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La route chante

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Half-empty, Caroline pondered; that glass was definitely half-empty. She had hesitated about actually drinking it —a glass of white wine at two am on a Tuesday night, really?— but remembering why exactly she had felt the need to take out that bottle did the trick. She tipped the glass back, enjoying the slide of alcohol in her throat, spreading its welcome warmth inside her.

Outside the forest was silent, as much as forests can ever be silent; a calm emptiness reigned over the world, broken only by the multitude of noises nature produces at any moment. Caroline was trying not to pay attention, even though she could hear every small sound, leaves rustling in the wind, birds flapping their wings, the flow of blood in small animal bodies. Not him, though. If he was still there he was moving completely incognito; but that wouldn't be surprising. He'd learned over the years— they all had, even her. Ha. Little girly Caroline —who'd have thought? But she'd gotten stronger —faster, better, more resistant. She was still here today, after all.

Besides, wherever he was, he was probably only running around like the spectacular idiot he was, tearing some poor squirrel apart as a fucked-up way to wind down. It wasn't her job to worry about him anymore. She stared back down at her glass, squishing the liquid around a few times before taking a gulp. Maybe drinking wasn't such a good idea after all. She hadn't realized how sad she was before; it was only now starting to sink in, a leaden heaviness made even more uncomfortable by the alcohol, sour almost.

When she woke up the night had taken over the house, tendrils of shadows stuck in every corner. In the window the half-moon was bright, looked smooth even though it wasn't, made of gleaming porcelain. Caroline's head was pounding; her glass was empty, and Tyler wasn't back. She swore between her teeth. Well, shit.

She gingerly put on a pair of babouches and draped her coat around her shoulders, not bothering to put the sleeves on. The air outside was colder than she thought it would be; it slapped her in the face like everything was her fault. Caroline sucked in breath.

"Tyler?" she called. There was no echo, only the forest staring back at her, thrumming with quiet life. "Now isn't the time for a temper tantrum."

The forest didn't respond. If Caroline were human, she might've been afraid of it, the scraggly trees with their tentacular arms, the damp, mystical smell. She wasn't. She opened her ears, catching a handful of skittering heartbeats: rabbits, squirrels, owls and a few other birds. No wolves, though.

She considered going forward, deeper into the forest, but the night was cold and wet and her babouches were expensive, and silk, which Tyler knew. Besides, if all he did when she found him was bitch at her more, maybe it was better that he spent the night doing his Wild Man shtick. Maybe they'd be able to have a calmer conversation tomorrow.

She retreated into the house. It felt eery and menacing without any lights on, so Caroline switched on the living-room and the kitchen and put water on. She felt strangely jittery, if she was being honest with herself: not really panicked but like something was bound to go wrong at some point, an uncomfortable sort of foreboding that felt like nausea. She made herself a mug of tea, turned off the lights and went upstairs.

The sight of the king-size bed in the master bedroom looming from the corner of the corridor cut into her unexpectedly, and she had to grip on her mug to settle herself. She blinked back the tears prickling her eyes. Now wasn't the time to get emotional. In the end she chose one of the guest bedrooms, the one Elena had stayed in the few times she'd come, even though it took attempted murder or the threat of a supernatural pregnancy to get her to abandon the hellmouth of Mystic Falls and come visit them. She'd never understood why Caroline had accepted to go to Vermont, actually, but Caroline had never bothered to explain and now she didn't really know what she would have said. Love, maybe. It had seemed logical at the time.

The sheets were soft and cool and the pillows fluffed like Caroline liked, so it didn't take long for her to sink into a comfortable drowsiness. She set her mug on the bedside table and let herself drift off. Just before she was surrounded by blackness she felt a sudden thrill, like the beginning of a vision, the sharp outline of a face she knew but didn't remember; she pushed it down, and let sleep claim her.

It wasn't her who found him, in the end. Later she wished she had, so it would've made the whole thing more real. Her phone rang shrilly and jolted her out of a dream including Miucca Prada, the queen of England and a pack of startlingly gorgeous werewolves. She blinked blearily at her alarm on the nightstand: ten am. She picked up gingerly. So early, it could only be an emergency or someone who didn't know her.

"Caroline Lockwood," she said.

"Mrs Lockwood," the voice said, stiff and official, and Caroline bit her tongue not to say that she really didn't like being called that, "this is the Montpelier Police Department. I'm afraid we have bad news." There was a pause, maybe an hesitation. "If you'd come to the station we could explain it to you more in detail."

She didn't even have to think; in half a second she was out of bed, dressed, her hair brushed into something that could pass for a decent haircut, and panic beating into her like a wild heart.

"Is this about Tyler? Is he okay?"

The voice didn't change. "We'll tell you all you need to know at the station, Mrs Lockwood. Please be there as soon as possible."

Caroline nodded dumbly at the phone, anxiety crystallizing into a ball of lead in her stomach. Tyler was a big believer in those kind of things, she remembered —instincts, premonitions, that feeling like needles in your legs before you went to sleep. He always said she should follow her instincts, that it was who they were, what they were, and Caroline usually snorted delicately and tilted her head, mocking. But maybe he was right. Maybe she should've—

She shook her head, trying to disturb her train of thought. She wouldn't know until she got there; until then it was all just theorizing. She slid into her car, resisting the urge to just run to the station, wind and adrenaline whipping the fear out of her veins. She would be fine. They would be fine. Tyler wasn't stupid, and it was years since anyone had tried —really tried— to hurt them. Why wouldn't they be fine? She ignored too many red lights and watched the flash of the radar go off, uncaring. When she got to the station she left tire marks on the ground, parked haphazardly, blocking two other cars. She ran inside, her hair flying around her head.

Her heels clicked like gunshots on the floor of the police station. As soon as she saw the officer —the voice on the phone, Caroline recognized, catching a stream of murmurs between him and a subordinate—, the downward-pointed corners of his mouth and his dark, serious eyes, Caroline knew. She staggered backwards. She'd seen that look before, too many times, but—

"Mrs Lockwood. I'm Officer Vane."

Caroline nodded. She felt like all the feeling was gone from her body, like she was a doll whose strings had been cut, an actor at the end of a performance, empty, dispossessed. She thought again, please don't call me that but this time it tasted like irony, something dark and unjust, the worst thing she could possibly have thought.

"Your husband…" She tuned him out, incapable or maybe unwilling of hearing anything, watched his mouth move through procedures and details she couldn't take in, "… very sorry for your loss."

Caroline blinked. Her fangs were aching in her mouth, someone was bleeding in a room nearby, a child. She waited for the tears but they didn't come, only a terrifying anger and an overwhelming tiredness, like a bat to the stomach.

"Where did you find him?" she asked, her voice white, brittle.

Officer Vane frowned slightly like maybe he'd said it before, but Caroline didn't care. "Joggers happened upon his body on the forest behind your property, Ma'am," he said. "I'm really sorry—"

"Yes," Caroline said, and then: "They can't go there. It's private property. It's ours."

It had been hard to make it, but it was: when they'd bought the house it had been the end of an endless hunt for the interior that would please her and a slice of nature so that Tyler could turn when he wanted. She hadn't thought she would use the forest much, didn't need to, but in the end she'd run there with him often, until eventually she started running by herself. There weren't a lot of animals to catch, but Caroline wasn't Elena; she'd never really been satisfied with blood pockets, however hard she tried. Breaking something's spine once in a while was always guaranteed to make her feel better, better than a mani-pedi at Johanna's, even.

Officer Vane nodded with disaffected grief. "If you wish to—"

"I want to see the body," Caroline said. She felt the tears again and this time she didn't hold them back: they started dripping down her cheeks, pooling at the creases of her mouth. How messy, she thought remotely, how weak. But she didn't care. Her body, her soul —everything felt like it was under general anesthesia, with only the barest hint of fury peeking through, a lifeline.

Vane looked slightly abashed. "Of course," he said. "I understand. It's still at the scene, our forensic team isn't done yet, and I'm not supposed to—" He spared Caroline a look, "But I supposed we could make an exception."

He looked at Caroline to seek her approval. He wanted to be thanked, for his extracurricular kindness to be acknowledged, but Caroline just nodded.

She didn't know how much time passed before they took her to see Tyler's body. She was sitting on a chair in the police station for a while, and the receptionist gave her a plastic glass full of water that she stared at and didn't drink; the smell of blood intensified and then waned suddenly, like the child had left. Some of the officers threw her quick, pitiful glances that Caroline ignored. She didn't look nineteen anymore, not really, but it was hard to disguise the thin waist and lean, youthful cheeks: they were probably thinking, poor kid, so young, losing her husband like that. Usually she liked the prospect of never looking older than twenty-five, but today it felt heavy, like immortality was a dirty trick played on her behind her back.

Eventually she heard the rumble of a police car's engine and she was ushered out of the room and into the car's backseat. It smelled of stale food and sweat. She kept silent while Officer Vane and another officer, a Native-American woman with a leather charm around her neck, talked into the radio, her hands linked in her lap, not trusting herself to touch something without breaking it, or breaking herself. It felt as though if she pierced the bubble all the grief would swarm over her and bury her. Except — well. Bury her alive.

There was also, hovering around her, the remembrance of the night before, everything that had happened, the last words she'd said to Tyler, but that hurt more than anything else and Caroline did her best to keep them at bay. She thought: I never do the right thing at the right time, and this was like a crowning achievement, the worst possible outcome. Besides — besides, Tyler couldn't really be dead. She'd find a tourist in Tyler's clothes and his smell all over them, guts wrenched open and sure, it would be bad but it wouldn't be anything they hadn't done before, just another tiny slip-up. They'd move again, try a state they'd never been in, something new. Get a house. Find a new manicure place. It would be okay. They'd forget this in time —laugh about it, even.

She clambered gracelessly out of the police car, wrapping her arms around herself without thinking. She felt a little better now that she knew Tyler couldn't be dead and the idea had drilled into her brain, an absolute certainty, even though her hands were still shaking and her head still swimming. But she'd got out of bed in a hurry, hadn't even eaten anything, and now this fear… She would make him pay for it when she found him, after she hugged him so hard his bones cracked. She'd punch him in the face and tell him what a stupid animal he was, not coming home, not telling her anything, pouting stupidly until he got a midnight craving for human flesh. Who did that? Well, apart from her and all her friends, that is.

She followed the officers through the forest, avoiding every root that stuck out on instinct, her heels digging into the damp ground. The female officer looked back at her once or twice, one eyebrow furrowed like she was worried Caroline would trip over her own feet and land face-first in the mud, like it wasn't bad enough that her husband had died. Caroline gave her a wobbly smile at her and she seemed surprised. Right, Caroline thought. They think Tyler is dead. They think I think Tyler is dead. Except Tyler couldn't be dead: the only thing in that whole supernatural creature deal that made it a good bargain was the promise of immortality. Once Klaus—

"Are you sure you want to see this?" Officer Vane asked. "I have to warn you, it's—"

Caroline nodded, and he moved out of the way.

All at once it cracked, a deep ridge building from the top of her body to the bottom, and all the thoughts Caroline had been keeping at bay landed on her shoulders like a ton of bricks when her eyes settled on the corpse's face. His face. Tyler couldn't be dead but there he was, naked like he had just turned back, his face pressed sideways against the ground. His eyes were open, his mouth ajar, he was trying to take a breath, trying to scream maybe… and there were deep lacerations running from his exposed shoulder to his waist, not claws, definitely not claws, something else, more cruel… Caroline whimpered, surprising herself when she heard the sound resonate in the silence. The female officer turned her face away. Caroline fell to her knees in the mud.

"Tyler," she said, stupidly, to revive him, wake him up. She reached for him to shake him, but when her hand came into contact with the skin of his cheek it was cold and damp, sticky with blood.

Officer Vane said something behind her about not touching the body and she could feel hands on her shoulders, pulling her back. She wanted to say it wasn't a body, that it was Tyler, for fuck's sake, that most of their friends had been there at one point in their lives, lying on the ground with their neck snapped but they had survived, you understand, because they were different, they didn't die that easily… She opened her mouth to say it, unthinking, but then she saw, in the trail of the lacerations, that his chest was open and his heart had been pulled out, torn away. She felt bile rising to her throat, acid and unpleasant.

"I —" she started, and then she was leaning against a nearby tree, heaving her guts out on her own feet. That's a ruined pair of shoes, she thought dazedly, looking down at them.

The female officer was patting her back reassuringly, and behind Caroline's back they were zipping Tyler into a bodybag. Caroline thought about going back and telling them to stop it, to give him back to her so that she could see what kind of injuries they were, what it might all mean —Tyler clearly hadn't torn out his own heart— but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Besides, by now they probably thought she was a crazy grieving widow, they wouldn't let her near him again. Or— maybe that was what people did? Caroline tried to remember other deaths, her friends wrecked and kneeling, and came up blank. Her brain felt like it had been scrubbed with bleach, the painful kind.

Officer Vane ambled near them again, holding a plastic bag at his side. He scrubbed his face with the back of his hand, deep wrinkles digging in his forehead. It clearly wasn't his best day either but then, Caroline thought absurdly, at least his husband wasn't dead. She felt a burning spear of pain digging through her stomach at the thought, and almost moaned.

"We found this a few hundred feet away from the body," Vane said, holding out the bag. Caroline opened it, her body working on automatic: his clothes, folded like she'd bullied him into those first few years, and on top of them his wedding ring. "It seems like he was naked before he encountered his attacker. Do you know why that might be?"

Caroline shook her head no. She took the ring in her fingers, suddenly registering the absence of hers on her own hand. She hadn't had the time this morning, and she wasn't in their bed; the ring was still sitting in the nightstand drawer, next to her water bottle. Nausea lurched in her stomach again. She closed her eyes.

"I'm sorry," Vane said, sounding it, "but you'll have to come back with us to the station. There are papers to sign and we'd like to talk to you about the circumstances of your husband's death, I'm sure you'll understand." He touched her arm briefly; Caroline did her best not to break all the bones of his hand. "We'll find who did this, I can guarantee you that."

Caroline felt like she might have looked up and asked, can you? because he couldn't, he really couldn't, but her head felt like it was made of lead. She nodded again. She remembered thinking before coming that no one had tried to hurt them in a long time. Unexpectedly, and for the first time in years, she thought about Katherine: once she'd said to Caroline, in the murky darkness of the Grill where they weren't exactly enemies, her mouth twisted in a smile, "The day you stop being on your guard is the day you die." Fancy that, Katherine being right.

She realized belatedly that Vane was waiting for an answer from her. She swallowed, her throat suddenly dry.

"Of course," she said. "If I can just…"

She wasn't sure how she was going to finish that sentence, but Vane said "Sure," nodding his head, and he and his acolyte took a few steps back and started walking back to the car, leaving her behind. Caroline took a breath. When she looked over, the body was being loaded onto the coroner's van, Tyler's face covered with crisp dark plastic. Caroline clenched her firsts not to lunge for it, tear it out the coroner's hands and run away with it folded over her shoulder. She didn't need Tyler's body. She needed Tyler.

The realization hit her in the gut and all the latent guilt she'd been keeping under wraps came bubbling up, obstructing her throat. This time instead of silent tears it was deep, painful sobs racking through her body, shaking her bones like they were a two-bit necklace. Caroline put her hand on the bark of a tree, resting all her weight on it, fighting not to go down on her knees again. This wasn't over; it wasn't like she could go back to the house and hide under her —their, her mind pressed on meanly— blankets until the world didn't seem like it was shrouded in shadows. Tyler had been killed, and they were predators: the rule had always been to hunt what hunts you.

She breathed in shakily. Opening her ears wide, she tried to pick out unfamiliar noises on the off-chance that the murderer had hung around to make sure his job was done, but there was nothing. Whoever they were, they were probably long gone. She traced the scent of blood back to Tyler's heart, remembering she hadn't seen it on the ground next the Tyler's body, but when she found it there was only a pool of coagulated blood, the organ gone. Caroline felt the need to retch, but her stomach was empty, just like her tearducts. She didn't even have the strength to feel angry anymore, just tired, winded like she'd run the vampire version of a marathon. She rested her hands on her knees, just for a minute. Her tears were falling on the damp leaves with a ticking clock sound. Caroline unfolded, and turned on her heels to go back to the car.

The ride back to the station was silent. The female officer passed a tissue to Caroline, which she tore to long, even white shreds after wiping her eyes. Maybe she could ask Bonnie, see if Tyler was still here in ghost form. She hoped not, for his sake, but there was still a pounding, resounding hope in her chest that he had, so that she could tell him how wrong she had been, how sorry she was. Selfish, she thought, but she'd gotten used to that, this idea that she was selfish. She had worse flaws.

At the station they stuck her in an interrogation room with a cup of tepid coffee so that she "wouldn't be disturbed," even though Caroline knew as well as anyone the wife was always the first suspect. Her mother hadn't been a police officer for fifteen years for nothing, after all, even though in Mystic Falls the correct assumption was most often that the arch-villain of the week was the one who'd done it. There weren't a lot of vampires here in Vermont, though, and even though the few werewolf tribes sometimes got into scuffles their system for explaining it away as bear attacks was about as foolproof as it was stupid. Caroline has snorted at it at the beginning, then gotten used to it, the way you get used to everything.

She didn't have a lot to give to the officer —not Vane, she registered absently— who asked her what kind of enemies Tyler ("her husband," they kept saying that) might've had, or why he was running outside in the middle of the night ("We had a fight." He gave her an unsubtle, oblique look), stark naked, or what kind of deranged freak would tear someone's heart out (you wouldn't believe how often that happens, Caroline thought, but didn't say). The only time she perked up and really paid attention was when he slid a couple of pictures in her direction. On them was a knife, its half-moon blade jagged and sharp and covered with blood Caroline had to assume was Tyler's. When she looked closer she saw that the handle was covered in symbols. They reminded her vaguely of something, but she couldn't pin it down.

"We recovered this not far from your husband's body. We're having the forensic team check it out, but I think it's safe to say that this knife is what was used to—" he hesitated, "hurt him. Is it yours?" he asked her.

Caroline shook her head. Well, even if she hadn't been sure, this would've made her: there was nothing mundane about Tyler's death. She was 90% sure it was some kind of supernatural plot, again. You never did get away from Mystic Falls, did you?

"No, I'm sorry," she said eventually, when she realized he was waiting for an actual answer. "I've never seen this before."

He didn't look like he entirely believed her, but Caroline had neither the means nor the energy to try and convince him. She committed the blade to memory, as well as the tiny markings at the bottom of the photograph that might help her find it when she would eventually have to steal it — not that the police station was big by any stretch of imagination, but you never knew. Technology, these days.

"Was there any tension with your husband?" asked the officer again, who apparently believed in being as heavy-handed as possible when leading an investigation. "Anything you were fighting over recently?" Caroline fought the urge to roll her eyes.

"I told you; we had an argument. He decided he wanted to get some air, take a walk, and I didn't stop him."

"What was the argument about?"

Caroline crossed her arms over her chest. "Nothing to kill someone over, if that's what you're asking."

He hmed in an annoying way. He asked her a few other questions, and Caroline went back to half-tuning him out, and turning her hypotheses about who'd killed Tyler in her mind. Once in a while her thoughts skidded to a stop and she'd remember something about him, the way he hugged her from behind when she —rarely— demeaned herself to actually cooking, that annoying tick he had of putting on his shoes without socks when he was going to turn, that kiss on her shoulder, once, before they got the house, that had —not burned her to the bone, not like… —but spread a comforting warmth through her body, like a cashmere blanket.

She turned an ear back to the officer; better that than those memories. Each of them was like a dagger to the chest, like being stabbed repeatedly with that fucking knife. "… we'll need you to stay in the state of Vermont for as long as this investigation is going on, I'm sure you understand. We might need to contact you again for further information. If you prefer to stay in your house we can provide you with security for a while. It's unlikely the perpetrator will go back to the scene for this type of crime, but it's a necessary precaution, and we don't want you to feel unsafe."

Caroline shook her head. "It's fine. I'll be fine," she said. It probably wasn't very convincing, but the officer nodded anyway. Caroline took a sip of her coffee, then winced when she realized it was even more disgusting cold.

The officer said a few other things about her not being able to get Tyler's body back for the funeral until they had an autopsy, and then maybe some follow-ups, but that it should be available in two weeks' time at the latest and how sorry they were, that he couldn't go into the ground sooner rather than later. Caroline felt her anger simmering back up. She wondered if Tyler would've liked to be cremated; they'd never talked about it, never considered… Maybe they weren't nineteen anymore, but they were still kids at heart, kids playing at being grown-ups, stuck in that eternal age between high school and the rest of their life, constantly on their toes waiting for some supernatural evil to swoop in and disturb their lives again. Well. There they were.

"I'm very sorry for your loss," the officer said as he led her out of the interrogation room. "All my condolences."

Caroline didn't have the courage to thank him, so she didn't.

The first thing Caroline did when she got back was pack her bag. There was probably time before she had to leave, and it would've been better to stay a little and wait until the police grew bored of keeping an eye on her, but she had spent the whole day at the police station and every step she took in the house felt like Tyler was going to walk around the corner. Caroline's heart was wearing, getting more and more used as it alternatively got flushed with hope and torn to shreds by despair. She thought she'd gotten so used to death, but they were right; there was no getting used to losing somebody you loved. Never got old.

She had a moment of hesitation in front of her shoe closet, trying to decide what kind of heels one put on when playing Nancy Drew In Vampire-Land, but even that felt sour. She grabbed her wedding ring on the bedside table and after turning it between her hands for a few seconds, put it on. They were going to have questions enough as it was, no need to pile on more. Besides, Caroline wasn't sure she felt up to explaining. It was bad enough that she had to go back to freaking Mystic Falls after she declaring an lifelong veto on meeting her friends in any place that at the very least wasn't Virginia. She should've known better.

She sat on the bed, trying not to burst into tears again. She took her head into her heads, trying to shake the thought. But… who liked pretentious old jewelry and to tear peoples' hearts out? It would've taken Elena twenty seconds to get to that conclusion, but Caroline liked to think she knew better, was less prejudiced. Though she couldn't really say that now, could she? She squeezed her eyes closed. There was no use thinking about it now. When she was there she would do what needed to be done, whatever that was. Eye for an eye, she took her pointers from the fucking Bible — he would like that. She slammed her suitcase shut.

In the end getting out of Montpelier and to the airport was even easier that she'd thought; the police security was loose at best and nothing but the sleekest, most discrete cars would do for Caroline freaking Forbes. Truth was, she'd never really gotten used to wearing Tyler's name —Klaus be damned, he'd been right, as usual— but now she felt a little guilty, calling herself that in her head when his body wasn't even cold. She turned her face to the window, looking out into the cold, impassive night. By morning she would be back in Mystic Falls. The thought made her want to retch.

In the Burlington airport the noise and the sharp sunlight gave her a headache almost as soon as she stepped out of the car and slipped on a pair of huge sunglasses. She probably didn't look like much, anyway —it wasn't like she'd gotten much sleep in the last few days. There were probably big purple circles under her eyes and she felt like she might keel over at any moment; felt like a zombie, walking through a world that was only half-real. A Tyler-less world. Strange, she'd never thought about it. She bought a plane ticket under one of the fake passports she always kept in their safe just in case and the woman at the desk gave her a tight, exhausted smile that Caroline returned out of pure habit. She checked her luggage, bought a blueberry muffin even though she wasn't hungry, just to occupy her hands, and settled on one horrible metal chairs to wait for take-off.

It was only when someone, a haughty-looking blond woman in a Vera Wang pantsuit, cut their finger with a page of her Vogue that Caroline realized she hadn't drunk for nearly two days now. She hadn't even taken any bloodbags with her for the trip. She wasn't hungry per se, but there was the familiar tug in her stomach, her fangs pressing down on the unbroken skin, itching to come out. Caroline forced herself to think about something disgusting, like Damon or her dead grandma's warts, and felt slightly better. She grabbed a Vogue for herself at the stand, because if she wasn't going to have a snack, she was damn well going to have her daily dose of high fashion. (Tyler is dead was echoing in every hollow of her body, but she did her best to ignore it. That was what her mother believed in, keeping busy when you were grieving, and mother's recipes were always the best, that was common knowledge.)

The plane ride was bumpy and uncomfortable; Caroline kept falling asleep and jolting awake every time her forehead hit the cool surface of the window. Beneath her the earth was a sprawling, vaguely expressionist painting, big splotches of color, green, yellow and broken grey. Caroline dozed off into a vague dream that wasted no time turning into a nightmare, and by the time she was halfway through tearing out Tyler's heart herself, a smirking figure standing behind her, holding her hips, the pilot announced they were landing.

Dawn was barely breaking but Caroline gripped the handle of her suitcase, found a bleary-eyed cabbie to load it in his trunk and managed to get to Mystic Falls, where she asked to be left in the square. Possibly it was to punish herself, she thought, still cold and uncomfortable from that dream, but it wasn't like she could really wait on her mom's doorstep and tell her her husband was dead. They'd had enough traumatizing conversations to last them a lifetime, for God's sake.

In the end she spent a while walking through the town, watching as the sun imploded and slowly turned bloodred, dappling the leaves with droplets of light. When blinds started swinging open and there was a possibility that she might happen upon someone she used to know, she headed into the forest. It was nearly four when she found herself at the Salvatore house, ambling slowly for the front door. She prayed silently that Damon wouldn't answer the one to answer the door.

She sucked in a breath, trying not to break out into tears again. She raised her hand and knocked. There was a patter of footsteps.


Caroline gave as close as a smile as she could. "I need your help, El."

Elena ushered her inside, folding a blanket around her shoulders and sticking a mug of burning coffee in her hands before she could say a word. The strong smell energized Caroline somewhat, warmed her to the bones. Sometimes Elena was a shit friend, but sometimes she was really kind of great.

"What happened?" she asked. She had a freaky sort of sixth sense for knowing when someone was in supernatural trouble, which was probably due to it happening every other week. Inconveniences of being a doppelgänger, Caroline guessed.

She took a swig of coffee, shivering in pleasure when it slid down her throat. It still wasn't blood, but God it felt good. "Mm, that's delicious, thanks. What are you doing here?"

"I should be the one asking you," Elena pointed out, still looking a little freaked out. "This is my house," she reminded Caroline, "remember?"

Caroline shrugged; in her head it had always been the Salvatore Manor of Brooding, and it would probably always be.

"Where's Tyler?"

Caroline winced. Her hands started shaking violently; she put down the coffee before it sloshed all over her hands. She would be no help to Tyler with second-degree burns.

Elena, who for someone who was occasionally spectacularly oblivious to other people's feelings, also had serious empathy when she wanted, sensed her discomfort. "What is it? Did something happen?"

Caroline let herself slump into the couch, closing her eyes for a second. "I —" The words stayed stuck in her throat. "He's dead, Elena."

For a second Elena didn't say anything, shell-shocked, and her reaction brought back everything Caroline had been keeping at bay. She felt like her body had suddenly turned to paper and she was going to fold and tear, taken apart by the violence of her pain. Tears filled her eyes; she wiped them away angrily, refusing to give in.

Elena sat down too, her thigh pressed against Caroline's. "Oh my God," she said softly. "He's not—" She didn't seem to know how to finish her own sentence, so she just let it trail into nothing. "Are you okay?"

Caroline croaked out a little disbelieving laugh, and Elena rushed in to correct, "I mean, of course you're not okay, I just—"

"I was so horrible to him," Caroline whispered. "The night before he died. We had a fight."

"That's not—" Elena squeezed her eyes closed, and when she opened them back up they were dark and full of soft, comforting pity. "It's not your fault, you know that?" Caroline didn't say anything. Elena looked around her, searching for something, and Caroline only understood when she said, "Do you want to get drunk? We should get drunk. I'm going to call Bonnie. She's in town, I don't know if I told you. She's staying with her dad."

For a second Caroline thought about telling her not to move, reaching for her and getting lost in her embrace until sleep swallowed her again, because Elena had always the one from whom she'd needed and gotten both the worst and the best things. But in the end she did want to see Bonnie, especially since the three of them being the same place was such a rare occasion these days; maybe the joy of seeing her again would make the heavy, burning feeling in her chest a little more bearable.

They started drinking well before Bonnie got there. Elena unearthed one of Stefan's old bottles of pretentious whisky and two tumblers and slumped back into the couch, hooking her ankle around Caroline's. Her presence was as intoxicating as always, but for once Caroline gave in to it and it felt good, better, like slathering butter over a burn. After the first three glasses she had trouble remembering what it was she was even sad about; she just felt like she was stuck under a rock and the whisky was making it strangely comfortable, and Elena was wrapped around her, her lips under Caroline's ear and her hand on Caroline's hip, because she didn't always know the right words but when she touched you it was like hugging the sun, like swallowing something warm and reassuring and slightly overwhelming. Caroline kissed the smooth skin of her cheek without thinking.

"Where's Stefan?" she asked, slurring a little.

Elena shrugged, fluid. "Who knows. Last I heard he was taking a bro-trip with Damon so that they can have heart-to-hearts about whatever it is they fight about," she said vaguely. You, Caroline thought, but didn't say.

The door opened and Bonnie appeared at the door, wearing a light brown dress that made her skin look luminous. The sight of her made Caroline feel better than she'd thought it would, and she wondered why they'd been so distant during all these years. Bonnie wasn't a big fan of Tyler —well, of Tyler being Caroline's husband. Maybe Caroline should have listened to her; maybe then her heart wouldn't be broken —again— and she wouldn't be back in Mystic Falls getting drunk on whiskey and thoughts of revenge, crying in the arms of her best friends. Oh well.

"I see you've started without me," Bonnie said in her soft, solar voice.

Caroline smiled blurrily from the couch. "We're sad," she said.

Bonnie frowned, pushing a small suitcase against the coat hanger near the door. "Yeah, Elena said it was an emergency. What's going on? Did something happen? Why are you back?"

The alcohol-induced euphoria slowly drained from Caroline's veins, and Elena's arm tightened around her waist. "Tyler…" she swallowed. "Tyler was murdered."

Bonnie took a step backwards, hitting her heels against the half-stair. She bit her lip. "What?"

Caroline reached a hand for her. "Tomorrow," she said. "I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. You'll see…" she started, and wondered how she'd meant to finish that sentence, you'll see, it's unbelievably depressing or you'll see, you won't believe it or maybe something else, something she couldn't remember.

Bonnie nodded gently. "Okay." She took the bottle from Elena's hands and poured them each a drink. They raised their glasses and clinked them, even though there wasn't anything to drink to.

It was better, with them; not good, but better, better than her big empty house in freaking Vermont, better like being in high school and only having the weight of your own world on your shoulders, but with people to wear it and complain about it with you. It was like not having to take responsibility for anything anymore, not for fighting with Tyler and letting him spend the night outside, not for not knowing who killed him, not for drinking until they passed out and forgetting about death just a little, just for a second. When Bonnie and Elena were there they formed a sort of human, girl-shaped wall against all the pain and darkness that was threatening to barrel in from the outside, always on Caroline's tail.

"I love you guys," she slurred towards the end of the evening, before Bonnie decided that if they drank another bottle, vampires or not vampires, they were going to fall into an ethylic coma and she didn't want be the one to explain that to Caroline's mom. "And besides," she said sensibly, "Stefan is going to kill you for drinking all his good booze."

"He deserves it," Elena said blurrily, though Caroline couldn't determine whether it was for something specific she didn't know about or for the general fuckery he'd brought into their lives since he'd decided, so many years ago, that Elena was the Juliet to his bloodsucking Romeo.

Someone put Elena and her to bed in Stefan's ridiculous king-size antique monstrosity, probably Bonnie, since she a) didn't have a vampire metabolism and therefore hadn't drunk all that much, b) was infinitely more responsible than the rest of them, and c) might be an actual angel reincarnated in human form, Caroline wasn't sure. So there were no cricks and badly-situated bruises when they woke up at four in the afternoon the next day, but the hangover was there, and for a second as she blinked awake, roused by the harsh light streaming in from the half-open window, Caroline felt violently grumpy and displeased and normal. Of course, that was before she remembered the previous day and everything started aching again.

She hung her head down, feeling like it was suddenly weighing a hundred pounds in addition to having a metal bar boring through it. The girls were still sleeping when she looked back to the bed, Bonnie with a hand curled around Elena's thigh and Elena sprawled half over her, so Caroline tiptoed out of the room and went in search of some blood for breakfast. The house was remarkably less creepy when it was Damon-less and Katherine wasn't soaking in one of the many bathtubs, which for some reason seemed to be her activity of choice whenever she decided to wreak havoc on their lives. She found some blood in the cellar freezer and gulped down two bags, almost buzzing with relief when the cold liquid spread in her body. It wasn't quite the animal blood she'd used to drink in Vermont, and of course it didn't compare to fresh human blood, but that had been out of the question for years and she'd only slipped once or twice or twenty times. She rested her legs against the freezer, eyes slowly getting accustomed to the darkness of the basement-slash-torture chamber. Tyler is dead, the thought happened upon her without any warning. She slid down to the ground, trying to breathe right instead of letting panic seize her chest.

She didn't even realize she was crying until the tears started falling on her hands, big fat drops and there were sobs racking her chest and she was pathetic, she didn't like it, she never liked being like that but Tyler was dead, Tyler who had been her husband even though he never had been, not really, not even that day in the church when she'd walked down the aisle with her thighs hurting, her lips bruised… but she'd loved him, she really had, and besides she'd known him forever and he hadn't deserved to die, none of her childhood friends deserved to die, not so soon and not in such horrible ways, they just didn't. The injustice of it struck her: how long since Tyler and her had stopped making waves, stopped getting involved in the supernatural wars? How long since they'd given up so much, after their lives had already been passed through the shredder and distorted into unnatural shapes? And she'd even been ready to—

"Caroline?" Elena's voice echoed in the darkness. "Are you there?"

Caroline hiccuped; tried to stop sobbing, and found out she couldn't. Footsteps: Elena walking towards her, and on her heels Bonnie, though Bonnie stayed standing when Elena crouched in front of her, held Caroline's gaze, her eyes deep and dark and unreadable, like she knew…

"Caroline," Caroline's gaze snapped back to Elena, holding her hands, "Care…"

Caroline let Elena wrap her in an embrace but didn't return it for a while, their hands trapped in between them, crying helplessly… until eventually she reached for Elena and dug her fingers into the fabric of her sweatshirt, into her back, trying to find something solid to hold on to.

"He's dead," she said between sobs. "Elena, he's dead."

Elena crushed her tighter, unafraid to break any bones. "I know, Care," she whispered. "I'm sorry."

Bonnie hovered in the shadows, uncertain of what to do; eventually she joined their embrace and Caroline relaxed, started realizing that her face was completely wet with tears and blood. Her friends looked tired, their eyes ringed black and their faces drawn, even though Elena hadn't aged a day, of course. Bonnie was the odd one out, actually, but Caroline only realized that now because she was beautiful, too beautiful, and Caroline felt hundreds of years old with the weight of grief. (Bonnie, who consistently refused to be turned, who would probably have to die before they even got wise, who would have to drift away if she wanted a human life, children and a husband and no more blood, but who maybe wouldn't have the strength to, if she was here today…)

"I can't believe he's dead," she said again, feeling rigged with shrapnel.

Elena rested back on her heels, scrubbed a hand over her face. "I know," she said, even though she didn't —but she was so used to knowing everything, or to pretend, Caroline let it slide.

Of course it was Bonnie who said, "You still haven't told us what happened," and a cold panic washed over Caroline, because she didn't know, did she? There were only vague leads, a project of revenge that she knew would eat her whole and would eat anyone she took with her.

Caroline fought the urge to collapse on Elena's chest again, roar and rage and tear the flesh off her own cheeks so that that pain would overwhelm the other one inside her, rotting in her bowels and slowly seeping into the marrow of her bones, which she had thought were safe now that Klaus was gone. Turned out she was wrong. Not really a new feeling, either.

"Yeah," she said, and was surprised to feel under her fingers that she was still crying, tears leaking out of her as though to rid her of the excess sadness that her body couldn't handle. Some survival instincts. "Yeah, you're right."

"No more alcohol," Bonnie said mock-sternly, and Elena breathed her little breathy laugh, like she was trying to seduce someone.

Upstairs the sunlight had tamed to a softer shine that didn't hurt Caroline as much as she would have wanted it to. They settled at the kitchen table with strong, bitter coffee —heaven compared to both the station mixture and the airport goo, and probably another impingement on Stefan's collection of pretentious Italian foodstuffs— and a few swallows didn't quite restore Caroline, but made her feel marginally better. Elena and Bonnie pretended not to be waiting, sneaking glances at her.

Caroline rolled her eyes. "I don't know much more than you, guys. We—" she couldn't help but look down, "we had a fight, he went outside, to turn, I thought, or take a walk or something… at two am he wasn't back and I called for him but he didn't answer. I thought — I don't know what I thought. Then the next morning I get a call from the police and Tyler's dead in our backyard, with his heart torn out."

Bonnie's eyes boggled slightly; she squeezed Caroline's hand over the table. Elena was staring hard at her cup.

"Did you see him?"

The memory brought back the heaving in Caroline's chest. She fought the urge to rush to the sink and puke out all the nourishing blood. "Yeah."

"I'm sorry," said Bonnie, but Caroline had trouble paying attention, distracted by the hot, burning anger again. For some reason she'd thought the blood would assuage it a little but instead it was back, more incandescent than ever. She'd always been the monstrous one, after all, out of the three of them: the one who'd taken up her panther skin the most easily, despite how it had happened. She wouldn't give her fangs up for anything, especially now that they were going to help her tear the bastard who had killed her husband to shreds.

"… did it?"

Caroline jolted out of her daydream: heads rolling on the murky forest patch behind her house, the murderer's blood dripping on her bottom lip. "Sorry, what?"

Elena gave a look. "Do you think that Klaus did it?"

There was an awkward silence, and for a second Caroline forgot that they didn't know what had happened the day of her wedding, thought that they were judging her on that one colossal mistake, Klaus on his knees behind her, pressing his cheek against the knobs of her spine. But no — it was only the misadventure in the woods the first time, all that tension finally acted upon.

She sighed. "I don't know. He told me — he told Tyler, too, that he was done coming after us, but who knows with Klaus. I don't think it's his style."

"Well, tearing hearts out is what he does," Bonnie said in her annoying holier-than-thou, I-hate-to-remind-you voice. Caroline suspected she'd never seen the appeal of the whole Klaus thing either; but she couldn't really blame her. He had been their mastermind evil of the week once, after all.

"Wait a second," she said.

She climbed upstairs and grabbed her bag; back at the table she spread the irritating officer's pictures of the knife in front of her friends. "This was in the forest too," she said. "And Tyler's heart was missing. Oh, and his clothes were further from the body than normal, given than he was turned back when he was killed. Klaus is—" she grasped for an adjective, couldn't find one, "but he doesn't eat his victims' hearts, does he? I assume that's what happened."

Elena did a who-knows-with-this-creep face that Caroline didn't resent her and actually found a little ironic given that she'd spent most of her supernatural life dating Asshole McCreep and The Ripper.

"And he's a hybrid too," Bonnie pointed out. "If he wanted to kill Tyler for whatever reason he could probably do it as a werewolf. Wouldn't that be easier?"

Caroline frowned. "Not sure. He —Tyler had lacerations on his chest, but they didn't look like wolf to me."

Elena turned one of the pictures of the knife in her hands. "What's with that knife anyway?" she asked, squinting to decipher the symbols on the handle.

"No idea," Caroline shrugged. She turned to Bonnie. "I thought you might know, or if not you, one of the books in Stefan's library."

"Oh, so that's how it is," Elena gave her a half-grin. "You only love me for my boyfriend's books." She screwed her face up as soon as she said 'boyfriend', like she wasn't sure how true that was. Caroline felt like telling her not to worry, that it probably would be again at some point in the future, but Elena's love life was no longer her prerogative to bitch over, not really.

She tilted her head, electing to forget the pain for as long as it would let her. "You got me."

From the corner of her eye she saw that Bonnie was looking tense, like there was something she wanted to say but wasn't sure she could.

"What is it?"

Bonnie started, lost in a world Caroline probably couldn't imagine. She'd been surprised, in Vermont, when some memories had started to fade only to be replaced by the immensities of dark green stretching to the horizon's end—before she'd realized that she was going to live forever, of course, and her brain needed space for the new memories to settle into, a clear-cut rotation so that she wouldn't let old sadnesses blacken and sour inside of her.

"Nothing, it's just—" Bonnie looked down for a second, briefly embarrassed, "I need to go back home. To New York, I mean," she added, as though Caroline didn't know. She must have seen a response of some kind on Caroline's face, because she continued quickly, "I mean, I would stay if I could, but I've been here for a week already and I've only had this job for four months, if I don't go back I'll get fired, and then…"

She let her sentence trail off, implying a endless spool of consequences that Caroline couldn't help but imagine, out of habit for the worst: then, without steady income, she would lose her apartment, and the witch community in New York would start buzzing with anxiety at losing the Anchor, and admonish her once they found out that she was once again embroiled in complicated supernatural altercations involving vampires and werewolves, whom it was better to avoid if one wanted to stay out of trouble… What Bonnie had now wasn't a common life but it seemed almost ordinary to Caroline, off-balancingly human.

"Of course," she said when she realized that Bonnie was waiting for her blessing. "I totally understand. It's enough that you're here now, and that you were here yesterday," she said, and then, when confronted with Bonnie's worried earth-colored eyes, "seriously. Maybe you'll dig up some weird knife like this one in the dark corners of the MOMA, who knows."

"There aren't really any dark corners," Bonnie said, as though she couldn't help it. She caught herself, smiled. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."

Caroline waved a hand. "Don't be. I'm not going to wallow," she said, even though sometimes she felt like it was the only option: to lie down and just let her body rot with guilt and sadness until she could find Tyler somewhere in the murky waters of half-being. But she was stronger than that.

Bonnie gave her a small, slow smile. "Good. And if you swing by New York one of these days…" She waved a hand to encompass, maybe, Elena and the rest of that godforsaken town that Caroline probably would never hate, because it had seen too many of her firsts, "you know. My couch is always open," she darted an amused look at Caroline, "and my library, humble as it is."

Caroline giggled; the sound was unexpected but it felt good in her throat, slightly alien. She slapped a hand over her mouth but couldn't seem to keep it in. After a minute the others joined in and they started laughing, holding their sides in Stefan and Damon's kitchen, half-slumped over the wooden table. They probably looked ridiculous but it was better than anything could've been in the wake of something as cosmically wrong as the death of Tyler Lockwood, of all people.

In the end they decided that the investigating would wait until after Bonnie had caught her plane the morning after, and that the evening would be dedicated to catching up. They settled back in the living-room, robbing Stefan's cellar of slightly more dignified beverages —red wine that probably cost more per bottle than Caroline made in the years she bothered to work—, and collapsed in a tangled heap on the couch. Caroline sat cross-legged on instinct and felt strange about it when she realized, like she was back to being the eighteen-year-old baby vampire who was worried she would tear out more throats than the rulebook allowed, so, so worried she would do something wrong. She had done plenty wrong, but if this night was any indication some people still loved her.

There were awkward moments: whenever Tyler came up and the glacial shroud of grief enveloped Caroline and made it impossible to talk; when Bonnie made an off-handed comment about Jeremy and Elena seemed to remember that he, too, was walking the streets of New York and occasionally making a rest stop at Bonnie's door, their strange co-dependent relationship, not quite loving but not quite loveless either, that Elena and Caroline couldn't pretend to understand; when Elena mentioned Damon and Caroline couldn't help but snort, because she didn't —had never, and probably never would— do forgiveness well. But on the whole, and when they avoided the subject of men more or less completely, it was the most informative, light-hearted evening had spent in… much too long a time, actually. Caroline hadn't realized how much she'd missed it.

And sure, she missed her babouches and all the expensive clothing she'd amassed back home, and the pictures of Tyler and her where she always, annoyingly and whatever she did to remedy it, looked like the anemic doll to his Greek god, and she missed the warmth of him and the violence of their arguments and his unconcerned cruelty and the way he never minded her borrowing his sweaters even though she drowned in them, stretching the arms and staining the sleeves when she decided on a whim that she didn't like the eggplant color on the kitchen and wanted to try something a little more dignified, more adult, cream maybe? And the way he was fond of and exasperated and frustrated by her, and the way she could read every expression on his face, so much that she sometimes wanted —sometimes had— to yell at him to stop being such an open book, jeez, couldn't he just hold it in for once instead of bleeding his messy emotions all over her Persian rugs.

And she missed the endless panorama of evergreens, the hills and the cold that stuck to the windows on winter days, the roaring fires she bullied Tyler into making for her, the way her breath condensed on the glasses she'd bought expressly for that purpose, though she would probably deny it to the grave… and she missed the forest behind their house and she missed their house, too, even though for the first year she had hated it and woke up every morning wanting to move, wanting to come back to a city where there would be noise and bustle and the dull thumping of blood everywhere you turned to, that house that she'd finally started to love without realizing it, as it filled with memories, sweet and sour and in-between, and visits from her mother and Elena once in a blue moon and even Stefan but never Bonnie, who was always too busy in the city, and didn't really like their being married besides… and she missed all her things that she knew she could probably never go back for now, since the police doubtlessly had realized she was gone and thought she'd killed Tyler, there would be an APB out for her soon enough and they would never catch her, of course, but she couldn't go back anyway and it wasn't like she'd packed like she used to, she was so lost in grief all she had were a few of her favorite outfits, a pair of shoes and an envelope filled with photos, and a few other things…

But there she was on the Salvatores' couch with her two childhood best friends, surrounded by their warmth and slowly filling in the blanks in all those years they hadn't spent apart, exactly, but not together either, and she couldn't imagine being back in her old empty cold, ghost-ridden house, not for all the money in the world. She burrowed closer to Bonnie.

"I'll miss you," she said, trying to make her voice light.

Guilt flashed on Bonnie's face. "I can probably—" she started, but Caroline interrupted, "That's not what I mean, I'm not saying this so that you'll stay, it's just… I will. And I did. I didn't realize how much."

Elena was making her earnest face, and Bonnie, serious Bonnie, looked like she was two seconds away from making a crack about Caroline being emotional just so that it would relieve the tension, but in the end she just knocked Caroline's hip through the covers and said softly, "Me too."

"Well, no-one can stay in Mystic Falls forever," Caroline said when the air started getting too thick, and immediately felt bad for it when she realized that was what Elena had been doing, more or less, when she didn't get it into her head to compel her way into a few semesters at college now and then.

Elena registered her discomfort and didn't say anything, but didn't seem that bothered either. It was true, after all.

The rest of the night passed without further heaviness, though there were moments of startling honesty when they told each other all the things they hadn't realized they were keeping inside, waiting for a best friend to hear. As much as they'd tried, two-week vacations here and there weren't the same, and seeing your friends in new surroundings wasn't always conducive to confessions. Whereas this, the comfortable environment of the house where so much had happened, so many changes and plot twists and transformations, felt —deceivingly, maybe, Caroline could remember quite a few disasters happening there— safe, cosy, the old cherry wood loaded with secrets.

They toed off their shoes and got —not drunk, not again, a hangover two nights in a row was fun for exactly no one, vampire or not— but pleasantly buzzed, enough to set Tyler's death and Caroline's voracious need for revenge, her thirst for an explanation, at the back of their mind. Bonnie fell asleep before Elena and Caroline and they watched her sleep for a while, her chest rising slightly with her steady breathing. Caroline thought, quick as lightning, that killing her would be terrifyingly easy, and when she turned to see if Elena was having the same thought —it had happened more than once; no matter how different they were, they'd been together so much since childhood that it was as though the fabrics of their beings had become interwoven in places— she caught Elena looking at her, her eyebrows drawn.

"What's going on?" she whispered.

Elena shook her head. "Nothing. It's just… what are you going to do? After Bonnie leaves?" Caroline opened her mouth, but Elena continued, "After you're done here, and you have everything you want?"

Caroline reached for one of Bonnie's stray locks, moving it out of her forehead. She had always been the most beautiful out of the three of them, unnoticed except for a few passing, ambiguous men, Kol Mikaelson, Jeremy Gilbert. Why was that?

"You know what I'm going to do." When she saw Elena's brows furrow further she sighed, "I'm not like you. I can't just turn the other cheek. Tyler was my husband, and—" she thought about telling Elena, then decided against it, "the least I can do is find out who killed him and tear their head off."

There was a silence, then, "I'm not as gentle as you think," Elena said, surprising her.

She thought about it for a minute, then shrugged. "Maybe you're not. So you understand. I can't do nothing. Besides," she said, without really thinking, "I have forever. It's not like I'm going to waste my life on this."

"Tyler just died. I think we just realized how short forever really is." It was an odd thing to hear coming out of Elena's mouth, Elena who had been so adamant in staying human and who, once she had settled into her vampire boots, hadn't said much about it anymore but hadn't really seemed satisfied with her new form either. Maybe she wouldn't mind dying. Maybe getting that cure years ago and forcing it into Katherine's mouth out of her stupid nobleness of spirit or whatever had crushed her. Go figure. With Elena it seemed like everything was black and white but once you dug a little you realized it was never that simple.

"I'm going to be—" careful, she was going to say, but as soon as she opened her mouth she realized how absurd it was. Tyler had been careful. Tyler had been nothing but careful, in fact, had kept as low a profile as he possibly could; and then some supernatural psycho had decided to cut a heart-shaped hole in his chest.

Elena gave her a Look, like, see?, and Caroline couldn't help rolling her eyes at her, but it felt good, too, getting into a stupid argument over which suicide mission was the most suicidal.

"We can talk about it tomorrow," she said. She wasn't going to change her mind, but she didn't feel like getting into it now. She was tired and besides, they might wake Bonnie up. She considered suggesting to Elena that they go up to the room, but that feeling of unity was like a loose-knit sweater; she was afraid it would unravel.

Elena nodded. She slipped her hand in Caroline's and for a moment Caroline was surprised. It had been a long time since someone had held her hand and it was such a stupid, mundane thing, she felt like laughing. She didn't, but a giggle escaped her lips.

"What is it?" Elena asked sleepily, her face turned against the arm of the couch.

"Nothing," Caroline whispered. "Sweet dreams." The words brought back with them a wave of panic: sleeping meant dreaming and there would be no dreams, she knew, because the image burned at the back of her mind was Tyler's unnaturally pale face, the zip of the bodybag closing over it, his empty chest where that heart used to beat. He'd told her once about that time Klaus had reached inside his ribcage and gripped his heart for long, painstaking seconds; how it had felt, the imprint of his fingers burning against the thumping veins, cold seizing him and that incredible, unimaginable pain, paralyzing him. Caroline hoped his death had been quick, instead of that protracted hell, but—

"I'll come with you," Elena's voice piped up suddenly in the darkness, jolting Caroline out of her nightmarish doze and into a strange world of sweetness, "If you go. I'll come with you," and Caroline found herself nodding to an invisible point facing her, where she imagined Elena was lying, her eyes half-open, waiting.

Sleeping felt strange: it was like floating between two oscillating worlds, one of infinite pain and one of mellow softness, both just outside her reach —not good, but better.

In the morning Caroline assisted, half-awake, while Bonnie puttered around with her suitcase and promised she'd call, twisting her dress over her shoulders and disappearing through the door again. In her in-between state Caroline found herself wondering if she wasn't a ghost still, when the traces of her presence were so few and unobtrusive. She forgot to ask about it when Elena's arm curled around her middle and dragged her back into the couch, though. There was a vague thought to ask her to go back to the actual bed, so they could get actual rest instead of bruises and knotted muscles, but Elena emanated warmth as though she weren't biologically dead. Caroline's head dropped in her lap and she succumbed to more vaguely unpleasant dreams.

They woke up at noon, feeling somewhat sore with Bonnie's absence and the fact that it meant that they really had to start looking now, which made Tyler's death that much more real. Caroline let the realization settle inside her for the hundredth time, and though it wasn't in any way easier than the first she kept going, stretched and put on a loose T-shirt, leant on the bar in Stefan's kitchen and watched Elena make eggs like she belonged there, which Caroline supposed she did. She'd been all but living here for years after all, and after burning her house down…

"Do you live here full-time?" she asked, half out of interest and half to prevent the possibility of the conversation straying into dangerous waters before she'd had coffee.

Elena flipped a piece of bacon in the pan where it fell with a greasy sizzle. "Kind of. I still have our old dorm at college, for whenever I go back, and I always find people to put me up when I travel, so…" She shrugged, like the Elena Gilbert power of making anyone love her was no big deal. Or maybe she meant compulsion, Caroline couldn't tell.

Without warning, Caroline's mind wandered back to Elena's —the Gilberts', but for her it would always be Elena's, from the first time she had been admitted into its sanctuary, into the warm embrace of Elena's deceivingly elitist friendship— old room. She remembered everything in almost excruciating detail, though why this had stuck but not more recent, vital memories, she couldn't tell: the ratty stuffed bear on the shelf, the bouquet of sparkly pens, the nice clean bedspread… It wasn't much, or original, but it had been hers, undeniably so. It was strange to think of Elena being the one lighting the match to burn it all to ashes.

"It wasn't really me," Elena said, apparently following the same train of thoughts.

Caroline hmed in accordance. Flipping the switch —strange name, but it was a strange ritual, and Caroline had never done it once in all these years, though now… "Don't you miss it?" she asked before she could think.

But Elena didn't wince. She shoveled an egg and a few pieces of bacon on a plate she dug out of the cupboard, sprinkled some salt and pepper on them and handed them to Caroline. Caroline breathed the delicious smell in with relish. The greasier the better for the hangover, was the universal rule.

"Not really," said Elena. "Like —of course I miss my things, or I used to, at the beginning, but it's been years, you know? And getting an apartment, I wouldn't even be there that often, usually I just…" She let her sentence trail off, not wanting to explain or maybe not knowing how to sum up her daily wanderings, "anyway, I have my things here. I do alright."

Caroline blinked. Elena had never been particularly high-strung, even before she'd been turned, but there had always been a neatness about her, something clear-cut that Caroline had trouble associating with the looseness and freedom of the Elena at the head of the table, resting her hip against the counter and closing her eyes when her lips touched her coffee. But it wasn't that surprising when you thought about it —people changed. Caroline had changed too, more than she'd thought she would.

"You want to see Stefan's books right now, or…?" Elena asked, still making googly eyes at her coffee.

The aching returned in Caroline's chest. She desperately wanted to ask Elena if she meant what she'd said the night before, about going with her, but the question as much as the answer were too fraught and too complicated for noon on a Tuesday morning.

"Sure. I'll just take a shower first, okay? I feel gross."

Elena gave her a tiny smile and nodded. "Yeah. You know where it is; I'll go grab you a towel."

Alone in the kitchen as she finished her plate, Caroline wondered absent-mindedly what shower she'd use. Maybe it really was Elena's house —it did say so on the deed— but it still felt weird taking a shower somewhere where Stefan had probably been not too long ago, where he and Elena, and in the other room probably Damon and Elena, not to mention Damon and countless tramps… Caroline repressed her shudder. Not to mention both brothers' tendency for pretending not to know what doors were for and pulling the Batman shtick all over the place, she thought.

On the other hand she really did feel gross, like there was a film of travel grit and dried tears all over the skin, and she was going to need all the strength she had for trying to find out what had happened to Tyler, Elena or no Elena. When she got upstairs she headed decidedly for Stefan's room, deciding that it wasn't that weird, since they'd already slept in his bed. Besides, if he walked in on her naked and soapy they would probably get over the awkwardness within the next century. Maybe.

The hot water on her shoulders felt almost as good as the whisky two nights before, and Caroline titled her head back and let her thoughts wander. Unexpectedly enough, it felt good to be back in Mystic Falls. For once Elena was relatively drama-less (though that probably wouldn't last) and if Caroline had been alone with her grief in her and Tyler's house there was a big chance she might have broken apart. But she was going to have to go see her mother, and as much as she ached to collapse in her arms and cry her weight in tears there was also dread pooling at the base of her stomach, a certainty that telling her was going to make it true, terrifyingly finite. And what would she do, without Tyler? Who was she, even? She'd gone from being her mother's daughter, little Caroline Forbes, Elena's best friend, Matt's then Tyler's girlfriend and of course Klaus's bit-on-the-side crush; from being all that, and breathing in the spaces in between, when no one was looking, from trying to scrub the trace of Damon's possessive hands curled around her forearms when really his possessiveness wasn't meant for her, when she was just an occasional snack, a place-filler for as many of those people as she could remember… from being all that, she had gone on to become Mrs Tyler Lockwood, swallowed up in his name, in him, the golden tinge of his skin and their house and his wolf and the gauzy cloud of her wedding dress. Who was she going to be, now that she had no one to belong to?

She itched to cry, and while there was no one looking she let herself let go of a few tears, feeling them mix on her cheeks with the water and swirl down the drain. Her knees wanted to buckle but she didn't let them. She scrubbed as much sadness and uncertainty out of her skin as she could before going back downstairs, where Elena had arranged a dusty, heavy-looking book and two glasses of —what was that smell— O-neg on the living-room table. Caroline squeezed the towel tighter around her chest, reached for one of the glasses and drained it, feeling her cheeks heat up with the contented blush of new blood. Elena watched her with a smile on her face.

"Thanks, I needed that," Caroline said when she put the glass down, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Normally she had more manners than that, but what the hell, she was heartbroken.

She slumped on the couch, grimacing at the book. "What is that? It looks completely unreadable."

Elena nodded with a small grimace of her own. "Yeah. I looked again at your photos, it's a—" she peered inside the book, at the title page, "Dictionary of Ancient and Lost Languages."

"Ugh, Stefan is such a nerd."

"You're telling me," Elena said with a tiny giggle.

"Well, did you find anything?"

Elena shook her head no. "I just started."

Caroline complained for a few more minutes, trying to ignore the buzzing ache of grief, already almost familiar, settling in her side. Comfortably wedged between Elena and the arm of the couch, she abandoned all plans of getting dressed and lay her head against a throw pillow, staining it with her wet hair.

"Oops," she said half-heartedly, not making any move to sit up.

Elena laughed, showing off her disgustingly white teeth.

"It's fine," Elena said about the pillow, "don't worry about it. They have a housekeeper; she comes by every Thursday."

Caroline raised an eyebrow, instantly mentally cataloguing the risks: that the housekeeper would stumble on the freezer, or a naked Katherine in the staircase, or a naked anyone, really, or an orgy of dead, bloody people in the living-room, or maybe just a boring old corpse, since people seemed to enjoy declaring how pissed off they were by dropping those off on Stefan's rugs. Then again, Damon and Stefan were two-hundred-year-old bachelors, she didn't know why she was surprised.

They perused the book in silence, until it surfaced that the words under the symbols were in Quechua; at which point Caroline settled back into the couch, suddenly feeling inappropriate for tragedy in her towel, and said, "Fuck."

Elena raised an eyebrow. "What's going on?"

"I know—" Caroline waved a hand. "Tyler was — he was working with this tribe in Peru, near Cuzco. That's probably where…" she made a gesture towards the book, to say, something happened.

"Or it's a false lead," Elena said. Caroline recognized her stubborn tone; she probably still thought Klaus was behind the whole thing, which wasn't likely but wasn't ridiculous, either.

She snorted. "You think Klaus planted a Incan knife on — not even on actually, in the forest where Tyler was murdered? So we wouldn't think it was him, even though he's one of the most dangerous beings on this entire planet and we probably couldn't kill him even if we tried, which, oh, actually we have? Come on."

Elena nodded her head, as though to concede Caroline might have a point, but she still didn't look convinced.

There was a silence, then, "What was Tyler doing in Peru, anyway?"

Caroline bit her lip. Yeah —that was the part she hadn't really been looking forward to explaining. "We—" she scrubbed a hand over her face, "we were having some problems."

"You and Tyler?" Elena asked, disbelieving — then she realized and rushed to say, "I mean, I just, I always thought you were—" She waved a hand, you know what I mean.

Which —Caroline did, in a way, because it was true that Tyler and her had always been simple, wonderfully and reassuringly simple, and it was part of the reason why she'd married him, that when they were good they were great; but on the other hand there had also been a lot of fights, even back when they were in college, that time when he'd showed up at her dorm after months and dumped her and after he learned she'd slept with Klaus in the woods, he'd been frothing at the mouth, she'd thought he might— So it didn't really make sense for Elena to think that they were that perfect married couple, except maybe she had her own fairytales drawn up in her head that she had built up on her own… because it was easier, wasn't it, to pretend like everything was happy and blissful wherever you weren't?

In the end she just said, "Yeah. He wasn't there all the time, anyway, but you know, he didn't have a pack and he started doing this thing that—" bitch, she started to say, but it felt stupid after so many years, "Hayley did before she got—" knocked up by Klaus fucking Mikaelson, of all the stupid things to do, "helping packs all over. They needed him there, so…"

And he wanted to go as far away from me as he could, and maybe I pushed him, I'm not really sure— But Elena just nodded, didn't pry further. She probably would, later, casually, pretending not to be all that interested, because Elena thought that she deserved to bear all the ills of the world, that she was fucking Atlas or something, and she was kind of good at it too.

"That's where I have to go," Caroline said, all of a sudden.


"Peru," Caroline said. "That's where I have to go, if I want to find out what happened to him."

Elena looked completely flabbergasted, like that wasn't a perfectly logical conclusion to get from everything that had happened. "I— what?"

Caroline clucked her tongue. "It makes sense, when you think about it. I can't read Quechua, and not to underestimate your abilities but I doubt you can either, and it's not like Tyler and I knew many Peruvian people apart from the pack. He probably met whoever killed him there. It's no use just staying here talking about it. They loved Tyler there; they'll help me. I'll find who did it. I have to go." She didn't say the last part, so I can show them what I do to people who kill the ones I love. Elena wasn't stupid — she'd understand. "

(She also felt, though she didn't say that either, that this was the only thing she had left, of all her possessions in the world: now that Tyler and her house and her heart were all broken, lost, all taken away from her in the space of a week, she was back to being nineteen-year-old Caroline Forbes with the newfound fangs and the ability to take a life quicker than you could blink. She felt like this time she was really turning into the corpse she had been all along, only kept warm by the wolf-furnace in her bed; so what was left besides her claws, her thirst for blood, the ache in her jaw?)

"If this about what you said last night, it's fine," Caroline said when Elena still didn't stop gaping at her. "You don't have to come."

Elena finally closed her mouth. She ruminated for a few seconds, and then said, "This is insane."

Caroline couldn't help a little laugh. "Tyler is dead," she countered —as far as she was concerned, there was nothing as insane as that, as impossible to believe. Tyler was dead, and the sun hadn't stopped shining, and everyone hadn't suddenly started wearing black, and the world was still turning —if she didn't do something about it soon it would be like nothing had happened at all.

(Because something had happened. Tyler was dead.)

Elena titled her head. The silence thickened until it became uncomfortable — and then Elena sighed, releasing all the tension in a simple sentence, when she said, "Of course I'll come."

Until that moment Caroline hadn't realized how much she wanted her to, how much she'd already stacked on that promise since the night before: that she wouldn't be alone on the road with nothing but her thoughts for company, that she wouldn't be the only one to try and avenge Tyler as though he had no friends and no one who cared about him; that she would be the one to wrap her hands around Tyler's murderer's throat and Elena would be beside her when she did.

She exhaled, grinned. "I thought it was insane?"

Elena shrugged. "It is. But you're my friend. You didn't think I was going to ditch you in your time of need, did you?" And she furrowed her eyebrows, as though she was really asking, noble, loyal Elena with her heart that could sometimes house the entire world, or at least that's what she thought.

Caroline didn't answer; she tipped to the side and wrapped her arms around Elena, fingers buried into the hair at the back of her neck, pressing in to make her understand that she didn't think that, she didn't. To make her see how relieved she was. Elena smiled against her shoulder. For some reason, Caroline felt like it was purging some of her pain out of her skin, like she'd been stung by a bee and Elena was sucking the poison out.

"Peru," Elena huffed when she pulled away.

"Stefan's not going to come back while we're gone, is he?"

Elena's face hardened a fraction. "If he does, it's really not my problem."

Or Damon? Caroline thought about asking, because it was hard to keep track of which brother Elena was wrapped up in at any point; but she decided against it. Besides, if it was really Damon she was doing Elena a favor by taking her away. And it was for a good cause.

They went up to Stefan's library to dig up some more books about Incas and peruse travel books before leaving. Caroline had a small epiphany as the sun started to set, a ripple that started in her shoulder and spread all the way to her feet, now that the adrenaline of discovery was completely out of her system: she really was insane, wasn't she? She couldn't just — she couldn't just set off to Peru and try her chance at finding who'd stuck their hand in Tyler's chest and torn his heart out, it was bound to be dangerous, and she didn't even know where the pack lived exactly, they moved around all the time, how were they going to find them? But she looked over at Elena, her nose stuck in a dusty tome, looking for all the world like she was completely on board with Caroline's crazy plan, and she thought, okay. Maybe I can do this. Rage swirled in her stomach, cheering her on.

It was at the end of the night, when their eyes were hurting from the dust and the information and there were ball glasses and a half-empty bottle of shiraz propped up on Stefan's desk, that Elena looked up and said, "I've got something."

Caroline's heart started pounding painfully in her chest. "What?"

"It's—" Elena slid the book over, "it's nothing crucial, just about the knife. If this is right it's a tumi, an Ican ceremonial knife. Um, they used to kill llamas with it?" Caroline couldn't help a giggle, and Elena quirked a smile at her. "I know, right? Anyway, the picture fits, right?"

Caroline nodded. "Guess that makes Peru a good idea."

"Yeah," Elena frowned, "or it makes Tyler's murder a really nice fake from someone with access to ancient weapons. Wonder who that could be."


"Caroline," Elena said. "I know I said I'd go with you, and I will. I just have one condition."

Caroline arched an eyebrow, biting her tongue not to say it was a little late for conditions.

"I know you don't think it's worth pursuing, but I do. It's just a little detour before we leave, it'll take, what, two days at most? I just want to check on a hunch."

Caroline knew what was coming, but she asked anyway, "What hunch?"

Elena held her gaze stubbornly. "New Orleans isn't that far," she said with finality.

Caroline thought about arguing, but knew it was useless — when Elena got an idea in her head you'd better either have some strong arguments and endless force of will or a few hundred years to waste. Denying her would only guarantee that she'd find a more dangerous way to find out what she wanted to know. (And, she added to quiet the tiny voice at the back of her mind, that wedding indiscretion wasn't even in the top five of her secrets. Ten, maybe. Time to sort of out her priorities.)

"Sure, why not," she said, a little petulantly. "I've always wanted to visit the French Quarter, anyway."

It didn't even look that out of place on top of her neatly-folded pile of clothes, Caroline thought.

She picked up the knife, rolling it between her fingers. The half-moon blade was made of smooth metal —gold or copper, Caroline couldn't tell— but there wasn't a square inch of the ornate handle that wasn't covered in symbols. They'd tried to decipher them with the help of Stefan's books, but either it was complete gibberish or they were missing something —a key, Elena had said, if it was a code, and if not maybe it was an older dialect that even Stefan's pretentious dictionaries had never heard of. The fat placid face of the Sun-God, Inti, seemed to mock her, staring right ahead with its gem-studded eyes. The knife felt heavy in the palm of her hand, and she hadn't dared cleaning the blood off it, either, just wrapped it in one of her scarves —Hermes, that knife was getting the first-class treatment—, stuck it at her waist and slid back out the window of the Montpelier Police Department.

Having it in her bag made her slightly uneasy, though. Every time her eyes fell on it the memory of Tyler, strangely unmoving, his chest slashed open and carved into, surfaced back and Caroline felt the need to retch. She didn't know why she hadn't shown it to Elena either, she just… hadn't. It wasn't she didn't trust her, not really. But she had pictures, what was the real thing going to help? At least this one thing was hers, this one facet of Tyler's death that only she had access to, the metal warm in her hands. She felt a deep superstition, a sort of instinct broiling inside her — Tyler believed in those things and she hadn't listened to him once. Now…


She slipped the knife back in the scarf and between two pairs of jeans, her hands trembling a little with adrenaline.

"Yeah?" she called back.

"You ready?"


She looked out the window. The sun was harsh the way it rarely was in Mystic Falls, like it knew what they were up to and wanted to avoid giving them the opportunity to sit on their asses, lazy and afraid. Damon and Stefan weren't back. Caroline felt slightly bad to take Elena away from them —that old, absurd idea that she belonged to the two of them and that they were powerless without her, though that last part wasn't far from the truth— but hell, her emergency was way more important. They'd have all the time they wanted to whine about True Love when Elena came back, and in the meantime their bro bonding could take a few weeks' extension, seeing the issues there. And besides, they'd left a note.

When she emerged in the corridor, Elena was on the phone with Bonnie, whispering for some reason. "I know, I know — look —well, I wasn't going to— Bonnie, listen—"

"Everything okay?" Caroline asked, a little too loud and too cheerily.

Elena jumped. She nodded at the phone dumbly. "Bonnie," she mouthed.

Caroline rolled her eyes. "I could've guessed. Freak vampire hearing, remember?"

Elena gave her a contrite smile and said into the phone, "Bon, I have to go. Talk to you later." She didn't wait for an answer before she hung up.

They stood face to face in the corridor for a handful of seconds; Caroline reflected idly that it was like a Western, like they were going to draw their weapons, see who could shoot straight and who would only catch the other's shadow. "What did she want?"

Elena bit her lips. "She's just worried."

"Worried? About what?"

Elena gave her a look and it occurred to her, eventually: about her. She was worried about her, weak, senseless Caroline Forbes gone mad with grief. Yeah, it figured. She didn't resent Bonnie for it, either —but she wasn't crazy. It made sense, it all made sense in her head.

"Are you?"

Elena moved back a fraction so that her face was half-hidden in the early-afternoon shadows. "Of course I'm worried about you, Care. Your husband just died."

"You know what I mean."

Elena sighed. "I said I'd come with you, didn't I?" she said, like Caroline would have to be satisfied with that.

Outside the gravel crunched under their shoes and Caroline took a second to feel glad she'd chosen the right ones, with thick heels and hard soles, especially if they were going to be traipsing through the Amazon jungle or something. She snuck a glance at Elena, but she didn't seem about to suddenly drop her bag and run back into the house.

Caroline waited until they were already halfway out of Mystic Falls before she said, "We have to stop at my mom's."

Elena swore under her breath, taking a sharp turn. "Why didn't you tell me sooner? I could've—" She stopped when she took a look at Caroline, "Care — you mean, you didn't go before? She doesn't know?"

Caroline kept her eyes resolutely on the road. "She will soon enough."

"Why—" Elena started, then sighed. She was a parent's dream, Caroline thought bitterly, a remnant from her adolescent sourness. But she didn't say, I was afraid I was going to crumble down or I thought I might die from the pain or even Aren't you happy I came to you first? They all felt a little too truthful; it was enough that Caroline was probably going to spill a few secrets on their little roadtrip, no need to start so soon.

The drive to Caroline's mother's was blessedly silent. Caroline fiddled with the radio of Elena's ridiculous SUV —"It's perfect for investigating," she'd declared, hands on her hips, and she really was going to be better at this than Caroline, wasn't she? Of course she was— until she resigned herself to the fact that there was nothing good on, and then she pressed her cheek against the window and watched the landscapes of her childhood pass her by. The high school, where she —where they both— had pranced around with pompoms and too-high ponytails; the road leading to that bridge where so many cars had gone off-track and ended up in the shallow river; the park where Matt had kissed her one afternoon, dipping quickly to get her on the lips, not really kind and surprisingly unshy, and hadn't apologized for it; the car park where she'd seen Damon for the first time, twirling his keys on his fingers and smirking his stupid, hateful smirk; the Lockwood estate, where on the day of the Miss Mystic Falls election Klaus had said —where Tyler's mother had had her head pushed under the water and drowned; the decaying silhouette of the Originals' mansion, and of course the ash-black ground where the Gilbert house had stood for so long, even though Caroline could see they were finally building something new over the charred ground, a house, not exactly uglier than the old one, but different… When they passed it she couldn't help but dart a glance at Elena, just to check —but she kept driving, undisturbed. (Remember, she's changed, too. What was it she'd said? I do alright, and not in her martyr, I-keep-going, I-survive tone, like everything was genuinely okay, calm, quiet.)

The urge to get away from all those memories —conflicting, and so many of them included Tyler, Tyler in all his permutations, from smug to vulnerable to heartbroken to radiantly, brilliantly happy— gripped her, and she couldn't help but fold in her seat. The car slowed down to a halt; when Caroline looked out the window they were in front of her mother's house. She breathed in shakily.

"Show time," she said, not moving.

Elena only nodded. "You want me to come with you?"

Caroline shook her head no, even though what she really wanted was to grab Elena's hand and pull her out of the car with her, keep her by her side through the whole thing like a shield. "I should probably do this alone," she said. It was Elena who'd gotten this into all their heads, too, wasn't it? That they had to be heroes all the time. Well, fuck her.

Come with me, she swallowed. Instead she said, "Okay. I'm going."

Elena gave her a compassionate look. "I'm sorry," she said softly, and it echoed around the inside of the car, floating like some sort of portable curse, because Caroline knew what it meant, and it meant that Tyler was dead.

She gave back her own twisted, it'll-be-fine smile. She was going to have to do this for the rest of her life —she couldn't imagine any of this grief thawing down, or any of the searing guilt either.

Before she could think about it she pushed the car door open and walked across the driveway, curled her hand into a fist and knocked at the door. She really could've got in, she still had the key somewhere in her purse, but this felt better, more cautious. She didn't know what she'd do if her mother wasn't there and she had to go to her room and see her collection of cheery, colored little dresses, and that bracelet, the one she'd never thrown away even though she should've.

There were footsteps. Caroline took a breath. The door opened.

Her mother frowned. "Caroline? What are you doing here, honey?"

Caroline couldn't help but let her face crumple, and her mother took a step forward, rubbing her arm, brows furrowed. "What's going on? Did something happen? Where's Tyler?"

For how long, Caroline wondered through the stomach-cramping pain, fighting not to fold forward into her mother's arms, were people going to ask her where Tyler was? But they were right —because that was what marriage meant, wasn't it, that you were the same entity, the same person. It wasn't meant to happen like this, with one of them dying before they could even get grey hairs (but that would never have happened either, would it?); something as unnatural as losing a child.

"He's not coming," she managed. Elena was looking from her window, pretending to do something on her phone, and suddenly Caroline remembered how she'd been after her parents had died: she'd only cried once, the day of the funeral; the rest of the time she'd been determined and blank-faced, a tiny Jesus in flats with that little bow on the side of her headband, her arm curled protectively around Jeremy. When it came down to it Caroline was more like Jenna, a second-rate player, the one who just couldn't stop sobbing when they leveled the coffin into the ground.

Her mother led her into the house, sat her down on the couch and brought her a cup of tea, even though Caroline had never really been a tea person. They sat there face to face for a few seconds, Caroline searching for the words that would make all this seem a little less absurd. The smell of lemon and honey clogged her nostrils, unpleasantly heady. Her mother was wringing her hands; did she even notice?

"Something happened," Caroline said eventually. Tears started leaking out of her eyes and she didn't try to stop them, just swiped them angrily with the back of her hands. "We… Tyler was attacked in the forest behind our house a few days ago."

Her mother's mouth formed a small o. "Is he okay?"

"No," Caroline said. "He's not okay. He's dead."

Her mother set down her mug without spilling anything and before Caroline could think she was being engulfed in an embrace. She hugged back, taking care to keep the floodgates closed; if she let go of her precious numbness now, who was to say what would keep her together?

"I'm so sorry," her mother said in her hair. "Honey, I'm so sorry," and the worst of it was probably that Caroline could tell she wasn't really surprised, that she'd been waiting all along for the consequences of their condition, vampires and werewolves running amok in a disordered world. What about eternal life? Caroline felt like yelling. What about freedom from death? Wasn't that the bargain?

But she just clung onto her mother's arm, breathed in her familiar scent, building up strength. Eventually her mother pulled back. Her brows were still furrowed. "What about you? Are you in any danger? Do you —was it supernatural?"

"I don't know. I'm not in danger, I don't think, it looks like… I'm still trying to find out what happened."

"You shouldn't—" her mother started, and she was probably right, but—

Caroline ducked her head. "I know, but if not me who will? It's not like I can call the police and tell them that my husband was a werewolf, is it?"

It would be hard for anyone, getting used to this world of legends coming to life, governed by its own petty rules, an eye for an eye. One day your daughter was a cheerleader with a pointy grin and straight As and the next a good meal meant a glass of B positive —it wasn't exactly an easy transition.

"I just don't want you to get hurt," she said.

Caroline nodded, instilling into it more certainty than she felt. "I wont. I'll be fine, mom. I'll just…" She swallowed. "I'm going to be away for a while. Me and Elena."

"What about the funeral? And your house?"

Like ripping a band-aid. "The police probably think I did it by now." Her mother's eyes widened. "I know, but it's not— I wasn't supposed to leave the state and I needed to see Elena, I couldn't stay…" Tears prickled her eyes. "I couldn't stay there, you know? It'll be fine, it's just that I can't go back there now and they won't release the body, since Tyler has no family left… They'll probably—" She squeezed her eyes shut. Truth was, she hadn't really given thought to what, exactly, they would do with the body, and now it was making bile rise in her throat. Would they, what, keep it in the morgue indefinitely? Use it for science? Incinerate it? She should've followed her instincts that first day, taken the body with her.

"They might call you, that's all," she said eventually. "Ask you where I am. I don't want to put you in trouble, you know that, it's just—"

"Of course," her mother said. "Is it — can I do anything?"

Can you bring him back? burned Caroline's lips; for a second she wished Bonnie was still there so she could have begged for a spell, black magic, anything, to return Tyler to her. (And she remembered, at the back of her mind where that memory was —and would always be— lodged, that day in the forest in front of the Originals' manor, killing the first witch and watching them all fall one after the other, like dominoes…)

"Just tell them you don't know anything." She took a gulp of tea even though she didn't really want it, to stall for time. "I'm going to take care of it, and then—" And then she didn't want to think about it, what she was going to do, drained of life and energy and purpose and the need for revenge. "I'll call you when I'm on the road."

Her mother hesitated, then, "Where are you going?"

"Peru." Her mother's eyes widened again. "I know it sounds crazy, but there was a knife near Tyler's body with Quechua symbols on the handle and Tyler was working with this tribe in Peru, I don't know if you remember?" Her mother gave a faint, sad nod. "I think something happened there. I just want to know… I just want to know." She didn't say the rest, the list of horrible and bloody punishments she was planning for Tyler's murderer. No mother needed to hear that.

"Alright," her mother said softly. "Be careful."

Caroline nodded. Suddenly she felt heavy, like her entire skeleton was made of lead. Maybe she could just abandon this entire stupid plan and hide in her childhood bed until all the sadness melted away, until all the memories of Tyler were cleaned out of her brain, incapable to rear up and pierce through her heart. Her mother wouldn't say anything, she'd understand, and—

"I'll miss him," her mother said, staring in front of her. She'd liked Tyler —Caroline remembered watching them dance the day of the wedding, while Stefan was twirling her around, everything shining, the garden strung with Chinese lights, the smell sweet and pregnant and summery. They were talking and there was a fond, soft look on her mother's usually stern face, as though this was something she was proud to have done well, to have seen happen, one notch on the normality belt for Caroline Forbes —well, Lockwood now.

"Yeah," Caroline said. All of a sudden she couldn't wait to get out of there. "Me too."