~ Chapter 5 ~

Chocolate Locks

One hundred thirty-five, one hundred thirty-six, one hundred thirty-seven…

Pause, inhale, bite lip, resume.

One hundred thirty-eight, one hundred thirty-nine, one hundred forty…

It's official, she's going crazy.

Caroline groans loudly before collapsing on the sofa. She knows she's a crazy neurotic freak but God, counting her steps is taking it a bit too far even for her.

She needs a fucking drink.

She stands up and doesn't hesitate a second to help herself to Damon's wide selection of alcohol. Her eyes are set on the expensive bottle of vodka, and she pours herself a healthy shot.

Caroline downs it in a millisecond and pours herself another one. She's not scared of Damon because God knows; she's entitled to a drink or ten after coming to the boarding house for the past fourteen days to check up on everything and making sure that nothing was out of place – at Damon's request of course.

The make sure Stefan is alright too wasn't said, but Caroline isn't stupid. She knows the only reason Damon had asked her to come check out boarding house in the first place was to make sure Stefan was doing okay.

But Caroline knows how to feel gracious (and she's got great self-preservation instincts as well, but that's irrelevant) and so she doesn't say anything to Damon about it.

But God he and Elena had really driven her insane today, she thinks as she downs another healthy shot of vodka. They'd called her yesterday night to tell her they'd be back in town at ten o'clock sharp the next morning (she knows she shouldn't be gloating as much as she is, but they'd told her that they were coming back – and only her – they'd trusted her to keep it a secret, and she thinks that all the pride she's feeling is really self-entitled) but right now, it's almost eleven, and she's just about ready to burst with anxiety.

She sighs, glancing downwards, and Caroline eyes the floor warily, silently daring it to come and make her go pace up and down frantically. Her mouth thins.

The hell I'll move.

A battle of the wills, a silent defiance – Caroline's really getting into this mind game thing until she realizes she's daring the Goddamn floor, and as far as she knows, floors don't have minds.

Its times like these that she knows she's ready for a tumbler of Damon's best Bourbon.

Okay it's official; I'm a crazy lunatic psychotic freaky vampire Barbie. Damon's right, Caroline pauses in her mental derision of her being, and helps herself to more Bourbon. She just knows she's in need of copious amounts of alcohol if she's starting to give Damon right.

The thought alone makes her cringe and Caroline eyes the other tumbler appreciatively. Drinking from two cups at once would certainly speed up the process of getting as much alcohol in her system as humanely – vampirely, she means, she's totally not a human anymore – possible.

Just as she makes up her mind to use the second tumbler too, her eyes twitch as she picks up the noise of a door clicking.

Caroline stiffens; she's been hearing so many car motors coming up this way that she'd unconsciously tuned them out, tired of freaking herself out over nothing. But now…now it looked it like it was them.

Suddenly feeling very nervous, she downs the shot of Bourbon as quickly as she can (liquid courage and all, she totally believes that by the way), before wiping her hands on her jeans and standing up.

Caroline's breathing stills when she turns around, and waits for Damon and Elena to come into the habitable room (she hasn't called living rooms, living rooms since she's become a vampire).

"You have three seconds to get your ass together, Vampire Barbie and get the house as good as new. I have a pencil in my hands; you've been warned."

Caroline rolls her eyes – so typically Damon, she can't help but think – but her mouth curves into an excited smile anyways. "You're antiquated house is as good as it'll ever be," she replied. "So you may as well just come in now. May I suggest you sell it and get a modern one?"

A millisecond later, Damon's walking into the habitable room, a smirk curving at his mouth. "Vampire Barbie has real fangs now, does she?"

Caroline huffs and crosses her arms, but she knows she can't really be all that mad at him. Considering everything…she did kind of miss Damon.

But that might just be the good gallon of alcohol in her system talking.

"Hey," she says. "So how was Paris?"

"Oh terrible, I absolutely hated it."

Caroline's eyes snap towards the left, widening dramatically as she catches a glimpse of Elena. She's grinning, her eyes are sparkling, and her arms are stretched out.

Caroline's feeling like her face might just snap in two as she rushes to hug her friend. "Elena!" she cries out. Her arms are wrapped around Elena tightly, and she feels herself laugh when she hears her gasp, "Caroline – you're choking me!"

Caroline pulls back with a smile that takes approximately a millisecond to fade as she stares at Elena. She feels her jaw drop and her eyebrows rise so high she wouldn't be surprised if they go all the way to her hairline. "Oh my God!" she exclaims. "Elena, you cut your hair!"

Elena blinks like she's just realized what Caroline was saying, and lets her eyes slide over her hair. She shrugs. "Yeah, I cut it just before coming," she replies, touching it. "How do you like it?"

How do I like it?

Caroline just stares, thinking of the glorious brown mane that hung all the way down to the small of Elena's back, now barely skims along her shoulders. It's weird and bizarre (which, by the way, don't mean the same thing at all) and…

"I totally love it! It's gorgeous!" Caroline combs her fingers through it, eyes glittering. "Yeah, it totally gives you this new cool vibe. It's…different."

You're different.

It's just a passing thought, a simple nonessential observation, but Caroline realizes that it's true. This Elena – with the sparkle in her eye, the dazzling smile, the brand new daredevil haircut – isn't the Elena that had left for Paris two weeks ago.

This Elena…this Elena is the Elena she knew since she was two.

"Oh my God," Caroline whispers, and she thinks she's feeling tears building behind her eyes. "You're back. Welcome back, Elena," and she gathers her into her arms.

She doesn't care if Elena thinks that she's a crazy, neurotic freak (which she is, denial is never good) but with the way her hands tighten at the back of her jacket, Caroline thinks that Elena understood what she meant.

She's herself again. She'd lost herself, and somehow, some way, she found herself again.

Caroline catches Damon looking at them with a soft, appreciative glow in his warm blue eyes, with a subtle hint of…love? Frankly, she doesn't understand it (though she has a sneaking suspicion. Guessing and romance – preferably put together – are things she's always been good at after all) but Caroline knows that Damon had something to do with Elena's change.

So she smiles at him and mouths a quick little 'thank you', before she pauses, considers, and whispers – really low and really fast so that Elena doesn't catch it (thank God for vampire abilities) – "I will hunt you down if you tell anyone I thanked you," and smiles when Damon winks back.

Caroline ends up spending the rest afternoon with Damon and Elena, asking them about Paris and how the timeout was, and did Paris really have the best fashion stores? She bickers with Damon, but he agrees to share a bottle of Scotch with her and that doesn't make him so bad, and she laughs with Elena. But she mostly keeps to herself, and observes them with bright, knowing eyes.

She isn't surprised when Damon dips to press a kiss on Elena's mouth, in fact, she's more surprised with the way Elena closes her eyes and smiles into the kiss – like she's never been happier – and Caroline realizes that Damon may just have a lot more to do with Elena finding herself again than she first gave him credit for.

She leaves at around seven, hugs Elena goodbye and awes over the hair again. It's a style that really suits Elena, and something that the pre-my-parent's-died Elena would have totally gone for. Caroline jokes that she's made differentiating her and Katherine a hell of a lot easier and Elena rolls her eyes. "Gee, thanks Car," she says wryly, smiling and shaking her head.

They've agreed that they'll let everyone know they're back the next day, and Caroline promises she'll act like she never knew, but Damon lifts his eyes to the sky in annoyance. "Why bother?" he asks. "Let them all know we told you before anyone else – make them think we like you even more. Besides, with your fantastic acting skills, they'll all know anyways."

Caroline frowns, but she feels her heart warm just a little, because Damon's actually helping her out more than he should, and she knows when to feel grateful. She promises to clink quite a few glasses with him tomorrow (to be honest, she's really curious to see just how much alcohol she can get away with before she becomes a slobbering mess) before she makes her way to her car.

She turns back one last time, though, looks at them, and smiles. "You're good to each other," she says with her usual Caroline-patented finesse and bluntness and steps inside her car.

Caroline's known for making thoughtless statements – God knows, she's made enough of them to last her a lifetime – but her intuition is never wrong, and on a relative scale, she thinks that statement is probably one of the best she's ever made.

Author's Note: Not one of my strongest chapters I'm afraid, but it (successfully?) concludes the Purple Teardrops series! I had a blast writing Caroline, she's such a fun character to write that I think I might just use her again :D

I'd like to apologize for taking so long, but my last semester of high school is kicking my butt, and I've haven't had proper access to the Internet in forever (this is an interesting quirk of mine; I cannot work on a story if I don't have Internet. I do not know why).

I've also just watched the "House Guest" episode, and I'd like to cry out a HELL YES to Damon, for totally burning Katherine – and in style! Aah, I love you Damon – best scene in the entire freaking episode (yes, yes, I truly believe that :D).

I have a ton of reviews, PMs and such to get to, and I promise I'll answer them all to the best of my ability. It might take me a month and may just kill me, but I promise I'll answer every single one of them.

So to conclude this ridiculously long Author's Note, I hope you've enjoyed the ride – I certainly did. It was fun experimenting with multi-chaptered stories. And I look forward to reading lovely reviews from you all. Much love!