(Richmond, Virginia 1908)
He hears her before their eyes ever meet.
The familiar sound of a person's last gasp, before life leaves the body. Moonlight hits her golden hair at just the right angle, a halo illuminated atop her head. Silent as the night surrounding them he approaches, clearing his throat to catch her attention, smiling calmly as the hiss and flash of fangs meant to terrify him away subsides.
She must not have met too many others like them, he thinks. The slight confusion in her eyes as to why he's not screaming at the top of his lungs and turning tail.
"My apologies for interrupting," he says in way of greeting. "But I couldn't help but overhear."
"Who are you?" Comes her reply, tone and body language indicative to her suspicions of him.
Blood is smeared across her lips and chin. Were he a more forward man, he'd take another step and dare a taste. He is not, however, and has no intention of portraying himself as such. She is far too lovely to even think such an untoward thought.
"How rude of me," offering a hand. "Stefan Salvatore."
"Caroline Forbes," she replies, hand slipping into his. "Charmed."
The smallest curtsey at the word charmed sends a smile to his slips.
He may love her already.
It takes a few days, her name rattling around in his head like a song, to realize they have met before. It hits him suddenly, the memory like a lightning strike in his mind. Precious little Caroline, the Sheriff's daughter. She was just twelve the last time he'd seen her, insistent and precocious, peeking from atop the stairs in her father's house at the dinner party age kept her from attending.
He'd been the only one to acknowledge her, a single second of a secret smile exchanged, before his attention was pulled elsewhere. She had grown in his absence, clearly, though at best guess the age of which she's frozen can be no older than he.
Never a superstitious man, he cannot help but feel a pang of something serendipitous about their meeting again.
As if he's meant to know her.
(Monterey, California 1917)
She wears a flower in her hair, blood red tulip, just above her right ear. Turning many heads making her way down the main promenade, farmers and fisherman alike stopping to admire the pale skinned beauty with an easy smile for all. The song she hums a siren call, welcoming anyone to their doom.
She meets Stefan as promised, loading up the last few bales from the feed store, leaning against the truck and sighing impatiently that he's not done yet. He knows she's growing weary with this charade, wondering just when they can move on to a bigger town. A better life.
Stefan has no reason for working on the farm other than his father didn't raise him to be lazy. Though the man died at the cost of voracious hunger coupled with a need to sate it, lessons learned are carried still. Caroline knows this, understands in her own way, but he knows time is running short on playing nice.
People assume her daylight ring is one of marriage, to which neither dispute because any explanation will come at a price. Blood always accepted currency. He's wondered since they met, where she acquired the ring, knowing the benefactor of his own to be long dead, but the only answer she offers a promise never to tell.
Climbing into the passenger side with a pointed glare, he'd been promising to teach her to drive for weeks now, but the sight of a woman driving in this rural coast town would raise too many eyebrows. He likes it here, the bodies piled between them not yet a number to arouse suspicion, and wishes to stay awhile.
He knows he is a monster no matter the small attempts made to contradict this fact. When it lets loose he is a slave to impulse, to hunger, to mayhem. Though Caroline undoubtedly loves him as a whole, when the animal arrives, she embraces it with an acceptance that borders on preference.
It's a celebration when it happens. He and all the migrant workers rewarding their hard work and good fortune of the harvest. He's still not sure of the how. Too much drink, merriment, or dancing. Someone taking a turn too many and suddenly blood is spilled.
The shift comes with him helpless to stop it, Caroline's hand crushing his own as the sickly sweet scent overtakes them, the urge so strong. Screams drown out the music, it dying just as suddenly as the people attempting to flee. His body is a blur, feasting on one soul after another, the blood seemingly endless as it pours down his throat.
Bodies come apart in his hands, the animal ravenous, pieces becoming piles. Bone becoming marrow. He looks upon his love, just as beautiful as the day he came upon her, a slave to the slaughter just as he. No one can live, a silent agreement between them, whittling down the masses one by one.
When it's over, Caroline's kiss is as sweet as strawberry.
She sees what he is, embraces it with a kind hand.
"This is what we are darling," she says softly. "This is what we do."
(Chicago, Illinois 1922)
He loves to watch her sing.
Loves more the sight of all the mooks in their penguin suits, lining up one after another like they have a shot. Gifts bestowed on her as if she's somehow herself, a thing to be bought. The music is lively, and the dance floor is packed. He snaps his fingers and a fresh Manhattan is placed instantly in his hand. Licking his lips as the whiskey proceeds its slow burn, his eyes scan the crowd, thirst quenched but hunger a constant.
The song ends, Caroline taking a few seconds to enjoy her applause, before stepping off the stage and dodging any would be suitor approaching with fluid grace. She plucks the drink from his hand, taking her own sip before kissing his cheek.
"Sorry boys," Stefan teases the men looking on. "She's spoken for."
She links her arms in his as they make way toward their booth.
Fingers tap the bar idly as Marcos takes his sweet time mixing a drink, carefully glancing at the blonde on the opposite end who's been eyeing him since he walked up. For a second he thinks easy pickings, but only a second, one good look at her and he knows she's anything but. The eye contact translates to invitation, he approaching her and telling Marcos to start another.
"I can get my own drink," she insists without much weight, readily accepting the glass placed in front of her.
"That I don't doubt," he replies, clinking his own glass against hers.
"Careful Mr. Salvatore," she continues, leaning in awfully close. "Wouldn't want your girl to get jealous."
"We have an understanding."
"Is that so?"
"Of course. I can have whoever I please."
"Yes, I see that," she says, tongue darting out to the corner of his lip. "Your last possession was lovely."
He'd once chided Caroline for not being able to tell humans from their own, but here he is foolish enough not to make the distinction himself.
"Who are you?"
Her smile could charm a snake.
A big fan, it turns out.
She and her brother.
Heard all about the Rippers of Monterey and their handiwork.
Caroline rests comfortably against him, quietly surveying their new companions. He expected the Forbes charm to come pouring out, the light and bubbly girl no one would suspect capable of ripping your throat out, but quickly realizes that her first impression is not impressed. She doesn't like the way their eyes feel on her, as if she's still prey amongst predators.
A lucky break in the tension comes their way as one of the working girls' jealous husband walks up to Stefan making a lot of racket. He takes one look at Caroline, who grins wickedly, and shouts for Lilah to come over. It's a sadistic new twist, making Liam Grant drink his own wife's blood, but it delights the siblings enough to lose some of the haughty nature in which they composed themselves.
When all is said and done, Caroline kisses him as if they're the only two people in the world.
When finished, she looks at both of them with a challenging lift of her brow.
"Caroline, they're our friends."
"No," she replies throwing her hands up in exasperation and shaking her head. "Whatever they are, it's not our friends."
He sighs, leaning against the door frame of her dressing room, arms folding across his chest.
"Where is this coming from?"
She doesn't answer, fiddling with the pearls around her neck before moving on to her gloves.
"I don't like the way she looks at you!" she shouts, turning her back to him but meeting his eyes in the mirror.
He starts to smile but she throws up a hand.
"Don't. I know what you're thinking. That I'm being girly little Caroline, but that isn't it at all. They want something from us, Stefan. And I know they're being all chummy now, but-"
"But what?" He asks, stepping closer and placing his hands on her shoulders.
"I get the feeling that they won't always be so nice. They're originals, whatever that's supposed to mean, and they've made it pretty clear they do whatever they damn well please. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be on the receiving end of that."
Stefan looks at her reflected face, how sincere she is in expressing these fears.
"You really feel this strongly?"
"I don't trust them," she says. "You should never trust a predator until you know their prey."
He presses a kiss into her hair.
"Then we'll go."
"You mean it?"
"I mean it."
(Brooklyn, New York 1955)
He walks down the street, stepping quickly out of the way of a line of screaming children all adorned with matching blue hats embroidered with the letter 'B' on the front, with a paper bag tucked securely in the crook of his elbow.
Mrs. Johnson sits on the stoop with her overweight cat, Irma. The nosy woman no doubt curious as to the contents of his purchase, but he's up the stairs and through the door before she pulls him into unwanted conversation. Inside his apartment before pulling the record from the bag, his fingers run gently over the cover.
The last name is different, but there's no mistaking that angelic face. Beautiful. She's still so strikingly beautiful. The needle hits vinyl and her voice surrounds him in memory, how he loved to watch her sing, slowly sinking to his knees in the middle of the living room.
Last he'd seen her was Tulsa, 1935, feeding on the few farming families left braving the dust bowl. Blindsided by a best friend he hadn't seen in since the turn of the century, pulling him away, all for the sake of a soul he'd never felt lost.
Five years locked in a basement. Five years getting help he never asked for. Ten years after that running from Caroline, the guilt of what they'd done too much to bear. The last five years wondering if that decision had been the worst he ever made.
He listens to the album six times in a row, each rotation punctuated with half a glass of whiskey. No song a distinct favorite, loving them all with equal measure, drunken eyes falling closed and wishing he
was with her again.
Passing out on the floor, the record sleeve held loosely in one hand, the other a newspaper with the headline that made him go buy it in the first place.
Teen Singing Sensation Killed in Car Crash.
For the first time in decades, he wants to kill something.
She's not really gone, deep down in his bones, he knows it just a ruse. That she was only fulfilling a dream, gotten too popular too quickly, and needed to take herself out of the spotlight. She was always clever that way, and hardly ever gave herself credit for.
The accident had been on the west coast, but she won't be anywhere near there. It doesn't take long to realize what he wants, needs, to do. Packing everything worth taking from this life into a rucksack, he leaves the keys on the kitchen table and sets off to find her.
He won't stop again until he does.
(Mystic Falls, Virginia 2009)
He meets Elena Gilbert underneath a bridge.
The likeness so uncanny it halts all rational thought. He stays in town even though he should be moving on. He approaches her in the cemetery even though it's clearly a bad idea. Thoughts about Katherine have been rare, purposely so, the hundred years since meeting Caroline. But this girl, this living embodiment of everything he thought the original to be, makes it all come flooding back.
She looks him directly in the eye whenever they talk. Is sincere, kind, and just damaged enough not to be kept on a pedestal. It's the first time in a long time, he doesn't think his humanity a curse, that hope of something more isn't a cruel carrot dangled in front of him and tossed aside.
When he tells Zach his visit would be extended, it's met with predictable resistance, but Stefan doesn't let it keep him from staying.
She sees him before he sees her.
All leather jacket and chiseled jaw, walking through the halls like a wolf amongst sheep. The way her undead heart flutters inside her chest, it's as if no time has passed. All embittered feelings of abandonment, all the blood spilled in the sake of getting over him, none of it matters when he's right there. God, he's right there and... Shouldn't he be able to feel her? After all that time he spent searching, all that time she was just out of reach, shouldn't he know she's here too? It takes all she has not to call his name.
"Who. Is. That?" Bonnie says beside her, each word punctuated with appreciative interest.
"His name is Stefan Salvatore," Caroline replies. "We're planning a June wedding."
He feels her before he sees her, hair rising on the back of his neck, jumping out at him like a ghost made flesh.
The look on his face, must amuse her to no end. Equal parts shock and awe. Love and heartbreak. He wants to flee as much as he wants to take her in his arms and never let go. She probably wants to frame it and put it on her wall forever. He won't make a scene, not with so many people around. Every bonfire burning, underage drinking, small town teenaged cliché surrounding them.
She's missed the way he says her name, he can tell, how her eyes close ever so briefly as it falls from his lips like a prayer. Reaching out to grab the end of his jacket, she tilts her head smiling shyly up at him, "miss me?"
He doesn't know if he's going to kiss her, or shake her, but grabs her hand and pulls before doing either.
She hasn't been in his family's house for such a long time, she's almost missed it. It's where they'd run to after Chicago, after Portland, and every other time they'd gotten themselves in too deep and had to escape.
Keeping a safe distance this time, no flirty comments or body language, she's all business standing there waiting for him to initiate conversation.
"What are you doing here?" He asks, it the only question he can find words for.
"I always come back," is her reply. "Same as you."
"Every time you're here, I'm not?" She interrupts. "Yeah, I make sure of that."
"Some girls get tired of being chased."
"You're not just some girl."
"Careful with the flattery, Stefan. I might start to think you mean it."
Tilting his head toward the ceiling, he sighs.
"You know I do."
"Oh really?" She starts, head shaking with disbelief. "If I recall, our last conversation was you basically telling me you couldn't be around me anymore because you didn't like what you'd become."
"I was a monster."
"We are monsters!" She shouts. "That's one thing I never understood, you and that wench Lexi, always acting as if the man and the beast are two separate things."
"I won't be him again, Caroline. I can't."
"Who's asking you to?"
He has no reply to that.
"You come back here, to this house, this town, again and again looking for me. But you never stay. Except now. Why is that Stefan? It can't be because of me, you had no idea I was here. No, you stayed for her."
"She's a dead ringer for Katherine."
He can only look at her.
"I won't even get into how sick that is."
"It doesn't matter now."
"How can it not?"
"Because she isn't you."
She has no reply to that.
"Do you really think after spending over half a century looking for you I would just give up? Yes, Elena looks like Katherine. It made me curious and I stuck around to find out why. But you, you just pop up out of nowhere and blindside me."
Neither notice over the course of conversation, just how many steps they have taken toward another, close enough to reach out for that familiarity to take hold once again.
"You left me," she says softly. "You said such horrible things, then you just left. And I tried, I tried so hard to get you back but you didn't want me."
"I'm sorry," he replies, hand closing around her wrist, half expecting her to pull away. "I'm so sorry. Nothing I can say will make it better. Nothing I can do will take it back. But know there hasn't been a day in the last seventy-four years that I haven't spent missing you."
"It can't," she starts, once again reaching up to fiddle with the end of his jacket. "Be fixed so easily because you're sorry."
"No you don't," she says firmly. "You have no clue how much I loved you. It wasn't just the monster, or the man. Every sweet, sincere, sadistic, side there was. I loved it all. But you never could believe it."
He lifts her hand to his mouth, presses a kiss against the skin, and she lets him.
"What happens now?"
"On Monday you go to school like you planned, get to know Elena if you want, and if anyone asks we're a couple of military brats who've known each other forever."
Head tilting up to his, she kisses him briefly on the lips.
"Then we'll see if this is worth saving."
She turns to leave, doesn't bother with a goodbye, and once she's gone he hums one of her songs that's always in his head.
Always in his heart.