Her hand stays linked with his, despite the speed at which they run. The empty back alleys of a city all but abandoned in the dead of night, shadows calling as beacons of sanctuary. Rather than hide, they flee. To another town, another place. It's a big, broad world out there. Still so much to see.
He's determined to she'll get to.
"They're not stopping," Caroline says, the pause in pursuit just long enough to speak.
"They won't stop," Stefan replies, eyes scanning for the next line of safe passage. He's dealt with people like this before. Hunters. As motivated and well organized as an army. The only good vampire is a dead vampire, and all that.
They'd been in a bar, having a drink and minding their own business when the sudden pinhole of a bullet appeared in his arm. The pain splintered and burning, tell tale of wooden bullets. They didn't care about the crowd, civilians, only wanted he and Caroline dead. Bullets flying as fast and free as the guns could shoot them.
Not knowing how they were discovered is irksome, not that it matters, but a defense can't be mounted with the current lack of knowledge hindering their escape. They can't go back to the apartment, that much is obvious.
"Where do we go?" Caroline asks, pulling him from the thought.
"Away," is all he can say, eyes and ears still scanning, met with grateful silence. "We have to leave the city."
Caroline nods in agreement, having come to the conclusion herself. "But I like it here," comes out anyway.
He gives her hand a reassuring squeeze. "Me too."
"I don't hear anything," she says. "See." She sniffs. "Or smell."
"No," he agrees.
There's fear in her eyes, such that he hasn't seen since she was locked in a cage so many years ago.
"Hey," he says, placing a protective hand on her cheek. "What did I promise you?"
It takes a second to realize what he means, the corner of her mouth quirking slightly.
"That you'd never let anything happen to me."
He'd kiss his reassurance if the moment were at all appropriate.
They wait another minute.
He's telling stories again.
Balls being thrown by the well to do, and served by the well to don't. Women with perfectly coiffed hair, hoop skirts, and elegant white gloves. Though he doesn't say her name, Katherine counts among these descriptions, his tone hitching just a bit for the fraction of a second.
She's paying attention. Really.
Though her eyes are half closed, she knows there's a nostalgic look in his. Memories becoming more vivid as the tales are told.
His arm is draped easily across her shoulder, as her head rests comfortably on his chest.
He talks about two brothers, a war torn country, and a stern but caring father. He talks about love, jealousy, the sting of being played but too blinded by affection to take action. A future he dreamed so longingly of, and the blood stained realization that such a future could stretch on longer than he ever thought possible.
It's as if she can see all the things he says. Images dancing on the back of her eyelids, his memories becoming her own.
He talks of monsters, of men, blood pouring by the bucket full. He talks about remorse, friendship, pain and suffering. Guilt so strong and so much that he entertained the idea of welcoming the sun without the protection of a ring.
He talks about redemption, about sacrifice, and the man he's always wanted to be. He talks about a town he could never truly leave, a girl that was supposed to be everything, and a love that was doomed from the start.
He talks about a friend, a confidant, a trust built stronger than he'd ever known. He talks on and on until finally realizing she's slowly fading away.
He tells her "good night, Caroline."
She falls asleep with his name on her lips, and his life in her dreams.
" You have to go," she says, blood trickling from the wound lashed just above her eye and down her cheek.
"We," he counters, one hand grabbing hers and holding firm. "We have to go."
Her laugh is brittle, broken.
"He only wants me," trying to make her tone assuring, thumb rubbing circles on his skin. "He won't hurt me." Eyes meet his. "But he will hurt you. He'll kill you."
"Let him try," he insists, scanning the room, picking out all possible exits.
"If you think I'm going to let-"
"How long?" He asks, attention focusing back to her. "Has it been you and me?"
"Stefan…" She trails off, brows furrowing as to why he would ask such a thing.
"So what makes you think I would just give that up?"
Stepping closer, hand to her face, fingers idly trying to wipe away the blood.
"Caroline," he sighs, the impatient tone he always gets when she's being difficult.
"If it's my time. If he really is going to-where else would I want to be?"
Idiot, she thinks. Stupid idiot is going to make her cry when they should be running. Leaning forward, her lips press into his, too firm to be affectionate.
But the point is made.
(Me and You)
Caroline's head rests against his shoulder, light rain falling just outside the window. His Chicago apartment, sanctuary from the rest of the world, but also a prison of his own guilt with a thousand names written on the walls.
All good things come to and end. This he knows, has lived through the cycle more than once. This time, however, doesn't have him coming out the other side by himself. Despite all the sides chosen, the people dead and gone, Caroline stays with him. She the only one who was never on the fence, never had to decide, he the one she stood by without a second thought.
Someone said that once.
Not their words, but neither feels the need to correct or contradict. Up until this point he'd never realized just how important such a thing was to him. Lexi hadn't always been a constant, but there was comfort in simply knowing she was out there somewhere, and that she'd show up at times when he needed her most. Caroline won't do that, won't leave him, and he's grateful.
For the first time in a hundred plus years, he doesn't have to go through the transition of one life to the next, all alone.
People always leave.
An inevitability, coming from a small town.
Those young residents of Mystic Falls, the ones not prematurely killed by supernatural means, smart enough to jump ship the second the tassel is turned on their graduation caps. Otherwise they'll morph into their parents, complacent enough to actually want to stay, or stuck in a life they didn't dream for themselves.
Everyone she knows is gone.
So few tethers left to keep them here, with all they've seen and done, even for one last summer. She sort of lags, not having a plan of her own. The thought of college seems ridiculous at this point, the idea of eternity stretched out before her, a professor all its own.
When Stefan appears at her door, she greets him with the assumption that he's the last float in a parade of goodbyes, except he doesn't say that at all. He hardly says anything. The car red and gleaming just beyond his shoulder, one casual lift of an eyebrow and she realizes he has assumptions all his own.
He doesn't have to ask, and she doesn't have to answer, the intent of his visit abundantly clear.
He is leaving town, and she is coming with him.
The clink of a glass makes her eyes snap open, the room slowly coming into focus, a tumbler of sweet smelling crimson waiting for her on the nightstand. Suspicion kicks in immediately, though one hand is slowly reaching upward, the scent too good to ignore.
"It's no poisoned," he says, voice coming from behind. "I promise."
The glass is warm when she clasps it in her hand, heated no doubt, to the equivalent of fresh human consumption. A little detail that brings a smile to her face. It's sweet touching her lips, savory as it slides across her tongue and down her throat.
"AB negative," Stefan informs her, a pleased little smirk on his face. "Very rare."
Makes sense, she muses. The flavor somewhat familiar, tasted only a handful of times if memory serves.
"What's the occasion?" She asks after another pull, eyes fluttering with the delicious sensation.
Stefan takes a seat on the edge of the bed, hands clasped in his lap, head hanging shyly.
"The year," he starts, making sure to catch her gaze. "Was fourteen seventy-five."
Hardly anyone is capable of surprising her, even him, but there it is. The fact that he knows, that he took the time to find out where and when. The how and the why are irksome, always loathing to think someone could have the upper hand, even for something so petty as a simple little fact.
"How did you even-"
"You have your ways," he interrupts leaning closer, pausing just a second to take a whiff of her drink. "I have mine."
A kiss pressed against her neck causes shivers, mild irritation quickly fading away, careful to put the glass down before his mouth finds hers. It's the kind of kiss he used to give, back when she was an angel in his eyes, hands cupping her cheeks as if he's afraid she'll pull away.
It must be part of all the ceremony, she thinks, though they've been together again for a good amount of time he hasn't been quite so attentive. Leave it to Stefan Salvatore to want to bestow such gifts on her human birthday.
His hands slide down to her hips, pushing her flush against the bed.
Not that she minds.
She finds him covered in blood, grunting like some savage animal, the remains of the meal in pieces around him. For a moment she only stares, conflicting thoughts of her sweet boy long dead in the visage of this unrelenting thing before her, and pride at the pure predator tickling a certain way.
He doesn't notice her at first, far too consumed by the act, still catching his breath from the mayhem. When he does, her smile comes easily, the first natural one to grace her lips since she left him dead on a dirt road.
"Are you an angel?"
It catches her off guard, the statement. He always had such a talent for that. Thinking her a vision, the Katherine he knows supposed to be entombed in a church on the other side of the country.
"So sweet," she says stepping closer. "Even now, you say such sweet things to me."
Her voice pulls him from the haze, clarity coming back into those eyes that once carried such feeling.
Her name a question falling from his mouth, awe and disbelief carried in the tone, shifting quickly away from the body parts and straightening his disheveled clothes.
A hand covers her mouth at his embarrassment, that boy floating around somewhere inside the monster.
"Of all the reunions I imagined," he starts, smoothing out his hair, eyes catching hers with a confidence he once lacked. "Nothing this egregious came to mind."
She steps close, he stays still.
"No need to be bashful," comes the reply, a hand placed upon his cheek.
His eyes fall closed at her touch, and the question of whether or not he loves her still, answered in a simple gesture.
"I never believed," he says, covering her hand with his own. "That any of the families could be quite so clever as you."
Again he makes her smile.
"You flatter me, Mr. Salvatore."
"Does Damon kno-"
"He doesn't," she interrupts. "And I'd prefer it that way if you don't mind."
Ducking her head, the perfectly practiced shy grin comes into play, before looking back up to him with dark longing eyes.
"You can keep a secret, can't you Stefan?"
His hand squeezes hers before pulling it away.
"What are you up to?" He asks. "Nearly sixty years we thought you gone, and now you just happen to cross my path."
It's the memories, she knows. All the compelled away flaws she never wanted him to see. The twisted, selfish harlot who always did what she pleased. Wickedness creeps into her gaze, lip catching between her teeth.
"You're getting a reputation," she says, easily dodging he inquiry, hands traveling down to clench his bloodstained shirt keeping him firmly in place. "One I just had to see for myself."
He doesn't dispute that, doesn't move.
"Besides," she continues, fingers playing with a loose button. "I've missed you."
He kisses her in a way that beautiful boy from Virginia never would have dared. The passion remains the same, but he's stronger, meaner. Tasting of so many lives ripped screaming from this world, hands bold in their wanderings, a throaty growl emanates from him. God, what it does to her.
She may love this new Stefan most of all.
"You loved me once."
It's not the first time she's said it. As if his denial of the truth is a crime against her. Despite the fact that she indulged in dual affection between Damon and he, the insistence that it was always him her heart belonged to, is something she never strays from.
"Yes," he concedes. "I loved you once."
Victory alight in her eyes, that smug sense of self satisfaction twists a grin on her lips.
"But it was a lie."
An irritated huff escapes, arms folding across her chest at his continual defense that anything he felt for her was compulsion, it still striking a chord somewhere in the human part of her.
"I don't mean that I still think you compelled what I felt for you," he explains. "But the woman I fell for never existed."
Her head tilts curiously, waiting for him to go on.
"That girl," he goes on. "That angel I saw. Yes, I loved her. I loved her more than I thought any man could ever be capable. That wasn't you."
Eyes darkening slightly, she stays silent.
"This," he says with a wave in her direction. "Is who you are. Selfish, manipulative. You don't care about anything or anyone but yourself. Which is fine, I guess. I'm not going to tell you to stop being who you are because god knows, you wouldn't. But expecting me to love you for it? Well, I'm sorry Katherine. I don't see that happening."
Hands clench at her sides, he braces himself for the stab wound to come. For his throat to crumble beneath her stronger hand. So much like Damon in that respect, always lashing out when confronted with something they'd rather not hear.
Instead she just keeps looking at him, pensive.
"Can I ask you something? And please, for once, give me a truthful answer."
The biting comeback looks poised to spring forth, but she only nods.
"Why is it me? Not Damon who never got over you, or any other man that may have come along."
She laughs, though it's not the catty taunt she would normally give such a question, had it been a self serving stroke of the ego. Stepping closer, her cheek meets his chest without permission but he doesn't push her away.
"Five hundred years," she says softly. "You're the only one who counted."
He finds that ridiculously hard to believe considering how long she's lived, and how freely she's loved. All the time, all the men, and all the world within her grasp. He's supposed to believe he's the one to come out on top of all that?
"The girl you loved," she says, fingers idly crawling along his lower back. "Maybe I was her once."
That he'll allow. She was human once, just as he, just as all of them. But like every vampire he's ever met, the person they once were dies away the longer they carry on. He's no different than anyone in that respect.
"The boy you loved," he replies. "Died in the dirt with a bullet in his gut."
Her hands stop.
"His last thought was of you. Of course it was. But when he woke up you were gone. You were gone and never coming back. So he tried to stop thinking about you. He tried to forget he ever loved you. Eventually, both wishes came true."
"I loved you once," he says again. "Once."
"Did you ever?" Caroline asks, curious eyes begging the question under fluttering lashes. "With Lexi?"
He doesn't shy away like she expects. Doesn't duck his head to hide a smile like he does so often in her presence. One hand reaches for her cheek, thumb stroking idly. Eyes want to fall closed at the contact, but she won't let them.
They've been moving in a different direction lately. One neither of them expected to go. But before reaching that destination of no turning back, she has to know if it's a road he's been down already. If they can simply fall back to the place they've always been.
"Yes," he answers honestly. "It-it's how we figured out-"
"If you were just going to be friends," she finishes.
He leans closer but the kiss doesn't come, forehead pressing against hers.
"Does Elena know?"
"I got over it," comes out in a whisper. "I can do that again, if you don't-"
"Shut up," she says simply. "Just, shut up."
Lips against his to keep more words from coming out. The answer to a question both never had the courage to ask aloud.
Damon walks through the door without being invited, which isn't an issue vampirically speaking, but it is rude.
"Hey blondie," he says by way of greeting. "I see you're still hanging around."
She shrugs a reply, nothing bothering to respond that her living here, would be indicative of 'hanging around.'
"Where's my brother?"
"Care to elaborate?"
"Not really," she replies with an insincere smile.
Brows furrow as he takes a step closer, patience clearly not one with him tonight. "I asked nicely."
She waits a beat, just to see him twitch.
"With Katherine," comes out clipped. Still annoyed that he left with her, more so that she was asked to stay and actually complied with the ridiculous request. Damon looks like he half expected such an answer, which really isn't helping her mood.
"Surprised you're not with them," he says, helping himself to the carafe of whiskey Stefan keeps but hardly ever drinks. "Making sure she keeps her paws off your man and whatnot."
"I trust him."
"It's not him you have to worry about," he taunts before taking a drink.
"You're so not helping."
"Never my intention."
For a moment they just look at each other.
"More than satisfied."
"Ugh," she moans with a roll of her eyes.
"Relax Barbie, it's not like you haven't been on this ride before."
"Do you ever stop being such an ass?"
"Special occasions. Christmas, birthdays, yadda yadda yadda." He gives one smug grin before taking a long pull and finishing off the booze.
"What is this about anyway?" She asks. "First she shows all tight pants and low slung top, asking Stefan for help, and now you come after them..."
I'm such an idiot, she thinks. Why did I even let him talk me into staying here? Like I'm the plucky sidekick who has to sit this one out. I bet she's batting her beady little eyes at him, hand on his thigh, inching all the way up...
Damon bemused glare informs her that the last little bit was uttered aloud when it really wasn't meant to.
"Well, I guess I better chase them down before they do anything stupid. Have fun talking to yourself."
He moves across the living room with a casual wave, but stops with a dramatic sigh halfway out the door.
"You coming or not?"