Caroline was beautiful. She could feel it as she walked, all the glamour she had yearned for, all the confidence she had lacked when she really needed it; now she had attained both, and effortlessly. Men stared after her as she moved past them in the street. She paid them less heed than ants. They stared after her.

One girl gave her the strangest look as she stepped out of a shop. Caroline offered her an empty smile, before moving on her way. The four bottles of pills clattered in their bag, but she did not worry about that. No one would see them; not when she strode confidently through the familiar district with the sunlight falling brilliantly and unwarmingly on her face.

She smiled again, the natural innocence of her childlike features ensuring that no one would notice the absolute lack of happiness in that smile.

'Yo Caroline!' she almost didn't turn, but habit and the need for social approval were difficult to set aside. It was a senior boy, one she had courted in order to get closer to his friend. And...nobody...

This thought was strange to her. A year ago she would have delighted at the conquest and what it represented...These days she looked back and saw exactly the same thing as when she looked forwards. Emptiness. But what could they expect; she was a shallow pool.... she nodded to him vaguely, and he had the perceptiveness not to follow.

She didn't really know what she was going to do if that happened. If anyone had asked her about the bag. Nobody did. And she was home, fiddling with her keys and opening the door.

'Mum. Im home' she called out, just in case.

The house greeted her with silence and in the kitchen she found the note, her mother's barely discernable scribble saying she had missed her and there was money for pizza.

'Have fun' the sheriff had ended it. And that was that. What did she feel, relief? Despair? Caroline knew about the trip, had planned her schedule around it. 'Useless'....She had made sure that her friends thought she was with her aunt, and that her mother believed that Elena and Bonnie would be keeping her company. They had believed her, because why would she, Caroline, lie? She threw down the bag on the table knowing she would not be disturbed.

A bath. Deep and warm, she lay back running her fingers through golden hair. She wanted to be beautiful tonight, more than she had for anything else. Her nails were rested on the edges of the bathtub, a shining crimson that she had bought the day before. She had thought it made her look more sophisticated.

The dress she would wear was draped over a bedroom chair. Also red, but darker than the nails, it was the shade of blood, shimmering down in tailored folds. She had received it from her grandfather a year before but never worn it. She had been waiting for something special enough. Tonight would be it. Sighing slightly she raised herself up, and began to wash her hair. She had been beautiful even with her rumpled bed hair when her mother woke her up that morning. Tonight she would be resplendent.

The music she chose was not her usual favourites. Although she made the effort to keep up with the fashions Caroline had always preferred cheese; the old, familiar and happy songs which always somehow raised you up. But recently she had found those songs babyish and had looked further, for the haunting, breathtakingly beautiful melodies that would take your soul's pain and make even that seem beautiful.

It was one of these songs that she now set on repeat as she styled her hair, setting it into loose curls that would hug her throat. With this and the dress she had chosen she knew she would resemble something out of a fairy tale.

The mirror loved her. She sat at her dressing table, mascara in her hand, wondering if perhaps another stroke, but knowing that she needed no more. The woman who looked back at her was exquisite, down to the impassive serenity that made her seem so mesmerising. She could not be improved.

Getting to her feet, and luxuriating in the swishing of her dress, she made her way to her mother's room. She knew already which jewellery would be perfect for this occasion, and she hardly cared that it was not hers.

There had been little risk that the Sherriff would decide to take the set with her to her conference, and sure enough the box was in her draw, the same place that Caroline had seen her put it after parties while she watched and wished she was grown up. Reaching for it she closed the draw, and made her way downstairs before letting the pieces fall into her hands where they glittered redly.

Sliced rubies; the jewels were amongst her mother's most valuable possessions, and she had been drawn to them since she was a small child, although needless to say she had never been allowed to wear them. Now...there was no one to stop her.

Stepping back she admired the effect. Perfect. Now all she needed was the shoes; she had left those in the hallway. Stepping into the painfully high heels she allowed herself the brief satisfaction that she would not have to suffer the discomfort of pretending they were not destroying her feet as she danced. Then she glanced at the time nine o'clock. Exactly when he would be most likely to be feeling sociable, and more importantly, bored.

Then she picked up the phone. And for the first time this evening her confidence lagged. She could call this off. She could do it without involving...him. But wasn't that the whole point of it? And anyway she was not sure she could. As much as it destroyed her self esteem to admit it he was essential to this.

It was him after all who had strode into her life like a mockery of the fairy tale hero she had always dreamed of; he whose seduction had been dark and sneering, and as far from the trembling gentleness she had expected as she could imagine. He who had alternatively played her, bled her, brought her high and left her wanting. He had damaged her, with his cruel disregard and his talent, to the point that this had become her reality. And she had pressed the first number, after which it was easy really. After all she could always pretend, that the reason for her call was something else, something far less frightening.

The phone rang once, and Caroline waited with bated breath. What if he was not in. What if he recognised her breathing and hung up at once, without talking to her? What if...? The call came through and she could hear his voice addressing her. It was him and not the answering phone, she could tell the instant she heard his voice. For a moment she doesn't speak, just allowing herself the chance to savour listening to him; without the contempt and disgust that have laced his tone whenever he has spoken to her recently. But when he repeats 'what?!' with a touch of impatience she knows that she must speak.

'Damon' she says softly, although she hadn't planned to say his name. She had aimed to make it professional, businesslike, without the element of personal that always brought her down when it came to him. But it had just come out, and somehow it had sounded natural.

She knew he would recognise her voice, but his reaction was not quite what she had expected.

'Caroline,' his voice was surprisingly serious and she realised he must have been responding to something he had heard in hers.

For once she ignored him. 'There is something...' she begun, softly, all her confidence leeched away at the thought of the void at the end of the receiver. This was not death, she reminded herself. This was Damon. With whom she had shared both pleasure and pain, and emerged...not quite a shadow...

'Something I need to do. And I need...for you to be there. I know.... No forget that, but it is important. Come.'

He was saying something else and his voice sounded strangely angry, but she slammed the phone. Too many times had she felt her will recede, at the promise of his voice. She could not afford to have that happen now. Her breath was short and she felt unsteady as if she had run some great distance. But she also felt a surge of triumph. He would come. But at the same time that meant that she had to be quick.

She had lit the candles before picking up the receiver. The mood had to be perfect, and she had always had an attention for the details. The water was sitting in an elegant decanter that her mother only brought out for special occasions. She poured some into a Champaign glass. Nothing but the best, she thought to herself, there could be no skimping tonight.

The pills were difficult to swallow, in handfuls as she was taking them, but she needed to know that they would all go down, that there would be enough to guarantee the result. To her irritation she felt herself dribbling and caught up a tissue cleaning herself up. Two packs; it should be enough, but she reached for a third. Don't mess this up, Caroline. Not with everything else so perfect... Was that a car nearing her drive? She couldn't quite tell. Mechanically she raised another mouthful. They seemed easier to swallow now. But her eyes kept raising to the door.

What if she had been wrong about his tone on the phone. What if he hadn't sounded angry but with a trace of concern; what if he wasn't going to come? It doesn't matter; she told herself, angrily. Either way you tried. But she did need for him to come. Please come. She hadn't noticed opening the fourth pack, but she was down to the last few pills. Shrugging she swallowed them. Waste not.

She thought she could feel its effects already, a dulling of her senses. A faint discomfort from the direction of her stomach where the pills were...don't think about that! She pulled herself together and brought the glass to her lips to steady herself with just water. To her surprise she found she was down to the bottom of the decanter. She should fetch some more. She might be thirsty. Getting to her feet she staggered and grabbed the table edge. Her stomach roiled and she was afraid for a second that she might be sick (that would be so unromantic) but it passed. She closed her eyes, counted down. Clear your mind; breathe in and out...that was yoga but it sort of worked. She opened her eyes and blinked back tears.

Reaching out she accidentally knocked something to the floor. She might have ignored it but she saw it was an envelope and knew that it was one of the letters she had written earlier. She had decided to leave them out to make sure they were found. If she left it there it might be missed. Bending down she actually lost momentary control of her legs and found herself painfully on the floor. But that was ok; the letter was there and all she had to do was grasp it and put it back on the table. Easy Caroline, you have done so much simpler things. But it was difficult. More difficult than she had ever dreamed that it would be.

She thought about staying on the floor. She really did, but it seemed so unglamorous. After all the trouble she had gone to to create a certain image... Besides if there was even a chance that he would show up...She made it up, and stayed there for a few moments. In limbo. Her stomach hurt now, a sharp, dangerous pain and she was having trouble feeling the edges of her limbs. Also her throat hurt, probably from swallowing all those pills and she felt a raging thirst. What he had felt, perhaps? She might have smiled at the similarity. After looking longingly at the still empty decanter she began to lurch across the room.

Darkness rose and she battled it down, but she was far from steady. The sink seemed further away than she had ever imagined and the decanter much heavier than it had seemed when she had initially filled it up. Her stomach rolled and she closed her eyes sharply. Ironic really, weren't those pills meant to stop the pain? She thought she heard another car, but wasn't sure. Her eyes were still tightly closed and her breathing heavy.

She was so dry. Trying again to make her uncooperative body moved she succeeded only in triggering another spasm. She could not stop the crystal jug from slipping through her fingers and thought she let out a small cry as it shattered in the floor. Glass shards; flying everywhere. She could not fall down without lacerating her knees but to fold up was all that she wanted. Her entire body was trembling and the glass was all around her. She did not know how long she would be able to avoid it.

Maybe she would be too far gone to care? The darkness rose again, and this time it seemed thicker; velvety and encompassing. There was an urgent sound outside the door but she hardly noticed. Her eyes were only half open her energy focussed together on staying upright. The instinct for self preservation was difficult to shake, and the shards glinting in the candlelight looked painful. For a second the room seemed to spin and then she was falling; elegantly she noticed, to her distant pleasure; at the same time as her door exploded in.

She saw him for an instant. Silhouetted in the door way; dark eyes finding hers; an entire universe of dark that she had lost herself in before, endless layers of blackness on blackness; and then she was falling faster, bracing herself for painful impact.

And he was there. Moving far faster than any human ever could. The first thing she was aware of was the crunching of glass beneath his shoes, and then the fact that rather than hitting the ground bruisingly she was lying cushioned in his arms. Then darkness came again and it took all her energies to fight it. Why fight it now? Part of her argued. He is here. He is holding you; he saved you. Almost as if he cared. Why not pretend he cared and die happy? And it was so tempting. But Caroline did not want to die a coward.

So instead she shifted herself, moving her face from his chest to a position where she could look at him. Obligingly he let her drop, although kept a hold on her once her feet were on the floor. It was a good thing, she realised when his grip was the only thing that stopped her from crumpling. 'You came,' she said quietly, although that hadn't been on her plan at all. She cursed herself for deviating as she felt the room spinning and knew she might not have time to finish. 'I got a rather interesting phone call,' he answered softly, although she could read nothing else into his tone.

'Thank you.' She whispered; and was consumed by a racking pain so intense that she couldn't possibly manage another word. His arms were a steadying presence around her and it never occurred to her not to trust him to hold her. When it finished she looked up, struggling for breath.

Black eyes met hers; fathomless. 'You took them all,' he asked her, and it took a moment for her to realise that he was talking about the pills. 'Yes.' She whispered. 'I told the pharmacy that mother wanted them for the office so they would sell me enough.' He made a sound that could have been a laugh.

'There is no one else in the house.' Damon had never had any trouble making out other presences so she knew it was not a question but she answered anyway. 'Mother went to a conference. Elena..' She thought she saw him stiffen at the name but finished anyway 'thinks I am away...'

'So no one could be expected to disturb you.'

Useless... 'No -one'

'But you called me.'

This was a question. She closed her eyes. The pain was radiating out now, coming from all sides and it was exhausting but she needed to finish this. Needed...closure...

'I needed to tell you.' The question was his silence. She knew his eyes would be boring into her, dark and dangerous but for once she wasn't scared. She couldn't see him with her eyes closed and for one she lacked the strength to open them. Also she was dying, and she was not like Elena who could no doubt imagine a thousand fates worse than dying. But that reminded her; that there was one more thing.'

'I wrote the others letters.' She waited for his reply but getting none forced herself on. 'to say goodbye, I wanted them to understand. You I couldn't write it. Because I think I needed you to see. For me as well. Its different and I needed you to know why...'

She was rambling but couldn't seem to stop.

His voice was almost but not quite humorous 'and why?' he asked her. If it had been anyone else she would have thought she sensed something like sadness underneath the question. It almost made her rethink her answer but it seemed too late for that.

'Because of you.' She whispered. The silence became deadly.

'You told me you were going to kill me.' She found herself explaining. 'And you have.'

'After you...It hurt, Damon and after I was so tired. I saw the world move on and I tried to pick myself up, I swear that I tried but I couldn't. It was too hard. I think...I think I loved you and the things you said, that night, at my party..' involuntarily she felt her mind flying back. Stupid. Useless. Shallow. She thought she heard him draw in a breath.

The words hung between them in poisonous silence. 'Just so tired,' she breathed as the darkness came back. She felt him shift her and assumed that he was going to set her down. Perhaps on the sofa; she did not think that he would leave her on the floor.

She was unprepared for sudden pain, not in her stomach but her throat. She whimpered and tried to get away but she had been no match for him even when her limbs were not on the point of giving out, and his grip on her was relentless. Before when he had bitten her he had not drawn back but this time he did and seemed almost to gag.

The overdose, she realised belatedly. It was in her blood. But before she could respond the teeth were there again, ripping into her skin, and god it hurt, and she was screaming screaming but he had pressed her face into his chest, muffling her cries, as he pulled her life from her.

Was this it, she wondered as the darkness enveloped her and Caroline drifted down. The reason why the overdose had seemed so distant to her so unreal. Had she known even then as she bought the pills and dressed herself up that her death would be quite different?

The one that he had promised... The pain was gone now mostly replaced with excruciating weakness and he no longer tore but held her almost gently. If she let her mind wonder it could seem almost tender. It seemed right somehow. Doing so, Caroline drifted into death relaxed in his embrace.