AN: Written for the Women of TVD Comment Ficathon over on LJ. I apologize in advance for any typos and the kind of abrupt ending. Original prompt: Caroline, her future life in an alternate universe where Stefan and Damon never came back to Mystic Falls.

Title from the song ''Be Like That'' by 3 Doors Down.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

if i could be like that

Written by Becks Rylynn

She grows up.

Sometimes she wishes she didn't have to. Sometimes she thinks about how wonderful it would be to somehow stay seventeen forever, beautiful and carefree for all of eternity. But everyone has to grow up sometime and immortality is only a myth.


In her junior year of high school, she dates Matt Donovan and they become the golden couple of Mystic Falls. Elena, single and unhappy, stops talking to her. Bonnie takes Elena's side. And just like that, the friendships Caroline has counted on since she was a little girl blow away like ashes in the wind. All because of a boy. A boy that she keeps. A boy that she chooses over her friends. Elena spirals downwards into drinking and partying and Matt cares more than he should.

Elena hates Caroline for stealing her first love. Caroline still takes her home one night when Elena is drunk and Bonnie won't pick up the phone. Elena will always matter more than Matt, but there is a certain power that comes with being a supercouple that Caroline is not willing to give up. She has always longed for power and strength she can't find, after all.

She cheers like her life depends on it, plans dances and carnivals and works harder than anyone else to be the perfect Little Miss Mystic Falls.

Mom still doesn't care.

Senior year.

Matt's sister dies of an overdose. He falls into Elena's arms. She winds up pregnant. They take their spot as the super golden couple at the head of the school. Caroline is phased out. Elena takes everything away from her within a second and Caroline loses everything she's worked for. She pretends it's all right because she really should be focusing on getting into a great college anyway.

She gets demoted from captain of the cheerleading squad, but she keeps a spot. She clings to the last bit of her old life like it's her life preserver.

Some people peek in high school. But she is Caroline Forbes and she refuses to be one of those people.

People avoid her in the halls because she doesn't mean anything to them anymore. She isn't their leader. She was just Elena's temporary replacement. She takes it all and concentrates. One day, they'll regret it. One day, she'll be fabulous. She is Caroline Forbes and she doesn't need anyone but herself.

But that's a lie.

One day while it's raining, she comes across Jeremy Gilbert stumbling through the streets drunk because people seem to forget he lost Vicki too. She'll admit she's shallow and has certain layers of ice around her, but she has a good heart and she watched Jeremy grow up.

She slams on the breaks seconds before she hits him with her car, heart beating erratically in her chest. Her wide eyes soak in the sight of him, soaking wet with a bottle in his hand and she bolts out of the car. ''Jeremy!'' She cries out over the sound of the rain. ''Oh my god, I almost hit you! What are you doing?''

He turns around with a pout on his lips, squints and then offers her a small wave. ''Oh. Hey, Caroline.''

She rushes forwards, but she slips in the rain and has to reach out and grasp his arm to stay upright, biting her tongue in the process. ''Jeremy...'' She takes in a few gulping breaths and tries to meet his eyes. His eyes look wet in the dark, but she can't tell if they're wet with tears or rain. ''What are you doing in the rain?''

He shrugs. ''Going for a walk,'' he monotones.

''You're drunk.''

''Just a little.''

She wishes she had an umbrella. She's totally ruining her hair. ''Jeremy,'' her voice gets lost in the rain and he begins to drift away from her. ''Let me take you home.''

''I don't want to go home,'' he grumbles. He starts to walk away from her, feet stomping through the puddles on the road.

She thinks she should scoff, flick her hair and leave him to his brooding because that is what she would have done last year. But now she knows what it's like to be forgotten. To be pushed aside like you don't matter. It hurts. It doesn't stop hurting. She chases after him, grabbing his arm and spinning him around to face her. There is something very movie-esque about this moment, she thinks. Chasing after a boy in the rain. She has always wanted a movie-esque life. However, in most of her fantasies the guy chases after her. Also, in most of her fantasies the guy is that hot guy from that show about the two brothers who fight monsters. Although, come to think of it, they're both really hot and she's not sure she'd mind if they both chased after her. ''Jer, come on,'' she pleads. ''You're going to get sick if you stay out here in the rain.''

''I'm okay with that.''

''Well, I'm not!''

''Caroline, you have barely spoken to me at all in the past two years. Why do you suddenly care now?''

She hesitates. The rain soaks through her clothes and into her skin. ''Listen, Jeremy, I know you're upset about Vicki. I know you cared about her. And all I'm trying to do is help you. I know what it's like to hurt inside and to have people just...forget. Like your pain doesn't matter as much as theirs.''

He scowls at her. ''Pretty blonde cheerleaders don't know what real hurt is.''

She rears back like she's been hit.

In the distance, headlights shine through the rain like the light at the end of the tunnel. They're still standing in tense silence when the car rolls to a stop and a figure climbs out, holding an umbrella above their head. ''Jeremy! What the hell, man?''

Caroline snaps out of her stunned silence and looks over Jeremy's shoulder when he sighs and deflates like a balloon. ''Tyler?''

Tyler comes to a stop next to Jeremy, eyeing Caroline with something between wariness and gratitude. ''Caroline?'' His free hand reaches up to clutch at Jeremy's shoulder, which she thinks is a tad odd considering she didn't know they were friends, and he rakes his eyes over her for a disconcerting length of time before he finally turns his attention back to Jeremy. ''What the fuck are you doing out in the rain, you crazy drunk? We had plans.'' When the drunken teenager with the heartbreakingly sad eyes doesn't answer, Tyler seems to roll his eyes briefly; shaking his head like he's done this before and it is well on its way to getting old. ''Go wait in the car, dude.''

''I don't - ''

''Jeremy. Go. Wait. In the. Car.''

The most surprising thing in this situation is that Jeremy actually listens. He frowns and grumbles under his breath, sure, but he turns on his heel and stalks towards the car. Once he's gone, Tyler turns back to Caroline and when he steps closer to her, she has a sudden urge to step back. Until she realizes he's just trying to cover her with the umbrella. He nods at her. ''Forbes,'' he says. ''You're all wet.''

''I didn't know you two were friends,'' she breathes.

He shrugs, somewhat awkwardly. ''After Vicki...'' He trails off and has to clear his throat. She winces and looks down at the rain pounding into the ground. ''People were so worried about Matt and his mom that they all forgot we cared about her too.''

''I'm sorry.''

He frowns at her. ''What are you sorry for? People have forgotten about you too.'' He doesn't say it in a particularly nasty tone of voice. He just says it like it's a fact. It is a fact. It's the new truth she has to live with every day. Hearing it from someone else just seems to hurt more than hearing it from herself. For whatever reason. ''Hey,'' he says. ''Thanks.''

''For what?''

''I dunno. Not running him over?'' He tosses her a cocky smirk without the usual edge, hands her the umbrella (their fingers brush together) and then he turns and sprints towards his car.

She has to swallow hard and bite down on her wobbling lip.

Pretty blonde cheerleaders don't know what real hurt is.

Standing underneath the hot spray of the shower, she lets the tears she hasn't let out come pouring out. Her quiet weeping turns into noisy sobs and the next thing she knows, she's screaming and sliding to the ground because she's lost it all. She doesn't have power and strength and she's still shallow and superficial and without the title of Queen, who can she be?

What are you sorry for? People have forgotten about you too.

It's weird, but after pretending to be okay for so long, admitting she's not feels good. It feels kind of great actually.

After she gets out of the shower, she sits down and maps out who she really wants to be.

The next day she quits the cheerleading squad and focuses all of her attention on what to be when she grows up. Because she's almost there, you know. She's almost grown and it is way past time to decide who and what she wants to be.

At lunch, she spots Tyler standing with his arms crossed, looking between Matt and a few other guys playing basketball and Jeremy, sitting alone with his head down, pencil moving across a sheet of paper with an odd sort of grace she finds enthralling. Tyler pinches his lips together, looks at Matt and then chooses Jeremy.

Caroline looks over at Bonnie and Elena and then over at Tyler and Jeremy. She doesn't have that kind of strength yet so she sits alone and makes lists.

A few days later in history class, she catches sight of Tyler in the back of the class, leaning back in his chair and looking at her. She has to look away. When class is over and she's gathering her books, he walks up to her and places a sheet of paper on the desk. It's a drawing. Of her. A startled gasp builds in her throat as she picks up the drawing and studies how perfect it is. In the picture, she looks lost in thought, hair falling in her face as she leans her head in the palm of her hand. She looks up at him with wide eyes.

''You should smile more,'' he tells her. ''Like you used to.''

Then he walks away.

She looks down at the picture. And smiles.

And then one day, it isn't a hard choice. She looks over at Elena, with her growing stomach and Matt holding her hand while Bonnie animatedly tells them a story. Then she looks at Tyler and Jeremy, who are alone and don't have the rest of the school flocking them, but they don't look lonely at all.

She marches right up to those boys and puts her hands on her lips because she's Caroline Forbes. ''Okay,'' she says, locking eyes with Tyler. ''Then give me something to smile about.''

In high school, she loses everything she thought she wanted and gets everything she never knew she needed. As cheesy as that sounds.

CarolineandMatt turns into CarolineandTyler. CarolineElenaBonnie turns into CarolineTylerJeremy just as fast. Are you surprised? Because everyone else is.

Right before graduation, Elena gives birth to a baby boy she names Grayson after her father. Caroline knows she shouldn't, but she goes to see them anyway. She looks at the baby through the nursery window for awhile, with pursed lips and one hand over her heart. He looks just like his mother. There's a lump in her throat she can't swallow and some part of her wants to hate this baby because he is the reason she lost everything. But a bigger part of her loves this baby because he gave her everything she has now. A smile skitters across her lips briefly and she turns away when Matt steps into the nursery, eyes only for his son.

Elena is sleeping peacefully in the hospital bed when Caroline quietly enters the room, shutting the door behind her. Her dark hair is fanned out on her pillow and her chest rises and falls peacefully. There are balloons and flowers and teddy bears lining the windowsill and the floors. It looks like the entire student body has sent their well wishes to their queen. Caroline places the flowers she's brought and the letter she's written down on the table and sits in a chair next to the bed, licking her lips nervously.

She shouldn't have come here.

She feels like she should be remembering all of the good times they shared together. She should say something, have a profound thought, feel something. She doesn't. She doesn't feel anything at all. Elena Gilbert used to be her best friend. But sometimes friendships end. Sometimes people drift apart. It's a sad thing, but it's the truth. These things happen. All you can do is move on. She smiles softly and leans forwards to brush her fingers across the back of Elena's hand. ''He's beautiful, Elena,'' she whispers. ''And you're gonna do great.''

Then she lets go.

She rises to her feet, brushes imaginary lint off her shirt and leans down to press a kiss to Elena's forehead. She hesitates in the doorway, turns around to give Elena one last look and then she smiles. ''Bye, Elena.''

While Caroline is graduating, Elena is reading the letter she wrote. It says all of the things she couldn't say. It says goodbye and your son is beautiful and I always knew you'd be a great mother and I'll always love you and I'm sorry and I forgive you and thank you.

They day she graduates high school, her mother says, ''I've never been more proud of you.''

It's a start.

Caroline Forbes graduates and grows up and goes off to college and no longer wishes she could be seventeen forever.

Tyler follows her to college because Tyler would follow her anywhere and when Jeremy graduates, he follows them too. She and Tyler get married right out of college and when she says she wants to move to New York, he says ''Sure, why not?'' because he'd follow her over the rainbow if he had to. She becomes a guidance counselor because being a teenager sucks and sometimes you just need someone who will listen, Tyler becomes a lawyer and Jeremy lives in their house for the first year of their marriage because he uses the puppy dog eyes on them. He's gotten over Vicki's death for the most part, but Caroline worries about him because he hasn't had a steady girlfriend in forever.

Then one day he runs into Bonnie Bennett and brings her home for dinner. Bonnie and Caroline cry and laugh and squeal when they see each other and all is forgiven because some friendships wither away, but some grow back.

Caroline has her first child at twenty five. A boy named Seth who is a carbon copy of his father. Surprisingly, she is a natural mother. She takes to it like a bird takes to the air. When she gets pregnant again not even a year later, it's a surprise but it's a happy surprise. She and Tyler are thinking about buying a bigger house and names when she wakes up in the middle of the night to cramps and blood on the sheets.

She loses the baby. There isn't a way to describe that kind of pain. It's something akin to getting your heart ripped out and stomped on. The doctors tell her these things happen. Her therapist tells her it's a part of life. Tyler tells her they can try again. She thinks about how easy things were when she was seventeen and her biggest problem was being overthrown as the queen.

They move back to Mystic Falls when she is almost twenty eight because they don't want Seth to spend his childhood in a busy city. Bonnie and Jeremy get married in March and Caroline comes face to face with Elena Gilbert for the first time in a long time. She should feel some sort of satisfaction when she learns Elena and Matt are divorced. She doesn't. She keeps expecting Elena to bring up the letter. She doesn't. They spend the night talking about how happy they are for Bonnie and reminiscing about their childhood and talking about their kids instead. It's nice.

At the end of the night, she smiles at Elena and says they should do lunch. That's it. That should be the end because she has closed this book long ago. However, she has an epiphany halfway out the door and then she's running back to Elena and engulfing her old friend in a crushing Caroline Lockwood hug. Elena makes a noise of surprise and her son looks up from what he's doing with an arched eyebrow.

Some books you can never completely close.

Caroline doesn't let go.

And then Elena starts to cry. ''I've missed you,'' she cries into blond hair.

Caroline isn't sure if they can ever truly be friends again. But high school was a long time ago and they live in the same small town and maybe they can be something.

Something else happens on the night of Bonnie's wedding because a month later, the stick is turning pink.

Their daughter comes into the world sick and quiet. It's a rough pregnancy that leaves both mother and child sick and weak and fighting for their lives. She spends most of her pregnancy in bed, praying she'll get to keep this one and regretting that she's missing so much in her son's life while she is cooped up in bed. She goes into labor too early and when she wakes up in the hospital after an emergency c-section, the last thing she remembers is telling Tyler that if it came down to it to tell the doctors to forget about her and save the baby instead. He's there when she wakes up, crying and holding onto her hand too tight.

He laughs when she asks him what's wrong, kissing her lips so she can taste the salt of his tears. ''Don't ever do that to me again,'' he orders her.

She nods and smiles tiredly. ''Noted.''

She learns that something went wrong during the surgery. Long story short, this baby will be her last. She takes it with grace and her held head high because she may be Caroline Lockwood now, but she is still Caroline Forbes inside and Caroline Forbes takes what she's given and she makes her best with it.

Two children is enough anyway. She's got her little football player and she's got her princess. That's more than enough for her.

They name her Hope, because they need all the hope they can get. She's really sick and she's really small and she terrifies her parents in ways Seth never did. When Caroline is discharged from the hospital and the nurses gently tell her she has to leave, she feels so terrible and like such a bad mother that she throws a tantrum and threatens to sue the entire hospital for harassment because she is Caroline Lockwood and do they know who her father-in-law is? Yeah, that's right. He's the freaking mayor and he can fire your asses.

She ends up in a heap on the floor, sobbing and gasping and everyone is afraid to touch her. Tyler's picking up Seth from school and her baby's barely breathing on her own and the nurses are afraid of her and then there's Elena.

Caroline doesn't know why she's there and she doesn't ask, but Elena pushes past the nurses and drops to the floor, wrapping Caroline in her arms like they're both still fifteen and best friends forever.

The day she is finally allowed to hold her daughter is one of the most terrifying and exciting days of Caroline's life. She sits in a rocking chair in the nursery while a nurse carefully hands her the frail baby. Her husband has a hand on her shoulder and her friends are watching through the window with her son in Uncle Jeremy's arms. There's a moment of hesitation before she holds Hope because she is deathly afraid of breaking her. But then that baby girl is in her arms and the world falls away. She's waited so long for this. She's waited forever for this day.

''Hi, baby.'' That's about as far as she gets before she bursts into tears. ''Hi, my girl.'' When the baby looks at her, she sucks in a breath and laughs through her tears. ''Well, don't you have the prettiest eyes I've ever seen. Listen, angel. You've got to get better. You've got to come home. Your brother wants to play with you. He's been waiting for you for a long time. We all have.''

Months pass before Hope is allowed to come home. Months. Agonizingly long and slow months that pass by at snail speed. And then she and Tyler are stepping through the front door of their home with their little girl and everything is in its place again.

Their life is completely back on track by the time they're thirty two. Careers, children, marriage, friends, happiness. They have it all. Tyler runs for Mayor when his father retires and she becomes head of the Founder's Council. She was twenty two when she learned of the existence of vampires and the Founder's Council. It terrified her, but she has come to accept it as part of her wacky little town. Besides, there have been no sightings of vampires in Mystic Falls in years.

Happy doesn't even begin to describe her life. Her life is perfect.

At thirty five, she comes home from work late one night and she's running a list through her head of what she needs to do. She needs to pick up the kids from Bonnie and Jeremy's, make dinner and help Seth with his homework. First she needs to change. This dress must have coined the turn uncomfortable. She pulls off her heels with a yawn, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She makes her way into the kitchen to grab a water, dropping her heels by the stairs in process. There's a light on in Tyler's office, it plays against the wall. She smiles and twists the cap off her water bottle.

''Tyler!'' She calls. ''Tyler, I'm home!'' When she gets nothing in response, she puts her water down and starts towards his office. ''Husband of mine! Your beautiful wife is home!'' She peeks into his office, spots him slumped over his desk again and lets out a disappointed sigh. ''Tyler,'' she says softly, shaking her head. ''Honey, you have got to stop working yourself so hard.'' Her bare feet sink into the carpet as she pads over to him, reaching out to shake him away gently. ''Wake up, sleepyhead.''

He doesn't respond when she shakes him. Her heart drops into her stomach and her nails dig into the palm of her hand. ''Tyler?'' She shakes him a little more urgently and when there is still nothing, she pushes at his lifeless form, feeling tears burn behind her eyes. ''Tyler!''

A brain aneurysm. That's what the doctors say. They've been through all of this fucking shit and a brain aneurysm is what killed her husband. It wasn't something she could prepare for. It snuck into her perfect life and stole her husband away like a thief in the night. She wasn't ready for this. This isn't the kind of thing you can ever be ready for, she knows that. She can't do this. She can't live without Tyler. She doesn't remember how. He's been her rock since she was seventeen. He helped put her back together again. He gave her children and perfect. How can he just...

This can't be happening. Not now. This was supposed to happen when they were old and senile and kept forgetting to put shoes on. They were supposed to go out together. Like Noah and Allie in The Notebook. Not like this. Not at thirty five while his kids still needed him and he still had his whole life ahead of him. He wasn't supposed to just collapse and die and leave her a widow with two kids. How is she supposed to live with that?

She can't bring herself to plan the funeral so his mother does it with help from Bonnie and Elena. She spends most of her time with her children, clinging to them just as much as they're clinging to her. Seth is mad and stoic, much like his father would be. Hope doesn't understand where her daddy is or why he's not coming back. And Caroline is lost someplace in the middle. She's not one of those people who bottles everything up and then explodes. She wears her heart on her sleeve and cries until she can't see straight. On the day of the funeral, she's the stereotypical weeping widow, leaning on her husband's best friend for support.

It's over all too quickly and then Tyler's in the ground and he's not coming back.

Bonnie and Elena take the kids away with the rest of the mourners. She stays behind with Jeremy because she can't seem to remember how to move her feet. They stand there for what feels like hours until the sun is down. ''I want to wake up,'' she murmurs quietly into the night air. ''I want to wake up from this.''

''I know,'' Jeremy mumbles, kissing the top of her head. ''I know, Care.''

''I don't...'' She shakes her heads, sobs clogging her throat. ''I don't know what happens next. What happens next, Jeremy? My kids. What's going to happen to my kids? They need their father. They need...'' All at once, she can't breathe. There is no air reaching her lungs and the air she needs to breathe is in the ground with her husband's cold body. She falls to her knees, crawling closer to the fresh dirt before Jeremy can do a thing. ''Tyler!'' Her voice is a scream that borders on hysterical as she begins to claw at the dirt covering her husband. ''Tyler, you promised me! You promised me you'd be with me forever! Those vows didn't mean nothing! I need you!'' She's getting dirt on her expensive black dress and it's under her fingernails and when she swipes a hand across her face to wipe away her tears, it smudges on her face.

''Caroline.'' Jeremy drops to the ground and pulls her in for a hug and the dirt gets on his suit. She wants to fight him off, but she doesn't have the strength. ''Caroline,'' he says again, like her name is a prayer.

''He has to come back,'' she sobs miserably. ''He has to, Jeremy!''

He's silent for a long time. And then he whispers her name again like that's all he remembers how to say. ''Caroline...''

Her head falls into her hands and she cries loudly into her dirt covered hands while Jeremy holds her against his chest and cries into her hair.

She doesn't find another man. No one can ever replace Tyler. At forty, she's got a fifteen year old son who is more and more like his father every single day and a ten year old daughter who is exactly like her in all the ways that scare Caroline shitless. Hope has a need to be liked and a need to be popular that reminds Caroline so much of herself. Seth is on every sports team and works on the school paper. They are her everything.

She is still pretty and blonde and perky when she wants to be and everyone tells her she doesn't look a day over thirty. But sometimes she lies awake at night and thinks about when she was seventeen. All those years ago, before she knew about vampires and immortality, she used to think about what it would be like to be seventeen forever. She grew up and got a perfect life and seventeen forever didn't appeal to her at all. Not even if it was a very real possibility what with vampires being real and all. Now she's tired and sad and she misses Tyler every day and she wonders sometimes. It doesn't hurt to wonder. About what it would be like to be seventeen forever. She's so far away from being seventeen it's not even funny, but if she could go back and stay seventeen forever...

...Would she do it?

An emergency Founder's Council meeting is called one day because Elena has been attacked by a vampire and saved by a mysterious stranger. Caroline rushes into the room after dropping Hope off at her friend's and Seth at football practice, smoothing down her hair and clutching her purse tightly to her chest. Vampires. There are goddamn vampires in her town. The town where her kids live. That is terrifying and something needs to be done.

She walks into the meeting and is immediately introduced to Elena's savior. He's young and handsome with dark hair, striking eyes and a smirk that reminds her of her husband. Ever the professional, she offers him a welcoming smile, holds her hand out and says, ''I'm Caroline Lockwood.''

He takes her hand and presses a kiss to the back of it. ''Well, it's very nice to meet you Caroline Lockwood,'' he greets in a voice that makes her shiver. ''I'm Damon Salvatore.''