Say You Won't Let Go

Caroline's eyes narrowed and she bit down on her wine-red lip as she remained focused on the screen ahead of her—ignoring the commotion and the clamor behind her while her manicured nails clicked against the videogame controller buttons as quickly as she could with her opponent doing the very same.

She glanced over at him briefly—noting the wrinkle of brow and intense concentration on his face before she swung her head forward to notice that they had less than two laps left and the entire room screaming behind them because this was it; it all came down to this last match.

They'd played flag football at the elementary school playground down the street. They moved on to the one-legged race, the pie-eating contest, and a game of 'Lay the Egg' in which the teams had been tasked with partnering up and placing an egg in between the backs of each pair, challenging them to lay it gently enough on the floor without breaking it.

Caroline's hardwood floors in she and Stefan's new brownstone had been subsequently covered in yolk.

It was a small price to pay, though. Because now they were down to the tie-breaker—an intense game of Mario Kart—and it was up to Caroline to pull the win out not just for herself, but her team, that had been counting on her to make them proud and show these guys up.

She glanced over at Stefan again, as his slightly disheveled mahogany hair fell over his brow while he expertly pressed the button on the controller, and each male in the room cheered him in the wake of his imminent victory. Even Aiden had been bouncing on the couch behind him screaming "Go Daddy, go!"

That little traitor.

"Come on, Care, you've got this!" Elena screamed encouragingly and Tyler scoffed from behind her as Caroline's eyes remained straight ahead.

"It's 100% obvious Stefan's going to win, you girls should just let it go," Tyler teased to which Caroline heard Elena snort.

"You only say that because you're afraid."

"I'm realistic."

Then Caroline heard clucking and more bickering between the teams before she pulled in a deep breath and swallowed hard.

She needed to focus because she was going to win this—she had to. Even if she had to get a little crafty.

She cleared her throat in Stefan's direction, and the man's eyes remained transfixed forward though he offered her a verbal response.

"Don't even thinking about it, Caroline."

"Think about what?" she asked innocently and she watched him smile from the corner of her eye as he continued to press keys on the controller.

"Whatever you're planning to distract me. It won't work."

"Who says I'm planning anything?"

"I can hear the wheels in your head turning from all the way over here."

"You can hear what's happening in my head? That sounds like a personal problem."

Stefan shook his head at that—eyes still trained forward and a smile on his face. They only had one more lap to go but he knew Caroline and she was going to try to psyche him out with mindless conversation unless he brokered her a deal to get her to give up first. He wasn't normally this competitive about the Annual Salvatore Family Olympics, but for the first time in a long time, being together actually felt like something worth celebrating. Everyone was here—from his grandma, to his mother, Liz Forbes, Richard Lockwood, and all of he and Caroline's friends.

It was the first time they were having company at their new brownstone and they figured they might as well go big, with an expansive guest list, and even longer list of appetizers, drinks, and entrees.

Their guests were stuffed, drunk, and happy, and he couldn't have asked for a better way to spend Thanksgiving than with every person he loved and cared about, all here, under the same roof. Between the music, the games, and the pictures he took with his SLR, he just knew this day would be one remembered for years to come. Especially if he beat Caroline right now at Mario Kart.

He was never going to let her hear the end of it.

But Stefan also wasn't an idiot and he knew a happy wife meant a happy life. So, he was going to have to give something up if it meant keeping Caroline content.

"Dishes for one full week," he offered and Caroline pursed her red lips as he looked her way quickly to see if she was taking the bait, before he continued. "No dishwasher—hand-washed dishes for an entire week if you give up right now. And I will mop this entire place top to bottom."

Before Caroline could reply, Bonnie yelled from the peanut gallery "Oh please! He should be doing that anyway!"

Caroline smirked and shrugged her shoulders before finally giving Stefan a response.

"She does have a point."

Stefan sighed as he watched Caroline's Mrs. Peach gaining on his Luigi as he continued to think quickly before offering another barter.

"Foot massages, three times a week."

"Eh. You do those for free."

"I won't watch football for one week."

"That's literally only one day out of the week, nice try pal."

"I will take all of your turns to meal prep for the rest of the month. On top of everything else, final offer," Stefan answered and Caroline remained contemplative for a moment, as their carts now sat neck and neck with time running out as the race neared an end.

If she lost, she'd have Stefan as her maid and while there was nothing wrong with the idea of him mopping in nothing but his boxers, this was her chance to prove that she could do this.

The spectators in the room screamed so loudly for their sides she could barely think but Caroline pursed her lips as she made an executive decision, deciding if she wanted a win for the girls or just a win for herself.

Her pride wouldn't let her go down without a fight.

"Is that offer good for two?" she asked and Stefan lifted a curious brow before he let out a laugh.

"Why? Are you phoning a friend?"

"Not quite," she paused before mustering her strength and speaking as casually as she could though everyone was screaming around them because the finish line was so close. "I'm pregnant," she whispered.

Stefan immediately dropped his controller and his jaw and Caroline's cart crossed the finish line—the girls team immediately erupting with happiness and the guys with a wave of disbelief and disappointment as she felt herself suddenly lifted off her feet—and laughing—as the entire group hugged her while Stefan's eyes remained wide with shock because he couldn't figure out if she were for real or if it had just been some ploy to get him to lose.

Either way, it worked.

Because he was frozen, as he watched everyone offering her their congrats on the won—completely unaware of the news she just dropped on him— before many people in the room dispersed for desserts and more alcohol, and his eyes now raked over Caroline's figure in obsessive curiosity because there was no way she'd been pregnant this entire time and he hadn't realized it.

Right?

He had to know, obviously.

"Caroline," he said almost breathlessly as he walked straight up to her and she turned her head to meet him with a breezy smile that didn't accompany what he knew he just heard. "We need to talk—

He was spiraled out of his thoughts when he felt Aiden tugging at his hand and asking if they could go downstairs to the darkroom in the basement to get the pictures he helped him take and develop from their trip to the park that week.

"Aiden, Daddy's busy right no—"

"It'll only take a moment, hon', we can talk about whatever's on your mind when you come back up," Caroline interrupted him coyly and Stefan licked his teeth at that but silently agreed.

Caroline smiled purely before spinning around to engage in an animated conversation with his mother—about some sale at Sephora of all things— as Aiden pulled him by the palm past them. His eyes caught Caroline's briefly, to which she only offered a sweet smile, and kept on with her conversation as if nothing was happening.

As if she hadn't dropped one of the biggest bombshells on his entire life and used it on him to win the Family Olympics.

Stefan nearly stumbled out of their living room, taking in a deep breath to bring him back to the present, as the sound of the chatter from upstairs vanished while he and Aiden made their way downstairs, hand in hand but he just couldn't quite shake the thoughts that were piling through his mind.

Had she really said that just to win? She couldn't have been that cruel. Caroline knew that he'd wanted a baby even before they got married, and he'd been trying his damndest to make it happen, as often as she'd allow which hadn't been much lately since they were so busy with their new home, Aiden, work, and the holidays rolling around. He figured maybe she was just as tired as he was and waiting for things to settle down before they could really set their minds to this, but if she was really carrying a baby, it made perfect sense to him now why she'd been acting the way that she had been over the past few weeks. He noted the changes in her appetite and the fact that she always seemed to be silently keeping something to herself that he couldn't quite put his finger on, until now. He had even casually brought up them seeing a fertility doctor together to discuss starting a new family and Caroline seemed completely hesitant at the idea. Maybe she really was pregnant.

And if she wasn't pregnant yet, something had to be going on and he was going to get to the bottom of it the second he could have her one-on-one.

But right now? Pictures, he supposed.

Stefan swung the door open to his personal photography darkroom with his free hand and Aiden ran in excitedly while he neared the clothing line he had set up and he began to strip the pictures Aiden had taken that were ready and developed. Most of them were actually pretty good—it seemed the kid had a natural knack for it, unsurprisingly enough. He almost went through the task mindlessly, unclipping the photos, until he stopped in his tracks when he noticed one picture that didn't belong here—the one that almost made him pass out right where he was standing as his eyes grew wide and throat instantly dried up the second he had a chance to really register it. He picked the peculiar sized photograph out of the clip it had been stationed in and he looked up when Aiden giggled—a huge smile now plastered on his rosy cheeks—as Stefan's brows furrowed with confusion and the child finally spoke to break the silence.

"Mommy said that one would be your favorite," Aiden smirked and Stefan continued to stare at the black and white picture for a moment—his eyes tracing each wave, each line—before he looked back up and bit his lip.

"You were in on it too?"

"I couldn't just leave him in the dark… No pun intended."

Stefan turned around to meet the voice behind him—it was Caroline, elegant and beautiful as ever, even in the dark, as she walked into the room slowly; the sound of her point-toe heels resonating against the floor, and her ivory pleated dress swinging at her hips while she offered a smile at Stefan's stupefied facial expression.

Stefan held up the sonogram picture and took in a nervous breath as she continued to smirk, though her bottom lip was quivering the longer he stared at her with so much anticipation—with so much hope—she felt like she was going to burst.

Not before he did, of course.

"Please tell me this is for real," he stated softly, as he took a step in and letting his free hand land on Caroline's stomach, and his thumb brushed along the fabric while happiness illuminated his eyes. "Please tell me you didn't just say you were pregnant to beat me at Mario Kart."

Caroline laughed as she felt her eyes instantly well up with happy tears and her hand landed on his own—fingers clutching him tightly as her cheeks expanded and he watched a teardrop roll down her cheek and drop from her chin before she sniffled and exhaled.

"We're having a baby girl, Stefan."

Stefan's mouth opened wide to the brightest smile she had seen yet, and it about a millisecond before he had tears in his eyes too— immediately reaching in to hug her, and Caroline let out a laugh when he lifted her off the ground and into his arms—spinning her around for a quick moment that seemed to last forever when she held onto his just as tightly and felt her feet dangling in the air.

And then he was kissing her.

Long and hard, soft and sweet—it was every single variation, as Stefan's lips continued to crash against hers, and she laughed in-between each one when Aiden, visibly disgusted, let out a long "Ewwwww,"in the background, prompting Stefan to separate himself for just a moment to scoop up his son into his arms and shower him with kisses as well, on top of his head and on his arms, as the child laughed hysterically while trying to escape, though he knew he was content right there in Stefan's arms.

"You're gonna have a little sister buddy," Stefan said and the child beamed as he pulled back and looked into his eyes before softly brushing back his hair. "But you're still our first… Don't you forget that, okay?"

Aiden nodded and Stefan kissed him atop the head as Caroline smiled happily before he reached his free hand out for hers so they could make it back upstairs as a family.

As they walked up the steps with the picture safely in the pants pocket, Caroline turned to face him once more, as the sound of their guests began to pick up as they got nearer.

"I'm sorry I waited so long," she apologized before biting her lip and shaking her head. "I just didn't know how—I had no idea what to say—"

Stefan stopped on the steps right before the door and faced her completely—smile still on his lips, and his face absolutely glowing as she realized for the millionth time just how beautiful he was.

And just how stunning happiness looked on him.

He gripped her hand even tighter—his thumb combing over her wedding band—and leaned in to kiss her one more time; effectively taking her breath away when she closed her eyes and sighed against his mouth before her heavy lids reopened once more.

She'd never believed in the term romance more than she did than when she was with Stefan.

Every touch, every look, every moment—he just knew how make her speechless, because yet again he'd won, just by staring at her like she—like their family—was the greatest thing to ever happen to him. Even with all the pain, the tears, and the heartache they'd endured—Aiden, especially—they were still here, and they were together. Nothing could tear them apart. Nothing could stop them.

His nose brushed against hers before their foreheads finally parted and he brought Aiden's hand to his mouth to kiss it softly before looking back into Caroline's eyes.

"You, Aiden, and our baby girl… You guys are my entire world," he said as she smiled warmly and Aiden hugged his neck tightly before he put him down and the kid made a mad dash towards the dessert table, leaving them behind. "I'm just happy it wasn't all a ploy to win Mario Kart."

Caroline huffed at that and folded her arms.

"Do you really think I'm that evil?"

"Yes. I'm doing meal prep, dishes, mopping, and massages until 2030."

"I'm not evil—you're just a terrible negotiator."

"Be that as it may," he started and Caroline giggled as they walked through the doors, "You're still the spawn of Satan."

"Stop confusing me with Damon, it's offensive."

Stefan snorted at that with a smile before he turned to face her while they neared the guests.

"Speaking of, did he know about…?"

"Not a clue, unless Bonnie told him, which there's a 75 percent chance of, but I doubt it. Because he probably would have told you. Damon tells you everything."

"Except for when he doesn't… Remember that whole 'we don't even have the same Dad' thing? Or the 'woops, I actually remember exactly how you got married but I'm gonna keep that shit to myself for an entire year because I'm a sadist?"

Caroline ticked her jaw at that and lifted an index before she replied.

"In his defense… Yeah, nope. I've got nothing," Caroline relented and Stefan nodded knowingly as she pursed her lips. "Are you bringing it up because something's bothering you?" she eased and Stefan swallowed hard because, damn—was he really that obvious or was Caroline just that good?

He remained silent for a moment as he grabbed a bottle of wine from the bar and poured himself a glass as she watched on silently—eager to know the thoughts he'd been holding in, as he scratched his chin and swallowed down a gulp before meeting her eyes.

"He's been weird, again, lately," Stefan admitted as Caroline scrunched her brows and listened on as he spoke lowly enough for just the two to hear. "Not 'I'm hiding my secret dad from you' weird, but I think something's going on and he won't talk to me about it… I've asked him and he insists he's okay, so I just let it go… But if I know my brother…"

"Something's up," Caroline filled in as Stefan nodded with a sigh before taking her hand into his own and offering up a smile as she felt the warmth of his skin against hers.

"But I don't wanna think about that right now. I just… wanna tell everyone the great news, if that's okay."

Caroline exhaled and smiled before she kissed him again.

"Let's tell everyone the great news."

XXXXX

Damon sat alone, in the darkened guest bedroom on the second floor of the brownstone—his pale hands twisting the glittering diamond ring in one hand and a glass of bourbon in the other, while his jaded blue eyes remained straight ahead.

He could hear a lot of excited yelling upstairs at the party—after all, that's what you were supposed to do—but here he was, being everything that he hated; antisocial, moody, and sulky, as if he didn't have an entire family and all his friends just a few steps away to snap him out of his depressive state he'd holed himself into, although tonight should have been the happiest night of his life.

He was going to propose to Bonnie, after all.

Damon took another swig and wiped his lips with the back of his hand—his eyes focusing on the beautiful Harry Winston engagement ring in front of him; the oval-shaped diamond sparkling with each movement he made, decorated by a sophisticated display of additional stones around the platinum band.

It was perfect for her—she was perfect. Classy, graceful, and beautiful; this ring represented everything that he believed Bonnie Bennett herself already was, and he knew it was more than he deserved to be able to even have a chance at spending the rest of his life with her. And he said chance not because he wasn't optimistic that Bonnie would be an amazing wife—he knew she would be fantastic. But what about him? How much could he really offer her, now that he only had a chance at living?

He was dying.

Not tomorrow, but he was going to, he reconciled with himself, as he took another drink and let his mind fade back to his doctor's appointment two weeks ago—where he only went in because he had this persistent chest cold that just wouldn't go away, they decided to run a couple tests and blood work, which came back positively with a mutation.

Meaning, he had stage three lung cancer, and unless the doctors could perform a miracle, he was going to die.

Damon remembered his reaction to the news—his first instinct was that it was impossible; he'd started eating organically, Bonnie got him working out, he'd quit smoking over a year ago because of her, and aside from the cold, he'd felt better than he had in a long time. And he was happy—he finally had everything he'd ever wanted in his life. A beautiful and caring girlfriend, a solid group of friends, a loving family, and work at the business had been going better than ever. He knew the disease was something that ran in the family—after all, Grandpa Salvatore had died from it, and Grandma Salvatore had previously been stage one but she beat it. He just passively believed maybe their genetics would spare him if he took better care of himself and hoped for the best, because for once, he had something to live for. He had plenty of things.

It wasn't until his doctor kept talking about his "options," or lack thereof—chemotherapy, surgery, or not-so-later down the line, hospice—that it began to set in for Damon, and his aloof attitude became short-tempered rage. He wanted to destroy everything.

His apartment, his car, his office—anything he'd worked hard for, because it all meant nothing to him, now; it was all going to be nothing, once he was gone.

And the only thing quelled that anger? That kept him from flying off the handle each time someone spoke to him in the future tense after it set in that he wasn't going to be here for that?

Bonnie.

Bonnie solved everything.

Because he didn't fly off the handle. He didn't destroy anything. He didn't even yell at his primary care physician who stared at him solemnly, as if he had just put down a puppy. He simply let it dawn on him that he was going to be without her, someday—someday quite soon—and the best he could do was make her as happy as he could before he never had the chance to see her again.

So, he went out and impulsively spent thousands of dollars on a ring. Because why not? He wanted to marry her—and now, it may have been a lot sooner than he anticipated, but nevertheless. he still wanted to be hers and this was the best that he could do if he was going to have to break it to her eventually that he would be gone. He just didn't know when.

Bonnie, Stefan, Caroline, his parents—how was he going to tell anyone what he was silently going through?

The door abruptly opened, breaking him out of his thoughts, and he easily slid the ring into his pocket before the lights flickered on, and there she was—his kryptonite in the flesh, with jet black hair down past her shoulders, and a curious brow when her eyes met his and he offered a drunkenly sly smile.

Because it was all that he could do at this point.

"Why aren't you upstairs?" Bonnie asked as she walked into the room, shutting the door behind her. "Is your masculinity really that fragile over the boys losing Mario Kart?" she joked and Damon scoffed as he took the final sip of the liquid and set the glass down, running his tongue cleanly over his lips.

"There's nothing fragile about me and you know it. Have a seat, Gloria Steinem." Bonnie rolled her eyes at that but sat down beside him—the glimmer in her green eyes bright, as he took her palm into his own and began to draw small circles on her hand. "Why aren't you upstairs?" he asked softly.

"Taking a breather, looking for you," she answered, biting her lip and he moved in a bit closer at that. "Are you okay?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"I don't know. Tonight has been pretty perfect, so that's why I'm asking you."

Damon looked down at that; his eyes committing to memory every single line on her hand before he looked up again, and without hesitation brushed a single strand out of her face as she continued to stare directly into his eyes. His hand remained on her hair, well after the lock was tucked behind her ear, and without another word, he leaned in and kissed her. And it was almost like she expected it, as Bonnie's lips immediately inhaled the bourbon against his, and his palm gently pulled her in even closer, before slowly gliding down to the small of her back.

"Damon—" she breathed in-between kisses.

"I'm okay," he whispered, cutting her words were cut short by his tongue, as it slid into her mouth against hers, and her eyes pressed shut tightly as she allowed him to engulf her in his warmth for the next few minutes while they kept things more or less "innocent."

Or that was what she planned, until Damon's shirt was completely unbuttoned, one hand was up her black cocktail dress, and the other was working on her stubborn zipper, while his teeth pinched against her neck and she secured him tightly between her legs.

It wasn't long before she was on her back, and she closed her lids as his lips kissed every square inch of her, before finally coming back up for ear and staring into eyes as they fluttered and re-opened.

She smiled up at him and Damon's teeth tugged at his lip, before he stroked his hand over her hair again, slowly. Bonnie sighed at that before closing her eyes again.

He eyed the goosebumps as they appeared on her skin with each tender French kiss that landed on her skin, and before he knew it, Bonnie's nails were digging into his arms and her labored breaths were against his ear, as he pushed in and out of her so deeply, he could've probably snapped her in half if he wanted to.

And still, she clawed at his biceps, urging him to go harder.

When they lay collapsed against the plush pillows minutes later, Damon could only stare at Bonnie, as he watched the curl of a satisfied smile glowing on her cheeks, before she turned to face him, blanket pulled up to her chest, while he still studied her.

"We should probably get back," she eased, sitting up and eyeing the room for her dress, with Damon's gaze still on her. "I was really sent down here to get you for Caroline and Stefan's big announcement until you… distracted me," Bonnie added, finally getting out of the bed and pulling on her black lace bra and underwear.

He didn't move an inch as he continued to watch her—pulling on that dress that hugged her hips with ease, and slipping on her Prada pumps that had always been a favorite of his. She tied her now messy hair into a neat knot and turned to pick up his trousers and Calvin Klein boxers.

"Get dressed, we have a party to get back to," she smiled, tossing them onto the bed in his direction.

He grabbed his boxers and slid them on slowly—allowing her eyes wander to the diamond ring that spilled out of his pants pocket and onto the mess of comforters.

Bonnie's smirk dropped when she realized just what it was that was laying before her.

Damon watched as she didn't blink an eye, or even take a breath.

He cleared his throat and sat up against the head board—heart beating steadily inside of his chest as Bonnie's eyes remained wide, and he grabbed the diamond ring off blanket to steady it between his thumb and his index.

"As you can probably tell, I don't have a speech planned," Damon broke the silence, and Bonnie stared at him pale-faced, and Damon, sweaty-palmed. "I… I know we don't care about this stuff, and we said we would wait a few years to even have the conversation, but I… I don't have a few years, Bonnie," Damon said slowly as he gulped down the tennis ball in his throat. "I mean, I just…I don't want to wait… We have now and I want to marry you, Bon. I want you to marry me before it's too late—"

"Too late for what?" she asked in a tiny voice and Damon chewed the inside of his mouth at that. "Damon—too late for what?"

"I…" he started and stopped as her lips trembled and he shut his eyes for a moment; hearing Bonnie's footsteps now approaching, and the weight shifting on the bed when she sat down in front of him and stare bore straight into his soul.

Straight-up jackhammering into his chest.

"Damon—"

"It was a figure of speech," he lied, with a laugh, as Bonnie's forehead remained wrinkled, and he took her hand into hers, still holding onto the diamond, and fighting back the tears that threatened his eyes. "You know what they about tomorrow never being promised. And after what happened to Zach and Gail, I just… I guess I see things in a new light," he added, which wasn't a complete lie, but not the entire truth—he had been affected by their deaths, though it wasn't the only thing putting his life into perspective now. "I'm sorry if this is all over the place and I don't make much sense… I'm nervous, Bon. This is my first time doing this… unlike my brother, who has been around Proposal Blvd a few times," he joked and she snorted, causing him to smile when he saw the twinkle in her eyes.

He just wanted to hold onto that light, for as long as he could.

Damon didn't say a word as Bonnie took the 4-carat ring out of his fingers and placed it onto hers—her eyes staring at it for just a moment before she held her hand up and tugged at her lip.

"It is really pretty."

"It better be for $92,000," he chortled and Bonnie looked up in horror as he laughed and took her hand into his own, sobering his expression in just a few seconds flat. "So, does that mean it's a yes, Bonnie Bennett? Will you make me the happiest man on the planet, and marry me? If you want me to return the damn thing and get something more on the conservative side, price-wise, I will, if it is going to haunt you—"

"We are not returning this ring," she said, much to his surprise, as a smile formed on his lips and Bonnie glanced at it for a moment more, guilt slowly fading away from her face. "If anything, we'll just… aim a lot lower on the wedding bands, "she reasoned and his cheeks expanded happily as she looked back up into his eyes. "I… think it's worth the compromise."

"So, it's a yes?"

"It's a yes," Bonnie bit back her smirk and she was immediately engulfed into Damon's arms as they landed against the pillows; giggles escaping from her lips as he kissed them almost instantly following, while Bonnie reminded him that there were guests upstairs and they needed to rejoin the party.

They would eventually. But all he cared about right now—right this second—was the fact that he wasn't going to die alone; he was going to die being loved. And he would tell Bonnie, sooner or later, just what he was going through, but not tonight. Tonight, he wanted to remember how being happy felt; he just wanted to savor for as long as he could, before his time would run out.

And right now, it was like time stood still.

XXXXX

"A little to the left… No wait, the right. No, no my right, not your right… Do I have to get up there and do this myself?"

"I'd love to see you try, Waddles McGee."

Caroline scoffed at that as she threw the tape dispenser at Stefan's head, and he ducked with a laugh, Christmas lights still in hand, as he angled his head to glance at her from the ladder.

Caroline, in typical fashion, was tapping her foot with hands crossed over her not-so-subtle baby bump, and he couldn't help but smile as he stared at her—chubby cheeked, and hormonal—as he crystal blue eyes made it clear he was doing a terrible job at decorating and she was just about ready to climb up there to start doing it herself.

Not that he would even allow that at this point, anyway. Caroline was officially 26 weeks pregnant, and he was already trying to ease her into the idea of doing less and allowing him to do more, because she was a certified control freak who liked overseeing everything. Even including Christmas light placement. She didn't even like Christmas.

She'd still been working and keeping herself busy with interviewing potential nannies, decorating the nursery—really busy, he realized, when he saw his credit card statement—and getting a head start of baby-proofing the brownstone. Stefan had been gifted with more parenting books than he could count, and he simply would have skimmed them had Caroline been any other normal human being, but the lunatic had been emailing him weekly pop-quizzes that she created on her own, with actual deadlines.

His wife was quite-literally testing him on his baby knowledge.

"Stefan Antonio Salvatore," she barked firmly, and he instantly straightened up—his full name meant she meant business, "The lights need to be perfect for the Christmas Card, they have to be sent no later than next week and—"

He hopped off the ladder, tossed the lights, and walked up to her, as her eyes narrowed and she immediately began to seethe at the stupid smile gracing his lips when he took both hands into his and knelt in front of her; his green eyes sparkling all the while.

"What are you doing?"

"Addressing you appropriately, your Majesty," he chirped, and Caroline shoved his shoulder as a smile cracked on her lips and Stefan laughed before standing up, still gripping onto her swollen hands.

"I think we're done decorating today," he decided, before spinning her into his arms, and sliding his hands comfortably over her stomach, while her back pressed to his chest. "You're cranky and I'm tired. It's time for a break."

Caroline couldn't even protest that, when she felt his lips nibble against her neck. Her hands rested over his and she shut her eyes for just a moment, letting the sounds of Aiden's videogame just down the hall infiltrate her ears. She finally turned back around with both arms swung over his shoulders, gazing into his eyes.

"Did Aiden finish his homework?"

"Hours ago," Stefan confirmed.

"Are we okay on laundry?"

"I threw everything in when I got home. Currently in the dryer."

"I can't even remember if trash goes out tonight or tomorrow—"

"It does, and I did it."

Caroline smiled and pulled him in even closer, nuzzling their noses, and speaking directly onto his lips.

"Do you even understand how much I love you?"

"Not as much as you'll love me when I tell you I already steamed your work pants for the rest of the week," he grinned before she softly pressed her lips to his; her smile never fading even when their lips parted and her forehead remained to his.

"How did I get so lucky?"

"You kissed a lot of frogs. You deserve it."

Caroline sighed at that—her hands now pressed to Stefan's chest before he kissed her forehead and tilted her chin towards him.

"No more phone calls from Elijah, right?" he asked.

"No," she snorted, as her hands smoothed over his navy-blue sweater, stare meeting his eyes. "Maybe that means he was shamed enough into doing his job," she added, remembering her last meeting with the man months ago, when she ripped into him. "If hearing what Klaus did to his sister wasn't enough to kick his ass into gear, there was never any hope for him to begin with." Stefan nodded at that, as Caroline dropped her hands and turned around to begin putting away some of the decorations. "Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll be convicted by 2050."

"Klaus will never hurt you, ever again, Caroline… I promise that," Stefan said firmly as she spun around and silently looked into his eyes. "And if tries—"

"I know what you'll do and I just… don't want it to come to that," she said curtly, and Stefan's remained ablaze. "It isn't just you and me anymore, Stefan—we have kids. We need to be responsible and stirring the pot won't do us any favors, so don't—just… let it go. I'm learning to, as well."

Stefan tugged at his lip at that because she was right—he was sure there were a million and one ways he could get Klaus out of hiding to stop the son of a bitch once and for all, but was it really worth it? He'd seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth after their last altercation, and though Stefan wanted nothing more than to connect his fist with Klaus' skull one more time, he was a father now—to one kid already, with another on the way—this wasn't the time anymore for him to be reckless or vindictive with his actions. It was what cost them Elijah's help in the first place, and with so much happening in his life right now—including Caroline's pregnancy, Damon's New Year's Eve Wedding, and a huge purchase Stefan had recently signed off on for Caroline as his most ambitious Christmas gift yet—he simply couldn't afford to be stupid and lose it all just because of his vendetta against Klaus. If his father was any indication of how karma worked, the blonde man would surely get his—he just needed to be patient.

Stefan's arms wrapped around her once more and Caroline sighed when his head landed on her shoulder and he gripped her tight.

"I'll do whatever you want," he said honestly, feeling her hands slip into his. "Just say the words and—"

"Let it go, Stefan," she breathed before turning to meet his eyes; her expression calm and fully resigned. "He doesn't control us if we let it go."

Stefan swallowed heavily at that but nodded in agreement, never dropping her stare.

"He doesn't control us if we let it go," he echoed.

And it was as simple as that. Or so, they would've liked to believe.

Because just across the street in a tinted black vehicle, a shadowy figure sat; fingers drumming against the steering wheel, and eyes simmering with quelled rage, watching the happy couple from the window of their brownstone, smiling at one another before trying to string the other with garland—their laughs muted by the windows separating them from the winter's wicked frost that sat just outside their door.

The eyes watched Caroline's bright smile—livelier than it had ever been with him—as Stefan hoisted her up over his shoulder and unapologetically slapped her ass, leading out of the public eye and presumably up the stairs to do to her what he used to do to her.

To have what rightfully still belonged to him.

His hands gripped the wheel tighter—his blood now boiling—before he released his knuckles long enough to dial a number on his cell phone and place it to his ear, the line ringing about five times before it was finally picked up.

"What the fuck do you want?"

"That's no way to treat your best mate… rather, the only mate that you have," Klaus drawled, and he heard the person on the other line visibly roll their eyes before he continued. "I have a task for you."

"I don't remember signing up for that."

"Darling, you'll do whatever I tell you to do—especially so long as I'm supporting your lifestyle." He heard the recipient suck their teeth, but they didn't argue. "How friendly did you say that you were with Stefan Salvatore?"

"We're not friends at all—he made me pancakes once and lent me one of his t-shirts when his wife went on a super bender. I might still have it—"

He glanced back at the brownstone—just in time to see Stefan and Caroline descending from the steps again, appearances completely intact, as Stefan was still wearing his navy-blue sweater and his hair was neatly styled, while Caroline changed into a pair of sweats.

It seemed her pregnancy marked the complete decline of their sex life, much to Klaus's delight.

"That's perfect," Klaus replied, as his smiled expanded and he recalled Caroline and her slightly heavier figure as she struggled at the store just that afternoon; he watched her picking up several things and then sighing before putting them back after trying them on. "Just… perfect."

He disconnected the call and with one more glance started his engine—eyes now facing straight ahead before he put the car in drive.

He might not have been able to lay the hands on Stefan that he wanted to right now, but he could plant a few seeds of doubt. He'd dated Caroline long enough to know all her insecurities and being undesirable to the person she loved may have been her breaking point.

And if she hit a breaking point, with just enough pushing, she might—

He smiled coldly at the possibilities.

His biggest obstacle would be getting Stefan to crack, but he figured he knew just what to do—he had to appeal to the hero in him.

Because there was no bigger kryptonite for Stefan Salvatore than there was helping other people, as evidenced how his relationship with Caroline even started. And that proved he was easily manipulated—much easier than he liked to believe.

A/N: Hello, anybody out there? Hahaha. I know I've made you all wait freakishly long for this update (trust me, I'm not even happy with it) but I hope you have all enjoyed the latest installment and with just a few chapters left, hold on tight for the rest of the ride. First off—Stefan finally knows! And Aiden helped Caroline! That was one of my favorite things to write ever so I hope you are all as thrilled with that portion as I am because it's officially baby fever in the Salvatore household. Next, shocked that Damon's been diagnosed with cancer, hiding the secret, and proposed to Bonnie? Where do you guys foresee that going if/when she finds out? Do you think he'll beat it or is Damon's time really running out? I never said everyone would get a happy ending… And finally—just when Caroline and Stefan think they're moving on from this bozo, Klaus just won't quit! Trust me when I say I've been building up to he and Stefan's next meeting because it's going to be explosive (cough cough) but it wouldn't be Klaus if he didn't poke the beast juuuuust a bit before going full-on psycho. And poke, he will. Who do you think he was talking to on the phone? I'd love to hear your theories. As always, thank you all so much for continuing to take this journey with me. This story has been my baby for years (literally) but it wouldn't be anything without all of you and I am eternally grateful. Please review, they feed my soul and inspiration, and I promise not to hold out too much longer as this story gets closer and closer to the end… Thank you guys and until next time! xoxo