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F*ck You Flowers

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Caroline had never expected to make a living off her ability as an empath.

              Truth be told, it had never been a particularly lucrative business, not unless you were willing to sell your soul and go into the ruthless business of high stakes business merger.  Caroline had considered it for a hot second as a teenager, but while she was perfectly capable of being ruthless when the situation called for it, it simply wasn’t her default setting.

              So, instead she got into flowers.

              Look, Caroline loved pretty things, okay?  And there wasn’t a whole lot prettier than flowers.  She loved the feeling of creating the perfect bouquet, and how it just made a customer’s day.

              It turned out her enthusiasm for the job left a mark on every arrangement she made.  It hadn’t been on purpose, but by the time Caroline had realized what she’d accidentally done, she was already known as the flower shop that Made You Feel Things.

              It shot her bottom line way into the black, and after much discussion with Katherine on the morality of accidentally affecting her customer’s emotions… well, Caroline decided to just roll with it.  After all, she had the reputation at that point; it’s not like anyone could raise a kerfluffle that she had manipulated their emotions if they came into her store expecting to have their emotions manipulated.

              And Caroline really, really liked the money.

              So, she continued to run her business with that little bit of extra magic.  It was a peaceful existence, the one she had created for herself.  It was far away from the magical politics and plots of her youth – Mystic Falls had been small, but it had been a mecca for the supernatural.  She was happy.

              And then Finn Mikaelson burst through her front door.

---

              “I require flowers that make the recipient physically feel the force of the Fuck You I wish to express to them.”

              Caroline blinked up from where she had ducked behind her counter, doing an inventory count of the vases she kept stored there.  Each one was individually made by the married duo of a glass blower and potter who ran a shop two blocks over.  Caroline had come to an agreement with them ages ago that gave her a discount on their work, as long as she kept their business cards on hand.  It worked well for everyone involved, but Caroline had to make sure she kept on top of restocking.

              She’d just completed a particularly busy rush and was getting a bit low.

              She peeked her head over the counter, and saw that a man was there, hands braced on the counter – wait, no.  Not a man.  Not exactly.

              Well, okay, yes he was male – but he wasn’t human.

              “That is the proper thing to say, to someone that you are irate with, is it not?” The man asked when Caroline just continued to stare at him.  “Fuck You?  I am still growing use to the proper language of this time.”

              As if he wasn’t used to this time?  Well… that would suck.  It was also very confusing.  But Caroline was nothing if not a good businesswoman, so she gave a nod, and pasted a smile on her face.

              “I don’t get a lot of vampires in here,” she admitted, eyeing him speculatively.  Vampires often meant age, and age meant money for immortals.  But this guy was also dressed like he’d showed up from the turn of the century… if that century had taken place even more centuries ago.  She was pretty sure he was dusty, even. 

              “Surely you do not refuse business based off of one’s supernatural leanings?” the man blinked at her.  “Is that not rather rude?”

              Okay, yeah.  He was old as balls.  He had to be to talk so… properly.

              “Okay… is there a particular reason for this … Fuck You?” Caroline hesitated over the words, because it wasn’t her typical business practice to swear.  But the man had been quite clear on what he wanted this bouquet to say, and she prided herself on getting the meaning accurate – every time.  She pulled her notepad over to her and prepared to take notes.  When the man just looked at her in confusion, she gave him a weak smile and explained. “A Fuck You because of a failed romantic relationship requires different emotions than, say, sending a crappy coworker a Fuck You for being a crappy coworker.”

              The man nodded, his expression becoming contemplative.

              “I wish to say fuck you to my brother, for daggering me, locking me away in a coffin for almost a thousand years, and never once bothering to even dust me off.”  He held out his arms, as if to show what he meant.  Caroline hadn’t been wrong then… his clothes were dusty.  “You should have seen my hair when I awoke!  I suppose it should also say that I stole his… magic card to pay for the flowers and I hope he dies an excruciating death.”

              Caroline took rapid notes, and then stared down at the words, wondering if she could create a bouquet that sent the proper message both in flower selection, and just the emotion it would invoke.  She tapped her fingers on the counter, and decided that, at the very least, she knew where to start.

              “What is that?” the man asked, when she pulled out a hideous vase done entirely in rainbow pastels.

              “I got it at the dollar store.  On sale,” Caroline replied. She had bought it on a whim that she hadn’t been able to explain at the time.  But sometimes, she just had a Knowing.  Obviously, she had known that this was going to happen on some level, and that one of the specialty vases wouldn’t be at all appropriate.  “If you want your brother to get the go die vibes, then he also has to realize you don’t care enough about him to go for the expensive vase.”

              The man considered that, and then gave a solemn nod.  He pulled out a credit card – black and expensive, and the kind that only the very rich or the very undead ever carried – and slid it to Caroline.

              “Niklaus will pay.  Price is not an issue.  I want him to feel this to his very bones.”

              Normally, Caroline would never accept a credit card she knew was stolen, but the poor guy still had some dust in his hair, and she figured the brother probably deserved all of it.

              “Now, if you’ll step this way, I can show you some wild Tansy and Fragrant Coltsfoot that I think will be very helpful in getting your message across.”

              Katherine had rolled her eyes, when she’d seen the odd flowers that Caroline had gotten in when she’d stopped by for coffee last… but just like the vase, Caroline had known she would need them.

              She smiled prettily at the man, and directed them to what had been lovingly dubbed “The Corner of Saying Terrible Shit.”

---

              Caroline didn’t really think much about the man – Finn, his name was; Caroline had asked for the brightly colored card she had perched in amongst the petals – after he left her shop.  She had around a dozen orders on the go at any point in time, and while the “Fuck You” bouquet had been amusing, it had also been quickly taken care of, and thus quickly pushed to the back of her mind for when she needed a laugh.

              She returned to her usual bouquets – romantic I love yous, which were always a little dangerous, because if the sentiment in sending the bouquet wasn’t sincere, then the recipient would know, and get well soons!, that were actually known to help make people get better – and nearly a week passed without anything of interest happening.

              Then she found herself overnighting some monkshood, and checking to be sure that she had buttercups and orange lilies in stock.  They were all beautiful flowers, and Caroline usually kept some on hand, simply because people liked to request them.

              Those arrangements usually belonged to the regular humans, who came to her shop simply because she made pretty things.  The magical folk always left the flower selection up to her, knowing that would get them the best bang for their buck. 

              The next day, she accepted her monkshood, and then found herself in the company of a blonde woman who looked just a little haughty. 

              Another vampire, Caroline noted immediately.  Her hackles rose, however, because this woman wasn’t like Finn, who had been half crazed and completely pissed off.  Obviously she hadn’t just awoken from a centuries long sleep.

              Caroline still got the sense she was old, however – even if she was dressed flawlessly in an adorable sundress that Caroline totally would have bought for herself. 

              “You’re the one that made Finn’s Screw Off bouquet.”  It was maybe supposed to be a question, but it certainly didn’t sound like one. 

              At first, Caroline was confused.  It had been a week, after all, and she had been busy.  But it wasn’t every day she made a Fuck You bouquet for a vampire covered in dust, so after a moment of silence she realized who the woman must be talking about.

              “Fuck you,” Caroline replied.

              “Excuse me,” the blonde replied in a dangerous, silky tone that threatened impalement and other painful death for the one she was speaking to – Caroline, in this case.

              “I didn’t mean that for you – I meant the bouquet.  Finn asked that it say Fuck You, not Screw Off.  If the recipient felt the latter, then I made a mistake.”  The very thought made Caroline frown.  She didn’t screw up.  She hadn’t even screwed up when she hadn’t really meant for her bouqets to invoke emotion.  So she couldn’t have screwed up.  The bouquet clearly called for Fuck You vibes.

              “Who cares about the fine line between the two sentiments!” the woman snapped, slamming her hand on the counter.  “Finn said he came to you because you make the recipient feel the desired emotion.  Nik acted like he was unmoved, but he was thrown off.  I want you to make one for me.”

              “A Fuck You bouquet for… Nik?  That must be short for Niklaus, then?  I don’t know that I’ve ever made multiple bouquets with these particular emotions for a single person. But yes, I can make another one.  I’ll just need-”

              “Not Nik!  I want you to make one for that blathering idiot Kol.  He should feel exactly how pathetic and childish he is.  I want the emotions to never let him be.”

              Caroline had the notepad in front of her, rapidly scrawling out notes before she had even really decided to take the job.  It probably wasn’t the best plan, to get involved with the arguments of old vampires… but Caroline had to admit that it was amusing.  She’d never been challenged to make such specific bouquets before, and she thrived with the challenge in a way she hadn’t for ages.

              “Is Kol younger than you?” Caroline asked, already putting the bouquet together in her mind.  All the colors would clash terribly in a mess that screamed go die, you child.  She was pretty sure she had a Mickey Mouse vase that would pull the whole aesthetic together. 

              “No, he’s older.  I’m the youngest in our family.  It’s why it’s so awful.  Do you have a brother… Caroline, right?  Finn said you were named Caroline.”

              “Uh… right.  And no.  I’m an only child.”

              “That must be blessedly wonderful,” Rebekah stated, looking almost blissful at the thought.

              Honestly, it had mostly just been lonely.  Sure, there had been Bonnie and Elena, but with the blood of the Bennets and the blood of the Doppelgangers, they had been so entwined in the high stakes supernatural politics of Mystic Falls that they had naturally grown apart as Caroline had distanced herself out of pure survival instincts.  For a while, she had thought maybe she would make a home with Matt… but she was still an empath, and he was just a human, and those things didn’t mix well.

              So, it had been lonely.  But she supposed that if she had had a sibling, she might have ended up feeling just as Rebekah did.  So maybe being an only child was for the best.  It also meant Caroline had gotten all of the spoiling that came out of the guild of parents divorcing… so she hadn’t had to share that. 

              Instead of answering Rebekah, Caroline just gave a non-committal hum and ducked under the counter, digging until she found the vase, with its bright colors and overdone Disney charm.  Rebekah eyed it, and for a minute Caroline thought she might walk away.  But then her lips curved into a gorgeous, charming smile that took Caroline aback with its brilliance.

              “Oh, that’s just perfect!  Do you still have Nik’s card on file? No?  Well I brought it, so we can get this taken care of right fast.”

              Caroline wondered if “Nik” knew of all the flowers he was paying for. 

              Pft.  He was a vampire.  He probably didn’t even look at his bill before he paid it.  Rich assholes.

---

              The third time she met one of them, she was hungover from a night spent out with Katherine and Enzo, and her hair was pulled back into the world’s messiest ponytail.  But it wasn’t often that both vampires were in town, and Caroline hadn’t been able to turn down the chance to go out when they were.

              She wasn’t even supposed to be working, but April had called in sick, and she had a backlog of bouquets anyway.  So she had dragged herself out of bed, threw back a pair of Advil to combat her pounding head, and headed into work dressed in an outfit she wouldn’t normally have been seen in at the gym, much less the store.

              She should have known that would be the day she met The Klaus Mikaelson.

              Perhaps it was a little naïve of her, not to have put the other names together – Finn, Rebekah, and Kol – but she honestly hadn’t.  After all, the Mikaelsons were basically considered the Bogeymen of the supernatural; a royal family who was rarely seen, but who saw all.

              Why the hell should Caroline expect them to conduct sibling arguments via her flower arrangements?  It was completely ridiculous.

              Completely ridiculous, she would come to learn, was the perfect descriptor for the family everyone else feared.

              She was working off her hangover, when she heard the small bell she kept above her door to give her warning of a customer ring.  She took a moment longer than she should have, making sure that the rose bouquet she was creating was just right.  It was an arrangement for a mortal, and so wouldn’t have any particular feeling behind it… but she was still being paid to make something pretty, and she would make it incredibly pretty, dammit!

              Apparently she took too long, however, because a moment later, the second bell, the one she left on the counter gave a crisp, clear ping. 

              Caroline sighed and ran a hand over her hair, shoving strands that had fallen free from her ponytail out of her face.  She tightened it quickly, and took another moment to straighten the roses, before she headed out into the front of the shop.

              He froze when her eyes landed on the man leaning against the counter.  He was relatively unassuming – not much taller than Caroline herself, with curly dark blonde hair and blue eyes.  When those eyes landed on her, dimples cut into cheeks with a smile that was entirely too charming. 

              And the hair on the back of her neck stood on end.  This was a vampire – an incredibly old vampire.  She had been aware of Finn and Rebekah, but this man went beyond that.

              He was Danger in a cute skin suit.

              “The infamous Caroline Forbes, I presume?” the man asked, and despite his smile, there was cold consideration in his eyes. 

              Caroline had no ability to use her powers in an offensive fashion, and it had been years since she’d even wished she could.  But in that moment, she did.

              “Who are you?” she asked, keeping her distance.  She wondered if she would be able to make it out the door in the back of the shop before he caught her.  As though reading her thoughts, his grin widened, and she pursed her lips in response.

              “I’m Niklaus Mikaelson.  I believe you made me a… what was it Kol decided to call it?  Ah, yes – a fuck you bouquet.  It was… interesting.”

              “Wait… Niklaus Mik-” she cut her herself off, because Caroline had heard of Klaus Mikaelson.  She just hadn’t realized that was short for Niklaus

              And that was how she learned that she had made fuck you flowers for the bogeyman of the supernatural world… and how she tried to run away from him in the very same meeting.

---

              “Wait… Niklaus Mik-”

              Klaus could easily pick out the exact moment the pretty little florist realized exactly who Finn’s bouquet had been sent to.  It was when her teeth clicked shut with an audible click before she could finish saying his name, and her eyes widened in what was most likely terrified horror.

              Or perhaps just shock.  It could sometimes be difficult to differentiate. 

              Her hands fluttered around the counter, which was an exercise in ordered chaos, and at first he thought she might unsure what to do with her hands in her sudden nervousness.  Then her fingers closed around the handle of an oddly ornate letter opener, and Klaus nearly laughed aloud.

              She had been searching for a weapon.

              The letter opener wouldn’t do any damage, of course, and if she were well versed in her Original lore, she would know that.  Still, he had to appreciate the courage that had her ready to go on the offensive.  If the tales his siblings had brought home with their bouquets were anything to go on, the woman was an empath.  That made her powerful in a very certain way, but not at all useful offensively.

              The near wild glint in her eyes told him she was as aware of that as he was.

              “I’m not here to hurt you,” he said after several beats of silence had passed.  His hand flashed out, and Caroline stumbled backwards.  He was able to pluck the letter opener from her hand easily enough, however, and then surveyed her carefully as he twirled the opener between his fingers.

              It was a flashy parlour trick he had learned as a boy to amuse Rebekah and Kol.  These days, it served as a flashy parlour trick that left people terrified and aware of how much quicker, stronger, more dangerous he was than they were. 

              To his surprise, rather than have that effect on Caroline Forbes, it just served to make her steel her spine and stick her hand out between them.

              “That was a gift,” she informed him imperiously.  “I mean, it’s tacky, but my father gave it to me.  I would like it back.  And unless you’re here to order some flowers, I would like you to leave.  Even the humans are going to know they should be scared of you; you’ll frighten my clientele.”

              “Ah, but I do want to order some flowers.” Klaus leaned against the counter, and smiled at her, dimples cutting into his cheeks.  It was a surprise, to realize it was a genuine smile.  Usually he used such an expression as a thinly veiled threat… but this little witch had somehow managed to delight him with her sharp tongue and quick instinct to fight.  So he set the letter opener into her palm, and wondered what she would do next.  “You can make the receiver feel anything, no?”

              “Within reason,” Caroline replied slowly.  “I mean, I can’t say I’ve ever tried to make them feel the pain of a thousand knives or something twisted like that, and I don’t really intend to ever try to, so…”

              She trailed off, and Klaus nearly laughed again, waving aside her worries.

              “Really, what sort of monster do you think I am?” Her raised brow spoke volumes on that particular topic, and Klaus quickly continued on.  “My elder brother, Elijah, he’s somewhat of a… well, words escape me, truth be told.  But I’d rather like him to know how big of an overbearing fool he’s being.  Do you think you can help me with that?”

              She nibbled on her lower lip and eyed him seriously.  He wondered if she were thinking of Katerina Petrova.  Klaus was very good at collecting information, and it had been surprisingly interest to uncover his old nemesis’ interest in this little store.  But it appeared that whatever had been owed for the assistance had already been repaid, because the Doppelganger left the place surprisingly untouched. 

              Still, it never hurt to keep an eye on old acquaintances, and Caroline was turning out to be enchanting all on her own.

              And Elijah rather deserved whatever she would create, truthfully.  He kept droning on about duty and family or some nonsense, and really, if Klaus didn’t send the damn flowers, then Kol was certain to.

              “Overbearing fool, okay,” Caroline said after a moment, grabbing a notepad and quickly taking notes.  “Is that it?”

              “He’s also somewhat of a twat, and more than a little hypocritical.  And I mean, if you wanted to try out your ability to torture someone, Elijah would-”

              “Twat and hypocrite?” Caroline cut him off brightly, but he noticed that her hand inched for the letter opener, which she had set aside, once more.  Giving up on restraint, Klaus truly did chuckle.  Caroline froze, and blinked at him, as though she didn’t quite believe what had just happened.

              “Is there a problem, Love?” he asked, leaning over the counter.  Sadly, it was too wide to let him get truly close, but he did manage to catch a hint of her scent – something citrusy and fresh. 

              “If we’re doing business, you should call me Ms. Forbes.” She stared him down for a moment, and then wrinkled her nose in distaste.  “Okay, never mind.  I don’t really want that.  Caroline.  You should call me Caroline.  It’s only professional.”

              “Caroline, then.”  He pronounced it differently from earlier, when he had fully intended to intimidate her into… well, he hadn’t quite decided that.  Perhaps telling him where Katerina was, or, at the very least, removing herself from this battle between his siblings. 

              But no one had ever claimed Klaus Mikaelson couldn’t adapt, and embroiling her even further into this little charade was far more to his taste now. 

              She quirked her head, and he swore that she shivered, just a little bit, at the way his tongue rolled around her name.  Her eyes darted to his lips, and his grin widened as her cheeks flushed lightly, and she quickly focused on her notepad once more.

              “Do you have a budget?” she asked, drawing a nervous swirl on the edge of the pad. 

              “I trust you’re familiar with this?” the card that Finn had stolen to send him that lovely bouquet appeared between Klaus’ fingers, brought out of his wallet in a flash too quick for her human eyes to track. 

              “I should have kept it on file,” Caroline grumbled.  “And looked closer at the name.”

              “It’s under a corporate name.  It wouldn’t have helped.” Klaus held it out, and after another hesitation, she accepted it, taking down the details.  “No budget.  Really get into it, Love.  I want Elijah to never forget this bouquet – to feel it to his soul.”

              Klaus knew she could do it.  He still felt that Fuck You from Finn loud and clear, after all.  And Klaus usually wasn’t affected by such things. 

              “I told you not to call me Love,” Caroline grumbled, shoving the card back at him.

              “And what if I were to call you that over dinner?” Klaus replied, still leaning towards her, and wishing the counter weren’t quite so wide.

              “Funny, but I know vampires don’t eat,” Caroline replied, her lips twisting into a faux smile that let him know whatever she was about to say was blatantly false.  “Too bad.  I guess my dreams of dating an Original vampire are shot.  The bouquet will be sent in the next 24 hours.  You’re lucky, I have some Foxglove in stock.  And I have some Fish Geranium arriving this afternoon… oh! And I can use the Currant, too.”

              Klaus blinked at the names.  They were vaguely familiar – but after a thousand years of life, most things were at least somewhat familiar.  None of them, however, immediately hopped to mind when one thought of a florist shop.

              “Are those often used in bouquets?” he asked with a raised brow.  Caroline’s head shot up and she stared at him for a moment, as though she had somehow managed to forget he was still there.  She gave her head a bit of a shake and shrugged.

              “I mean, do you think I often get requests to tell someone they’re a hypocritical twat?” she asked.  “Obviously not.  Sometimes, I just know I’ll need things.”

              She went back to her notepad, as though it were perfectly normal for an empath to simply know  things.

              It wasn’t.  Klaus had known many witches, of many talents.  Many knew things, but those witches were usually precogs, and the knowing came with such territory.

              But Caroline had thrown herself into planning the bouquet, and had clearly dismissed Klaus in her mind.  He thought to be insulted, but then realized that she hadn’t shown fear for him – not really – since she’d first grabbed the letter opener?

              Another knowing?

              Who knew… but it would certainly make charming her much easier.  For the moment, he would leave her be, however.

              He actually whistled, as he walked down the sidewalk, away from the store.

---

              “The rumor mill says that you’ve been a busy girl.”

              Caroline’s head slammed painfully into the underside of her front counter.  She cursed violently, and rubbed at the sore spot as she more carefully extracted herself from beneath it so she could look at Katherine.  The vampire had perched herself on the edge of the surface, and Caroline pouted, that she had sensed her come in.

              Kat had to have witch assistance in that.  There was no way she didn’t.  Caroline could always sense Enzo as soon as he was within, like, a block of her store.

              “I’m always busy,” Caroline muttered, biting back a hiss when she applied pressure to the sore spot on her head.  That was going to develop into a bump, and she put the blame entirely on Kat.  “My store is insanely successful, thank-you very much.”

              “And these days it’s apparently filled with Mikaelsons.  I had to scope the place out for almost an hour before I was confident that I could enter.” Katherine leaned back, resting on a hand to grin at Caroline, tossing her hair over her shoulder.  “That kind of work to see my favorite empath is irritating, Care Bear.”

              “Hearing you call me that is just weird,” Caroline said, scowling at the dark haired vampire.  “Don’t do it again.”

              “Oh, come on.  Haven’t you missed me?”

              “I saw you, like, two days ago.  You got me drunk and tried to get into my pants.  It was fun.”

              “Into your skirt, if we’re going to be specific.  And Enzo was a lame cock blocker.” Katherine actually pouted, and Caroline rolled her eyes in answer. 

              “Or maybe I just wasn’t that into you.”

              “That’s not what you said the first time we met.”

              Caroline decided not to dignify that with a response.  Back then, fresh out of Mystic Falls, Katherine had seemed so impressive and everything that Caroline had wanted to be herself.  It had taken a few years, for her to realize that the other woman was vain and arrogant, and not nearly as cool as she wanted everyone to think she was.

              She cried when she watched The Fox and the Hound

              “If you’re here to get me to be your spy with the Mikaelson siblings, the answer is no.  First off – they’re clients.  So I only see them here, and I don’t intend for that to change.  Second – I’m not suicidal.  And you might be considered a badass, but even I know that Klaus Mikaelson is the badass.  I’d rather be off his radar all together, if possible.”

              “Where’ the friendship, Caroline?”

              “If he catches up to you, I promise that I’ll cry at your funeral.”

              Katherine trailed her as she wandered through the flowers, checking on inventory.  She’d had a Feeling and ordered in some tiger lilies that were expected to arrive in the afternoon. She’d have to make space for them. 

              Behind her, Katherine leaned in to sniff at some lilacs.  Caroline reached over her head, and plucked an Alstromeria, tucking it into the hair above Katherine’s ear.  The vampire blinked at her in surprise, and then looked up at the flowers.

              “Don’t tell me that means rest in peace or something,” she muttered.

              “No.  Wealth and prosperity, actually,” Caroline replied.  “And friendship. You can’t be here, and I won’t help you plot.  But I won’t tell him you were here.”

              Katherine sighed heavily, but she pecked Caroline on the cheek and pulled back, pulling the flower out of her hair and sniffing it.

              “Thanks for the flower.  If you change your mind about plotting, you know where to find me.”

              They both knew she wouldn’t, but it would be Katherine if she didn’t try and convince her one last time.  By the time Caroline had moved on to checking on some pink roses, Katherine had already disappeared, and a weight was lifted off of Caroline’s shoulders.  The last thing she wanted was for her friend to get hurt because Caroline liked making money.

              She almost snorted at that, and found herself wondering how many people called Katherine Pierce their friend and actually meant it.  Her classmates back in Mystic Falls would be aghast. 

              She still sometimes heard from Elena, who seemed to think that if Caroline knew things were Bad, that she would come running back home.  But Caroline had gotten away from all of that, thank-you very much, and she would only interact with the Mystic Falls Monsters if they were far, far away from Mystic Falls and unaware of her connection to the small town they took turns tormenting.

              She imagined that under the right conditions, Katherine and Klaus could be extraordinarily terrifying.  But every instinct she had – and Caroline’s instincts were finely honed – told her that she was safe from both of them.  At least for now.

              If that changed… well, there was a secret stash of plants that Caroline kept in the back of her shop for just that sort of situation.

              She whistled a tune to herself as she puttered around.  A few customers came in – all regular humans – and she happily took their orders.  Sometimes the normal and benign was a nice change from her more magical transactions.

              She was working on a particularly ostentatious bouquet – one for an anniversary – when her door opened and shivers ran up and down her spine.  She glanced at the man that wandered towards her, narrowing her eyes as she took him in.  He was every bit as ordinary looking as the rest had been – handsome, but nothing about him screamed “murderous monster of legends,” except for that shiver she got.

              “Kol or Elijah?” she asked, and maybe she shouldn’t have been so keen to draw his attention to her, but she figured she might as well get it over with.

              Besides, being given free rein on their over-the-top requests was doing wonders for her bottom line.       

              “Well now.  You are a pretty little bit,” the man said, sauntering towards her.  Caroline crossed her arms, eyeing the distance between them.  Something about this man seemed different from the others.  A little more wild, perhaps?

              It put her on her guard.

              When she didn’t reply to his remark, the man chuckled and then flicked a finger at one of the cheerful daisies on the countertop.

              “If you ever met Elijah, you’d know him right away.  Suits and ties all the time.  Everything about him screams wanker.  He’s not at all fun, Darling.”

              “Am I to understand that you’re fun?” Caroline replied, keeping her tone even.  He could probably hear that her heartbeat was racing too fast, but she didn’t intend to give him any other signs of her nerves.  “I’m afraid that I’m pretty boring, myself.”

              “I doubt that, Sweetheart.  I was there when Nik and Elijah got their flowers.”  His eyes flashed yellow, and Caroline swallowed and fought back a shiver.  “I received my own.”

              Oh.  Right.  The bouquet meant to make someone feel pathetic and childish.  She wondered if Rebekah knew it would send Kol right to her door, and then decided the other woman probably didn’t care. 

              He was going to tear out her throat or something, and it was all because Caroline had let herself get caught up in petty fights between ancients for money.  Stupid and greedy would be her epithet. 

              “I’m just the middle man,” Caroline replied, putting on her best wheedling tone, the one that used to get her pretty much whatever she wanted out of her parents.  “The emotion behind the bouquet really goes to the one that ordered them.  If the sentiment wasn’t genuine, I wouldn’t be able to properly pass it on.”

              Caroline gave him the smile that had helped her win the Miss Mystic Falls crown at seventeen. 

              Kol looked rather unimpressed, and Caroline was left to remember that getting whatever she wanted probably had more to with her parents guilt over their divorce and subsequent general emotional (and actual) absence from her life, rather than any tone she might have used.

              “If you’re going to kill me… can you just let me go back and delete the browser history on my laptop first?” she asked weakly, pointing a finger over her shoulder.  Kol quirked his head thoughtfully, and then gave what was probably his most winning smile.

              “Never say I’m not a generous man, Darling.  Of course I’ll let you take care of your last little issues.  Lead the way.”

              She bit back a curse, because of course he wasn’t going to let her go alone.  It was the oldest trick in the book, wasn’t it – get somewhere alone and then run away?

              But Caroline had a Type A personality, and an incredible education in being paranoid, thanks to the few times during her teen years when her dad had decided to remember he had a daughter.  She knew how to have a plan A through Z, thank-you very much. 

              “Ah ah… now what are we pocketing there, Caroline?” Kol caught her hand, the one that she had used to try and slip a vial into her pocket.  The vial was relatively non-descript; dark blue, with a black cork pressed into the top.  Kol eyed it curiously, popping the cork out.

              His eyes rolled into his head almost immediately after he sniffed the contents, and he collapsed backward.  Caroline pulled her shirt up over her nose, not caring that it left her midriff bare, and booked it back into the front of the store, heading for the door at the front.

              It opened, bell ringing, just as she reached it, and she found herself hitting a firm chest.  She stared for a moment, when she saw who it belonged to.

              Finn Mikaelson.

              A newly groomed, modernly dressed Finn Mikaelson.  And holy hell, but who knew that this was what hid behind the dust and the stiffness.

              “Miss Forbes?” he asked with a furrowed brow, peering over her shoulder.

              Oh, right.  Kol in the back room.  Kol and a bottle of spilled poppy, and they needed to be out of there, like, five minutes ago.

              She yanked the door open and pulled Finn out with her, dropping her shirt and taking in deep breaths of air as soon as the door was shut behind her.  She swayed a little, but the wooziness soon abated, as the poppy contaminated air of the store was replaced with the outdoors.

              “What was that about?” Finn asked, scowling at the door, and then at her.

              “There was an… accident,” Caroline replied, mind rapidly travelling over all the possible explanations that didn’t include well, I think your brother was going to kill me, so I took him for a walk down the Yellow Brick Road

              It was a clever reference.  She didn’t think Finn would understand it.

              She also doubted that he would appreciate her knocking Kol out to begin with.  The Mikaelsons were supposed to be all Family Before All or some other bullshit they used to excuse their general terrible behavior.

              “An accident,” Finn replied flatly.  “I imagine it involved Kol.  He was always a brat about playing tricks, but never being able to handle them being played it return.  I doubt you managed to kill him though.”

              Caroline just stared at Finn, who wasn’t reacting at all the way she had thought he would.  She suddenly had to re-calibrate A through Z for a situation where Finn didn’t really care about his unconscious brother, and somehow she came up with the last option she ever wanted to choose.

              The truth.

              “I knocked him out with Oz Poppy pollen,” she stated.

              If blank expressions were an Olympic sport, Finn Mikaelson would win hands down.

              “Okay, so Oz Poppy isn’t, like, its official name.  It’s really just a strain of Opium poppy that’s been magically modified.  But the inspiration came from The Wizard of Oz, so the Magical Horticulture Society members like to call it Oz Poppy.” She bit her lip and looked back at the door contemplatively.  “Technically, the stuff I had in there was, you know… kindofnotlegal.  So if we could keep this between us and your psycho brother, I’ll disappear and you’ll never have to see me again!”

              Caroline had never disappeared before, but her dad was still out there being his usual paranoid self – how Stephen stayed with him was one of the great mysteries of the world – and she was pretty sure he’d be happy to help her do it.            

              He’d probably consider it father-daughter bonding time or something.  Her dad was weird.

              “Miss Forbes, you own this store.  I assume you have a significant investment in it” – only her entire life’s savings, thanks for mentioning it – “and I can hardly allow you to have to flee because of my brother’s poor manners.”

              Finn reached for the handle to open the door, and Caroline slapped it away before he could do more than graze his fingers over it.  He recoiled, and looked at her with the most affronted expression Caroline had ever seen on a face.

              “That was rude,” she blurted after they stared at each other for several beats of silence.  “I’m sorry.  That was so rude.  I didn’t mean to be.  Rude, I mean.  But Oz Poppy is pretty… potent.  Especially the pure stuff.”

              Finn contemplated the store and then gave a heavy sigh.

              “I assume the quantity that was in your possession was quite pure?”

              “As pure as it could be without my having harvested it myself.” She stared at the store as well, and then sighed, already seeing the day’s potential earnings going down the drain.  She’d have to create a fake gas leak or a plumbing emergency or something to explain the delay to customers.  “I’ll have to close it for the day.  By morning it should have dissipated enough for me to go in and air the place out.”

              “Will Kol remain unconscious that long?” Finn asked, and Caroline shrugged.

              “Normally, I would use a gas mask and calculate a proper dosage based on the size of the person it’s being used on.  A little goes a long way with Oz Poppy.  Your brother got dosed pretty hard, but he’s also an Original Vampire, and there hasn’t really been opportunity to do the math on that combination.”  Caroline sighed and tugged up her shirt, she reached in, flipped the sign to closed quickly, and closed and locked the door.  She didn’t like not setting the alarm, but she wasn’t going to risk being exposed to the poppy for that long.  “Do you think he knows where I live?”

              “Even if he does, he can’t enter,” Finn pointed out reasonably.  “Even us… ah, Originals aren’t exempt from that little rule.”

              “Maybe not, but he could burn the entire apartment complex down around me,” she pointed out, and Finn frowned and nodded thoughtfully.

              “I’ll take care of it,” he said at last, promise heavy in his voice.  She had a feeling that Finn took his word quite seriously, in one of those old fashioned habits. 

              “Okay,” she said at last, because she didn’t really want to have to ask her dad for a new life, and why not trust a centuries old monster?

              It probably wasn’t the dumbest thing she’d done since being introduced to the Mikaelson family.

---

              Two hours later, she opened her door to find out that I’ll take care of it had, somehow, translated into, I’ll send my even crazier younger brother to you, in Finn’s mind.

              “How do you know where I live?” she demanded, standing in the middle of her doorway and glaring at Klaus Mikaelson, who looked entirely too comfortable leaning against her doorframe. 

              “You were worried about Kol, of all people, knowing where you live, and yet wonder how I do?” his look was all faux hurt, and it made Caroline snort in derision.  Of course, that just made him smile, and his dimples cut into his cheeks.

              Those stupid dimples.

              “Aren’t you going to invite me in?” he asked, leaning towards her as much as he could, when magic kept them separated.

              “Yeah, that’s not happening any time this decade,” she replied decisively.  “I think I’ll take my chances with your crazy brother and hope that my suspicions on his tendency towards being a pyromaniac are entirely unfounded.”

              “They aren’t,” Klaus replied, that smile settling into a smirk.  It was exactly the kind of smirk that a young Caroline Forbes would have fallen for.  The older Caroline Forbes was far smarter, but that didn’t make it any more fair that he looked like that.  “For someone who could, theoretically, die in a burning blaze of glory, Kol is oddly fond of the stuff.”

              “I blame your sister for this,” Caroline told him after a beat of silence, in which she contemplated all her life’s choices, and the various mistakes that had brought her to this exact point in time.

              “That’s fair.  I like to blame my siblings for most of my problems as well.”

              Of course he did.  Because he was even more paranoid than Bill Forbes, which was something she should remember in all their future interactions.  She sighed heavily and stepped back, waving a hand.

              “Come in or whatever.”

              It was half-hearted at best, but apparently magic didn’t recognize that, because Klaus stepped inside easily, still smirking at her as she closed the door behind him. 

              “So!” he clapped his hands together.  “How shall we kill the time as we wait to see whether or not Kol awakens?”

              It didn’t escape her, that Klaus’ gaze darted to her lips.  Well, at least she could take some comfort in knowing that the attraction was mutual.  But she was hardly about to Netflix and Chill with a thousand year old psychopath, no matter how pretty his exterior might be.  Instead, she held up the small knife that she’d carried with her to the door.

              “Love, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that will do absolutely nothing to me.”

              “No duh,” she replied with rolled eyes.  “It’s an example of what we’re doing.  Florist is only part of what I offer in my shop.”

              She led the way further into her apartment, and saw the way Klaus’ eyes lit up with interest when he saw the pots that covered half the surfaces, each with carefully groomed plants. 

              “I was about to start gathering the Lady’s Mantle dew.  You can help.”

              He didn’t, instead choosing to observe as she moved from plant to plant, continuing to gather and prepare their ingredients. 

              “I thought you were an empath,” he said, as she began to gather the rue.  “This speaks to more than being a simple florist, Caroline.”

              “Yeah; it’s called being smart,” Caroline replied pertly, wrinkling her nose slightly at the scent of the plant.  “Don’t get me wrong, the shop does a good job.  But this sort of stuff?  I don’t sell a lot of it, but it comes with hefty price tags.  Mostly people don’t invest in magical horticulture anymore.  It’s a dying art, even if the ingredients are still in high enough demand.”

              “You have none of the poppies here,” Klaus noted, and Caroline froze at the mention, not entirely sure how to respond. 

              Maybe Finn hadn’t sent Klaus.  Maybe she had just let the wolf in, without really thinking, and she was about to face down her second Mikaelson brother, this time without an ace up her sleeve.

              The number of plants that could be used against someone as powerful as an Original were limited.  As in so limited that she’d already used up her entire stock of the only plant that would be any help at all.  There were others that, if mixed together and brewed properly, could create an end result that might help, but she somehow doubted that Klaus would politely leave and come back after the next full moon so she could properly prepare.

              “Are you going to kill me?” she asked at last, and Klaus actually looked shocked at the question.

              “Because you knocked out Kol?  Love, I snap his neck more times in a day than you would care to count.  I’ll hardly judge you for doing the same.”

              He was in front of her in a flash, his fingers grazing along the skin of her neck, which was slightly nerve-wracking when coming immediately after the talk of snapping one.  His fingers stopped, hovering over the pulse point that beat rapidly, and let out a pleased little huff.

              “I would much rather offer you a job,” he said at last, hand dropping away from her skin.  “You’re full of such useful little talents.  I’d hate to see them go to waste.”

              “They don’t,” Caroline replied, looking away to try and get her out of control reactions to him calmed down.  She focused on the plants again, finishing with the last, and then distracting herself with clean up.  “Being an entrepreneur is never a waste. It’s the foundation on which America was built.”

              Klaus gave her a dry look, to which she just pursed her lips.

              “Love, I was here when America was built.  Its foundation wasn’t entrepreneurship.”

              Caroline just huffed and pushed past him.  Now that she was done with the plants, she needed to figure out what to do for the rest of the night.  Something that would keep several feet between them. 

              And didn’t involve talking. 

              Her mind went dangerous places, and she had to remind herself of the several feet between them aspect.

              “We don’t even know if Kol is going to show up,” she pointed out, grabbing her remote and curling up, her knees up to her chest, on the corner of the couch.  She turned on Netflix and set to scrolling through the options, using it more as a way to avoid looking at Klaus than out of any real interest in watching something.  “You could have waited outside the shop for him, you know.  Avoided this interaction thing entirely.”

              “And missed out on your company? You wound me, Caroline.”

              Caroline pouted, and looked at him out of the corner of her eye.  He had sat on the other side of the couch, his arm stretched across the back of the couch between them.  He caught her looking and grinned at her, making Caroline turn her gaze back to the TV.  She clicked on the first action movie she saw – something Marvel, and not at all conducive to anything even remotely romantic – and rested her chin on her knee.

              Klaus chuckled, a low sound, but settled in, apparently content to watch the movie.  Caroline found herself wondering if this was even a thing he did, when he was on his own.

              “Do you ever watch movies?” she asked, as the opening credits rolled. 

              “I used to, back when they were new, and the entire concept was fascinating.  Their originality has faded over the centuries, I’m afraid.  Kol has been enjoying trying to scandalize Finn with them, however.  And seems to enjoy nothing more than comparing Rebekah to every scantily dressed blonde that appears on screen.”

              Caroline snorted at that.

              “He must never shut up.” She found herself grinning at Klaus.  He really did have a nice smile, and she had that feeling again, the one that told her he wasn’t going to hurt her.  So she found herself relaxing, her legs stretching out, so her toes nudged at his leg.  “Wait… that’s not the reason that Rebekah ordered that bouquet, is it?  Because Kol kind of wants to kill me now, and if it’s because Rebekah couldn’t handle a bit of teasing, then I might burn your house down.  While she’s in it.  Where do you live again?”

              “It wouldn’t do much,” Klaus replied, his hand falling from the back of the couch to rest on her ankle. “Fire can’t kill us.”

              “What can?” The question came out before Caroline could prevent it.  She wanted to take it back almost immediately, because how can I kill you was hardly the type of thing that you wanted to ask the King of Paranoid Immortals himself.

              So, she wasn’t really that surprised when, in a movement she couldn’t follow, she found herself on her back, pressed into the cushions by a hand on her neck.  The force wasn’t as much as she had expected it to be, which was something.

              And yet, even with Klaus looming over her, double fangs bared, that intuition that whispered in the back of her mind continued to insist she was in no danger. 

              Maybe her sense of what “danger” entailed was broken?

              “Now, Love, why would you ask me that?” Klaus purred, his hold on her neck loosening, until it was more just a stroke of his fingers. 

              “I was trying to make conversation,” Caroline replied.  “Maybe even flirt a little bit.  I’m reminded now of why that was an absolutely terrible idea.  Because you’re psycho.  Seriously, Klaus.”

              “Do you know how many beings in this world would love nothing more than to see me eliminated?” He replied, and Caroline rolled her eyes, and tried not to pay attention to the way their bodies were all but pressed together. 

              “Probably, like, half the Supernatural population.  And the other half are likely lying because they’re scared.”

              “You see, Sweetheart?  Though I’m not curious as to which half you fall into.”

              “Guess,” Caroline replied, pressing a hand to his chest, and pushing on it tentatively, seeing if he would go.  He moved back slightly, putting some space between them, but didn’t pull back completely.

              “You’re walking a very dangerous line, Caroline.  Are you sure you wish to continue.”

              This was stupid.  Flirting with him was stupid.  Not running away after the Kol thing was stupid.  Finn was stupid.  Klaus was stupid. The whole Mikaelson family was stupid.

              Caroline was probably the stupidest of all. 

              She tugged him down, hands on the back of his neck, and pressed her lips against his.  Because if she was going to be stupid, she might as well go all out.

              She wasn’t surprised when he almost immediately took over the kiss, angling their heads for the exact angle he wanted.  The kiss was warm and his tongue grazed against her lips.  He grasped her chin, tilting her head back so that he could deepen it further.

              She fully intended to move her hands into his hair – it looked like it would feel just right against her fingers – when the pounding on her front door started.

              They broke the kiss, and stared at each other.  Caroline’s lips were still warm from his, and felt a little swollen, and his eyes were dark as they darted between her mouth and her eyes. 

              The pounding continued.

              “Kol?” she asked at last.

              Klaus quirked his head, as if to listen to something, but his superior hearing turned out to be unneeded. 

              “Open up, Darling! I just want to chat!” Kol called out in a sing-song tone.

              Caroline sighed heavily and slumped back into the cushions.  She would have stayed there to marinate and see how long she could ignore Kol, but Klaus got to his feet and held out his hand.  Apparently avoidance wasn’t in her immediate future.

              She sighed again, and let him pull her to her feet, before she led the way to the door.   She saw Klaus smirk when he came up short, staring at the five locks on her door.  She just shrugged, because she had been raised by the second most paranoid person ever, and maybe some of that had rubbed off. 

              She unlocked the door and swung it open.  Kol smiled at her, looking almost eerily similar to how Klaus had earlier. 

              She didn’t find it nearly as charming.  She wasn’t sure if that said more about her, or about Kol. 

              He straightened, his smile taking on a sharp edge that disappeared as he realized that she wasn’t alone in the apartment.

              “What the hell are you doing here, Nik?” Kol demanded, eyes narrowing on his brother.  Klaus gave his own sharp-edged smile, and Caroline looked between the two of them, her eyes narrowing.  She honestly hadn’t really noticed a whole lot of family resemblance between any of the Mikaelson siblings… but in mannerisms?

              God, but these two were so obviously brothers.

              “You threatened to kill Finn’s favorite florist, little brother.  He was very put out about the whole thing.  Normally I wouldn’t particularly care – we both know Finn is rather boring – but since I agree that his taste in florists is exceptional, I decided to try to make some amends by offering up my services as body guard.”

              Kol’s eyes narrowed, and for a second they focused on Caroline – more specifically on her lips – and then darted to Klaus, and then back again.

              “I see how you enjoyed guarding her body.  I can agree she’s a tasty little bit, Nik, but we both know you enjoy a good bout of blood sport.  Surely you’re not going to interfere with mine.”

              “Tasty little bit standing right here,” Caroline interjected, her voice dry.  “I can hear everything.  And if this is how you treat your sister, then that bouquet suddenly makes sense.  I think I might send my own.”

              Caroline gave him a tight smile, ignoring the sigh that came from behind her.  The warm hand that landed on the back of her neck, giving a slight squeeze of warning, had her too-sweet smiling twisting into something else.

              “I hate your whole family.  I hope you both realize this.”

              She turned away and went back into her kitchen, leaving the brothers to do whatever brothers do when they’re arguing over whether or not to kill innocent florists. 

              She contemplated her cupboards.  She could have tea.  The chamomile would help her calm down and stuff.  Or there was that herbal stuff that tasted like berries.  It was good.

              She ended up grabbing a bottle of tequila, because she really wasn’t drunk enough to handle any of this.

              For a second, she stupidly thought that she could maybe still taste Klaus on her lips.  It was ridiculous.  People didn’t taste like anything.  She was being ridiculous.  She hadn’t gotten stupid over a boy since Matt and high school.

              She walked back to peek at her door, taking a swig from the tequila bottle.  Kol noticed her over Klaus’ shoulder and raised a brow.

              “Is Nike really that bad at courting, Darling?” he asked, cutting off whatever it was that Klaus had been saying to him.  “You should really work on that, Nik.”

              Klaus looked back over his shoulder and raised his own brow at her.  Yeah.  Definitely siblings.

              “Look, if the two of you are going to do… whatever it is that Originals do when they fight, can you make sure you don’t draw the attention of my neighbors?  I don’t want them to call the cops.  That would be a giant mess.”

              “Miss Forbes, do you really think I’m about to fight my brother over his girl of the moment?” Kol gave a low dark chuckle.  “You’re the distraction of the minute.  Nik’s attention isn’t kept for long.  And I’m patient.”

              Klaus gave his own chuckle, and it sounded almost genuine.  Which made it so much more shocking when he lashed out, his hand shoving through body, tearing back out with something wet, dark and fleshy.

              “Fuck.” Kol fell to a knee, grabbing at the wound.  “Hell, Nik.  I rather liked my liver where it was.”

              His liver.  Klaus had just ripped out his liver.

              Holy fucking hell.

              Caroline gaped and then scowled, and then let out a shriek of anger.

              “Get in here!” she snapped angrily, grabbing Kol’s arm and yanking him into her apartment.  It meant another Mikaelson, this one with murderous intent, had an open invite which… wasn’t good.  But she couldn’t let him bleed out in her hallway until he healed.  People would see that.

              So instead he’d bleed out in the entrance to her apartment.  Which wasn’t lovely.  But Enzo knew a guy that did cleaning for the Supernatural, no questions asked.  So she could take care of that.

              “His liver?” she said to Klaus.  “Seriously?! Did you miss my spiel about not attracting the attention of my neighbors?  Mrs. Abernathy is a snoop.  What if she had been watching?”

              “No one was watching, Love,” Klaus replied with rolled eyes.

              “Maybe not.  But they could’ve been!” she looked at the blood pooling under Kol.  He struggled to his feet and pulled up his shirt, revealing the rather gruesome wound that was already healing. 

              “I would almost believe you’re worried for me, Caroline,” Kol purred, dropping his shirt again.  Caroline couldn’t say she was at all surprised when he was suddenly in front of her.

              So, this was what they meant, when they said your life flashed before your eyes.  She wished she could have done more.

              What would happen to all her flowers?  Or her house plants?  She couldn’t trust Enzo or Kat with them.  They would kill them all.

              Her poor plants. 

              “Now brother” – Klaus grabbed Kol and Caroline winced at the crack she heard when he was slammed back into the wall – “I know you’re not going to insult me by assuming I’ll simply let you kill her.  When I just said that wasn’t allowed.  Did she really hurt your ego so much?”

              “Oh, like you haven’t murdered people over less,” Kol spat, his nose wrinkling in distaste.  “In fact, you were supposed to have taken care of her, remember?”

              “No, I said I was going to take a look at such an intriguing little shop and its proprietress.”

              “Which means killing her in Nik-speak!”

              Nik-speak.  Caroline rolled her eyes.  She could appreciate that the Mikaelsons were going all in on embracing modern language, but that was just lame

              “It means, I went to see if she was worth my interest!”

              “Wait,” Caroline cut in, narrowing her eyes at Klaus, “what if I hadn’t been deemed worth your interest.”

              “Irrelevant.  You were.”

              That probably meant he would have killed her.  In Nik-Speak.  This was the guy she had kissed.

              This was the guy she was into.

              She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what that said about her character.  Probably nothing good.

              “Look, I was hired to make flower arrangements.  If you don’t like the messages that came with them, then take it up with the ones that ordered them.  Killing me because you’re pissy that Rebekah thinks you’re a brat – something I completely understand at this point – is… incredibly immature. You’re a child.”

              Kol bared his fangs at her, and Caroline was getting rather sick of them doing that.  All she wanted was to run her shop, and go out with Kat and Enzo for drinks every now and then, and mostly avoid attracting too much attention.

              None of those things were going well at the moment.

              She ran her hands through her hair.

              “Out!” she declared suddenly, and both brothers looked startled.  Startled enough that when she turned them both and shoved them at the door, they actually went.  “I’m done with all of this.  You two leave.  Talk to your family.  Tell them to leave me alone.” She hesitated, wrinkling her nose.  “Except Finn.  Finn is okay.”

              After all, he had followed Kol into her store because he had been worried for her.  And even though she thought sending Klaus was, like, the worst idea ever… it had been thoughtful of him. 

              “Finn is okay?” Klaus demanded, looking rather insulted.  “You realize that he has been in love with the same woman for over nine hundred years, don’t you?  He won’t be at all interested.”

              “Inter… seriously, Klaus?  I was making out with you, like, five minutes ago.  Obviously when I say that Finn is okay I don’t mean I want him to fucking take me, you beast.  I mean I can handle is company.  He is, quite literally, okay company.”

              “You clearly have terrible taste,” Kol stated with a snort.

              “And you’re a little shit.  We all have our crosses to bear.  And out!”

              Kol was clearly considering the odds of managing to get to her throat, and decided it was unlikely with Klaus still there. So he tapped his heels together and, in a move right out of some sort of historical romance, gave her a flourishing bow.

              “Another day, Darling.  When things are less crowded.”

              He spun on his heel and left, carefully stepping over the blood puddle by the door that had begun to congeal.  Caroline winced at the sight.  So gross.

              Her attention was drawn back to Klaus when he stepped in front of her, and cupped her chin with his hands.

              “Finn?” he asked.  “Really?”

              “He’s, like, twenty times more tolerable than any of the rest of you.  Except maybe Elijah.  That’s his name, right?  The one you sent flowers to?  I haven’t met him.” She bit her lip at that.  “Oh, God… is he going to try to kill me, too?  Because that will totally be your fault, I hope you know that.”

              Klaus chuckled and caught her bottom lip between his teeth, giving it a nip.  Then he soothed it with his lips, and Caroline’s back was pressed into the wall, her hands clutching at his shoulders. 

              “Another day, Love,” he murmured against her lips when they broke apart, echoing Kol’s earlier words.  “Don’t worry, I’ll keep Kol out of your hair.”

              “I…” her voice was hoarse, and she had to clear her throat before she tried to speak again.  “I appreciate that.  Your family is crazy.”

              “We grow on you.”

              Then he was gone, because apparently the last word was a thing that Klaus really liked to have.  She leaned back into the wall, letting it support most of her weight.  Klaus was… a really good kisser.  She let her gaze drift lazily to the door, and sighed at the sight of the blood. 

              “Enzo?” she said into her phone when her friend picked up her call.  “Remember that dude you mentioned that will clean up Supernatural messes?  I need his contact info.”

              “Gorgeous?” Enzo sounded somewhat surprised when realized it was her.  “What do you need a Cleaner for?”

              Caroline thought of Kol and Klaus and the whole damn mess.

              “That’s a story that requires a ton of alcohol and a pounding bass line.  Take me to a club on the weekend, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

              She hung up with the promise of free drinks and the number for a clean up.

              And she swore she could still taste Klaus, ridiculous and as impossible as it was.

---

              Elijah Mikaelson had never thought much about empaths.

              Oh, he had encountered them over the years, particularly when dealing with their family’s business.  They could be clever and useful in such settings, but Elijah was a Mikaelson, and fear, a terrifying reputation, and a well-chosen suit were every bit as effective as magic.

              He had, however, never heard of an empath that could project their powers as effectively as Miss Caroline Forbes.

              He was not as stuck up as that bouquet would have him believe, thank-you very much.

              But he found himself contemplating the exterior of a small, neat shop along a quaint street.  There was a café on one side, and a pet shop of all things on the other.  It looked completely innocent – no sign as to the magic that was done within.

              Magic that was… irritating.

              Elijah checked to make sure that his cufflinks were in place, and then set to enter the shop.  IT was just to check out Miss Forbes. 

              Simply to see if she was as powerful as Niklaus believed.  He wasn’t as big a brat as Kol, who seemed personally affronted by the bouquet that Rebekah had purchased, and had decided to kill the girl in retaliation.

              Not that Niklaus would let him. 

              So while his younger brothers dealt with their little spat, Elijah would step in and determine the truth of the risk the empath posed.

              A bell jingled cheerfully as he entered the shop. 

              “Just a minute!” called a voice from the back of the shop, as Elijah strolled through the shop, and up to the counter.  It was filled with the sweet perfume of various flowers.  He could spot lilies and roses and a dozen other flowers that were perfectly expected.  But beneath that he could smell scents of other, more unexpected plants.  Probably the ones she used to create the… unique bouquets that had been a curse to his family.

              He was perusing a selection of small ferns when he heard the sounds of steps, and a moment later a blonde stepped from a room tucked behind the front counter.  She froze when her eyes landed on him, her expression calculating.  After a moment, her expression turned resigned.

              “I don’t suppose you would be Elijah?”

              Elijah raised his brows in surprise, and ducked his head slightly.

              “Indeed; Elijah Mikaelson.  Miss Caroline Forbes, I presume?”

              “If I said no, would you leave?” she asked somewhat hopelessly, and Elijah found himself chuckling despite his better judgement.  Finn had called her charming, in an odd and modern way.  Elijah could see what he meant. 

              “I’m afraid not.  You see, this little shop has caused some… drama, for my family.  I see that you managed to clear out the Poppy, however.  I’ve heard it’s difficult to procure.”

              “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Caroline replied uneasily, her gaze darting around, as though worried they would be overheard.  “Poppy, what poppy?”

              Elijah just looked at her, and shoulders slumped slightly.

              “Are you here to try to kill me?”

              “I wasn’t intending to,” Elijah replied, running a finger over a rose petal.  “I’m here out of… let’s say curiosity.”

              She quirked her head, as though trying to determine if he spoke the truth.  Elijah would have felt a little affronted – his reputation was that of the respectable brother, after all – but he supposed he could excuse her, when she had really only seen the worst of their family.

              It wasn’t at all indicative of their reputations as the most fearsome immortals in existence. 

              “Okay,” she said after a moment.  “I was making tea.  Do you want some?” Her brow furrowed thoughtfully.  “Can vampires even drink tea?”

              “We can,” Elijah replied.  “Human sustenance simply isn’t necessary for our survival.  I will accept some tea, however.”

              That was how he found himself in the back of the store, which was larger than he expected.  It was clearly a storage area, but there was a small table tucked into a corner, and he sat there, across from Caroline, both of them holding delicate china cups filled with an aromatic tea, a plate of tiny cookies between them.

              It was all very civilized.

              “I didn’t think Americans were known to be tea aficionados.” He commented as Caroline nibbled on a cookie.

              “I mean, we don’t have a reputation for it like the English or something.  But I like it.  I also like caramel macchiato from the café next door, but I limit myself to just a couple of them a day, and I’ve already hit my limit. So it’s tea.”

              The silence was tense, and it was clear that, despite her best attempts at acting otherwise, Caroline was anything but comfortable.

              “Miss Forbes-”

              “About that bouquet-”

              They both cut off, tense silence falling again.  After a few seconds, she waved for him to proceed.

              “You have caused some… tension amongst my siblings,” Elijah said at last, enunciating carefully, choosing all of his words with great consideration. “Now, I’ll be honest – there is always some tension in my family.  But it’s rarely caused by outside forces to this extent.  I dislike it.”

              “That’s… I was going to say fair. But honestly? That’s bullshit.  Your siblings brought your drama to my front door, not the other way around.  I did what they paid me to do.  If your feelings are hurt, take it up with Klaus, just like Kol should take it up with Rebekah.  Honestly, the only one that handled the whole thing at all like a grown up is Klaus himself, and I get the feeling that that fact reflects poorly on the rest of you.” Caroline emptied her cup and then got to her feet, so she could stare down at him. “Now, if you’ll excuse me – I have work to do.  You’re interrupting.”

              “I’m not here to lecture you, Miss Forbes-”

              “I don’t care why you’re here,” Caroline cut him off with a snap in voice.  “I just care that you’re here at all, acting like I did something wrong.  Grow up!”

              Elijah tried to remember the last time someone outside his siblings had spoken to him in such a fashion.  He couldn’t recall… perhaps the last time he had seen Katerina?  There had been brief encounters over the years, and she had grown sharper with each one. 

              A new plan began to formulate in his mind, one he hadn’t considered before.  But now that he had met the woman, he realized the potential that was rampant in the situation.

              “You know, most people don’t care to anger a man in my position,” Elijah said as he got to his own feet, straightening his coat. 

              “Yes, well, your brothers were supposed to tell everyone but Finn to leave me alone. Didn’t they pass it on?”

              There had been some mention of it.  Kol had been quite petulant, considering that he claimed to want to kill the girl, and thus her opinion shouldn’t matter.  So Elijah had ignored it.

              He followed Caroline as she strode out into the front of the store, a clipboard in hand.  She went from section to section, making notes as she did so.  When Elijah remained at the front counter and watched, she finally gave an irritated huff and stomped back to him.        

              “Seriously?  Did you not get the hint?”

              “Oh, I got the hint quite clearly.  I chose to ignore it.  My brother is infatuated with you, Miss Forbes.  I wish to speak of that.”

              “What about it?” Caroline rolled her eyes.  “He’s, like, a bazillion years old.  I’m sure the crush will go away.  Don’t worry.”

              “You’re spirited, Miss Forbes, and my brother needs… assistance, shall we say?  In behaving himself.” Elijah considered how best to explain the whole thing in a way that wouldn’t frighten her off.  “Some simple guidance, if you will.  To direct him in morality.”

              “You want me to be your brother’s baby sitter in good behavior?” Caroline snorted at that.  “I’d rather spend an afternoon alone with Kol and take my chances on survival. I’m no one’s moral compass.”

              “Would it be so bad?” Elijah replied as Caroline returned to her flowers.  She frowned at him from around a pot full of petunias.

              “Why would you want to put that sort of pressure on someone?” Caroline countered, and Elijah crossed his arms and frowned contemplatively.

              “Explain,” he ordered, earning himself rolled eyes.

              “We can only be responsible for own behavior,” she said, disappearing behind the flowers again.  “Your brother is never going to be a saint.  A thousand years of being terrible won’t be undone by someone else, even if they’re determined.  It’s just a good way to break your own heart. Besides, I still don’t know what I’m going to do in regards to Klaus.  He’s a little bit terrifying.”

              “You don’t seem to think we’re terrifying at all.”

              “That’s not true.  Kol is terrifying, because Kol would happily kill me.  You’re not going to.”

              “You sound so sure of that.”

              “Well, am I wrong?”

              She wasn’t, but Elijah didn’t really want to say that much.  Instead he let out a slightly irritated huff.

              “Did you want to order a bouquet?” she asked, rejoining him at the counter, going over what Elijah realized was an inventory list.

              Elijah hadn’t intended to order a bouquet, of course.  But now that he was there…

              “You know Katerina… Katherine Pierce.”

              Caroline froze, and didn’t respond.  Elijah took that as an affirmative. 

              “I’m not asking where she is, Miss Forbes.  However… I often acted poorly in regards to Katerina.  I… I wished for her to be something she wasn’t. I wasn’t fair to her.  I would like to apologize.”

              Caroline stepped in front of him, maintaining a careful distance, but her gaze focused on his.  She stared into his eyes for several beats, and then gave a sharp nod.

              “Okay.  Should I charge it to Klaus’ credit card?  I kept it on file last time.”

              Elijah let out a surprised laugh, but pulled out his own wallet.

              “There would be a poetic sort of justice in that.  But no.  You can charge it to mine.”

              She accepted it, taking down its information.

              “It will be ready in forty-eight hours.”

              Elijah returned back to the house he was sharing with his siblings, having not really achieved anything that he had hoped to.  Finn was in the front sitting room, frowning as he read one of Niklaus’ copies of Atlas Shrugged.  He didn’t look as though he particularly enjoyed it, but Finn was nothing if not stubborn. 

              “You met the florist,” he observed, seemingly relieved to be able to put the book down.  Elijah sat in the armchair across from him, surprised at the observation.  “You smell like her shop.”

              He supposed he did.  The scent wasn’t overbearing by any means, but it was definitely there.

              “She was not what I was expecting,” Elijah said at last.

              “Let me guess – she had no interest in making Niklaus her pet project?”

              “How did you know I would want that?” Elijah asked.  “I didn’t know that.”

              “You are single minded when it comes to Niklaus, Elijah.” Finn lifted the book once more, an irritated wrinkle forming on his forehead when he read something.  “It obsesses you.  It will ruin you.”

              Elijah felt his jaw tighten, but he leaned his head back and stared at the roof.

              “Have you searched out Sage yet?” he asked.  Finn had begun to turn the page, and he heard him hesitate.

              “I do not know that I have anything to offer her,” he admitted after a moment.  “I find myself hesitant to pursue a woman that has been without me for nine centuries.  One who probably has expectations I cannot meet.”

              Elijah thought of Katherine, found himself feeling entirely too empathetic towards Finn’s plight.

              “Do you think Niklaus will make the same mistakes we have?” he asked at last.

              “I was daggered for nine centuries.  That hardly counts as my mistake,” Finn replied, voice dry.  Elijah gave a hum of affirmation, and they fell into a comfortable silence.  Finn turned a few more pages, and then spoke again.  “Perhaps he will not.  Perhaps Niklaus will be braver than either of us.  Caroline is entirely too good for him.”

              “She is.”

              They didn’t speak again, until their other siblings joined them, and the comfortable silence of before disappeared.

---

              Enzo ended up taking her to a pub instead of a club, but Caroline was honestly okay with that.

              She was, admittedly, less okay with getting her ass handed to her in pool.  But she was too used to it to be too upset.  Or to risk putting money on it. 

              “So, Originals,” Enzo said as he sunk yet another ball.  Caroline had just finished explaining her interactions with the Mikaelson clan.  Enzo hadn’t been updated since before she had met Klaus, after all.  “You sure you want to be playing that game, Gorgeous?”

              “I don’t really think of it as a game,” Caroline replied.  She thought of the feeling of Klaus’ lips against hers.  Her fingers touched them before she realized what she was doing and dropped her hand back to her side.  Enzo smirked at her, and she flipped him off, and then darted her hand out, grabbing the ball he had hit before it could land in the basket.

              “Cheating, Gorgeous!”

              “I’m against a vampire.  Cheating is allowed.” She lined up her own shot and made it before she spoke again.  “I don’t know what I consider it.  A mess, maybe?”

              “That wasn’t the look of a girl who dislikes the mess, though.  And before you say anything – I know you, Gorgeous. If you really wanted no part of that family, you wouldn’t still be here.  Even if we ignore your crazy, paranoid ass of a father, Katherine has been successfully hiding from them for centuries. She’d be happy for the company.”

              “There’s a good reason for me to dislike the mess, though.  Kat.  Klaus kind of wants her dead, Lorenzo.  I’d be a bad friend.”

              “Katherine would happily push you in front of a speeding bus if it meant getting one over on Klaus Mikaelson.  I think she’d be okay with the situation.”

              Caroline huffed, but she couldn’t really argue on that point.  She loved Katherine, but blind trust was something she would never have in her.  That was what Enzo was for. 

              “Look, getting involved with Klaus Mikaelson… it’s stupid, Enzo.  He’s forever years old.  Right now he finds me amusing, but how long does that last for?  And when it’s done, what happens to me?”

              She sunk another ball, her jaw tight.  She knew how this story went, after all.  She had amused Matt for a while, too.  Until she hadn’t anymore, because the spectre of Elena was always a thing.  For Klaus… well, despite his history with the Doppelgangers, she didn’t think that Elena Gilbert would be the breaking point anymore, but it would be something else. 

              There was always something else, and Caroline could never compare.  Not with her parents, not with Matt.  Hell, not with Katherine, either.

              Caroline had become used to coming second or third place.  She was okay with it now.

              She just didn’t think wanted to come second for Klaus.  It would… sting. And possibly get her killed.

              “Or, and this may sound crazy, but perhaps the thousand year old Hybrid ends up being smart and tossing you aside like the idiots you’ve relied on in the past.”

              “You just called my dead mom an idiot.”

              “Dead doesn’t re-write history.”

              Caroline bit back a chuckle, because that wasn’t entirely fair.  Liz had… tried.  She’d just had other duties, and responsibilities, and Caroline had always been just a bit too much like Bill for Liz to handle her well.  She’d done what she could.

              What she could just hadn’t been what Caroline needed.

              “She loved me,” Caroline said at last, because for all the bumps in their relationship, she had always known that.  Even when Liz had realized her daughter was an empath – was something other than strictly human – she had still loved her.  For a member of the Mystic Falls Founding Families, that couldn’t have been easy.  “She had faults, but she loved me.”

              “Maybe, but love isn’t enough.  Sometimes, we need someone to have our back through anything.”

              “And what?  You think I could convince Klaus Mikaelson to do that for me?” Caroline should have waited to make her next shot, but instead she took it in the midst of emotion, and winced when she missed.  She shot Enzo a grin and wink.  “C’mon, Enzo, that’s what I have you for. Ride or Die, Asshole.”

              “Ride or Die,” Enzo agreed.  “But it might be nice to have that in your bed as well.  And I’m afraid that, charming as you are, that can’t be me.”

              She chuckled in response.  They’d tried it once.  It… hadn’t worked.  Enzo was attractive and everything, but sometimes the romantic chemistry just wasn’t there.

              They finished their game, and then ordered another round of drinks, letting a group of college girls take over the pool table as they retreated to a table in the corner.  George Strait was playing out of the juke box, which made Caroline roll her eyes. 

              “This is your choice, isn’t it?” she demanded, pointed a finger at Enzo as she heard George crooning the lyrics to All My Exes Live in Texas.  “You have the music taste of a fifty year old man.”

              “I am a fifty year old man, Gorgeous.  Give or take a few decades.”

              “Sure, but you don’t need to have the music taste of one.  Have some self-respect.”

              “You know ever lyric to this song.  I’ve heard you sing it when you thought you were alone in the shop, in between the Taylor Swift songs.”

              Caroline took a drink, and refused to acknowledge the truth in his words.  If she had all of his best of compilations on her iPhone… well, that was no one’s business but her own.

              “I think I might be lonely,” she said at last, changing the topic back to what they were really there to talk about.  Because Enzo only took her to pubs when he knew she needed to talk about things that were too serious to talk about sober.  After all, only one of them would actually be affected by the drinks they held.  “I mean, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.  The whole bad boy thing might have been appealing in theory, but even back in high school I went for Matt Donovan who was, like, the world’s poster boy for Good Guy.  So this Klaus thing doesn’t make sense.  Unless I’m lonely.”

              “Gorgeous, your best friends are two vampires, one of whom is the supernatural’s most wanted.” Enzo gave her a toast with his beer, and then drank some.  “I think that Matt Donovan might have been the exception.”

              Caroline groaned, because Enzo was totally right.  She was an empath who ran with vampires.  That made her pretty much the dumbest empath in existence.  Weren’t the worst life choices supposed to be made by teenagers?  Why was she still pulling this shit in her twenties?

              Then again, Matt ended up choosing her best friend, who was in love with another – two other? – guys, all because he couldn’t give up on the idea of her.  So maybe he wasn’t that good of a guy after all. 

              “Now, I know that you don’t believe in fate… but I think we might be seeing a sign that it believes in you.”

              Caroline looked up from where she had buried her head in her arms in despair to raise a brow at Enzo.  But his eyes were focused across the bar, on the door.  Turning her head, Caroline stared for about five seconds, tossed back the rest of her drink, and then buried her face in her arms once more.

              Of course Klaus and Kol Mikaelson would show up at the same bar she was at.  Because why not.

              “How do you even know what they look like?” Caroline asked, her voice muffled by her arms.

              “I pay attention.  And everyone looked rather terrified of them, which considering neither is particularly terrifying to behold, seemed to be a pretty good sign.”

              “Stop being smart and observant,” she grumbled.  “I like you better pretty and stupid.”

              “That’s just rude.  And you can keep your head down, but either the blonde one saw you staring, or he has a Caroline radar, because he’s making his way back here like a man on a mission.”

              Caroline lifted her head to see Klaus moving through the crowd, while it basically parted the God damn Red Sea, his gaze intent on her.  Kol followed, his expression far more petulant.

              “Fuck me,” she muttered.

              “I think I’ll pass.  He might murder me for it.”

              She peeked up at Enzo with a scowl.

              “What happened to Ride or Die, you asshole?”

              “I remembered that I enjoy having all my body parts intact.  And can we help you, gentlemen?”

              “We heard you across the bar,” Kol replied to Enzo’s question with a slight sneer.  “We’re aware you know who we are.  So perhaps you shouldn’t attempt to be cute.”

              “I can’t help it,” Enzo replied, with his hands up, his expression filled with faux innocence.  “I’m adorable.  It’s just natural.”

              “See, this?” Caroline said, considering whether or not she could get away with burying her face in her arms again and wishing the Mikaelsons away.  She had needed to be drunk to have the Klaus conversation with Enzo, which left her entirely too drunk to deal with the actual Klaus.  “This is how we know that decades of being locked up seriously messed with your basic survival instinct.”

              “That’s rude, Gorgeous.  You shouldn’t bring up my years of being locked up.  My psychiatrist thinks I need to accept how I got there, acknowledge how it shaped me, but not fixate on it.  Fixation is unhealthy.”

              “You told your therapist that you were locked up by a mad scientist for, like, fifty years?”

              “No.  You told me I couldn’t compel her, remember?  She thinks I was in jail.”

              “Jail and being locked up as a science experiment by Augustine are not the same things, Enzo.”

              He shrugged and toasted her again, before turning his gaze back to the brothers who were watching their interplay.  Klaus’ gaze was focused on him, eyes narrowed, his expression dangerous.

              “Oh dear,” Enzo murmured when he saw the look.

              “Ummm… Klaus, this is-”

              “Lorenzo St. John.  I’m aware of your friends, Love.  I’d tell you to send Katerina my regards, but we both know they wouldn’t be sincere.” He pulled out a chair and sat on it, still glaring at Enzo.  Kol muttered something under his breath and grabbed another chair from a nearby table, dragging it over.

              “Well, this is fun,” he observed in a tone that said, quite clearly, that he was being a dirty lying liar.

              It wasn’t fun.  At all.  It was tense and uncomfortable, and it made Caroline giggle.  Because that’s what drunk Caroline did; she laughed at the worst of times.

              She couldn’t help it.

              She covered her mouth, looking wide-eyed at Enzo, but all that did was make him start to chuckle, which made her laugh even more. 

              “Did I miss a joke?” Klaus asked, his expression surly.  That, of course, just made Caroline laugh harder.

              “No joke,” she finally managed to gasp out, between remnants of giggle and hiccups.  “Just… I’m too drunk for this.  But I’m also not drunk enough for this.”

              Kol was eyeing her curiously now – which was a nice change from the glares or the smiles that were sharp enough to draw blood.

              She would accept curious.

              “You” – she pointed across the table at him imperiously, because she knew Klaus would never let her leave this table with Enzo, but she wasn’t ready for one on one with Klaus.  She still hadn’t finished the discussion she seriously needed to have with her best friend before she did something worse than kissing him.  Like sleeping with him. – “with me.  We’re getting more alcohol.”

              “That’s not a good idea, Love,” Klaus said, and Caroline scoffed with rolled eyes.

              “Seriously?  Is he going to kill me in front of the bartender?” both brothers raised their brows at that.  A look at Enzo showed he was doing the same.  She contemplated what she had said, and then nodded slowly.  “Okay, fine.  Wrong question.  It shouldn’t even be a question.  Kol, don’t kill me in front of the bartender.  It’s rude, and would require mass compulsion.  And I deserve a better death than that.”

              “Do you?” Kol responded, but his expression was genuinely amused, and her intuition said she was safe.

              Of course, her intuition when she was drunk was terrible.  It was why she only got that way with Enzo now that she had him.  He tended to be meaner and scarier than whatever other monsters might lurk around.

              But not tonight.

              “A pax,” Kol finally said when she just stood, staring at him, swaying slightly on her heels.  “For tonight.  I’ll let myself discover what Nik finds so very interesting about you.”

              “No you won’t,” Caroline blurted out.  “I don’t do brothers like that.  It’s weird.”

              Kol let out a surprised bark of laughter, while Klaus looked somewhat amused.  Enzo just buried his face in his hands.

              “You are going to regret this in the morning, Gorgeous.”

              Caroline ignored him, instead letting Kol accompany her to the bar, where she happily leaned against the surface and called her order to the bartender.  She realized as she gave it that she didn’t know what Klaus was into.

              “Scotch!” she decided at last.  “Some pretentious kind that only grandpa’s would drink.”

              That seemed like the kind of thing Klaus would like.

              “So, are you going to tell me why you dragged me along instead of my brother?” Kol asked, his voice close to her ear.  It made her head snap around in surprise, to realize how close he was to her.  “Neither of us make very good lapdogs, Darling, but Nik is far more inclined towards attempting it for you.”

              “Is that supposed to be a werewolf joke?” she asked after a minute.  “Because of the whole Hybrid thing?”

              “It wasn’t meant to be, no.  Are you avoiding my question?”

              She stared at him blankly, before she remembered that, yes, he had actually asked her a question. 

              “Oh, right.  Yeah.  I made out with your brother and don’t really know what to do with that, and I figured he’d probably let me leave the table with you, but not with Enzo.  So here we are. Why do you want me dead so bad? I mean, it’s not like I did anything personal to you.”

              “Darling, do you know the punch one of those bouquets of yours packs?”

              “Nope!” Caroline popped the ‘p’ happily.  “I can’t use my powers on myself.  And even if I could… can I tell you a secret?”

              She leaned in towards him, and he narrowed his eyes suspiciously, before finally giving a sharp nod.  Caroline smiled at him and tugged him in a little closer.

              “Sometimes,” she whispered to him.  “I wonder if I’m actually feeling anything at all, or if it’s all just a projection from everyone else.  I don’t know if I’ve ever actually been happy, or if someone else is feeling it and I cling onto it with all I have because I wish I could feel that, too.”

              She released her hold on his shoulder as the bartender appeared with their drinks.  She took them with a bright smile, and then nodded at Kol when she heard the cost.

              “You’ll have to pay for it.  I don’t have enough for Klaus’ old man scotch.”

              He probably had some sort of reply, but Caroline was already bouncing back to the table.  He rejoined them after a few moments, his expression as he looked at her far less combative than ever. 

              After that, everything kind of turned to a blur.  Probably not the greatest idea around Klaus and his murderous brother… but Enzo would have her back.

---

              There was an empath in his bed, because their townhouse had been closer than Caroline’s apartment, and Nik had insisted.

              But instead of Nik’s bed, Lorenzo had dumped her into Kol’s.

              “My brother is hardly going to take advantage of her.  She’s bloody well passed out,” Kol muttered, sitting on a chair in the corner of the room, across from the one where Enzo sat, because he had decided to be her sentinel, apparently.

              “Perhaps.  But I figured I stood a better chance of surviving when I stayed if she wasn’t in his room.”  Enzo looked utterly relaxed in his chair, as though he could fall asleep where he sat.

              He must have been a wonderful actor.  The chairs were damn uncomfortable. 

              “I had every intention of killing her, you know,” Kol said after a few beats of silence.  “I’m hardly the safest of my family for her to be around.”

              “Except that you don’t have those intentions anymore.  Because you’ve been struck just the same as the rest of us.”

              “What the hell kind of nonsense is that?” Kol tried to copy the way Enzo sat, and then wondered how such a young vampire had gotten so good at ignoring discomfort, because it was impossible.

              “It happens to us all.  At first, you find her entertaining.  But then something happens, and she says something… and suddenly you realize that you would probably kill a man for her.  It happened quickly with you, I’ll admit.  What did she say to you at the bar?”

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually been happy, or if someone else is feeling it and I cling onto it with all I have because I wish I could feel that, too.

Kol didn’t say anything just scowled at the unconscious figure in his bed.  She had no right to go and say something like that, and make him feel as though he understood her more than he understood any of his siblings. 

              He understood faking it – playing pretend and showing one face to the whole world, until you weren’t sure if it was even an act anymore.  Or if you had simply become the lie.

              And how did you tell the difference?

              “She said something,” he grumbled.  And he didn’t like it.  No, he greatly preferred the act.

              But Rebekah’s bouquet… it had cut him to the core.  And killing its owner had seemed the only way to make that better. Only she would understand, wouldn’t she?  If he explained to her that he both reveled in and hated what he was.

              Or at least hated that his siblings reduced him to what felt like nothing.

              “Want to make out?”

              Kol jolted into a straight-backed position at the question, and narrowed his eyes at Enzo, who was looking at him lazily with just one eye opened.  He chuckled low, and Kol rolled his eyes.

              “Now, what if I had said yes, Darling?” he asked with an grin filled with all the easy charm he could muster, because this was better than thinking about feelings.

              He wasn’t very good with those.

              “Well, then I’d make out with you.  Do you think I make empty offers?  That’s just rude.”

              The empath and her pet vampire… there was something about both of them, wasn’t there.  Caroline with her sad eyes and sadder little secret, and Lorenzo with his ability to be comfortable in the most uncomfortable position, to read others and know what to say.

              And Kol didn’t particularly want to dwell on any more heavy thoughts.  They bored him.

              “I’m not much for simply making out,” he said after a moment.  He contemplated seeing if the other man would let him take him on the bed, but considering how close he was to Caroline, it seemed unlikely.  “There’s a spare bedroom down the hall.  It’s right next door to Rebekah’s.  Want to fuck until you forget your name and she hates both of us?”

              Enzo eyed Caroline’s prone form for a moment, then levered himself out of the chair.

              “Why the hell not?”

---

              Caroline woke up with the headache to end all headaches and the knowledge that she regretted everything that had happened the night before. 

              Some of her memories were a little blurry, but she had never been capable of a full out blackout.  Which meant she remembered things.  Like talking to Kol.

              Like telling Kol the secret she hadn’t even told Kat or Enzo. 

              The secret that had only ever been whispered to Liz, while she had been dying from cancer.  Caroline still didn’t know if Liz had heard her, and even if she had, her mother had been too weak to say anything in response.

              She rubbed her forehead, and remembered later in the night, when she had dragged Klaus onto the dance floor.  When she had pressed kisses to his neck, and tried to kiss his lips.

              And he had been a perfect gentleman.  At least… as much of one as he could be, with a drunk girl writhing against him.

              “Fuck my life,” she said to the air.

              “It can’t be that bad.”

              Caroline shrieked and sat up, whimpering when it made her head pound.  It took a few minutes of deep breathing, before she could open her eyes and look to the end of the bed.

              Finn sat in a tall, uncomfortable looking chair, some book that looked like it was probably older than Caroline in his hands.  He was watching her rather than looking at the page, and he raised a brow when he saw her gaze on him.

              “Has no one told you that watching people sleep is creepy?”

              “You’re in a house filled with murderous immortals, Miss Forbes, and your friend is currently the topic of a heated argument between Kol and Rebekah.  I thought someone should ensure you didn’t get dragged in as well.”

              “Enzo?” she asked, pushing back the covers and climbing out of bed.  She was still in last night’s outfit, but she had done the morning after walk in worse.  “Shit.  Is he okay?”

              “Perfectly fine.  He and Kol were rather exuberant.  Luckily, I was at the opposite end of the house.  Rebekah was not.”

              Enzo and Kol?  Not a pairing she had expected… but good for Enzo.  At least one of them was getting some action.

              “What are you reading?” she asked, no longer quite as alarmed, or particularly eager to jump into the middle of another Mikaelson spat.

              “Atlas Shrugged.  It was on a list of novels that everyone must read.  I’ve been having… difficulties making it through.”

              “Yeah, I’ve never read that.  And I don’t intend to.  You should have just started with, like, Harry Potter or something.”

              Finn was watching her, and lips quirked up at the sides at her suggestion.

              “The books about the wizard boy.  I saw them a time or two.  I will take your suggestion under advisement.” He sighed and closed the book, getting to his feet.  As he did so, Caroline’s stomach rumbled, and they both looked at it.  “I suppose we should feed you.”

              “Honestly, I kind of want a greasy diner breakfast,” she admitted, because bacon sounded amazing.  She really needed bacon.  And hashbrowns.

              So many hashbrowns.

              “I imagine we can do that,” Finn replied, motioning for her to proceed them out the hall.  “If we are quiet, we can likely sneak past Kol and Rebekah.”

              They proceeded to do so, only to run into Klaus as they were almost to the door.

              “Sneaking out?” he asked, exiting one of the many rooms in the stupid house.  Somewhere further down, something shattered, and Caroline winced a bit.  Klaus and Finn didn’t react at all.  “That’s rude, Love.”

              “I would have come back,” Caroline replied, though she wasn’t entirely sure that was the truth.  A night spent drinking and trying to feel him up while he… did everything he should had not really clarified the Klaus issue for her.  “You still have my Enzo.”

              “Ah yes, your Enzo.  Who was loud enough to start another World War.”

              “If he was loud, it was on purpose,” she admitted.  “He’s weirdly good at not being loud. Not that I know that personally… but, well.  I know these things.  For not personal reasons.  Because we were roommates for a bit.”

              “That is a not at all clear explanation, but you can tell me details over breakfast.  I would hate to take Finn away from Atlas Shrugged when he’s making such progress.”

              The brother stared each other down over Caroline’s head.  Finn looked impenetrable, while Klaus looked weirdly pleasant in a slightly terrifying way.

              “Miss Forbes?” Finn finally asked, breaking the stare to look down at her.  She was kind of surprised; she hadn’t really expected him of all people to ask her opinion. 

              She wanted to say that she wanted him to come along, so badly.  Because avoidance was a wonderful tactic. 

              But Klaus had also ripped out Kol’s liver without hesitation, and probably would do the same to Finn to get his way.  Which was kind of irritating. 

              She would never take on the role Elijah wished her to, of being Klaus’ moral compass, but if – if – she stuck around for any length of time, they would have to work on his sibling relationships.

              “It’s okay,” she said to him with a smile.  “But seriously, Finn – stop torturing yourself.  Harry Potter.  If you want more grim dark and political, go to Game of Thrones.  But half the classics aren’t nearly as good as they wish they were.”

              “Says the woman who hasn’t read them.”

              “Because I’m not torturing myself.  Be more like me.”

              He retreated into what must have been a library or a study, and left Caroline to look at Klaus.

              “Sooo…” she said slowly.  Klaus stared at her, and then sighed.  He tucked his hand behind her head, and then pulled her in, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

              “What am I going to do with you, Sweetheart?” he asked when he pulled back.

              “Take me for breakfast?” she asked hopefully, and he chuckled.

              “Lead the way.”

---

              Klaus could be charming.

              Breakfast showed that Klaus could be charming.  He could keep the conversation going, and make her laugh.  The conversation moved along easily, and they talked about exactly zero personal things.

              Klaus could be charming… but Caroline knew that she needed to actually talk to him.

              Because even as he was charming, and conversation moved, there was that underlying tension.  The one that had been there from the start.  The one that she didn’t really know what to do with it. 

              And so, when they were halfway between the diner and the townhouse, she figured she should say something.

              “What do you want from me?”

              And okay.  That hadn’t really been what she meant to say.  But it cut to the heart of… everything, didn’t it?  Because Caroline still couldn’t figure it out.

              Did he want an empath on payroll?  She wasn’t interested.

              Did he want a distraction?  They could possible discuss it.

              Did he want… more?  No one ever seemed to want that from her.  Not really.  Not once something better, shinier, nicer came along.

              “Well now,” Klaus mused, bringing Caroline back to the conversation.  “That is a rather loaded question for a public sidewalk.”

              “I think a public sidewalk is the best place to have it,” Caroline countered.  “Your siblings aren’t here.  And the public thing means that we have to keep our distance.”

              She saw a bench, and strode over to it, taking a seat after a careful survey to make sure it was clean.  She crossed her legs and then looked up at Klaus.  He looked less than impressed, but he took a seat. 

              “I wouldn’t think you of all people would need to question my intentions,” Klaus said at last.  He had taken a seat on the other side of bench.  “Can’t you tell what I want from you?”

              “It doesn’t work like that.  You know it doesn’t work like that.  If empaths could read you that easily, we wouldn’t be alive, would we?” Caroline tilted her head back and looked up at the sky.  “Besides, knowing emotions doesn’t really tell me much.  I read Matt.  He loved me; I know he did.  He just didn’t love me enough. And there’s no way of telling that.  I could read you, see that your… whatever is genuine, and you could turn right around and murder me anyways.”

              “It is.” When Caroline turned her head to frown at him in confusion, the corner of Klaus’ lip quirked up.  “My whatever.  It truly is genuine, Caroline.”

              “Yeah, and that doesn’t mean you won’t kill me tomorrow. See my problem?”

              Klaus heaved a sigh and got to his feet, taking Caroline’s hand and tugging her along behind him.  She frowned, but let him pull her up and down the sidewalk.

              “What are you doing?” she demanded, though she didn’t pull away, or stop their forward momentum. 

              “Apparently I’m taking you on a date,” Klaus replied, which made Caroline blink after him in surprise. 

              “A date?  What the hell is that going to do?”

              “It allows you to get to know another person, Love.  To determine if their interest is sincere or not.” He glanced over his shoulder at her.  “Get to know me, Caroline.  I dare you.”

              Well… what the hell was she supposed to say to that?

              “Okay. Let’s go on a date.”

---

              They wound up at a movie theatre.  Because Klaus decided that if he was going to be ridiculous and do this, he might as well truly embrace the cliché.  So he let Caroline pick some animated movie, and even got her popcorn and an overly large soft drink. 

              She led him to the back of the theatre, where they settled into chairs just in time for the credits to roll.

              “This is ridiculous,” Klaus murmured, when about fifteen minutes had passed.  “I don’t even understand what’s going on.”

              “That’s because it’s a sequel,” Caroline murmured in return.  “I waited years for this movie to come out.  I’ve seen it, like, five times with Enzo already.  We’ll have to watch the first one some time.”

              “If you’ve seen it, then why-” his words were cut off when her hand cupped the back of his neck, and she tugged him down, pressing her lips against his.  Klaus was taken aback for about a second, before he leapt in whole-heartedly and kissed her back.

              He might be a paranoid asshole, but he wasn’t going to look this gift horse in the mouth.  He cupped the back of her head and adjusted the angle, so he could take over.  Her hair was cool and soft against his skin, and he buried his other hand in it as well, savoring the feel of it, the feel of her

              “Ooh,” Caroline broke away from him, her eyes darting towards the screen.  “I love this scene.  It’s where Edna is babysitting Jack-Jack.”

              Klaus was left bereft, her hair drifting away from his fingers.  He stared at her, feeling somewhat confused by the whole thing. 

              “Close your mouth, Love,” she said, in a mockery of his accent.  It made him roll his eyes, and then give her a wicked smirk.

              He could play this game.

              While she watched the movie and munched happily on the popcorn, Klaus leaned in and ran his nose along her jaw line.  He adored her scent, and took a few moments to appreciate it, breathing in deeply.  Then he followed the same trail with his lips.

              “You’re interrupting my cartoon,” Caroline murmured, but she angled her head back, giving him better access to the column of her neck.  Klaus grinned against her skin and then, in a moment of whimsy, blew a raspberry against it before pulling back.  A woman two rows in front of them glared back, and Klaus gave her a bright smile that showed too many teeth and made her turn back around, looking vaguely terrified.

              Caroline just stared at him, blinking as though she couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. 

              “Did you… I… what?” she finally managed to choke out, and Klaus reached out with a finger, to close her gaping mouth.

              “You’re interrupting the cartoon, Love,” he whispered.  Her eyes narrowed, flashing fire at him.  It was quite breathtaking.

              “You’re… ridiculous,” she whispered in return, her tone a little shocked, as though she couldn’t quite believe what she was saying.  “You’re completely ridiculous.”

              Klaus shrugged and decided to try some of her popcorn.  It was as terrible as he remembered it being – Caroline put far too much butter on it, leaving his fingers greasy. 

              He wasn’t ridiculous, not by nature.  He was far more prone to being too serious – perhaps even brooding.  Rebekah liked to say it was his artist’s soul, but the truth was that after a thousand years, there was very little in the world that could make him want to be anything but brooding.

              And then there was Caroline.

              With her bouquets that cut to the quick, and her secret stash of illegal plants.  With her quick wit, and friendship with one of Klaus’ greatest enemies… and when was the last time he had even hesitated in killing someone that could possibly be working with Katerina?

              Rose, most likely, when Elijah had convinced him to let her go, and Klaus had, because sometimes it was fun to hunt. 

              Yet he hadn’t considered killing Caroline, not seriously, not since meeting her.  Because the world was a little brighter, when he got to view it through her eyes.

              And so, she made him slightly ridiculous.

              “You don’t look entirely happy that I might be ridiculous,” he observed, when she had looked back at the screen, her brow furrowed, her expression slightly troubled.

              “You’re dangerous, when you’re ridiculous,” she replied, and Klaus didn’t quite understand what exactly she meant by that.  She pulled him in for another kiss, however, and he decided he would ask questions another time.

---

              Hot Evil Hybrid Overlord was surprisingly dangerous to Caroline when that was all she figured Klaus was.  Amoral and evil, but hot.

              She could have handled that.

              She could even handle charming.  Enzo was charming, and she dealt with him all the time without becoming too emotionally attached.

              But then Klaus went and blew a raspberry on her throat, and then followed that with an absolutely evil smile at some poor soccer mom, and the dichotomy of it all left her feeling helpless against him. 

              Because he wasn’t supposed to be able to be ridiculous. He wasn’t supposed to be capable of that silly sort of boyish charm.  It honestly wasn’t fair.

              She was growing attached to someone she had no business growing attached to.

              “What was all of this today?” she asked, when he delivered her home, because Enzo was a big boy.  If he was still hanging out with the Mikaelsons, he could find his own way back to his own apartment. 

              “I told you, Love, it was letting you get to know me.”

              She leaned against the door frame and frowned at him.

              “I’m not sure getting to know you better is in my best interest, Klaus.  I know what you do with witches.”

              “You’re not a witch, you’re an empath.”

              “We’re still witches.  We just work different than the typical one.”

              “Fine.  You’re not an empath, you’re Caroline.”

              “I’m still an empath.”

              He was frowning back at her, but Caroline wasn’t about to be cowed, not on something this important.  She wasn’t in the habit of being self-destructive, after all. 

              “Is it so hard to believe that I enjoy you?”

              Caroline thought of a boy that loved her, but not enough, and parents that loved her… but still not enough, and gave a bitter little smile.

              “People always enjoy me, Klaus.  I’m enjoyable.  It’s sticking around that never seems to work out.”

              He frowned at that, and reached out to frame her chin with his fingers.  His eyes were dark as they searched hers for… something.  Who knew what?  He was a thousand years old.  He was kind of weird, and Caroline was tired.

              “When I convince you that you’re not just some whimsy… I wonder what you’ll give me?” he mused, caressing her jaw with his thumb. 

              “What would you want?” she replied, because apparently self-destructive was a thing she was going to play with after all.

              “I think I’ll take your eternal devotion,” he said after a beat of silence, before he pressed his lips to hers.  It was a quick kiss – the kind that left you wanting more, instead of fulfilling any desires.  And he was gone just as quick, not giving Caroline the chance to get the last word.

              “I’ll shove my eternal devotion up your ass,” she muttered darkly, turning to unlock her door.  Maybe it was for the best he had left before she could say it to his face.

              As far as comebacks went, it was pretty weak.

---

The flowers were pretty.  Hurt Caroline, and I’ll make your life miserable.

Xoxo, Katherine

              Klaus raised a brow at the note, because when he had seen the card with Elijah’s name on it, of course he had opened it.

              Katerina Petrova.  The flowers in question had probably been sent via Caroline.  He might have thought it a silent threat himself, if he hadn’t made it very clear that Caroline was to be off limits to his siblings.  Unless they needed to send flowers.

              He would hardly take business away from the empath, after all.

              Kol was the only one that had tried to go against that declaration, to exactly no one’s surprise, and even that seemed to have cleared up nicely.  Although Klaus might rip out his kidney yet.  Just for fun, and to make sure the situation was well understood.

              Protective hadn’t come naturally to Klaus in centuries, but he could do possessive quite nicely.

              “Niklaus, Miss Forbes didn’t accompany you back?” Elijah asked, obviously having heard him enter.

              “Katerina, Elijah?  Will you truly never learn your lesson there?” Klaus held up the card with a raised brow, and Elijah took it from his fingers, brow furrowing when he read the message.

              “I never heard anyone make a delivery,” he murmured, sounding somewhat distracted.

              “Get Kol to speak to one of his little witch friends.  I know he’s been making them, when he’s not threatening florists.  We’ll need to improve our wards if Katerina Petrova is making deliveries.  I doubt anything she sends to me will be as benign as a thank-you card.”

              He wasn’t afraid that she might finally kill him… but he was sure she could be imaginative in the unpleasant things she could have sent to him. 

              “I delivered Caroline safely home, as any gentleman would.”

              And basically declared his intentions to her, though he wasn’t sure that she believed him yet. 

              That was okay, however.  Klaus had nothing but time, and he could be spectacularly convincing, when he put his mind to it. He wondered if she could make a bouquet for herself.  Probably not.  Magic was never such a simple thing.

              No matter.  There was a dress tucked away in a closet that had belonged to a queen.  And a diamond bracelet that would look ravishing on her. 

              He grinned slowly, ignoring his siblings as he began to make a plan of attack.  He hadn’t lived this long by not knowing how to win, after all.