There are some things that don't work with having a boyfriend who's over a century and a half old. Thankfully, ridiculous movie nights aren't one of them.
"Your taste in movies is horrible." Stefan eyes her battered copy of Sixteen Candles, but a smile curls the corners of his mouth, betraying his true feelings.
"These are classics," Elena says, waving the DVD in his face. "And you still get excited about seeing Jon Bon Jovi in concert centuries ago."
He pins her to the sofa before she's finished speaking, flashing a rare wicked grin, and kisses her. "That's because we partied with him. Are you calling me old?" he asks when they break apart.
Her grin is as wicked as his. His cologne tingles in her nostrils. "Maybe." Elena's expression turns thoughtful, her smile lingering as she considers him. "What were you like in the Eighties? Did you have the really bad hair and clothes?"
"I refuse to answer that," Stefan says with haughty dignity.
"I have pictures," Damon says, passing through on his way to the front door. "Not right now, but I can describe his hair exactly. Stefan wants to pretend that decade didn't happen." He pauses, considering, as Elena and Stefan sit bolt upright on the sofa and stare at him. "Can't blame him, really. Not all of us could look awesome."
"Damon--" Stefan says.
"Seriously, the mullet--"
Elena rolls her eyes. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
Damon straightens his jacket. "Indeed I do, as exciting as spending the evening with you hopeless romantics would be." Sarcasm drips from his words, but Elena also detects an underlying sense of resigned irony. The irony's not entirely unwarranted, either: Damon would have destroyed the world for Katherine. Sometimes Elena suspects he still would.
"Don't kill anyone," Stefan says. For a moment, Elena thinks he's going to add please to the end of his sentence. Not for the first time, she reflects on this insanity that is now her life: her boyfriend is a vampire, and they have to make sure his brother doesn't slaughter the town. (When they're not saving Stefan from himself, anyway.)
"Oh come on, you know me better than that." Damon smiles in the way he usually does before he rips someone's throat out, his eyes widening briefly. His expression reminds Elena of a rabid dog, as likely to bite the hand feeding him as the one hitting him. He may playfully insult Stefan and joke with her, charm Aunt Jenna and give ridiculous advice to Jeremy, but she can never forget the fine line Damon walks between whimsy and ruthlessness. Damon would kill them all in a heartbeat if it got him what he wanted.
"That's the problem," Stefan says, his amusement draining to reveal his familiar tired, resigned expression, "I do know you."
Damon's face turns cold and still, like a river frozen over with his emotion hidden deep in the current. Then he moves, in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it way of vampires, and Elena jumps when he leans over the back of the sofa towards them. He reaches for Elena's copy of The Breakfast Club.
"Don't watch this without me," he says, still smiling.
Elena raises an eyebrow and takes it from him. "I'm guessing you identify with John Bender."
Damon gazes at her through heavy-lidded eyes, and she swallows. "Of course." She blinks, and he's gone.
"Sometimes I forget how creepy Damon is," she says into the silence.
Stefan puts The Breakfast Club on without another word.
The credits are rolling, and Elena's curled up in Stefan's arms, dozing, when he starts talking.
It takes her a few minutes to realise that he's describing his mullet to her, and his favourite pair of faded jeans, and a battered leather jacket that Lexi found in a charity shop for his one hundred and fortieth birthday. She falls asleep, warm in his grip, the dangers and monsters lurking in her nightmares temporarily kept at bay.
She'll never tell Stefan because it's embarrassing, and stupid, and... no, no one will ever know. But sometimes she'll lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep as the undeniable facts swirl in her head:
(My boyfriend is a vampire, but unable to drink human blood. His brother is ruthless and psychotic and a murderer. My best friend is a witch. There's more to Mystic Falls than anyone could imagine. Jeremy is racing towards disaster. Sometimes I wake up wondering if this is the day I'm going to die.)
Her throat will tighten, and it'll be hard to breathe, and she'll clutch the vervain necklace until it bits into her fingers. She'll think about Stefan being over a hundred and sixty years old, all of history that he's seen, and all he will see. And she'll wonder if maybe this wasn't her first lifetime (reincarnation doesn't seem like such a bad thing to believe in when you're surrounded by vampires and witches), and if she and Stefan have passed each other in previous decades, just missing each other like ships in the night.
She brings it up one evening, when she's making dinner and he's tossing the Perfect Salad. ("I might be over a hundred and sixty," Stefan says, "but everyone has little things to aim for.")
"You must have seen so such of history," she remarks, swirling the ladle in the saucepan. "So many important things."
"Not really," Stefan says, glancing at her in surprise. "I mean, I was around in the general time period, but I usually wasn't there. We don't exactly have a honing instinct for when great and significant moments in history are going to happen." He pauses and smiles. "It would make life a lot more interesting if we did. Why the sudden interest?"
Elena shakes her head. "Just saw a history documentary and I thought about it, that's all." The opportunity to tell him withers and dies. The moment passes.
"I was so glad when cravats went out of fashion," he remarks when they carry the food to the table. "I was never any good at putting them on properly."
Elena bursts out laughing. "Pictures," she says, perfectly able to imagine him as a dashing figure in a frock coat and top hat, "or it never happened."
He flicks a piece of pasta at her. She retaliates in kind, and the food fight is on.
It becomes what they do to keep calm as Founders' Day approaches. Elena will pick a year or a particular decade, lying curled against him as Stefan runs his fingers through her hair. He'll tell her what he looked like, the clothes he wore, whether he stayed with other vampires during that time.
He tells her where he was when the Titanic sank, when women got the right to vote, during World War I and II. He tells her what music he liked, what countries he preferred during his wandering. He never tells her when he and Damon crossed paths and what Damon did to him.
It helps, a little, when Elena's nightmares grow worse and home loses some of its safety because of Uncle John. It doesn't stop her from being afraid, but no one ever said life was fair.
Stefan's kiss reminds her that she's still alive, and Damon's smile reminds her that she has to be careful.