Klaus had been having a thoroughly ordinary evening until Caroline’s number appeared on his ringing phone.
He stared at it uncomprehendingly for the first quarter second; after that day in the woods of Mystic Falls he hadn’t expected to hear from her for at least another decade.
Then a tiny surge of happiness broke through the shock—he was, after all, hearing from her sooner than a decade, and that was something to celebrate—followed immediately by a stab of fear. She wouldn’t be calling him, particularly after she’d just asked him to walk out of her life, if it wasn’t an absolute life-threatening emergency.
He didn’t even have time to let himself feel hopeful that this time it wasn’t before he was swiping his finger across the tile to answer it.
“Hello love,” he greeted her, keeping his voice neutral, “this is a pleasant surprise.”
“Okay, so… you know how I only ever call you when I need something? Which I will freely acknowledge is problematic and I should probably stop?” Her voice on the other end of the line was halfway between a sob and a self-deprecating laugh, and Klaus wasn’t sure whether he should laugh at her self-awareness or demand a faster explanation for what had upset her so badly that she’d called him.
“What do you need, sweetheart?” he settled on at last.
“Just your blood,” she responded, clearly relieved. “And a quick murder.”
“Who bit you?” he demanded, flashing to his feet, his vision going red. “I’m getting on a plane.”
“No one,” she assured him quickly. “No one bit me—I’m not dying. Well, not yet anyway. And I’ll be crossing the Louisiana state line in 20 minutes, according to my GPS,” she added before he could process what she meant by not dying yet.
“What on God’s green earth could have you so riled that you’re not only asking me to murder someone, but you’re driving to visit me in person?” He asked after a few seconds of tense silence wherein he tried and failed to figure out which was stranger.
“You’ll understand when I get there,” she responded, voice quiet and dull. “I don’t actually have your address…”
“You’re on I-40?” he checked, grabbing his car keys and speeding to his car inside of two seconds. “There’s a pub just over the border—biker bar with a car tire hung from a tree above the roof. You can’t miss it. Go there, I’ll meet you.”
“Okay,” she responded. “Thank you Klaus.”
“You can thank me with an explanation—and a name,” he growled. “I’ll see you in half an hour.”
She was still in her car when he arrived—a red one he’d not seen her in before, idling at the back of the lot, the bass line of her music thundering at a volume that threatened to hurt his head. When she saw him, she immediately shut the radio off.
Flashing to her door, he crouched down to her level as she opened it.
She looked awful—eyes bloodshot and wild, skin pale and dull. Her car was littered with takeaway coffee cups; about half of them from Starbucks, and the other half from an assortment of gas station brands. The pounding of her heart and shallow, running breaths despite the seat belt still around her waist were a further testament to her highly caffeinated state, and the smell of her blood was easily a large part…
The smell of her blood, which was coming from outside of her body.
Klaus’s eyes found the shallow scrape at her hairline in the remainder of the two seconds it was taking her to form his name. He found the additional scrapes on her left elbow and right knee, and took in her hunched posture and labored breathing before the pause had time to become awkward.
“What happened?” he demanded without preamble, his hand ghosting against the side of her face, his thumb brushing her hair back without touching the wound. “You’re not healing, what—”
“There was… an accident,” she responded. “It’s complicated. I’m—”
“Human,” he whispered for her when she faltered, unsure whether it was emotion or exhaustion that throttled her. His wide eyes were roving over her, searching for any kind of sensible explanation, but he couldn’t deny the impossible truth sitting in front of him.
“Yes,” she whispered back, eyes flicking down. Was that shame? Or just sorrow? He was already biting into his wrist, offering it to her. She bent her head down, pressing her lips to his torn skin and drinking greedily. He watched as the little cuts healed, finally letting his free hand touch her as he pressed his lips to her forehead, licking away the remaining droplets.
Entirely human, thoroughly saturated with caffeine. No vervain.
He grew more worried by the second.
“Blood—and a quick murder,” he quoted softly, realizing what she’d meant. “I take it you’d prefer to give me that explanation over a glass of B+?”
“Yes,” she gasped, relief making her sag back in her seat. He had his other hand cupping her face in moments.
“Are you entirely sure?” he checked, eyes burning into hers. “Unless whatever accident happened is likely to happen again, I doubt this is a choice you could unmake.”
“Klaus,” she whispered, fumbling her seat belt open so she could turn to fully face him, her hand going to his bicep, like she wanted to urge him on with all the little human strength she possessed. “If I wasn’t 100% sure, I could have stayed in Virginia. Please.” He nodded, thumb stroking across her temple once. Then his pupils widened.
“You won’t feel a thing until you wake,” he compelled, voice low and gentle, before snapping her neck with a deft twist of his wrists. She sagged forward onto him, the manic, terrified light leaving her eyes before her head even hit his shoulder.
Caroline was only dead for about 20 minutes—which to Klaus’s knowledge was hours short of the record for fast turns. Perhaps her body already knew what it was supposed to do. She muddled her way back to consciousness, her scent clearly that of a young vampire in transition, her immortal blood just having consumed the last of her human essence.
He’d buckled her into the passenger seat of his car for the last leg of the trip—hers was nearly out of gas, upon inspection. A quick search of the interior and the trunk showed that she’d brought her purse and nothing else, so when he called one of his minions to clean, fill and transport her car, he added clothes shopping to the to-do list.
Since she’d been clearly distressed on the phone, he’d come prepared with a cooler full of blood - so as she stirred and moaned, he reached behind him, deftly unzipping the container and holding a blood bag where she could see it the moment she opened her eyes.
“How do you feel?” he asked as she quickly began sucking down the contents.
“Immortal,” she responded, letting dark veins bloom across her face as her fangs extended. “Kind of like I got run over by a truck though,” she added thoughtfully after finishing off the bag. “I don’t remember being this hungover last time.”
“Did you drive all the way from Mystic Falls in one go?” Klaus checked, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh,” she responded, realizing where he was going. “Yeah I did. I guess I’d be exhausted.”
“Who’s chasing you?” he asked bluntly, offering her another bag, which she took gratefully. “You drove like a bat out of hell for 16 hours without even bandaging your wounds,” he listed as she opened her mouth to deny pursuit. “You crossed state lines without packing a change of clothes, and didn’t contact me to learn my address until you were nearly here. You said you could have stayed in Mystic Falls only if you were unsure. Who or what are you running from?”
She signed inaudibly, her gaze and shoulders dropping as she filled her mouth with blood instead of speaking right away.
“It’s not like that,” she murmured finally. “Not exactly.
“Then what’s it like, exactly?” he demanded, trying not to get irritated by her hedging.
“You’re assuming that I’m being followed in a threatening way,” she snapped back, and her rising anger actually calmed him—she seemed stronger, more awake, less desperate and passive. “It’s not that I think they’re going to hurt me—I just didn’t want to give them the chance to try and stop me.”
“And ‘they’ are…?” he asked, choosing not to remind her just yet that she’d been bleeding upon arrival.
“They said it was a miracle,” she continued softly, eyes lowering again. “That I got a chance they’d never have, and I should accept it, be grateful for it.”
“‘They’ who ?” He seethed, although he suspected he already knew the answer.
Those sentiments sounded like the sort of thing that people willing to commit genocide on a whim in exchange for a cure would say.
“My friends,” she whispered, and he could tell it hurt her to say that word, considering the context. He could feel her struggling to backpedal, to defend them, before she even opened her mouth again. “I understand that turning someone is… a very personal choice for a vampire—”
“ Someone ,” Klaus interrupted heatedly, “you were already a vampire , that is bloody different! ”
“Yeah,” she agreed, deflating. “Anyway, once it became clear that none of them would respect my choices… about my body ,” she added in a frustrated grumble. Then she froze and looked sharply up at him, then back at the road in front of them. “Sorry, I just realized you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?”
Klaus deliberately repressed the memory of that night, but not before the physical impression of Elijah’s hands restraining him had burned across his skin.
“They betrayed you,” he said, returning forcefully to her experiences, not wanting to think about his own when every mile of road brought him closer to Elijah and his attempts to be proper brothers with him again. “They hurt you—”
“Those were an accident,” she cut him off, shaking her head quickly, her hand instinctively covering the spot where her leggings had torn. “I wasn’t used to having a human body—I pushed it further than it was designed to go.”
“How did you come by such an unwelcome miracle?” he asked, rather than begin a long rant about how if her so-called friends insisted on leaving her human the least they could have done was ensure that she didn’t have cause to come to harm. Saying it out loud would just put her in a position where she felt the need to defend them, and no one should have to defend actions that sent them on a hail-Mary drive across the country with a bleeding headwound and no luggage. He’d decide later how best to punish them.
“There’s these witches called Travelers,” she explained, starting her third blood bag, clearly pleased by the change of topic. “They put up this anti-magic barrier—or anti not-their-magic, I guess… Anyway, vampires are only kept alive by magic, as you already know obviously. So whenever one of us crossed the barrier…”
“Without magic, you’d just go back to being dead,” Klaus finished for her as she paused. “But that doesn’t—”
“I’m getting there,” she interrupted. “When Elena crosses the border, she coughs up river water. When Stefan and Damon try to cross, they break out in bullet holes. Remove the magic from a vampire, and they die in the same way they died as humans. But me? Katherine smothered me with a pillow. My body was never badly damaged—I reached brain death due to oxygen starvation in my blood.”
He could see it—in so much more vivid detail now that he’d just seen her as a human. He never thought he’d regret that day in the woods—but now he was regretting not killing Katherine slowly.
“This hunter guy named Tripp was rounding up vampires and driving them across the border, killing us in big groups. I messed up, I got caught. Bonnie came to save me, but magic goes haywire the closer you get to the border, so she was too late. She ran the truck off the road, totaled her car doing it actually,” she laughed ruefully. “Her insurance rates are going to go through the roof.
“Anyway, it was already across the town line; she pulled me out, but she couldn’t drag me across the border fast enough. I was asphyxiating, but since it was magic, there was nothing blocking my airways. Bonnie was a lifeguard during the summers, before practical magic became her full-time job.” She shrugged. “She broke three of my ribs between the crash and the CPR, but she saved my life.”
“And didn’t immediately find a vampire to fix the ribs she broke? ” Klaus exploded. He needed a drink, and a murder or three.
“By the time she had me stable, an ambulance had arrived on scene, and they weren’t surprised by the veiny corpses. They expected to be doing dead vampire disposal. I think they were surprised to see the accident—much less survivors. Bonnie played it off like the accident was Tripp’s fault, and I had been in her car—I went to the hospital, they did the whole checkup.
“It would have looked pretty suspicious if I’d been totally fine the next day, so I didn’t expect anyone to heal me right away, obviously—”
“Obviously,” he grumbled, sarcasm dripping from his tone, “I’m sure the very best way to handle that was to limp around with broken bones rather than—”
“Fabricate a story where I was going to stay with my grandmother in New York while I recovered, buy myself onto a cruise and then go to my vampire friends with the expectation that I’d be a vampire upon leaving town for a month?” She interrupted, arching an eyebrow challengingly. Klaus closed his mouth, raising his hands momentarily in mock-surrender.
“Sorry darling—I’ll let you finish.”
“I asked Elena first,” she sighed, thumbs toying with the tube of the empty blood bag in her lap. “She had this whole speech planned out about how I had the chance at a normal life and adulthood and babies and everything, and she didn’t want to take that away from me. We argued, she didn’t budge, I figured no problem. I know plenty of vampires.”
“They all refused,” Klaus summarized as her pause lengthened, and her stare fixed itself on an unknown point in the distance. She blinked, her attention returning to the present.
“I think they must have discussed it in advance—the arguments all sounded disturbingly similar.”
“Whose original idea do you think it was?” he asked, going for casual.
“So you can kill them?” she checked, side-eyeing him. “Nice try, but I have no idea. Anyway, the spell was done using Stefan and Elena’s blood, and I figured the Travelers wouldn't have just dumped it down the drain if it was that magically powerful—yes, I know, gross,” she added, throwing up her hands as the noise of disgust he’d made, “but I was getting desperate. Anyway, I asked Matt to help get me in, and I guess he was worried, probably because I was going to steal from a bunch of super powerful witches, and he told Elena, and she told the others…”
“What did they do, Caroline?” he growled.
“They took me to Bonnie’s dad’s house in Ashton Heights, and locked me in his spare bedroom,” she confessed quietly. Rage burned down his spine and he had to focus on staying man-shaped, staying in control of the car.
“Stefan said he was going to call my mom so she could talk me down. I turned on the TV loud enough to hide my voice, and called 911—said I was the homeowner and someone had broken in, and I was hiding in the basement. When the SWAT team showed up and broke down the front door, I went out the back window and climbed down the fence.”
Her voice had become toneless and dead, either from her exhaustion, or from how much she didn’t want to admit the lengths she’d needed to go to in order to escape from the people who were supposed to love her. “I crawled through the bushes onto the back neighbor’s property, and ruined my favorite leggings in the process,” she gestured at the hole and the perfectly healed skin beneath. “I stole their car, and set my GPS for here.”
“I’m glad you knew I’d help you,” he murmured—and it was the truth, but any happiness he could have felt from her trust in him was painfully eclipsed by the rage that she’d had to do it at all.
“I knew you’d respect what I wanted, even if you didn’t agree with me,” she responded softly. He turned his neck sharply to look at her, and found that she was looking back at him. It might have been wishful thinking, but he thought he saw regret in her face. “You’ve been doing a lot of that lately, even if my decisions weren’t always that great, so…” Bitterness—he most definitely heard a hint of bitterness, and his heart was twisting and if she was implying what he thought she was implying…
“Is this your house?” she asked quietly as he pulled over in front of the compound.
“Yes,” he responded, turning off the engine, getting out of the car and flashing over to her side. She may have been a vampire again, but the way she held herself still looked heavy and painfully exhausted. “It’s quite old, but has an undeniable charm,” he added, offering her a hand.
She leaned on him as she stood, and he dared to press a chaste kiss to the top of her head. She didn’t pull away—but she was exhausted and on edge and had just turned. Perhaps she just didn’t have the energy.
No one but the night watch was awake, something for which he was incredibly grateful. The last thing he needed was to try and keep her and Hayley off of each other. That particular drama could wait until morning. He led her upstairs to the spare bedroom beside his. A number of shopping bags had already arrived and been placed on a table just inside the door—clothing, toiletries, a curling iron and a phone charger.
“We can talk more in the morning,” he said quietly as she pulled the phone charger off the top of one of the bags with a wordless noise of gratitude. He turned and exited the room, but paused as he heard her footsteps following. She was standing in the doorway, leaning out around the frame, her fingers tangling in the charging cord with a nervous energy.
“Thank you,” she whispered, eyes burning into his in a way they hadn’t since that day in the woods of Mystic Falls. “For everything.”
“Of course,” he murmured back, returning to stand directly in front of her. “You know how I feel about you Caroline, I’ve made that abundantly clear. And I’ll always be there for you, when you need me.” She nodded, and he could see that she was close to tears—probably finally able to process how upset and hurt she was now that survival wasn’t her top priority…
It surprised him when she kissed him, but that surprise didn’t stop his body from reacting enthusiastically, pressing against her, his hands tangling in her hair as he gently cupped the back of her head, pulling her into him. His back wound up against the doorframe, then the inner wall, and then he was kissing his way down her throat, and along her collarbone, one of his hands moving to fist in the back hem of her shirt.
Both of their hearts were pounding erratically, and this wasn’t like the last time—all newness and lust; this time was desperation, and the deep, heady relief of knowing that she was safe and she was here and she wanted him like he wanted her…
“It’s late,” he gasped against her skin, able to form the words but not quite ready to make his body live up to them. “You’re tired, you’ve had a scare—”
“It was an all-nighter,” she responded, her fangs grazing gently along the skin of his neck, “not a roofie—I know what I want.” She pulled away a few inches, panting, and started pulling off her shirt. His hands assisted her of their own volition. “Do you?” she checked, her eyes searching his face for any hint that things had changed between them.
In response, he kicked the door shut and sped them to the bed.
Afterwards—and afterwards was a long time from the beginning—they lay curled up in the sheets and each other, sunlight beginning to glow through the window. Klaus cradled her wrist in his hand, tracing the delicate lines of her tattoo with his thumb.
“Will that fade faster?” she asked quietly, her eyes fixed on his own flock of tattooed birds.
“Yes,” he murmured, bringing her hand to his mouth and kissing each of her fingers. “Part of the beauty of being a vampire is that you can change your designs every decade or so. Nothing has to be truly permanent unless you want it to be. Though this one suits you,” he added, kissing the pulse point beneath the ink before continuing. “You were made for freedom, and the open sky.” She hummed thoughtfully in response, pressing answering kisses to his shoulder.
“What will you do now?” He hadn’t intended to ask so soon—had hoped he could keep her here in New Orleans for a day, a week, forever; hadn’t wanted to hear her say she’d return to the “friends” who didn’t respect her. But she wasn’t made to be kept—and he loved her for who she was, not for who he might desire her to be.
“I don’t know,” she responded after a long pause, and he could tell by her heartbeat that it was a lie. He shifted so he could look at her head on, eyebrow slightly raised in challenge. She pursed her lips and sighed, looking away from him for a long moment before replying.
“I don’t want to go home yet,” she confessed. “I’m so, so angry with all of them. But I don’t want to make decisions about people when I’m angry—those are a little too permanent, especially for a vampire.” Her eyes flicked back up to meet his. “I need space, and time, away from Mystic Fall. Perspective, I guess.”
“Away from anything that reminds you of home?” he asked, steeling himself for what he thought he knew was coming next. But she kissed him again instead.
“Not everything,” she whispered against his lips. “You did say once that you wanted me to come and visit you…”
“You are absolutely welcome to stay as long as you like,” he was saying, pulling her closer, barely believing that they were even having this conversation. She was kissing him again, her fingernails scratching gently down the back of his scalp, and he rolled them so she was on top of him. “We are a tiny bit in the middle of a turf war,” he added, realizing belatedly that the last time he’d made that invitation, things had been a great deal more peaceful.
“Where isn’t these days?” she laughed humorlessly. “I’m a vampire, danger comes with the job description. Besides,” she added, pressing her lips against his jaw, and whispering in his ear, “you’re here. And that’s enough.”