Always

A little ficlet about a missing "Maroline" scene in 3x09.

She began to stir when he was a block away from her place. She mumbled something unintelligible and her hand slowly found her neck. She moaned, a little "urgh", escaping her pink lips. Matt couldn't believe what Tyler had done - what a jerk. Matt wanted to be mad at his friend. Hell, he was. He didn't understand his methods, even though he also knew he would have done just about anything himself to subdue Caroline enough to get her away from that party and certain death. All a hybrid needed to do was take a nip at her once after all, and she'd be lost to everyone forever. Lost to him.

At the back of his mind he wondered where Rebekah had disappeared to tonight, why she had stood him up, but his concern was Caroline. It always was, if he was honest with himself.

He stopped the car in front of her house and yanked the keys out of the ignition. He then pocketed them in his suit jacket before reaching for Caroline across the seat and gently pulling her into his arms, pressing her to his chest. He closed the car door with his left hip and then carried her up the front steps. She moaned loudly but was fully awake by the time he started to fish around inside of her purse in search of her house keys.

"Matt," she asked, sounding only a bit groggy now. "What are you doing? Why are we –" she looked around –"at my house and what are you doing in my purse?"

"I am taking you inside. Well trying to. I can't find your house key."

"I don't have one anymore. I don't lock up the place," Caroline said. "What's the point really? If someone wants in bad enough, they'll get in."

"Except vampires."

"True but I am one. I can protect myself."

Matt shrugged. He could argue with that logic but he wouldn't. "Can you stand?" He asked.

"Yeah, of course." He gingerly released her and she stood a moment before sagging against him. "Well, mostly."

He instinctively wrapped an arm around her waist as he pushed open the door. He flipped on the lights and led her down the hall. "Where are we going? It's still Homecoming night. The party is probably being completely destroyed in my absence."

"You, Care, are going to rest. Homecoming is over. It ended the moment Klaus showed up with his pack of hybrids."

Caroline smacked her forehead. "Oh crap. I remember that now. And Tyler he –" She broke off. "I can't believe he did that!"

"He was trying to protect you … in his own weird way."

"I don't want to be protected like that!" She sighed loudly as he turned on the lamp in her room and moved over to the bed with her. He drew back the covers and she looked ready to protest but climbed in anyway, still in her fancy dress. "Tonight was a disaster. I am so not going to be able to sleep. The thoughts about what an epic failure the dance was will haunt me for the next thousand years."

Matt dropped into the chair across from her as she lay back on the pillows, turning to face him. "Why can't life be normal? Why can't one damn party around here not turn into a festival of freaks?"

He shrugged. "That's the life we live now, Caroline."

"No, that's the life I live, Matt. You're not a vampire. You can escape this. You can have all the things I never will. You're frighteningly normal."

"Ouch…"

"I didn't mean it in a bad way. You're actually really lucky not to have to drink blood to stay alive or wear a damn ring that clashes with most outfits just so you can walk in the sun…" She broke off for a minute. "I'm losing Tyler, Matt. Totally losing him."

"You're not. He's acting different, I admit, but he loves you. He would never do anything to hurt you."

"Shooting me up with vervain isn't hurting me?" Caroline asked. "What about ruining the gym so we had to go to his place where people could die? What about changing everything about himself that I loved? Disrespecting my feelings? Taking me for granted?" She paused to catch her breath. He could tell she was getting choked up and he had no way to help her. Maybe she just needed to talk it out.

"I don't know what to do about this," Caroline said. "He's not normal. We're not normal."

"What's your obsession with being normal? It's really overrated, Care. Besides, I thought you liked standing out, being the center of attention and whatnot."

"Not like this. I want a flipping good high school experience. We're seniors and right now, this year is sucking even worse than the last one. Nothing ever goes right … I feel really alone."

Matt hesitated only a moment before he was reaching out and grasping her hand. She immediately curled her fingers into his and they looked at their palms linked together. "You're not alone," he said.

"You're a great friend, Matt. The only time I ever feel sane is when I'm around you. It means everything."

He nodded and looked deeply into her eyes for a moment before turning his gaze away. "It means everything to me too." He couldn't look at her and not want to pull her into his arms, kiss her, tell her how much he still cared. How alone he had felt since their breakup. Since Vicki died. Since his parents stopped caring. Since everything pretty much went to hell.

But he wouldn't say or do those things. Caroline only thought of him as a friend now and she loved Tyler. She probably always would.

"I might break up with him," Caroline spoke. "I just can't take what he's doing anymore. I hate coming second to his sire bond with Klaus."

"He still loves you so much."

"Maybe, but I need to be first, I need to be cherished. He doesn't treat me like you did."

"We're different people, Caroline." He couldn't meet her gaze. "But that doesn't mean you're not his everything. I really feel if he lost you he would be torn apart, he would be without hope." Like me, Matt thought.

"So you think I should give him another chance?"

"I don't know. Just think it through. I honestly would never tell you what to do."

"I know that's what makes you so awesome, Matt. I mean that." She squeezed his hand and he felt the warmth of her touch some part of him that had been frozen for too long.

Still, he needed to go before he did something stupid like ask for her to try to look at him like she used to.

He leaned over and gave her a quick hug. "Will you be alright without me?"

"Yeah," Caroline said. "If Tyler isn't murdered tonight by Klaus's army, I think he'll come around here. We have a lot to talk about but I am not sure he'll listen…" She sighed again. "Anyway, you probably should get going. I imagine you have stuff to do."

"Yeah, I do," he said. "Do me a favor?"

"Anything."

"Start locking your door? I need you to be okay, Caroline, alright? I need my friend for as long as she'll have me."

"Alright, alright. And for the record, I will always be your friend, Matt. Always."

He wondered if that included when he was old, close to death, wearing false teeth, and she still looked the same as she did now, forever frozen at seventeen. The thought made him sad but he just waved to her and then walked down the hall and out of her house.

The smell of her perfume still lingered in his nostrils and the memory of the color of her eyes was in his mind as he climbed back into his car. Caroline just wanted to be friends. He would take that even if he wanted so much more than she could ever offer him again.

Better to be friends than nothing to each other at all.

THE END