Disclaimer: Not mine in the slightest. Title is from Mumford and Sons "Roll Away Your Stone."

A/N: Slightly AU, future fic. Caroline grows up, goes home, and faces her demons. (Flashbacks are in past tense/have italicized dialogue.)

I wanted this to be a Damon/Caroline story but freaking Klaus wormed his way in. Typical. Anyway, I'm not sure what this is, really—it had direction, then it kind of just took on a life of it's own, so I hope it doesn't seem too disjointed.

darkness is a harsh term, don't you think

and yet it dominates the things I see

"Fancy seeing you here," Damon drawls and Caroline groans internally because the very last person she wanted to run into in freaking Venice is Damon Salvatore. Steeling herself, she puts on her very best and very sunniest smile that doesn't reach her eyes and tilts her face up towards him.

"What brings you to Italy, Damon?" she asks brightly, her back molars grinding together. He drops down lazily into the chair across the table from her and watches amusedly as faces of the group of college-aged Italian boys collectively drop. He waves mockingly at them and they immediately look away.

"Oh, you know," he says airily, and when he reaches for her glass of pinot noir, she smacks at his hand. He smirks at her. "Season fifty of the Stefan and Elena show, and I'm canceling my cable subscription." He pauses as the waitress drops by the table to refill Caroline's glass, and orders his own in perfect Italian; Caroline drops the faux-cheer and scowls at him in irritation.

"No one invited you to stay," she informs him acidly, rearranging her skirt primly and sending him a pointed look. He returns it with a devilish grin that used to make her knees go weak. "So where's Santa Klaus? I assume he's the one bankrolling this Italian romp. How's that arrangement work, anyway? Sex for European vacations?" He tilts his head thoughtfully at her. "Think I could get in on that?"

Caroline grits her teeth to keep from kicking him right in between his legs and downs the rest of her wine in one giant gulp before she stands. She carefully pulls out her wallet, plucking several euros out and dropping them on the table; the entire group of Italian guys who had been trying to catch her eye deflates. "Oh come on, Barbie," Damon protests, reaching up so that his long fingers encircle her wrist just tightly enough to remind her that he has a good century and a half on her. "After all the Papa Hybrid-related abuse you've rolled with over the years, that's what gets you?"

"Screw you," she says coolly, eyes flickering down to where he still grips her wrist. His eyes turn wide and beguiling.

"Okay, look," Damon says imploringly, letting go of her and motioning to the seat she had just vacated. "I was trying to find you."

She blinks at him in surprise, eyebrows shooting up her forehead. "What are you talking about?"

"Come on, Caroline," he says, lingering on her name and his eyes give her legs an appreciative once-over that makes her glare at him before he motions a waiter over. "Have a drink with an old friend."

She reluctantly sits, and puts her cell phone on the table in case she has to make a quick getaway, but refuses the refill the passing server offers. "This had better be good, Damon."

He winks at her. "You of all people should know that I'm always good." Before she can volley back a biting retort, he continues, "People are worried about you."

Caroline snorts indelicately. "You can tell Stefan that I'm a big girl and I can take care of myself."

"Believe me, I have," he says blithely. "But you and I both know Stefan loves to fix people. Our very own Jack Shephard, right?" He shoots her a grin.

Her spine stiffens and she snaps, "So that makes you the Smoke Monster? And I'm not broken, Damon."

Damon holds up his hands in mock surrender. "Trust me, Barbs, I'm well aware. Although the argument has been made that you wouldn't be traipsing around the world with evil incarnate if something wasn't, ya know, off in your head." His light blue eyes narrow at her. "Catch what I'm saying?"

Caroline leans forward on her elbows and says flatly, "I didn't flip the switch. Pass that along to Stefan, to Elena, to whoever the hell wants to know."

Shrugging, Damon takes a slow sip of his wine, eyes locked on hers. "So—" The chirping of her cell phone interrupts him; she reaches for it but he beats her to it.

"Sup, Klaus," and he smirks at her. "Oh, you know, just catching up with an old girlfriend," and Caroline bristles at the word choice, mouthing, Fuck you at him. He pretends to catch her words in the air and hold them against his heart. "Oh—hang on—oh, you're breaking up—" and with that Damon hangs up and snaps her iPhone in half, handing her the pieces. Caroline's mouth drops open and she splutters, words failing her, as Damon's face loses all trace of humor.

"Here's the deal, Barbie," he says lowly, his eyes boring through hers, "whatever deal you made with the devil, un-make it. It's been fifty years. Your debt is paid."

She finds her voice again, frustration building up in her chest. "There was no deal, Damon, no debt in my ledger. I couldn't be in Mystic Falls anymore, you know that."

"I know that you ran," he counters. "Took a page straight out of the Katherine Pierce playbook—"

"That's not fair," she protests, sharpness digging at the back of her throat. "After everything that happened—if Elena had died—and I mean really died—would you have stuck around?" His eyes darken and when he doesn't say anything, she continues, voice shaking slightly, "Everywhere I went, there was a memory—a date, a stupid joke, something. I was losing my mind, Damon."

He's looking at her like he's seeing her clearly for the first time. "Caroline," he says and she blinks at the sudden gentleness in his voice, "what happened to Tyler wasn't your fault."

Her hands clenched under the table. "Sure it was," she says softly, forcing herself to not relive it. She did that every day for three years after it happened and she has no real desire to go back to that.

They sit in silence for a few moments before she sighs. "Klaus found me in LA," she tells Damon quietly. "Absolutely miserable, totally alone, and basically suicidal." She takes a deep breath. "Just go home, Damon."

"Yeah, no can do, Barbie," he says, leaning back in his seat and regarding her contemplatively. "Not without you. Promised Elena and all."

"What I want for me trumps what Elena wants for me," Caroline says firmly, standing and picking up the sad remains of her former phone. "And you owe me a new phone."

He leers at her. "I owe you a lot of things."

"Grow up, douche."

… … … …

Care, Tyler said, mouth hovering over her ear; she swatted at him and slid deeper under the covers. She felt him laughing at her back. Care, we've gotta go.

No, she moaned, pulling the comforter over her head.

Yes, he insisted, snatching the comforter away and she curled into a ball in protest. Come on, we're barely two counties out of Mystic Falls.

She hugged her knees to her chest. I hate this, she said quietly, squeezing her eyes shut tightly and he sighed. The bed shifted as he curled around her and he said softly, We'll be safe from the Council soon, Care. Then no more running. Tyler paused to tickle her ribs. We can get an apartment. Maybe in California.

She rolled over so that she faced him, her nose nearly touching his. And a cat, she bartered. He grinned down at her and agreed, And a cat.

… … … …

She's barely dropped her bag on the floor, her card key just out of the reader, when Klaus says from the couch in the hotel suite, "Interesting day, love?" His long legs are stretched out in front of him, a sketchpad in his lap and the knuckles on the hand that grips his pencil are white.

Caroline rolls her eyes at him, pulling her sunglasses off her face and tossing them haphazardly on the small table next to the TV. She falls backwards onto the bed, her legs dangling off the edge. "Don't be a jerk." She shows him the jagged pieces of her phone. "I got ambushed."

"And? What did this particular Salvatore want?"

She pulls one of her arms up so that her head is resting on it, eyes focused on the ceiling. "What they always want—Damon practically quoted Stefan's speech from Sydney ten years ago ver-freaking-batim."

The scratching of his pencil stops. "Ah," he says quietly and she sits up a little, her upper body weight resting on her elbows as she looks over at him.

"I can't go back there," she tells him, and even though it's at least the one-thousandth time she's said it, he nods like it's the first. "I like Europe too much." He humors her and doesn't argue; she drops back down to continue her study of the ceiling lamp before she lets her eyes drift shut.

They fly back open when the space on either side of her head dips down and she finds herself gazing straight into dark blue eyes. Klaus's forearms rest next to her and his forehead drops to hers. "Hi," she says softly, her eyelids dropping slightly as she slides up the bed. He follows closely.

"Did you consider it?" he asks casually, his nose in her neck, lips hovering against her collarbone and her eyes fall shut again. "Returning to Mystic Falls?"

"No," she sighs, squirming a little as his hands travel up, one halting under her knee. "I mean—" her breath hitches as he moves and she can feel his smirk against her hair—such a freaking guy—"I miss Elena, and Bonnie, but I—I can't. And Damon didn't exactly present a convincing case, even less than Stefan. Did you look at my phone?"

"I'll buy you another," he says and even though his mouth is pressing hotly against her shoulder, she frowns, momentarily distracted. "I can buy my own, thanks," she tells him crossly, but she forgets her irritation when his lips find hers. Her hands tangle aimlessly in his hair and she shifts to give him a better angle. Wanton, she thinks, making herself giggle into his mouth. He pulls back slightly, eyebrows raised and looking amused.

"Too many Victorian romance novels," she says cryptically and he gives her a look that if she's seen once, she's seen a thousand times—like she's something he's never seen before and doesn't quite know what to do with.

Caroline shakes her head and pulls him back down, saying, a hair's breadth from his mouth, "Not important." She twists a little, hooking one leg around his waist, her fingers twisting around his collar. "Can we go home soon?"

One of his eyebrows climbs higher than the others as he pulls back slightly to gaze down at her thoughtfully. "I thought you loved Venice."

She shrugs one shoulder, smoothing down his shirt. "I do . . . I just think it's time for us to go."

His nose touches hers, his face so close to her own that his eyes melt into one, turning him into a Cyclops; she shuts her own eyes momentarily so that they can uncross. "Damon Salvatore is hardly a specter worth running from," he says firmly, both hands skimming under her shirt and ghosting over her ribs. Without opening her eyes she argues, "Is it still running if you know he'll follow? Because he totally will, and I'd rather deal with him on my own turf."

She feels him shake his head and, lifting her hips up slightly, decides its time for a different tactic. "Caroline," Klaus says and she ignores the warning tone to his voice, shifting again. "Klaus," she answers, opening her eyes and a thrill goes through her at the sheer wanting that is written across his face. She's reaching for the button on his jeans as she suggests, "Surely we can reach a compromise." She knows that he's completely aware of what she's doing and his exasperated expression becomes tinged with amusement. "What did you have in mind, sweetheart?"

"Tell you later," she says lowly in his ear and he smirks into her neck. "I don't really want to talk about Damon Salvatore, of all people, right now."

The smirk turns into a full on grin as he considers her offer and she pushes herself up to kiss him. Her skirt is bunched up around her hips and his hands encircle her waist to keep her from wriggling with impatience.

He starts to say things, mouth tracing the shell of her ear, things that don't really make sense because they are in no particular order. She vaguely hears him—things about light, and perfection and beauty—as she lets her mind drift into that hazy place where her entire world is made up of his skin on hers.

… … … …

Tyler pulled out a map and said, Close your eyes and pick a spot. She giggled a little and told him, I already know where I want to go.

He laughed and one arm wrapped around her neck to pull her in close. You know how much I love you?

She tilted her face up towards his and traced his eyebrows with her fingertips. Yeah, I know. She took the map from him and tapped the circle surrounding the bold-printed Los Angeles with her index finger. There.

His lips brushed against her temple as she reached to zip her small bag shut before he went to double-check the motel bathroom for anything they may have forgotten to pack. As he disappeared into the depths of the bathroom, Caroline called out, I'm gonna go pay!

She waited for him at his truck afterwards and when twenty minutes passed, she started to get worried.

… … … …

When the plane touches down at Heathrow, Caroline thinks reflectively that she should be incredibly unhappy here—after all, she traded bright California sunshine for grey, rainy skies in London. But somehow this soggy corner of Europe has burrowed its way into her heart, and when she thinks of home, the spacious, white-bricked flat in Chelsea is what her mind conjures first.

"I want cheesecake," she announces as soon as their front door swings open, rain pattering gently on her wide black umbrella. Klaus has both of their suitcases in his hands and when he turns to give her a look of incredulity, she offers him her biggest smile. "Want to go with me?"

"To Borough Market?" he says from the doorway; she remains on the front steps, nodding enthusiastically. "Not in particular."

So she shrugs, drops a kiss on his cheek, and takes the tube down to London Bridge by herself, all the while keeping a wary eye out for the black hair and blue eyes she knows will appear soon.

And he does, as she's paying a vendor for her giant slice of fluffy cheesecake. "What are you doing here, Caroline?"

She deliberately misinterprets. "Getting dessert, Damon. Or did your IQ take a hit in addition to your heart when Elena dropped you?"

Her insult seems to roll right off of him. "In England, Barbie. Totally not your style."

"For your information, I live here," she informs him, stopping just before the overhead ends and staring at the swiftly falling rain.

"No," he corrects her and her hackles rise. "You live in Virginia. The Caroline Forbes I knew would never dream of living with perpetual frizz."

"You don't know me anymore—not that you did to begin with."

Damon sighs and she senses that he's about to lose all patience with her. "Look, Barbie, you have to come home."

"You have yet to offer me a single reason why I should," she reminds him tartly and he looks down, hands shoved into the pockets of his jacket. A bolt of fear zips through her.

"I'm not supposed to tell you this," he says, eyes flickering over to focus on a grimy puddle. "Because you aren't supposed to know until you get back."

The fear grows. "Spit it out, Damon. Why do you—they—really want me to go back this time?"

He sighs again, longer this time, before he says quietly, "It's Bonnie."

… … … …

After twenty minutes of waiting, Caroline ran back to the motel room, her heart in her chest. Tyler! she yelled frantically, nearly ripping the door off of its hinges in her desperation. The lump in her throat swelled as she took in the destroyed room and Tyler's notable absence. Oh my God, oh my God, she whispered, over and over, shaking hands digging her phone out of her purse.

Elena answered on the first ring. Elena, Caroline moaned, hand rising to clutch at her throat. Elena, they took Tyler.

Elena's gasp was instantaneous. Don't panic, Care. We're on it.

So she numbly gathered up Tyler's things, found his keys, and sat in his truck, inhaling the smell of him while terror and desperation began to build up in her chest.

… … … …

"I have to go home," she tells Klaus resolutely, curled into the tiniest ball she can manage on the couch, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. She doesn't look up but she can still feel the change in the air.

"So did you go to Borough Market with the direct intention of meeting Damon?" he asks with mocking casualness and she flinches slightly, tucking her nose into the blanket.

"I told you he would follow us," she reminds him quietly, her voice muffled and her eyes finally finding him, rigid and unmoving in his chair. He doesn't look back at her, giving only an idle shrug.

"Go, then," he says carelessly and it cuts a little more than she would care to admit. "Nothing is stopping you." I'm not stopping you. The unspoken warning lingers and she throws caution to the wind and voices it.

"Will you wait?"

He does look at her then, dark blue eyes boring through hers. "Will you come back?"

Caroline bites her lip and avoids the question, telling him softly, "Bonnie has cancer." She thinks that she maybe sees a flash of sympathy cross his face, but it's gone before she can really figure out whether or not she imagined it. "It's in her bones, Klaus."

He shrugs offhandedly again and tears threaten to prick at the back of her eyelids because she hasn't seen him look this much like the Klaus that turned Tyler, that threatened everyone she loved, in decades and she hates this Klaus—even more so now that she knows just how much better he can be. She thinks of him buying her deep pink tulips in Amsterdam with the sweetest smile on his face, amusedly obliging Chinese tourists wanting a picture with her on the Great Wall, letting brightly colored parrots walk up and down his arms in Australia while she laughs and snaps pictures delightedly. After fifty-odd years as his lover—as his friend—she knows now that he can choose which person he wants to be, and it kills her that the villain will always be his default.

"You will always choose them," he says reservedly, staring down at the drink in his hand and she sits up defensively.

"You're the one who said anything about choosing," she retorts, pushing messy hair out of her face in frustration. "There are no battle lines being drawn here, Klaus, not for me. It's not about you versus them."

"Of course it is," he says with a touch of bitterness. "You may refuse to see the lines, Caroline, but that does not mean they aren't there in the sand."

"And whose fault is that?" she challenges without thinking; as soon as the words are out of her mouth, she winces and whispers, "Klaus," but the damage is done. He sets his glass down wordlessly and, pulling on his coat, disappears out of the front door without so much as a second glance.

She sits there, alone and silent, for several minutes with her eyes trained on the front door even though she has less than zero hope that he'll come back this soon. She sends a silent plea to God, or to the Force, or to whoever is in charge of these things, that she doesn't read about a strange killing spree in the Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea in the near future; and pulls out her computer from the shelf underneath the table to book her plane ticket to Virginia—home.

This is so not how she wanted to spend her spring.

… … … …

It's the Council, Stefan told her grimly and Caroline's forehead drops to the steering wheel of Tyler's truck in despair. They were hoping to grab both of you, but you must have just stepped out. You got lucky.

She wouldn't have called it lucky. Her throat closed and she thought it was good thing that breathing was no longer a necessity. How do we get him back, Stefan?

Stefan sighed heavily into the phone and said quietly, There's no 'we' here, Care. You can't risk it.

The hell I can't, she snapped, turning Tyler's keys and listening with small satisfaction as the truck rumbles to life. We're a package deal.

Caroline, Elena said and she realized with a start as she pulled out of the motel parking lot that Stefan had put her on speakerphone. There isn't anything you can do. They want both of you dead, and you coming back to rescue Tyler is exactly what they want.

Sorry, Caroline said flatly. This isn't up for discussion.

A bright green sign flew by the window with the words Mystic Falls: 150 miles written on it and her fingers clenched down the wheel.

… … … …

Elena greets her at the airport, and Caroline is grateful that neither Stefan nor Damon is with her. She had called Damon as soon as her ticket was bought and she knows he caught the first flight out after that, putting him a good fifteen hours ahead of her.

"Hey," Elena says softly and they stand awkwardly for a few seconds before Caroline blinks back tears and they move to hug each other at the same time.

"I missed you," Caroline tells her softly, her cheek on Elena's shoulder. Vampire Elena smells just like Human Elena and for an all-too-brief moment, Caroline can pretend they're both sixteen and none of this has really happened.

"I missed you," Elena says, pulling back and wiping surreptitiously at her eyes. "Bonnie will be so glad to see you, Care."

Caroline bites her lip and turns towards the luggage carousel, spotting her bag as it rounds the corner. "How is she?"

Elena shrugs, gripping one end of the bag and 'helping' Caroline lift it off the rails. "About as well as can be expected. Her kids flew in last week."

The drive to the hospital is short and Caroline's nerves are a jittery mess as Elena's car nears it. "How long, do you think?"

Elena hesitates as she pulls into an empty parking space. "The doctors think a few months at the most," she says quietly, hands dropping weakly from the steering wheel. "One of her Bennett relatives stopped by yesterday to tell her there's a way to prolong everything—but it won't stop the c-cancer."

Caroline swallows hard as they get out of the car and start walking towards the automatic doors. "No way Bonnie went for that."

Elena shakes her head as they sign in, pinning visitors' badges to the fronts of their shirts. "She definitely didn't."

It's standing room only in room 304, with people ranging from six months to forty years surrounding Bonnie, who beams at Elena and Caroline when they walk in. "Honey," she says to the man Caroline recognizes from the pictures as her husband, "Could you all give us a minute?" He nods, and the entire family casts curious looks at Caroline as they slowly file out of the room.

Caroline stands uncomfortably at the foot of Bonnie's hospital bed. "Bon…"

Bonnie gives her small smile and opens up thin arms with tubes running out of them. "Where've you been, girl?"

Caroline blinks and this time loses the fight against the tears that threaten at the back of her eyes as she folds herself into her best friend's embrace. "I'm so sorry," she whispers and Bonnie says gently, one hand running down Caroline's back soothingly, "There's nothing to apologize for, Care. Things are hard all around."

… … … …

Damn it, Barbie, Damon groused, glaring at her. You can't follow directions to save your life—or rather, to save your boyfriend's.

Die in a fire, she snapped at him, giving him her back and focusing on Stefan. Where are they keeping him?

Stefan eyed her warily before he gave in. Lockwood cellars. Carole doesn't know.

So what's the plan? she demanded, crossing her arms and shifting so her feet were shoulder-width apart—battle stance. Stefan didn't fail to notice it.

Rescue, Bonnie interrupted, Emily Bennett's grimoire on her lap. But if they get you just as we free him, then we're right back where we started, Care, so you have got to be careful.

Believe me, Caroline said fiercely, I know.

… … … …

"Tell me everywhere you've been," Bonnie orders, smiling at her as she and Elena sit cross-legged at the end of her bed. Caroline shrugs embarrassedly because everywhere she's been in the last half-century has been with Klaus, and she so doesn't want to talk about him—especially not here.

"Just about everywhere," she says vaguely, and Bonnie looks delighted. "Where is your favorite place that you've been?" she wants to know eagerly and Caroline looks down at the starchy hospital blanket.

"Egypt," she says finally, twisting the edge of the blanket around her finger absently. "I loved Egypt."

Bonnie sighs and Caroline thinks that her face, although older and with the proof of her line written on it, has barely changed. "Why Egypt?"

Because, Caroline wants to say, I realized I loved Klaus, the guy who terrorized us for months, the guy who killed people we love. But duh, she doesn't say that. "It just . . . reminded me how long things can last."

"Oh, Care," Bonnie says dreamily, frail hand grasping hers, "That's beautiful."

Caroline rushes to change the subject. "How are you feeling, Bon?"

Her friend shrugs as Caroline's eyes trace over the IV in her arm and the oxygen in her nose. "Some days are better than others." She gives Caroline a bright smile. "But I'm better now that both of you are here."

Bonnie's husband comes back then with her family in tow and Caroline and Elena both promise to visit again tomorrow. As they leave, Elena says quietly, "About Klaus—" and Caroline lifts a tired hand to cut her off. "Can we do this tomorrow, Elena?" she asks wearily, pulling her hair off of her neck in a ponytail. "Please?"

Something akin to sympathy crosses Elena's face and she nods.

Tucked snuggly in a guest bed at the Salvatore boarding house, Caroline cradles her (new) cell phone in the crook of her neck, waiting without much hope as she listens to the ringing. Of course he doesn't answer, even after all the messages she's been leaving. Gritting her teeth, she hears the non-descript beep of his voicemail and she snaps into the speaker, "Go to hell, Klaus." Let him be the one to call her endlessly, she thinks bitterly as she hangs up and sinks dejectedly into the fluffy comforter and pillows.

She hates being here, hates the looks Elena and Stefan send her way, like she might shatter at any moment (even though she's kind of worried about that too). She misses smoggy, wet London with its traffic and bright lights, the people who are always in a hurry because they are always going somewhere. She wants to be going somewhere, not sitting in the world's crappiest town waiting for her best friend to freaking die. Her mind drifts back to Bonnie, someone's grandmother and sitting in a hospital bed. It doesn't feel like fifty years has passed since—since Tyler, but then sometimes it feels like centuries have instead.

Flipping onto her stomach, she pulls her phone off the nightstand and almost calls him again, her finger hovering over the send button hesitantly. She wants to talk to Klaus, wants him to tell her in one of his elegantly worded monologues that this is the circle of life and even though they are on the outside, they are still a part of it. Or something like that—she can't really force her brain to believe what her imagination thinks he might say and instead of trying, she drifts to sleep with his voice in her ear whispering, full of light.

… … … …

In retrospect, she should have seen it coming. They screwed up everything else so royally, so why not this?

Get out of here! Tyler yelled at her, straining against vervain-soaked ropes and she smelled burning flesh in the air. It made her gag reflex kick in. Not without you, she told him firmly, flashing to where he sat restrained, her fingers working deftly on the knots. She ignored the searing as she ripped the ropes apart, and pulled him up with her. You promised me California, she whispered in his ear and for a shining moment, she thought they were really going to make it.

Don't think so, a nearby voice said easily, and she found herself face-to-face with a shotgun. Wooden bullets, the woman said, and she eyed Caroline and Tyler, who was forcing himself to stand up straight, with disgust. Animals.

Care, Tyler said lowly, so quietly that the horrid woman didn't hear him. Run.

She gave a miniscule shake of her head and the woman pointed the shotgun at Caroline's chest. Immortal except for the pesky stake through the heart, right? Her finger cocked the trigger and before Caroline could blink, she had pulled it—but Tyler's back blocked Caroline's vision.

Stefan and Damon were seconds too late, pulling her out kicking and screaming, tears running rivers down her face, her nails scraping at them as she tried to back to Tyler.

She left two weeks after they buried him.

… … … …

"She's deteriorating fast," Caroline hears the doctor tell Bonnie's family, and Elena's hand finds hers. "I would prepare yourselves."

Caroline's heart drops right through the floor when she sees Bonnie, and she does look frailer than she had just days earlier. "Bon . . ." she whispers, reaching for Bonnie's hand and Elena makes a sound like she can't breathe.

Bonnie's eyes, still so green, flicker open and she gives them a weak smile. "Hey girls . . . will you tell Mr. Saltzman I'm gonna be late for class? Something really important came up . . ."

Elena catches on before Caroline does and nods reassuringly. "Of course, Bon. But you know Ric doesn't care."

Oh God. Caroline forces herself to add with faux-brightness, "Um—don't forget cheerleading? After school? Right?" She looks desperately at Elena for confirmation.

"You and cheerleading, Care," Bonnie chuckles a little, eyes drifting shut once more. "I'll be there, don't worry . . ."

Her husband reaches over to stroke her grey-streaked her and says to them quietly, "The doctor says it won't be long now." He looks at the two of them, gripping each other's arms tightly, faces pale. "I don't know how you two look the same as in all of her pictures from high school," he says, pinning them with a look, "But I know you were a real comfort. So thank you for that." He turns back to Bonnie, who's breathing sounds labored and Caroline's chest is so tight she thinks the air must have become weighted. "If you don't mind, my family would like some time alone with her."

They both murmur acceptance and Stefan is waiting at Elena's car as they approach. Caroline feels like she's ripping in half as she watches Elena come undone in his arms, and she wraps her arms around her stomach to keep from shattering, wishing—always wishing.

"Sorry, Barbie," Damon says from the side and he sounds sincere, so she lets him hold her the way Stefan holds Elena—lets him keep her pieces together—all the while pretending he is someone else.

… … … …

She could not remember the last time she showered, much less the last time she wore makeup or got dressed in the morning caring what she wore. The sun in Los Angeles was too bright, mocking her for what she lost and she spent most of her time in a crappy hotel room that she compelled her way out of paying for, curtains drawn.

Stefan called her, Elena called her, Bonnie called her—hell, even Damon called her. After that, she tossed her phone into the Pacific Ocean and didn't look back. After all, LA is the land of wannabes and she wanted to be someone else. When the manager of her shitty hotel asked for a name—any name, he doesn't care if it's real or fake because hello, this is Hollywood—to put down on the books, she had looked down at her hands and said slowly, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Lockwood. A mix of her mother's name and Tyler's, and somehow it fit—a small tribute to the only two people who had never thought of her as second best.

She ran into Klaus accidentally—at least, it had been accidental on her part, and she had never asked if it was less so on his end. She had snarled something rude at him and stormed away, painfully aware of her dirty hair and the dark circles under her eyes, but somehow he wound up appearing where she least expected him (not that she expected him anywhere, really).

It was six months to the day of Tyler taking a wooden bullet to the heart for her and she was being eaten alive by the guilt and the missing him. She twisted her daylight ring around her finger and wondered if death—final, permanent death—would hurt as the bright California sun beat down on her. The waves of the Pacific Ocean pulled at her feet and she wished that Tyler were with her with so much force that it hurt. Her fingers started to pull at the ring, almost of their own accord, when a stronger hand clasped around them and Klaus said lightly, I would wait on that, love.

… … … …

They hang back at Bonnie's funeral, careful not to intrude on her family's mourning. Caroline watches with a feeling of emptiness in her stomach as the pastor talks about ashes to ashes and dust to dust and entering the arms of the Lord. The sun is bright and warm but still she shivers, her arm linked with Elena's.

When Bonnie's children and grandchildren have left, her husband tearfully waves them over for their own goodbyes and Caroline is grateful when Stefan and Damon remain where they are. She turns her head tactfully to look at the ground as Elena bows her head over the soft brown wood, and when it is her turn, she pulls a picture of the Pyramids of Giza (it reminded me of how long things can last) out of her cardigan pocket to tuck into the wreath. She has no idea what she wants to say—has to many things to say—and the words don't come easily to her (not like at Tyler's funeral, where she had cried for hours over the freshly moved earth). So she simply whispers, "See you at cheerleading, Bon," and takes a single white lily before she lets her hand fall away, tears slipping down her cheeks.

"Care," Elena says softly as Caroline wipes the streaks of salty wetness away. "You know you're welcome to stay with us as long as you want—or need—to."

She nods tiredly, the flower dangling from listless fingertips. "You should go home, if you want to. I—I have to do something first."

Tyler's grave is in the Lockwood family plot, next to his father's, and she stops several feet away, her heart clenching at the scene she sees in front of her.

Klaus is standing there, hands in his pockets and head bowed respectfully. She approaches quietly, even though she knows he hears her.

"What are you doing here?" she asks, halting slightly away from him and he doesn't look up, eyes trained on the worn headstone.

"I owe Tyler a great debt," he says softly and it's then that Caroline sees the bundle of sunflowers resting on the ground in front of the marker. Claws dig at the back of her throat and she doesn't speak—can't speak. "He's the reason you're still here, after all." He finally looks over at her and continues, almost reverently, "I will never be able to repay him."

She holds his gaze a moment longer then turns toward the grave, silently placing the white lily from Bonnie's wreath on top of Klaus's sunflowers. "It doesn't matter to me who you choose, Caroline," he says, his fingers brushing across hers but making no move to take her hand. "I choose you."

She closes her eyes and laces their fingers together wordlessly, concentrating only on the sun on her face—I love you, she says to Tyler. I miss you. Opening her eyes, she runs her thumb along the back of Klaus's hand. "I love you," she tells him sincerely, letting her head rest against his arm.

"Wherever you want to go," he says, kissing the top of her head, "I'll take you." She thinks of Elena, of Stefan and Damon, and of the friend she just buried.

"Here, for now," she tells him quietly, "but later—California."

... ... ... ...


A/N: I'm basically incapable of writing a non-angsty one-shot, y'all. If you enjoy what you've read, please review—I'd really like to know what you think!