A/N: Posted this on Tumblr almost a year ago and I finally decided to post it here because I finished the third chapter (one year later wtf) Might have the second one up by the end of the night.
He's halfway through having his brains fried when it all happens. He's too unconscious to really see anything.
But Damon, Elena, and Bonnie tell him all about it when he wakes up in his own bed 10 hours later.
About how they raided the travelers camp and killed them all. How, for once, their plan actually worked.
Things worked out.
He likes the sound of that. But there's something else. He can hear it in their voices. A newfound sadness. He doesn't know what it is.
Until he realizes there's a bubbling blonde missing from the equation, "Caroline?"
"She's still in Atlanta," Bonnie says, he can sense the tension in her voice.
"She said she wanted to stay there for a while," Elena replies this time. Bonnie looks at her incredulously, before storming out and slamming the door behind her.
"What's going on?" Stefan can feel his heart racing.
"Nothing," Damon says. Too fast.
"Spit it out."
"Well, the thing is," Elena pauses, unsure of how to put it. "She isn't really speaking to any of us."
"She thinks we were being stupid when we rescued you. She thinks it was too dangerous and we all just did it anyway."
She places a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Stefan. She'll get over it. She said to call her when you came to."
As if on queue, his phone started ringing. Sure enough, her bright smile is flashing on his screen as he swipes to accept the call.
"Stefan?" She sounds terrified.
"Hey." He can hear her sigh in relief the second she hears his voice.
"Hey." There's still something about her voice. Lingering, just hanging there, unspoken. It's different. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He pauses. "What about you?"
"I am in desperate need of some shots." She laughs, and he can somehow feel the depth of it. The warmth radiating through his phone.
"Dead?" She cuts him off. "No. I compelled him to leave Atlanta. Enzo was two seconds away from ripping off his head when Elena called."
"At least one good thing came out of this mess." He wonders if she can tell he's grinning like an idiot.
"So. When are you coming home?"
"I'm not sure, Stefan."
"Damon, Elena, and Bonnie killed dozens of people to save you today. They got into a fight with an extremely powerful army of supernatural whatever's. They went in blind."
"You could've died Stefan." She's crying. He can hear the muffled sobs behind her words. "… Or Elena… Or Bonnie. Or even Damon."
"We didn't." He's practically begging her now.
"But you could have, and that's life. Trust me, I get. But I can't just stand idly by as we fight day after day just waiting for that other shoe to drop."
"Fine." He says, finally surrendering. It brings a bittersweet smile to her face.
"Where should I meet you?" He says after a long pause.
"You don't want to be here, I get it. So where are we going?" It annoys her how nonchalantly he says it.
"We are not going anywhere." She says sternly, but he's never been one to back down.
"Okay, then I at least need to say goodbye. Where should I meet you?"
"This is goodbye, Stefan." Her voice breaks at the end.
"You're funny." He's the only one laughing. Maybe that's the point. "Wait for me in Atlanta, we'll spend a few days together and then you can run off to wherever."
"That's not a good idea." She says.
He doesn't back down, spends nearly two hours arguing with her over the phone before she finally surrenders. "Fine, I need to get some things from Mystic Falls. I'll come back."
"Only for a day or two."
"I can work with that." She smiles. It's the first time she's smiled all day.
It feels good.
"I'll see you tomorrow?"
"See you tomorrow?" She promises.
She catches a glimpse of him on the train, thinks maybe she's just hallucinating. It's about freaking time she lost her mind. It's not like she didn't see it coming.
But he gets off at the same stop as her, bumping into a young girl on his way out before politely apologizing and heading to grab his luggage.
"Stefan?" He doesn't turn. She sees the name tag on his bag and realizes why.
It's even more surprising.
"Tom?" Her voice is shaky.
His head turns automatically, eyes finding hers somehow in the sea of people. "Caroline?"
"How do you remember me?"
"What do you mean?" He sounds completely lost, taking a step closer with each word. "We met yesterday, at the coffee shop. We spoke for hours. What are you doing here?"
"Yeah but then I compel-" dammit Enzo. She forgot to compel him to forgot he met her. "Sorry, I'm actually from here. Although right now I'm just visiting a friend."
"What about you?" She asks fluorescent smile spread across her face. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here because of you, actually." He says. He has the same goofy smile as Stefan. Except there's something different about it. It's brighter.
Maybe because he's human.
Maybe because he isn't in love with Elena Gilbert.
"A friend of mine told me about this place a while back. My ancestors are actually from here."
"What does that have to do with me?" It might've come out a bit more harsh than intended.
"Well, last time we talked, you suggested I start over somewhere new. I figured there's no place better than some off the map town with alleged supernatural life."
"Wow, you really did your research, huh?" She smiles, laughing. It might be the most enchanting thing he's ever seen.
"I like to be prepared."
"Well, a word of unchartered advice; this town is bad news, Tom." Maybe she should just compel him.
"So you're definitely not a fan of tourists?" He laughs and she can't help but do the same.
"I'm not kidding." She says, but it isn't exactly easy for her to stay stern. Especially when he's directing that smile at her.
"It's okay." He assures her. "I can take care of myself. Besides, how bad can it be if you're from here?"
Her cheeks turn pink and she's not even embarrassed. "So, uh… Where are you staying?"
"I don't know." He says, a small smirk playing at the corner of his lips at the sight of her blushing him. For him, because of him. "A motel maybe."
It's impulsive. And stupid, and she barely knows him. But she pulls a scrap of paper out of her bag and scribbles something down before handing it to him.
"This is my number." She says, handing him the scrap. "Call me if you don't find a place?"
"Yeah, sure." He says, smiling again. "Thanks, Caroline."
"No problem. Just let me know."
"Bye, Tom." She gives a small wave before heading off.
Of course, he's the first person she calls.
"Where are you?"
"Well, hello to you too." She says playfully into the phone. She can hear his exasperated sigh. It makes her laugh.
"I'm sorry." He says, still sounding different. "You were supposed to be here hours ago. Where are you?"
"I got sidetracked. I'm at my house."
"I'll be there in 10 minutes."
"Stefan, wait." She says, pausing.
"I think we might have a problem."
He shows up at her door the way he always does. Broody eyes, white t-shirt, looking like his pet just died. She doesn't say anything about the glimmer in his eyes when they land on her.
She doesn't notice it either.
"Hey." He says softly when she opens the door.
The first thing she does is pull him in for a hug. It feels good to be next to him. To feel his heart beating; safe and alive. "Hey."
"Come on in."
He doesn't say anything, only gives her small nod taking a seat on the sofa. She's gotten way to used to him sitting there. The way he sits back automatically, resting his arms down beside him whenever he huffs in frustration. Anger. Surprise. She's gotten way to used to him sitting on that couch.
She pours him a drink, not sure which one of their problems she wants to talk about first.
"How are you?" He asks genuinely.
Small talk it is.
She hands him a drink before sitting in her mom's chair opposite to him. "Okay, I guess. All things considered."
"Good… That's, uh. Good."
"Okay…" She says playfully, flashing him her smile before deciding they should actually talk.
"How was Atlanta?"
"Different." She says. "Speaking of, we should probably decide what we're going to do about your dopppel-twin…"
"Yeah." She says, thoughts seemingly elsewhere. Particularly on said doppel-twin. "He's here."
"What do you mean here? Here as in Mystic Falls?" He leans forward, placing his half-empty glass on the coffee table.
"Yes 'here' as in Mystic Falls, Virginia. I saw him at the station this morning, and judging by what he said, I think he plans on staying here for a while." She slumps back in her chair.
"Wait you spoke to him?" He asks, more bent up about than he should be.
"What?" She's as confused as he is. "That's not the point. The point is I saw him at the station. He's here to stay. That can't be good. Not when there's an entire army of supernatural psychopaths inhabiting the bodies of people in Mystic Falls. As soon as the travelers find out who he is, they're going to kill him."
"We'll compel him to leave."
She doesn't really want to. Maybe it's because she's just extremely exhausted or because she's a little drunk, but compulsion doesn't seem like the right thing. Of course, she doesn't say that.
And of course, she doesn't have to. "You don't want to compel him?" He can read her like an open book.
"I know it's for his own good and yesterday I was one-hundred percent okay with it, but today… All I know is that I hated being compelled. No one deserves that."
"Okay." He nods quietly, staring into his glass and contemplating what to do. "Do you know where he is?"
"He's looking for a place to stay." She bites her lip.
"Caroline." He raises his eyebrows.
"I told him he could crash here if he didn't find a place." She can see his mood change instantly: broodier somehow. As if that's even possible, he's probably just over analyzing it.
"Why'd you do that?" He asks frustrated.
"Because I figured if he's going to be here he'll be safer with one of us watching over him." She says, raising her eyebrows. "Why does this bother you so much?"
She can't believe she actually said it aloud. He can't believe she had to. What is he doing?
"I'm sorry." He says sincerely, eyes meeting her own. "It's just… It's not safe, okay? The travelers don't care about collateral damage. If they find out that you know where Tom is, they will stop at nothing to get it out of you."
A warm smile covers her face. He loves that smile. Her trademark 'Caroline Forbes optimist since forever' smile. It's his favorite one. "Thank you." She says softly. "For worrying about me. But I can handle myself, Stefan."
"I know." He says instantly. Who would ever hesitate to believe that? She's Caroline freaking Forbes. "I just don't want you getting hurt because of me."
"If they do ever hurt me, it won't be because of you, Stefan." She assures him. "None of this is your fault. I'll be okay, I promise."
How is he supposed to argue with her? That's the moment he realizes that he doesn't deserve her as the best friend. She deserves friends who will stand by her side no matter what and will never leave her. Friends who orbit her like planets around the sun.
She deserves better than a hundred and something-year-old best friend that is literally the cause of everything she's lost. He doesn't deserve the best friend like her.
"I don't doubt that." He says. Somehow she always bounces back. "But still, I don't want to risk it. He can stay at the boarding house."
"What? No, Stefan." She says, surprised. "It's okay. You don't have to do that."
"I want to." He assures her.
"What if he asks why some stranger that looks exactly like him is letting him live in his house, no questions asked?"
"He won't." He says. She wants to burst out laughing at how calm he's gone.
"I'll compel him." He says it cautiously, watching her shake her head in disagreement even as he's saying it.
"I know, I know." He says. "And I don't really want to but it'll just be so that he doesn't freak out. That's it. I promise."
"Fine." She nods her head slowly, her blonde curls falling off her shoulders. "How do we find him?"
"Great." She deadpans." So you've got this big master plan but no idea whatsoever how we're even going to track him down. That's just-"
"Caroline." He interrupts.
She follows his eyes to her phone vibrating on the table. She picks it up cautiously. "Hello?"
"Caroline? It's Tom. I was just wondering if your offer still stands. I just need a place to stay for a couple of days."
"Tom, hey." She says, finally getting a chance to talk. "Is there somewhere you can meet me?"
"Yeah, I'm actually at a restaurant right now. Or is it a bar. I'm not really sure."
"The grill?" She laughs.
"Sure, I'll see you in ten minutes." She puts down the phone before he gets a chance to reply, a small smile playing at her lips.
Stefan notices it. He really doesn't want to.
"Let's go." She says, standing up and grabbing her coat. She stops just before walking out the door. "Are you sure about this?"
It takes two minutes for them to 'take care' of the 'situation'. Two seemingly endless minutes where everything is a blur.
She meets Tom outside the grill. Asks him if he needs a ride. They drive to the boarding house where Stefan is waiting at the front door.
Tom looks like he's going to have a heart attack, his face looking deathly pale and his hands clasped together the second he sees his doppelganger.
He turns to Caroline for answers but she just whispers an "I'm sorry" before Stefan compels him.
"We look exactly the same, but it's okay. You don't need to freak out."
Tom nods' robotically. "I don't need to freak out."
"Stefan's going to let you stay here." Caroline says, smiling at him.
"That's really nice of you, man," Tom says, looking at Stefan. "It'll just be for a few days."
"No problem," Stefan assures him. "Although I'd watch out for Damon."
"He's an asshole." Caroline interrupts.
"And my brother."
"And that." She says incredulously. "Although he's so obsessed with Elena right now, I doubt he'd care much about any of this."
She watches Stefan's eyes fall to the ground. "I'm sorry." She says quickly, realizing what she said. Of course, he still cares about her. It doesn't take a couple of months to get over Elena Gilbert.
"It's okay." He says. It sounds like a lie. "She's right. Damon is bad news. I'd suggest you steer clear."
"Thanks," Tom says, nodding. The resemblance is really uncanny. It scares her how similar they actually look. "And thanks for letting me stay here."
She decides that it's probably best for her to leave then so she says a quick goodbye before scurrying off to her car and driving into the night, while four identical eyes follow her to the end of the road.
She goes back to the boarding house around 7 am the next morning, after taking a warm shower and changing into a dress and a pair of ballerina flats. She checks her phone for any messages during the ten-minute drive to the mansion.
There's one from Bonnie. Caroline, please can you call me… I just need to know your okay.
She hadn't really told any of them that she was back yet, what with the total of five minutes she's had to herself. Besides, she wasn't yet ready to see them. She gets why she shouldn't be mad. They were trying to save Stefan. They did save Stefan. She just can't seem to shake this feeling that something horrible could've happened.
She decides to have breakfast with them, although she's not sure if coffee is strong enough. She can't even remember when was the last time she had blood.
Obviously, Stefan being Stefan, knows this already and hands her a cup of B positive. She gives him a smile, her eyes falling to his lips and lingering too long. Not that any amount of time wouldn't be long.
Before she hasn't a chance to awkwardly look away, Tom interrupts. "So how long have you guys been together?" She nearly chokes on the warm blood and Stefan drops his mug before quickly bending to pick up the pieces.
"We're not." Caroline says quickly, scouring her brain for anything to change the topic with. "Just friends."
"Ah, I see," Tom says nodding.
"See what?" Stefan asks, clearing his throat.
There's this really long, earth shattering silence as if one of them had just yelled out they were a serial killer. Toms gaze is shifting between the two of them while both of theirs are on the ground.
"Okay," Caroline says suddenly. "Well, I was thinking we could show you around. Give you a tour. Mystic Falls is a very distinguished town, you know."
They both laugh. Two identical, green eyed, bushy browned laughs that sound exactly the same and completely different all at the same time.
"Well I actually have to go see Damon and Elena about a 'problem' but we could go as soon as I'm done," Stefan says, and by problem, he means supernatural psychopaths on a suicide mission to kill one doppelganger.
"Well, why don't Caroline and I go and you can just meet up with us when you're done?" Tom asks, earning him a slight scowl from Stefan.
"That's great." Caroline smiles. "That way we don't have to hear any boring stories about how this town looked a hundred years ago."
He sees the ticket in her bag while Toms in the restroom. "What's it for?" He asks inquisitively, even though he can see it clear enough.
"You're still going?" He sounds betrayed, it's how he feels.
"I thought I'd go there this weekend." She sees his smile fade altogether. "I left some stuff there in my hotel I was thinking I should get it and maybe put off going for a while. At least until the travelers are gone for good."
"I'm glad." He says, sitting down on the couch beside her. "I'd hate to have to find a new best friend."
"I'd hate to have to put anyone else through this torture." She teases. It earns her a glimpse of that bright smile. The one she's starting to think he keeps just for her.
"You ready to go?" Tom asks, coming out from the hallway.
"Yeah." She stands up and Stefan follows shit. She gives him a quick hug before grabbing her bag. "See you later?"
"Yeah." He smiles but it's not real. At least not the part where he sends his best friend off with . Even though said stranger is human and Caroline is more than capable of taking care of herself, it doesn't feel right.
Of course, he doesn't say that.
He nods and sends them on their way as he dials Damon.
There's a ball at Whitmore. If it were any other day, she'd be there as soon as she could. Heck, she'd probably organize the entire thing. Today, though, she wasn't ready for any of it.
She still hadn't seen Bonnie or Elena although Stefan had let it slip that she was back in town to them. They'd tried calling her a couple of times but she wasn't in the mood to explain herself.
Nonetheless, she'd somehow let the two look-alikes persuade her into going.
"I need a date for tonight." She sighs out loud, a perfect display of her current existential crisis.
It's almost hilarious how fast both of their heads bounce up instantly. Like a pair of lovesick puppies. But she's not paying attention, instead, her eyes are on today's crossword puzzle in the paper.
The two brunettes meet eyes across the room and stare awkwardly at each other, forming a silent pact. 'We'll never speak of this again' it says.
The remainder of the afternoon is spent is complete silence except for a rare cheer on Caroline's behalf for her incredible crossword-ing skills.
They manage to agree on going as a trio. More for Toms safety than anything else really…. Really.
So here she was, two hours later, standing in front of Stefan's mirror pulling at the hem of her ankle length black dress and waiting for the two of them. Because apparently, they take longer getting ready than she does.
"Hey." She says when he finally walks out of the bathroom, eyes focused on fixing his tie until he hears her voice.
Wow. "Hey..uh..wow, um, you look amazing." He says awkwardly. What the hell was that?
"Thanks." She says, blushing. "Although I would much rather prefer staying in all night and watching juicy reality tv."
"You really don't have to come if you don't want to." He says automatically. "I'm sure Damon and I can take care of the travelers ourselves. Besides, we have Tom as a backup."
"Yeah, I wouldn't be too happy about that." Both their heads turn to the voice coming from the door. "I mean I used to be a paramedic and a not so great one at that so I'm just not really sure how I can help."
"You don't need to." Caroline smiles. "You're just the bait."
"That's reassuring." Tom sighs.
"You'll be okay." She reassures him. "We've got your back."
Her gaze lingers a little too long, but so does his. "I'll go start the car," Stefan says suddenly, eyes on the ground as he walks out of the room.
"You ready?" She asks Tom, grabbing her purse from the bed.
"As I'll ever be." He says sheepishly, taking her hand. "You look amazing, by the way."
"Dance with me?" They both say at the exact same time, and her eyes bounce back and forth between his eyes before finally falling to her vibrating phone.
"Sloan is here." She says cautiously, scanning the ballroom.
Stefan nods, grabbing the duffel bag he'd carefully hidden underneath the bar.
"I'm coming with." She says sternly. It definitely doesn't sound like a question.
"Stay here please." He says in a hurry, gesturing across the room, for Tom. He's there in ten seconds. "Stay with her."
He waits until Stefan's gone and she's given up before he asks. "Would you like to dance with me?"
She nods politely, taking his hand.
"Is he always like this around her?" Tom asks a semi-drunk Bonnie as the two stand by the bar watching Stefan and Caroline sway to the music. Stefan's got a scar on his forehead as a result of the fail of a mission that tonight was.
"Like what?" She asks.
"Jealous? Over protective ?"
"He's not jealous." She replies with a reassuring smile. "He's just protective of her. Always has been."
"Why?" He's very curious.
"They're best friends."
"And.." He hints.
"And nothing." She reassures him. He doesn't really seem convinced.
The next day is long and it's nearly seven before she even gets a text from Stefan.
Sorry it took so long. I'll tell you about it when I get there.
She spent all day out with Tom.
She puts her phone away turning back to face Tom. They're talking about traveling. Seeing the world and falling in love with it. "You're really different from everyone I've ever met." He says after a long pause.
"That I am." She says somewhat bitterly.
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"Maybe it is." She says. She's not sure how exactly it happens. Somewhere between what's the best thing to eat at the grill and what she wants to be someday. They've been talking all day and he's been looking at her that way all day.
She's not sure how it happens, but it's around her fifth martini when he leans in and crashes his lips onto hers. She's not sure why she lets him, but she does. And she enjoys it. More than she's willing to admit.
But still, she's half drunk and he doesn't even know what she actually is. So she pulls away.
He's walking around aimlessly, brooding yet again as he makes his way to the grill to meet up with them. Today was not a good day. The exact opposite actually.
However, it's nothing five minutes with a perky blonde can't fix.
He's about to walk into the grill when he sees it. The kiss. His best friend and his freaking doppelganger. The small smile on Toms face and the one that gently graces her face.
He shouldn't care. It shouldn't matter. It shouldn't hurt. He leaves before either of them notice he's there.