He looks disappointed, hand paused in midair for the third knock, that she isn't surprised to see him.
Despite a decade passing since they've been this close, part of her always knew, one day he'd just appear. A duffel bag is slung over his shoulder, token leather jacket covering his upper half, cheeks ruddy from the nighttime chill outside.
"Are you going to let me in?" He asks, once the silence carries on a beat too long.
She steps aside wordlessly, as his boots clomp loudly on the hardwood floor. Closing the door behind her, she watches as he takes a cursory look around, reaching up to touch some nicknacks on a shelf or run his fingers along the spines of old Hollywood biographies.
Slinking the bag off his shoulder onto a spot next to the couch, he cranes his neck back to her.
"Thank you," comes out automatically, still not having moved from the door, feeling suddenly self-conscious that she's only wearing a robe. Nothing he hasn't seen before, no, but something he hasn't seen for some time either.
"May I?" He asks, barely waiting for a reply before shedding his jacket to hang on a hook mounted on the wall.
"How did you find me?" She asks, hand still on the doorknob, twisting idly.
"Damon," he answers, going back to fiddling with her things.
Which really means Elena. Which also means swearing someone to secrecy doesn't carry the same weight fifty some odd years after high school is over.
"Why are you here?"
The question stops his poking about, back to her, he sighs as if the answer should be obvious.
"I missed you."
He turns to face her, taking a step forward, then another when she keeps still. Hands on her arms, his lips are cold as they press against her forehead, but she doesn't shy away.
"Caroline," he says, and leaves it hanging.
Their eyes meet and she knows, in that moment, he's missed her in a way words could never convey. Pushing him back while her hands smooth out his shirt, she smiles weakly.
"Let's have a look at you."
He hasn't changed, not that she suspected such a thing, from the boy she saw in the hallway so many years ago. Fingers run along his jaw, tap at his chin, before her thumb brushes his lower lip. She closes the gap with a whisper of a kiss.
Maybe she's missed him too.
There's coffee in the morning, sun shining through the windows, with fresh pastries that bring a curious grin on his face.
"When did you learn to bake?"
She sets a plate in front of him.
"I've always baked," comes her reply, taking a seat opposite of her tiny kitchen table. "You've just never been in a position to reap the benefits."
He takes a bite, the approving moan low in his throat.
"And what can I do to incur this favor more often?"
"Don't be cute," she says, hiding the smile with her mug.
They walk along the cobblestone streets of her small village and she does not hold his hand.
She spies him reaching once or twice, from the corner of her eye, but he never follows through. She's a recognizable face, various neighbors nodding their hellos, heads turning back curiously as they pass wondering who her companion might be.
"It's quiet here," he says after awhile. "Peaceful."
She nods her agreement.
"Is this why-"
"Don't," she cuts him off swiftly. "It's a nice day and, let's just not, okay?"
"Okay," he agrees after a beat.
She takes him to a little pond, just behind the main thoroughfare of town, nestled between an odd break in the trees. Flowers in a multitude of color surround the water, as birds sing off in the distance, leaving Stefan to think he might have seen this place in a story book.
He tells her so, and is rewarded for such whimsy by being pulled down next to her in the grass. Resting her head in his lap, she sighs content for the first time in a good long while. She steals little glances at him, as he idly toys with her hair, looking like he wants to ask a thousand questions but somehow thinks better of it.
"I didn't run from you," she offers softly. "I just ran."
"And how could I think it was anything but me?"
She doesn't answer, staring at the water gently rippling from the light breeze.
"I'd ask why," he goes on. "But I don't think you want to tell me."
Why? she thinks. Why do bad things happens to good people? Why did Jean Harlow die at twenty-six? Why do witches, werewolves, or vampires exist at all?
She ran away for so many reasons. None that seem particularly worthy in this moment, but reasons all the same. Being a vampire for nearly forty years and never once being on her own, a seemingly good one at the time. The idea of forever suddenly terrifying, the more real it became, as each year passed in the blink of an eye. How she couldn't help but second guess his feelings for her despite constant reassurance that they were pure and true.
"I wanted to see what the world looked like all by myself," she replies, it not entirely a lie.
"It looks exactly the same."
They fall quiet.
"Ten years," Stefan says suddenly. "I would look for you. No matter where I was, what I was doing, I couldn't help it."
"Ten years is a tick to people like us," she defends weakly.
"Not when you're alone."
Her hand reaches for his.
"Would you have stopped?" She asks. "Looking I mean."
"No," is his answer. "Never."
A week passes before she doesn't let him sleep on the couch.
The welcome feeling of his body pressed against hers between the sheets, they kiss and kiss until her lips feel numb, then they kiss some more. As much as she tried not to think about him in this self imposed exile, she's missed him more than she cares to admit.
His skin on hers, hands strong and familiar, as her name is a prayer from his mouth repeated again and again into her ear.
She makes him promise not to say I love you.
He doesn't make promises he can't keep.
There's a book in his hand, sitting at her tiny table, wearing only jeans.
"Hey," comes out sleepily, hair tousled and covering most of her face.
"Hey," his reply, offering up the coffee in hand, something takes with ease.
Kicking the table away, she slides onto his lap, the book dropping to the floor readily forgotten.
"How long do you plan to stay?" she asks.
His arms wrap around her.
"As long as you'll have me."
A kiss is pressed against his shoulder.
"That's a good answer."