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Everything, Everything

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Caroline wakes up slowly; she’s warmer than she usually is, wrapped in blankets of dark navy and white stripes. It’s not the blankets that’s the first clue, nor is it the ebony furniture around the room decorated with photos.

It’s the arm slung around her waist, tucking her deeply into someone else’s space. It doesn’t feel familiar, as comfortable as she is, and she manages to flail out of the bed and land on a heap at the floor.

When she pops her head back up, ready to fight or flight, Klaus is staring at her. He looks more confused than she’s ever seen him, and wounded somehow, as if he doesn’t know what to do or what he’s up against.

“Caroline?” His voice is sleepy, raspy and adorable in a way she usually ignores.

“What the hell, Klaus!?” She snarls, “This is too far! Where am I?”

Her heart is pounding frantically; it’s not exactly that Caroline feels threatened by Klaus, even though she should, it’s more that this is so unexpected.

“I can’t-” Klaus throws the covers off him, “Caroline, I can’t-”

Caroline stands, furious, “You can’t what, Klaus?! Take a freaking hint?! Because let me tell you, kidnapping me is definitely not a way to get in my favor, you stupid-”

“I can’t hear,” Klaus snaps, “I can’t smell, or hear, or anything.”

Caroline pauses, “What?”

Klaus’ expression flickers- a cross between absolute terror and surprise, “I’m human.”

Caroline gapes at him just long enough to clue into the fact that her heart is pounding and her lungs are pumping, and she hasn’t felt this full in forever -- she’s perpetually hungry, always fighting off cravings, and now it’s an absence of so many things.

“Me too.” She whispers.

Klaus swallows, audible in the large bedroom. He hasn’t moved from the side of the bed, and he looks kind of ridiculous in his soft blue pajama pants and grey shirt. Caroline scans the room, more to avoid looking at him than anything else, but her eyes catch on a million things throughout the room, and it’s hard to decide what to focus on first.

She lunges at the dresser though, because she can see a photo that she recognizes; it’s her, Bonnie, Elena and Matt, far before Stefan and Damon even entered the picture, and they look so young. She’s comforted for a moment that even in the weird twilight zone they’ve entered she still has Bonnie and Elena, and even Matt.

Beside that photo is another one resting in a tasteful silver frame, and Caroline stares blankly at it for a moment because she just doesn’t freaking understand.

It’s definitely her in the photo, just older; she’s got laugh lines and longer hair curling around her shoulders, but her blue eyes are the same. The older version of Caroline in the photo though -- she’s stunning. She’s laughing openly, her smile splitting her face; Caroline doesn’t think she’s ever been as happy as the version of her in the photo. Not for a long time, if ever. This Caroline looks like she’s never heard of Damon Salvatore, or Katherine Pierce, or vampires at all.

The photo is black and white; the contrast between the white dress Caroline is wearing and the black suit of the man beside her is startling, but not as much as the fact that the man in the photo is Klaus.

He’s older too, but he’s got the same smirk on, and in the photo he’s staring at her as though she is the only thing in the entire world that even matters.

Caroline feels sucker punched, and the feeling only intensifies when she glances down at her hand to see a ring glinting up at her. It’s beautiful, and exactly her style, and Caroline hates that now that she’s seen it nothing else will ever compare.

She whirls on Klaus who still hasn’t moved. “Klaus, do I look older?” 

Klaus turns to her as if on autopilot, and Caroline almost feels bad because it’s probably shocking for a thousand year old vampire to suddenly be human. He blinks slowly, but eventually says, “Yes. Your hair is longer, too.”

Caroline glances down, taking in her comfy PJ shorts, and her tangled hair that sits below her breasts now. If she had paid more attention earlier she would have noticed that Klaus looks different too. He’s got crows feet gathered around his eyes from smiling, and he’s softer now -- he’s still built, which makes Caroline want to hate him all over again for being so damn attractive, but he seems... happier.

It’s a good look for him.

“We’re married.” Caroline whispers, her voice echoing in the silent bedroom. Klaus doesn’t even flinch at this, just stares down at the band on his finger.

“I didn’t do this, Caroline,” he says softly, “I know you think I did, but-”

Caroline waves him off, “I don’t think you did this. You’d never turn human for the sake of a girl -- you wouldn’t even fake being mortal.”

Klaus sinks back onto the bed and rests his head in his palms. Caroline has never seen him look so vulnerable, and she sets her animosity towards him aside, because there are more important things in this new world, especially when Klaus is the only thing familiar to her.

She pores over the dresser, finding other photos from their wedding, and pictures with friends; there’s some of Bonnie and Jeremy, and Damon and Elena. They all look the same, and Caroline suddenly misses them fiercely.

It’s the photo of the little girl with Klaus’ blue eyes and blonde hair that sends her careening into the hallway searching for a kids room. There’s nothing there, only a bathroom and an office, and a single spare room with a bed in it. She makes her way down the stairs into a welcoming living room that connects to a kitchen and dining room. 

The house is small, but tastefully decorated, and Caroline hates that she sees herself in every minute detail. Even the bookshelves have all her favourites, and the kitchen is stocked with everything she had eaten as a human.

She sits down on the floor in the living room, mostly because her legs give out at the sight of the painting on the wall. It’s her, and she’s lying on grass curled around the same little girl in the photo upstairs. Both of them are almost lifelike, and Caroline can hardly contain her awe at the sheer beauty of the image.

It’s not a hard jump to come to the conclusion that Klaus painted them.

He finally follows her downstairs twenty minutes later; he’s taking everything in as he’s going, and even though it took him longer to get his act together, he’s much more centred than she was.

He comes to a stop in front of the painting where Caroline’s still sitting on the floor.

“I painted this.” Klaus tells her, “I can tell. It’s my style, I can feel it that I painted it, and yet, I’ve never painted this image. I’ve never seen that little girl, although she is the spitting image of Rebekah as a child.”

“I think she is Rebekah’s.” Caroline whispers, “She’s in a picture upstairs, too.”

Klaus steps forward and rests the tips of his fingers gently on the painting. “I must love her.”

Caroline snaps her head in his direction at his words, because they’re so shocking coming from his mouth, “What?”

Klaus stares at her, his mouth twisted in some semblance of a smile; “I took such care with this painting, it’s obvious in every brush stroke. In this universe, or dream, or reality, I must love her.”

Caroline doesn’t mention the fact that he must have taken the same care with her own face as well, though it’s true. Klaus is right, but it doesn’t matter either way.

“I think we need to see Bonnie.” 

Klaus curls his fingers into a fist and nods decisively, “For once, love, I completely agree.”

He helps her to her feet and she starts off towards the door she had seen by the stairs; upon opening it she finds what must be Klaus’ studio instead of a garage. It’s a big room, and it’s covered in half finished canvases. Unlike the studio he had once showed her, this one is brightly lit, and many of the canvases are covered in colours that Caroline never would have associated with Klaus.

Many of them are also covered with her. Caroline’s eyes peek out of at least three canvases, and two of them are pencil sketches of her lying in bed; many of them have the little girl from the photo as well.

Klaus stares at it a bit helplessly, and eventually shuts the door. Caroline doesn’t try to stop him.

 


 

They end up finding Caroline’s car parked outside the house, with the keys inside her jacket pocket. Everything around them is familiar; it’s still Mystic Falls, just a different neighbourhood from the one she grew up in.

When they drive by Caroline’s old house her mom’s car is in the driveway. Caroline doesn’t want to stop though, doesn’t want to see her mother any older, or not know who she is now.

The drive is silent; Caroline feels trapped under the weight of her own fears. It’s been a long time since she’s felt the same anxious, uncontrollable terror and panic that reigned much of her youth. In a way, she feels dull and muted, because her emotions have lost the razor sharp quality that vampirism had created; in a completely different way, Caroline feels like she’s drowning.

“I hate being human,” she finally says, and Klaus looks at her from the driver’s seat, “I know I don’t have a right to complain, because this has got to be weirder for you. At least I remember being human... it wasn’t that long ago for me. But sometimes, I forget how much I hated it.”

Klaus nods, “It’s not as bad as I remember.” His hands tighten on the steering wheel, and Caroline thinks he’s going to leave it at that, but eventually he adds, “There are worse things than seeing this side of mortality.”

Caroline sighs, “Probably wouldn’t hurt to let all vampires remember this every once in a while.”

Klaus doesn’t respond right away, but he does throw out a hand and ask: “Isn’t that the doppelganger’s house, love?” 

Caroline twists to look immediately, and sure enough Elena’s house is standing in the same spot it always was; there’s not a single scorch mark on the side. The grass is green, and the same begonias Elena’s mother had always planted litter the side of the house.

The oddest sight, however, is Jeremy chasing a little boy around with a hose.

“Pull over.” Klaus obeys her words instantly, and before Caroline can stop herself she’s out of the car on the edge of the Gilbert's fence, staring at the house.

Jeremy pauses in his game of chase and drops the hose, “Caroline, what’s up? We didn’t know you were coming over.”

A tiny face peeks up from behind the fence and grins at her; the little boy is missing his front tooth, and his eyes are so dark they’re almost black. Caroline loves him instantly, which is probably why he decides to utter words that stop her in her tracks.

“Where’s Uncle Klaus?” 

Klaus appears beside her as if summoned, and the little boy squeals with delight and tears off into the house. Jeremy laughs at his antics and waves them into the front yard.

“Sorry, Grayson’s just so excited today,” Jeremy tells them, “Bonnie’s probably going to be out in a second, she was just changing Abby. Come on in, I’ll just go put the hose away.” 

Caroline has a moment where she tries to make sense of the words Jeremy is throwing at them before realizing that absolutely nothing makes sense in this stupid universe where adorable kids call Klaus “uncle”.

Klaus seems just as flabbergasted as she does, which is hardly any consolation, although he seems to be holding it together better than Caroline is, because she can feel herself shaking under all the stupid implications and expectations of this world.

Klaus’ hand slips into hers as though it’s done it a million times, and it takes them both an eternal second to freeze at the action. Surprisingly, it’s Klaus who snatches his hand away first, staring at it as though it’s betrayed him. 

“I didn’t--” Klaus scowls darkly, and it’s probably the first familiar expression Caroline has seen on this new-yet-old face, “I change my mind. Being human is definitely overrated, love.”

Caroline snorts and opens the gate to the fence, “For once, we agree.”

He follows her into the house, and Caroline hates that she can feel guilt gnawing at her, because how hard must this be for him to stand in the same kitchen where Kol died? Caroline has never totally come to terms with the part she played in Klaus’ brother’s death, though she knows there wasn’t many other options.

“Reminiscing, love?” His tone is taunting, and if she just closes her eyes she can almost imagine that they’re back in normal Mystic Falls, and he’s just stalking her. 

“Care!” Bonnie appears around the corner, exuberant as always. Her hair is shorter now, and she’s curvier than she was when Caroline last saw her, but in this universe it’s probably due to the tiny girl she’s carrying on her hip. “We haven’t seen you two in so long! What’s up?”

Caroline manages to pull her eyes away from the tiny girl’s face -it must be Abby, and she’s the spitting image of Bonnie- long enough to focus on her friend’s words, “Oh, umm, not much, Klaus and I just had some magic related questions?”

Bonnie stares at her, amusement lighting up her face, “Klaus?! Since when do you ever call him that?” she laughs and turns to Klaus, “You must be in the dog house!”

It’s that moment that Jeremy comes into the kitchen and spares Caroline from analyzing what in the hell Bonnie is even talking about. Bonnie lights up at the sight of him, and in a way it’s almost comforting to see Jeremy scoop Abby out of Bonnie’s arms and deposit a kiss on her cheek, because at least this is something Caroline understands. Bonnie and Jeremy were together -- hell, they were good together, even in their normal universe.

“Hey, Klaus, can I steal you for a second? I’m working on this one art project for school, and I can’t for the life of me figure this one thing out? Something to do with acrylics -- I have no idea, my strength is science, and yet they put me in teaching art every year!”

Klaus throws a loaded glance at her and shrugs, “I’ll see what I can do?” 

They leave the kitchen, and finally Caroline is alone with Bonnie, whose staring at her worriedly. The expression is so familiar Caroline automatically relaxes and says, “What?”

Bonnie sighs, “Are you okay, Care?”

“Oh, umm, yes?” Caroline replies, “Honestly, we didn’t want to bother you, it’s just we’re having some magic issues, and we need -”

Bonnie frowns, “You keep saying that. Magic. What are you even talking about?”

Caroline gapes at her, “Bonnie, you know! Magic -- like, Salem witches, and your Gran? I’m having an issue, and I need you to pull out your grimoire!”

Bonnie’s face morphs from annoyance to sympathy in seconds, and Caroline finds herself on the receiving end of a hug. She can’t help but sink into it; her shoulders are knotted with tension, and her head has been pounding probably since she woke up that morning. It doesn’t really matter to her that this Bonnie fits a bit differently in her arms… it’s still Bonnie.

“Care -- I’m so sorry. You can’t give up hope! I don’t want you thinking about anything negative; I just know it’s going to work soon.” Bonnie soothes her, “You know that Gran was nuts, you’ve never believed in any of that stuff; don’t start looking for magic solutions now. Just wait it out! Klaus is being patient with you, right?”

Caroline slowly pulls out of Bonnie’s arms, sorting through all the words she just heard: “You... don’t do magic? Like, spells? Witchcraft, you know, that stuff?”

Bonnie rolls her eyes, “Caroline Mikaelson, you’ve known me since I was five -- of course I’ve never believed in any of that crap. If you really want my help we could go see a pathologist maybe, but I think you and Klaus should just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Caroline nods blankly, her heart beating halfway out of her chest at the fact that Bonnie called her Caroline Mikaelson; she had known her and Klaus were married in this stupid reality, but it was a whole new thing to hear Bonnie say it. Caroline also has no idea what Bonnie is even talking about, because this universe is absolutely ridiculous and stupid, and of course Bonnie Bennett is not a witch in this reality. Go figure. 

Bonnie smiles at her, “Keep up that Caroline spirit! I know it’s going to work. Even Elena and Damon think you two will be next! You’ve been trying long enough, definitely! I cannot wait to be Auntie Bonnie!”

Bonnie squeezes her arms and heads into the living room, tossing out something about ‘finding Grayson before he gets in trouble’. Caroline is rooted to the spot, the blood pumping in her ears preventing her from hearing anything or even thinking. There is absolutely no way Bonnie is talking about Caroline trying for kids. Even in this reality, Caroline doesn’t make sense with Klaus, and Klaus sure as hell doesn’t make sense with kids.

She doesn’t unfreeze until Klaus appears in the doorway with Jeremy by his side; Klaus looks vaguely annoyed and murderous, and she wants to laugh at the expression because for the first time ever she’s comforted by the thought that at least Klaus is the same, even as a human.

“Hey, Jer,” Caroline says, “Sorry, we have to go! I just wanted to get Bonnie’s opinion on something!”

Jeremy grins, “Oh, no worries! We’ll see you Friday for the barbeque?” 

“Um, yeah!” Caroline agrees, striding out of the kitchen and hoping that Klaus follows her. She pauses at the door to call out a final: “Goodbye!”.

Klaus matches her pace and beats her into the car, sliding into the drivers’ side as though he owns it -- and she supposes, a little hysterically, he does own it.

“What happened, love?” He asks, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Caroline turns to him, ready to spill everything, but she pauses. Klaus does look concerned, and he really is the only ally she has in this whole mess right now, but she’s plotted his death with her friends enough that it’s probably a terrible idea. It hasn’t even been that long since Kol’s death, and Klaus was furious with her.

“Everyone in this... world... is different.” Caroline settles for.

Klaus scowls, “Obviously. We look like a thirty year old married couple who goes to their friends’ houses for barbecues! It’s disgusting!”

She can’t help it, she giggles, “Thank god you’re the same old murderous hybrid.”

“Except without the hybrid, now.” He reminds her, which sobers her instantly.

“Bonnie’s not a witch.” She tells him. “She has no idea what magic is, or what she’s capable of like our Bonnie is.”

Klaus curses, “I was afraid of that.” 

“What are we going to do?” Her voice is rising in a way she remembers from when she was human, “We’re never going to get back and I’m going to be married to you forever, and while forever is no longer that long since we’re not even vampires here, it’s still a long, long time and I’m-”

“Caroline, breathe,” Klaus is suddenly leaning over the console in front of her face, “I don’t know what we’re going to do yet, love, but we will get home. As much as I enjoy your company, I don’t particularly care for the idea of our marriage either.”

Caroline glares at him, “That was rude.”

He rolls his eyes and slides back into his seat, turning the car on. “You’ve said worse to me.”

It stings because it’s true, even though Klaus had no venom in his voice when he says it. He’s said and done worse to her too; he’s done worse to everyone she knows, killed far too many people.

Still, Caroline doesn’t have any siblings, but she imagines that if she did she would never forgive anyone who hurt them. Yet, Klaus had saved her. Of course, he was the one who initially put her in danger, but it’s hard to forget the way her body had burned and ached with the werewolf bite, and the way she had relaxed the second she had tasted his blood.

“It was good to see her happy.” Caroline murmurs, because the car has fallen silent and she hates it. They’re headed away from town, towards his mansion on the edge of Mystic Falls, and Caroline has no argument for it because it seems like the most logical place to be.

“This place will haunt you, when we finally get back.” Klaus replies softly. 

Caroline hadn’t thought of it, but it’s true. The idea of Bonnie older and surrounded by Jeremy and their children was beautiful, and now that she’s seen it she can’t help but wonder if they’ll get there.

Hell, marriage to Klaus might not be ideal, but she can’t get that photo on their dresser off her mind. She had looked so happy. Caroline can feel the tears threatening her eyes and she turns her face to the window and presses her face to the glass.

Klaus says nothing, not even when they pull up to the vastly unchanged mansion. Caroline is surprised when he jumps out of the car and walks over to her side of the car to open her door for her. He’s got a funny expression on, and he doesn’t speak as he helps Caroline out of the car.

“What do you think you normally call me?” He finally asks when they’re standing on the door of the mansion, waiting for someone to open it.

“Sorry, what?”

Klaus frowns down at her, “Bonnie thought it was odd that you called me Klaus. What do you suppose you normally call me?”

Caroline shrugs, “Probably Niklaus.”

He blanches slightly, “What?”

“Think about it,” Caroline says, “if you married a girl, especially in this reality, wouldn’t she call you your full name?”

Klaus stares at her, and Caroline represses a shiver under his gaze, “Caroline… I would prefer you not to call me Niklaus.”

Caroline frowns, “It doesn’t matter to me, but people here might think it’s odd that I don’t if I... used to?” It’s a question because she just doesn’t know. She doesn’t understand how there could have been a living breathing human Caroline-and-Niklaus duo here, married and interacting with their friends, and then suddenly they are gone, and Caroline-and-Klaus from a different reality of death and hatred and immortals appear.

“Nik… would be better, if you must.” Klaus says, “Not many people call me Niklaus.”

They stand there awkwardly for a second after that, until the door finally creaks open and a large man scowls at them.

“Niklaus,” he practically growls, “Caroline. What is it you want?”

Klaus reacts instantly, his arm snaking out to grab her and tug her back. He looks absolutely terrified in a way Caroline has never seen him; not even when Kol was burning in front of him, not even when Esther tried to kill them all.

“Father.” He hisses. Caroline finally gets with the program and steps back once again, hiding slightly behind Klaus’ frame. She recognizes the man now; he’s huge, dark haired. He resembles Elijah and Kol in a way she hadn’t noticed before, when he had been in Mystic Falls. It isn’t hard to see how similar Klaus and Rebekah are to Esther, instead of their father.

Mikael scowls at them, “I seem to think we have a miscommunication, since the last time you darkened my doorstep, Niklaus, I told you to leave and never come back, especially with that whore you call your wife.”

Klaus flinches as though he’s been struck, and Caroline realizes that maybe not all realities are perfect, “Don’t speak to us like that!” Her voice is shrill with fear.

“We’ll be leaving,” Klaus says stiffly, “this was my mistake.”

Mikael nods, “See that you don’t make it again.”

He slams the door in their face.

Klaus whirls towards the car and starts walking, leaving her behind in an instant. Caroline flings herself off the front step and races after him, throwing herself into the running vehicle before he has a chance to drive away.

He’s sitting with his hands on the wheel, muscles coiled and expression deadly; he looks exactly like the Klaus she’s always known, and Caroline wonders why it’s so surprising to her that he would revert back to it.

“Klaus, I didn’t-”

“We’re not friends, love, and don’t start pretending we are,” Klaus snarls at her, his face furious, “just because we’re stuck in this godforsaken shit hole of a reality does not suddenly make us friends. I have used up entirely all of my patience and tolerance today and I don’t wish to deal with more of you, so sit there and be silent.”

Caroline snaps her mouth shut with an audible clack, but the silence doesn’t last. She narrows her eyes even further, steeling herself to the wounded look in his ridiculous blue eyes.

“Klaus, don’t you dare tell me to be silent,” Caroline hisses, “I know that we aren’t friends; don’t you think I’ve been telling you that from the very beginning? But right now, it’s just you and me, and I don’t know about you but I’d like to get back to our old world where everything made sense! So you can take your asshole comments and bad attitude and shove-”

“They were supposed to be dead!” Klaus yells, cutting off her sentence once more. This time, his eyes are wild, and he flings his hands out, “Mikael is supposed to be dead!”

Just like that Caroline knows. It’s not that hard to see, with the way Klaus is pale and shaky and staring at her in absolute horror and confusion. Mikael was his worst nightmare, his only fear for thousands of years, and just when he thought he was dead, Klaus manages to find the one reality where Mikael is cozied up in Klaus’ home, perfectly alive, and just as much of an asshole. 

It probably doesn’t help that Klaus is feeling his mortality at the moment; he’s powerless and human, and he’s just been confronted with the only man he’s ever feared.

“He is dead,” Caroline murmurs, “you know that. He’s gone. It’s just this place.”

Klaus’ glare is absolutely glacial, “I despise this place.”

Caroline nods, “I know. I don’t like it either. But, seriously Klaus: truce. Stop yelling at me, it’s not my fault we’re here.”

Klaus sighs, “And how do you prove that, love? Last time I checked you were being used as a blonde distraction for your friends, and now we oh-so conveniently find ourselves shipped off to another reality after I said I wanted to murder your friends. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.”

He doesn’t wait for her to respond, he just starts the car and drives away. Caroline doesn’t have an answer; for once, Klaus is making more sense than she’d care to admit, and she can’t exactly blame him for thinking that she had a hand in this.

They pull up in front of the same house they had left from only a few hours earlier -- their house. It’s white with dark trim, and Caroline can see flowers in the yard from where they’re parked.

It’s beautiful.

She swallows, “Klaus. I know you have no reason to believe me, and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, given our past. But-- but this time... this time I’m not here as a distraction. I’m just as confused as you are, and I want to go home just as badly.”

Klaus pulls the keys out of the ignition and drops them into his pocket, and after a tense silence he admits: “I do believe you, love, but we have to find a way to get home. If Bonnie isn’t the way, we’ll have to find something else.”

They walk together to the front door, and when they go inside the house Caroline relaxes for the first time all day. She likes the house, even if it is a little weird, and it’s nice to at least be around people she doesn’t have to pretend for. 

“I’m going to paint.” Klaus declares, disappearing into the door off the side of the living room. Caroline doesn’t even question it; she supposes that it’s a habit from the old reality, and if it calms him down then she encourages it.

She meanders through the kitchen again, pulling out stuff for dinner. It’s weird feeling hungry for food now, but she doesn’t want to dwell on her new ‘human’ status. Unlike many of her friends, Caroline had liked being a vampire. It had calmed her, in a lot of ways; the strength and confidence helped her find herself. 

The phone startles her out of her thoughts, and she puts down the vegetables she had been staring at long enough to find the handheld on the counter. There’s no name on the screen, but she picks it up anyway.

“Hello?”

Elena’s voice greets her, cheery and soothing: “Hey, Care! Bonnie said you swung by today!”

Caroline can’t help but smile because she hasn’t heard Elena this carefree since pre-parents-car-crash, “Yeah, just wanted to chat. How are you?”

“Oh, good! Damon and I just finished dinner -- he’s off somewhere, some business meeting about the shelter with Stefan, I think -- and Bonnie called to chat with me. She’s so excited about the barbecue on Friday; I think Rebekah is going to have a heart attack planning it all, but thank god Matt is there to calm her down, as per usual!”

“Of course.” Caroline chips in when Elena falls silent. She grasps for something to say, because this is the most she’s learned about their life all freaking day, and she doesn’t want it to end. It’s hard to find a topic though, when she knows absolutely nothing about anything. “So, how is Damon?”

It’s a safe bet -- Bonnie all but confirmed Elena and Damon were together, and even Elena had mentioned eating dinner with him. Elena sighs over the phone, “Oh, he’s great, but I wish he would stop going away! I mean, we just got married, and I’d rather not put it to the test yet. I mean, I remember how crazy you were when Klaus was gone for those few months when you two got married!”

Caroline laughs, a little hysterically, but normal enough Elena doesn’t react, “Oh, yeah... that was... terrible!”

“Hey, Care, you sure you’re okay?” Elena asks quietly, “Bonnie told me you were getting frustrated about the whole... baby situation.”

Caroline feels her cheeks heat up at the thought, even though it wasn’t actually her who was thinking about having babies... it was just ‘other’ her. “Oh, no, no, I’m not frustrated, I just-- I think--” she heaves a breath and thinks fast, “we’re actually going to put that all on the back burner for a while.”

Elena hums, “Really?! You’ve been trying for so long!”

Caroline chokes a little, thinks about what women say in this situation on movies and finally manages: “Yeah, no, I mean, it’s just making us upset. We’ll take a pause, look at our life, and maybe start trying again down the road a little.”

“I think that’s smart, Care. You’re just working yourself up, and Klaus hates when you’re upset.”

“I know,” and for once, that’s not entirely a lie. Klaus is oddly protective of her, so it stands to reason it’s even more amplified in this universe, “it’s healthy to re-assess where we’re at.”

“It’s not a money thing though, right?” Elena asks suddenly.

Caroline feels faint for a moment because oh-holy-shit money! Do they even have money!?

“Oh, no money is not a problem right now.” Caroline says, all bluster. She has no freaking idea if money is an issue, although they have a house and a car so they must be okay? What do they even do?

Elena laughs, “I’m glad. I mean, I didn’t think so, Klaus seems to be doing well with painting, and you have your whole event coordinating thing, but you just never know.”

Klaus walks out from his painting room, covered in paints and wearing a scowl, and he freezes when he sees her with the phone against her ear.

“Yeah, we’re fine, Elena,” Caroline affirms, “Anyway, I gotta go, dinner’s ready.”

Elena laughs, “Okay, cool, see you Friday!”

Caroline hangs up the phone and stares back at Klaus, “That was Elena.” 

“I realized that, love. What did she call for?” he asks.

“Heard we stopped by Bonnie’s and wanted to chat. Everyone is telling us they’ll see us Friday, and I don’t even know what day Friday is, Klaus, I’m freaking out!” 

Klaus steps towards her almost unwillingly, “We’re going to figure this out.”

“Yeah,” Caroline screeches, “but not today! Not before I probably have to work tomorrow, or before this stupid fucking barbecue on Friday that your sister —who, by the way, absolutely hates me-- is hosting!”

Klaus strides across the kitchen and snatches her arms, shaking her just slightly, “She doesn’t hate you in this universe! Nothing from before even applies!”  He’s practically snarling, “We have bigger problems than a job, did you forget that we’re human now!?”

Caroline doesn’t want it to happen, but she can feel her eyes filling with tears and spilling over,  and before she knows it Klaus is letting go of her arms as if he’s been burned, “You don’t get it, I’m terrible at being human, and I miss my friends and I don’t know what the hell is happening there, which is kind of important to me!”

Klaus scowls at her, his eyes murderous, “You’re acting like a child.”

Fury ripples through her at his words, and she brushes past him, shoving her shoulder into him as she passes because fuck-it he’s human and she’s human and for once they’re on a semi-equal playing field. 

“Dinner’s on the stove, asshole,” she hisses as she walks out of the kitchen and climbs the stairs. Klaus doesn’t move to retaliate and Caroline hopes with all her might that he feels guilty about his words. She slips into their bedroom, staring at the mess of blankets from where they didn’t make the bed. It feels homey, and Caroline tries her best to ignore that as she slips under the covers and lets herself relax into the comfort of the mattress.

It smells like Klaus; like cedar and smoke and patchouli paints. It’s the smell that finally gets to her, and every neurotic little freak out she’s been trying to hold back all day spills out alongside her tears. She cries and cries, as quiet as she can, until she can’t cry anymore and she falls asleep.

 


 

At night she dreams.

She dreams of a million memories she’s never actually made.

She dreams of graduation alongside her friends; a graduation that’s completely and utterly ordinary and mortal.

She dreams of her first date with Klaus, whom she calls Nik; they go for milkshakes and he takes her out dancing, and Caroline knows -she just knows- that it was perfect.

She dreams of Bonnie’s wedding, and being a bridesmaid, and dresses she hates on a day that is perfect; Nik is her date and he looks devastating in his suit.

She dreams of her niece, Hannah, and the way Rebekah set her into Caroline’s arms so gently; Caroline dreams that she loves her down to her tiny toes, and she loves her all the more for the way Matt lets himself cry in happiness when he stares at her and Rebekah, the two loves of his life.

She dreams of moving into their house, and sleeping on the floor, and waking up to Nik tickling her with his whiskers on her stomach, and kissing her senseless.

And when she wakes up, she cries, because she remembers her dreams.

 


 

The sunlight makes everything seem more hopeful, and Caroline drags herself out of bed and into the shower before she can think about all the non-memories flying around her brain.  It’s refreshing to shower, and Caroline digs through her drawers and pulls on clothes that feel unfamiliar but broken in.

When she finally makes her way downstairs she feels better, and it helps that the house smells incredible.

Klaus is standing in the kitchen, and for a second Caroline’s body absolutely aches to go up to him, slip her arms around his waist like she might have done in another life. Caroline tamps that down, because approaching Klaus from the back could likely end in her death via butcher knife.

He turns, the sunlight through the window making him seem less deadly than he is, and he holds out a plate to her.

“I made breakfast.” he says, softly. He doesn’t apologize, but Caroline knows that he probably never would have. This is as close as he’ll ever come.

She takes the plate and heads to the table, crossing her legs under her. It’s just bacon and eggs, but it smells amazing. Klaus sits down across from her with his own plate and starts eating.

“I called work for you.” he tells her.

Caroline freezes, “What!?”

“Last night I looked around the house, found some stuff.” he sighs, “I thought you probably wouldn’t want to go into work if you didn’t know anything about it.”

“Thank you,” Caroline says warily, “did you sleep at all last night?”

Klaus frowns, “No. I’m tired and... and I usually don’t feel tired like this.”

This is something Caroline can actually help with. Even if she hates it, she is the expert on modern humans right now, “You’re human. You need to sleep every night, eat three times a day, that type of thing.”

Klaus rolls his eyes, “Yes, love, I’ll get right on that. How was your sleep?”

Caroline hesitates because she doesn’t want to tell him that she woke up with the memory of his breath on her hair, his kisses on her lips; she also doesn’t want to remember the way he looked at her each time he realized she was the distraction, the betrayer, the liar. 

“It was okay.” she tells him, because that’s the truth.

He eyes her, “Just okay?”

She hates this, the lying. She didn’t like it in their reality, and she hates it even more at their table, surrounded by pictures of their life and their memories. She hates it when he looks at her with blue eyes alight with curiosity.

“I dreamed...” she sighs, “I dreamed of our life -- but, our life in this world. I dreamed about memories I don’t have, with you, and with all my friends. I dreamed of Hannah...”

“Who’s Hannah?” Klaus asks immediately. The question ripples down Caroline’s spine with wrongness because Hannah is important; Klaus should know her.

Caroline shakes off the feeling, “Your niece. Rebekah and Matt’s daughter.”

“The busboy?” Klaus sneers with derision.

Caroline scowls, “And my best friend! She’s beautiful. She’s the one in the painting.”

Klaus nods slowly, taking in her words. “So you have memories now. Do you think I’ll dream when I sleep?”

“I honestly hope not,” Caroline whispers, staring him straight in the eyes, “for your sake.”

He doesn’t question what she means; maybe he sees the way she’s haunted by the images in her brain, the way she’ll never be able to forget them even when they do get home. They finish eating together in silence, questions and what-ifs and fear circulating in their veins. Caroline takes his plate to the sink and washes them up, putting them back in the cupboard with all the other dishes.

Klaus is standing in the doorway holding a book when she finally turns around. He looks pensive, and a little vulnerable, and Caroline’s heart pounds against her rib cage at the sight. 

“I found this.” he tells her, and sets the book on the counter. He doesn’t stay to explain, he just strides away, into the doorway to his studio. Caroline doesn’t even question it anymore, she just grabs the book and makes her way to the couch. 

When she opens it she chokes up because it’s so goddamn familiar to her. Inside are photos of her growing up; kindergarten in pigtails, her mom’s hand tucked into hers; Elena and her in grade four when they first met Bonnie; her and Tyler at her first Junior High dance.

Caroline hasn’t even considered Tyler since they arrived. It’s hard to look at his face though, smiling at her teenage self. He looks just as in love with her then as he had in the other reality only a few short weeks ago.

It’s hard to look at herself though; not because she’s wearing the ugliest purple dress in history, or her lime green braces, it’s because she just doesn’t look happy.

Caroline with Tyler doesn’t even compare to the Caroline in her wedding photo with Klaus. She hates herself for even trying to compare it, and flips the next page.

It’s a history she’s never seen before: her mom at her graduation, Jenna -alive and healthy- with her arms around Elena and Jeremy, Stefan and Damon grinning at each other as brothers should.

Every page sinks her deeper. There’s Klaus with his arms around her, Rebekah and Matt’s wedding, and Hannah’s first birthday. There’s pictures of Klaus proposing to her on a beach, and Caroline wishes that she could remember that for herself. 

There’s so many photos of them; their house, their parties, their wedding, their life. Caroline’s never seen Klaus smile the way he is in the photos; she’s never seen Matt smile the way he does in the photos either.

When she gets to the end of the photo album she finds their wedding license, their house deed, their wills. They leave everything to each other.

Caroline’s not even surprised, she’s just numb. She manages to lay the book gently on the floor, because even if she hates it for the images she’ll never forget, the other Caroline loved that book, treasured it and worked on it, and she can’t seem to destroy something so precious.

Caroline wraps herself in a blanket and lets herself mope into the couch until she feels like she’s going to die, but instead just falls asleep.

 


 

When she wakes up Caroline knows what her job is, and that Hannah comes over on Thursday nights for babysitting, and that Klaus and her have been trying for a baby for over a year. She’s not even surprised anymore, although she is happy that she knows what she does for work now, even if she’s not exactly sure how to go about doing it.

She finally makes her way upstairs after she has a glass of water and a granola bar, and Klaus is sitting on her bed. They lock eyes, and he looks terrible, which is a first for him.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, almost without thinking about it. It’s hard to ignore the way her body longs to be close to him, the way her false memories are starting to invade her head.

He rubs a hand across his eyes, “I apparently also dream of our memories when I sleep.”

He doesn’t look like the villain she knows him to be; there’s no fury in his eyes, no murderous rage. When Caroline looks at him now she only sees a man, she doesn’t see the person who killed Jenna in cold blood, who ruined Tyler’s life and Elena’s life and so many others. He just looks tired, and mortal, and kind of perfect.

In this life, it isn’t hard to see why she loved him. Sitting there, on her bed is Niklaus. Not Klaus, not a thousand year old vampire. She’s looking at the image of a married man who paints for a living and wants to have a baby.

Caroline hates that when she looks at him she forgets about all the things he’s done. She hates that in this reality, he hasn’t done it, and so she could forgive him.

“I think we’ll get them each time we sleep.” Caroline says, “I think it’s a spell, to keep us out of the way, to distract us. I understand why someone would do it to you, but not to me. What’s the point of keeping me distracted? I’m not a key player in this stupid Mystic Falls battle.”

Klaus rolls his eyes, “You’re part of my distraction, love, you just didn’t mean to be this time.”

“I was afraid of that. I hate our lives.” Caroline grimaces, and Klaus is quiet. She waits before quietly asking: “Was it bad? What you dreamed?”

He huffs out a sound that is almost a laugh, “Some of it was... familiar. Whoever made this spell made sure it was flawless. I basically relived the same childhood I always had, except modern and mortal. I’d like to tear Mikael into pieces again.”

“You can’t do that, not in this life at least. We knew he was an asshole, anyway.” Caroline laughs humourlessly and goes over to sit beside him, “What about your siblings?”

Klaus shrugs, “I don’t know. I can’t do this Caroline, I have plans!”

Caroline scowls, “Yeah, thanks for reminding me, since your plans involve ruining my life.”

“Not your life, love,” he smirks, and Caroline finally sees the hybrid that’s been missing all day, “just the lives of everyone else you know.”

“Why?”  Caroline demands, “Why do you have to be so... so bad!?”

Klaus huffs out a laugh, “I want what I want, Caroline. And I always get what I want.”

A shiver runs up her spine at the words; they don’t sound threatening anymore, they sound warm. She glares at him, and he doesn’t lose the smile he’s finally gaining back.

“You’re not getting me.” She hisses.

“We’re married, I already have you.” he murmurs back, grinning at her.

Caroline rolls her eyes, “Be serious, asshole. We’re going to work together to get home and then go back to hating each other.”

Klaus sobers slightly and shrugs, “We could wait it out; this type of magic has to somehow fade. It would take a lot of strength to keep it up. Or we find the loophole in the spell, if that’s what this is. There has to be one, all magic has a power off button somehow. Witches and their balance.” His voice is derisive at the end, and Caroline rolls her eyes.

“We can’t just wait it out. We’re mortal if you hadn’t noticed.” Caroline reminds him venomously. It’s not his fault, but she’s tired of feeling so weak.

He snarls at her, “Yeah, I noticed, Caroline. I hate this just as much as you do. We could leave town, if you think that will help.” 

“It won’t work.” Caroline says, soft and sure. Klaus doesn’t ask her why, probably because he feels it the way Caroline does. There’s no where for them to go. They’re not sure how far this reality extends, but it started in Mystic Falls and that’s where it will end.

“Well, what do you suggest?” Klaus snaps.

“I think we have to just blend in for now. Pretend to be something we aren’t, and look for a loophole. There has to be one.”

“I don’t think I fit into this life very well, Caroline.” Klaus tells her, “You remember your humanity; I remember centuries of blood and death. I’m not a human, I’m an immortal hybrid, and I’ve done many things to become that.”

Caroline doesn’t answer, just wraps her arms around herself and whispers, “I hate this.”

“As do I, Caroline,” Klaus stands slowly, “I will try my best to fit in. For now, but my patience is limited and this reality is tedious.”

Caroline forces out a smile, “Thanks. For trying.”

“I’ll be in the spare room, try to get some sleep tonight. You need to dream, and you work early.” 

“Thanks for reminding me.” she grumbles. 

He pauses in the doorframe, “For the record, I’ve never hated you.” he says.

Caroline can’t help the warmth that spreads through her, and the way he’s still frozen in the doorway prompts her to say, “I can’t say the same. I did hate you, Klaus... but... but I don’t... anymore. Not when you’re not trying to kill my friends, anyway.” 

He doesn’t look back when he walks away, but Caroline imagines that it might be comforting to know that the person you’re unwillingly living with as a mortal doesn’t hate you enough to hurt you in your sleep.

She gets ready for bed, sets an alarm on their alarm clock for early, because she can’t miss work again, and cozies into her blankets. She can feel her brain thrumming a million miles a minute, the way it did when she was human back home. Sleep won’t come easily, not after her nap today, or the talk with Klaus. She tries though, tries to will herself into oblivion because it’s easier than smelling Klaus on the sheets, or looking at their photos on the shelves.

 


 

It takes her exactly three hours and twelve minutes to get the hang of work, which she actually adores. It’s event planning, and Caroline loves it so much she knows she’ll look into it when they finally get home. For the first time since her and Klaus landed in this reality she feels almost hopeful about their situation.

It helps that she finds her pay stubs in her desks and dismisses the fear once and for all that they’re hurting for money. Caroline tucks those into her purse, pulls up any website that she might have used on her computer during her break and tries every password she used in the other Mystic Falls.

She gets into her email easily enough, although she cannot for the life of her get into her online bank account. She finds work emails that she attends to to the best of her ability; she emails Elena back about the barbecue the next day and the snacks she’ll bring, and reads an invitation to an art gallery where ‘Niklaus Mikaelson’ is presenting. She wants to phone Klaus and tell him about it but she doesn’t actually know their phone number.

It’s no matter though because an hour before her work day is done her office phone rings and when she picks it up it’s Klaus’ voice on the other line.

“Caroline.” 

“Hey,” she replies, “I was just thinking about calling you. I got on my email account but I can’t get the bank account. When’s your birthday?”

She can nearly feel him roll his eyes through the phone, but he answers, and Caroline tries his birthday numbers and hers in their bank password. It works, and Caroline feels a bit ill at the idea of a joint account between her and Klaus that uses their birthdays as their password.

“Ugh, our password is both of our birthdays, isn’t that ridiculous!” She says, “But, the good news is that we have enough money to pay for food and mortgage for a while, no problem. But the bad news is that you have a gallery showing next week.”

Klaus sighs, “How tedious. Let’s cancel.”

“No way,” Caroline tells him, “You should see what they’re trying to pay you, it’s disgusting.”

“Are you saying my work isn’t worth what they’re paying, love?” Klaus’ voice is surprisingly warm with teasing. 

Caroline can’t help it, she laughs. “I said no such thing.”

Klaus’ voice is pleased when he replies: “Why are you so happy today, love?”

Caroline beams, “I actually love work. It’s absurd.”

“How human of you.” he says, but there’s no mocking tone in his voice, “Also Rebekah called today and reminded me that you’re supposed to pick up Hannah after work today. They live in the old Lockwood Mansion, apparently. My sister would discover the second largest house in Mystic Falls to live in.”

Caroline’s breath catches, firstly at the way Klaus so easily delivers instructions in a way a husband might do, and then secondly at the thought of walking into Tyler’s house and seeing only Matt and Rebekah. She can’t imagine seeing the mansion where so many people have died, and where she fell in love with Tyler, and where she discovered there was more to Klaus as well.

“I don’t suppose you’ll let me cancel on our supposed niece will you?” Klaus asks, “If we must look after her can you pick her up? I could do it, but I don’t really play well with children...” Klaus is teasing again, but this time Caroline can hear the edge in his voice that speaks of a truth. Klaus hasn’t been around children in centuries, and he isn’t her husband, and he isn’t just a painter, he’s a straight up killer. 

Caroline swallows heavily at the reminder, “It’s fine, I can deal with her, I’m good with kids. I can pick her up and keep her out of your hair, don’t worry. I’ll go there right after work.”

Klaus is quiet for a moment, “I’m not going to apologize for this. I am not human, I don’t have kids and I never will. I’ve never hurt a child, but I’ve never spent time with them either, so either way you are the expert here.”

His voice is tired, and Caroline can’t summon up the energy to feel guilty about upsetting him. “I said it’s fine. Look, there’s chicken fingers and fries in the freezer, I found them this morning, will you put them on? She’ll be hungry.”

“Consider it done.”

“Thanks,” Caroline sighs, “look, I know kids aren’t your thing, but just please try to pretend for me, I don’t want-.”

Klaus cuts her off, “Caroline, I may dislike the idea of children, but I know how they work. I’ll play nice.”

“Knowing how they work and not terrifying them are two very different things,” Caroline snaps halfheartedly.

Klaus laughs, “Relax, I won’t scare her, I’m trying to blend apparently. I hate blending, Caroline, I’m supposed to be an all powerful immortal hybrid vampire, not a middle aged married human.”

“Right now you sound like you’re having a midlife crisis,” Caroline can’t help it, she giggles, “it’s hilarious. I can’t wait till we get home, I’m never letting this go!”

Klaus sighs, “This foolish spell will be the thing that finally kills me.” 

Caroline says bye to him, still laughing despite her worry over Hannah, and she feels more optimistic than she has in two days. Even when she finally gets out of work she drives over to Tyler’s house without hesitation.

It’s almost identical to how she remembers it when she gets there. For a second she feels so sucker punched she sits in the car and tries to recall how to breathe, but then she starts noticing tiny differences.

Rebekah’s car in the driveway. 

A scribbled mess of coloured chalk on the cement.

Jump ropes tied to a pole for skipping.

Caroline forces herself out of the car after that, makes her way to the front door. Rebekah doesn’t even let her knock before she’s opening the door and grinning at her.

“Hey, Care!” she greets her, “I’ll try and get her moving, she’s so excited. What’s your guys’ plans for the night?” Rebekah throws her head over her shoulder and yells up the stairs “Hannah, hurry up!”

Caroline laughs a little nervously, “Chicken fingers and fries for dinner, maybe a movie? I’ll see what she wants.”

Rebekah smiles, “Perfect, she loves movie nights at your house. Okay, bedtime at 8 like always, don’t let Klaus and her paint tonight, she’s got school photos tomorrow and can’t be covered in paint. Matt and I will come by around 9 or ten to grab her, we should be done our date by then.”

A tiny girl Caroline assumes is Hannah finally barrels down the stairs with a pink kitty cat backpack and throws herself into Caroline’s arms; it’s the fastest mortal reaction Caroline has ever had when she swings the little girl up into her chest and hugs her because it feels natural. Caroline suddenly realizes that Klaus and her babysit for Rebekah and Matt on Thursdays because they do date night. She realizes that movie nights at her house with Klaus are a thing, Klaus paints with his niece, Hannah is so absurdly cute and Caroline is so fucking over her head here.

“Hi Auntie Care!” Hannah says, grinning brightly. Caroline melts at the single missing front tooth, and the way her “R”s roll off her tongue as “W”s instead.

“Hey baby girl!” Caroline says, “You ready?”

She lets Hannah go, but keeps one hand in hers. Rebekah crouches down and kisses her daughter’s cheek with a ‘be good’ and hands Caroline a booster seat for her car from behind the door frame.

“Thanks!” Rebekah says, and before Caroline can think she’s herding Hannah to her vehicle. She puts in the booster seat and Hannah clambers into it on her own, babbling excitedly all the way. Her blue eyes are bright and her blonde hair has an unruly curliness to it that Caroline knows for a fact comes from Matt’s genetics.

Hannah talks to her the entire way home, barely pausing enough for Caroline to get a word in edgewise. It’s unusual for Caroline to let the conversation be so dominated by someone else, but she’s enamoured with Hannah’s expressions and stories so she lets her continue. Caroline literally cannot get enough of hearing all about her day in preschool, and how Rebekah and Matt argue, and what Auntie Elena did with her last week; Hannah is a miniature Rebekah, but with all the sweetness of Matt. It’s impossible not to fall in love with her.

Surprisingly, the night continues smoothly. The house smells like food when they arrive,  and Klaus doesn’t hesitate to lift Hannah into his arms even if he looks a bit stiff when doing so. They eat their food with exorbitant amount of chips and junk food, and Caroline helps Hannah get into her pyjamas and brush her teeth after dinner.

When she gets back downstairs Klaus has pulled the couch pillows off the couch and made a giant bed on the floor, complete with blankets and Hannah’s stuffed animals. He looks out of place standing beside such a domestic scene, and Caroline can’t help but laugh a little. He glares at her, just a hint of hybrid in his eyes; he’s annoyed, she can tell, but he’s trying.

Hannah, of course, is thrilled. She throws herself into the pillow nest, and Caroline puts on the newest kids movie they have on the shelves and lets herself snuggle down into the makeshift bed on one side of Hannah. Klaus sits on the other side, stiff legged but willing to at least go the distance for this singular night.

The movie lasts about twenty minutes before Hannah is sound asleep against Klaus’ side, her legs thrown into Caroline’s lap. It’s adorable and predictable, Caroline has yet to meet a kid who can make it all the way through a bedtime movie.

“That was painful.” Klaus says.

Caroline scoffs at him, “She’s an angel, you obviously didn’t babysit much.”

Klaus glances at her, eyebrows raised and Caroline huffs out a laugh at her ridiculous words. Klaus quirks his lip in amusement and shifts his eyes down to the child encroaching on his space. Caroline clambers to her feet.

“Relax, I’ll put her in the spare room. Matt and Rebekah won’t be here for at least two more hours.” Caroline tells him, “We can talk about our battle plan for the barbecue tomorrow, and then for getting the hell out of this freaky spell.”

She bends over to grab Hannah but Klaus grabs her wrist, “I’ll do it.”

He lifts her effortlessly, and Caroline’s glad that he offered because sleeping children are heavy and she’s mortal now. They make their way up the stairs together, silently. Klaus places Hannah on the bed after Caroline pulls down the covers, and she tries not to think of the way her heart aches when she tucks the blankets around her tiny body.

She’ll never have this. As much as Caroline likes being a vampire... as much as it was an improvement to her life, it means she’ll never have this. There will never by a blonde child who looks like her tucked into a princess bed; she’ll never have movie nights and shopping trips and awkward school photos.

Her throat is clogged with unshed tears when they finally back into the hallway and shut the door. Klaus is eyeing her strangely, but he doesn’t comment. It takes her a moment to get herself under control, and when she does she lets herself lean against the wall and look at Klaus. 

“Tomorrow we have to go to this barbecue. We have to find out if anyone knows anything about what’s going on, but we have to be sneaky about it. If no one knows anything, then on the weekend we better start researching.”

Klaus nods and tells her: “I dislike the idea of researching when I could be killing people to get what I want.”

Caroline rolls her eyes, “And just when I was starting to think Klaus had been replaced by an alien pod person you come out and say stuff like that.”

Klaus smirks, “Admit it, you wouldn’t like me if I was boring.”

Caroline scoffs at him, but she doesn’t answer his question because it rings like truth in the air. She’s always had a thing for the dangerous guys. Instead, she heads toward their room, “I’m going to shower.”

She leaves Klaus to watch her walk away, and she resolutely does not think about the hybrid when she jumps in the shower and scrubs off her body. Her shampoo is the same as the one she has at home, and for just a second she can pretend she hasn’t been transported into some alternate universe where Klaus is her husband and no matter how she tries, she just can’t hate him.

Caroline remembers Damon. She wishes she couldn’t, because she wakes up at night scared about what she’ll do next, how her body will move without her willing it, and how his commands would resonate in her skull. She has nightmares that Damon tells her to kill her mother, Elena, Matt, everyone, and she does it because she has no control.

Caroline remembers how it felt to be nothing more than a toy and a blood bag, and the cold look in Damon’s eyes when he told her he would kill her eventually. She knows what evil feels like, and she knows what fear is.

Klaus, not once, not ever, has made her feel that. Caroline has been scared of him - at his worst, Klaus was a cold blooded killer and Caroline was terrified of him, but in a different way. She’s never been afraid that Klaus would take her over, erase who she was, make her into his slave. Caroline’s never been afraid that Klaus just doesn’t care, because it’s so, so obvious that he does, even if he doesn’t want to.

Elena won’t be able to understand that - and rightfully so, because Caroline does remember everything Klaus has done as well - but Caroline can’t understand Elena’s love for Damon either, so maybe they’re just two sides of the same coin. They both see something in people, something that proves they aren’t evil. Caroline knows Klaus isn’t evil; he’s bad, definitely bad, but he’s not evil.

She gets out of the shower and wipes the fog off the mirror, staring herself down in the mirror. She looks familiar: same blond curls, blue eyes, pale skin. She looks different too; she’s less stressed, there’s faint spiderweb lines around her eyes where years of smiles have made an impact, and her body, though still slim, has a slightly different shape. 

She looks like her mother. Not her mother now, not since the vampires came and Caroline died and Bill left her; she looks like her mother from when Caroline was little. She looks older and happy and beautiful. She misses her mother.

It’s just like when she pulled the blankets up over Hannah’s tiny shoulders, because Caroline can’t help the bitterness that pools in her heart because she knows she’ll never have this. It isn’t even that she wants to grow old, it’s just that... she just wants to grow.

She tugs on pyjamas and heads downstairs with her hair still wet. Klaus is in the kitchen eating cereal out of a chipped bowl, and when Caroline looks at him she can’t see the hybrid that ruined her friends’ lives anymore. He looks introspective, and a little tired, and Caroline’s heart hurts inside her rib cage, desperate to break free.

“Hey,” she says instead, “Matt and Rebekah should be here anytime.”

He nods slowly, “I fear that Rebekah will see that I am not the brother she knows.”

“She won’t. Elena and Bonnie didn’t see it wasn’t the right me, and they know me better than almost anybody.” Caroline assures him, “Besides, they’re only going to be here a few minutes to pick up Hannah.”

The knock at the door ends their conversation, and with one last look at each other Caroline heads to the front. Rebekah’s wearing a cute purple dress, and Matt’s got a grey shirt on that Caroline’s never seen before; they’re both smiling and laughing a little breathlessly, and Caroline thinks that she’s never seen either of them this happy.

“Hey Care,” Matt greets her, “Where’s my baby girl?”

Caroline can’t help the smile that spreads across her face, because she had always known Matt would be a great dad. “She’s sleeping upstairs. I’ll go-”

“Not necessary, love,” Klaus interrupts her, carrying Hannah down the stairs, “I’ve got her.”

“Hey Nik,” Rebekah grins, “No painting tonight?”

For a second Klaus looks confused but his expression clears instantly, “Not tonight, Caroline told me that I couldn’t get Hannah covered in paint.”

He hands Hannah over to Matt, and then comes to stand by Caroline. She can feel his hand settle on her lower back, but she doesn’t react. It’s comforting in it’s familiarity.

“You guys are coming to our house tomorrow, right? For the barbecue?” Rebekah asks. 

Caroline nods, “Definitely. I was thinking of bringing some sort of salad.”

“Yeah that sound good, I’ve made burgers for the main dish that we’ll barbecue. I think Elena’s got appetizers and Bonnie’s got dessert.”

“Perfect!” Caroline grins, “We’ll see you tomorrow.”

They wave goodbye and Caroline shuts the door only to lean against it, exhaustion pounding through her body. She wants to cry, or scream, or fall down and die.

“Is this what life would have been like?” It’s a whisper, and she doesn’t really expect an answer, but Klaus does set his hands on her hips and pull her into him, and she goes willingly, leaning against him instead of the door. His arms wrap around her, and for a second it feels like it did at the dance when everything was so perfect and yet so messed up.

His breath tickles her hair and he sways just enough that it feels like dancing, and Caroline allows herself one instance of weakness to wrap her arms around his neck. He holds her for what feels like eternity, and when he finally lets her go something has changed.

“What do you think is happening back home while we’re not there?” Caroline murmurs, her face inches from his.

“I imagine that Elena is still the centre of the universe, the Salvatores are mucking things up, and everyone thinks we’ve run away together which shall make Rebekah very angry, but I doubt she’ll believe it.”

Caroline feels a million things in that instant: she’s angry that the picture he paints sounds right, and she’s angry that she’s always second to Elena, and she’s angry that she knows no one will really try to look for her and Rebekah is the only one that won’t believe they’ve run away together.

She’s also pleased, because if that is what is happening then they haven’t wrecked anything by disappearing.

“Rebekah’s probably the only one looking for us,” she tells him.

He lifts a hand to brush it through her still-damp hair. “You underestimate your importance, as always, love.”

“They won’t look for me.” Caroline sighs, “I don’t say that because I think I’m not important, it’s just -- if they think I’ve run away with you and distracted you from Elena they won’t look for me. They’ll either believe I’ve done it to help them and I don’t want to be found, or they’ve gotten lucky and they won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Klaus snatches her even closer, so close that she can’t even tell where she starts and he ends, and his eyes blaze, “They are fools, Caroline; I would search to the ends of the earth for you, I would hunt you forever until I found you.”

Caroline knows that he made a similar promise to Katherine once, and it’s almost comical the way he words it. Klaus is not a lover -- he never has been. He’s a warrior, a hunter, a hybrid; he doesn’t understand love, has never been shown it, and Caroline doubts he would even recognize it.

She can’t help that she’s not afraid in the face of his words. They are steeped in truth, and up till this moment she had never understood that he didn’t just fancy her, he was obsessed with her.

“I know,” she breathes the words. It’s the only thing she can say; she won’t run. She’s not like Katherine, she can’t thrive running from place to place, and she refuses to give into him. Not yet, not now when everything is so fresh; when she still wakes up screaming from memories of torture, and the pain of the werewolf bite.

“Don’t forget to pick me up after you’re finished work tomorrow. We have a barbecue to go to.” He lets her go with only a final brush to her hair, and then he’s climbing the stairs, “Goodnight, Caroline.” 

She’s left standing in an empty room, skin tingling and heart pounding.