i promise i won't forget who you used to be
"How do you pick up the threads of an old life?
How do you go on, when in your heart
you begin to understand there is no going back?
There are some things time cannot mend.
Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold."
- Frodo Baggins, Lord of the Rings
Elena cries into Caroline's shoulder for two hours, shaking and screaming and wishing everything was different. Caroline holds her tightly, wondering how they'd come to this: to crying spasms in the middle of the night, to a vampire lover chained up in a cellar, to said vampire's brother losing his grip on reality. More importantly, she wonders how she became the glue that keeps them together. It's never been up to her to keep them intact, it's always been Elena, but now the brunette is shaking in her arms, tears streaming steadily down her face. Caroline bites her lip, lifting Elena easily from her couch and slinging the smaller girl's arm around her shoulder. She pulls Elena up the stairs, depositing her on her bed, tucking her in.
"Caroline," Elena half sobs, clutching her pillow, "I can't do it. I can't hurt Stefan, but I can't keep doing this." she looks pitiful, hair sticking in every direction, mascara caked on her cheeks.
Caroline covers Elena with another blanket, and before she breezes out of the open window, she murmurs, "I'll take care of it." she leaves before she can see the look of relief flash across Elena's face. As she walks down Elena's driveway, hands stuffed into the pocket's of her pink hoodie, her sensitive ears pick up the sound of keys on a cellphone being pushed, and she knows Elena is calling Damon to spread the good news, the don't worry, Caroline will take care of it. She pulls out her own phone, and texts Damon, I'll need some backup. Her phone buzzes not a moment later, I'll be there shortly. She knows he won't be, because Elena asked for him first. He probably wouldn't have shown up to help her anyway, even if Elena hadn't needed him. She sighs, thinking that she might not be their glue after all. Maybe she's the packaging tape that keeps them all safe, then.
The cellar's always scared her. Now, maybe, more than ever. Lexi had done a number on him, and now Stefan's head is lolling on his shoulders, and his eyes are barely open. He doesn't acknowledge her when she enters. "Hello, Stefan." she breathes, slipping out of her hoodie. She's in jean shorts and a white t-shirt, stake in the waistband of her shorts. She's mentally prepared herself for bloodspatter and anger. Stefan's not going to be too happy about this. Come to think of it, neither is her boyfriend. She shakes her head, focusing on the task at hand. The goal is to help Stefan, to bring him back to humanity, sanity, himself.
"Caroline," Stefan finally murmurs, yanking his eyes open. She flinches under the harshness of his gaze, and he smirks, white teeth flashing. "Come to set me free?" he asks sweetly, and a jolt of fear rolls down her spine. She hears Klaus in his voice.
Caroline steels herself, however. She's not going to let Stefan scare her. It's Stefan, her friend, her best friend. "No," she says, "I haven't." Stefan shrugs, not put out in the least. Caroline reaches behind her and pulls the stake free from her waistband. She weighs it in her hands, eyes flickering to his. He stares at the stake, swallowing roughly. She detects a hint of fear in his eyes before it's replaced by blatant uncaring. "I've come to pull your head out of your ass, Stefan. You're scaring the hell out of everyone." she stalks towards him, "And if you don't cooperate, I've got years and years to put this stake to good use."
Caroline places the stake at Stefan's heart, hovering over his torn t-shirt. He doesn't flinch, doesn't let the glare fall from his face she leans over him, steeling her other hand on the back of the chair he's chained to. "Elena may be scared, but I'm not." she says cheerfully, and in one swift movement, too fast for Stefan's tired eyes to see, she moves the stake a little lower and plunges it into his stomach.
Stefan cries out, doubling over in his seat. Caroline steps back, leaving the stake imbedded into his stomach. Blood bubbles at the corners of his mouth. "Stomachache?" she asks woefully, pouting her lips as he spits blood at her, calling her various names. She tilts her head, holding her hand to her ear. "I don't hear a 'I'm sorry for being a dick, Caroline. Please help me.'" she singsongs, and he spits at her again.
Perhaps he doesn't realize that this is hurting her as much as its hurting him. Stefan spits at her again, and she carefully keeps her happy expression in place. On the inside, she wants to curl up into a ball and cry because she's just staked someone she'd considered her best friend. Still considers her best friend. On the outside, she prances froward, gripping the stake tightly and freeing it from Stefan's body. He slumps in relief for exactly three seconds before she slams the stake into his leg. He cries out loudly, eyes closing, hands shaking, trying to reach the stake to pull it out. Tears pool at the corners of his eyes, and she turns away, discreetly wiping at her own eyes.
Caroline turns back around, slapping a smile onto her face, "Round two?" she asks, and Stefan growls.
It's going to be a long night.
"How'd it go?" Elena asks the next day, looking fresh and put together, as if she didn't spend all of last night crying her eyes out.
Caroline slams her locker shut, "Terrible." she murmurs honestly, but then she feigns perkiness, "He stopped calling me a bitch after I staked his six times, though!" she says cheerily, and Elena's eyes bulge.
"Six times?" Elena hisses, grabbing Caroline's arm and dragging her to the side of the hallway as their classmates breezed past. "What are you doing? I told you to—"
"You didn't tell me to do anything, I offered. I'm going to fix him, and you're going to get yourself together." Caroline hisses back, narrowing her eyes, "Lexi said that this was the only way, and I trust her word. Stefan needs to be roughed up, and I'm strong enough to do it." she closes her eyes, exhaling, "You're not." she opens her eyes, and Elena's looking away.
"You're right," Elena agrees, "I'm not strong enough. Just—just...just be careful, okay?" she says earnestly, "He'll say things he doesn't mean and he'll call you names, but-but that's not Stefan talking."
Caroline blinks, and she really wants to tell Elena that yes, it is Stefan. It's another part of him. The Ripper. She feels a little sorry for Elena. She thinks Stefan was this perfect Prince Charming, when in reality, Stefan was just as fucked up as Damon, maybe even more so. But she doesn't say any of this, because that would hurt Elena, and she really doesn't want to deal with a crying Elena more than once in a year. So, she nods her head, and murmurs, "I will. I'll see you later."
Caroline goes through the motions of a regular school day, sitting patiently in class, answering questions when asked, but on the inside, she's freaking out. Tyler won't talk to her. He's a little angry at her for choosing Stefan, but it's not like she really has a choice. Someone's gotta do it, and she figures it's gotta be her. He brushes past her in the hallways, shouldering her roughly. She stands still, watching him walk away. It surprises her that she doesn't feel anything but impatient. She doesn't feel guilty about "choosing" Stefan over Tyler. Tyler hasn't even crossed her mind except for the moments when he's bumped into her. She's mostly impatient because she has to go to see Stefan right after school, and she's seriously not sure if she can do what she did last night again.
But Caroline doesn't really have a choice, does she?
Stefan's sitting in the same place as before, staring straight ahead. She sets her backpack down in the corner, smoothing down her dress. Stefan ignores her, eyes hard. Caroline sighs, "I don't like doing this, Stefan." she murmurs, "I hate it, I really do." she sits on the ground in front of him, dress fanning out around her. She brushes some dirt off of his shoes, and idly says, "But this is the only way."
Stefan growls, but still doesn't speak.
"Oh, so now I'm getting the silent treatment?" Caroline asks, snorting. He simply glares at her, his lip curling up.
Caroline throws her hands into the air, jumping up. She kicks his chair, knocking him over onto his side. She grabs her backpack, listening to the sounds of him struggling to get up as she fluffs her hair, exiting the room. She turns in the doorway, glancing at him over her shoulder. He's still on his side, looking surprised that she's leaving. That's right, Stef, no more Mrs. Nice Caroline, she thinks. "Tomorrow when I come back, you better have a brand new attitude," she snaps, flicking her hair and walking away. She hears Stefan's cry of outrage, and she thinks she might be doing something right.
"How does it feel to know that you're always second best?" Stefan asks a few days later, groaning around the stake in his stomach, spitting blood out of his mouth.
Caroline stills in her movements, glaring at him. "What do you mean?"
"How does it feel knowing you're never going to be as important as Elena?" Stefan smirks roughly, flexing his hands against the arms of his chair, curling and uncurling his fingers as Caroline nervously pulls her hands through her hair. "You'll never be as good as her, never as important as her, you'll always be second to her." he shakes his head, laughing tightly, "I always felt so fucking sorry for you."
"Shut up," Caroline hisses, lips curling up.
Stefan laughs again, "God, your mom doesn't even love you. Matt doesn't, Bonnie doesn't, Elena only loves you when it's convenient for her, and Tyler? Tyler doesn't love you. You're a fucking joke, Caroline."
Caroline stalks forward, "They love me," she snarls, "they do." she shoves the stake further into him, tears clinging to her eyelashes, "They fucking love me, and I'm not just second best." she stalks away, slamming the cellar door, only letting her tears fall when she's outside.
She hears Stefan's crazed laughter from miles away.
Caroline reaches into her purse, pulling a blood bag out. She rips it open, pouring it into a clear glass. She tosses the empty bag away and leans against the closed cellar door, facing Stefan. She takes a sip from her glass, the rich and copper taste of blood filling her mouth. Stefan's eyes rest firmly on the cup, and he licks his lips, slowly, tantalizingly. She almost shivers because she's always found Stefan attractive, and now that he has no inhibitions, she finds him even more so. She lowers the glass, blood staining her lips. She leaves it there, and walks towards him.
Caroline stops in front of him, and lowers herself onto her haunches. She takes another drink, slow, long. Stefan jerks in his seat as she drains the glass and tosses it, the glass shattering against the floor. She jumps up, wiping her palm over her mouth. She walks around his chair, stopping when she's directly behind him. She puts one hand on his shoulder, and the other, the hand covered in blood, she waves in front of his face. He jerks again, desperate for a taste of blood. He hasn't fed in a week.
Caroline pulls her hand away roughly, laughing lightly. "You can have some, Stef." she says, "I'm not stingy."
"Give...me..." he breathes, head lolling forward.
"Oh, no." Caroline grabs the back of his head, jerking it up, "Only if you turn it back on. Only if you come back to us."
"No." Stefan snarls.
Caroline shrugs, letting his head go. It bobs forward again, and he stares at the ground, panting. Caroline flounces to the door, picking up her purse and opening the door. She turns to look at him. "Nobody believes in you." she tells him, "They're thinking about ending it, ending you with a stake to the heart." she looks away, and Stefan swallows, "I can only hold them off for so long, Stefan. If you don't help me, I can't help you." she closes the door behind her, ignoring Stefan's pained screams.
"Please, Caroline," Stefan chokes out, "please help me."
"I don't think you really mean that." Caroline says, not looking up from painting her nails on the cellar floor, legs crossed Indian style. "I think you're just hungry."
"You fucking—you fucking..." he trails off, eyes closing.
It's silent for awhile, save for Stefan's labored breathing. Caroline hides how sorry she feels for him. She keeps painting her nails even though she just wants to hold him and cry for him.
"I'm sorry." Stefan finally breathes, "I'm so sorry for doing this to all of you. But I couldn't, I—I didn't have a choice." he chokes up, letting his head fall again.
Caroline twists the bottle of nail polish closed and blows on her fingers before saying, "It's a start."
"I brought you something!" Caroline chirps cheerfully, skipping into the cellar.
Stefan glances up at her, face gaunt and hollow looking. "...What is it?" he asks, though he doesn't seem interested. He's lost his fight and his fire, and she thinks it's so, so, so sad.
Caroline pulls the string bound book out of her bag, and pulls a wooden chair from the corner of the cellar, setting it in front of him.
"One of your journals?" Caroline asks, sitting down, opening the book, "Yes, it is."
"Those are private." Stefan snaps.
"Too fucking bad!" Caroline snaps back, "I'm trying to help you! So shut up, sit back, and fucking listen."
Stefan's mouth snaps shut, and he settles back into his chair, face slipping into a pout as Caroline begins to read.
"You're not second best, you know." Stefan says, looking down. They've been sitting in silence for some time, having just finished another of Stefan's journals.
Caroline blinks, setting the latest journal onto the stack of other journals they've gone through on the concrete floor beside her chair. "Oh?" she questions, crossing her arms over her chest. She's not sure if this is a game, if he's just playing her. He'd been civil lately, even asking about the weather at one point.
Stefan nods, still not looking at her, "They love you, even though they fucking suck at showing it. Damon cares about you, I mean, you're like his kid. He's your sire." he lifts his head finally, "Bonnie and Elena have so many issues that they don't really care about anybody else, but they love you too."
Caroline uncrossed her arms, and leans towards him, "And you?" she asks softly, "Do you love me?"
Stefan blinks at her, "I can't love anybody." something sparks in his usually somber eyes, "I'm turned off, remember?"
Caroline puts her hand over his, feeling his skin beneath her own. His hand curls up, like he wants to touch her but he can't. "I'm going to fix that," she murmurs, "we're going to fix it. You and me, Stefan. Just like it's always been."
"No Tyler?" Stefan suddenly questions, and she blinks.
"No, we, uh, we broke up." Caroline murmurs.
"Oh. Why?" Stefan asks, and he seems truly curious.
"You. He thought I was spending too much time with you. But you're my best friend, and he's just a boy. A really cute boy, but just a boy none the less." Caroline says, "Me and you, though? We're gonna be forever, okay?"
Stefan doesn't argue.
"I'm hungry," Stefan growls, losing his temper.
"Don't give me any attitude!" Caroline cries, "Just let me feed you!" she gestures with her empty hand to the blood bag in the other.
Stefan glares at her, "I'm not a baby!" he barks.
"No! You're a psycho killer with no remorse whatsoever!" Caroline throws back, "I'm not unchaining you. How do I know you won't just throw me into a wall and run out?" she asks, lifting an eyebrow.
Stefan opens his mouth, then closes it, looking more like a fish than he would probably like. She bites her lip to contain her giggles. "You're right." he finally says, leaning back in his chair.
Caroline grins, ripping open the baggie. She pours the copper donated blood into Stefan's waiting mouth, and she watches ad the blood rejuvenates him, filling in his gaunt cheeks, lighting his eyes, straightening his back. He drains the baggie in four seconds. "Better?" she asks, making a disgusted face as he licks his lips hungrily.
"More." Stefan begs, breathing heavily.
"Just one," Caroline says, "and then we're going to keep trying."
"It's no use." Stefan sighs, finishing his second bag, "Lexi was the only one who could—"
Caroline smacks him across the head with the empty blood bag, "Don't say that!" she cries, "We're not giving up, and we're going to turn that humanity of yours back on."
Stefan blows out a breath, "Whatever you say."
"I feel weird." Stefan remarks idly when Caroline enters the cellar.
"What do you mean?" Caroline asks suspiciously, setting her bag down. She crosses the room to stand in front of him.
"I've been...thinking since you left yesterday. I thought about Elena and the good times I've had with my brother...and I feel good. I mean, I felt good when I thought about those things," he pauses, giving her an odd look.
"Go on." Caroline urges him, stepping closer.
"But when I thought about you, I thought about everything: meeting you, becoming friends, everything. And when I thought about that, I thought about how hard you're trying, and how much you care." Stefan swallows, "When I thought about you I felt great, like I could turn my emotions on."
"But you lost that feeling?" Caroline asks, her face falling when he nods.
"We'll figure it out." Caroline promises. If her heart could race, she's sure it'd be racing a mile a minute after hearing Stefan's odd confession. It's true that they've grown closer these past few weeks, and sometimes she thinks he's close to the old Stefan, but then he'll do something Damon-esque, and it's back to square one for them. She reaches out, putting her hands over his. We're gonna do this, she thinks, we have to do this.
"We're getting close. I can feel it."
"I'm going to unchain you," Caroline says, "and you're not going to run."
Stefan nods, suddenly excited as Caroline kneels in front of him, undoing his chains. She steps back once he's free, and he stands up, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck. He runs his sore wrists, staring unblinkingly at her. She can't help it, she launches herself at him, wrapping her arms around his middle, burying her face into his chest. He's stiff for a few moments, unsure, but then slowly, his arms wrap around her, and he hugs her tightly.
Caroline pulls back, wrinkling her nose at him, "We're gonna go to my house, and you're gonna take a shower." she says, taking his hand and pulling him from the cellar. He doesn't fight, doesn't try to run, just lets her drag him around.
Caroline pushes Stefan into her passenger seat, keeping a close eye on him just in case as she walks around the front of her car. He sits patiently, drumming his fingers on her dashboard. She climbs in, makes him buckle his seatbelt before she starts the car, and then they're heading towards her house. She watches him as he watches out the window, swallowing roughly as he stares at the tasty looking residents of Mystic Falls. She slaps his hand, and he turns to her, confused.
"Mystic Falls citizens are friends, not food." Caroline drills into his head the whole way to her house.
An hour later, Stefan's fresh out of the shower in a new pair of jeans and a t-shirt. She sits at her kitchen counter, watching him as he stares at the tile. "How are you feeling?" she asks.
Stefan glances at her, "Fine."
"Anything different from yesterday?" she pries.
"No!" Stefan snaps, growing agitated, and Caroline holds up her hands in surrender. She hops up, taking his hand. He gives her a blank stare, and she prods his chest sharply.
"Stop pouting. You're out of your cellar, and you get to have a slumber party with me!" Caroline says cheerfully. She pulls him up the stairs towards her room, shoving him inside. She pushes him towards her bed before going to lock her window. Stefan sits on her bed, watching her. She knows he's planning something by the way he keeps looking around, never meeting her gaze. She flicks off her light before crawling into her bed, and he lays down beside her, immediately snapping his eyes shut. How stupid does he think she is? She closes her own eyes, waiting for him to make his move. An hour later, when Stefan thinks she's finally fallen asleep, he slips out of bed and goes to her window, unlocking it and jumping out. A few minutes ticks by, and Caroline jumps out of bed, grabbing a stake from her drawer just in case and jumping out of the window after him. She shouldn't have trusted him outside of the cellar. If he hurts anyone, it's all on her. She curses herself for being so trusting.
He'd been doing so well. Maybe Caroline shouldn't be the one trying to fix him. Maybe it should fall on Elena after all. She tails him to the Mystic Grille. When she walks in, she sees him staring at the patrons, glass of bourbon in hand. Relief washes over her until she sees him eyeing up a freshman from their school. A jolt of jealousy rolls down her spine before she remembers that he's going to try and eat her. She slips into the shadows, hoping he won't notice her. She doesn't want to make a big scene. She'll wait to contain him. Stefan approaches the freshman, and she stares at him in awe, giggling like an idiot and twirling her hair. He chats her up for a few minute before his eyes meet hers and she's stumbling out of her seat and walking towards the back door with him. How easily compulsion comes to him makes her sort of sick.
Caroline follows slowly, slipping into the back alley. Stefan's standing there, completely alone, hands in his pockets. He's facing away from her, staring up at the sky. "Where's the girl?" she asks, hand hovering over the stake tucked in her belt.
Stefan turns to look at her, and something is different on his face, "She's gone. I sent her home." Caroline blinks in confusion as he continues, "I thought it might be back on, but I wasn't sure, so I thought that if I experimented a bit, maybe I could tell." he grins suddenly, "It's back on."
"...What?" Caroline asks stupidly.
Stefan's grin widens, "Me. My emotions. They're back on. I can feel everything, and-" he surges forward, gathering her into a tight hug, "and I didn't want to kill her at all. The thought didn't even cross my mind."
It clicks in Caroline's mind, and she cheers, throwing her arms around his neck. "That's great, Stefan!" she cries, "Wait until Elena finds out! She'll—" she sees his face fall. "What?" she asks.
"Elena's not the one who fixed me." Stefan murmurs, still holding her. "You are." she nods. "Is—is she with Damon?"
Caroline bites her lip, "I—I don't think they're exclusive yet." she offers lamely.
Stefan makes a pained face, but doesn't seem too bothered. She realizes he's still got his arms around her, and she also realizes that this feels normal. Like it should always be this way. "I'm sorry." she murmurs.
"Don't be." Stefan says, "It was a long time coming."
"How do you feel?" Caroline asks, changing the subject quickly.
"I feel pretty good," Stefan admits, tightening his hold on her. "Really good, actually." he clarifies, smiling down at her.
"We did it." Caroline finally breathes, "We broke Klaus' compulsion and turned you back on." she almost jumps up and down in excitement before she realizes he's got his arms around her.
"No," Stefan murmurs, "you did it." he stares down at her for a long moment before he whispers, "Care?"
"Yes?" she beams up at him.
"I'm gonna thank you now." Stefan says seriously, and Caroline opens her mouth to speak, but then his lips are on hers, and my god, she's been imagining this moment since she met him. She melts against him, standing on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around his neck. He holds her tightly, kissing her like he's been wanting it just as long as she has. Hell, maybe he has.
"Thank you," Stefan gasps out a few minutes later, forehead pressed against hers.
"Yeah," Caroline licks her lips, "you're welcome."