Author: tmbreck / eclectic_tongue / eclectic / Lilbreck
Characters: Ben McKittrick, Caroline Forbes, Maddox, Pearl Zhu
Word Count: 2,615
A/N: A huge thanks, as always, goes to my wonderful beta velvetwhip. This time more so than others, since she's being forced to read fanfic for a show she has no interest in watching. Though I list a lot of characters, and some of them actually do get dialog, some of them just pass through.
Isobel hadn't agreed to meet with Caroline. In fact, right after Caroline had told her that it was time they met, the woman had hung up on her. Though, thinking about it, maybe it was for the best that she had gotten spooked. At the time of the call, Caroline didn't have any concrete ideas on how to deal with her. Besides, she still had to deal with the fallout from Isobel's little warning.
She had tried to talk herself out of driving back up to Grove Hill the morning after the man Isobel had compelled to kill himself –Steven Kurtz, according to the visiting detective— had done just that. However, as convincing as her arguments were, Caroline still found herself traveling north on US-340 with a knot of dread making itself felt in her gut. She half-heartedly tried to come up with excuses to give as to why she had stopped in, but she had a feeling that she wouldn't need them. That feeling turned out to be right and she didn't even bother slowing down as she passed Trudie's home, now blocked off with yellow police tape.
It made her less inclined to make sure that Isobel got through everything all right. Of course, Caroline wasn't sure how many dead bodies she could fit into that box in her mind before she had to face who she was becoming. There were three already with the recent casualties, but she didn't have to face that person today, so she maybe she could fit one more.
Nearly two weeks later and she had managed to push down the memories of Trudie and Steven well as thoughts of not saving Isobel. However, pushing down such terrible things left her precious little energy to ignore the smaller little things. Namely, it left her unable to ignore the fact that Elena and Stefan were on a cutesy double date with Lexi and Lee. It's not that she begrudged either couple their happiness –lord knows she was a big believer in finding happiness even in the midst of danger and chaos—she just wished she could have a bit of happiness as well.
Pearl was a little less than sympathetic when Caroline complained –she would never admit to whining—about it as they were looking into spells to ensure that the vampire and werewolf used to break Klaus's curse survived right along with the doppelgänger.
"What you're doing now is more important than that. When this is over, you'll have more time than you can imagine for romance and double dates."
What Pearl said wasn't wrong, but it wasn't really what Caroline was talking about. Putting down the dusty old tome she had been looking through, she looked over at the older vampire, hoping she would get it.
"I don't want to look back on what little time I have with my human friends and… and with my mother and see nothing but obscure resurrection spells and Goldberg-esque plans. I want silly double dates, and pointless high school dances. I want to be a teenager while I'm still actually a teenager. I'm not going to be like Stefan and go through high school again and again. It's a one shot deal for me, and I want to make the most of it."
Pearl reached out a hand to tuck some of Caroline's hair behind her ear and gave a small smile.
"If this all works out, you'll still have plenty of time to be a teenager while you are one."
Seeming to try and shake off the wistful mood that Caroline's speech had brought on, Pearl laughed quietly and asked, "Why is it that two vampires are looking through old magic books? Where are the Bennett witches?"
Caroline picked up the old book she had been looking through as she tried to appear nonchalant in her answer.
"They have another spell they have to look up. One that they may have to basically create from scratch."
Pearl looked a bit put out and her tone was bordering on aggressive as she continued her questioning.
"More important than making sure all three people who are to be sacrificed in this ritual come back? Do tell, what could be more important than that?"
For a minute, Caroline considered lying to her. But, really, what would be the point? If the older vampire hadn't run for the hills yet, she wasn't going to just because she picked up on the hint that something more was going on. Besides, it wasn't like Caroline was going to tell her about Silas and the potential resurrection of all the dead supernatural creatures.
"It doesn't end with the curse being broken. That's just the first step. And, to be frank, when it comes to the sacrifices, survival isn't mandatory. It's just something I'm trying really hard to ensure."
She could see suspicion written all over Pearl's face before she even started to ask her next question. "Besides Elena Gilbert, who is to be sacrificed?"
She wasn't sure what it was that made her want to avoid giving the answer that Pearl was asking for. "There's a werewolf coming to try and get the moonstone. We'll either use him or, if we can get in touch with his pack, one of them."
Pearl waited for a beat or two, clearly expecting her to finish, but Caroline found herself very reluctant to confess the rest.
"And the vampire you plan to use?"
Caroline didn't answer, but whatever look was on her face was apparently enough. Pearl abruptly stood and began pacing in front of where she was still seated. It felt a bit like those times when she had done something so disappointing that her mother hadn't been able to find the words to even yell at her. Finally, Pearl stopped and stared at her with a fierce expression.
"And if we can't find this spell?"
Caroline's silence seemed to be the breaking point for Pearl. Faster than she could blink, Pearl was in her face with her hands clamped tightly around the girl's upper arms.
"If we can't find the spell to bring back the sacrifices, Caroline, what vampire are we going to use in the ritual?"
Caroline couldn't stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. She wanted to be brave, or even confident that they could find the spell, but when it was all said and done she was just a scared teenager faced with imminent death.
"How could I ask somebody to die in my place?"
Pearl looked like she had been sucker punched. After a quick moment, however, her expression hardened and she bit out a definitive, "No."
Standing up to her full height and staring down at Caroline, Pearl looked every inch a queen or a general handing down an order. She was obviously drawing a line in the sand, and part of Caroline couldn't help but feel touched that her life somehow meant so much to this woman.
"I don't care what criteria we have to meet to find a vampire that you wouldn't hate yourself for putting in your place, but we will not be losing you. You want my help and whatever weight my opinion carries with Klaus, and you shall have it. However, this is my price."
Caroline wondered for a moment if this was how Elena felt when someone she didn't really know all that well was so concerned for her welfare. Pearl was not one for long, drawn-out displays of emotion, however, so they were both quickly back to searching through obscure resurrection spells. For the rest of the night, though, Caroline felt less upset about the fact that she wasn't currently out on a date or even involved with someone. Sometimes, just having someone care if you lived or died was enough.
That warm feeling carried her through the rest of the night, off to sleep, and was still with her in the morning. In fact, it had her smiling and even occasionally humming as she poured herself a cup of coffee and lasted right up until the moment that she saw someone standing at her front door.
It only took her a second to realize that it was Ben at the door. Quickly after that realization there came a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach. He looked nervous and harmless, but something about the situation was setting off alarms for her. Knowing she couldn't just stand there and stare at him for the rest of the morning, Caroline quickly poured another cup and, with a hopefully friendly smile, headed off to face down whatever trouble she was sure he brought to her doorstep. She thought she deserved points for waiting until they were both seated on the front porch steps and he was staring into his cup before she began to grill him.
"Not that I'm not happy to see you, Ben, but what brings you back to town? I was under the impression you'd left for good."
He didn't look like he had any intention of drinking his coffee, only staring into it instead of looking at Caroline.
"I had left town for good. Or at least I thought I had. I'd made it pretty far, actually, just outside of St. Louis. I managed about a ten and a half hour drive in under six hours. Though, I'm pretty sure I broke a lot of laws to do it.
"I was doing good for the first week. But, uh… But by the second week the blood bags I'd gotten from your stash ran out."
By the time Ben finished his last sentence, Caroline could hear the quaver in his voice. She had a feeling she knew where this story was headed, and that someone was going to die by the end of it. However, she could tell he needed to tell someone, so she didn't interrupt.
"There was this kid, he couldn't have been more than twelve. He had fallen outside the motel while he was playing, and I could smell the blood. I tried everything in those notes you gave me, but he was still there and I could still smell him. I don't even think he had realized that he was bleeding. I almost…"
At this he abruptly set down his mug between his feet and almost violently rubbed his hands over his face. With a deep breath and a cough, he stared intently at the hands now clenched between his knees and continued on in a steadier voice, "If it hadn't been for Maddox, I would have killed that boy."
Suddenly, Caroline felt very cold. Maybe Maddox was another vampire that Ben met while he was in Missouri, or he could have been just some random Good Samaritan that happened by when Ben needed him most.
Ben looked up questioningly, and then his face cleared and he got a small smile on his face.
"He's this witch that was staying at the hotel. He was on his way back from picking up dinner when he saw me and figured out I was about to lose it. He helped me calm down, even picked me up some blood bags, and helped me figure out that even with the coming danger, I needed your help too much to stay away."
Okay, a random witch helping a vampire on the verge of chowing down on an unsuspecting little kid? The odds of him being anything but a set-up were slim to none. Caroline's feeling of dread only increased as Ben turned toward her with a hopeful expression.
"He came back with me, just to help me out. He bought a place not too far from here…" at her raised eyebrows he rolled his eyes. "Yeah, he's pretty loaded. Anyway, he's letting me stay with him. I told him all about you and how you were helping me out. I even showed him the slides you did up and everything. I think you two could be friends. You know, if you're still willing to help me out."
And Slim just left town. As soon as she heard that this miraculously understanding witch was not only willing to help out a vampire but also to move to another state and put said vampire up in his new place, she knew Klaus had sent him. However, the puppy dog expression on Ben's face left her wondering if he was that good of an actor or if he actually believed this guy was his friend. Either way, she couldn't just leave him hanging.
"Of course I'm still willing to help you! I wouldn't just leave you to figure it all out on your own, even with your new friend."
Thinking quickly on her feet, Caroline put on a wide and slightly conspiratorial smile while she leaned a bit closer to Ben.
"Speaking of your new friend, we should totally throw a small housewarming party! I know he might be a little bit wary of having a bunch of vampires over, but how about me, Bonnie, and her Grams?"
Ben looked a bit lost for a minute, but then his expression cleared and he grabbed his cell phone to make a call,
"Hey, Maddox! How do you feel about a last minute housewarming party? Maybe… tonight?" At the last, he looked at Caroline who gave him an encouraging smile and thumbs up.
On the other end of the phone she could hear a male voice expressing a bit of reluctance about inviting a bunch of vampires over to his home. Ben was quick to reassure him, though.
"No, man, the only vampire will be Caroline. She figured you wouldn't be all that happy about inviting a bunch of us into your home so she says it can be just be her and two witches from around here. You know, to kind of help you feel at home and everything."
The smile Ben sent her way was almost too sincerely contented, but she smiled in return, deliberately not acting like the situation was anything but normal. While she kept an ear on his conversation with Maddox, Caroline sent a text out to Bonnie and Sheila, letting them know not only about the housewarming, but also what she really thought Ben's new friend was up to.
One homemade lasagna later –let it never be said that Caroline Forbes did not go all out—she and two badass witches were knocking on the door of Ben's new place. The man who answered the door was maybe a touch taller than Caroline, had dark hair, and had d-bag written all over his smug face. Of course, it could just be memories of when Maddox had taken her hostage to be Klaus's sacrifice that had her disliking him now. She really should stop judging people based on things that they hadn't done and may not ever do in this timeline, but, as she had once told Matt –or had never and would never tell him—she just wasn't that evolved.
He stood back and let Bonnie and Sheila in and then simply looked at her with a small smirk. She was not going to play this game; she was not going to let one of Klaus's minions get the better of her. Plastering on her best Future Miss Mystic Falls smile, Caroline did her best to make him believe she thought it was some light teasing and not a pissing contest.
"You don't get any of my homemade lasagna unless you invite me in and, trust me, you cannot make lasagna this good."
There was only a slight hesitation before he simply replied with, "Caroline Forbes, please come in."
Yeah, definitely a d-bag.