these hearts, they're wild creatures,
that's why our ribs are cages.
Being a Ripper is hard work, he’s starting to realize.
(Strange how it always seemed so easy before.)
“You’re not gonna kill him?” She’s bored already.
“No,” he says. Faking casual is one of those things he’s good at. He’s been doing it with Caroline since before he even knew he was. So maybe not so much ‘good at’ as ‘you're a fucking moron’, but, well, “where’s the fun in that? The torture is the best part. What are you, new?”
Something flashes in her eyes, and for a moment he thinks it’s disgust. Thinks something like god, yes, good.
It’s only when she’s already on him, her nails digging into his scalp, her teeth at his throat, that he realizes he was wrong. This isn’t disgust. Not exactly disgust. It’s something else entirely.
(He considers the propriety of it, for what it’s worth. For the nanosecond it takes for her lips to meet his, her teeth clashing so hard, his jaw aches with it, he thinks maybe we shouldn’t be-
Stops thinking a nanosecond later.)
The blood of the man she’d been feeding on this time, the man lying six and a half feet away from them takes twenty seven minutes to reach them on the ground. He knows because he counts the seconds.
It soaks her hand, trailing down the side of his face when she next grasps his hair, pulls hard. He can almost taste it. Taste a century-worth of futile resistance. It would be so easy to give in. Right now. With her. Let himself want her like this.
Fight it, he tells himself. A bathroom sink beneath closed eyelids, and her. The real her. No matter how good it feels to give yourself over to it, you fight it off, you bury it.
The words are his but the voice is hers. He doesn't know when that happened.
When he looks up next, she’s already looking straight at him. He guards his eyes.
“You know what?”
He tangles his hand in her hair, involuntarily, “what?”
“I’ll tell you a secret.”
“What?” He asks, again.
She leans in closer, her breath heavy against his ear. He imagines, for a moment, he can feel her heartbeat. Imagines he can hear it racing. Like a signal. Like she feels something, somehow. Still. Feels a fraction of what he does. A limit tending to zero, but still tending.
She flicks out her tongue to taste the blood- almost dry now. He can feel the veins pushing through his skin. Fights. When you feel the blood rushing, you tell yourself that you're going to get through it, that you're strong enough.
“We’re already damned,” she whispers.
“You’re strange,” she muses. She’s still sitting on the new chair in her room, legs propped up on the new bed. The same way she has since the past four hours.
He can’t tell whether he’s relieved or worried out of his mind.
“Strange, how?” He drawls, pushing down the panic unfurling at the back of his throat to the constant tune of fuck, she knows.
“Strange.” Is all she says. Doesn't explain it. Goes back to her book. The Mill on the Floss.
Here’s something he’s starting to realize: he doesn't understand Caroline Forbes. Not really, not in the way of blood, poetry, or a diary entry. Not just this Caroline with the empty eyes. Any Caroline.
Not completely. Not like he thought he did. Thought he had her figured out. Slotted even.
He predicts her sometimes, but he doesn't understand her. She’s always more. Somehow, she’s always more.
“It’s a good book.”
He makes a non-committal sound. He can’t tell where this is leading. Can’t tell if it’s a trap. If he's falling by speaking. Or falling by not speaking.
“Have you read it?”
“A long time ago,” he answers, shortly.
A strand of hair falls over her eyes. He clenches his hands before he can do something stupid. Like push it back for her. Give himself away.
“Time is all I have.”
Come back to me.
She flips the page.
He feeds the man his blood, later. He doesn’t remember which man, and where they'd found him, anymore. They’re all the same. A blur of the same built and hair and teeth marks on the side of their necks in the shape of her smile.
She’s long gone, a trail of dried blood and a gaping hole somewhere in his chest to the tune of the vulnerability in her eyes, in a dress fit for a funeral, when all he had to do was say yes.
“You’re not going to remember anything.”
Maybe he should word this more carefully. More specifically. He’s had experience enough to understand consequences.
But he’s not the hero of this story anymore, so, whatever.
He wakes up on fire.
“Oh,” she says, an even tone to her words, “you’re awake.”
His first thought is you’re beautiful. His next thought is— she’s fucking insane.
(She’d never give up on him. She never has. He’s done nothing but. But damned if he does. This time, damned if he does.)
“Where am I?” He manages, through parched throat. His insides still feel like a nuclear explosion.
She taps the side of the wall with a fist, “take note. Dark, damp, concrete. Lots of concrete. You can rule out the Buckingham Palace.”
“Why—” he stops, “you know.”
She shrugs, "always did. It was cute though, to watch you try. The last time you tried, it involved stringing cheap fairy-lights and a self-serving pretence at caring to ease that overactive hero conscience of yours. So this was definitely an upgrade on the try-o-meter. Almost at the Stefan Salvatore Tries For Elena Gilbert level. Ten points for Gryffindor."
She sits cross-legged on the damp floor, skirt staining with water.
"Elena and I," he begins carefully- jealousy is an emotion. Anything. He's willing to work with anything, he's fucking in love with her, "we're not-"
She waves him off.
“Hey, did you ever play Acting Hopeful No. #5398523 in some movie? Because that seems to be the extent of your talent in that regard. Just FYI. I say this with love. Everything I say is with love. You know I love you. I’ve been pathetically obvious about it enough times for it to have penetrated even your Tuesday Face and overly thick skull.”
She stabs herself in the stomach, without warning, with a knife he didn’t even notice she had. He lurches forward, on instinct. Realizes then that he’s tied down.
She twists the knife, gasping as it goes in deeper.
He strains against his bonds, "stop."
She looks at him for a moment. Then pulls the knife out with a grimace, “wow. You’re, like, really bad at not being in love with me now. And to think you were acing it just a week back. This deserves a syndication of its own, don’t you think?”
“Come,” he grits his teeth through the pain. He can’t tell what’s hurting, exactly, or why. Just about everything, just about everywhere. But he knows it's hurting. And Caroline, Caroline doesn't even know she's hurting, “back to me.”
“Shut up,” she says. There's no heat to her words. "Don't you fucking dare."
I’m not going to give up on you, he repeats, seven times an hour. One hundred and sixty eight times a day.
He's trying at playing Caroline, he realizes midway through. It would be ironic if it wasn't so ugly. So sad.
She doesn’t come back.
(“You know what the closest emotion to grief is?"
He stops counting after the seven thousandth time.
She still doesn't come back.
He opens his eyes. They feel glued together. Desiccated.
She’s leaning against the wall. One leg propped up with casual ease of the easily bored.
“Hi,” she begins. Finishes.
Pushes a bleeding woman to him by way of further conversation.
He closes his eyes. Sinks his teeth in, deep, cutting through veins and muscles. Messy. Unpracticed. Hungry.
She’s watching him, he knows. She’s still beautiful. Still insane, probably. But he’s always liked the crazy ones.
His choice in women is tragic, anyway. It's an open secret around town. Around several towns.
“Hi,” she says, again.
He tosses the woman aside. The body falls at his feet in an odd supplication. The head— well. It's tradition, after all.
Caroline delicately kicks the severed head with the toe of an open heel, wrinkling her nose in annoyance when some of the blood seeps through, turning the gold of her heels a dark shade of bronze.
Walks over to him.
“Hi,” she says. Third time.
I'm not going to give- his head starts its monotonous prayer of what feels like centuries ago. Sheer force of habit. He clamps it down.
Pulls her to him, roughly, instead.
He's not bound anymore, he realizes dimly. Slices her lips through fangs he’s forgotten to hide. Doesn’t need to hide. Whatever.
She makes a low sound at the back of her throat. He can taste her blood on his tongue, mixing with the blood of another to-be-name on his wall. Inhuman, wild, impossibly sweet. Impossibly Caroline.
“Hi,” he manages through a mouthful of her blood. She tastes warm. If she ever comes close enough, he wants to drown in that taste. Swallows.
"You know," she says, still closer now, a leg on either side of his, gaze careless, feral, unafraid, "I wasn't going to give up on you."
Being a Ripper is easy, he’s starting to realize.
(Strange how it seemed so hard before.)
Across the table, a vision in red, she smiles.