not his.
And every time they go out he feels a little bit less like he's nearly two hundred years old.
So when they'd made plans to go for drinks at the only place in town that doesn't smell like death and decay and slowly rotting burnt flesh- honestly Stefan The Grill does not smell like that you're such a drama Queen- he'd expected to have a few drinks, maybe allow himself to be persuaded into dancing and then head home.
But no, a few drinks had turned into rows and rows of tequila. He suspects Caroline's had a blazing fight with her mother. They don't fight much these days; Liz hasn't totally come around to vampires in general but she loves her daughter fiercely and protects their small band ruthlessly. There was a determination to the way Caroline was drinking however that leads him to suspect they've probably exchanged angry words.
It might have something to do with the canoe Caroline convinced Bonnie to steal during the gang's last epic round of Truth or Dare. That and the fact it's currently occupying the Forbes' back yard.
Then again it could have something to do with the fact Caroline has supernatural creatures clambering in and out of her window at ridiculously hours of the morning and Liz, though a patient woman, is fond of her sleep.
Either way he knows there were shots involved. And then he thinks they sang karaoke? With pool cues for microphones? That does not sound like him. At all. Stefan won't even let himself sing in the shower because it would destroy his eardrums. But he kind of remembers the strains of Don't Stop Believing like he was singing them recently?
They'd finally been kicked out by an amused looking Jeremy and told to entertain themselves elsewhere. Once they were outside Caroline had yelled "race you to house!" And promptly run into a black Chevy.
She looked so surprised Stefan hadn't been able to breathe for laughing for over a minute.
He always laughs more when he's with her.
Caroline had taken advantage of him being distracted with laughter and shot down the road.
"Dare you to do it naked!"
"I'm not getting naked in the- the road." He'd narrowly avoided hitting a tree because it had taken an awful lot of focus just to make his mouth form words.
Caroline had turned as she ran, smirking at him, "does that mean you forfeit?"
"What? No!" He'd flung his shirt at her and then paused, thinking about the possibility of her mother finding them both drunkenly careering down the high street, and him being naked on top of that. "Ok yeah I forfeit!"
She rolled her eyes fondly, tossing his shirt back, "chicken! Now you have to answer the following truthful- hic- truthfullyyy!" They'd crashed up towards the familiar structure of his home as Caroline yelled, "And I'll know if you're lyinggg."
"Come on then- what do you want to know?"
"Ever had a threesome?"
Stefan had tripped over his own feet.
"No! God Caroline!"
"You've gone all red," she giggled before bursting the front door open, "and I win!"
"I hate you," he'd growled.
That was how he'd found himself sauntering up the stairs and then somehow jumping off his own roof purely for fun. He can still jump farther than her which he takes smug pride in.
An hour later and they're both collapsed on the lawn behind the house. Stefan is trying to be resilient in the face of Caroline's pleas but it's just not working.
"No. We can't do that."
"But it would be so funny please Stefan please come onnn. I dared you. You have to do it."
"No I forfeit, I seriously forfeit. Don't make do that Caroline; he'd actually stake me. He's done it before," he adds darkly.
Caroline's face falls, "well didn't you just bring down the mood."
"It's not my fault-"
She jumps up before he can continue, "well I'm going to do it without you then. Besides he won't hurt me- you'll jump in and defend me. Maybe there can be mud involved," she says almost to herself as an afterthought. "Or just a lot of water, or maybe chocolate sprinkles."
"What are you talking about?"
Caroline startles and then widens her eyes innocently, "nothing!" She lets out a laugh that sounds more like a hacking cough and pushes off up the stairs.
He realises they're already on the landing and that he's followed her inside without even paying attention. Now however, shit is about to get real. He mentally curses Jeremy for passing on such teenage colloquialisms. Somewhere Rebekah is killing herself laughing at him.
"Caroline stop, come on, this was funny to start with but you can't-"
"Yes I can!"
Ignoring his protests Caroline eases open Damon's bedroom door and Stefan feels suddenly like they're two naughty kids about to creep downstairs on Christmas.
She trips over a shoe and stuffs a hand in her mouth to stifle her giggle- once again it has little effect and it echoes round the room. He can feel himself freeze, squeezing his eyes shut against the onslaught of Damon's fury and… nothing happens.
Damon snores loudly in his sleep and rolls over; presumably unaware they're hovering beside him like lunatics.
"Don't oh god Caroline don't."
"Shut up I'm totally doing it." She hisses crossly at him before revealing a huge pair of scissors. Christ where did she even find those? And more importantly where she was keeping them? The last time he checked Caroline's jeans didn't exactly fit the requirements needed for storing giant sewing scissors.
Stefan makes a pained noise and reaches for them but apparently Caroline has more control over her coordination than he does for the moment and easily holds him at arm's length.
He hunches over, finding the whole situation both hilarious and insane. It's a heady feeling of light-heartedness mixed with vague terror.
Which is nice considering they're both about to die.
The first snip cuts into the silence of the room and Caroline bites her lip looking worried for the first time. When nothing happens, again- and seriously he's going to have to have a chat with his brother about his sleep awareness later- she leans right over him and cuts a huge swathe of his hair right. off.
"Open your eyes or you'll miss all the fun!"
"I can't watch. I can't believe you're doing this."
"You know you're secretly enjoying it."
"He's going to murder us in our sleep."
"Pfft, he's not going to leave the house for weeks let alone show his face in my neighbourhood." She considers him for a second, "maybe you should stay at Matt's for a while though."
"Can we please go?"
Caroline rolls her eyes and continues to cut off chunks of Damon's dark hair.
"It's like Delilah and Samson all over again," he moans in horror.
"Oh trust you to make a boring biblical reference. Just enjoy the moment."
He has to admit; Damon with half a head of hair? Brilliant. His brother looks ridiculous.
And for once he doesn't feel guilt ridden about it all. The hair will grow back right?
"Of course it will." And dammit can't he say anything in his head and not out loud when he's drunk?!
Once Caroline is satisfied she's done enough damage she turns and grins triumphantly at him. Her smile is blinding and he moves forward without thinking about it, wanting to touch her, pull her in tight and-
Damon groans and to their horror seems to start waking up, "wassat?"
"This is a dreeeam," Caroline sings softly, "you're getting very sleepyyy."
"You're never in my dreams these days Forbes."
"Oh thanks," she huffs but Stefan grabs her arm before Damon can tell the difference between real and dream Caroline and yanks her from the room.
"I can't believe you," he hisses as soon as they're back in the relative safety of his own bedroom.
Caroline's sniggering to herself and drops onto the bed, "I win Truth or Dare for life now, just so you know."
"I'll be sure to make a note of it in my diary," he says grumpily, "send you a gold star through the post."
"That won't be necessary," she replies airily. "Although," she sits up suddenly, "you could let me see the mysterious diary."
"Why not?" She's actually pouting at him and he shuts his eyes to avoid giving in. He's already failed several times this evening to be the sensible one, there's no way he's going to let her read his private thoughts on where their particular friendship is leading. Or where he hopes its leading.
"Because it's a private diary for a reason. It's mine to record thoughts and- and emotions and stuff. You can't read those things."
"Eloquent," she huffs crossly. "Come on, it'll earn you major points in the Dare league."
The world is slowly starting to swim back into focus and the evening is crashing into him from all sides, he shakes his head numbly.
"No, and we have to find a way to fix Damon's hair before he sees it."
Caroline shorts inelegantly, "what, get him a toupee?"
"I don't know!" He cries desperately, "something like that yes."
"Stefan," she tugs on his wrist, pulls him down onto the bed and settles herself next to him, "it won't kill him. It'll just be hilarious for the rest of us. And that's what we need more than ever- comic value in our lives."
"Is that why you keep making me do these ridiculous things? Everyone else too? To distract us from all the awful stuff?"
She shrugs, her hair falling in her face and he pushes it back unthinkingly, "it was at first. Then it was sort of just fun you know? It's nice to see you looking like you're actually enjoying your life from time to time too."
He twists so that he's lying on his side looking at her, "that's unbelievably thoughtful."
"Yes," she says drily, "amazing and impossible to believe as it is, sometimes I do care about the people around me."
He rolls his eyes so hard they hurt, "that's not what I meant and you know it. I mean, people don't just care about me like that every day anymore."
She bites her lip for a second before rolling over so that they're parallel, face to face, "sure they do. Whatever's going on or not going on with you and Elena, she'll always care about you, and Matt does and Bonnie does, Jeremy, even Damon when he thinks you're not looking,."
Somewhere, in the place in his chest where his heart used to be, something stutters into motion, clanking back to life like it hasn't in a long time. He thinks maybe Caroline's been coaxing it back to life all along.
"Everyone cares about you Stefan," she continues like she hasn't realised he's stopped breathing. When he doesn't say anything she frowns and glances over from where she's been gazing at the painting on the far wall, "did you fall asleep?"
"No," he says softly, "I'm right here."
"Smells like oranges in here," she says out of nowhere and he can't help but laugh, flopping onto his back and covering his face as she sits up, "seriously why does it smell of oranges?"
"It's just my laundry detergent."
"You use orange scented laundry detergent? No wait scrap that," she chirps excitedly, "Stefan Salvatore does laundry?"
"Who else do you think does it? Damon?"
Caroline laughs and lets him pull her back onto the bedspread, she's nice and warm and he's tired and he can feel the hangover lurking at the back of his skull. He doesn't want to over analyse everything tonight. Tomorrow he'll write it all down and Caroline will mock him for it and then drag him to that damned Halloween party and he'll pretend he thinks it's torture but end up having a perfect evening because he's with her.
"I care about you too," she says into the sudden silence, "I know we already covered that part but just so you know, I do."
He tugs her hand free from where it's trapped between them and kisses it softly.
"I know. I'm always happy when I'm with you."
"That's because I'm a delight."
"Yeah," he grins, pulling her into his body so that he's wrapped all around her, "you are."
"You know this is weird right? Friends don't do this."
"We're not friends," he huffs against the back of her neck and then feels her tense before he says; "we're more than that."
"Yeah, said so in my diary and everything. You can read that tiny bit of it tomorrow if you go to sleep now."
He knows she's not going to sleep and he sighs, all he wants to do is crash out next to her for a whole day, not worry about a damned thing and then get up and make pancakes or something else ridiculously domestic with her. "Stop thinking so loud."
"Oh I'm fine! I was just wondering if you'll let me correct your grammar and spelling in the margins."
He falls asleep laughing and muttering that she's a crazy person.
To say that his wake up call is less than friendly would be to put it mildly. Damon slams back his door so fiercely Stefan fears for the structure of the house. Caroline's squinting against his chest and looking up in confusion, first at him and then at Damon; he can't seem to help herself when she bursts into laughter and buries her face against his neck.
"Oh my goddd."
"What. The. Hell."
"Look at my head Stefan! I look like fucking Lex Luthor! I have to meet Alaric for brunch in ten minutes. What the fuck did you do?"
He advances on the bed and Stefan instinctively sits up, shoving Caroline behind him.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Damon grabs his hand and slaps it against his hairless head, "do you know now?" The volume of his voice is splitting Stefan's head open and he scrunches up his face, pulling his hand away, "I'm sorry man. I really can't help you."
"You know it kind of suits you Damon," Caroline says and Stefan can feel the smirk from behind him.
Damon narrows his eyes at them both, "I know you did this."
"Maybe you should get some security cameras in your room," Caroline suggest innocently, "I mean if you're such a heavy sleeper who knows what's happening in your bedroom when you're catching up on your beauty sleep."
"Revenge will be sweet; I swear to god, I will get you two for this."
"In the meantime Stefan has some rather fetching pirate hats waiting for him at my house," Caroline says on a yawn, "you can always borrow one."
His brother leaves the room cursing them both and Stefan sighs, trying to feel guilty but coming up fresh out of the emotion. Instead he lets Caroline curl back up against his chest and shuts his eyes.
"He did look kind of like Lex Luthor," he mumbles sleepily.
"Mmm, I always preferred Clark Kent anyway," Caroline replies, reaching up a hand to pat him across the face.