Chapter: 19 – Misconceptions and the Heart [Featured Characters: Matt, Elena, Caroline, Damon, Tyler, Stefan and Rebekah]
Author: JenniferH (Arabian)
Rating: M (For future chapters/language, sex, violence)
Summary: Post 3.22 -- Elena grapples with who she is as a vampire, struggling for control as she tries to find herself and accept who she loves (spoiler: it's Damon!) while her friends and enemies grapple with their own choices in this new world.
Word Count: 6,309
Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries, and all her characters as presented, belong to Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, the CW, etc., etc., so on and so forth. ;)
Notes: Thank you to my group of wonderful beta-readers who made this fic a ton better than it would have been otherwise. Following canon here, so there will be Stefan/Elena and as portrayed on the show, but fear not, this is very definitely a Damon/Elena story (with other pairings referenced, and some featured (Stefan/Rebekah, Matt/Rebekah, Stefan/Caroline, Jeremy/Bonnie, Klaus/Caroline).
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Chapter 19: Misconceptions and the Heart
Taking a final swipe at the table, Matt glanced up just as Elena entered the Grill. She looked around, her eyes searching. When she spied him, she headed his way.
“Hey.” She called out as she moved closer
“Hey.” He grinned, and slipped the rag into his apron. “How you doing?”
“I'm good. I'm really good actually.” Brushing her hair behind her ear, she smiled. “I feel more or less me.”
“I'm glad to hear that.” He paused, narrowing his eyes slightly and looked at her. “And you and Stefan? I mean, I know it must be weird. It’s been only a month or so since you guys broke up and Ms. Richards assigned you two that project together.”
Slipping her hands in her pockets, Elena nodded. “Yeah. I was worried at first, but we've gotten together three or four times already and it's been cool. No drama. Honestly, I—“ She broke off with a rueful laugh. “I'm beginning to think I make a much better ex than girlfriend. I feel closer to you than I ever did when we were dating.”
Matt’s grin grew. “Ditto.”
Shaking her head, Elena leaned forward, pressing against a chair slightly. “I don't know. It just feels like Stefan and I are really meshing in a way we didn't before. It's like we're getting to know each other... and I like him.”
“Like *like* him?”
“No, that's the thing,” she offered, a musing note in her tone. “That's why it's kinda great. There's none of that tension. I do still love him, but it's like you and me. It’s not romantic. We're friends. And I think it's good.”
She looked at him, and there was a light smile on her face, and Matt couldn’t help but respond. She really did look better, at ease in her skin, comfortable, almost happy… more the girl he knew before her parents died, even before their relationship status went from friends to dating. It was nice seeing her this way. But it’s still… almost, he couldn’t help but think, and he was pretty sure he knew the reason.
Her smile didn’t die, but some of the light definitely faded and Matt felt a stab of remorse for opening that can of worms.
Sighing, Elena pulled the chair out and sat down. “I haven't seen him much lately. I asked him to give me some space and he’s been really great about it. He gets how hard this is for me.” She looked up at him. “So he just drops blood off every couple of days and sometimes I see him and it's just ‘hi and bye.’ Other times I don’t, and he leaves it with Jeremy.” Elena shook her head with a quick laugh. “And when that happens, they hang and play video games.”
Matt laughed, trying to imagine the two ‘hanging.’ “OK, then.”
“It gets better. Sometimes Ric is with them...”
Eyes wide, Matt looked confused. “Mr. Saltzman?”
“Yeah, it's weird. My brother, the vampire and the ghost… playing video games. Although, Ric can’t play and Damon can’t see him, so he just apparently gives Jeremy tips on how to beat Damon and trash-talks him which Jeremy then translates?” She laughed again. “Yeah, crazy.”
She grinned and slowly it faded into a smile of contentment. “But I think it's good for Jeremy. Actually, I think it's good for Damon too. Things are still... awkward with him and Stefan.” Her smile did die then. “Thanks to me.”
“It's true, I played a part. A big one.” Releasing a deep breath, she gave a determined nod. “But I think things are going to work out. I do.”
“So what’s gonna happen with you and Damon?”
“I don’t know.” She buried her head in her hands, and continued speaking, her voice muffled. “He makes me feel a lot and I do want to go there with him…”
Reaching out, he gave her shoulder a quick rub and finished her sentence. “Eventually.”
Elena straightened up and looked at him. “Right, I’m just not ready. What if I lose control again? What if what he makes me feel is too much?” She bit her lip. “Or maybe I’m just scared of what it would be like being with him? What I feel for Damon is… it’s not like anything I’ve ever felt before.” Her voice dropped to a near-whisper. “It scares me.”
“Maybe you should talk to him? The fear of the unknown and all that?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know, Matt.” She forced a smile on her face. “Anyway, forget about me, what about you? How are you dealing with Rebekah?” Reaching out, she placed a comforting hand on his arm. “I'm so sorry that Ms. Richards assigned you with her.”
“Uh,” he began and smiled tightly. “It's OK.”
Taking a slight step back, her hand fell away and he raised his own to rub the back of his suddenly warm neck. “Yeah.” Pausing, he looked around, but there were no tables to clean, no refills to give out. Matt sighed. Aww hell, I might as well deal with it now. He looked down at Elena.
“Look, the thing is, I don't hate Rebekah exactly.” He held himself still, waiting for her reaction.
She smiled. Didn’t expect that.
“Of course you don't, you're you.”
“No, I mean—“ He broke off with a sigh and then steeled himself to lay it all out. “Elena, I kinda like her.”
Her smile faded. That’s more like it.
“Like *like* like?”
Exhaling, he nodded. “Yeah?”
Elena looked away, her eyes widening. “Wow,” she muttered.
“I know, I know what she did—“
She interrupted him with a wave of her hand. “She was protecting her family. I get that.”
“I know, but still, I’m sorry.” He shoved his hands in the pocket of his apron and winced. “I feel like such a jerk.”
Shaking her head, she rose to her feet. “No, don't. I will not judge falling for someone that maybe you shouldn’t. Hello, have you met Damon Salvatore?”
Matt couldn’t help it, he laughed. It was sharp, but genuine. “Yeah, she gets under my skin.”
She raised her brows. “No matter what she does?”
“Yeah.” He frowned. “I’m sorry. After what she did…”
Elena reached out and patted his arm with a smile. “It's OK, Matt, I mean, hey, if you can forgive her after what she did to your truck,” she tried to joke, but then turned serious. “She had reason to hate me.”
“I befriended her. I used her to help us and then I staked her. Right before Homecoming.” Her voice turned thoughtful. “She really wanted to go.” She looked at him. “You were supposed to be her date.”
“Yeah.” He smiled and then clapped his hands together. “Speaking of dances...”
Matt leaned back, gauging her reaction. “I kinda wanna ask her to go with me to the Decade Dance.”
“Right, that's next week. I forgot. That’s why Caroline’s been MIA.” Elena shrugged. “You know what, Matt? I think you should ask her. Not that it should matter what I think.”
“But it does.” He met her gaze, holding it with sincerity.
She nodded. “Then, go for it. And hey, maybe you'll be good for her. If anyone can bring out the best in her, it's probably you.” Elena smiled brightly.
“Thanks, and I promise whenever you do whatever with Damon, I will not judge.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
Matt smiled and then glanced past at her as a customer walked in. Ah. “And here comes the other Salvatore.”
Elena turned around, and threw a wave Stefan’s way with a smile. As she swung back to face Matt, he noticed how Stefan’s gaze seemed to warm and linger on Elena. Matt narrowed his eyes slightly.
“I'll talk to you later then?” Elena asked, recapturing his attention.
He looked back to her. “Yeah, sure.” She flashed him a quick smile and headed to the booth where Stefan was already waiting for her. Matt walked over to the bar and leaned against it. Unable to help himself, he found his gaze returning to Stefan and Elena. He noticed how Stefan kept reaching out to lightly touch her hand at every opportunity, how he kept leaning towards her. Oh, boy. Elena might think they were just friends, but Stefan clearly thought they were headed back into each other’s arms.
“Donovan, get me a drink.”
Matt straightened and turned to see Damon settling himself in his usual seat.
“I can’t…” he started to say, and then shut up. If he hadn’t gotten in trouble yet for serving alcohol to Damon Salvatore on a near-daily basis for a month now, it probably wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. “Fine.”
Reaching the other side of the bar, he rummaged for Damon’s favorite brand, not even bothering to make conversation. If Damon wanted to talk, he’d talk. If he didn’t, he’d just deliver some scathing retort if Matt spoke first. Instead of taking offense, Matt had finally just decided it was their thing… and more often than not, Damon did strike up a conversation. Especially if Dr. Fell wasn’t around.
Matt pulled a glass out and poured Damon a generous amount, but the vampire wasn’t paying attention. He’d swiveled his stool slightly and was looking over his shoulder at Stefan and Elena.
They were laughing, heads bent close. Matt knew Elena, and he knew that the laughter and attitude she exhibited was an Elena in friends-only mode. But judging from the hard glint in Damon’s eye, Matt figured that as well as he knew Elena, Damon didn’t yet know her quite as well as Matt. With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, he realized that Damon was probably thinking the exact same thing as his brother. Stefan and Elena were headed for a reunion… and he wasn’t happy about it.
Yeah, this is gonna be fun, Matt thought as he glanced over at Elena, guessing that her break from drama was about to end.
"I need refuge!" Caroline exclaimed as she practically fell through Elena's front door. "Do you have blood? Or chocolate? I think I want chocolate."
Laughing, Elena shut the door behind her. "I have both, but I don't think you'll want the blood."
Caroline paused as she opened the refrigerator. "Why?" Then she wrinkled her nose as she realized exactly why she wouldn't want it. "Ew, it's Damon's blood, isn't it?" She went on without waiting for a response knowing that she was right. "Yeah, definitely the chocolate."
Following her friend into the kitchen, Caroline watched Elena sit down at the island, reaching for her warm glass of, Ick! Damon-blood.
"It's pretty good, thank you very much."
Struck silent at the sight of Elena drinking the blood, she tried to figure out why the idea of it was so wrong. Aside from the whole Damon-ness of it. She drank blood all the time, and … I drink human blood, she realized. Her eyes widened and she turned to face Elena. "How can you—Elena, it's gross! It's vampire blood. That just feels…" she trailed off, searching for the right word.
Smiling wryly, Elena rolled her eyes. "Cannibalistic?"
"Oh my God! Yes!" That was totally it! she thought as she headed towards the refrigerator.
"That's what Damon said."
Caroline frowned, not liking that she and Damon had anything in common. Which was stupid really when she thought about it because she and Damon actually had a lot in common. She just didn't like to acknowledge it. Eh. She shrugged. "He's not wrong. And you won't hear me say that very often." Caroline made sure to remind her with a saucy grin.
Elena rolled her eyes and took another sip. Caroline closed the refrigerator and opened the freezer. A dreamy smile spread across her face, followed by a whispered, "yes." She reached for her treasure. "Success is mine!" Turning to Elena, Caroline grinned. "I love Häagen-Dazs chocolate chocolate chip *so* much. Do you mind?" she asked even as she pulled open a drawer for a spoon because Elena so would not.
Sure enough, she gave a casual wave of her hand. "Help yourself. What's up with the need for refuge?"
Settling herself down, Caroline flipped the lid off and took a bite of ice cream before responding. "Mmhmm. So good." Closing her eyes, she was quiet for a few moments, savoring the creamy frozen goodness. Then with a quick shake of her head, she looked at Elena. "The Decade Dance is two days away and there is so much to do. I am going crazy!"
"And you love it." Elena grinned knowingly.
"Yes," Caroline conceded with a smile, but it faded with a sigh. "I'm still going crazy, though. And I want to KILL Rebekah!"
"Why?" Reaching out, Elena picked up the extra spoon that Caroline had brought over and dug in to the ice cream. Pausing, mid-scoop, Elena's eyes widened. "Oh, did you hear about her and Matt?"
"Her and… what?" I so did not just hear that. I did NOT just hear her say Matt and—no. Absolutely not. She directed her own wide-eyed stare Elena's way. "What are you talking about?!"
Elena winced and Caroline cringed at the movement knowing it was totally admission of her fear. "Nothing really, it's just…" she trailed off with a sigh and stalled by taking her bite of ice cream, but Caroline's unyielding gaze did not waver. "OK, fine, I was talking to Matt the other day and he… just don't judge, OK?"
Closing her eyes for a brief second, Caroline exhaled slowly and deeply. Calm, Caroline, be calm. She looked at Elena's nervous face and she couldn't be calm, and she couldn't control the rising timbre of her voice. "Oh my God, he likes her, doesn't he? He does! I knew it. I knew it! After the car wreck, which *she* caused, he was all defending her and I just knew it!" Slamming her spoon down, she stood up. "Ugh. I hate that Original bitch."
"No, don't ‘Caroline' me. You should hate her too."
Elena was silent for a moment as if considering and then she shocked the hell out of Caroline. "I don't really." Without explaining more, Elena reached over and pulled the mini tub of ice cream closer to her and took another bite.
"She killed you, Elena. Like literally."
"I know, but I'm here and Matt's alive. She saved his life. And, yeah, she did kill me, but then possessed-evil-Ric died, so he couldn't kill Damon. Considering everything, there could have been way worse outcomes."
Caroline was silent for a moment, and then with a sigh, she sat back down and pulled the ice cream over to her. Of course Elena would forgive her. Why am I even surprised? It's Elena. She's a forgiver. She looked to her friend, loving her, but as always slightly bewildered with how she just let things roll off her back sometimes. Bizarre. "Fine. Whatever. I still don't have to like it. Or her."
"Of course, you don't. Just don't make Matt feel bad about it. He's had it pretty rough, and if he forgives her…"
"Yeah, yeah," Caroline rolled her eyes and went in for another bite. She did not want to think about her ex and that… creature.
"So, if you didn't know about Matt and Rebekah, why do you want to kill her? Is there a specific reason or just general Rebekah-hate?"
Forcing her mind away from awful mental images of Matt and that blonde slut, Caroline gave a quick shake of her head and looked at Elena, explaining. "Our last Decade Dance was the 60's."
"No, it was the 20's," Elena pointed out.
"Yes, but I mean our last correct Decade Dance—"
"Yes, because we had the 20's only because *Rebekah* convinced everyone else to go with the that over what should have been the 70's." Caroline took a deep breath, still rankled over Rebekah hi-jacking the dance's theme last year. "So I was getting everything prepped and researched for this dance which will *finally* be the 70's. Guess what she did?"
Elena shrugged. "Compelled everyone to go with the 20's again?"
"No. Think a decade earlier."
"The 1910's? What'd they wear then?" Elena scooped another bite, and then took a sip of Damon's blood. She looked down, murmuring. "Hmm, I like this mix. It's cold and warm, sweet and tangy all at once. Yum."
Caroline shook her head. "Eww. Anyway, the 1910's, you know like Titanic, Downton Abbey?"
"Ooh, Kate Winslet had some pretty dresses in Titanic. Nice."
"Well, there is that, but, Elena, it was supposed to be the 70's." Pouting, Caroline set her spoon down. "OK, fine, to be fair, I don't think she had to compel anyone. You hear 70's fashion and everyone's mind goes straight to bell-bottoms." She clenched her fists and lightly pounded on the counter. "Ugh! Damn the bell-bottoms!" She threw her hands up and looked at Elena, full of exasperation. "Hello, Halston created great fashion in the 70's!"
She took a deep breath and dipped back into the ice cream, once more searching for calm, and with the help of chocolate chocolate chip, succeeded this time. "Anyway, I had to change my whole concept and time is running away from me now."
Elena flashed her friend a sympathetic look. "You'll get it all done."
"I know." Caroline sighed. "I just needed to vent." Then a bright smile lit her face as she switched gears, determined to not think about things that annoyed her… like Rebekah. "So, we should call Bonnie and head to Decades Design."
"Ugh," Elena threw her head back. "That place is so big and stuffed, it takes forever to find anything in there."
Caroline shrugged, not seeing the problem. It was her favorite clothing store. "Well, when you have a hundred years worth of fashions to satisfy tons of students dressing up for the dances…"
Rolling her eyes, Elena grinned. "Only in Mystic Falls would someone make a killing with a vintage clothing store."
Caroline leaned forward, always ready to share gossip, no matter how innocuous or old. "Did you know that the owner was the head of the dance committee back in the 50's and she came up with the whole decades dance thing. Like five years after she graduated, she opened the store and she's totally raking it in. Pretty smart, huh?"
"Impressive." Elena smiled and the two girls fell silent as they went back and forth dipping into the ice cream. "This should be weird," Elena said through a mouthful of ice cream, gesturing to the tub with her spoon.
Shrugging, Caroline took another bite. "Eh, you drank my blood, we got turned on. This ain't nothing."
Elena grinned. "This is true."
"So…." Caroline began, thoughts of the dance bringing dance partners to her mind. Specifically Elena's potential dance partner.
"You and Stefan are working on that project together, right? Spending a lot of time hanging out. How's it going?" She waggled her brows, and Elena laughed which Caroline took as an encouraging sign.
"Fine. We're getting along very well."
Caroline made sure to tamp down her smile, not wanting to push Elena too hard, instead she want for casual. "Things aren't awkward?"
"Nope, they're good." She put the lid on the ice cream and licked her spoon once more. "It's been nice actually. No secrets between us. I think we're developing quite good communication skills." She grinned.
"Uh huh, uh huh. Well, that's good to hear." Very good! Caroline reached over and pulled the lid back off the ice cream and took another bite. "You know I talked to Stefan after the break-up, and I get now that you guys had problems before that didn't have anything to do with Damon. And, of course, there's the whole Damon situation."
"But, it sounds like you're figuring things out." Her tone was encouraging.
Elena was quiet and Caroline was hopeful that her friend was thinking about Stefan, what they had and what they could have again. She turned to Caroline with a smile, and it was full of such eagerness that Caroline could barely resist the urge to clap. "Yeah, I am." Elena finally offered, and that smile was there in her voice.
This time Caroline couldn't stop herself, she clapped lightly. "Good, so the dance?"
Elena narrowed her eyes in confusion and then she shook her head slightly with a grin. "Yeah, sure we'll get together."
"Yay!" Finally, some things could get back to normal.
Elena grabbed the ice cream, replaced the lid and headed to the freezer, muttering under her breath just as Caroline's phone rang so she didn't catch what Elena said. "What?" Elena turned and Caroline looked at her in confusion, her hand over her phone.
"I didn't say anything," came that oh so annoying, haughty British or whatever accent.
Caroline seethed. "I'm not talking to you, Rebekah. Hold on." Caroline looked at Elena. "Elena, what did you say?"
"Just that the three of will go pick out dresses and, OK, yay!"
Caroline was confused because of course they would get their dresses together, duh. No need for a memo.
"Caroline, I called you for a reason."
Putting Elena's comment out of her mind, she hissed into the phone. "Fine, just give me a second. And don't do anything yet. I will be there. I am the head of the dance committee, not you. Do not make any more decisions without me." She hung up the phone sharply. "Or I swear to God, I will find that white oak stake and I really will kill you," she bit out between gritted teeth.
Plastering a smile on her face, she turned to Elena. "Thank you for the ice cream, the peace and quiet, but I have to go now before Rebekah destroys my last Decades Dance." Without waiting for a response, she stood up and hurried out.
Fifteen minutes later, Caroline glanced down at her watch as she hurried into the Grill, hoping that she hadn't made Tyler wait too long. She was on enough thin ice as it was. Thankfully Rebekah's emergency hadn't been an emergency at all and had taken only one call for Caroline to sort out. Which was immediately followed by a text from Tyler to meet him here. Now where is he?
"Whoah! Watch where you're going, Blondie." Caroline stilled, looking up at Damon and then sending glares on either side of her at his hands on her shoulders.
He pulled away. "You were two seconds from running into me."
Frowning, she looked past him, but still didn't see Tyler. She looked back at Damon then, a sudden bright smile lighting her face as she saw the solution to another problem right in front of her. "Damon, what perfect timing! I wanted to talk to you."
"Whatever it is, no." He started to turn away, but she grabbed his arm and moved in front of him.
"Listen, the Decade Dance is on Saturday. You should totally chaperone!" She smiled, trying to inject into her expression just how much fun he would have doing so.
"Another one?" Damon frowned. "Do you guys have like five of those a year?"
Caroline shook her head. "No, we only have two. So, will—"
"No." Damon turned around and this time managed to make it to the bar before she caught up with him. "Please! Ms. Richards bailed on us."
Holding up a finger, Damon ignored her as he indicated another drink.
He looked at her. "No."
She leaned against the bar and set her purse down, her shoulders slumping. He continued to ignore her. Suddenly, a light bulb went off. "Elena!" Like clockwork, his head jerked up. She smiled brightly. "Elena will be at the dance."
He paused, drink in mid-air and then shrugged. "With Stefan, I'm sure."
Thinking of her conversation with Elena earlier and that grinning admission that she and Stefan would be going together, Caroline considered lying. She looked at Damon and opened her mouth to do that very thing, but he cut her off.
"Save it. I saw him tenderly tucking the flyer into a scrapbook of memories. So, yeah, no."
"Please?" He looked at her, and she tried to look as un-irritated with him as she was possibly capable of, but he didn't bite. Shaking his head, he tipped his glass in a salute and then downed it.
"Scram. Your wolf boy is here."
"Wha—?" Straightening up, she turned around and saw Tyler coming towards her. With a glare Damon's way, she headed to her boyfriend, pasting a smile on her face. "Hey."
"Hey." He shoved his hands in his pockets, looking uncomfortable.
Her smile faded. "What?"
"Can we go outside? It's suffocating in here." Tyler looked intently at her, and she had a moment of foreboding. With a determined nod, she shook it off.
"Sure," Caroline smiled brightly and followed him out of the Grill. He moved to stand by the alley, giving them some privacy. "So, what's up?"
"Caroline," he began, and he sounded hesitant, nervous. The apprehension returned. He took a deep breath and met her worried gaze. "I don't think I can do this anymore."
She shook her head. "What—what do you mean?"
"It's just that every time I think of you now, I think of you with Klaus and I can't get the image of you two out of my head." His voice rose with every word, and by the end his teeth were gritted, and his fists were clenched.
"Tyler, listen to me. You have to know that what *ever* I feel for Klaus—"
"Oh my God." He stepped back, his eyes growing wide pained shock. "You actually do feel something for him?"
"No, I—" She broke off unable to continue because she had been about to tell him that she didn't and that was a lie, and she knew it was a lie. She fell silent.
Tyler shook his head, an angry sneering curling his lips. "I'm done, Caroline. I'm done."
"Tyler!" She reached out, gripping the lapels of his jacket.
"No!" He pulled away, stepping back. "I came to tell you that I need a break. That I'm going back to my pack for the rest of the school year." He looked away, bitterness on his face. "My mom is setting everything up." He laughed harshly. "I thought maybe we could try the long-distance thing, maybe that would help, but...." He trailed off, and turned to look at her, his eyes glittering.
"Did you ever even love me?"
"I did—" Caroline began, and then with a small gasp, she realized immediately what she had said, and tried desperately to correct herself. "Tyler, I do."' Tears began to fall at the hurt on his face. "I just... I'm confused. There's you and Klaus. And I can't talk to you anymore, you get upset and—"
"It's my fault?!" He was incredulous.
"No, I'm just saying that I don't know what I feel." She tried to reach for him again, but her hands fell to her sides as he moved even further away. "I'm sorry, Tyler. I'm so sorry."
"Yeah, whatever. I can tell you really mean that."
Reaching up, she wiped at the tears slipping down her face. "Tyler, please, don't give up on us."
"You're kidding, right?" Caroline stepped closer, thankful, hopeful when this time he didn't pull back. Tentatively she reached out and laid a hand against his heart. He held still, looking at her, his gaze so intense, but then he gave a quick shake of his head, pulling away from her once more. "Goodbye, Caroline."
"Tyler..." She tried again, but he just walked away.
Caroline stood there, frozen, tears drying on her face.
Her head jerking up, she quickly swiped a finger under each eye and took several deep breaths. Turning around, she saw Matt coming towards her. It was dark, and he couldn't see her clearly, but she could see the bright smile on his face.
"Hey, are you excited about the dance?"
She sniffed. "Oh, yeah, thrilled. Tyler just broke up with me." His face fell, but she carried on. "Klaus is a psychotic mass murderer, and you're going with his psychotic sister, or so I assume. Please tell me I'm wrong."
"I haven't asked her yet, but…" He reached out and rubbed her arm lightly. "Care, I'm sorry about Tyler."
"Don't." She stepped back sharply. "Just… go away. I can't even look at you right now. God, Matt, Rebekah?!"
He smiled sadly. "Caroline… I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't, but I like her."
Thinking of Rebekah's brother, Caroline exhaled deeply and sniffed some fresh tears back. "Yeah, yeah, know that song and dance but I just can't right now, Matt."
Turning around, she headed for her car and then stopped at the door realizing that she didn't have her purse… or her keys. "Damnit!"
Throwing her hands up, she bit back a more profane oath. "What now?" She spun around, and a wave of relief swept through her. It was Stefan. Thank God, it was Stefan.
"I ran into Damon in the Grill, he had your purse?"
She nodded and took it from him. "Yeah, I was asking him to chaperone and, I left it there." She grimaced. "He said no."
"I'm sorry you had to talk to him." She offered, knowing that things were definitely still strained between the brothers.
Stefan shrugged. "I'm OK. But… you're not?" He reached over and gently wiped at a streak on her face.
Shaking her head, Caroline forced a bright smile on her face. "I'm fine. Tyler and I are done and I have no one to go to the dance with." Her smile faded and then her eyes widened as she took in his concerned gaze. "We can go together!"
And then before he could get his refusal out, she remembered why he'd refuse. "Oh, wait, you're gonna ask Elena. Of course you are. And she'll say yes. And Bonnie is going with Jeremy, Matt is gonna ask Rebekah and Tyler won't go, and there's Klaus—" She broke off at Stefan's raised brow. "Ugh, don't give me that look! I'm NOT going with him."
She sighed forlornly. "My life sucks. It's the last Decades Dance and I'm going stag." A cry escaped her and she squeezed her eyes shut. A moment later, Stefan pulled her into his arms and surprised her then.
"We can go together," he assured her.
She laughed against his shirt, a real smile blooming on her face. Shaking her head, she pulled back and looked up at him with a soft laugh. What is wrong with Elena? He's so wonderful. She sighed, because Elena deserved to have a wonderful guy on her arm. "No, you go with Elena. Just because I'm miserable, you don't have to be miserable with me."
"No. It's settled." She reached out and patted him gently on the chest. "Thank you, though. I appreciate the offer."
"You've been there for me, I'm here for you." He paused and gave her a comforting smile. "I didn't know about Tyler. I'm sorry."
Caroline shook her head. "It just happened, like, literally. I'll be OK. But thank you." She leaned up and pressed a quick kiss to his cheek, lingering longer than she should have. She should pull away, she knew that, but it felt so safe and right in his arms. And once that thought popped into her head, it felt as if something shifted. And it was weird and suddenly so not right. Pulling away, she told herself that she had only done the whole lingering thing because she was depressed, therefore understandably clingy. Still. Caroline cleared her throat, feeling nervous because depressed or not, she *had* lingered that tiny bit and so there *was* this unexpected charge in the air.
She withdrew her arms from around him and Stefan took a step back, not quite meeting her gaze. Yeah, he totally felt it too. Great. Out came another forced smile. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go home and lose myself in last minute preparations for the dance, and some more Haagan-Daaz. And The Notebook." She nodded decisively.
Now he looked her square in the eye and she felt a small rush of relief. He was still Stefan and she was still Caroline, and they were still good. He smiled, the one that she was beginning to recognize as the smile he put in place just for her. It never failed to elicit an answering one in kind from her. Just as it did now.
"I already feel better, I promise."
"Caroline…" He tried again.
She laughed lightly. "No, really I do." She reached out and pushed at his chest lightly. "Go, go on. I'm good."
Stefan gave a nod. "OK, night, Caroline."
She watched him walk away, decidedly not thinking of that lingering moment, instead focusing on his sweet offer, his warm comfort and how he'd made her smile. She smiled again. Exhaling softly, Caroline pulled out her keys, definitely feeling better and ready for a night of lists, ice cream and Ryan Gosling.
Matt paused before the front door. Do I really want to do this? He looked down thinking hard and an image of Rebekah doing an impression of the dramatic chipmunk flashed through his mind. He grinned. Oh yeah, I’m doing this.
He knocked on the door.
A few moments passed. Not surprising considering how big the place was. Fidgeting nervously, he dug his hands in his pockets. If she’s not here, I’ll take it as a sign, he decided.
The door opened. OK, then.
“Hello.” Rebekah looked at him warily. “This is a surprise. We already met over this ridiculous school project.” She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. “Wait, what am I being accused of doing now?” She smiled sweetly, but her eyes were hard.
Still, the girl was really, really hot. And the tight sweater and short skirt she was wearing certainly helped. He gulped and tried to smile. The look on her face made it clear that the smile looked as awkward as it felt.
“Hey,” he managed. “I mean, you didn’t—do you want to go to the dance?” Matt just blurted out, figuring the question would account for his presence and his nervousness better than any rambling explanation.
Rebekah’s smile faded and her eyes widened, a sweet vulnerability filling them, a softness shifting across her face. The corners of her lips turned up just the slightest. And then her expression froze and she stood straight, her shoulders squared.
“What is this about?” Her words were clipped, without a sliver of warmth.
“I—“ he broke off and looked away, confused. With a shake of his head, and a wry laugh, he looked back up at her. “This is about me asking you to go to the dance with me.” He raised his brows, and tried another smile.
Rebekah was quiet, gazing at him with suspicion. Finally, she relaxed her stance just the slightest and spoke one word. “Why?”
“Because I want to go with you.” He told her.
“No, you don’t.” She shot back. “You hate me.”
He sighed. “I don’t hate—“
“Alright, fine, you don’t hate me. You're coming around, yes, but you don’t like me.”
He grinned sheepishly, his hand rising to rub the back of his neck. “No, I…” Trailing off, Matt sighed and straightened up. “I do like you. And I wanna go to the dance with you because, I don’t know, I figured maybe we can finally get it right. Your brother tried to kill me the first time, and you were unavailable for Homecoming—“
Letting out a bark of laughter, Rebekah looked away. “Unavailable? Really? Your precious Elena stabbed me in the back. Literally.”
His smile faded and he threw his hands up. “That’s what you’re doing? I’m actually asking you out on a date and you’re taking shots at Elena?” He shook his head, talking almost to himself now. “I thought you wanted this?” He began to back away. “Forget it. I never should—“
“No, Matt, wait!”
He stopped, glaring at the pavement.
“I’m sorry. I just can’t believe that there’s not some ulterior motive here.” He looked at her. “Can you blame me?”
Quiet for a moment, he finally looked up at her. “No. But there’s not.”
She cleared her throat. “OK, let’s start over then?”
“What do you mean, Rebekah?” He sighed, seriously regretting ever coming. Why did I even consider this?
“I’ll close the door, and you come and knock again. I’ll open it and smile. And you’ll ask me to the dance and I’ll say yes.”
She looked away, and when she spoke there was the slightest catch in her throat. “I’ve never been to anything like a high school dance just like a… normal girl.” She turned back to meet his gaze. “I think I would like it. Especially if I was with a normal boy… like you.”
Rebekah smiled, her heart shining in her eyes, her hope in that tentative smile. She was so beautiful. He couldn’t breathe for a second. That’s why.
Nodding, he stepped nearer to her again and offered up a slow smile. “Close the door, Rebekah.”
Her eyes widened, that hope moving to light them. “And you’ll—“
“Just close the door.”
With a slight nod, she shut the door. Matt waited a moment, shook his head with a silent laugh. Yeah, I’m doing this.
He knocked on the door.
TO BE CONTINUED
We're entering the homestretch now. If you're reading and enjoying this, please leave a comment and let me know. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks. :)