I could give a lengthy explanation as to why this took forever but I think you all would rather see what happens next.
So without much fanfare, here's Chapter 11.
She can't bring herself to think about him anymore. He's God knows where, probably furious with her. Part of her wants to call him, hopes he'll answer, prays he'll agree to see her again. She wants to tell him all of it; how she feels, why she's afraid. And she wonders if he'll accept her after everything. It's strange, how guilty she feels. She doesn't like it, doesn't think she should feel this way, yet a rock has settled itself in her stomach. She can feel herself spiralling. Even though she's been with Stefan for a few weeks now, she feels alone, trapped in her mess of thoughts. The guilt of allowing herself to love Klaus, the regret for leaving him. She can't decide if she just wants to run and hide from him or try and be reunited with him.
Caroline's laying in bed at three in the afternoon. She hasn't showered and getting dressed is completely out of the question. Her throat burns with thirst but it doesn't motivate her at all. She's been staring unblinkingly out of the window for five minutes, the only noise she hears the ringing in her head. Which is probably why Stefan suddenly tapping her on the shoulder makes her jump and scramble away, forgetting she's a vampire perfectly capable of defending herself.
"Sorry!" Stefan says quickly, holding his hands up, one holding a plump blood bag, which he offers out, almost as a peace offering. "Figured you might be hungry."
Caroline accepts it and sits up, fiddling with the tube. "Thank you," she says, offering Stefan a small smile. She begins drinking from the bag, staring off again.
"This isn't like you," Stefan says suddenly, still standing by the bed. Caroline looks at him questioningly. "I mean, when you have a crisis, you're usually, I don't know...organizing galas and maxing out your credit card."
"Well I think we can agree this is a rather unique scenario," Caroline counters, looking away from him.
"Boy problems are something you should have mastered by now." Stefan smirks at her as she rolls her eyes.
"This isn't a boy problem. More like a million year old slightly charming hybrid who has wronged at least eighty percent of the people I know problem. Which, level with me on this one, isn't something you learn how to deal with in the public school system." Though, she supposes, Mystic Falls High didn't prepare her for the majority of her life. One would think by now they'd at least offer a supernatural lore class as a hint to their students to get the hell out after graduation.
"What can I do to help you?" Stefan asks, serious now and concern clear in his eyes. Caroline's look softens in response.
"I don't think there's much that can be done," she mutters, looking down at the blood bag in her hands. She gives a shrug and raises her gaze to Stefan's. "Maybe, I don't know, Rebekah can compel me to forget all about him," she says, half jokingly, a strained laugh escaping her. "Though she'd probably be happy to see what a wreck I am."
Stefan furrows his brow, staring off for a moment in thought. "Rebekah might not help..." he says slowly, piecing together his thoughts. "But I think know someone who be completely willing to."
Caroline raises an eyebrow. "Elijah?" She says questioningly. "You realize the compulsion thing was a joke right?" She then pauses. "Has anyone even heard from Elijah lately...?"
Stefan shakes his head, smirking. "No, not Elijah. Matt." To which Caroline raises an eyebrow, until it dawns on her.
Matt. Of course. Matt, who's been spending the last ten years with Rebekah. Matt, who struggled to explain to Caroline just why he was leaving Mystic Falls all those years ago to be with her. Who never admitted that he loved her even though it was obvious. A boy who forgave an Original, who was able to love an Original. Someone who might understand what she's feeling and thinking.
Caroline blinks as the realization hits her. "Stefan," she begins, a smile growing on her face. "You. Are. Brilliant!" She exclaims, throwing her arms around his neck. He returns her embrace and for a moment she feels hopeful, smiling to herself. And then she stops. "Stefan I have no idea where Matt is," she says, still embracing him, brow knit and a frown settled on her face. Caroline pulls away from him, staring off in thought. "I haven't seen him in almost five years, or heard from him since...jeez, two Christmases ago?" She grabs her phone from the nightstand and begins scrolling through her contacts. "I don't even have his number!" She discovers, stunned. "When did you last see him?"
Stefan rubs the back of his head, thinking. "Two years ago, I think. With Elena," he stops, brow knitting. "She'll probably know where he is."
Caroline sighs, putting her head in her hands. "And here I was hoping she would never know anything about this," she whines. Stefan raises an eyebrow at this. "I mean," she starts, hands up defensively. "It's not like I would never tell her or anything, I'm just not sure how well she'll take it." She thoughtfully sips from her blood bag. "Thinking about everything he did to her...I'm a terrible person, huh?" Caroline asks, giving Stefan a half-hearted smile.
"My advice is to call her," Stefan says, standing. "You might be surprised," he adds before leaving the room, closing the door behind him. Caroline stares after him, confused.
The thought of seeing and talking to Matt is enough to propel Caroline to get out of bed, even if the idea of speaking to Elena first puts a rock in her stomach. She could just not bring it up, make up an excuse, but how long before Bonnie or Stefan bring it up? Caroline didn't want her to feel betrayed on top of her anger.
Showering works as a distressor though as she thinks on Stefan's words. True, Elena could be forgiving and understanding. Hell, she was with Damon now. Of course, Damon didn't kill her aunt right in front of her; the thought of that still made Caroline's stomach churn.
That's not fair, she thought to herself. You're supposed to have forgiven him. Remember, you...You love him.
Caroline closes her eyes and lets out a shaky breath, the hot water beating down on her. She loves him.
With shaky hands, Caroline types Elena's number into her phone, hesitating for just a moment before pressing 'send' and holding the phone to her ear. With each ring, she grows more anxious, tempted to hang up before Elena can answer. And just as she decides to, Elena answers with a surprised, "Caroline?"
"Elena," Caroline breathes her name out, bracing herself. "Hi," she musters half-heartedly, smiling slightly to herself.
"Caroline, are you alright?" Elena asks first, concern clear in her voice. Caroline can picture her face perfectly, her brow furrowed in worry, a frown playing at her lips. "I talk to Bonnie and I heard you were back," she adds and Caroline's stomach drops. She hopes that's all Bonnie told Elena.
"Yeah, yeah," Caroline pauses. "I'm in San Francisco right now seeing Stefan."
"Stefan?" Elena asks.
"Yeah. I just...I needed…" Caroline tries and fails to explain herself. She sighs, giving up. "I miss you, Elena," she says suddenly. But she does, of course she does. Even as she fears what Elena will say to her, hell, considers lying to her altogether, she wants nothing more in that moment to confide in her long lost friend. But the words stay stuck in her throat, the truth strangling her.
Elena pauses a moment. "I miss you too, Caroline." The confusion is still clear in her voice, however. "What's going on?"
Caroline takes a deep breath and stares at the ceiling. "Well, what all did Bonnie tell you?" And for the love of God let it exclude Caroline's then-possible-but-now-official love of him.
"Just that you were back and making the rounds," Elena pauses. "And that he wasn't with you." She adds, the disgust so clear in her voice that Caroline winces. "She said that it wasn't her place to explain everything that happened." An invitation to open up. Or expectation.
Caroline stares blankly in front of her, not seeing the inside of her hotel bedroom as images of the past four months swim into her mind. Klaus smiling as she gazes over Paris from the Eiffel Tower, the city lit up as night was falling. Explaining the meaning behind a painting to her at a museum in Prague, speaking with passion and knowledge. His face inches from hers in a darkened hotel bedroom, her suitcase half packed on the bed and her mind swimming at the possibilities.
"I left him," is all she says. A lump has formed in her throat and she swallows thickly. "I, ah...I couldn't stay with him any longer."
"I'm surprised you left with him at all," Elena comments. Caroline squeezes her eyes closed, unsurprised at the tears that come running down her face.
"It was pretty stupid of me," she says, her voice low. "But it seemed the only option at the time."
"I thought Klaus was never an option," Elena says, reminding Caroline of a conversation long ago. When Klaus's reign of terror had finally come to an end in Mystic Falls. Of course he offered to take Caroline with him, and of course she turned him down. Elena and Bonnie had jokingly questioned Caroline about how she could possibly say no.
"Obviously I wouldn't," Caroline had snapped, the memory of Klaus making her embarrassed and angry. "I could either run off with him or go to college with my best friends. And Klaus is never an option."
Caroline can't help the laugh that bursts from her throat. "What?" Elena questions, confused.
And suddenly Caroline is seized with something. Some mania that loosens her tongue and washes away her worry and shame. "I fought it so hard, didn't I?" She laughs again, remembering.
"Fought what? Caroline, are you alright?" The concern has returned to Elena's voice.
"Oh, but you know, Elena. I know you know. You've always read me like a book." Caroline pauses, smiling to herself. "I mean, why else would I not only run off to Europe with Klaus, but stay four months?"
"Caroline," Elena interjects, her voice hardened now. "I don't understand."
"You know, I was ready to die that night." Her mind is bouncing all over the place. She stands now, pacing the length of her room, throwing her free hand around as she speaks. "I wanted to die, really. I would rather have died." Elena says nothing and Caroline realizes she probably has no idea what she's talking about. "The night I left with Klaus. The council figured it out, Elena. I should have left Mystic Falls with you. They came for me. Took me to the school to kill me. And I wanted them to. I wanted them to successfully kill me, because the other options were they either let me go, which wasn't a possibility at all, or they all ended up dead. And so I wanted them to kill me. I couldn't bear the idea of them all dying. And when they did, when he killed them all and I was carried among their corpses, I…" Caroline takes a breath. "I wanted nothing more than to be dead. To be dead so that they might have lived."
"But, Caroline-" Elena starts.
"No, Elena. You know the feeling," Caroline says. Elena remains silent so Caroline continues. "That night, it felt like he was the only one I had. He came for me; somehow, some way, he knew I was in danger. I knew I had to leave town and what better distraction than a cultured vampire who would treat me like a princess?" Caroline laughs at this again. "Of course there were times when he was horrible. But mostly he was kind and patient with me. He never...he never wanted me to be upset, or to hurt me." Caroline stops. "Well, ok, he can be a vindictive ass. But, Elena, I was...I was happy. I felt like, for the first time in years, I was living."
"Caroline, what are you…" But Elena trails off, putting the pieces together.
"I was stuck. In a rut. I loved being home, of course, with mom, but I felt like I was missing out. You were god-knows where and Bonnie was among her kind and I was alone, too afraid to leave. He rescued me that night, in more ways than one. Gave me an escape route." Caroline smiles to herself. "I had thought I would take advantage of him and he be none the wiser. But he got under my skin." She stops.
"Caroline?" Elena questions quietly.
"Elena, I…" She hesitates. "I think I…" She chokes on the words. "I think I'm in love with him," she says so quietly she's sure Elena did not hear her.
But she does, of course. And when she breathes out an, "Oh…" she does not sound too surprised.
"Yeah. And I, uh...I need to find Matt." Caroline says this quickly, wanting to change the subject.
Elena is quiet for a moment, processing. "Matt?"
"I figure if anyone can help me with this, it's him."
"Yeah, that makes sense." Elena pauses, thinking. "He's in Seattle. He opened a bar there about a year ago. Vicki's."
"Oh." Caroline blinks. "Why all the way in Seattle?"
"Rebekah prefers the west coast," Elena says.
A heavy silence falls between the two. Caroline clutches the phone to her ear with a sweaty hand, waiting.
"Caroline?" Elena asks after a long while.
"Are you…" She trails off. "Are you sure about...you know?"
Caroline says nothing for a long moment, her pacing halted, eyes fixed out the window as the sun begins to set over San Francisco She had watched so many sunsets with Klaus in so many cities. The thought of never seeing another one with him makes her go cold. She wonders if, wherever he is, he watched the sunsett today. A memory swims to mind again. The bistro in Florence. "It's a shame how accustomed I've grown to something that was once as breathtaking as a sunset like that," he had said. Her heart sinks as she wonders when he might become accustomed to her absence, if maybe he would move on. She had given him what he wanted, she supposed. Proved him right. He had whisked her away as he promised. If she did return to him, who's to say he would even want her?
"I'm sure, Elena." Caroline now feels deflated, her previous excitement having left her.
"Ok." Elena sighs. "I love you, Caroline."
"I love you, too."
When they hang up, Caroline smiles to herself. Stefan is suddenly leaning his head into her room and she wonders how much of that he heard. He has a smile on his face and opens his mouth.
"Yeah, yeah," Caroline interrupts. "You told me so."
"You're sure you don't want me to go with you?" Stefan asks for the thousandth time, standing with Caroline outside yet another airport.
Caroline had been watching a plane taking off, frowning to herself. She was so tired of travelling. She turns to Stefan, smiling. "I don't think Rebekah would be very pleased if the both of us showed up, do you? Besides, I'm only trying to have a calm discussion with Matt, not constant banter that you would only fuel."
Stefan puts his hands up defensively. "Just thought I'd ask."
"Well, thanks, but no thanks." Caroline cocks her head to the side. "If Rebekah doesn't kill me, then I hope to be seeing you soon, Stefan." She says, smile still plastered on her face.
"Come here," Stefan says, opening his arms. Caroline embraces him, sighing into his shoulder.
"I'm a mess, huh?" She asks, still holding him.
"No bigger than the rest of us," he says, letting her go. The two stare at eachother for a long moment.
"Goodbye, Caroline," Stefan says, realizing she would stay rooted at the spot if she could help it.
"Bye, Stefan." Caroline gives him one last smile before picking up her bags and heading inside. As the doors close behind her she looks back to Stefan standing there, hands in pockets and a small smile on his face. He raises a hand and she nods, turning away again. Never again, she thinks to herself. Never again will I be away from Stefan for so long.
Caroline settles in for her short flight. Having compelled herself into a window seat, she gazes at the clouds, her mind wandering as it was want to do these days. But it isn't thoughts of worry that plague her mind this time. Nor guilt or regret. She feels hopeful, she decides. Anxious, maybe, to see Matt, risking his opinion of her at her grand reveal. But, she figures, if Elena and Bonnie could accept it, why not Matt?
But the fear that emerged when speaking with Elena has been eating away at her. Would he want her back? He must. He waited so long for her. She'd only been gone for a little over a week. But how soon would she return to him? She'd promised herself time to grow, to figure herself out. But when she did return to him, because she knew she would, knew she had to, how would she even find him? Would he answer her if she called? Would he even care?
Caroline closes her eyes, breathing slowly. He would. He would.
She had found directions to Matt's bar online and felt confident as she made her way from her gate to the exit, praying she'd be able to wave a cab down easily enough. Leaving baggage claim, Caroline looks out over the sea of people, thankful to not have the same blood-thirsty thoughts as she did in the last airport she arrived in. As she collects herself, still staring at the other passengers milling around, she's surprised to see a face staring back at her. A face she knows and looks less than pleased to see her.
The two approach one another, Caroline weighed down by her bags as the other crosses her arms over her chest. When they meet, Rebekah gives her a withering look.
"So," she starts, grabbing the bag Caroline is holding. "Word is you're in love with my brother."
Caroline's eyes widen as a rock settles in her stomach.