Author: tmbreck / eclectic_tongue / eclectic / Lilbreck
Characters: Alaric Saltzman, Anna Zhu, Ben McKittrick, Caroline Forbes, Elena Gilbert, Elizabeth Forbes, Jenna Sommers, Jeremy Gilbert, Lexi Branson, Sheila Bennett, Stefan Salvatore
Word Count: 3,865
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.
She was used to being left behind, left out of the loop, and even forgotten about. What Caroline wasn't used to was being forced to stay behind while someone else ran point on her plan. And, yes, part of her plan was that she stay behind waiting for Sheila and her mother to call –after all, the damn compass wouldn't find any other vampires if she were right there— but it didn't change the fact that waiting sucked. Waiting meant that she had plenty of time to sit and think, and thinking lead her to worrying about what all she might not be able to change.
Her mother and Sheila had both assured her that Vicki's death wasn't her fault, but she couldn't help but feel guilty. She should have followed up on Vicki. Maybe she could have compelled her clean or something. Yes, she was well aware that her addiction was about more than the drugs, but at least she would have been alive to deal with her issues. Caroline decided that she would simply have to look over her plans again, paying closer attention to the circumstances surrounding everything.
She had just gotten out the notebook that she and Sheila had used to brainstorm and work out their plans in when her cell phone vibrated on the coffee table. Before it could start to actually ring she had grabbed it up and, seeing that it was her mother calling, answered. A few minutes later and she was standing across the street from a generic-looking motel –how had she not even realized that this motel existed?—with her mother and Sheila, staring down at their vampire compass.
"You know what would be really helpful? If this thing also told you how many vampires are near."
Sheila gave a small smile and then started to cross the street, followed by Caroline's mother who actually chuckled and gave a rueful nod before she started off. Caroline chose to take this as a sign of progress in their relationship. With her mood greatly improved, Caroline stayed across the street from the motel, while Sheila and Liz began to go from door to door, watching to see when the compass would show them which door hid at least one vampire.
When the needle firmly pointed at one room in particular, Sheila closed the compass and slid it into her jacket pocket as Caroline sped to their side. With Liz and Caroline slightly behind and flanking her, Sheila firmly knocked on the door. Though Caroline could hear movement inside, no one answered. Listening closer, she was almost completely certain that there were two people inside and, when Sheila turned back to look at her, held up two fingers to indicate as such.
"I know you're in there, it's no use trying to hide," Sheila said in a normal conversational tone, letting those inside know that she was aware that they were vampires.
When no answer came, she turned to Caroline and nodded her head. They had decided that, when they confronted any vampires they met –save for when they actually talked to Pearl—Sheila would play the part of Head Witch in Charge, while Liz played her inside woman on the town council. This left Caroline with the role of their vampire puppet and all around muscle. She may have helped come up with their roles, but part of her still bristled at the idea of not taking control. It didn't stop her from stepping forward and applying enough pressure to the door handle to break the lock.
Caroline gave the door a gentle push so that it would swing open and then stepped back to her place. Sheila stood in the now open doorway staring down the vampires who were regarding her with caution and surprise from just outside the reach of the sun. She recognized one of the vampires as a former student of Mystic Falls High School. She could understand why he was avoiding the light –she couldn't see anything like a daylight ring on him—but she had to wonder if Anna was avoiding the light out of habit or to make them think she didn't have a way to move around during the day.
Stepping through the door, Sheila gestured for Caroline and Liz to follow. As the door once again closed behind them, she lowered herself into the room's only chair as if she were some mob boss come to make them an offer they couldn't refuse. Caroline had to hand it to her: Sheila really knew how to carry herself to get the reaction she wanted.
"Let me introduce myself. My name is Sheila Bennett, and you're in my town. Who are you, what is your business here, and how soon will you be gone?"
Sheila addressed this all to the female vampire and Caroline had to wonder if she also recognized the guy with her. Ben McKittrick couldn't have been turned very recently and, if she remembered some of the late night conversations from the first time around, Bonnie ended up developing a small crush on him. Well, right up until he helped Anna kidnap her and Elena. He was getting nowhere near Bonnie if she had anything to say about it.
"My name is Anna. I'm just passing through and I'll be gone in a couple of days."
The name clicked into place for Caroline immediately. Trusting that Sheila would play along and keep a good poker face, she spoke up.
"You really shouldn't lie to her. She doesn't like that. We know why you're here, and we can help you. You want your mother out of the tomb, and we need some information she has."
As smoothly as if she had already known what was going on long before she stepped foot in the room, Sheila took over.
"If you're willing to play by our rules, I don't see why we can't help each other out."
Sheila hadn't been slacking when it came to memorizing all the people they needed to find and the details that Caroline had provided about them. She proved this as she continued on.
"Since you're suddenly here in Mystic Falls, I can only assume that you not only realize that we need Emily Bennett's grimoire to open the tomb, but that you also have a good idea of how to find it. Help us with that and, after we get the information we need from your mother, you two can go peaceably and live your lives together."
At this, Anna turned to Liz with a suspicious look on her face.
"And does this go for the council as well?"
Caroline was really proud that her mother managed to not show any surprise that Anna knew about both the council and that she was on it. Or maybe she had just come in assuming that the vampire had done her research.
"The council has no part in this. As long as you keep your head down and keep Mr. McKittrick here under control, I can make sure that both you and your mother stay off their radar."
This seem to satisfy Anna, and she turned back to Sheila saying, "You have to look in Jonathan Gilbert's journal. That will tell you where to find Emily's grimoire."
After reaffirming that the two vampires would keep a low profile, Shelia, Caroline, and Liz all headed to Elena's house to see if she could help them find her ancestor's journal. Going through the dusty old books, ledgers, and journals had Caroline changing her mind about the lack of security involved in the founding families putting all their secrets in journals. Given the sheer amount of books that they were currently going through, the odds of anyone reading those secrets intentionally let alone accidentally seemed astronomical.
Just when she was ready to suggest trying to find a spell to help them locate the information, she finally found a journal belonging to Johnathan Gilbert that matched up with the dates they were looking for. Reading through, she discovered that he had given Emily's grimoire to Giuseppe Salvatore. Great, Stefan's father. So much for trying to keep him from getting too involved in anything.
Caroline volunteered to be the one to talk to Stefan about where his father would have hidden the grimoire. Of course, Elena wasn't going to let an opportunity to see her boyfriend pass, so she offered to drive Caroline. It was when she started to plan how to broach the subject of his father with Stefan that she was hit with a nagging sensation that she was missing something. She couldn't shake the feeling during the entire drive and it wasn't until they walked through the door of the boarding house that she figured it out.
She had forgotten all about Stefan's birthday. Granted, this time around they weren't as close –yet—as they had been before her blast to the past, but she really felt about two inches tall. There was also the small flare of jealousy that she felt standing with Elena in Stefan's entryway and coming face to face with Lexi who, just like before, was here to celebrate with her friend. While she liked the thought of Stefan having other friends besides just her in theory, she had gotten used to being his only friend.
Caroline was busy trying to convince herself that mentally referring to the woman in front of her as the other best friend didn't make her creepily possessive of Stefan when she heard Elena speak up.
"I'm Elena. Who are you?"
Glancing over at her friend she could see confusion mixed with a hint of jealousy in her expression. It probably didn't help that Lexi looked completely thrown by Elena showing up.
"Lexi. A friend of Stefan's."
Knowing that this could go completely sideways fast, especially with how Elena and Stefan's relationship was just coming off the blow of Elena finding out that she looked exactly like his ex-girlfriend, Caroline decided she needed to intervene really quickly.
"Two questions. First, when you say friend, you do just mean friend and not friend, right?" At Lexi's nod, she continued, "Second, you've probably met Katherine. Am I right?"
Caroline could see Lexi visibly relax and could only guess that it was because she had figured out that this really wasn't Katherine trying to pull a fast one.
"I've never actually met her, no. However, I've heard enough about her to not be a big fan."
Walking past Lexi and over the couches, Caroline sat down and smiled over at her and Elena.
"Well then, we might just have a lot in common. We should totally get to know each other so that Elena can get rid of that bit of 'is this the other woman' fear that's probably started to creep into the back of her mind."
Yes, Elena looked completely mortified that Caroline had just come right out and said that, but she really shouldn't be surprised. They had known each other practically forever and Caroline had always been one to blurt out inappropriate things at the worst of times. However, in this particular instance, it was entirely on purpose. The quicker everyone got over being uncomfortable, the easier it would be to turn Lexi into an information source.
As much as she adored Stefan, Caroline was well aware that he wasn't actually in touch with what was going on in the supernatural world. The things that they had to get done they would require information and contacts; if Lexi could help out, it would make things so much easier.
The conversation had been going pretty smoothly and Lexi had just told them that she was in town to help Stefan celebrate his birthday when the man in question made his appearance. While Caroline would normally have loved to tease Stefan about being an old man –well, would have in that other time that she really needed to put a name to so it was easier to think of in her mind—they had come for a reason. Standing up, she pulled out Johnathan's journal, opened it to the passage she'd bookmarked that talked about Emily's book, and handed it to Stefan.
"We sort of found out what Johnathan did with the grimoire. Well, actually, we're pretty sure that he gave it to Giuseppe Salvatore. We were kind of hoping that you could maybe hunt down your father's journals or something to see if he happened to say what he did with it."
She watched as Stefan read the passage with a look of concentration on his face. She could see the moment when something occurred to him and his brow furrowed as he began to read out loud.
"But it was Giuseppe Salvatore who removed my fear. He told me he would protect the secret of the spell book. He said he would carry it to his grave."
Closing the book slowly, Stefan looked up at Caroline and slowly said, "I don't think we're going to need to find my father's journal. I know where it is. We can go get it now"
At this, Lexi –who Caroline had nearly forgotten was there—spoke up.
"How long is this going to take? Because it's still your birthday and you still owe me a day of fun."
Stefan looked about ready to protest and Elena looked a little put out by someone else commandeering Stefan's time and attention. Quickly, before things could spin out of control, Caroline spoke up.
"You know, she's right. It's not like all those old vampires are going to descend upon us tomorrow. We have time to enjoy life."
"What old vampires, and why would they be coming here?" Lexi interrupted, her voice clearly broadcasting her confusion.
Turning to look at her, Caroline tried to decide how best to handle the situation. She could take the time to explain here, but there were things she wanted to say to Lexi that Stefan shouldn't be told. Widening her eyes and grinning, she clapped her hands and turned to Elena and Stefan.
"You two go and find the grimoire. I will fill Lexi in on everything that's happening while we plan the last minute birthday party!"
She felt a hand slip around her arm and looked over to see Lexi holding on to her while grinning at Stefan.
"I like this girl. She may be my new best friend –just warning you."
As they both walked out the door, Caroline heard Stefan groan to Elena, "Those two together might just be the death of me."
She couldn't help but smile, though. If things went right, Stefan wouldn't have to lose his best friend. Lexi would always be there for him if he ever slipped up again. She would just have to make sure that another mistake didn't happen like it had with Vicki.
The talk with Lexi went very smoothly. Spending time with the older vampire, Caroline could see why Stefan liked her so much. Well, aside from the fact that she apparently kept bringing him back from his ripper binges. In some ways she could see why Stefan had once told her that she reminded him of Lexi. It was also nice to have someone else around who understood the importance of letting go and having fun at least once in a while.
Beyond being someone who could clue her on what was going on in the supernatural world outside of Mystic Falls, it also turned out that Lexi was friends with Rose. When Caroline had told her that Rose was going to come and try and use Elena in exchange for her freedom –using the 'a dead gossipy and psychically talented witch told us this' excuse that Sheila had come up with to explain how she knew—Lexi was only too happy to help convince her not to. Of course, she made sure that Caroline was going to do her best to ensure Rose's survival and freedom in exchange.
In the end, it turned out to be a very productive outing. Of course, later that night –after Stefan's last minute birthday bash at The Grill—she had to spill all the details to Elena. She could practically hear the relief in her voice when Lexi's boyfriend Lee was brought up. Maybe she could manage to get Elena and Lexi to be friends. That would be more people working together to help Stefan keep his cool.
She was still working out the best way to bond the two the next afternoon as she walked into history class, and she was already in her seat and taking out her textbook before she realized that Alaric was at the front of the class. As she listened to him bumble through an overly long explanation of his name in a nervous ramble, she tried hard not to picture the last time she was in a classroom with him. She kept telling herself that this wasn't the same Alaric and that she could keep him from becoming that Alaric. In the back of her mind, the memory of Vicki's death mocked her.
That night Caroline visited Sheila to talk about how they would tell Jenna, Jeremy, and Alaric about the curse and everything they were doing about it. They decided it would be best if Sheila dropped in on Alaric at his home and invited him to Elena's place. While Caroline felt she could easily compel him to come along –provided he didn't have access to vervain —she had to agree with Shelia that doing so could cause some trust issues and that was something they couldn't really afford. Besides, Sheila could be very persuasive on her own.
Caroline also brought up having a talk with Jeremy. She had come to the conclusion that it would be best to prepare him in case they weren't able to reason with Connor. She didn't tell Sheila that she was pretty sure that the man Bonnie saw Caroline killing in her vision was Connor. As it was, she was already trying to figure a way to deal with the hunter's curse if she did have to kill him.
She also didn't tell Sheila that she was possibly looking for any and all opportunities to throw Bonnie and Jeremy together. It wasn't enough that her friends and loved ones survived; they had to have a shot at real happiness as well. Otherwise, what was the point of it all?
The next day, relatively early for a Saturday morning, Caroline and her mother showed up at Elena's with coffee and a variety of donuts. She was hoping to soften Elena up before informing her that, regardless of what she felt on the matter, they were going to have to tell Jenna and Jeremy what was going on. Given the suspicious look she was giving both of them, though, it didn't look like that was going to work. She didn't seem to have warmed up to the idea of telling her family anything if her response was anything to go by.
"No. They don't need to be a part of this. It has nothing to do with them."
A part of Caroline wanted to take it slow, to work Elena up to the idea. However, they didn't have the luxury of doing it that way. Brutal and direct it was then.
"God, Elena, could you just stop being so selfish? You want so much to cling to something normal that you're willing to put Jenna and Jeremy at risk. Tell me why it is, again, that people think you're so compassionate and selfless?"
It was a cruel thing to say and so much of it was a lie. Caroline wanted to take back the words, to reassure Elena that she wasn't really selfish, but she had to do something to shock the other girl into realizing what was at stake. The look that her mother gave her said she knew exactly what Caroline was doing and wasn't going to stop her.
"Sometimes, Elena, we have to put the lives of those we love over our own comfort and happiness. Jenna and Jeremy being oblivious to what's going on around them only makes it that much easier for others to use and control them. If you want to keep them safe, you have to tell them."
Just then, Jenna walked through the kitchen door, the expression on her face making it very clear that she had caught some of what was said. Caroline, of course, had heard her coming down the stairs. She could have lowered her voice, or even let Elena know that her aunt was coming, but she had chosen not to. It was a low way to win the argument, but sometimes the ends justified the means.
"What exactly do you have to tell us?"
Elena didn't put up much resistance to Jenna and Jeremy being let in on what was happening after that. Apparently, her aunt was actually getting pretty good at the guilt-tripping that most good mothers seemed to know instinctively how to do. When Sheila and Bonnie arrived with a confused-looking Alaric in tow, Elena didn't even seem upset by what was going on anymore.
After all the explanations were handed out and Alaric's presence had been explained Bonnie had slipped away almost completely unnoticed with Jeremy to talk to him about what they might need of him after the curse was broken. Caroline spared a moment to wonder about what all went on in that conversation. Elena walked up behind her and handed Caroline one of the two mugs of tea she was holding and said they should head out to the porch for a talk.
It took a couple of minutes of sitting side by side on the porch steps and more than a few sips of their tea before Elena began talking.
"You were right, you know. I was being completely selfish. I was putting them both at risk just so I could pretend to be normal."
Finally, Caroline was able to take back those words. This was one burden that Elena shouldn't have to carry. Wrapping one arm around her friend's shoulders and pulling her in close, she did her best to lift off the weight.
"No, Elena, I wasn't right. You weren't being completely selfish, you were being a normal teenager. You were trying to keep them from seeing the bad things and, because we're just kids, you weren't looking beyond the here and now to see how that could hurt them."
As the two sat in comfortable silence, Caroline began to get the nagging sensation of being watched. Looking at the houses across the street, she did her best to see into the darkened shadows between the houses. Finally, she caught sight of a movement and, when she concentrated on that location, was able to make out the shape of someone standing there. Too quick to be human, though, because the shape was already gone.
There was an outside chance it was just Anna or Ben checking in on them, but she doubted that. More than likely, it was trouble. Like they needed more of that.