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Brilliant bursts of light bloomed in the night sky above Mystic Falls as Liz lay back on the blanket next to Caroline with her hands folded on her stomach. It had been far too many years since she and her daughter had enjoyed any holidays together. When Bill left, everything had been too painful for her and Caroline seemed to blame her for the divorce. It had just been easier to go along with it when her daughter told her she would be spending the holidays with her father. Looking back, maybe she should have fought it; maybe a better parent would have. Hell, maybe it's what Caroline had really wanted. However, it was too late to change the past.

At that last thought, Liz's lips turned up in a small smile. Given what her daughter had done and was still in the process of doing, that didn't seem as true as it once had. With a mental shake, she decided that she would try not to think about Caroline's time traveling or the imminent arrival of very old and very dangerous supernatural creatures. Of course, not thinking of those things would be easier said than done.

Glancing over at her daughter's relaxed face, Liz was struck by the thought that, had the supernatural world not invaded her daughter's life, they wouldn't have had this.

Seeming to sense that her mother's mood had shifted, Caroline rolled her head and looked at her mother questioningly. Sticking with their unspoken rule of no more secrets –even small ones—Liz decided not to hold back on talking about what was bothering her.

"I just realized that I'm grateful that you've gone through everything you have, because it gave us this. And then I realized how awful of a mother that makes me."

Turning over onto her front, Caroline reached for one of Liz's hands and stared at her with a very serious and determined look on her face.

"You are not an awful mom. You're allowed to be happy that we're closer now and that we don't keep big secrets from each other. I know it doesn't mean that you're glad I went through what I did, it just means that you're happy that the universe gave us this to balance it out."

Caroline shifted to sit up and Liz did the same when she realized her daughter wasn't finished.

"Going through everything that I have, it's taught me a lot. One of the things that it taught me is that we have to find every bit of joy and happiness we can, no matter how dark the situation is. The good in our lives isn't just going to appear, we have to seek it out and grab onto it, to fight for it. Sometimes that means being grateful for the crappiest of things, but that doesn't mean we're happy that the crappy things have happened."

Before she could comment on her daughter's mature and optimistic outlook on the situation, Liz caught sight of Pearl, Anna, and Harper walking toward them. It had only been roughly three weeks since Caroline had let Pearl and Harper out of the Tomb but, thanks to an early Christmas present of all new fake identities, they had managed to start making a place for themselves in Mystic Falls. The part of Liz that had been raised hating vampires still cringed at the idea that she had agreed to inviting the three to stay. She was slowly coming to accept that this evil –if it was, in fact, evil—was a necessary one. There were far worse things coming down the pike, and her daughter had a plan.

"Happy New Year, Caroline, Sheriff. I trust you're enjoying yourself."

Either Pearl had managed to let go of the resentment Liz had at first been the target of –due entirely to her connection to the founding families—or she was a very good actress. Either way, the woman had been nothing but polite and cooperative once she had decided that Liz fully intended to keep every promise her daughter had made in her name. That still didn't make Liz comfortable around vampires that weren't related to her. Caroline, however, seemed to have no such issues.

"Indeed we are! Would you two lovely ladies care to join us?"

Judging by the fond smile on Pearl's face, Caroline had managed to win over yet another person. She had been doing that since she had first come into the world and becoming a vampire apparently hadn't lessened that particular skill. Even before Pearl could finish nodding her head slightly, Anna had let a grin spread across her face as she lowered herself down next to Caroline. When Caroline asked where Harper and Ben were, however, it quickly became apparent that Pearl wasn't there strictly for a social visit.

"Harper will be joining us later. Benjamin, on the other hand, has decided to leave us. Apparently, life in Mystic Falls is no longer something he desires."

At this Caroline pouted, just as she had every time she had hit a snag in her plans as a child.

"Maybe breaking out the PowerPoint this early on was a bit much. Do you think I scared him off?"

The last was said with a genuinely worried expression directed at Anna, as if she expected the girl to tell her that she had come on too strong and overwhelmed Ben with too much information. Anna, however, shook her head.

"I think he was scared off by the thought of vampire boogeymen invading our little corner out back of the beyond."

With this Caroline looked a bit ashamed.

"So, it was less the bullet points and colorful slides that sent him running and more the tales of horrific deaths potentially awaiting us. I probably should have just told him he would be fine if he just kept his head down and stayed out of it all."

Pearl chose to answer in her daughter's place.

"You were correct in telling him the whole truth. He had the right to make an informed decision. I have not known you for long, Caroline, but I know you well enough to be aware that, had he stayed and suffered because he was unaware of just how dangerous the situation could get, you would have felt at fault."

Caroline seemed to accept this, at least to some degree. Before any more could be said on the matter, though, Elena appeared with Stefan on her arm looking like very uncomfortable arm candy. At some point Liz would get used to all the vampires roaming around the town but she didn't think it was going to happen any time soon.

"Elena and Stefan! How goes it in paradise?"

Stefan looked down with a small grin at this, but Elena's version of a smile was more than a bit distracted. Clearly she had come here to talk about something specific.

"It's great, actually. I was wanting to thank you. Jenna told me that you helped her out a lot when she was looking up information on my birth mother. Actually, what she said was that you did everything but box it all up and wrap it in a pretty bow for her."

It was said with affection, and Liz could clearly tell that her daughter took it as it was intended. That was a welcome change; there was a time when Caroline would have heard criticism in the comment. Of course, she also remembered a time not so long ago when Elena's words would have been criticism. Maybe they were both growing up.

"That's what friends are for!"

Elena smiled and bite her lip a bit, clearly about to ask for something she thought Caroline might not want to give.

"Speaking of doing things for friends... I was planning on heading to Grove Hill to talk to Trudie Peterson, find out anything I can about Isobel, come with me?"

Elena ended with a pleading tilt of her head, which Caroline mimicked, scrunching up her nose.

"You still haven't talked to Alaric, have you?"

At Elena's guilty head shake, Caroline let out a resigned sigh.

"Fine, I'll go with you. However you, missy, are going to have to talk to him at some point. It could be a coincidence that he married a woman named Isobel who was from around here because that name is just so common."

Seeming to relent, she continued on in a more understanding voice, "You can always talk to him after we talk to Trudie."

It should have disturbed her, how good of an actress her daughter was. In fact, if she hadn't known for a fact that Caroline was well aware of what had happened to Isobel and the fact that Elena's mother and the woman Alaric married were one and the same, she would have been  fooled along with the rest of them.

Obviously uncomfortable with the topic, Elena quickly asked if Caroline had seen Bonnie around. While Caroline's expression clearly showed she saw through her friend's sudden interest, she played along.

"She's over there with her dad, her Grams, and her mom."

At the last, Elena's eyes got big and Caroline nodded to confirm that she'd really just said that Bonnie's mother had made an appearance.

"I think I'll just wait 'till tomorrow to talk to her, then."

They each said their goodbyes, Stefan's as quiet and unobtrusive as his hello, and were on their way. As uncharitable as the though was, Liz found herself half wishing that he had accompanied Ben on his way out of town. While he hadn't done anything to cause Liz to distrust him –and Caroline assured her mother that Stefan was on a strictly non-human diet-- she couldn't just get over a life-long belief that vampires were the enemy. Two things stopped her from making a suggestion to Sheila that they get Stefan out of town; Caroline might need back-up –canon-fodder, Liz thought, distraction for Elena, Sheila had said-- and she didn't think Caroline would go for it. Oh well. Maybe they would get lucky and Ben would call for help and Stefan would have to go running.

Just as she thought of Ben, Anna picked up the conversation where Elena and Stefan's arrival had initially seemed to end it.

"Ben doing a runner might be a bit of a problem."

Caroline seemed genuinely confused when she replied with, "He's more than free to go, in fact it's probably better for him. Besides, it's not like he has any top secret information he can sell to anyone."

At that, Pearl and Anna shared a look as if they didn't think Caroline would like what they had to say before Anna continued.

"Before he left, he made it clear that he knew you were the one, and I'm quoting here, 'calling all the supernatural shots' lately."

Heaving a resigned sigh, Caroline threw her hands up in a gesture of surrender and said, "There's not really anything we can do about that now and, unless he's planning on sticking around to get all chatty with anyone, it's really not going to make much of a difference."

Ben definitely wasn't thinking about sticking around talking to anyone. In fact, he had been thinking of nothing but putting as much distance between himself and Mystic Falls as possible. His only stops had been for gas and to grab a quick snack. Junk food, not blood. He had grabbed probably half of Caroline's stash and left her a note. Given that he had told her he was grabbing the stash so he wouldn't risk killing some innocent bystander, he figured she would understand. The truth was, he was less worried about keeping his body-count down and more concerned with keeping on the move.

He had driven as fast and far as he could, but it was getting uncomfortably close to morning as Ben neared the motel. He wasn't necessarily proud of himself for running, but he couldn't say he felt guilty about it either. It wasn't his fight, and he honestly didn't owe any of them a thing. Anna had only turned him so she could use him as a spy around town, Pearl and Harper didn't seem to care when he left, and Caroline… Okay, maybe he felt slightly bad about ditching Caroline. She had gone out of her way to try and make sure he had as easy a time of it as possible adjusting to his new life. Glancing over at the laptop she had bought for him –winking at him and saying it wasn't her credit card so he didn't really have to thank her— almost gave him the urge to turn around and head back. Almost. The memory of Pearl's face when they were talking about him kept Ben driving toward the motel and away from Mystic Falls.

He hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but he had been making a sandwich –Caroline was actually right about eating regular food taking the edge off the urge to feed on people—and they were talking in the other room. They hadn't even bothered to try and be quiet and he'd only been half listening until he heard Pearl ask what was to keep Klaus from just killing everyone and taking what he wanted. He sped to the doorway and got there just as Caroline had opened her mouth to answer.

Who's Klaus, and why is he going to kill everyone?

He had asked it jokingly, thinking they had been exaggerating –like when you say you're mom is gonna kill you for tracking mud in the kitchen. Part of him still wished he had never overheard them let alone asked what was going on. What they had told him left him scared, but not half as scared as he was by the fact that he just knew they had been holding back. They had tried to make it seem like nothing more than a visit from a powerful and temperamental dignitary, but he heard what it was that they weren't saying. The devil was coming to Mystic Falls, and he wasn't one to play nice.

Ben was brought out of his memory by the sight of the motel sign. He chose to put all thoughts of supernatural business out of his mind as he parked the car. As he closed the door and slung his laptop bag over his shoulder, he caught sight of a beautiful young woman making her way out of the motel's office. Deciding he could get a free room and a quick meal, he jogged toward her at a human pace and wasted no time in compelling her to find out if she was alone and inviting him to her room. While he was sure Caroline would have a lot to say about using compulsion like this when not strictly necessary, he also thought she'd be proud that he was thinking on his feet. After all, it wasn't like he had a lot of extra money, and he was planning on leaving the woman alive.

He was still congratulating himself on being resourceful as he stepped into the room only to be brought up short at the sight of two men sitting at the room's only table. The man closest to him and facing the beds had dark hair, a thick build, and was dressed like those trust fund babies who used to play on the football team with him. He even wore the same self-assured expression that said he'd never had a moment of doubt about what he would do with his life. That expression had Ben ready to sink his fangs in just to wipe it off the fucker's face.

Before he could act on that impulse, however, the second man stood. He was built leaner and he looked like a cross between a high-end pimp and a Russian mobster. As he walked forward, however, a cheerful smile spread across his face that somehow managed to send a chill up the back of Ben's neck.

"Benjamin! So glad you could make it before daylight, mate."

The man's accent was British and his tone was welcoming and friendly, but it didn't stop Ben from being confused as to who this man was and why he was acting as if he had been expecting Ben. The confusion must have shown on his face because the man gave a slight chuckle as he gripped Ben firmly by the shoulders.

"How rude of me. Let me re-introduce myself. My name is Klaus, and you have information I want."


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