Author's Note: I am so sorry for the long wait! Thank you all so much for reaching out to me about this story! I am so glad that everyone is enjoying it! I hope that everyone continues to like it! Let me know what you think! Enjoy!

It doesn't sound right. It doesn't taste right. It doesn't smell right. Nothing seems right. It's all twisted and distorted. The field of vision is too... is too... it just doesn't seem right. Everything comes in snippets. The ground is too close. The smell of forestry and dirt. There is a primal part of her brain that loves this smell, this sight, this feeling. Caroline feels so completely disconnected from this other thing. This whatever-it-is that somehow has control of her body... it's scary. It's violent. It's unnatural. She feels this massive disconnect from it.

She can only remember snippets of thoughts and memories that are a jumbled, garbled mess that is impossible to piece together. She feels like she was there in the present, not really in control, but observing something else piloting her body. But as she began the transformation back into herself, with all the breaking bones and cries of pain, and then nothing. All the memories she vaguely had from the night before slip away into the deepest parts of the back of her mind.

In fact, most of the night was gone. She could only remember snippets of her running away from the memorial service for Mr. Tanner and into the woods. She remembered that she was terrified, that she had to get away or she might just die. Then she remembers being in pain, crying, and begging for someone to help her and then... and then... nothing.

Although Caroline felt horribly violated waking up naked outdoors with next to no memory of how this could have happened. Luckily she awakened bright and early in the morning and she was near the local junkie escape ground. She had to tip-toe around needles and cigarette buds to grab hold of a huge, discarded sweatshirt that stuck so bad that Caroline's nose crinkled in disgust, but it was better than running through the streets naked.

She reached her house in what feels like record time, scrapping up the bottoms of her feet, pulling at the stitch in her side, burning her lungs, and making her very aware of the less than favorable situation her body is in. She's filthy - and that's before the nasty junky sweatshirt became the only option for her to run home with some scrapes of her dignity still intact - covered in dirt and mud and there is a distinct taste of iron in her mouth.

She ran inside, not bothering for even a moment to see if her mother was even home before running into her bedroom, going for her attached bathroom, throwing the sweatshirt into a corner on the floor, and jumping into the shower. She turns it on without a thought, tensing up as she's blasted with ice-cold water, sucking the air out of her lungs.

She drops down into the fetal position as the water goes from ice cold to steaming hot down her back. She sits under the spray, unmoving, for a very long time. Her eyes closed while she rests her forehead on her knees, and her arms wrapped around her thighs. Caroline sits there for a long time under the spray, trying to fully pull herself back into her own body after the ordeal that she went through. Despite the boiling hot water pouring down her back, Caroline can feel her hands trembling against her thighs.

She parts her thighs a bit to look at her own hands to see them dirty with mud-caked under her nails. Caroline pulls her hand up, quickly cleaning under the nails to get the mud out. Then she washes the dirt off her hands, then her body. She grabs the bar of soap and starts washing her body over and over and over again, clearing the mud and the marks away as much as she can, until the marks on her skin vanish into an irritated red as she scrubs herself raw all over her body. To get rid of the phantom pain, the marks, and the fading memories. Oh, and that nasty junky sweatshirt. She washed her body about seven times more than was absolutely necessary.

She didn't stop scrubbing until her skin tingled painfully against the hot water. Caroline, lastly, lathers shampoo into her hair nice and thorough, letting it settle for a few moments. Once she did, she folds herself back into the fetal position and drops herself beneath the spray. After a few minutes, she reaches up and starts rubbing away at her scalp, washing away the shampoo.

She stayed under the spray long after her fingers pruned up.

Finally, she had to get out. Caroline pushes herself to her feet, turns off the shower, and steps out. She grabs her towel, wrapping it around herself, and heading back into her room. She quickly changes into leggings and a t-shirt. She dries her hair slowly with a towel while sitting on her bed, staring out the window with a vacant-eyed stare.

Her mind tries to grasp at the threads of what happened the night before. The gnashing teeth, the blood, the feeling and the sound of breaking bones, the image of the man... it all starts to pull back behind the wall. Where all the scary stuff goes. She doesn't forget the pieces, but the scary parts of them connect to the other side of the wall. It scares her to pull at it too much. If she tries to remember too much, the fear... the terror that grips at her heart when anything pertaining to stuff behind the wall are thought about or gently probed at.

It's scary. Too scary. She can't face that. She's afraid to face it. She's not strong enough.

Distantly, Caroline hears the sound of a door opening and closing. The sound of footsteps going through the house, drawing closer. Liz stops in the doorway to Caroline's bedroom, rubbing at her eyes tiredly, while Caroline twists around from where she's sitting to look at her mother. Liz blinks a few times, tiredly. Her eyebrows pull together.


Caroline offers a little nod. "Hi, Mom," she croaks, her throat hurting. She hadn't realized how dry her throat was until just now.

Liz pulls off her belt, holding her handcuffs, keys, flashlight, and all the other little things that she carries around with her that Caroline doesn't know about, and lays it down onto Caroline's dresser and walks over to sit down next to Caroline. She looks tired but offers a small smile to her daughter. "Are you okay, sweetie? Why aren't you in school?"

Caroline didn't know how to tell her mom that for reason she doesn't completely remember, she broke every bone in her body last night and when she woke up this morning she was in her neighbor's yard, naked, dirty, and completely out of it. She just has to pray that no one saw her. Well, to be honest, she doesn't even super care about that anymore anyway. She just wants to go back in time to last year. When everything was a lot easier and normal and she had some idea of what she was doing.

Instead, she said something she's probably never said in her life. "I don't feel like going to school today. Is it okay if I stay home?" Caroline pulls the towel off of her head and down onto her lap while looking at her mom. It's good. It seems like Liz was out all night last night and didn't notice that Caroline wasn't even there. Either it was an all-nighter shift or something, or something happened, Caroline doesn't know. But she's relieved that there wasn't going to be any questions, at least, not from Liz.

Liz stares at her, worried etched onto her face. She reaches out, placing a hand on Caroline's. "Are you okay, sweetie?"

Caroline shrugs her shoulders, not able to pull the lie from her throat. "Do you have to go back to work? Can we... can we spend some time together?"

One thing that Caroline does remember clearly through the fog of pain and fear from last night is how much she wished that Liz was there. She wanted nothing more than for Liz to be by her side. There has been this separation, this divide between the two of them for so long. Caroline hates that it took this long for her to really grasp the severity of what her actions were doing to her mother - how much her words and actions hurt her - but she wants to make it better.

She was sure she was going to die last night - unless it was all a dream, breaking all her bones over and over again - but she didn't. She survived. She woke up the next morning, alive. She was aching, but she had enough time to look at her body while she was showering, and she was fine. There weren't any scratches or bruises, or protruding bones.

Caroline is starting to wonder if maybe it was all a dream. She had some sort of panic attack that lead to temporary insanity where she took off her clothes and ran streaking through her hometown.

Well great, now she has something else to keep her up at night. "Sure, sweetie. I'm off for the rest of the day. Give me some time to shower and call the school and we can do something."

"I just want to stay in and watch some movies or something," Caroline says, turning more toward her mom. "I'll order some pizza or something so take your time."

Liz smiles softly, running a hand up and down Caroline's arm. She's tired but seems to be happy. "Alright. I'll be right back." She stands up, grabbing the belt off of Caroline's drawer and heading out of the room, but not before sending one last look back over at Caroline. Her blue eyes seem to see right through Caroline, making her feel transparent. But Before Caroline can even think of anything to try and defend her strange behavior, Liz turns and exits the room.

They had fun, surprisingly enough. Caroline and Liz spent the day sitting in the living room eating snacks and pizza. They made it through two movies before Liz finally fell asleep on the couch next to Caroline. The younger blonde put a blanket around her mother and finished the third movie on her own while Liz slept next to her.

After that, Caroline went back to school the next day and desperately tried to get back into her life. She made sure to fill her plate with anything and everything that she could think of to busy herself. Sitting around that day while she and Liz watched movies gave Caroline enough time to think about how disconnected she's been with her own body. And she's terrified that if she keeps at this, she's never going to find herself again. Bit by bit, pieces of her are being chipped away. She has no idea when it started or what caused it exactly but she's terrified by what it's doing.

So she throws herself back into her life. She keeps her head down, avoiding everyone's eyes except for... well, Tiki. Tiki has been her right-hand lady these last few weeks. Usually, Tiki helps out with the extracurricular activities and they are Cheer together, but Tiki has been there. These last few weeks, when it feels like Bonnie and Elena are slipping further away from her, she's had Tiki there, even if it's only peripherally. Caroline finds comfort in having her there. She's not Bonnie or Elena, but she's wonderful in her own right.

Caroline is thankful for her being there, even if she's not doing it intentionally.

Caroline makes sure never to be anywhere alone. She's so utterly terrified of being alone that she's doing everything she can to not be alone. All the extracurricular activities she can, hanging out with anyone who will ask. And when she didn't have anyone actively asking to hang out with her. She would sit in the Grill, amongst the people, doing homework or planning out the next this or the next that.

And it really helps her. She keeps her head down, vanishing into the crowd, and is able to forget - even if it is only slightly - all the terribly scary things that lurk inside her mind can be crammed down into a little box that she could shove up against the wall in her mind that hides all the scary stuff behind it.

Even sitting alone in her room was getting to become scary. Nightmares of times she doesn't remember coupled with this terrible smell that she can't seem to find. She doesn't eat in her room, at all. She ended up looking around all of her trashcans for the smell. Then cleaned her bathroom. Then she just pulled out all of her clothes and washed all of them. She sprayed down her room and got an air freshener in there.

She stopped smelling it for a bit.

After the excitement of the cougar being found - the animal that had been attacking everyone - people were quick to move on to the Founder's Day Ball. It's one of the more extravagant events of the year. Not that Mystic Falls is ever lacking in events of any sort, but people like to celebrate the founding of their beloved little town.

Caroline wasn't sure what to wear to the Founder's Day Ball, even though she spent more time than necessary thinking about it. A small part of her wanted desperately to go and get a new dress, something to help her feel better. She knows that material possessions weren't going to actually make her feel any better about anything that's happening to her, but she was hoping it would. That somehow a new dress would make her a new person with an entirely different person. It would just make all of her problems go away.

It won't, obviously. But she spent more than a moment naively hoping so.

And yet in the hours leading up to it, Caroline was staring into her closet, debating on cute and flowy, classy and elegant, or pretty and conservative, Caroline realized at that moment, aside from the utter terror of being alone for a moment to try on dresses, that she wanted to disappear. She immersed herself in all of these activities and these people not solely because she was scared to be alone, but because this was the easiest way to vanish. In a crowd of people.

Once she realized that, Caroline knew that her dress was going to be pretty and conservative. The more skin that was covered, the better. The thought of even an inch of skin outside of her face, hands, and feet showing made her feel vulnerable. It was silly, obviously, but she felt it strongly. The dress had some sleeves, which helped, even if they weren't a lot. They were tiny strips of fabric, but they still helped. Caroline probably looked strange in her floor-length cream-colored dress and a simple half-up, half-down hairstyle.

Caroline of last year would be horrified at how simple she looked. How plain. Light make-up, no jewelry. Caroline, a fashionista by nature, would cringe at the sight of herself now. She didn't look horrible. She just didn't look like Caroline.

But she's not the same person she was last year. She wasn't the same person she was six months ago. She wasn't the same person she was when school started. It feels like she is such a different person now. She doesn't feel like herself anymore. She feels like there isn't a single piece of her that isn't somehow fractured or broken.

Caroline made sure to support a wall throughout the party, looking around the room at all the party-goers. For most of the night, she was fine with simply standing around, just observing, until she saw him. Dressed up all dapper and styled up handsome. He was bright and shining and radiant.

And Caroline was dull. She was dull and colorless.

In becoming brighter and more iridescent, Damon Salvatore stole her color. Her light. And he broke her to pieces and made her no more than a foot tall. Over the course of just a few weeks, he stole all of the brightness and vibrancy from her. He's a dead man that looks so alive, and she's a living woman who couldn't be more lifeless. He's fine, and she's... she's a wreck. In elevating himself, she has been lowered into a deep dark pit.

Caroline felt the panic swirling around inside of herself as she carefully extracts herself from the wall, waiting for his bright, clear blue eyes to pass over her without seeing her, before running away. Thankfully she drove separately from Liz, so she was able to throw herself into her car and drive away as fast as possible. Caroline didn't say goodbye to anyone and no one realized that she was gone.

It wasn't enough that Damon Salvatore stole her memories, her feelings, her safety, her mind. He had to steal all of the small fragments of her too. He stole every little piece of her until there was nothing but scraps and threads left. Nothing important. Nothing palpable. Nothing real. It wasn't enough that Damon ruined her life with all the dark and twisty things that existed behind the wall. He had to ensure she would have no life to live for after he was done. And to make it all worse, he haunts her. Every moment of every day. She sees him. She hears him. She is terrified of him.

And he will never leave her alone, even though he has long since left her behind. She keeps him with her now, and she has no idea how to make it stop.

Caroline keeps her head down, avoiding anyone with any sort of drama in any capacity. She goes to Cheer, works hard on school work, and charity events - like Sexy Suds - and focuses on things she can control. She goes to school, does loads of extra credit, helps out the teachers and faculty, even offers her free time to anyone and everyone who will take her. She volunteers to help out Mrs. Lockwood in all of her many different things ranging from planning events for the town, to the Historical Societies many whatever that they do. She also goes t help out her mom at the police station doing just about anything.

Caroline is exhausted; emotionally, mentally, but mostly physically. She's worn down, but her relationship with her mother has never been better. So at least there is a plus there.

But despite how tired her body is, every night she is plagued with nightmares. Things - scary things - from beyond the wall that pushes at it, threateningly. She gets flashes of sounds and images from things she doesn't want to remember. Not just scary things from beyond the wall either, there is also that nightmare. Her weird sleepwalking where she woke up naked outside.

Her room still has this horrible, distinctive smell! Like... rot and iron. But she can't find it anywhere. It's driving her insane and she can't stay in the room if she has to keep smelling it past her air freshener. Which she can, at least faintly.

While she's in the middle of ignoring that, she tries again to reach out to Bonnie and Elena. Bonnie has been a hundred different flavors of weird. She would talk out of one side of her mouth about how she's a psychic and her grams was teaching her more and more about herself. Caroline was excited to get little bitty pieces of information from Bonnie that she was denied earlier, making her feel more like herself than she has in a long time like somehow she was slowly becoming the Caroline that she used to be before it all. Then, suddenly, it would change. Not always in the middle of the conversation, sometimes when they pick it up again, but it usually just becomes something that Caroline wouldn't understand. That it was "nothing, really".

And another crack would appear somewhere across Caroline's body, so small she would only feel it for a moment.

While Elena has been a hundred different shades of weird. Going from one moment wanting to reach out to her so that they can all get together and do something fun, like the good old days - which brought Caroline to actual tears streaming down her face as she sobbed in her bedroom after seeing that text message - to the night being lukewarm at best with Elena and Bonnie both being distracted and the night ending early because they've either run out of things to talk about or were so in their head they couldn't focus.

To the next moment, where she's distracted from all angles by just about everything. Stefan this, Stefan that. Jeremy and Vicki this, Jeremy and Vicki that. Something weird is going on with Stefan. Jeremy is doing drugs. Jeremy is doing Vicki. Tyler is being an asshole to Jeremy. Matt is a great guy who looks like he's still pining. Stefan isn't answering phone calls or texts. Something's going on. Something's not right.

And Elena's life practically revolved around Stefan. Stefan and Damon.

Caroline's anxiety over the month has gotten so bad that whenever she even offers Damon more than a simple, terrifying but fleeting thought, she feels these horrible tremors build-up across her body and the need to throw up almost always punching her in the gut. When she sees him, her knees clack together so swiftly all she can do is run away and cry.

The nightmares don't help. They make life so much harder.

She keeps seeing it in her mind. The forest, the dirt, the animals scurrying in the underbrush. She can feel the cold night air through her hair, smell the earthly smells of the forest, and even hear the sounds of dogs howling against the trees. Accompanying all of those sounds, beneath it all, is broken, terrified sobbing accompanied by the horrible cracking of bones.

The bright, blazing full moon glaring down at her. Bathing her in its light.

And she kept having that nightmare. Again and again and again, every night, until it happened in reverse once again.

She had stayed late working on a new Cheer routine at the school gym until night. Ran through it about a hundred times, perfecting it alone in the school gym until the janitor had to insist that she head home, that it was late enough. She piled back into her car after the really long day, and sat there in the darkness, rubbing at her face, exhausted, wanting nothing more than to sleep but this familiar feeling of ants beneath her skin that she's been getting these last few days.

She sat in the darkness of her car, without turning it on, long enough for her to fall asleep. It felt like for only a moment, her eyes were closed before she woke up with a jerk. Her skin hot with waves rolling across every inch of her. Her hands start to shake and she pushes her car door open and falls out of it onto the concrete parking lot. It's pitch blackout and the moon glares down at her.

And then everything is breaking. Her arms, her legs, her spine, her ribs. Everything across her body quivers and breaks, as she lies there, screaming and crying. She vomits, violently and almost rolls into it as she writhes in pain.

This is just like last time. It's just like that other dream... that nightmare. Unless it wasn't. It wasn't a dream. It wasn't just a stress-induced fever dream. It was a real thing. But.. how can she trust herself? She's letting the broken pieces of her life shatter onto the pavement. She's letting all the scary, confusing things fall behind this massive wall all because she's not strong enough to handle the big stuff, especially now that each itty, bitty, tiny action destroys her just a tiny bit more each time.

She has to know if it's true. She has to know that it was real. She can't trust her own mind. She just has to know.

Through the cracking and breaking and splintering, Caroline managed to wiggle her phone out of her pocket and hit the record button. The quality is probably terrible, and the light from her car is dim, but hopefully, it'll be enough. She clumsily manages to place it up against the side of the driver's seat and hopefully point it toward herself. She has to know, and this is the only way she'll be able to trust it. She has to be able to see with her own two eyes. She won't be able to trust what she knows. She thought it was real when it happened - that she was going to die - but as time went on and there were absolutely no repercussions for whatever it was that happened to her, she was slowly convincing herself that what she thought happened... hadn't actually happened.

The breaking and splintering bones, the hot waves across her skin, the churning of her stomach is enough to make her want to throw up again. Her anxiety is making her shake harder than the sobbing is. She tries desperately to hold herself together, briefly wondering if she'll just be able to keep tense enough that whatever is happening to her will simply pass, but doing that makes her puke again.

Then her bones are rapidly resetting into a different shape, just like before. And once more, her screaming falls silent.

When Caroline opened her eyes, the first thing that she noticed was how cold she was. How absolutely freezing she was. The shaking of her body is what woke her up. The cold hard concrete is pressed into her shoulder, hip, and along her left leg. She opens her eyes to see that it's still dark out, and the light in her car has turned off, as well as the annoying beeping that the car door was open.

She shakes hard, trying to orient herself as she slowly sits up, noticing that once more she's naked, but this time she's surrounded by shredded clothes. Her gym shorts and t-shirt were torn completely into long strips and left half blown away in the icy breeze.

Caroline crawls to her feet, reaching into her darkened car to dig through her gym bag to find her clothes from earlier in the day that she never bothered to change back into. There was relieved that she had the forethought to not just leave her bag in her locker. She was going to bring them home to wash, as she does every other day, so she's happy that today was that day.

She dresses quickly in her t-shirt, shorts, and the sweatshirt that's been in her car forever, trying not to think about whether it was clean or not in favor of the warmth that it provides. Caroline sits down in her car for a second, just staring down at her shaking hands. She can't write it off this time. She's so much more alert than last time. The cold is somehow helping her focus. She's just lucky she's still somehow in the parking lot. The last time this happened she ended up teleporting from somewhere in the woods to a lot closer to her house.

Then, Caroline remembers her phone. She reaches down, grabbing her phone from where it was propped up against the seat, and looks at it. The screen has since turned off and it's almost one in the morning. It's been about two and a half hours since her... attack? Whatever that was. Hopefully, her phone was still holding enough battery or even saved the video, she wasn't exactly of clear mind while all of that was happening.

Thankfully, her screen lit up notifying her that her phone had to stop recording because there wasn't enough space on it for the size of the video. She went into her files and pulls up the video, seeing that her phone had only one bar of battery power left.

Caroline closes the door and turns on her car, quickly blasting the hot air in an attempt to warm up. She's going to be sick after this, she just knows it.

The video quality is horrible, just like Caroline suspected that it was going to be but she was able to make out enough.

Caroline saw herself writhing on the concrete in pain, sobbing and begging for Liz. She saw herself break bones all across her body. They break, twist around, then snap back into place. Over and over again. If Caroline had anything in her stomach right now, she would probably have vomited again - as she did in the video a second later. Caroline had to cover her eyes, push down nausea and dry heaving. She sucks in a few breaths before watching, in abject horror, as her body quickly breaks apart and puts itself back together in the shape of a dog.

A huge freaking dog.

She shakes out her massive coat, moaning in pain that sounds half-human, half-animal, and completely horrible. Before collapsing onto her side. And that's where she stayed, unmoving for the next minute and three seconds of the video.

Caroline drove home in absolute silence. Not able to even bother to turn on some music or anything. Her mind is just whirling uncontrollably. A dog. She turned into a freaking dog! What... what in the world? How...? How does that even happen? When...? What the hell?

Caroline's mind is racing, trying to piece everything together while trying to ignore the shaking in her body that has nothing to do with how cold she still feels while the tiny threads of her sanity finally start severing completely. What the hell just happened? Why is this happening to her? What is even happening? How come she didn't know that she could turn into a huge freaking dog? Why? Why was she a monster?

In her mind's eye, Caroline sees gnashing teeth. She smells blood. She tastes iron on her tongue. There is a ghostly pain to her fists. She hears screaming in her ears. So loud, so heartbreaking, so intense.

"Forget..." a ghostly whisper in the back of her head, somewhere within the foundation of the wall. "Forget all of this..."

And she wanted to. If she tried hard enough, it too would vanish behind the wall in her mind where all the scary stuff hides. But that would only be momentary. And She's not sure she would fully forget it. She remembered bits and pieces of it from last time, but this time is much clearer. Maybe it was far too late to try and hide from it.

But she's terrified. She can't do this alone. She's not strong enough. She needs help. She desperately needs someone to help her. She's so utterly alone and terrified and the pieces that she had carefully been keeping together so delicately, are turning to dust inside of her. She's not even sure there's a way to repair any of the damage done to her now. She's never going to be the same. Not after all that happened. All the scary things that sit on the edge of her memories, clawing away at her mind, and all the things so compacted into this small box and throw on the other side of the wall that calls out to her but nothing more.

They are getting harder to ignore, even as the waves are crashing over her head -

No! No waves. No... no compu -

Caroline chokes a sob, spotting a familiar face slowly exiting The Grill. Her dark eyebrows pull together as she twists around slightly to speak with a man dressed in a very impressive dark suit who was leaving the building behind her. Caroline quickly pulled into a parking spot, not even offering herself the chance to wonder why she was out and about in the dead of night when they have school in the morning and not home asleep.

Caroline was out. And she didn't super care either.

She could feel herself crumbling away. She could feel herself dying. The parts of her that made her Caroline Forbes, were being eradicated inside of her own body every second. She needed help. Without help, she will die. She will fall over onto the concrete and her heart will stop. She can't keep going like this. She needs help and if she doesn't get it right this second...

There will be no saving her. Every piece of Caroline will vanish into dust.

Caroline barely managed to turn her car off before she's racing through the streets, trying to find her friend. Now that the animal that's been attacking people has been killed - the mountain lion - more and more people are out wandering the streets. Even though it's past midnight.

Caroline plows through some people, barely able to apologize over her wheezing and dry sobbing. Each step is like more of her turning to dust. Behind her eyelids, she can see gnashing teeth and long claws. But she can also hear screaming. Terrible, horrible screaming. A man screaming. Begging her to stop. To not kill -

"Elena!" Caroline sobs, spotting her best friend walking next to the suited man a few paces ahead of her.

At first, Elena doesn't bother to even turn to look at her, and Caroline is once more reminded of this great distance that has been separating them for a long time. Since the beginning of the year. Or maybe since long before that. So long, so steady, that Caroline simply hadn't noticed it until now. But she doesn't care about that. She needs help. She needs someone to help her save her own life. She can feel herself slipping away. Even if they couldn't be best friends anymore - for whatever reason - Caroline knew that Elena would never let her knowingly suffer. Elena was too great, too wonderful, to do that.

"Elena," Caroline sobs, falling to her knees, not even caring about the people casting her weird looks as they walk by. "Please, Elena, please."

Then, Elena turns. Her dark eyes hone in on Caroline's face. There is confusion at first, her eyebrows pulling together as she tries to make sense of what she's seeing. She casts a look over at the man next to her, who has also turned to look at Caroline with furrowed brows, before looking around as if trying to locate who Caroline was talking about.

The dismissal was like a white-hot poker to the chest. Caroline grips at her chest with one hand while reaching out to Elena with the other, begging through globs of tears and broken sobs, "Please, Elena. Please. I'm begging. Please don't walk away again. I need you, I need you so bad."

Her eyes blur up and she has to bring her other hand to her chest, feeling like it was tearing apart. This agony is so much worse than when her bones were breaking. This abandonment, this dismissal. Caroline can't do this. She can't feel like this anymore. She's being torn to shreds and then to dust. She can't. She can't. She's falling apart. She can't hold the pieces together anymore. She's going to... She's going to...

A hand settles on her cheek. Then on the other. The tenderness, the softness, is enough to pull Caroline out of the blackness in her mind. She opens her blurry eyes to hone in on Elena's soft, compassionate face a few inches away. She runs her thumbs under Caroline's eyes. It takes Caroline a second of staring into her focused, dark eyes to hear the soft sound of Elena hushing her broken sobs.

A soft, "shhh", as she wipes away Caroline's tears.

Caroline starts to pull herself together a bit, feeling stronger from the strength shining in Elena's eyes. She's never seen a look like this in Elena before. Like the whole world could explode around her and she would stand strong. She wouldn't bend or bow or break. She was unstoppable. She was strong enough to stand against it all without even batting an eyelash.

She looked like Elena, but there was something distinctly different about her.

Caroline's mind tried to grasp something, tried to hold on to the fact that something about Elena was so different but then Caroline saw herself in the reflection of Elena's eyes, and a little voice in the back of her head openly wondered how long it's been since she's seen herself in Elena's eyes. How long has it been since the two of them were really able to spend any real-time with one another? How long has it been since Elena has really looked at her? It's been so long that Caroline can't even begin to wonder when the last time really was.

And then it hit her. It hit her so hard and so fast that Caroline lost her breath. She just sat there, on the sidewalk, staring into the face of her best friend, realizing with horror that somehow... somehow she could tell that what she knew was true. Her eyes tell her no. Her brain tells her no. But she knows. She knows that she knows, but she has no idea how.

"You're..." Caroline whispers, staring into those big, beautiful brown eyes. "You're not Elena. You... You look just like her... but you aren't her."