The Salvatores leave Mystic Falls, and then five years later Stefan blows right back in.
“You know everyone’s going to be gossiping when the neighbors spread the word that the first thing you did was come see me,” Caroline tells him, stretched casually across the doorway.
Stefan shrugs, and she frowns. “So why’d you come back, anyway?”
He laughs, like his presence is some private joke that either she doesn’t get or he doesn’t believe in.
“Thought you might want an exit strategy by now.”
She kisses her mom on the cheek and loads two suitcases into the trunk of Stefan’s Porsche 356 where it’s loitering on the road – spying neighbours be damned.
“We’re gonna be the talk of the town,” she crows with delight and a laugh; because, really, she’d much rather be known as the girl who drove off in the red Porsche than the girl who still lived with her mother at twenty-three and wore too much eyeliner for anyone out of her teenage years.
Little did they know.
“And here I figured you’d be managing that all on your own,” Stefan taunts as he turns the key in the ignition.
Caroline pulls a face and kicks her feet up on the dash in retaliation, lights up a cigarette dug out from her pocket.
“Since when do you smoke?” He asks like he just saw her yesterday.
“I’m old enough to buy them now, Stefan, gosh,” she admonishes, laughs at the ridiculousness of it, and lets the smoke and brimming excitement fill up her head.
Stefan likes divey bars. He likes the spills of random noise and the bartops that give off splinters if you’re not careful and the cheap, dirty alcohol that is probably the farthest imaginable cry from what Damon used to stock up in the liquor cabinet.
Stefan likes divey bars, but Caroline positively marvels at them. She’s like a child learning what her senses are, letting them in for the first time, and he reminds himself she’s hardly spent a day out of Mystic Falls, wonders why she never left before, if she was too scared all this time.
It doesn’t seem like much scares her.
But he’s barely spoken to her in five years and it quickly becomes clear that the Caroline he dragged out of that town is not the same Caroline he left behind.
For one thing, twenty-three year old Caroline curses with startling enthusiasm, like she’s the one who made up the word ‘fuck’ and she’s going to take all the credit for it.
“Fuck,” when she stubs her toe – this one probably more out of ingrained habit, since it couldn’t possibly hurt (and funny that her habits are still ingrained; five years isn’t so long after all) – or “I love this fucking place” after a new bar, or “I hate that fucking song” when she’s changing the radio station, or “Calm the fuck down” when she decides to snipe at him, or possibly the most frequent is “Fuck, I need a smoke”, because twenty-three year old Caroline smokes a pack a day, and this is the part that makes him wonder if she’s clinging onto adolescent rebellion, despite all her protests that she hates being mistaken for younger than she is (“I don’t care what the fuck he thinks, I am old enough to drink.”) – maybe that’s why she sticks with the eyeliner too.
And then there’s also night, when he can best appreciate the cursing, when she’s naked and lovely and soft and it’s “Fuck me, Stefan, yes, fuck, fuck yes”.
“You changed,” he accuses her, in one town just like the others, in one bed just like the others.
She pauses for a beat, sitting up with a cigarette perched expertly between her teeth. “Since I was seventeen? That’s kinda how it works, Stefan. Coming back doesn’t mean you never left.”
She likes to do that now too. String her words together in a way that makes them sound all philosophical, like she’s deigning to spout her great wisdom at him.
Caroline Forbes, teaching him the mysteries of life. Who would have thought.
(Or has she always done that? He can’t remember, can’t separate past and present as easily as he’d wish to. And look at that, she’s right.)
“You’re still seventeen,” he tells her, condescending as can be, just to piss her off.
She stubs her cigarette out on his chest with a childish “Fuck you.” And he laughs and laughs.
Somewhere between Oklahoma and Amarillo, Caroline dyes her hair black and starts going through two packs a day.
Stefan merely smirks at the hair – “You just think you’re so edgy, don’t you?” – but he swipes her second pack from her the first day he notices, rolls his eyes.
She laughs. (And that he is sure has changed; he remembers melodic where now there’s only a hint of derision.)
“Gonna lecture me about slowly killing myself?”
“No, I’m going to flush this down the toilet,” he says, and he does.
She’s lounging outside the bathroom when he turns around, one eyebrow raised. (He remembers when she used to complain how she could never do that.)
“You know I’ll just go buy another.” Everything is a challenge, a contest, to this Caroline, and she hasn’t lost her competitive streak by far.
“I know,” he says, and she does.
It is five months before Caroline will sleep in the same bed as him.
They fuck all the time, drunk, sober, for the sake of it – because they’re immortal and they’re bored and eventually they’ll get to the ocean – but she refuses to fall asleep in his bed. She’ll sneak back to a different motel room, or drag all the blankets except one thin sheet (so generous, that Caroline) with her to the couch, or the armchair, or even the floor on a several occasions.
(And the last is too much for Stefan, so even when he gives up on persuading her to take the bed in his place, he gets used to curling up in the opposite corner of the room and leaving it empty. Neither of them make the move because neither of them will back down, and he wakes up with cricks in his back and wonders when the fuck everything became so fucking ridiculous – and look at that, he’s even thinking like her.)
But one night, she does, and it takes a conversation after sex.
“Go outside if you’re gonna smoke.”
“It stinks, Caroline.”
“Oh, right, sorry to offend your delicate fucking sensibilities.”
“Why do you, anyway?”
“Not like it’s gonna hurt me.”
“But you wish it would.”
“That’d be pretty fucked up, wouldn’t it?”
Silence for a while.
“You never used to smoke.”
“No. I didn’t. Didn’t see the point.”
“My mom always told me it made you look ugly eventually. That was her strategy, go for the vanity. So she told me all about how it ruins your skin, gives you wrinkles... Makes you look older.”
He doesn’t say anything and she curls up in a ball and stays distinctly on her side of the bed – but she stays.