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a part of something that’s bigger (than me)

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The story isn't kind to Caroline.

For her it starts with rape, with her mind not fully her own and with her choices stripped away. In the beginning she's a plaything, the mean girl brought low, made and unmade by decisions of others and Caroline never receives apologies for most of it. Elena fights for her happy ending and through all of her losses and dark despair she is never alone. Bonnie wins her freedom, powerful in her own right. Caroline is left with uncertainty and obligations.

No, the story isn't kind to Caroline. So let's change the story.

Let's say that when she first meets him, she feels something warm and made of steel wrap itself around her undead heart. So she turns on her high heels and runs, fear coiling in her stomach.

"Tell me everything you know about soulmates," Caroline demands and Bonnie sees the panic in her eyes; Caroline who is the vampiric embodiment of 'keep calm and carry on' philosophy, Caroline with her neat notes and contingency plans, who never asks for herself. Bonnie is tired, this on-call witch for entire Mystic Falls supernatural community, but for this she makes time. They spend an hour curled on Bonnie's bed, cups of tea warming their fingers, and the witch tells her a story of souls split in two, of joy and despair, of wars waged because of broken hearts and broken bonds, and of happy ends. Caroline listens to it and pretends her hands don't shake. Bonnie pretends she hasn't noticed it.

"Thank you," the vampire says sincerely, puts on a brave face and presses a quick peck to Bonnie's cheek.

Armed with the knowledge of what it is happening, she watches the turn of events. Bonnie never asks her who is Caroline's soulmate, she doesn't have to.
(The witch keeps the secret safe anyway.)

Klaus isn't a man she could love, no, not yet. There's no place for compromise in his life, no care for others. And Caroline isn't the woman who could carve a place for herself, not yet. One day this sweet, innocent girl will have the wolf on the leash, and she'll be equally feared and revered - but that is still to come. Much needs to change.

But he's a monster, never forget that he is a monster no matter which story we're talking about, and he still kills Jenna, and he kills Elena, and Caroline hates him - but that thing wrapped around her heart doesn't let go. It's forever, like all fated things are.

Later, much later, she talks to the one person she knows will understand her with painful clarity. Elijah looks at her with kind compassion, and with strange kinship as Caroline chokes and stumbles on words, and confesses what he already knows.

"Klaus' denial may be long and wide as the rivers of Egypt, and this makes you a pressure point his enemies could use if he ever admitted it." Elijah says softly after she falls quiet. "But he knows, dear girl. Deep in his heart, he knows."

"I'm not sure it makes things better or worse," Caroline says with a quiet sight, letting the murmur of the river drown the sound away.

Still, she plays decoy and dances with him, and allows him to sketch her face over and over again. Caroline wears the bracelet he gave her, and her breath catches every time she sees him, and she doesn't say a word to anyone because Damon would use this against Klaus and no one would stop him, and how can she blame them? But Caroline is faced with the terrible choice of protecting Klaus - of protecting herself, in a way - or handing her friends a ready answer, and she makes the only decision she can.

She presses her lips together and creates a facade to hide the hurt behind, and keeps quiet.

"If he knew what you are to me," Klaus growls after Tyler pushes her into Elena's living room, magically sealed and still filled with sickly sweet smell of Kol's blood, "he wouldn't have done it."

"No, he wouldn't," Caroline confirms calmly from the sofa she's resting comfortably on, her body readily accepting Klaus' blood. She looks him right in the eye. "If he knew what I am, he would bite me himself and he would leave me somewhere you wouldn't reach me. And he would make you watch me die."

'Like you watched his mother die' goes unsaid.

"Anyway," Caroline continues, turning her eyes away from his still form. "What exactly am I to you, Klaus?"

He considers her in silence for a long, too long minute. She waits patiently. Caroline doesn't have hope that he'll apologize for biting her in the first place, but maybe she'll at least get an answer to this simple – yet so complicated - question.

"A burden," he replies. Caroline nods, accepting the lie. The silence was too long for it to be the truth.

Of course, this version of the story still isn't perfect - and it changes things, it changes so much. Hope is never conceived, Alaric will never meet his daughters, Davina is never saved from her attic and dies, ripped apart by magic too big for her lithe body to handle. New Orleans loses its population of witches, and then Marcel exterminates what is left of Crescent Moon werewolves. The price of happy endings for some is that others never get them.

When graduation comes - and at that points their friendship is still fresh and tentative, made possible only by the bond wrapped snugly around their hearts, and the forgiveness only time can bring - Klaus softly kisses Caroline's forehead and she shivers.

"Go to Yale, love," he murmurs, breathing in her scent. "Get away from this hellhole, have whatever adventures you crave. I'll wait until you're ready. We have all of eternity, sweet Caroline."

He doesn't say that he intends to be her last love because he doesn't have to. She already knows what he is and what he will be.

Klaus sets her free. Caroline leaves Mystic Falls behind, her mind and heart at peace for the first time in what feels like forever.

She manages to spend two blissful years at Yale before the supernatural trouble comes calling in the form of her favorite Original. Elijah is waiting for her after Caroline's last class of the day and she feels the immediate wave of fear squeeze her insides. The Mikaelsons left Mystic Falls after she went to college, Klaus leading his family on some insane quest to regain lost influence in New Orleans.

It's not my mum, is it?” she asks instead of a hello even though it wouldn't make any sense for him to bring bad news related to the sheriff, if this was about Liz it would be Elena or Bonnie or even Stefan. He shakes his head and kisses her cheek, and Caroline lets him because they kept in touch through phone calls and texts, and she honestly likes him.

No, it's Klaus. We have a problem you might be able to solve.”

So Caroline packs a bag, calls the little bookstore she works in and tells the manager she's sick, and then lets Elijah drive her to New Orleans. Vampires hate flying, she discovered quite early, something about the mix of scents in a small space, people they can't escape, humming of the blood and cabin pressure makes the experience quite impossible to stand. She doesn't ask about the trouble waiting for them at the end of this road trip, and the Original doesn't offer any details. Instead she asks Elijah for his favorite memories from his childhood, and that opens floodgates of stories. She's grateful. It's so much easier to love Klaus when one sees him through the perspective of his brother in addition to her own very limited one. Then he catches her up on things in Big Easy they couldn't discuss over the phone – Kol being alive again, and a witch sister they didn't know they had. War with Marcel exhausting them all.

When they're within the city limits, she finally asks.

Klaus was fighting with Kol about something,” Elijah says, carefully avoiding her eyes. „Things got rather heated, or so Rebekah tells me, I wasn't in the compound... and Freya put Klaus under a sleeping curse. We can't lift it.”

When it hits her - a sleeping curse, and soul bonds, and Elijah dragging her all the way to New Orleans, really? - Caroline hides her face in her hands and laughs. She's still giggling, albeit hysterically, when they arrive.

I'll talk him down,” she promises Freya and Kol – Caroline chooses to forget she washed his blood from hardwood floors of Elena's home. Rebekah welcomes her with a scoff and a fleeting peck on the cheek, and Elijah guides her to Klaus' room.

I've got this from here,” she promises and locks the door. Taking a deep breath, she turns and walks up to the bed where he's laid out, still and almost lifeless. It's wrong to see him like this, vulnerable and shrouded by enchanted sleep. Caroline climbs onto the mattress, puts her hands on his chest and without thinking too much about it presses her lips to his in the gentlest of kisses. Not pulling back immediately, she can feel the moment curse is lifted.

Klaus' arms are warm around Caroline when the Original presses her to himself, her legs trapped between his, safely cocooned by the body of the most dangerous person Caroline knows. They don't speak, not yet, there will be time for that. For now it's enough for Klaus to press kisses to her hair, and for Caroline to hide her face in that perfect place where his shoulder and neck meet.

It's not time. Not yet – but soon.

Caroline graduates. She starts wondering what to do now when her mother dies and suddenly everything else is inconsequential.

The funeral is simple, and elegant, and she doesn't remember most of it. Drowning in haze, she sleep-walks through making the arrangements. At one point Rebekah takes it over, and Klaus is holding Caroline's hand , and somewhere in the background Bonnie and Freya team up to make sure no one from the Salvatore-adjacent brood starts something. Caroline would say something about how grateful she is to all of them but all she can manage is hiding her face in the lapels of Klaus' suit jacket, steady beating of his heart the only safe harbor she has left.

Her heart is heavy. The bond wrapped around it is warm and content.

The story isn't kind to Caroline because it ends with a kiss and Klaus' death. It takes away from her the perspective of the most delicious game of cat and mouse dragging through centuries, making the moment she allows him to catch up all the sweeter. It burdens Caroline with yet another ghost over her shoulder.

In this story Caroline still makes him chase after her. After the sheriff's funeral Caroline once again runs away from Mystic Falls when Elijah hands her a first class ticket to France – Elijah who understands so much about grief and about the space one needs to process loss. She visits the small villages in Normandy and dances her way through the lavender fields in Provence (she doesn't go to Paris, not yet, she knows Klaus wouldn't forgive her if he wasn't included in her first visit to the city of lights). Caroline falls in love with Rome and Rebekah drags her from one church to another, and then they run miles in their high heels in Milan visiting possibly every little shop and boutique in the entire city.

You're not as dreadful as you used to be,” Rebekah declares then, her eyes twinkling with laughter, and Caroline feels young and carefree again.

Elijah meets her in London and they spend entire weeks just walking the streets, hand in hand, like old friends they are. They get lost more than once, and when it gets cold and fog covers the city they seek refuge in endless museums. When he needs to go back home, she drives him to the airport and kisses him goodbye.

Sometimes I wish it was you, not him,” she says. Elijah nods, the look in his eyes warm but guarded. They both know they're destined to be friends and nothing more.

Caroline's in Cardiff, getting ready to leave UK and start exploring Spain when she receives an invitation to New Year's ball in Vienna. The card is accompanied by a box with a dress, and she doesn't even have to look at the sender's address to know who it's from.

(In this story Caroline still makes him chase after her but it's not going to take centuries. Caroline knows that life is fleeting, even if you're immortal. Wasting hundreds of years she could spend being happy seems like an unthinkable crime, don't you think?)

So she flies to Austria and wears the dress: Klaus has the artist's eye, the moss-green gown with gold details make heads turn as she slowly makes her way to her seat. He's already waiting for her, and Caroline smiles, taking his arm.

Their fingers tangle.

Finally, it is time.