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“Is this about him?”

“About who?”

“Klaus,” Tyler spat, anger bubbling on the surface of his skin, but Caroline could see the tears threatening to fill his eyes. They were the only reprieve for her answering frustration. Klaus this, Klaus that. She'd been thinking about him enough as it was – she could do without speaking of him.

“Tyler,” she started, voice soft. She breathed, heavy, steadying herself for the words to come. “All that time we spent apart… we drifted. You know it too. You feel it. I guess that's because of Klaus, in a way. But it isn't about him. It's about us.”

It was true. Klaus was ridiculously distracting and dizzyingly devoted to her and an occupant of her thoughts far more than she cared to admit, but that had been the case for a while now. Klaus wasn't the issue here. Tyler was.

“I still love you, Care,” he replied, voice but a tremble. “We can make this work.”

“And I still love you, Tyler,” she sighed, leaning in for a last kiss, a farewell, because she did love him, she did, and perhaps she always would. First loves cut out a fraction of your heart and held it against theirs forever, bloody and red. First loves remained whether you liked it or not. “But it isn't enough,” she admitted, once the gentle press of their mouths was done, “not anymore.”

She took her leave with a heavy heart, tears blurring her vision. Her great and epic romance with Tyler, cut to a short and meaningful end – by her own hand, even. But it was the right decision and she knew it. It was as though they had been fated: the daughter of the sheriff and the son of the mayor, the pretty blonde cheerleader and the beautiful bad boy,

(not that tyler was the real bad boy these days, that title belonged to someone who wore it perfectly, who wore it bad)

the thriving vampire and the werewolf turned hybrid. Caroline wasn't about destiny. Not now, after all she had seen, after all she'd experienced. If the story had occurred the way it was meant to, they would never have discovered this sinister side to the world; they would've grown and gotten married, had children just as beautiful as they were. He would've followed in the footsteps of his parents, easily fitting into the landscape of local politics. She would've been semi-famous, more than a simple wife, a strong woman with a level head on her shoulders. The likes of journalism, perhaps, would've called to her. They would've lived in a big house with a wraparound porch and a white picket fence. They would've been endgame. They would've been epic. High school sweethearts living happily ever after.

But Caroline wasn't about destiny.

Destiny would have seen Elena and Stefan together forever. Caroline knew Elena had loved Stefan, but she seemed happier than Caroline had ever seen her this summer, young and wild and in love with Damon, of all people, a plot twist she'd not seen coming until it hit her square in the face. It made sense, despite her original scepticism. Damon and Elena. It rolled off the tongue.

Destiny would have seen Bonnie and Jeremy growing into a relationship: the best friend and the brother. The unexpected couple. But Bonnie was off seeing the world and Jeremy was standing still in Mystic Falls. Bonnie was becoming a woman and Jeremy was still a boy. Caroline had a feeling that something far bigger was waiting for Bonnie, some electric romance filled with passion and anger and mad, mad love.

That was perhaps the crux of it all. Why Elena and Stefan had fallen apart. Why Bonnie and Jeremy had fizzled out. Why Caroline and Tyler had drifted.

Love. It was supposed to be consuming. It was supposed to be everything.

Love wasn't a side plot, yet hers and Tyler's had grown quiet and forgotten amidst all the life-threatening drama. Caroline, in truth, was bored. She wanted out. She wanted to say fuck you to fate, like it seemed her friends were doing. They lived in Mystic Falls; destiny was a non-sequitar. And so she had said goodbye.

(arguably, goodbye's made way for new hello's)

“Hello, Caroline.”

The sight of hell in high heels on her porch wasn't exactly unwelcome, though it was surprising. She'd been under the impression Rebekah was away with Matt, globe-trotting the cultural capitals of the world, a fact that Caroline was deeply jealous of. She said as such, heart swelling at the realisation that they were proof above anything that love stories had absolutely nothing to do with fate.

“You want to see the world? I don't think I'm the right Mikaelson for that job,” Rebekah responded, and it wasn't as snotty as Caroline once would have expected from her. It was soft, urging. “Speaking of my dear brother, he's the reason I'm here. He's coming back. Matt and I are home for a few days before we're jetting off again.”

“Back?” Caroline asked, more to hear it than actually inquire. Klaus was coming back. It hadn't even been a month since Graduation, since she last saw him, but it felt like a lifetime. “Why?”

“His business in New Orleans is finished, apparently,” Rebekah answered, smiling distantly as she spoke. “Some nasty complications with vampire politics and false pregnancies, I hear. Bloody witches. He and Elijah are returning to Mystic Falls.”

“And you aren't waiting to greet them?”

“They're a few hours away yet, Caroline, and I was wondering if you had any salt.” At Caroline's alarmed expression, she clarified, aware that with all their awful luck in recent months, Caroline had likely jumped to the worst conclusion imaginable. “I intend to swap it out for the sugar. Give Nik a nasty surprise when he wants some post-journey tea.”

“Klaus takes sugar in his tea?”

Rebekah huffed a laugh at the offhand nature of Caroline's question, watching as she approached her door. “Father always took it black,” she explained, voice carrying as Caroline slipped into the warm welcome of her house, set on searching the kitchen for the table salt. “As I'm sure you very well know, Niklaus is known for his obstinacy.”

Caroline retrieved the salt and headed back to the door, her humanity stirring a little guilt in her that she was unable to invite Rebekah in. She pressed it into Rebekah's hands, moving out from the shade of the porch, feeling the warmth of the sun span across her exposed shoulders. Vampires without daylight rings must live a miserable existence, she thought, sinking down onto the steps. After a silent pause, Rebekah came to join her, their arms brushing.

“I do know. I know exactly what he's like,” Caroline finally conceded, breaking the peaceful silence of summer that had settled between them. Rebekah turned to gaze at her, her eyes wide and beautiful, face framed by the golden sheen of her hair.

“Bad things happen to the people he's close to, Caroline,” she whispered. “But I think you might just have an opportunity to break that pattern.”

“It's not my job to fix him,” Caroline snapped, surprised by the hot flash of anger she felt, the urge to stand, the desire to scream in Rebekah's face and pull at her pretty hair in retaliation. Rebekah stilled her with a hand on her arm, calming her before she'd even had the chance to rage.

“I'm not asking you to. I don't know if he can ever really be fixed. But I've never…” She trailed off, unsure, and looked out to the street before them. It was simple. It was life. A mother pushing her baby along in a stroller, kids chucking a ball about, a couple necking on a public bench. “I've never seen him like this,” Rebekah confessed. “So in love and so bloody delirious with it that nothing else seems to matter. Everything with Nik, it's usually a power grab. But here, now… Silas is gone. It's summer. Everything is perfect. Yet he's coming back. Can you guess why?”

“Me?” Caroline hazarded a guess.

“You,” came her confirmation. “I suspect there are other factors. Some misguided notion that after how he's treated us he can still maintain a stable relationship with his siblings. A hope that Stefan may forgive him for all he's done – a chance at friendship. But you. You're it. You're what's got my awful, cruel, ridiculous brother all worked up.”

“I'm… sorry?”

“Don't be.” Rebekah considered her. “We may not get along, Caroline, but I do respect you, and you're absolutely right. It's not our job to save the evil men in our lives from themselves. But if we aren't absolving them of their sins… I think we're destined to burn them alive. I'm not a fan of either scenario.”

Caroline breathed, and Rebekah was gone, fleeing into the sun. She breathed, delighting in being alive. She breathed again. In. Out. Inhaling tranquillity and the warm June air.

 

~

 

“You seem well and truly smashed, dear Caroline.”

Caroline. It was in the little things. The way he said her name, for one – a breathy, sort of surprised thing; a reverent sigh. The way he let each syllable fall from his mouth with equal care. Lots of people rushed the middle (caroline) and others didn't bother at all (care), and it wasn't like she minded, but it was the little things, when it came to Klaus. Klaus, who was leaning against the bar and somehow still managing to seem poised, staring over at her with amusement shaping his expression.

“You're so British,” she said, grinning up at him, her head spinning. Maybe she'd had a little too much to drink. “I haven't seen you in ages.”

“Three weeks,” Klaus clarified, smiling helplessly in return, his dimples appearing. It did funny things to Caroline's stomach, when he smiled like that.

“How was New Orleans?”

“The werewolf didn't fill you in?” Klaus questioned, nodding to where Hayley was twisting a pool cue between her hands. She had approached Caroline earlier and apologised for snapping her neck with a sincere plea in her eyes, and Caroline had been too drunk to do anything but forgive her.

“Briefly. I don't really remember.”

“New Orleans was good,” Klaus answered, beaming at her, beautiful in the dim light. Klaus was dangerous and wicked and everything in between, but damn her if he wasn't beautiful. She hadn't noticed at first, lost in the terror of him. But then he had told her about that hummingbird and humanity and she'd realised that maybe there was more to him than met the eye and then God, he'd been so surprisingly beautiful, in a violent, frightening sort of way. “I visited an old friend and got to see a city I'd built thriving, all these years on. Witch business aside, it wasn't a complete waste of a trip. But, I digress: it's got nothing on Mystic Falls.”

“What's so special about Mystic Falls?”

Klaus looked at her for a few prolonged seconds, swallowing, before his eyes flitted away. “I think you know.”

(she did. it was in the little things. the way he said her name. the way he looked at her)

For a few moments, it was suddenly and painfully awkward, a feat that was rare when it came to them. Klaus normally had a flippant remark and she a challenging retort. But for once, time ticked by without their usual repartee, because this? This odd, barely-masked attraction between them? It was quickly becoming hard to ignore for Caroline. There was no longer a Big Bad around to form a diversion for her, and now, no Tyler.

However she was, as Klaus had observed, well and truly smashed. If she weren't, if she were sober, perhaps she would've rolled her eyes, perhaps she would've huffed, perhaps she would've walked away, like usual. But she didn't. The room tilted as she gazed back at Klaus, eyes tracking the rugged line of his jaw, the crooked slope of his half-smile, that smile that he seemed to retain perpetually when in her presence.

“Can I get you a drink?” she asked instead, and his smile grew.

Klaus, as it turned out, was actually a lot of fun. She hadn't had any sort of chance to know that side of him amongst all the Silas drama – those attempting to do the right thing didn't often have casual drinks with those typically known for doing the wrong. But it was summer. It was summer, and they were free. There were no imminent supernatural threats dawning on the horizon and Caroline and her friends had their whole lives ahead of them, and now, it seemed as if Klaus wasn't intent on causing them any harm.

So they got drunk and wild, Caroline watching the flush spread on Klaus' cheeks with each drink he downed, her heart thrumming beneath her ribs. Because it was summer. In summer, anything could happen. In summer, it was okay that she learnt how Klaus utterly loosened when he drank, teetering into Caroline's personal space, laughing sweeter and louder, laughing like a boy. It made Caroline feel a little more secure – she was just a girl, after all.

Because while Caroline had grown into herself after being turned, her lifestyle hadn't changed all that drastically. Yes, she fought evil witches and dated hybrids and surrounded herself with vampires, but she still went to class and loved her mom and thought about the future. She still looked in the mirror and saw nothing but a girl, That Girl. The only difference now was that she would always be That Girl: the peppy blonde cheerleader, the bitch, the second-best. And although she looked at Klaus and saw someone broken and angry, she saw a man. He was capable of such atrocity, responsible for such atrocity, and sometimes she sat and wondered how on earth he was able to simultaneously surrender his heart to her with such abandon.

With Klaus she wasn't That Girl. She was a strong vampire, a beautiful woman, a first choice. Someone full of light.

Perhaps she wasn't any of those things. Perhaps she didn't have to be. Klaus would take any version of her.

She was Caroline Forbes and nobody but herself defined her.

“You're an idiot,” Elena proclaimed, and Caroline decided that maybe the likes of Elena weren't too far off the mark when reading her. “It's summer. Live a little. Stop worrying about college, you have forever.”

“Elena, we only have a few months.”

“I'm inclined to agree with the doppelgänger here, Love,” Klaus interjected smoothly, and Caroline was struck by the way he said it: Love. Once it had been nothing but the sleazy endearment from a man that disgusted her, transformed soon into love, a simple pet name. Now it was Love. Now it was the world to her. “You quite literally have forever.”

“Who knows what the future will be like!” she protested, hand reaching for her drink, “what if it's a Handmaid's Tale-esque dystopia where I can't go to college, and instead I hate myself for missing my chance now-”

“Go abroad,” Elena countered, raising her eyebrow as the others drunkenly disputed Caroline's argument, voices overlapping and rising above each other.

“You realise you're a vampire, right?” Hayley asked, shaking her head at her. “Like, you can compel people. You remember that?”

“Not the point,” she insisted, belatedly noting the absurdity of the conversation and its participants.

It was entirely and immeasurably surreal, a night so fucking fantastic that Caroline drank herself into a state that made her sure she'd only remember it in fragments. Drunk Klaus was even more persistent than Sober Klaus, and she let him walk her home, secretly relishing in the way he held her hand, steadying her as she balanced her way along the kerb like a playful child, grinning at the sound of his free laughter. He spun her round in the middle of the street and she almost lost her balance, careering into him, shaking with amusement. Nights like these, she thought, were why she was alive. Why she wanted to be alive.

Klaus looked at her and she felt alive.

“Caroline,” he said in that way of his, tripping over his feet as they staggered up her drive, sending them both into muffled hysterics.

“How drunk are you?” she asked, and he shook his head wildly, the answer apparently beyond him. “Maybe you should crash here,” she suggested, already half-regretting it, but the widening of his eyes, the catch of his breath, the entirety of his soft, vulnerable expression, made the words worth it.

“Really?”

His voice was sweet and surprised. He sounded like a boy. For once, he looked like one, childlike in the moonlight, young and nervous like she'd never seen him before. She fumbled with her key, pushing the door open with a quiet creak, holding it aside to allow him in. He complied with a hesitant step across her threshold, eyes glued to her face, searching for any sign of reluctance. If he weren't drunk beyond measure, he would've seen it written all over her expression. If she weren't as wasted as he was, she would've been able to hide it.

“Really,” she confirmed, shutting the door with a click.

Klaus was uncharacteristically pliant as Caroline supplied him with water, led him to her room, threw him a pillow and a blanket. He set up camp by the side of her bed, bleary as he settled on the floor, exhaustion apparently a good look for him. His eyes were drooping in a sleepy haze, and he gazed up at her, unguarded, as she shifted in bed.

“I'll admit,” he said, voice low, “when I imagined being in your room, it occurred a lot differently.”

(and he was probably telling the truth. because klaus was more human than he cared to admit, when sober: he probably did imagine this. imagine her)

“You've been in my room before.”

“Once.”

“More than once,” she countered, thinking of the way he had cradled her as she drank from him, that recurring appearances of that bracelet of his, the beautiful drawing she still had buried in her underwear drawer.

“You weren't there. Doesn't count.”

She huffed a laugh, peering down at him. He had that teasing glint in his eye, the one that set her soul on fire. She was glad for the dark; that way, he couldn't see her answering smile, small as it was. The fact that he had any sort of effect on her was what she wanted to hide: even the fact that he could get her riled up felt like too much power for somebody like him to wield over her.

“I agree with Elena, you know,” he whispered, and she frowned at him. “You have eternity to go to college,” he continued, “you don't have to go now.”

“Klaus,” she warned.

“I know, I know,” he sighed. “I'm not saying you shouldn't. I'm saying you don't have to. You're acting like it's the only option. I only want you to remember it isn't.”

There were a thousand things to say.

“Thank you,” was what she decided on. There was some truth in his words. She was a vampire. She no longer had to follow any rigid life plan that had her jumping from high school to college to a perfect job. She had the rest of her incredibly long life to take any and all the classes she wanted. Women's studies. Archaeology. Math?

Caroline didn't know who fell asleep first, but she awoke to the sight of Klaus curled up on her floor, arm outstretched, fingers curled around nothing. She let her eyes track the lines of his veins, translucent in the sun spilling through the window. She breathed, revelling in it, for a second. Living in the moments of their morning intimacy.

In the bathroom she looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was unruly and her top was askew. She was beautiful, untamed and messy, real and soft and smiling.

By the time she got back to her bedroom, Klaus was gone. Caroline smiled.

 

~

 

“Caroline.”

Car-o-line. Breathless, brilliant, besotted. She knew it was him before she turned, but she turned anyway, and there he was in the flesh: charm on full blast, cheeks rough with stubble, smile raw and ready, heart in his throat.

“Klaus.”

The sharp sound of his name in her mouth was a far cry from the delicate cadence of hers in his. It was funny, she thought. It was perfect. It was them. She threw the tub of chocolate ice cream into her shopping cart, breezing past Klaus and continuing down the aisle, secure in the knowledge that he would follow her. He did.

“Comfort food?” he asked, falling into step with her, a warm presence at her side.

“Why would I need comfort food?”

“I don't know. Tyler not satisfying you?”

“Tyler and I broke up last week,” she answered, and the stutter-stop of his breath made warmth spread through her stomach. Her heart hurt a little at the thought of Tyler, but she'd expected that. She hadn't been as prepared for Klaus' reaction as she'd liked.

“I'm sorry.”

She was surprised at his tact. It was unlike Klaus to be kind, especially when it came to Tyler and her. Looking over at him, the astonishment was evident, as was the poorly masked joy. Caroline found that she was touched by the attempt to hide it in the first place. Perhaps the Klaus of a few months ago wouldn't have displayed such civility.

“Don't be. It's for the best.” She sneaked another glance at him, noting the slight curl of his mouth. “Go on, gloat.”

“Please, Caroline, I have some class. I'll wait another week or so,” he teased, and she was almost shocked by the laugh that escaped her mouth. Klaus beamed over at her, dimpled and slightly proud of himself. “I hope you're alright, though,” he added.

“Thank you,” she murmured, “I am, but thank you.”

A quiet peace dawned, but it was far from awkward. She thought that was rare – only with the likes of Bonnie and Elena could she sit in utter silence and feel at home. But shopping with Klaus was somehow a fair substitute, and she'd never felt so relaxed by his side, strolling from aisle to aisle and attempting not to laugh at the absurdity of the once-villain original Hybrid sorting through groceries.

“Why are you here?” she asked, her tone more curious than irritated.

“Elijah and the werewolf girl are home making eyes at each other. It's unbearable. Rebekah's not even around for distraction.”

Elijah and Hayley. Admittedly, she was surprised: she'd assumed Hayley and Tyler would fall into each other's arms. But here Caroline was with Klaus – things didn't always turn out the way people expected. It was a fact she took delight in.

“I didn't realise you even liked Rebekah,” Caroline remarked.

“She's my sister. Of course I like her.”

“You have a funny way of showing it.”

He appraised her with a pointed look. “I didn't realise you liked Rebekah.”

“She's grown on me,” Caroline confessed, recalling their uneasy amiability on her porch. Rebekah had endured a surprising amount of cruelty at the hands of her brother; Caroline knew the softer sides of Klaus, knew his capability for love and salvation. It was painfully apparent in his eyes when he looked at her. Caroline also knew of Klaus' understated love for his family – however much he masked it with false hostility and spiteful actions, the Mikaelsons were perhaps the only people Klaus cared about, besides Caroline.

“I've known Rebekah to have the opposite effect,” Klaus said, and Caroline sighed, stopping short.

“You don't have to be so awful about her.”

(girls like caroline, girls like rebekah. they deserved more from men like klaus)

“I know,” Klaus muttered. “It's hard, I suppose.”

“What? Letting people get close to you?” she probed. “Maybe you should try it more often. It's not so bad,” her voice dropped to barely a whisper, “just look at us.”

Caroline had assumed that for all his power and presence, creatures like Klaus didn't blush. But she saw his cheeks pink, his head duck, the hidden curve of his smile. People perceived her as nothing more than a dumb blonde, but they were wrong. She was smart. She tried hard and as a result fluctuated between As and Bs in school. But academia wasn't everything – above all, she knew people. And she knew, painfully well, that Klaus was in love with her. By now, it had solidified itself in existence as a truth that was unavoidable, and Caroline was only just coming to terms with the fact that she most definitely wanted to be Klaus' friend. The prospect of their dynamic was daunting.

He helped her load the groceries into her car, slipping past her to pull the door open ceremoniously, waving her inside. She huffed, hiding a smile. It wasn't until she'd seated herself and pulled the door shut that she took pity on him, rolling down the window and grinning at his dejected face where he stood, ready to be abandoned in a tiny Mystic Falls parking lot.

“Are you coming?”

His breath left him in a rush, expression clearing in gratitude and apprehension. It was funny, how he tried to hide it all. Every emotion: be it anger or joy, Klaus seemed to be constantly fighting a losing battle to conceal his feelings. But she knew how he wanted her. He was as easy to read as anybody. Caroline swallowed, feeling the air shift beside her as he joined her in the car, heart full with the knowledge of it all.

“Where to?” he asked, and she felt the sudden awkwardness lift as quickly as it had appeared.

Klaus spent most of the ride messing with the radio, complaining at her lack of CDs, staring out of the window. At one point she asked if he wanted to stick his head out like a dog and he shot her a glare, and Caroline was struck with the breathless realisation that she'd been here before. She'd done this. The fun drunken nights, bright daytime dates, slow car rides. It was how it had been with Matt, and how it had been with Tyler. It was only one summer ago that she'd been spending her days with him, dancing around one another, that tense build-up period that was pent up with inevitability.

But it was different with Klaus. It felt open-ended. Vampires and Hybrids didn't have perfect endings, they just had forever.

(how long was forever, exactly?)

“Exotic,” he noted, gazing over at her as they pulled into her drive. Sometimes, the way he looked at her. It made her heart beat faster than it ever had when she was actually alive. She breathed. Her head was swimming.

“Shut up, Klaus.”

His name in her mouth. A curse, a prayer.

“You should really step out of your comfort zone more,” he urged, and she scoffed at him. “Really, Caroline,” he said, moving to intercept her on her path to the door. His eyes were clear and bright in the day. “I'm not telling you what to do with your life. I just… the Top Forty radio. Your house. Weekly trips to the grocery store. You're about to go off to college – isn't now the time to try new things?”

“Like you, you mean,” she hissed, and it wasn't a question. It came out with more venom than she'd intended.

“No,” he sighed, “no. I didn't… I want you to know. About everything. All that world out there.” His voice climbed as he said it, strung passionately around his desire to somehow show her the entire universe. She remembered when they'd first properly met; he had sat at her bedside like an old friend and held her like a lover, letting her drink from him, drink her fill. He hadn't felt as menacing and cruel as he'd been painted while he cradled her. He hadn't loved her then. He loved her now.

Annoyance ebbing away, she found herself touched by his sincerity. She smiled apologetically at him, tucking rogue strands of her hair behind her ear. The sun was warm as it kissed her exposed skin and she wondered absently what his lips would feel like against her jugular. Hotter than the sun, perhaps.

“Maybe one day,” she whispered. There was no need to elaborate.

“For the record, love,” he began, “I don't want you to 'try' me. When you choose me, it'll be final.”

“Ambitious.”

“Hopeful,” he corrected.

Klaus was an oddly seamless addition to her home, a fact she observed far easier now she was both sober and not dying. Draped across her couch, smirking up at her, face lit up by the glow of the TV screen, Klaus looked more human than ever. It set her at ease. She made him tea, one sugar, and settled in the crook of his arm and flicked through the shitty afternoon shows the channels had to offer. She watched his face crease in dismay at the selection and elbowed him in the ribs, revelling in how it took him off guard, made his breath hitch.

She dozed off on his shoulder, his hand stroking her hair, blindingly domestic. Through a sleepy haze she heard the sound of her mother's return, her shock and confusion, the begrudging invite she extended to Klaus to stay for dinner.

“I won't intrude,” he said politely, extricating himself from their lazy entanglement, careful not to jostle her.

“You're leaving?” she asked thickly, barely awake.

“I am,” he breathed. “Goodnight, Caroline.”

His voice was hushed and fond. The kiss he left on her forehead felt like a brand.

 

~

 

“Jesus, I'm pretty sure Klaus is over there.”

“Don't be stupid, Elena. Why would Klaus come to the library?”

“See for yourself,” Elena retorted, dragging her to a gap between the bookshelves. Sure enough, Klaus was picking his way through the crime fiction section.

The job in the library had come about fairly easy. Her mom had known someone who'd known someone, and she'd been offered a position there for a few short months. It was simple enough. It mostly consisted of secretarial work, sorting books, helping the public. Boring but not mind-numbingly so. Elena often kept her company when she wasn't wrapped up in the Damon of it all, and Jeremy liked to browse the mythology section every now and then, so Caroline wasn't entirely alone. It paid well and aside from her leery manager and the occasional difficult customer, it helped the days pass a little easier.

It was almost perfect for her. She liked people watching. The friendless kids that traipsed through, the lonely elderly, the teachers who had nothing better to do. It made her remember Alaric with a sad sort of serenity, the way he would pore over old texts by day and night, the way he lived in history. She was beginning to see him in Elena's newfound stability.

“You'd think he knows enough about murder already,” Caroline contemplated, and Elena rolled her eyes.

“Not the point!” she protested, glancing around wildly to check he hadn't crept up on them. “Do you think he's cooking up another evil plan?”

“He can probably hear us,” Caroline commented, and Elena seethed, pulling her further from where Klaus had been. Caroline just laughed at her, pulling her arm free from her hold. “No, Elena, I don't think he's plotting anything. He's been… normal. Or at least as normal as possible for the Original Hybrid.”

“Could it be an act?”

“You weren't so worried about this the other night.”

“I was drunk, Care. I'm serious.”

Caroline thought of the way Klaus looked at her, the way he moved with her, a matching puzzle piece. Walking alongside each other, they were in sync. They breathed in tune. Her body was relaxed enough around him that it allowed her to fall asleep in his presence – and vice versa. She suspected that was sort of a rare thing, when it came to Klaus. Like exposing his neck. He trusted her not to bite. Whether she had intended to or not, she trusted him.

(trusting a monster and having him trust you in return. it was a surreal sort of existence)

“No,” she said, sure. “It's not an act.”

“Oh.” Elena looked stumped. “So he's really just hanging around because he wants to fuck you?”

“I guess so?”

“Are you going to?”

Elena!” It was Caroline's turn to be affronted, and she was hyperaware that Klaus could walk into earshot at any given moment. “I don't know! Can we save this conversation for somewhere private?”

Elena's knowing expression was enough to tell her that she'd practically answered the question. Hopefully, if Klaus had overheard, he wouldn't infer the same truths Elena had. There were some things only girls could read. She was glad for it.

It wasn't an inevitability, far from it. But it was a choice she knew she was likely to make. It didn't matter whether it was tomorrow or a hundred years from now, she and Klaus were a good fit. He'd wanted her for ages and she was coming to terms with the fact that she wanted him in return; that they'd be fucking incredible together. She wanted to fuck him. She probably would. She was curious as to what he'd be like in the throes of pleasure. Would he be loud? Bossy? Sweet?

She didn't know whether to fuck him or love him. Break his heart or give him everything he wanted.

Who was she kidding? This was about her, and what she wanted with her life. She'd been avoiding the subject for weeks now.

“Forbes.” Her manager was glaring over at her and Elena, who whispered a quiet sorry and slipped away, likely to meet up with Damon. Caroline grit her teeth and faced him, telling herself it was better he glare at her face than stare at her tits. He was one of those pretentious nice guy types: of course he worked in the library. It was all about misogynistic literature for him. “Don't you think you'd do better if you were actually working?”

“Sorry,” Caroline muttered.

“Sorry isn't gonna cut it forever.” He crowded her against the bookcase. She could smell his breath, stale and slightly sour, but she was calm. This had happened before, when she was human. Men looking at her and seeing prey, an easy target. Someone shallow, a slut, a dumb blonde. Caroline knew she was beautiful, she was catcalled and jeered at on the way home, and she'd been grabbed at once or twice. She'd been helpless and men could be cruel. But she wasn't helpless anymore – she had so much power she had to swallow it, sometimes.

“What, then?” she asked absently, trying not to laugh in his face. Nobody could touch her anymore. Not if she didn't want them to. She could kill him in a second.

“You decide.” His smirk was telling, and Caroline was only a moment from decking him square in the face before Klaus rounded the corner, alight with fury. She shoved the guy away from her, moving between him and Klaus, who was shaking with rage.

“Klaus,” she warned. Veins darkened his features, spreading on the pale of his skin.

“What,” Klaus could barely speak, the anger and the fangs choking back his words, “what was he suggesting.”

“Klaus,” she repeated. He started forward, but she pressed her palm against his chest, heard his heart hammering, his breaths coming short. His gaze, which had been fixed on the man who had just tried to touch her, now fell to her, wide-eyed. His pupils were black and huge, sometimes she imagined they were inkwells, like she could write a hundred stories from just his eyes. He was stricken by her willing and careful touch; she wasn't drunk this time, nor had she fallen asleep on him. This was chosen. His mouth parted. “Let's leave,” she suggested, and his jaw twitched.

“But-”

“Please.”

Klaus was still sick with wrath as they emerged into the afternoon sun, her ring all there was to keep her from erupting into flames. She wondered what Klaus would do if she removed it, burnt to a crisp right before his eyes. She wouldn't, but what if?

“Caroline,” he said, trembling, “Caroline.”

She went to him, held his face in her hands, the contact of their skin a soothe to them both. She watched in fascination as the veins shrunk, spiralling into disappearance. She was at a loss for what to feel. Klaus' eyes were shut, Caroline glanced at his mouth, closed in a thin line. Imagining kissing him was easy, but she couldn't. She was far too entranced by the rise and fall of chest, bones and blood and breathing. They were dead and yet so alive.

“I'm sorry,” he murmured after a few minutes of silence. “I didn't mean to lose control like that, not in public. I know you don't like...”

“You being a dick?” she prompted, and he hid a smile. She withdrew her hands from his head. His eyes followed their descent mournfully. “I've come to expect it by now.”

“Let me kill him,” he implored, and she sighed, unsurprised.

“No,” she replied firmly.

“But he...”

“I know what he did, Klaus. That isn't the point.”

“What is?” he snapped, and Jesus, she'd missed this. For some ridiculous reason, she took delight in the fact that they were fighting. She wanted that adrenaline rush but she didn't want it from the same near-death experiences as before – how dull. It was summer. She just wanted to live. To work in the library and get hit on by gross guys and argue with Klaus.

(those things could happen anywhere. rome. paris. tokyo)

“We don't get to decide that.”

I do,” Klaus said, and she was reminded of all the horror he caused, all the tragedy he left in his wake. “I've been deciding who lives or dies for centuries.”

Silence fell upon them, as far from friendly as possible. Fury was building in Caroline, hot and loud and full, sending her heart tripping and her blood rushing. Klaus' pulse was thundering too, working in tandem with hers. It felt good to hate him, if only for a moment. It made it all easier. It was difficult to despise someone when they only ever looked at you with desperate, hopeless admiration.

“Not anymore,” she returned, turning her back and flouncing away, knowing again that he would follow her. She wondered if he loved her enough to stop killing. She wondered how he would look at her if she asked. Did it break his heart, to know they were so different? Once upon a time it would've broken hers. But she was beyond that now.

She heard Klaus' footfalls behind her and breathed, the sound of his steps in line with her heartbeat.

 

~

 

“You look beautiful in the sun.”

(she was icaras and he, the sun, blinding and bright and full of temptation)

“I thought you'd be more into the two piece than the weather.”

“They aren't unrelated.”

She shook her head fondly at him, offering him a beer. He accepted with a toothy grin, cracking it open and tipping it down his throat. His neck was long and it bobbed as he swallowed. Caroline was struck by the boyish nature of him; ruffled and imperfect and debasing himself with beer, of all things. It was for her. He may as well have been broadcasting his affection throughout the entirety of Mystic Falls.

“Are you going in?” she asked, nodding to the swimming hole.

She spied Damon and Elena, Elena's arms tight around his neck, his hands spanning her waist. They looked happy and in love, lost at sea, adrift, with only the other to anchor them. They looked like what she and Tyler could've been, before all this. But Klaus was in the picture now, and he was dressed in a thin t-shirt and bathing suit, so unlike himself, and Caroline was half-drunk on beer and hot boys with their shirts off. The universe sometimes chose unexpected paths.

“Are you?” he replied.

“With the right incentive,” she challenged, allowing herself a brazen glance at his chest. Klaus flushed, without quite meaning to, and Caroline was surprised too. She was flirting. With Klaus. And this time there was nothing to gain but personal enjoyment.

She decided to take a risk, moving forward until they were almost nose to nose. Her hands found the hem of his t-shirt and she gazed at him imploringly, to which he only gave a short, disbelieving nod. Her knuckles grazed his skin, his hipbones, and his breath hitched, stance going rigid. She inched the fabric up, pulling, and he let his arms lift so she could take it the rest of the distance. When she dragged it over his head it left him dishevelled and wide-eyed, blinking at her in distant lust. She wondered if her proximity and her touch had left him hard – it wouldn't surprise her.

Caroline moved backward, shifting from the orbit of his warmth. She'd seen him shirtless before, but Jesus, she'd hated him then. He'd been infuriating and gorgeous but she'd been too wrapped up in it all to look, too caught off guard by his strange helplessness, his involuntary vulnerability, which he'd chosen to show her. His back had been warm and damp with perspiration, and when she'd first lay her hands on him, he'd shuddered, white oak stake working toward his heart momentarily forgotten. Her hands, his bare skin.

It hadn't been as hot once she'd picked up the pliers.

Now he was whole and hopeful, and Caroline was done apologising for the things she wanted. She deliberately looked to his chest, admiring, smirking. He returned it with a glint in his eye, a wondering. Did she truly want him, or was it another trick? What did she want?

In truth, Caroline did want something: them. Klaus was a brilliant whirlwind and she enjoyed him. But with Klaus came everything, the whole world, and she wasn't sure she wanted that yet. It was huge and daunting and just waiting for her; all that beauty, that wonder, the sheer expanse of it. She knew one day she would step out into forever and it would welcome her like an old friend, like a lover. But impending vampire immortality aside, she was eighteen years old. She was so young. She was so naive. And it was okay, because she could be anything she wanted. But it didn't take away from the fact that the world terrified her.

“Ready?” Klaus prompted, glancing to the hoards of wet, hormonal teenagers. She saw the disgust momentarily flit across his face and couldn't prevent her responding amusement. It must've been a scene of horror for Klaus.

The day was a long and lazy one. She spent the most part of it revelling in the heat. As evening wore on, Klaus became far more of a solid presence by her side, rather than a quiet companion watching her drift from person to person, conversation to conversation. She spotted Tyler at one point, who hadn't seen her, or Klaus for that matter, most likely a good thing. He was hitting on some blonde by Matt's truck. It looked like his heart wasn't quite in it, and Caroline felt a pang of regret. Had she made the right choice, leaving Tyler? She still loved him. Perhaps always would. But…

Klaus was here. There were rivulets of water dotting his shoulders and chest, and the damp of his hair, the rise and fall of his breaths, it made him so real. Caroline had wondered if he'd walk on the water. But he stood submerged like her, like any other human, and she wanted him for it. He wasn't the picture of hypermasculinity: he was lithe and slender, lacking of Tyler's obvious brawn. Somehow, he was more imposing. Perhaps it was the energy he radiated, the consistent rage, the power sizzling beneath his skin, that frightening tendency of his to snap from indifference to fury.

“My father taught me how to swim,” Klaus elected, once the sun had almost entirely disappeared below the trees. They were alone, bathing in a stark corner of the swimming hole, the few remaining stragglers making out against the rocks and practising underwater gymnastics. People had filtered away as the day went by, and on the bank there were a few figures sat around a fire, drunk, laughing. Their voices were a distant reminder of life. “I was a child, and he loved me back then.”

“Did you love him?”

“He was my father,” he answered. “I loved him the way most children love their fathers. Through a basis of selective hearing and rose-colouring. He became far more difficult to love when he began hunting me and my siblings.”

“Do you miss him?” she asked, careful. She breathed, in line with him. He seemed pensive.

“No,” he admitted, “but I miss that version of him. Of myself.” He looked at her, expression guarded. “Does that make me weak?”

“I think it makes you strong,” she said, soft. He recoiled slightly, entranced with shock. “I think admitting it makes you brave, and knowing who you are, knowing what you long for… that's as far from weak as you can get.”

Klaus simply gazed at her for a moment, bewildered, like she was a mystery he had no choice but to solve,

(and she was. the map to her heart was a maze. she was a locked door and nobody but her held the key. she was a fucking enigma)

his head full of her. She encompassed him and she knew it. At first it was only his dick that had noticed her, but she'd wormed her way up through his bones, burrowing in his heart, safe beneath his ribs. She was Caroline Forbes. He hadn't stood a chance. Matt had fallen first, drawn in by the drama of her. Then Tyler. He'd known her true and brutal and he'd loved her. And Klaus, fucking Klaus. One of the most powerful beings in creation. He wanted her. Maybe once it had been about control, about sex. But now they both knew he would never own her. I eat men like air, she thought.

“I haven't loved many people, Caroline,” he confessed. Their faces were so close. His voice was so earnest. She felt it all the way to her toes. “But you are, without a doubt, the most compassionate of them all. I can't articulate how glad I am to have met you.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, dizzy from the feel of his breath against her lips. “You're still kind of an asshole, though.”

“I know,” he conceded, that stupid smitten smile on his face, the one that gave him dimples, that gave him youth and joy, that sent her heart thundering in her chest. She considered kissing him breathless beneath the darkening sky, beneath invisible stars and a sinking sun. She considered reaching into his chest and grasping at his bloody heart. He'd be helpless. She'd be victorious.

She decided on neither option.

Klaus spluttered when she propelled the water into face, a high laugh petering from her mouth, unchecked amusement. He rubbed his eyes, coughing, and shook the water from his hair, which was curling around his ears in the humidity. Caroline knew he would retaliate, dodging as he splashed her in return, her cheek catching most of the blast. It was so childish and she'd needed this. She needed to be young this summer. She needed to be free.

God help her, Klaus made her feel free.

 

~

 

“What are you doing here?”

Klaus was grinning and soaked to the skin. Caroline had innocently pulled into the In-N-Out on the outskirts of Mystic Falls and Klaus had startled her, rapping on the window. It was pouring with rain outside, the sound of it pattering loudly on the roof of her car. She'd reluctantly cranked down the window and stared at him in absent shock.

“Walking,” he answered, and she huffed at him.

“Do you want to get in?”

He brought in an air of damp when he jumped in beside her. She didn't know what had brought on the sudden stormy weather but she didn't like it; the rain had soured her good mood of the last few weeks. She felt frustrated and trapped, she was itching to move. She'd driven to get a burger for the hell of it, and suddenly here was Klaus. She wondered if he'd be able to calm her, almost laughing aloud at the notion. Klaus, her dear walking explosion, capable of calming? It sounded ridiculous, but she was sat beside Klaus and she felt utterly at peace.

“I have something for you,” he said, hair dripping into his face, his eyes blinking away raindrops. She frowned, and he pulled a CD from his pocket, presenting it to her with slight spectacle. But she could see, in his face, that he was nervous. The blood was roaring inside him, there was a frantic stress to his movements, his pulse was stuttering on at an alarming rate.

“I… Why?”

“You just listen to the radio,” he clarified. She could smell the sweat on him, the worry. “It's just… some songs. They made me think of you.”

“You made me a mix CD?” she asked, her voice sounding faint to her ears. How juvenile. How romantic. Her head felt warm and fuzzy, she felt a flush threaten to spread across her cheeks. Caroline was wild and excited, turned electric by Klaus and his simple gestures.

“I...”

She pried the CD from his hands, his skin rough where they touched, and slipped it into the car stereo. The CD whirred in the player, coming to life, and the music began to play, filling the space between them. As the song started with a low strum of guitar, she groaned in annoyance, turning to glare at Klaus in mock frustration.

“Really?” she asked, sighing, and he laughed brilliantly, revelling in his own attempts at humour. “Are you kidding?"

“No!” he protested, working through his laughter, “it reminds me of you!”

“I wonder why,” she muttered, and the chorus kicked in.

“Sweet Caroline,” Klaus murmured along with the song, off-key and slightly rough, and Caroline thought that she might just love him back. He smiled at her. He looked young and vulnerable. The light-hearted tone of before was quickly beginning to dissolve, fizzling into a heavy atmosphere of solemnity.

“Klaus...”

“I love you,” he said. It came out in a frantic rush. “I do. And I know you don't feel the same, not yet. But maybe one day...” Klaus swallowed. He was so in love with her and she knew she loved him too, unbelievably and utterly. “I don't know,” he mumbled, smoothing down his hair, “I don't know. I'm just… I hope you enjoy the CD.”

He'd been leaning into her, toward her, but his presence was abruptly gone. She watched as he let her door swing open and slipped out into the rain, swift and sure, but not hurried. She sat, immovable, as he left her behind. She sat and breathed, inhaling the petrichor and the bittersweet loss of his company. She knew. She knew.

Caroline snapped her belt off, clambering over the seat and tumbling after him; he'd barely made it a few feet, her door was still wide open. He spun to face her, surprised by her graceless pursuit. She gave him no time to register it, throwing herself at his retreating form and kissing him silly. He made an aborted noise of astonishment but she kissed it away, swallowing any of his questions and doubts. The rain bore down on them but Caroline paid it no mind, Klaus responding in kind. His arms had wrapped around her and he was pulling her tight against his chest, tongue wet and warm as it searched her mouth. He was kissing her like he couldn't quite believe it was happening, hands threading through her hair with surprising tenderness. His heart was pounding and so was hers.

“You kissed me,” he rasped, kissing at the corner of her mouth, and she had. She'd kissed him in the parking lot of the local In-N-Out, amidst the rainfall. Her hair was wet between his hands, he was cradling her face like she was everything.

(she was. she was everything)

Caroline didn't feel as though a response was necessary, so she kissed him again. She'd known this was coming, she'd felt it in the air. He had wanted her so much and for so long, and his steady affection had worn down her resolve. He loved her, carelessly. And he kissed like he meant it – he'd had a millennia to perfect his technique, after all. Kissing in the rain. There was something so impulsively passionate about it, a vivid contrast to the dull of the sky around them. A bright spot. A world entirely unto itself.

She let him fuck her in the backseat of her car. He was soft and reverent as he undressed her, making quick work of her thin, damp clothes. She hooked her legs around him so she could feel him hard and wanting against her core, he stifled a moan at the contact, exhaling shakily against her neck, his breath ghosting across the arch of her throat. He breathed there again, just to tease. She grinned against his mouth. The car filled with the sounds of his love letter to her; Fleetwood Mac and Cigarettes After Sex and Bowie, songs she'd forgotten that made him think of her. When wasn't he thinking of her, really?

Klaus was a good lover, but he hadn't been expecting this, and she was more than a meaningless fuck to release tension. She was Caroline Forbes. She was his reckoning, and she watched him shake apart above her with relish, giddy from the luminous union of their bodies. Klaus was a talker. Caroline, he said, Car-o-line. I love you, he whispered, you're so, you're, oh, I can't; she kissed the confessions from his lips as easy as breathing, the secrets he spilled against her ears yet another sweet song.

“I love you too,” she said, stroking his hair, and his rhythm faltered, mouth falling open.

“Say it again,” he pleaded, stare intense. His hips started to rock against hers, harder, faster, their bones knocking. His breaths were ragged and climbing in volume: he was so close. She wasn't far off herself, pressure building between her thighs, head spinning.

“I love you,” she confirmed, arching up against him. Klaus' orgasm stole the breath from his lungs, his eyes screwed shut against the glorious agony of it and he panted as his cock pressed deeper inside her. She joined him, pleasure erupting behind her eyes in a white-hot blaze, slamming her head back against the seats. Broken gasps tripped from her tongue, she was drunk on the desire of it all.

It was good sex. After, she felt sated and sticky, and he held her in his arms, their sweat-slick bodies so close they were almost one. He kissed her shoulder, chaste, excruciatingly tender. His hair was still matted to his forehead and his expression was so guileless that she wanted to cry, inexplicably, struck by his odd roguish beauty. They'd fit together even better than expected. They'd moved together like the universe had only been waiting for them.

“Caroline,” he murmured, and she allowed him another kiss, languid and lingering.

“Klaus,” she eventually said. She knew, she knew. “I'm going to college. After this summer, I'm going to college. I've thought about it and it's what I want. One day I'll travel the world with you, but later. Not now. Not yet.”

“I know.” Klaus was smiling at her with absurd adoration that she didn't quite feel worthy of. “You had your mind set on it, love. I'm far from surprised. I understand.”

“Where will you go?” she enquired, sorrow encompassing her at the idea. This had worked, this had worked well. To see it end after such a short life was a shame. She imagined him rogue in Rome, prideful in Paris, tempestuous in Tokyo.

“Whitmore.”

“What?”

She was dumbfounded, and he was grinning his usual smug smile.

“I've been everywhere, Caroline. I've seen all there is to see,” he explained. “Small town life isn't so bad. I'll wait for you,” he vowed, “however long it takes.

He'd said it before. It held more meaning than it could carry, overspilling in his mouth. He'd said it and kissed her cheek, sending her stomach cartwheeling. He'd been so in love with her, even in the shapeless covering of her Graduation gown. He'd love her in the dark. He'd love her in the gloom of the rain, the near-deserted parking lot of a fast food restaurant, the cramped space of her car.

“You're crazy. You're fucking insane.”

“Crazy for you,” he retorted, kissing her again, kissing her so it didn't matter that Elena and Damon pulled into the space beside them only a minute later, going wild with laughter at the sight of them bare in her backseat. It didn't matter because Caroline had the world at her fingertips and she could be whoever she wanted. She had power over the most powerful being of them all, and it wasn't simply because she was beautiful, it was because she was passionate and loud and kind. It was because it was summer. She was a storm he would never tame – it wasn't a challenge anymore, it was a truth.

They laid together that night, entwined. Faint heat crept through the shutters, the summer sun gone with the rain, gone with the wind. Caroline shut her eyes against the future, she breathed, and she slept.

(she slept until she was numb; tomorrow was another day, another day with him; a forever)