A/N: Cheers, gentle readers! Thank you so much, everyone, who's been following my vision for these two crazy kids, reading and kindly reviewing, especially all the anonymous Guests I couldn't reply to personally. I have excited kiddos underfoot and "Frosty the Snowman" playing on a loop in my head, so I'm going to take a few days to enjoy my family. I hope everyone has a wonderful week, whichever holiday or season you're celebrating (or choosing not to): Merry Happy Greetings. I'll be back with Bourbon Before Breakfast, my in-canon fic, in the not-too-distant future.
Twelve Drummers Drumming
"A dance, mademoiselle?" I say.
Caroline takes a deep breath when she sees me, but she grasps my hand in hers and allows me to guide her onto the dance floor.
She's stunning in a midnight blue gown, dripping with sapphires and diamonds, just her eyes hiding behind a delicate silver mask. I can already see next month's People and Vanity Fair with the last photos taken of the late, great Caroline Forbes gracing the covers. There will be a lot of talk about how tragically young she was, her genius yet to be fully realized. An impeccable and gracious hostess, she's kissed cheeks and given everyone their moment to bask in her undivided attention. Her toast, given at just the right time, after the late-comers had arrived but before the early-birds left, was incredibly charming, with just the right amount of self-deprecating humor and an earnest humility that can't be faked.
After her toast, with people still clapping and more than one lady carefully dabbing away tears before eye make-up was ruined, Caroline pulled a laughing and protesting Stefan onto the dance floor. Elena was so busy watching them that I got to spend the entire dance watching her, not worried that she would catch me doing it. I've technically kept my end of the bargain with Stefan, but I have to be careful around her. Without fail, she always knows when I'm watching. But tonight she seems to have other things on her mind, so I got to look at her, drink her in with greedy gulps because it'll be a while before I can see her again.
"The clock is striking midnight, Cinderella," I whisper in Caroline's ear. "This dance. Then have a drink. Then one more dance, and then leave. I've already compelled your driver, and I'll meet you."
She swallows, but her smile never falters because she's a pro. To think I compelled her when she was the resident Mean Girl of Mystic Falls...
"Okay," she agrees with a quiet determination. She twirls effortlessly in my arms, light and graceful as if she doesn't have a care in the world. "Okay," she repeats.
I kiss her forehead as the song comes to an end. "It's going to be alright," I assure her. "Trust me."
"Hello, brother," I quietly say, coming up behind Stefan as soon as Elena excuses herself to get a fresh drink. She obviously sees the same inevitability I realized a couple years ago, that Stefan and Caroline will one day be lovers. They would both probably laugh at the absurdity of the idea if it were mentioned right now, but the writing's on the wall for those two. They're fucking beautiful together, balancing each other in a way that's right and fitting. It's enough to piss me off, really. But Elena, infuriatingly and confoundingly selfless, didn't seem jealous at all while she watched my brother and her best friend dance with love and affection. She looked relieved.
Stefan turns, the smile already spreading across his face. "Damon!" He throws his arms around me. "I thought that might have been you just now, dancing with Caroline, but I wasn't sure. Masks..."
"I'm about to leave," I say.
His smile fades, and he knowingly nods. "Anything I can do?"
"Yes," I say, pulling him aside so I can see when Elena comes back. "Move the investigation along. It's going to be as non-suspicious as I could think to make it, but still."
He nods. "Do I want to know?"
"Single car accident. The body will be burned, but the dentals are going to match. The tox-screen is going to come back negative. Everything's going to look perfectly, tragically normal."
"You're going to flip the car? Puncture the tank and use gasoline for the accelerant?"
I roll my eyes. "No. I'm an idiot."
"Sorry," he quickly says. "Who are you..." he begins.
"I know it's going to be hard," I interrupt. "But you can't let on that you know anything until after the funeral."
"I know," he says. "For Caroline's sake, it has be convincing."
"Yes," I say. The fact that I'm using a modernized version of Katherine's long-ago escape plan, and I'm the one who blew her cover, is an irony not lost on me. I fucking hope I pull it off better than she did. "People have to believe it, or all this was for nothing."
"I'll see to it," he says.
I hand him two envelopes. "One is for Liz, after the service. She's going to be pissed, and rightfully so, which is why I need you to speed it along. Get the official report, and get the body released and buried. The longer this drags out, the worse it'll be for her." Stefan stashes both envelopes into his jacket.
"What's the other one?"
I can't help but smile. "Caroline wrote her own eulogy when she was thirteen. It's priceless. Make sure Elena reads it at the service."
Stefan chuckles. "I'm surprised she handed it over to you."
"Please. I hacked it off her laptop." When Stefan scowls at me I shrug. "Trust me, you'll thank me when you hear it. Classic Caroline. And that's what she gets for hanging onto it. Fucking hoarders, both of you."
"Look, Damon," he begins.
I see Elena moving towards us in the crowd. "I gotta go."
Stefan nods and hugs me tightly. "Be safe. Call me when you can."
I'm waiting in the hotel parking garage, already changed into jeans and my leather jacket, when Caroline's driver pulls in. I've taken care of the security cameras, and there will be an unfortunate technical glitch for the next several hours if anyone saw her car pull in, which is unlikely. But still, I planned for every possible contingency I could anticipate, and with Stefan on the ground batting clean-up if needed, this just might fucking work.
"Mademoiselle wanted to take a drive after the ball," I say to her driver, staring deeply into his eyes. "This was not unusual, and she did not appear at all intoxicated. You took a cab home."
He nods and walks away.
"Come on." I steer her quickly up the back stairs, where the security cameras have also been taken out, and we walk briskly to the sixth floor, where my room is right next to the stairwell.
"I need your dress, your shoes, and your jewelry," I say. "And your phone. Make sure I have your phone." To her credit, Caroline doesn't argue with me; she immediately strips and pulls on the clothes I have for her. I take the pins out of her hair and finger comb it enough to pull it back in a simple braid before pulling a newsboy-style cap over her hair.
"Damon?" she says in a very small voice. Standing there, with her cap and her blue jeans, she isn't the sophisticated and talented international star. She looks every bit the seventeen year old girl she was when she turned. "We have to do this?"
"We have to."
She grimly nods.
"Do me a favor and go into the bathroom and..." I sigh. "Just don't listen, okay."
"What am I not listening to?"
The fucking executioner's drums.
"Please, Caroline," I say. "Please. I would compel you if I could, but I can't. So I'm asking. Please don't come out until after you hear me leave. I should be back in about an hour, and we're heading immediately to the airport." I hand her a disposable cell phone. "Just in case," I say.
"Damon," she whispers. "I can't do this. My mom..."
"You can, Caroline. You have to."
She throws her arms around me and hugs me so hard she'd break my ribs if I were human.
"Omelets," she whispers.
Once Caroline is in the bathroom, and she even turns on the shower and I turn on the tv, I open the closet door. Anna is peacefully sleeping, like I compelled her to do, curled up on a pile of pillows.
"Anna," I quietly say, breaking my compulsion and gently shaking her awake. She opens her eyes and smiles up at me.
"Damon, I was having the best dream. I saw my mother."
Fucking Christ. It's all I'm good for, giving pretty girls nice dreams to die to.
"I need you to put this on," I gently say, my Russian not what it should be but understandable enough. I help her up and get her into Caroline's dress and shoes.
"I look like a princess," she says, staring at herself in the mirror while I help her with the necklace clasp. "I've never had such a pretty dress, or jewels."
"You look beautiful."
I wrap her snugly into a cashmere cloak that will keep her from getting chilled and later soak up plenty of gasoline, and I offer her my arm.
"We're going to take a little drive," I say.