Chapter 20: City of Angels
Those three words
Caroline Forbes lounged on the couch. Her feet— encased in giant fluffy socks— were propped and on her stomach, there balanced a large bowl of popcorn. Singing cheerleaders danced across the screen of the TV and with a sigh, she thought wistfully about Darren Crisis' ridiculous hotness. Her mother had left a little while ago to go chaperone the Fundraiser. She had gotten a call from Ms. Lockwood and after some encouraging from Caroline, she smiled and left, a promise for chocolate ice cream on her return.
They had spent the entire day together. Caroline had told her about Elena being bitten, about Alaric's final words, about what her father had done to her. Liz held her close as she cried, remembering the agony of the sunlight and the weapon as they burned her skin. She cried and cried and soon, Liz started crying too, apologizing for every dance recital and show she missed. And for just an hour, they held each other and cried. They cried about the past, about the present and about the future. They cried for every condolence and for every word unsaid the past seventeen years. They cried until there was no reason for crying but with every tear, they felt better so they kept going.
Until finally, they pulled apart and hugged.
And then with a stroke of pure luck, Caroline convinced her mother, the sheriff, to have a marathon of Glee. So perhaps, it was for her own sake Caroline told her that it was okay if she went to the fundraiser. After everything, Caroline really did just some alone time.
That lasted about an hour before her thoughts started to wander to a certain Damon Salvatore. With a twist in her heart, she pushed his face from her mind and tried to convince herself the only real man left was Darren Criss.
That's when her phone buzzed and she picked it up. It was from Elena.
We're having TV dinners and watching the Lifetime Network. We've tried normal but now we're subjected to the abnormal and we're embracing it. Stefan suggested we watch the Opra network on their big screen and why miss a chance to watch Opra in stunning high-definition? Come soon!
She glanced down at her attire. A big shirt and Nike shorts. Frowning slightly, Caroline realized with some annoyance that she was going to have to put on an actual bra. Growling, she twisted her hair into a bun and went off to her room.
When she opened the door, she found the living room surprisingly empty. Caroline frowned.
"Elena? Bonnie? Stefan?" She entered the house completely, closing the door behind her. She strained her ears to hear something, anything. The house was silent. "Anybody?"
She moved to the living room, still looking for any signs that her friends were here. The big screen TV was turned off and the tables were disparagingly empty of unhealthy snacks. Something flickered outside from the back yard. Worriedly, she opened the door leading outside and followed the light.
Caroline's mouth dropped. Someone had transformed the usual drab backyard into a sparkling wonderland. The white gazebo was strung from the very top with soft glowing lights. Bright roses grew up in an intricate system around the designs on the wall of the gazebo. The twinkling strings rose out in a path from the foot of the gazebo to the house as though she walked on the Milky Way. Candles on tables flickered behind the trail of lights. Soft music played from invisible speakers.
Standing in the very center of the floor of the gazebo, dressed in his elegant black suit, was Damon. His eyes brightened when he saw her.
She gaped in amazement.
"Where is everybody? I'm assuming the Lifetime Network isn't on the menu for tonight."
Damon smirked, shrugging. "Elena's phone may or may not have been left unattended for a while. I don't like to use the word 'theft' but let's say Mayor Lockwood was suddenly offered a whole gaggle of volunteers for tonight. They'll be gone all night."
He gestured for her to come forward. Nearly tripping over her slip-on shoes, she came up the gazebo steps. He handed her a glass of wine.
Caroline hesitantly sipped it, but still she gazed in awe at the lights around her.
"What do you think?" he asked quietly.
"She'll love it!"
Damon's soft expression faded as he frowned. Caroline didn't see this. She waltzed over to the rose poking through the gazebo walls. She inhaled softly.
"But don't you need her here for all this? I mean if you're going waltz her off her feet, Elena should probably be here by now. But wow, how could she say no? Who wouldn't fall for something like this? I know I would."
She turned and saw Damon watching her with a very curious expression. "Well, while we wait, would you like to dance?"
The beat picked up. The song, "Sweet Like Cola", came on. Caroline recognized it from her mother's jazz music collection. She put down the wine glass, tossing her hair. He extended a hand and with a grin, she took it and quick as lightening, he spun her close. She laughed.
"Come on, Miss. Mystic Falls, show me what you got." He said in her ear.
"Can you tango?" She asked with a devilish wink of her eye.
"Babe, I invented the tango."
"Let's see it then."
He spun her out and they danced like a well-oiled machine. Just at the right moments, he picked her up and drew her over his head. She laughed at his boldness. She wiggled her hips in a sexy Spanish flair and he grinned. They spun, faster and faster, their bodies coming closer and closer with every turn.
And then song lulled, and Caroline found her lips inches from his. They were panting, both trying their very hardest to out dance the other. His eyes flew frantically over her face, breathing her in as if trying to memorize every detail.
Something hot rose up inside her and without hesitating, Caroline kissed him. She wound her arms up around his neck and his hands pulled her closer. With every touch, the kiss deepened, Caroline's heart thrashing wildly. His hand slipped down the back of her shorts.
She nearly fell into it, but her light-headedness managed to help. She stumbled backward, breaking the connection.
Her lips felt swollen.
"No, no, this is for Elena—,"
Damon came at her again with a hunger so ravishing, she was powerless but to let him grab her and push her into the gazebo wall. A hand pulled her hair down from its bun and it fell around her shoulders like a blanket. A soft cry left her lips as he kissed down her jaw, down her neck, cherishing the sight and taste of her bosom. She yanked his carefully tucked shirt from his pants, the feel of the metal belt-buckle cold in her hands. Expert hands traveled up the thighs that straddled him.
She kissed him out of relief, out of happiness, out of surprise that despite all the odds, both of them had somehow survived. She smiled and his lips slowed. Slowly, she dragged a hand back over his shoulder, his hair tickling her elbow and her hand gently cupped his face. His breathing was ragged.
"What?" He panted.
"We can't keep doing this." Their foreheads rested against each other, eyes staring in want.
He took the hand on his face and gently kissed her chin, her cheek and nose.
"I have a solution." He said quietly. "Be with me."
Caroline pulled back completely, her brow furrowed. "What?"
Damon looked down, at her small hand in his. He spoke to their hands, as if they would understand.
"When I thought I was going to die, I thought of only one person. Not Stefan, not Katherine and not Elena. Can you guess who it was?" He looked at her and the light from the candles made his eyes twinkle. She just stared at him, shocked. He chuckled. "Maybe you can't, because you still haven't figured out that this was for you."
Caroline suddenly felt light-headed. She floundered for words. "What? The lights, the music, the candles— that's for me? Why?"
Damon laughed again. He stroked a strand of hair from her face.
"You tricked a one-thousand year old vampire into falling into your trap but you still can't see that I love you."
Those three words. They couldn't have possibly been meant for her, just for her. She jerked her head, shocked, and scared. She tried to climb down, but he took both her hands and held them to his chest. His voice was as soft as velvet, his eyes full of meaning. He leaned in to make sure she caught every single word.
"I love you, Caroline. I love you and I'll show you that I mean it, even if it takes the end of the world."
Caroline's small mouth dropped. Her vision blurred and she had to look away. She was about to wipe away the single tear that fell, but his thumb gently brushed it aside.
"But why? Why now?" her voice wavered. Was this really happening?
"You make me feel human. I thought I could find my humanity with Elena. But with her, I always had to be the bigger bad ass. I thought I had to win against Stefan to be happy, to deserve to be loved." He gazed at her sadly, softly stroking her skin. "Now I've realized it has nothing to do with him. It really had nothing to do with me. I just had to be patient, but I've never been good with patience." He kissed their clasped hands. "It was about you, Caroline, it always has been."
He leaned in, a hand moving to cradle the back of her head.
Caroline felt his warm breath brushing her lips so gently, and then he stopped. He was going to let her make the first move. It was her decision to kiss him.
She wasn't being Compelled. She wasn't going to kiss him out of pity or a rash flutter of the heart. She wasn't going to kiss him out of anger or pain.
Caroline opened her mouth gently and closed her eyes. His soft hand guided her towards him. When their lips met, it was tender and quiet. He tasted sweet and warm like melted chocolate. Her arms slipped around his neck. She kissed him over, and over, and over.
She kissed him because she loved him.
And when she did, it felt like the first time.
"So, like I said, no one will be back for a very long time." Damon led her by the hand back into the house. He shut the door behind him, before running his nose along the inside of her neck. "We've got this place all to ourselves."
"Down, boy." Caroline smirked. Chuckling, he allowed her to pull him along, towards the front of the house.
"I want to go out." Caroline said firmly. "My mom said there would be fireworks later tonight, and I want to see them."
"Oh, God, you're not going to be one of these super-active girlfriends, are you? We're not going to go rock climbing and underwater basket weaving on the weekends, right?"
Caroline beat down the flutter in her heart when he said girlfriend. She snorted. "Not unless you want to fight the Slumbering Beast of Hell to get her out of bed."
He swirled in front of her, a devilish glint in his eyes. "Keeping you in bed isn't going to be a problem, believe me."
Caroline rolled her eyes. "Come on, I want to go see everyone!"
"You just want to show me off as your arm candy. It's okay. I don't blame you."
She started digging in his jacket pocket for his car keys.
"Ok, so show up to this little get-together, say hi, and then ravishing."
"No! Go to the get-together, play some games, watch the fireworks, maybe eat some popcorn, and then maybe— ravishing."
Damon pouted. "Get-together, fireworks, then ravishing."
"I'm hungry!" She pouted back.
"I'll let you lick chocolate off my abs."
Caroline froze. Damon flashed her a sneak-peak, grinning impishly. At that, Caroline threw her head back and laughed harder than she had in months.
"That's not usually the reaction I get, but okay . . ."
Still howling with laughter, Caroline took him by the hand and led him up stairs. "You are so changing!"
"What?" Damon frowned, miffed. "I worked hard on this!"
Caroline shook her head, the last of the giggles dying out. "And I didn't. I can't let you go to a party looking better than me."
Damon smirked and took her by the waist. "I know just the thing."
Klaus was right. The people of Mystic Falls had no memory of the death that consumed their fair city. Children played and laughed. Lights twinkled and couples walked through the streets. Families ate on picnic tables and smoke rose high from BBQ pits. The air smelled of hot dogs and the season of fall.
As they walked, Caroline noticed people were staring at them. She'd like to think it was because they made such a stunning couple, but it was probably because of Damon's attire.
"Why didn't you just wear a sign that said 'open for business'?" Caroline said to him, grinning. She popped an almond from the bag he had bought her into her mouth.
"Because that's tacky. Besides, if they had seen me when punk was in its hay-day, I would have been treated as a god." He winked at a particularly offended old lady as they passed.
"I still think someone could see your bare ass if you bent over in the wrong way."
"They probably could. But if it was anyone but you who saw it, I'd claw their eyes out." He kissed her ear through her hair.
Caroline glanced down to his ridiculously tattered jeans "That's sweet . . . I think." The fabric seemed to be held together by sheer will alone. "You look like an 80s Chip and Dale dancer."
"How do you know I wasn't?" He snuck a hand into the bag of almonds and stole one when he kissed her on the cheek.
They left the street, walking deeper into the field of tents and carnival games. The air smelled like melted popcorn now. A giant Ferris wheel rose above them, gleaming in the night.
Immediately, she felt his arm slide from her waist. She glanced at him and he grinned at her as if to say, wait for the right moment to tell them.
Bonnie and Jeremy came walking up, grinning. Bonnie held a giant bunny in her hands.
"We didn't use our special abilities to win that," Caroline asked, nodding to the rabbit, "did we?"
Bonnie flushed. "No! Jeremy helped me get it! We won it fair and square!"
Their close proximity didn't go unnoticed. Caroline only smiled.
"Oh my God, Damon, are you okay?" Stefan's seemingly alarmed voice was filled with sarcasm. He, Elena and Alaric joined their friends at the foot of the Ferris wheel.
Damon's eyes narrowed. "What?"
"You were obviously attacked by knife-wielding midgets! You're lucky to be alive!"
Damon made a face. "I haven't done laundry in a while, okay?"
Stefan just rolled his eyes. Caroline had a feeling he already knew. Alaric finished the corndog he had been snacking on. He tossed the stick into the trash.
"I don't mean to be the bringer of bad news, but you do realize nothing's really changed, right? This whole exercise was just so Klaus could show us that he will always be stronger, faster, smarter and could kill us at any second. He's obviously planning something and he knows there's nothing we can do to stop him."
Elena shrugged, glancing around at the fair. They watched the mayor walk around, smiling and waving to the citizens. "Obviously, nobody told Ms. Lockwood. The world keeps spinning for her."
Caroline frowned. "And for the rest of us."
They looked back to her.
"One day, he's going to realize that his biggest mistake was letting us survive. Because we will figure him out. We'll fight off that apocalypse, and the next one, and the one after that. And we'll do it, together."
Carefully and with confidence, she slipped her fingers in between Damon's, smiling softly. As though he had done this a thousand times, he slid his hand around her waist, pulling her tight, and gently kissed her forehead.
Their display of affection was met with faces of shock. Except for Stefan. He knew; he acted shocked just for their sake.
"You know I was kidding when I looked into the future and saw you two together, right?" Bonnie asked. Jeremy's mouth fell open.
"Maybe you don't know your own strength, Bonnie Bennett." Damon grinned.
Bonnie blanched. "Well, in that case, that dream about Conan— I think I need a drink."
Alaric winked. He smiled at Caroline before following Bonnie. "Since my drinking buddy has been hoodwinked into love, I'll be coming with you."
Jeremy rolled his eyes before hurrying after Bonnie. As he left, he muttered something that sounded oddly like, "olden nick". Elena was still in shock.
"I'm beyond speechless but I feel obligated to say, if you break her heart, I'll break your face." Elena shrugged at Damon. For the first time since their meeting, Damon looked at her and felt his heart was finally free from her. "I'm happy for you guys. I really am."
"Don't screw this up, Damon." Stefan said in his best threatening tone. "Caroline's worth more than—,"
"Yeah, yeah, keep your shorts on, Captain Cardboard."
"We really need to have a girls night now." Elena said, eying Caroline. "Are you sure you don't have a concussion or anything?"
"No, I don't." She rolled herself into his arms. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life."
She felt him kiss her cheek as Stefan and Elena gave them their space and walked off back into the carnival.
His lips found her ear.
"You said you wanted to see the fireworks, right?"
"Then close your eyes."
She obeyed and felt the air whoosh around her as her feet left the ground. With his strong arm around her, she heard nothing but the hissing of air for a few minutes before she was still again.
She heard the voice of the townspeople begin to count down to the start of the bedazzling show. But somehow, they were muffled, as if they were very far away.
"I love you, Caroline."
3 . . . 2 . . . 1
She opened her eyes.
And fireworks lit the sky up like exploding, vibrant pearls. He had taken her to a secluded cliff that overlooked the entire city, the network of streetlights and cars a golden spider web flattened on the crisp black ground. The fireworks rose and fell like the dance of glittering streamers fluttering through wind and Caroline couldn't remember when she had been happier.
"I love you too." She said.
He put his arms around her and they watched each stream, each crackle and each fall of fire. The ribbons dusted the sky as they fell, back towards the ground, back towards the city. It was the city of fire, of passion, of struggle and of pain. But mostly, it was home.
For all who knew, it was the city of angels.
*A/N Agh! We're done! Fic successful! I'm dying to know what you guys think of it!
Thank you so much for the reviews, the favs and the encouragement! This would have never have happened without your support! Thank you!
Also, I was thinking of doing a future-set fic. Set in about 100 years after they manage to kill Klaus. Caroline's changed since then, and so has Damon. But nothing prepares her for the knock on the door from a twelve-year-old girl, claiming to be Damon's daughter.
So that's the shortest summary I can think of without giving too much away. Message me and I'll give you more deets or message me and tell me nobody in the history of the world would read it. Your choice.
Thanks again for the support. See you all next time!