Though there's never a set schedule, him choosing random days usually between the hours of one and four in the morning, she's come to expect the sound of his fingers tapping on her window.
It's the same shy wave he gives, when she pulls back the curtains, and it's always her half asleep nod that lets him know it's okay. He climbs through her window with nary a sound, but she still casts a backward glance at the bedroom door.
Vampire stealth aside, her mother is a cop, and has an uncanny ear for shenanigans.
Elena is continual in her struggles, and Stefan's guilt of this is always eating away. Despite her attempts at empathy, part of her knows she will never understand the giant suck must be to have eternity laid out before you, and no chance to enjoy it without flying off the handle with a murderous rage.
He takes a seat on the corner of the bed, and she's quick to pull the fallen strap up from her barely there sleep shirt. Stefan doesn't notice, of course, he has a boatload of stuff on his mind. But sometimes it's like, dude, smoking hot chick in her pajamas. What is your deal?
There's an incident at the Grill.
Nothing a little compulsion couldn't fix, thank god it was a slow night, but there were words.
Words Elena's new found difficulty with impulse control couldn't hold back. Venomous words spat at the boy she's supposed to love unconditionally. Stefan tries hard too hard. That's just how he is. But most times it's not a fault. While his camp counselor approach worked wonders with Caroline herself, Elena is just not taking to it.
She's not growing into herself as a vampire, rather, resisting it every step of the way.
It kills Stefan to be so helpless, she knows this. Just as she knows every backward step Elena takes, he steps toward the monster that wears his face.
It's three thirty-seven, Tuesday, AM.
She and Stefan walk through the woods, and it's so eerily quiet, she nearly asks to head back to the house but keeps mum. It doesn't take a genius to see he's on the verge of letting something slip loose. Stefan Salvatore, Captain von Tightlips himself, suddenly spilling his guts like a sinner in confession.
Talking about the ripper as if he were another person entirely, sharing details she never would have asked for, nor wants. She keeps that to herself, listens with a kind ear despite the vile and despicable things he tells her, things she suspects he has never shared with another person.
He talks about a village massacre. A girl in Oklahoma City with different colored eyes. A sheriff's deputy in small town Missouri, and a vice mayor in middle Illinois. He talks about Chicago, prohibition, Klaus and Rebekah. (Ugh.)
An apartment he still keeps with names scrawled on the walls.
He tells her about Lexi, the friend who never gave up on him now matter how much he threatened, or begged. Years strapped to a chair in penance of atrocities he never regretted at the time. He talks and talks until the words simply run out.
When that happens, she hugs him.
It's all she can think to do.
As if to prove a point that their rekindled friendship isn't just one of emotional dependency, they go to the movies. Stefan lets her pick, a decision he regrets immediately when her choice is the latest romantic comedy starring that new British heartthrob. You know, the one with the accent.
Stefan doesn't go for popcorn, but has no problem scooping handfuls of hers when offered. He's a good sport about the whole thing, just sitting there with a grin and bear it attitude, and she nudges him playfully when he scoffs at a particularly cheesy line.
"Sorry you're so miserable," she teases.
"Oh, this is the least of my worries," he replies with a sidelong grin. "But it's, uh, you know-"
"Careful Stefan," she says, eyes moving back to the screen. "It might look like you're capable of having a good time."
The movie ends, they exit the theater with her discussing rapidly all the idiosyncrasies she found both implausible but delightful, he nodding his head but offering no opinion of his own. She stops dead on instinct, catching sight of Damon and Elena just across the park, his body pressed so close against hers. They're not making out or anything so blatant, but whatever is going on, it's intimate.
Stefan's eyes follow hers, and she can feel the tension immediately seize his body.
"Maybe it isn't what it looks like," she offers, hardly believing it.
"It's not," he says in return.
"No," Stefan says, turning to walk in the opposite direction.
Guys like Damon shouldn't get the girl.
They don't deserve to.
But, loathe as she is to admit it, he's good with Elena. Makes her focus, makes her work in a way Stefan's self imposed limitations just don't. It's not part of some master plan, though she wouldn't put it past him, to win Elena's heart. Rather, a genuine want to help her. Something she never would have thought the elder Salvatore capable of, despite any possible selfish motivations that may linger.
The better Elena seems to adjust to the vampire way, the more Stefan seems to retreat, such anger flashing in his eyes at random times.
It's a quiet ache she's always there to bare witness, not knowing how to fix it, but trying regardless.
A few days after the movie incident Stefan just sits there in her room, eyebrows creased together, not saying a word. The brood-o-meter is tilted ever so dangerously into the red, and she tries more than once to initiate some kind of conversation, despite the stone exterior of his expression never changing.
It feels like hours before "I wanted to kill someone tonight," leaves his lips in a whispered confession.
Her jaw drops, can't be helped, because he's always Mr. Serious but never so deadly serious.
She almost wants to ask what Lexi would do in a situation this, but thinks better of it. No matter what the similarities of their relations to one Stefan Salvatore may be, she is not Lexi, and should figure out how to do herself.
Leaning forward, she loops her right arm through his left, cheek moving rest on the base of his shoulder.
"You're the good one," she says firmly. "You do good. You are good. And any jealousy fueled homicidal tendencies aren't going to change that."
She can feel him looking at her, but she doesn't move.
"You wanted to kill someone, but you didn't. We're a lot alike that way."
He doesn't say anything in reply, but she can feel some of the tension within him slowly dissipate, and smiles against his sleeve.
She's getting kind of good at this.
Elena excuses herself halfway through lunch, and Stefan watches her go, not giving chase. Caroline lifts a curious eyebrow, fork paused with lettuce and carrot still impaled halfway to her mouth, before she points it purposely at him.
"Something you want to tell me?"
Elbows on the table, hands folded in front of his face, telling her looks like the last thing he wants to do. Even if the status quo had become telling her everything. Fingers tap the top of his hands idly, as he chews the inside of his cheek, while she finally takes the bite of her salad.
"I love her," he starts, then trails of.
She rolls her eyes, still chewing, the act of that keeping the 'duh' from coming out.
"And I keep trying, but it's like, I mean we just-"
"Don't fit," she finishes.
Even if that's what he was going to say, the fact that someone else can see their situation surprises him, despite all the confiding he's done. Human Elena and vampire Stefan, such a strong bond that had been through so much. But vampire Elena, vampire Stefan, are magnetic poles no longer opposite.
"Maybe not forever," she goes on. "But this, now, it's not helping her. It's not helping you."
"What would you suggest?"
Let her go, is perched on the tip of her tongue, even though that option is probably the last one he'll want to hear or comply to. No matter if she amended it to: just for now, not for always, it's not what he wants or is likely to do. He gave Elena the choice before, just as he's always given her a choice, but in choosing him Caroline thinks she might have taken his away.
Reaching across the table, she puts her hand atop his.
"Hey," she starts, stops, and leaves it hanging.
She's been there for him, every time he needed her, every misstep of the way. But Stefan makes sure to let her know that their friendship is a two way street, that he's there for her when she finds out about Tyler.
Though she insists that she can handle it, that she's fine, he doesn't let her be alone. He doesn't let her do something stupid, like she wouldn't let him, even if ripping little miss pouty lips' throat out feels like the best idea since sliced bread.
Stefan shows up at her front door, during daylight hours, with a helmet in hand and a motorcycle just over his shoulder. Sometime she'll ask just how he seems to know when she needs something like this.
It works, the rumble of the engine beneath them, wind whipping through the hair flowing from under the helmet. She doesn't think about how hurt and betrayed she feels for seconds at a time. Briefly, she wonders how the girl who spotted him in the hallway would feel about his, arms around Stefan Salvatore's waist as they speed down the highway.
He veers off the pavement half hour or so into the ride, the bike handling the dirt road with surprising ease, and he finally comes to a stop on the peak of a small hill.
The broken remains of some stone steps catch her eye, though they lead up to nothing, the indentation of earth says some building used to be here.
"Where are we?" She asks, spinning a slow circle, taking in the scenery.
"This used to be my father's hunting cabin," Stefan answers, voice distant with memory. "Damon and I would come here as children."
Eyes catch his, and in that instant she knows he's never brought Elena here.
Doesn't he know how to make a girl feel special?
He sits on those old steps, offering no long winded speeches about triumph over adversity, or the heart eventually forgiving or forgetting. Instead he just listens to every rage induced rant she can conjure, complete with pacing and manic hand gestures, about that complete asshat Tyler.
Eventually she runs out of breath, and insults, plopping down next to him with shoulders sagged. His arm around her brings a smile, however small, and once again she wonders what that girl in the hall would think.
"One day," she says. "I'm going to ask why you're so good to me."
"Nope," she answers, putting a hand atop the arm around her.
She's not sure how long they stay like that, in comfortable silence, taking in the view.
"So," she says breaking the silence. "We're like, total best friends now, aren't we?"
She doesn't have to see his face to know there's a rare grin pulling at his mouth, and that's kind of case in point, isn't it?
"Yeah," Stefan replies with an assuring squeeze. "I guess we are."