His life is a series of unforeseen circumstance.

One hundred, sixty-some odd years.

Every day, moment, and feeling. All reflecting back at him in cold, brackish, water.

This steel tomb, an endless echo of calmly flowing liquid, filling up his lungs and drowning away the screams. Hunger overtakes an unknown number of days in, the madness it carries with it all encompassing.

He is not who he thought.

An imitation. A copy.

Little shadow puppet dancing for an audience he never wanted to entertain.

There is a monster loose in the word, wearing a familiar face, and for once he truly understands how Elena must have felt.

Self revelation is useless in the void, when existence is nothing but the black.

/\

A crease of light splits into the dark, burning eyes so unused to the sensation. The slow groan of an open door, and the weight of the world, pull him out of the sarcophagus. A muffled scream just above his head, limbs heavy and slow, white the new shade of choice.

The shape of his would be savior slowly starts to form, a terrified man in a wet suit, too stunned to run from his catch of a lifetime. Every attempt to move is quicksand, but slowly, surely some of the magic that keeps him alive returns.

He can hear the man's heart beat, as loud as a drum, filling his head with sound. Instinct is hunger. Hunger is madness. Madness has no self imposed moral compass.

There is life on his tongue, sweet as sugar, oiling every pull of muscle and crack of bone.

He does not stop.

He cannot stop.

Gasping up at the sky when it's over, there is no remorse for the body now still at his feet. He looks at it curiously, briefly wondering the circumstance that lead to his discovery, before grabbing the man by the foot and dragging him toward the safe.

/\

He parks the truck in the garage, next to his Porsche, noting that Damon's car is not present.

The back door isn't locked, though the house is vacant, he makes way toward his room.

Nothing is changed, though the odd thought that there would be, remains prevalent. Shedding the still damp clothes, he makes way to the closet, blindly grabbing the first thing he gets a hand on. In the bathroom, he takes stock of the reflection in the mirror. Ashen skin and sunken eyes, lips nearly blue, with hair flat and lifeless.

To be clean again seems a luxury, but the idea of making contact with water so soon, is not one he intends to carry out.

/\

The hunger spreads through every vein, pain crawling along like fire ants, demanding to be sated. Hands scratch along the walls for support, feet nearly tripping over themselves as he makes way down the stairs, to the basement and Damon's private stock.

A rush of cold air hits his face as the sight of numerous blood bags brings blessed relief. Half way to grabbing one, when the smell hits his nose, warm and fresh. Nothing close to the plastic encased plasma below.

Katherine is the last person he expected to see, huddled up in the corner of a cell. She doesn't look up, though she knows he's there, and for whatever reason he doesn't turn away. He knocks on wood, allowing the smallest bit of satisfaction at the surprise on her face.

"Hello handsome," she says.

He smiles.

"Hello beautiful."

/\

In the kitchen with an island between them, a glass of water in her hand, and his folded before him. Waiting for her to confirm what he already knows. How she smells, how she breathes, and that tell tale sound going bump, bump, bump.

"So," she says, taking a cursory drink. "Where have you been?"

"Trapped in a safe at the bottom of the quarry."

She laughs, thinking it a joke, but his silence causes her to stop and regard him more closely.

"You're serious."

He just looks at her.

"How did-"

"Silas."

It's all he has to say.

She finishes the water, sets the glass on the counter.

"The lovebirds are going to be plenty mad you let me out," she offers with no humor.

"They'll get over it."

/\

She's like nothing he's ever tasted before. Better than wine. Better than whiskey. So smooth and sweet, he almost doesn't stop. Her hand slapping against his arm is the only that keeps him from draining her completely.

Pushing herself away, hand immediately covering her neck, Katherine looks at him through clouded eyes.

"I guess I owed you that."

Stefan licks lips.

She has no idea how deep her debt runs.

/\

"Hey brother."

He says it so casual. As if he'd actually gone off for that life of his own, away from here, away from them. Rage cries out in a red flash inside his mind, there and gone in a moment. Silas must not have stuck around, passing himself off, small mercy that. Elena doesn't appear to be with Damon, as Stefan sighs and takes a drink of bourbon.

"Keeping Katherine locked in the basement," he says, eyes catching his brother's. "Dare I ask what motivated that?"

Damon's face pinches in a scowl.

"Tell me you didn't let her out."

"What's done is done," Stefan replies, swirling his drink. "She's human. That's new."

"Yeah," Damon confirms, taking a few more steps into the room. "Elena didn't want to kill her anymore because of it. But she couldn't just let her go so easily."

"I get that."

"I assume she's halfway to Canada by now."

"Actually," Stefan offers with a point of his finger. "She's upstairs taking a nap."

"What?"

"So very tired," he goes on. "Drained, you could say."

"Wait a minute," Damon utters. "Are you telling me-"

Stefan smiles.

"She tastes like strawberries."

/\

"You came back mean."

From anyone else, it would be an accusation. Not Katherine. She says it with a grin, hands playfully at her mouth, as if it's all she's ever wanted. He knows the game. Go along well enough and she might convince him to turn her.

Maybe he will, maybe he won't.

He want's to see how long she'll be nice. He wants to see desperation come into it. Which it's bound to, just a mere question of when. If there's one thing she's ever taught him, it's never give a person what they want, when they want it.

Make them give it to you.

/\

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

No hello. No 'how are you?'

Just folded arms and an expectant look on her face. He offers up the pool cue in hand as an answer, before leaning over the table to break, the loud clack silencing her momentarily.

"With Katherine," she reiterates.

He goes for the six ball, sends it corner pocket.

"Not keeping her prisoner?" He deflects, moving to the four, side pocket. "For someone who wanted her dead, you sure kept her alive well enough. Good job, by the way."

"She had to pay for what's she's done."

"Because making her human wasn't punishment enough?"

Two, corner pocket.

"You of all people know it isn't."

He shrugs, knocks the five and three in succession.

"Are you doing this to hurt me?"

The question makes him laugh.

"Not everything is about you, Elena."

"Then what is it about?" She asks. "God, what happened to you over the summer? Where did you go?"

Wood cracks in his hand, the swift flash of red coming into play, as he lines up the eight ball.

"Nowhere," he replies, sending it sharply into a corner pocket.

She's too upset to see it isn't a lie.

/\

"Do you want me to say please?" She whispers into his ear. "Because I will. Pretty please with sugar on top."

In his bed, a little past midnight, she falls back on her old seducing ways. He lets it happen because it's sort of sad, sort of funny, sort of what he needs all at once.

"As if it could be that easy," he replies.

She kisses his neck, nips at the skin.

"I wasn't meant to be human," she says softly.

A hand reaches under her chin, pulling up so that their eyes meet.

It's the first truly honest thing she's ever said to him.

/\

A sharp pain stings the back of his skull, pitching him forward, before he spins round smoothly to grab the perpetrator by the neck and slam them against the nearest wall.

"Are you crazy?" She shouts, eyes wide at the attack.

"Caroline?"

He lets her go instantly, hands moving across her shoulders, then down her arms. No real harm done.

"I'm sorry," he says sincerely. "I didn't-wait, why did you hit me?"

Her head tilts, annoyed.

"Do you need a list?"

He regards her quizzically.

"One," she says, hands to his chest, pushing him back but not away. "Leaving town without so much as a goodbye you big jerk! Two. You're back for almost three whole days, and I don't even warrant a phone call?"

"Caroline-"

"Three," she goes on, completely ignoring his attempt to interrupt. "You're getting all chummy with Katherine, which is so stupid I don't even think there's a word for it, and best of all I have to hear about it from Damon?"

There's no anger. No flash of red. Not with her.

"I can't explain it," he says evenly.

"You're not even going to try?"

"I don't think you have room to talk," comes out low.

"Excuse me?"

"If I recall," he starts, looking her up and down. "There's a disturbing, yet continual flirtation with a certain original vampire, you readily participate it in despite all the pain he's caused you."

"That's-"

"Different? I'm sure to you, it is."

"Now you're just being mean."

"Truth," he starts, fingers moving to twirl the ends of her hair. "Hurts."

"Stop," she says, swatting his hand away. "Acting like this. You're better than this."

"Tell me," he continues. "How exactly does drowning every minute, of every day, for the last three months make me a better person?"

She looks horrified.

"What does that mean?"

"I'm not who you think I am."

/\

"I'm not going to beg," Katherine assures, resting on her elbow, laid out atop the covers.

Not yet, he doesn't say.

There's a book in hand, mainly for show, because he doesn't feel like talking or listening to her pitch. Caroline made him tell her everything, and of course he didn't even think twice about complying. But as far as some kind of cathartic relief is concerned, it was all for naught.

The black hole twisting away inside, pulling at various bits of humanity, refuses to let him be.

Her offer still stands, as does the promise of not letting him lose control, but he knows himself well enough that nothing can be done for now.

"Where are you?" Katherine wonders aloud.

Somewhere else, he thinks. Yet always stuck here.

/\

The safe isn't visible from the edge, mildly curious as to how the man who took his place spotted it, he stands stock still staring down into the water. The sound so different above the depths.

"Maybe we shouldn't be here," Caroline says at his side. "Post traumatic stress and all."

He doesn't answer, continuing to watch his reflection blur amongst the ripples.

"Lexi said she always sees me," he tosses out. "I wonder if she stood right here."

Caroline loops her arm through his.

"Well that's the most depressing thing I've ever heard," she replies. "For her sake, I hope not."

He looks over to her.

"It would be torture knowing you were trapped down there, helpless to do anything about it."

Her hand finds his.

"I'm sorry," she says softly. "That we, I mean that I didn't-"

"It wasn't anyone's fault," he replies. "Except his."

"Silas," she fills in. "God, just the thought of him out there with your face."

"It's his face."

"Not even," she says incredulous. "You are not a doppelgänger, or shadow self, or whatever the hell he called it. You're you, Stefan. Who is still the best person I know, despite some recent decision making, so you are forbidden to think otherwise. Got it?"

He doesn't answer.

"Got it?"

"Yeah," he says, almost giving in to a smile. "I got it."

/\

Katherine gasps when he releases her neck, hands clutching at his arms, a slow even breath released as she bites her lip.

"That is one good thing to come from your exile," she says, running a finger along his jaw.

"Oh?" He wonders. "What's that?"

"Restraint."

His head tilts at her.

"You haven't killed me," she continues. "And there hasn't been any of that grunting animal nonsense I don't even think you realize happens. Just a nice, clean, feed."

A hand cups his cheek.

"To think how much easier your life could have been, were it always this way."

His eyes narrow.

"I do wonder," she goes on. "What you think you're getting out of this. Everyone mad at you for letting me go. For keeping me around."

He licks his lips, thinking the simplest answer, is usually the correct one.

"Maybe two good things came out of it."

She grabs the front of his shirt, pulls in for a kiss, tasting herself on him.

"Maybe the part of you that loved me has finally woken up too."

Another kiss.

"Silas loved someone so much he betrayed one of the most powerful witches who ever existed," she continues. "Qetsiya killed her as punishment, but he had a fail safe. Every five hundred years or so, his soul mate is born anew."

His stomach drops at the revelation.

"Tatia. Katerina. Elena."

Just when he thinks he's got the upper hand.

"You were always meant to love us, Stefan."

She makes it clear, she's always the one in control.

/\

"So," Damon starts, approaching the space between the pines, where Stefan is halfway though a hundred push ups. "How long is this little charade of yours going to last?"

"What," Stefan huffs. "Do. You. Mean?"

"Katherine," he replies. "Come on man, it's been two weeks. Turn her, don't turn her, who cares? Just get her out of the house."

"Is that you?" Stefan asks, shifting to sit in the dirt. "Or Elena talking?"

"Does it matter?" Comes the reply. "She's driving us crazy, and it's only a matter of time before someone gets their neck snapped."

"Why haven't you?"

Damon looks momentarily confused.

"You two hate her so much, wanted her dead on countless occasions, so now that's she's so easy to kill, why haven't you done it?"

Damon smirks, hands slipping into his pockets.

"I'm not, not happy for you, little brother."

/\

"You still haven't told them," Caroline states, fork pointed at him. "About what happened."

Stefan sips his drink, rye on the rocks, and lets the ice clink before setting it down.

"I think the window of opportunity has closed on that."

"It might help."

He smiles.

"That's why I have you."

"Smooth," she replies, stabbing the fork into a carrot. "So, have you decided? You know about-"

"No," he cuts her off, eyes and fingers tracing the condensation on his glass.

"Doesn't sound much like a 'no.'"

"Caroline-"

"Look, I'm not going to tell you what to do," she starts, putting down the utensil. "Oh wait, of course I am. Don't do it, Stefan. She's evil, selfish, not to mention a total bitch. Who is clearly just using you to get what she wants, like always."

He almost tells her about the doppelgängers, Silas' plan, and the twist of fate or magic that has him stuck in the middle of it all.

"We're not meant to be alone," he says instead. "For eternity or otherwise."

"For someone who graduated high school seventeen times, you are so dumb," She fires back. "And not alone. You have a brother. Friends. Me."

Peering up, he sees she means every word with every part of her. Thinks about how good she's been to him, had his back when no one else did. Thinks of Lexi, that knowing look, and pushes all those feelings deep down.

The Stefan Salvatore that would have been any good for her drowned in a box months ago.

/\

Maybe people really are doomed to repeat their mistakes.

Vampires have the luxury of immortality, to learn or lose accordingly, endlessly scouring the world like vultures on the corpse.

That low, hollow feeling, continually eating at him since that night and Silas' little secret revealed.

He is not who he thought.

Maybe it's time the rest of the world saw it too.

Katherine's eyes light up when he gnashes at his wrist, pressing her mouth against him, so eagerly taking what he offers.

She kisses him, when she's had her fill, again and again. So grateful there are no words.

Their fates entwined by magic and a mad man who could have never foreseen what his methods wrought.

"Do you trust me?" He asks.

"I do."

"Do you love me?"

"I love-"

His eyes close against the snap, her body going still in his hands, as he gently lays her on the floor.

It's loneliness, he thinks. Insanity and idiocy.

Taking a spot next to her, he calmly brushes the hair away from her face, and waits.