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Whisper To Me, Help Me Remember

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Chapter One: Windows Were Barred

It's impossible to accurately gauge the passage of time. At least in any traditional way. Klaus quickly comes to berate himself for his reliance on modern conveniences.

He's at a disadvantage to begin with, has no idea how much time has passed between the time he'd fallen and the time he'd come to, strapped to a table with a needle in his arm. Hundreds of vampires and dozens of witches had stormed the New Orleans compound, rudely interrupting brunch. Klaus and his siblings had put up a grand fight, but it hadn't been enough. By the end the floors had been slick with blood, limbs strewn about, the building partially demolished.

But one by one they'd fallen.

Kol first – he'd never quite learned caution and his recent resurrection led to him thinking himself invincible. A group of opponents had snuck up on him from behind. He'd fallen face forward, stiff and grey. Not exactly sporting but Klaus had expected nothing less from Tristan de Martel. Klaus had roared his rage, beheaded two attackers with a single slash of his arm. But he hadn't been able to save the others either. Elijah went down last, his face etched in mournful agony, eyes clouding over when the dagger dug into his heart.

The last thing Klaus had seen was Tristan's face. He'd looked astonishingly pleased with himself as he'd stood over Klaus, his fingers running reverently over a dagger. He'd leaned in, pressed the tip of it to Klaus' chest, between the lengths of spelled chain that kept him down. He dug in the slightest bit and twisted. Blood dampened his shirt but Klaus had refused to react to the pain. He'd stared past Tristan, memorized the faces of those that still lived.

"It took me sixty years, Klaus," Tristan confided, his tone jovial. As if he expected Klaus to find his plotting impressive. "Sixty years, hundreds of leads, meetings with witches on every continent. All to make this splendid set of daggers. To make certain that they'd work on you. That there would be no consequence of my wielding them."

Most of the vampires who milled about refused to look at Klaus. The few who did, the ones who watched avidly, gleeful and anticipatory? Those he'd take the longest to kill.

Tristan's hand whipped out, slapping Klaus across the face. "Pay attention," he admonished.

Klaus let out a laugh, dry and cold. "Your self-congratulatory drivel lacks style, mate. Get on with it. I grow bored."

Rage flashed across Tristan's face but he shuttered it quickly. His hand shook, just the smallest amount as he slid the blade in deeper, scraped it against bone. "Still so confident. Why is that, I wonder? You've lost. You'll be in a box, your family right alongside you. I'm genuinely curious. How is it that you think you'll prevail?"

Klaus shrugged, feigned nonchalance, because he sensed that it would eat at Tristan more than any rage, "Call it a hunch."

He could see Tristan struggling, see the need he had to rub his victory in Klaus' face. But he restrained himself, with great effort. Klaus smirked at him, leaned forward, and forced the blade deeper into his chest. He'd not been kidding about finding Tristan's pontificating tedious. And if Tristan believed, for a single second, that Klaus only had one plan in play – that he'd relied solely on the combined physical prowess of he and his siblings to ensure victory – then he was a special kind of imbecile.

They'd smuggled Freya out of the city weeks ago, and few witches alive could break his sister's cloaking spells. Marcel and Davina had departed the night before last – a not inconsiderable contingent of guards with them.

Messages, breadcrumbs of a sort, to his most loyal and capable sirelings, had flown out. Rebekah and Elijah had done the same. Kol no longer had a line but his contacts with various covens throughout the world were another avenue to exploit. And they'd contacted Tristan's known enemies, in the hopes of keeping him busy. Letters, of a more personal sort, advising those that might have targets painted on them to be careful, had made their way into the post as well.

Klaus could only hope that Caroline's reached her in time. Her travels throughout Europe were sporadic, she hopped from country to country according to unpredictable whims. She was hard to track, even for one with his reach. Klaus' only comfort was his certainty that Tristan would have similar difficulties in pinning her down. If a message didn't get to her Klaus sincerely hoped that the Salvatore's would think to track her down. They were in Mystic Falls, guarding the doppelgänger, but heads would roll if one of them didn't bloody well manage to detach themselves from whatever invisible lead kept them tethered to Elena to ensure Caroline's safety.

"Any last words?" Tristan asked, raising his voice so the room at large could hear.

"I think I'll save them, if you don't mind. For someone more important," Klaus told him, injecting all the condescension he can muster into the words, knowing it would infuriate Tristan. He'd always thought himself Klaus' better, assumed being born into wealth and power meant Tristan deserved them. Had resented Klaus' ability to take such things.

Tristan's lips thinned and his teeth ground together, just before the dagger slid home and everything began to fade. The last thing Klaus heard, as if from a great distance, was the pop of a champagne cork.

Let them celebrate, Klaus thought, letting the darkness settle. Because this was just a skirmish. He'd no idea how long he'd be down. But he wasn't dead. And he knew why. Tristan didn't have the means to kill him. And as long as Klaus was alive he wasn't beaten. There were always options, paths of resistance.


Klaus had never experienced a daggering but he was aware of how they worked. Kol's rages and the spiteful words Rebekah often flung when they fought, had both conveyed that to be daggered was to exist in a state of nothingness. That the years, decades or centuries, rolled by without incident or notice. They woke, shocked at how the world had changed, often struggled to acclimate.

Tristan's daggers functioned differently. Klaus knew it was by design. A form of torture, a way to remind Klaus that he'd lost. He'd come to awareness slowly, his mind sluggish and his limbs unwilling to obey commands. He could barely move a muscle, further hindered by the thick straps across his body. The room was foreign and very bright, artificial light glinting off white walls. He'd spied a blood bag, several feet above his head.

And once again, Tristan had been there. He'd tapped the bag mockingly, the blood sloshing in the plastic. "The dagger's quite genius, isn't it? Inhibits the magic that makes you what you are, keeps you weak as a kitten. The blood will keep you lucid. Because what fun would letting you desiccate be? Just a few drops here and there. Just enough to sustain you. What sort of punishment is it, if you cannot think about your wrongs? Perhaps you'll even come to regret an action or two."

If he could have moved he would have rolled his eyes. Trust Tristan to frame this as an act of benevolence, some sort of misguided hybrid rehabilitation program. To think himself the hero. Klaus was certain that the only thing he'd ever come to regret was not killing Tristan when his usefulness as a decoy had run its course.

And because he was the sort who adored the sound of his own voice Tristan droned on, "Now, I regret to inform you that I must leave. I'll pop by to visit of course, but I'll likely be busy cleaning up the messes you've left. Aurora insists that I allow her to see you too, so you've that to look forward to. Poor thing still thinks you're worth loving. I hope she doesn't take it too badly, once you die. And I assure you that you will, as soon as I can arrange it. But you're in good hands in the meantime. Your care and feeding instructions will be strictly followed." He'd flicked the dagger, a burning sensation searing Klaus' nerves in response. "I'll see you in a couple of months, Klaus."

Klaus listened to Tristan's footsteps fade, the undoubtedly fine Italian leather of his shoes making only the softest of sounds.

And then he'd waited.

And planned.

While he cannot mark hours and days in the ways he's come to rely on, he can piece together its passing in other ways. There are four vampires that guard him. They check on him, administer the drops of blood that keep him just on the edge of desiccation. Each sends a text upon completing a check or a paltry feeding. He's unsurprised by the degree of Tristan's micromanagement.

Number One makes six visits, including one feeding, only to be replaced by Number Two who does the same. Followed by Three, then Four, and then One again. It's an ever repeating loop. Unchanging.

Tristan returns just after the forty-sixth cycle of feedings begins, lets Klaus have a few extra drops, enough to ensure he's perfectly aware. Tristan takes a great deal of pride in enumerating what he's been up to, relishes informing Klaus of which allies he's managed to track down and eliminate. There had only been one of any importance, at that first visit. More follow, but Klaus gets the feeling that Tristan's displeased at the slowness of his progress though he remains boastful and overly confident.

Klaus takes the small joys where he can get them. Finds comfort in the fact that he's nowhere near out of avenues. Klaus is certain that Tristan would not be able to resist the urge to gloat should he manage to find Freya or Marcellus. Klaus rests relatively easier, each time Tristan leaves without a word about them, knowing they were out there, active and unharmed.

That small dose of satisfaction does not eliminate his need to scream in frustrated boredom, however.

When Aurora shows herself, nine and a half cycles after her brother, Klaus almost wishes for Tristan's self-congratulatory recital of his perceived victories. She touches him constantly, speaks like they are infatuated lovers, separated by mere days and not centuries. She departs each time with a vow that they'll be together one day.

She'd always been flighty, bordering on delusional. But the years had seemed to make her perception of reality even foggier. Even if Klaus had been as naïve as he'd been when he'd known Aurora, completely ignorant of what it took to survive, he'd not have forgiven her part in his own imprisonment, or that of his family.

It becomes beyond monotonous, only his will keeping him sane, and sometimes by the thinnest of threads. Klaus' plans grow more savage each time Tristan visits. Each time Aurora drapes herself over him and murmurs nonsense about how this is all for his own good.

They will take a very long time to die, the pair of them, once Klaus is released. Though they will wish for it during every second of their continued existence.

Klaus rarely makes the effort to open his eyes when one of his keepers enters the room anymore. He can identify them by scent, by the cadence of their heartbeats.

On this day, when one enters, he only notes that it's Number Three, as expected. Number Three chews gum and seems the most reluctant to be near Klaus. He might be Klaus' favorite, if he's being honest. Number One had a fondness for cheap cherry cigars and Number Four hums. Constantly and loudly. Number Two is the only one who touches Klaus regularly, pinches and pokes, occasionally slices into him with a scalpel, tiny cuts that take ages to heal. Klaus gathers that it's not technically in his job description, because Number Two is careful about where he does it, keeps the wounds hidden.

Klaus eagerly anticipates the day he's able to take his revenge.

It takes him longer than it should, to realize that something is off. But it's been 1135 cycles so perhaps his rustiness is understandable.

He regrets it when it becomes clear that his lapse is not without a witness. The door had opened again, more quickly than it usually does. Klaus' face is tapped, none too gently. Not something that's happened, in all his time in this cell. He pries his eyes open, shocked to see a familiar face hovering above him.

He's not hallucinated, not once during the duration of his captivity. But he wonders if that's what this is, if he's finally taken to imagining a rescue.

It's gradual, the almost forgotten feeling of strength that trickles through his limbs. His fingers tingle and it's only a voice in his head, one that's not his own, that stops him from moving. "Be still, Niklaus," comes the hiss. Freya's face is set to her sternest expression, the one she'd always worn when attempting to play the big sister. She's aged a bit, her hair longer and plaited away from her face.

The changes are what convince Klaus that she's really there. Because if she was only in his mind, wouldn't it have been exactly as he'd last seen her?

She's opened the valve on the blood bag and Klaus can feel it working. His extremities begin to ache but he welcomes the pain, flexes his fingers. They crack, protesting the long period of disuse.

"You must be quiet," Freya instructs, still in his mind. "And do as I say."

The order does not sit well with Klaus and Freya must sense it because her eyes turn hard and exasperated. "Until we're out of the building at least. I have spent more than a decade planning this. If you'd like to ruin it, perhaps spend another few years in this room, while Tristan continues killing those who might help us, making things even more difficult, be my guest."

Not an option. Klaus nods once, a quick tense jerk. Freya sighs, relieved, and produces another bag of blood. "Good, now drink this. You're going to need to do some compelling."

Caroline's eyes open, arm lifting to smother the gasp that flies out of her mouth. It's jarring to wake up from a dream, one so very vivid, and find herself alone in her familiar room.

She rarely awakens gently. But she's learned to do it quietly, to avoid the prying that Tristan and Aurora attempt when they get wind of her disturbed sleep. She does it even when they're not occupying the same house as Caroline, so deeply ingrained is the habit. They're both very old, though they've never specifically numbered their centuries for her. Both have senses more finely honed then Caroline can imagine. The dreams had started years ago, not long after she'd first woken up with aching gums and a burn in her throat and no idea who she was.

A bloody wrist was shoved in her face and she'd bitten down instinctively, drinking deep to sate the need that clawed at her. She barely noticed the woman who petted her hair while making soft crooning noises, unable to focus on anything but the hunger.

She kept going until the blood thinned, and the body fell unceremoniously on to the ground next to her.

Her mind raced, breaths came quick and ragged. She flinched back from the white handkerchief that was dangled in front of her face.

"For the blood, Caroline. You've made a bit of a mess." It was the woman who spoke, a warm teasing lilt as she leaned into Caroline. But Caroline ignored her for now, eyes locked with the pale blue pair of a man who loomed over her, his posture straight and smile gentle.

There was something underneath, a tinge of something superior that made Caroline think the outer sweetness a lie.

"Who…" her voice cracked and she cleared her throat, belatedly reaching out for the starched linen he offered. "Who are you?"

His forehead creased, words slowly formed, "My name is Tristan de Martel. And that's my sister, Aurora." Caroline glanced to the side, at the pretty redhead who sat next to her on the bed. She tossed Caroline a sunny smile, resumed humming as she smoothed Caroline's curls. Her attention was drawn back to Tristan, when he crouched and took her hand. His next question was filled with concern, "You seem a bit confused. What's the last thing you remember?"

An inquiry that should have been simple to answer. But one she found herself unable to. Because she remembered nothing. Not how she had come to be in bed, in the room, not who these people were or how she knew them. Aurora had called her Caroline but she had no idea if that was right or not.

She couldn't remember her name.

Her next inhale was shaky, the exhale coming fast and harsh as her heart began to pound. Panic made her sweat, bile rising and stomach rolling, like the warm blood she'd just poured into it was going to make another appearance.

Tristan stood, his cold hands cradled her face as he dabbed at the blood she had smeared on her lips. "Hush, my dear," he crooned, eyes soft and brimming with something like pity. "They told us this might happen. I'd hoped they were wrong, but it's no matter. You're safe with us. We'll always take care of you."

She'd been wary. His touch was meant to be comforting, his hands soft, but it felt wrong. But she knew instinctively that panic was not the answer, that letting her emotions overcome her hold on reason was a bad idea. She needed to think, to observe. To plan. She clenched her fists, dug her nails into her palms until it hurt and forced herself to focus on slowing her breaths. Caroline let her eyes drift past Tristan and began to count the bricks in the wall until her mind stopped whirling.

When she felt more in control she met Tristan's eyes again, found him observing her approvingly. "There's a girl," he praised, hands skimming down her arms to take a hold of hers. "That's the Caroline I know. Now, I'm very sorry for what Klaus did to you. But I promise he can't hurt you anymore. I made sure of it, pet."

"Klaus?" she asked, pleased that her voice didn't waver. "Who's Klaus?"

The answer to that was long, and complicated. Tristan explained that Caroline was special, a vampire, like he and Aurora were. And that Klaus Mikaelson was the first of their kind. An Original. But he was more than that. A Hybrid. The self-crowned king, his brutality legendary. Klaus was a monster obsessed with power and would hurt anyone who dared to defy him.

Something Tristan had done.

"I was tired of his rule, tired of my people, good people, living in fear of losing their lives for the tiniest offences. Klaus is mercurial, chaotic. Coarse and contemptible. We watched him, plotted, and strategized. But he caught wind of it, just before we were set to spring. Took you, thinking you'd be the weakest link in my inner circle, that you'd betray me."

"Did I?" Caroline wondered.

He smiled, pressed a reverent kiss to the back of her hand. "No, pet. You did not. He underestimated you, your strength. Your loyalty. You gave him nothing."

"No matter what horrid things he did to you," Aurora chimed in, her head lying heavily on Caroline's shoulder. "You were so broken when we found you, my darling. Starved and chained and bloodied. Limbs all twisted and grotesque. Bits of wood sticking out of your pretty skin."

Tristan shot Aurora a quelling look as his thumbs stroked Caroline's fingers soothingly, "He tortured you, for weeks. It's probably a blessing you can't remember it. Klaus is… inventive."

"But why can't I remember?"

Aurora tapped her temple gently, "Not all torture is physical, lovely. Klaus excels at breaking minds and spirits as well as bodies."

"We suspect he entered your mind," Tristan told her carefully. "Possibly had some witches in his employ do the same. Your memories appear to be gone, Caroline. He took them from you. Likely thinking he could turn you against us if you no longer remembered all that we'd done for you."

She swallowed hard, absorbed the news. Tristan straightened, dusted off his pants and offered a hand to Aurora. She let him pull her off the bed and tuck her into his side. His free hand reached out, rested heavily on Caroline's shoulder. "Sleep, now. Don't worry about a thing. I'll send a servant to collect the remains of your meal shortly. We'll speak more in the morning. But I meant it when I said I'd take care of you, Caroline. You belong with us."

Aurora broke away, just before Tristan could lead her to the door. She bent down to press a kiss to Caroline's cheek. "We're the greatest of friends, you and I. You'll see."

She flashed one last happy grin and she and Tristan departed, flicking off the lights and closing the door behind them with a solid thunk leaving Caroline alone in the dark.

Caroline laid back on the bed, found the mattress plush and the bedding sumptuous. She couldn't have imagined being more comfortable. And yet she was unable to rest, as Tristan had suggested, her mind replaying the conversation in a loop. She closed her eyes when she heard a noise outside the door. Feigned sleep when someone bustled in. She cracked her eyes open enough to see the body she'd drained hefted over a slender man's shoulder like it was the smallest of burdens.

He left quickly, did not spare her a glance.

Caroline sat up, tiptoed out of bed, and settled into a seat by the window. The night sky was navy, littered with stars. Nothing was the least bit familiar. She rested her head on the pane of glass, curled her legs under her and willed her mind to stop spinning.

But nothing worked, and she'd sat there until dawn, tracking the lightening skies. Groped for something, a single tiny tidbit of a memory, that would tell her who she was.

In the morning, an older woman bustled into the room, and Caroline startled. She was dressed in a simple black dress and a white apron, carried a small tray that held a single empty glass. She made a disapproving noise once she spied Caroline's position. "You're supposed to be abed, Miss Caroline."

Then she dug her hand into her front pocket, a thin metal blade held between her fingers when it re-emerged. Her hand was steady as she sliced into her wrist, and let her blood flow into the glass. A sharp pain in Caroline's gums made her wince, her vision growing sharper as it narrowed in on the wound. She wanted to spring, her muscles coiled tight in readiness. She wanted to hold the woman down and sink her teeth in deep. But she restrained herself, her fingers tearing holes in the cushion she sat on as she forced herself to stay put.

She would not lose control.

When the glass was full the woman withdrew a length of gauze and wrapped the wound efficiently. She set the blood on Caroline's bedside table and began to make the bed. "Miss de Martel will be along shortly to help you dress for breakfast. Now, drink your blood before it gets cold. I imagine you've all sorts of questions and a long day ahead of you."

Hesitantly, Caroline slipped off the window seat and made for the glass. It smelled heavenly, and she inhaled deeply as she brought it to her lips. She'd meant to take a dainty sip but it just tasted too good and she sucked back a hearty gulp. Three more swallows and the glass was finished. Caroline caught a drip with the tip of her finger, sucked it off her skin, unwilling to waste.

She set the glass down and the maid glanced over, a kind smile on her face. "Bathroom's the door on the left," she told Caroline, with a nod across the room. "If you'd like to clean yourself up."

Returning the smile Caroline padded over to the indicated door, slipped into the room. She was drawn to the mirror, spent a long time staring at the face reflected back. No sign of injury remained her skin smooth and without a blemish when she stripped out of the long white nightgown she wore. Her hair was a mess, matted with dirt and stained burgundy in places. Caroline fumbled through the drawers until she found a comb and attacked the tangles viciously, ignored the pain as she tore at her scalp.

It was an odd feeling. She knew what she was supposed to do, recognized the comb's purpose. There was a toothbrush and toothpaste lying next to the sink and Caroline knew how to use them, too. Even sort of knew what taste to expect. But she has no idea where she'd learned those things, who'd taught her. Could not recall the first time she'd done them, or even the last time.

When she thought about it there was nothing but an endless blank stretching out before last night.

Mechanically she stepped into the shower, turned the water on and let it run hot. She ducked her head under the spray just as she heard the door to the other room open. Aurora's voice rang out, questioning the servant.

Caroline squeezed her eyes shut, let the water soak her hair, let it pound around her ears and drown out the sounds in the next room. She needed a moment of peace. She knew nothing of herself, of who she'd been or what she'd done. But it seemed like Aurora might. And Tristan had promised answers. Something felt off but Caroline needed to stick around to hear what they had to say.

She had to have something to go on, if she was ever going to figure this out.

Caroline spent a very long time in the shower that first morning, until her skin was bright pink and the water that dripped from her hair was no longer stained with the remnants of dried blood.

Aurora was settled on one of the chairs in the corner, a delicately patterned cup in her grasp, when Caroline emerged wrapped in a towel. She studied Caroline for a moment, like she was searching for something, head tipped to the side in deep contemplation. But she shook herself, set the cup down. "Let's get you dressed for breakfast, hmm? Tristan's ever so fussy about his precious schedule. He's in meetings all afternoon and will be unbearable if he's even a second late."

She strolled into the closet without another word, emerging with a blue dress. She threw it on the bed and Caroline found she was completely unenthused about the prospect of putting it on. The color was fine, would likely be flattering, but the neckline was very modest, the length demure. Aurora tossed a cardigan and a pair of low-heeled sandals next to it. She let out a giggle at Caroline's face. "Awful, isn't it? Tristan's never quite adjusted to the modern fashions for women. He keeps quiet, save for the odd sour face. But he insists we keep to a certain dress code for meals at home."

Eyeing Aurora's own dress, long sleeved and pale yellow, Caroline mentally shrugged. She wanted answers, saw no point in courting Tristan's anger over something as trivial as wardrobe. It was not as if she remembered what she liked. For all she knew that was the style she preferred.

She put the clothes on, sat patiently while Aurora pinned up her hair and applied makeup. The other woman chattered as she did it and Caroline had difficulty following, the subject changes both rapid and without logical course. Aurora spoke wistfully of an old love she'd never gotten over and of another man, a long term on/off lover, who she was displeased with. He'd had his head turned by a witch, but Aurora was certain he'd come crawling back. Lucien always did, she confided. Caroline was told that Tristan, as a consequence of ousting Klaus, was up to his ears in 'petty bureaucratic nonsense', which Aurora found tedious. Mostly because it prevented her brother from taking her to shop for the new horse he'd promised. They were just outside of Rio de Janeiro but would depart within a month (and it couldn't be soon enough, Aurora complained. The climate in South America was positively murder on her hair). Caroline filed the useful pieces of newfound knowledge away, resolved to consider them at greater length when she was alone. Finally, Aurora set her brushes down, tipped Caroline's head towards the light. She seemed satisfied with her work, "Pretty as a portrait, pet."

"Thank you," Caroline murmured, not allowing herself to shy away from Aurora's grip.

She felt the sharp edge of nails, just for a moment. But the pressure was fleeting and Caroline wondered if she'd imagined it, along with the darkly calculating twist to Aurora's glossy lips. The other woman stood up and swept all of the cosmetics into a drawer. She flitted towards the door before Caroline could analyze the expression, and decide if it had been real. Aurora paused and whirled, an expectant brow raised. "Well? Are you coming? If we hurry Tristan will have no reason to be cross."

She was out the door before Caroline could answer. She was forced to hurry to follow Aurora. Caroline had no idea what lay beyond the room, or how to navigate the house. She only knew that it was a good distance from the ground, according to the view from her window. Situated on a sprawling estate. The last thing she needed was to get lost.

She might have been starting a whole new life, unwillingly and with great reluctance, but there was no reason to stumble into it like a complete moron.

Straining her ears Caroline waits to see if her movements have disturbed anyone. In the beginning, when these dreams had started, one or both of the de Martel siblings had come rushing in, words of concern on their lips. Tristan was always eager to know about what had woken her. She'd offered scant details, claimed that she never remembered anything once she'd been pulled from sleep.

A lie. The dreams had been coming thick and fast these last few months. Sometimes she woke with a sensation - snow on her tongue, wind in her hair - so fresh in her mind that Caroline was shocked to find herself inside a luxe, spacious bedroom. This particular one, inside Tristan's main residence, she'd claimed as her own long ago. Its stone walls and fine antiques were familiar. She knows them, what they felt like. Scents like pine trees, popcorn, and a thick cloud of hairspray have no place in in this room in middle of the night.

Caroline sits up slowly, still listening. But the corridor outside her room remains quiet, no patter of footsteps coming to check on her, so it seems as though she'll be left to her own devices this time.

She reaches for the pad of paper next to her bed, and then lets her fingers burrow into the small gap between her headboard and mattress for the pencil she keeps there. She closes her eyes for a moment, tries to hold on to the images from her dreams. It's a girl this time, one she's dreamed of often. She's got thick dark hair, sometimes curly, sometimes pin straight. She's always beautiful but sometimes she's all sharp edges in Caroline's mind, steely and menacing. And sometimes she's doe-eyed and sweet, laughing and gentle. It's confusing.

The hair had had been straight in this last dream, and Caroline had been braiding it, sitting cross-legged on a bed in a cluttered room with yellow walls.

The girl had been talking, hands gesturing wildly, but Caroline can't remember what she'd said, or what her voice had sounded like. But the feel of her hair, sliding through Caroline's fingers, thick and smooth, had been so real. She's convinced it's a memory.

But that's supposed to be impossible. At least according to the witches Tristan had put Caroline in contact with after her memories had first been lost.

Her gut had never let her trust Tristan entirely. His cold blue eyes and the possessive, immensely satisfied, way he looked at her sometimes had always given her the creeps. But he'd never hurt her, had provided her with shelter and clothes. Had taught her how to control her hunger, how to lure and compel humans. Taught her to fight, both with swords and her bare hands. Schooled her in manipulation, how to pinpoint and exploit weaknesses in enemies. How to use their doubts against them, stroke their egos until they thought themselves untouchable. Encouraged her to use her body when necessary, insisted that seduction was just another weapon she could wield against Klaus' allies.

Sometimes she'd waver, tired of the endless tedious lies. She didn't know who she was, her memories beyond her reach. And she was constantly pretending, always wearing a mask. How could she ever figure out who she once was, or even who she wanted to be, if she was always someone else?

Tristan had a knack for sensing when she was at her most fed up, when she was wondering just what her purpose was.

"He's still out there, Caroline. Contained, yes. But until we manage to break the sirelines, and synthesize white oak, we'll never truly be free of Klaus. There will always be people who follow him, who'll attempt to wake him."

He'd come into her room on silent feet while she'd been getting ready for bed. Taken the brush from her hands and stroked it through her hair, slow and methodical as he watched her face in the mirror.

"And if he's free, what do you think becomes of us, pet? Of you? You held off for weeks but do you really think you could endure years, decades, of torture? With no hope for escape or rescue. I imagine he'll be even angrier than last time, when you merely refused to answer his questions. Klaus never did like to be thwarted."

Caroline let her eyes drop, unable to hold Tristan's steady, knowing gaze as dread sat heavily in her stomach.

Klaus was the bad guy. Keeping him down was the right thing to do. That way he couldn't hurt anyone else like he'd hurt her.

Tristan was silent for long moments, focused on smoothing the tangles from her hair. And then he changed the subject, wanted to talk about what she'd learned in the weeks she'd been away, if she had any leads that needed following up on. She'd just returned from Montreal, where she'd helped decimate a pocket of Klaus' supporters. Caroline was tired and the smell of gasoline and fire lingered in her mind.

She wanted a drink, possibly several. She wanted her bed, and she wanted to be alone. She had no desire to talk of more death.

Etienne, her last target, had been kind to her, and something about his dark eyes and olive skin had appealed to Caroline right from the beginning. He'd always seemed genuinely interested in her. Had called her beautiful even when she wore black veins and red eyes.

She'd dreamed of a boy often after she'd met him. A boy with similar coloring, who'd smelled like fresh air and green leaves, with strong arms and laughing eyes. Who had made her feel safe. A boy she would have fought for, died for, killed for. A boy she'd felt connected with, like she never has to another in her current life.

And now Etienne was dead.

She can't mourn him, not with Tristan watching, his pale blue eyes assessing. Caroline mustered a smile, pushed her misgivings away, "Two leads. A coven of witches in Monaco. And a vampire named Martina. She…"

"Was turned in the 14th century. Of Rebekah's line," Tristan finished, looking thoughtful. "I'd not heard a whisper of her for ages."

"One of Etienne's guests had just come from visiting her. She's in Chile, with a sizeable contingent of vampires. Mostly new, but she's training them for something."

Tristan set the brush down, let his hands sift through her blonde waves, face set to determination, "Then I suppose you're going to need some new summer things, aren't you, pet?"

She'd depart in four days, slip into the role of sweet young vampire tourist, eager to see the world. Every time she does it the disguise sits a little heavier, the lies taste a little bitterer. Because for all the time that she's pretended she's never seen much of what's out there.

Maybe someday she'll actually be able to.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Like A Zombie

Klaus follows Freya, maintaining his silence as directed, examining his surroundings. It's not what he'd expected. He hears the din that's only found in large cities as soon as he steps outside the room he'd been kept in. Finds himself looking out big windows at a recognizable skyline.

Tristan would find the idea of Klaus' prison being in the middle of Chicago amusing.

The furnishings are non-descript, expensive and modern. It resembles a posh waiting room more than anything else beyond the four walls he's familiar with. It's the kind of corporate setting that Elijah would have fit right into. There's a woman at the desk, not much more than a girl really. Klaus has never seen her before. There's an open bottle of nail polish next to her limp hand, a bank of monitors behind her, and her cheek is resting heavily on the desk, her eyes closed. But her pulse is there, slow and steady.

Klaus is tempted to take a little taste, not yet at full strength. But Freya stops him, her hand latching onto his arm, her voice echoing inside his mind, "No. Not her. We have to hurry." The directive is firm and Klaus reluctantly lets himself be pulled away.

"Won't she sound an alarm when she wakes?" he wonders, assuming that the link goes both ways.

Freya shakes her head, "No. She has no idea who you are, or that you were in the room. She's human, thinks she works for the government. That there's some top secret something or other happening, that the vampires who come and go are agents. She monitors what happens in the building, compiles reports."

"For Tristan?"


They exit the office, into a beige hallway. Freya speaks, aloud this time, and it's mildly startling, as she issues crisp instructions. "We're on the sixth floor. We only looped the cameras on this level so you need to go out a window. West side of the building, into the alley. The office space on that end is being renovated. The construction workers should all be at lunch. If there's a straggler compel them to forget you, but do not kill them. We need to get away cleanly. There's an old friend waiting for you at the bottom. Do not kill him either, Niklaus. I mean it. Now go. Quickly."

One last hard glare and she's leaving his side, making her way to the bank of elevators. Without looking at him she makes an impatient gesture of her hand, and Klaus turns away, focusing his hearing when he reaches the farthest door on the correct side of the building. There's no movement inside, and Klaus slips in, immediately assaulted by the smell of fresh paint. He helps himself to a wooden stirrer, cracks off one edge to make a serviceable stake.

Just in case.

It takes him a moment to find a window that opens, because he assumes that Freya meant for him to leave no trace. It's a tight squeeze getting out but Klaus manages, dropping swiftly to the ground and landing on his feet.

He's a little shakier than he'd like, but that's to be expected.

"I considered moving the dumpster over, giving you a soft landing since you're not at your best. But I thought you might find that to be too much of a blow to your ego."

Klaus recognizes the voice, tenses. Freya had been right to call Lucien an old friend. And right to warn Klaus not to kill him. Turning slowly he spots Lucien immediately. He's in a doorway, his hand wrapped around Number Three's throat.

"Lucien," Klaus says slowly, taking a step towards him.

Lucien grins, waves with his free hand, seemingly unafraid. But then he'd always been reckless. "Nik. Been a while. You look awful, mate."

Number Three's eyes are wide and fearful and he struggles in vain against Lucien's grip. Klaus only pays him a moment's attention, just enough to ascertain that he's not a flight risk. "Imprisonment does that to a person."

"Surprised Tristan didn't spring for a change of clothes occasionally, to be honest. Those are horridly out of fashion. I'd not have thought his delicate sensibilities able to handle it. And I think we all know that Aurora would have no problem treating you as if you were a favorite doll."

"Yes, well," Klaus counters silkily, "You would know them best, wouldn't you?"

"Certainly," Lucien parries back easily. "It's why my participation in this little rescue mission's been invaluable, if I might toot my own horn."

"Hmm. I must admit that I was surprised not to see you among Tristan's forces, the night I was captured."

"Oh, I was there," Lucien confesses. "Smart enough to stay hidden. In case things had gone pear shaped. Bag packed and jet on standby. Tristan gave me little choice in the matter."

Klaus grits his teeth, anger rising. He has to remind himself that he's not to kill Lucien just yet, that he might very well have an important role to play, "And I'm supposed to believe that you're on my side now? Why the change of heart?"

Lucien laughs incredulously, a touch derisive. "Come now. Tristan hates me nearly as much as he hates you. What do you think will happen when he's secured his position, eliminated the last of your people, no longer finds me useful? Do you really think he won't turn on me? If only so I can no longer despoil his sister with my servant's hands? You might not trust me but admit that I'm not an idiot."

Klaus considers Lucien carefully. He's not stupid, Klaus knows. Ambitious, greedy, ruthless, yes, Lucien's all those things. A survivor, who could always be trusted to save his own skin. If Klaus was certain of anything regarding his old protégé it was that he could rely on that. "He'll die," Klaus declares, "Aurora too. There's no love lost between you and Tristan that I can believe. But you've been at Aurora's beck and call for centuries, according to my sources. Do you expect me to believe that you're suddenly over her?"

Lucien's expression remains neutral, the tiniest flicker of regret in his eyes. For Aurora's death or for his wasted years Klaus cannot be sure. "She'll never love me more than she loves you. And she'll never leave Tristan's side. I've accepted that."

"Three cheers for self-esteem," Klaus mocks coldly.

Lucien smirks, manages to sound self-deprecating, "A bit late, perhaps. But what can you do? The heart's awfully stubborn."

The sharp clip of high heels on concrete lets them know that someone approaches and they both turn to look, wary of a threat. It's only Freya and she steps into the alley, looking over her shoulder, cell phone tucked into her ear. "I'm clear. Thank you, Josh. I'll contact you with our next steps."

She keeps her eyes on Klaus as she makes her way to his side, glances between him and Lucien with pride, "Look at you, listening for once, playing nice. I'd wondered if you'd manage it. Half expected to have to deal with body disposal."

"Thanks ever so much for the concern, love. And don't pretend that you'd not miss me."

Freya barely reacts to Lucien's dry remark, save for the slightest twitch of her lips. Klaus makes a disgusted noise, the reasons for Lucien's willing participation suddenly clear, "You could do far better, sister."

Lucien, of course, takes offence. "I resent that. You've never done me, have you? However would you know?"

Freya's nose wrinkles in disgust, "We've strayed alarmingly off topic. Let's remember why we're here. Klaus, you need to compel our good friend Lewis, if you will. And then we'll be making stops to visit your other guards."

"Sounds lovely," Klaus murmurs, eying Number Three. He has a name now, but that's hardly important. "I've been meaning to have a chat with them, discuss their standards of care."

But Freya insists on thwarting Klaus' fun. "Compelling only. We still need them. Tristan can't know you're gone until we've gotten Elijah, Rebekah and Kol. They'll make their reports as usual. Tristan was here last month so we have nine weeks until he returns."

He supposes that makes sense. The element of surprise was not to be taken lightly. "And Aurora? Tristan appeared like clockwork but her visits were randomly timed."

"That's where I come in!" Lucien tells Klaus cheerfully. "I'll be playing Mata Hari in this production, making Aurora think that I've come crawling back. Playing with me should distract her from wanting to go and play with you."

Klaus takes another step in Lucien's direction at that, eyes sharp on his face, "Oh really? Sounds like the perfect setup for you to execute a double cross."

"Told you he'd say that," Lucien says, sounding bored.

"I'm not an idiot, Niklaus," Freya grits out in annoyance. "Do you really think I'd gamble ten years, our family?" She reaches over and yanks down Lucien's shirt, revealing a tattoo of an arrow, the lines thick and clumsy, in an odd shade of brown. "One of Dahlia's inventions, for when she needed a vampire to cooperate. She wasn't much for mutually beneficial bargains. That mark means I can kill him if I need to." She turns to Lucien, speaking pointedly, "And if he puts us at risk I will."

Lucien brushes her hand away, fixes his shirt, "Don't tease me, darling. Not with an audience."

Freya rolls her eyes, "I might kill him anyway, if he can't take this seriously."

Klaus finds he's still not ecstatic about this plan, with how little he knows. The idea that he's reliant on Lucien, even on Freya, makes him uneasy. But he has little choice at the moment. And he can admit they've done a decent enough job so far, that he'd still be rotting on that metal table without their interference. "Fine," he clips out briskly. "What am I compelling Number Three to do? And are we certain he's not on vervain? Seems unlikely that Tristan would not have taken precautions."

"He has it delivered monthly. We switched it out."

"Well done, sister," Klaus gives Freya a respectful nod.

She merely looks irritated with the praise. It's reminiscent of Rebekah, right before she begins to throw a furniture smashing tantrum. "I've done nothing but this for ten years, Niklaus."

He should do a better job at remembering that. Maybe muster up a little gratitude. But Freya seems not to expect it, plowing ahead. "Here's what you need to do…"

Klaus listens carefully to the list of compulsions she rattles off, finding himself impressed once more, this time with Freya's thoroughness. "And then what? After we track down One, Two and Four?"

She seems to hesitate, "I was thinking we go to Elijah first."

"You know where he is?" Klaus questions.

"I know where they all are."

"Then we'll get Kol first," Klaus decides firmly. "He'll make the perfect distraction, should we need it."

Freya looks like she wants to argue but Lucien speaks, words thoughtful, "He'd be the least threatening to Tristan, has no sirelings left. And there's enough bad blood, what with all the daggerings that he could convince Tristan he's happy to let you remain imprisoned. Have him cause a little mayhem, keep everyone busy? Could work."

He's reminded then that Lucien's known Klaus for every bit as long as Klaus has known him. That he can follow Klaus' thoughts better than just about anyone else. A thing that could be useful, if Lucien's truly on his side. But could be a disaster if he's playing some other game. It's something Klaus will need to keep in mind, going forward. "Precisely," he confirms. "It's not what Tristan would expect. And I imagine he'll have the heaviest protections on Elijah, paranoid as he is. From the way Tristan speaks they've made no progress in breaking the lines. Taking Elijah out would effectively take Tristan out. Leaving the throne conveniently empty for someone else."

"To that end, we could possibly spread a little rumor?" Lucien suggests. "That white oak's been found. Tristan has people scouring the globe, and has all sorts of little geniuses toiling away in labs to whip up a test tube equivalent. No luck so far but if we make him think it's out there…"

"Throw another knife in the air, watch him scramble," Klaus muses. "Couldn't hurt."

"Lucien will handle that," Freya interjects. "You can't be making contact with anyone just yet."

Klaus reaches out to fix Lucien's collar, still a bit askew from Freya's manhandling, "Just so we're crystal clear…"

"Eternal torment, blood, guts, pain, for me and anyone I hold even the tiniest flicker of affection for, should I even think to cross you?" Lucien recites blandly.

"All that and more," Klaus promises. And he's never meant anything more. He relieves Lucien of his hold on Number Three, catches the vampire's frightened gaze, "Quiet. Don't struggle."

The vampire relaxes against the door, eyes blank.

"Handy," Lucien remarks. Maybe a little jealously.

"It is. Just think of all the things I could compel you to do, should you prove disloyal, old friend. Ever wonder about the taste of your own small intestine? I could help you discover it."

Lucien swallows, face twisted in distaste, "I think I can live without that particular pleasure."

Klaus throws him one last smirk before returning to Number Three.

It seems he and Lucien understand one another.

It takes several long minutes before Caroline allows herself to relax, sure that her privacy will not be breached this night. She runs her secreted pencil through her fingers, flips to a fresh page in her notebook.

Everything she knows about herself is something Tristan has told her and sometimes she wonders how much of it is true. According to him her name was Caroline Forbes. Born and raised in Mystic Falls, Virginia. He'd produced a birth certificate, high school yearbooks. An old newspaper featuring an article about a beauty pageant win. Enough evidence for her to believe him, about that part. He'd claimed to have no idea how or why she'd been turned. Said she'd told him that she'd run away, that her parents had hated what she'd become, had tried to kill her. He'd produced books, filled with spiky writing, journals that had belonged to William Forbes, listing the best ways to kill vampires, detailing plans to eradicate them altogether. Pages upon pages about how they were abominations who didn't deserve to live. Other volumes, older still, talking about a council that guarded Mystic Falls from the supernatural. It contained family trees, including the Forbes's, dating back centuries.

It had been clear that William Forbes came from a long line with similar beliefs. Caroline could maybe understand why she'd felt she'd had no choice but to flee her hometown.

Tristan said that he'd met her in New Orleans. That she'd managed to piss off some important people in the city and she'd been in a tight spot. He'd told Caroline that she'd reminded him of his sister, and he'd taken her under his wing.

That she finds most unbelievable of all because she and Aurora are nothing alike. Aurora was… unstable. To put it in really, really polite terms. Capable of great sweetness and miserable cruelty in equal measure, and prone to vacillate wildly between the two extremes, Caroline had never come to truly consider the other woman a friend, was careful to never allow a confidence to slip. She tended to avoid Aurora, as a matter of fact. Was never the first to seek her company though she's learned how to tolerate and make the best of the times Aurora demanded Caroline's attention.

It was lucky that Tristan so often had a use for Caroline and sent her away on errands to secure his interests.

He'd stepped into the role he'd taken from Klaus Mikaelson with great relish, expected his rules to be followed to the letter. Tristan had once told Caroline that Klaus was ineffective, that he'd played favorites and allowed certain people far too much freedom. That certain vampires and witches needed a firm hand, and that they'd come far too close to exposure. He'd had to do something he'd insisted, his eyes bright and vehement. Klaus only concerned himself with the good of the few – himself, his siblings, and a handful of others. Tristan was convinced that the needs of the many would continue to be trampled on if he hadn't taken action.

But, having seized control, Tristan was very concerned with maintaining it. He was paranoid, leery of threats, of the idea that someone would attempt to overthrow him. For good reason, considering the way he'd gained his power. Caroline was a convenient set of eyes and ears. Her youthful appearance caused older vampires to underestimate her, her natural friendliness and ability to turn on the charm meant she could weasel a degree of access. Eventually those she'd been sent to buddy up to let things slip. More than one had been free with words questioning Tristan's right to reign, made idle remarks about how maybe someone else could do a better job.

They always lost their heads, usually in a manner both flashy and brutal, with a handful of witnesses left to carry tales of the carnage. Caroline always slipped away in the chaos and if people remembered her they'd assume that she was no match for Tristan and his followers and that she'd been collateral damage, her body burnt to ash in whatever explosion they set to cover their tracks.

Once or twice she'd come across a survivor of Tristan's massacres. It was always nerve wracking, the possibility that someone would see through her flirtatious smiles and carefree laughter, and recognize her as a plant. But wide eyes and crocodile tears were an excellent distraction. A quavering voice talking about how frightened she'd been, how she'd been running and looking over her shoulder ever since, afraid that the terrifying man was coming after her.

It always worked.

She was given sympathy. Comforted, offered protection. Told that there was a plan, something set in motion to overthrow Tristan, and did she want in?

The plans never changed, and the never worked. Each time she was told that they only needed to get rid of the de Martel's and then they'd all have peace, would be free.

Caroline let Tristan know, and the threat was dealt with.

The cycle continued, year after year. But Caroline was never free.

She's been wondering, more and more, why she stays.

Whatever friendship she'd had with the siblings before Klaus had taken her has never felt authentic. Maybe it's her, maybe losing her memories has damaged her irreparably. But the fact remains that she's never been able to let her guard down. And while she'd been grateful for what they'd done for her, how they rescued her, shouldn't a decade of helping them in their various plots be enough?

She has a sinking feeling that the answer is no. That if she leaves it will have to be an escape, and that she won't be let go without consequences. That the timing will have to be just right, a plan carefully considered.

She asks herself if it would be worth it all the time.

Caroline sets the pencil to the paper, sketching what she can remember of the face of the girl from her dreams. A side profile, the rounded cheek. Thick lashes, the arch of a dark brow. She can never quite get the mouth right, not sure if it should be a gentle smile or a sly smirk. She's careful though, painstakingly shading in the details.

It's a new skill, drawing. She'd been pretty god awful at it in the beginning, the image in her head never translating to paper. But she'd improved. Wheedled some lessons out of a sweetly shy graduate student the last time she'd been in Italy. He'd been from London and she's found the way his accent wrapped around words entrancing. Listening to him speak about lines and shadows, proportions and symmetry, had been a pleasant distraction from the job she'd been sent to do. One of the few times Caroline can remember being content in this life.

She's had dreams which had featured a similar voice several times since then. It belongs to a more confident man, is at turns teasing and light, but sometimes forceful and hard-edged, in her mind. The images that accompanied those dreams were always blurry, out of focus. Sometimes she felt like she'd been dancing, woke up with her legs jerking against her sheets. Once or twice she'd woken up panting, skin hot and body uncomfortably aroused, because of memories of dirty words spoken low and rough in her ear. But she'd never seen a face.

Caroline sets the pencil down when she's satisfied, rips the paper out of her notebook. She studies the sketch she's created for long minutes, locking it in her memory. And then she gets up, grabs the lighter she keeps on her dresser to light the scented candles that dot the room. She lets herself into the en suite and runs the water in the sink. Flicks the lighter on, holds it to a corner of the paper.

Watches the flame consume the nameless girl's face.

She flushes the ash, a practiced routine. Tristan and Aurora aren't great at respecting boundaries, and though the servants are warm and kind they are not loyal to her. And Caroline had long since decided to keep some things to herself. If these dreams are memories, clues to who she used to be, no one can know about them.

They belong to her.

Caroline won't allow them to be stolen a second time.

They take a different approach with Kol. It's rather less cloak and dagger – the security measures not as extreme.

Kol will take great offense to that, once he's told.

Klaus takes the liberty of contacting a coven Kol had been fond of (and they of him – generation after generation) having them meet up with him and Freya in the village closest to the estate Kol's being held in. They complain about the dreary Irish weather but cooperate; Klaus' promise of a cash reward an added incentive. They specialize in some fairly powerful magic that allows them to push a small storm into a rollicking one. An inconvenience for the townspeople but it neatly knocks out the estate's power supply. There's a generator, but it had been emptied earlier in the day (thanks to Klaus' compulsion and a couple of local teens). By the time the people who work on the estate manage to locate the barrels of gasoline in an outbuilding, fill the generator, and get it working, Klaus has slipped inside the house, broken open the coffin Kol's in and hurried his body out to a waiting vehicle.

Tristan hasn't bothered to supply blood for Kol. He's grey and still and dead to the world.

Klaus takes the driver's seat, his eyesight and reflexes being more suited to the navigation of the winding roads, slickened from the torrential downpour. He drives them towards Galway, knowing sustenance for Kol would be more easily found, and less likely to be noted, somewhere more populated.

Kol would be livid enough when he woke, no need to force him to choke down bagged blood. He'd not been undaggered long enough to really appreciate the convenience of it in small town Mystic Falls, had loathed the taste of the stuff. And they'd never bothered to keep it in the house with the abundance of tourists available to feed on in New Orleans after they'd managed to resurrect him.

Freya's quiet, anxious, continuously checks the rear-view mirrors like she expects a tail. But Klaus has been paying attention and he's certain they're in the clear.

It's sloppy of Tristan but that's exactly why Klaus had chosen this route. Tristan, as methodical and controlled as he was, would never have expected Klaus to go straight for Kol. Kol's a wildcard, prone to disrupt the best laid plans both purposefully and with his casual carelessness. Tristan would never have left such a variable at loose ends so he'll not expect that Klaus will be willing to. It helps that the contentiousness of his relationship with his younger brother was well known even amongst those who had no personal connections to the Mikaelsons. He and Kol had fought often, loudly and publically (and occasionally violently), after Klaus had managed to return his brother to the land of the living. Kol was not as grateful as Klaus had thought he should be, and no more willing to live as Klaus demanded. Kol, for his part, had been resentful of how his death had come about, thought he deserved a certain amount of respect since he had been absolutely right about raising Silas.

They had yet to come to an agreement when Tristan had attacked. Klaus rather doubted they ever would. Still, he knew his brother. A common enemy was the one thing that could unite them and being put down once more would not sit well with Kol. He'd want to play his part in making Tristan pay, particularly if it allowed him to live without limits for a time.

Freya still seemed to have some doubts about this particular course of action. Keeping his eyes on the road Klaus attempts to reassure her, "Kol's minder will want a hot shower and some food after battling the storm and that generator. We have more than a fair head start. It's possible they'll head straight to bed, won't bother with an unscheduled check on Kol."

"I know," Freya mutters absently. "I did the scouting, remember?"

"And did it brilliantly," Klaus compliments. "With a level of detailed paranoia that almost makes it seem like you'd spent centuries with us instead of just a few years."

She rolls her head to look at him, face flat and unimpressed with his joke, "I have been running, Niklaus. You realize that, don't you? I had less than two years free of Dahlia and then Tristan came after you. There's a price on my head. Something like twenty million dollars, last I heard."

"Hmm. I think that's a bit of a low ball, to be honest. But it doesn't surprise me that Tristan's cheap."

She doesn't reply or even crack a smile. Klaus sobers, presses his lips together and considers his words carefully, "You won't have to run anymore, Freya. I promise you that."

Freya sighs, glances back at Kol's greyed form. She looks uneasy, and Klaus understands. Kol was never one to sit still, and rarely silent. Seeing him in such a state for the first time must be unnerving. "I know. And you're paying for a hell of a vacation when all this is done. Tropical island, fruity drinks, spas. You staying out of trouble and me not having to lift a finger for weeks."

"Done," Klaus agrees. The aftermath of this will be messy, loose ends in the form of Tristan's supporters, will need to be brought to heel. But he, Elijah, Rebekah and Kol are perfectly capable of handling that. Freya, as a witch, retains certain sensibilities about the sanctity of life. She doesn't have the stomach for the things Klaus and his siblings will be doing to secure their positions. Best for her to be away. With guards, of course. "Pick anywhere you want, sister. I'll make it happen."

She appears mollified, lets her body settle into her seat, "I'm going to hold you to that," she warns.

"I'd expect nothing less."

She was a Mikaelson. And they always collected on their debts.

Descending the staircase the next morning Caroline's surprised by the flurry of activity she walks into. The front door is open, a car parked outside, servants loading luggage into it. Aurora's seated on a chaise, out of the fray, dressed for travel. A man Caroline's never seen before is perched on the arm of it, looking down at Aurora dotingly.

He glances up when she nears, his eyes widening in recognition. Caroline cringes, wishes she'd slept in and managed to miss Aurora's departure. It's always awkward when she has no recollection of people she'd met before she lost her memories, though she's only had to muddle through with a few of Tristan's most trusted allies. Aurora beams up at her, snags her arm and tugs her down. "Oh, Caroline! I'm so glad I caught you before we left. There is someone you must meet. Caroline, this is Lucien, Lucien, this is Caroline, a very dear friend."

Huh. So maybe they hadn't met before. She knows who he is, once Aurora gives her a name. The other woman's talked about him fairly often, over the years, though not as often as she speaks of a 'Nik.'

Caroline wonders if there was a tactful way to tell the guy that Aurora was into him, but not that into him. And that Tristan hated his guts and would be happy to mount his head over the fireplace.

But that was probably none of her business.

She tunes back in to Aurora's rambling, "…what the fuss is about. But he's off to Ireland and Lucien's taking me to Milan. Promised to buy me all sorts of trinkets to make up for neglecting me all these years." Aurora finishes with an exaggerated pout she aims in Lucien's direction. There seems to be real hurt in her posture, accusation in her wide eyes.

If he notes it he doesn't comment or apologize. Lucien moves closer, throws an arm around Aurora, dropping a lingering kiss to her neck, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, my love. Don't you agree, Caroline?" he asks and offers her a genial smile.

Caroline smiles tightly in response, "I wouldn't really know. Where's Tristan, Aurora?"

She rolls her eyes. "His office, of course. Been locked in there for ages."

"I should speak to him, see what's happening with my trip." Caroline rises, "Enjoy Milan. It was nice to meet you, Lucien."

"Likewise," he murmurs. "And I've a feeling our paths will cross again someday." His surety gives her pause and the considering look he wears makes her a little uncomfortable. But maybe that's just the way of really old vampires.

She leaves quickly, without a reply or a backwards glance. She dodges the frantic bustling of the staff on her way to Tristan's office. They seem frazzled, and if she had to guess she'd say it's because whatever's happened has put Tristan in a mood. He's not one to appreciate deviations from his plans and schedules.

She taps softly on his door, almost hopes that he won't answer. But his, "Enter!" comes immediately and she slips into his office. Tristan barely glances up, typing furiously on his laptop, "Caroline, have a seat. I'm afraid there's been a change of plans. You'll fly out tonight. And I'll need you to work quickly. Several things have happened overnight and any information you can get me could be crucial."

"What has happened?" she asks tentatively, lowering herself into one of the leather armchairs that sit opposite the desk.

There's a hot flash of rage in his eyes before it's marshalled, Tristan's usual icy control overruling it. "One of the Mikaelsons has been released."

Caroline's breath catches, her hands curling around the arms of the chair, the instinctive kick of fear that name always inspires landing hard in her chest. "Klaus?" she asks. Because she has to know.

The tapping of keys ceases for a moment, Tristan finally looking at her. "No," he assures her gently. "Kol. The younger brother. He's likely the easiest to contain, however. That's where I'm headed." Tristan stands and circles the desk, stopping before her. He reaches out and tilts Caroline's head up with a finger underneath her chin until she has no choice but to look at him. "And I will contain him. You needn't worry, pet. My promise holds. So long as I'm alive Klaus will never harm you again."

She might not trust Tristan but she knows, with complete certainty that he'll stop at nothing to see Klaus kept down. Klaus will come for him, and Tristan enjoys his position, not to mention his life. It's in her best interest, at this point, to aid Tristan.

Caroline nods, forces a light tone, "Guess I should get packing."

His hand drops to squeeze her shoulder, keeping her in place, "Do that. And don't let me down, Caroline. You've done great things for me, but I need you at your best. Things have never been more precarious, pet. If Klaus awakens he's coming for us. If I fall, you'll be at his mercy. You understand that, don't you?"

She does, very well. She retains nothing of the weeks Klaus had held her. But sometimes she dreams of pain. Vervain, wooden bullets, being burned by the sun. Poison crawling through her veins, leaving her feverish and shaking as it gnawed at her from the inside out. Tristan and Aurora hadn't held back the details of how they'd found her. Or various stories of other things Klaus had done, people he'd destroyed. And with a thousand years of acts violent, spiteful and cruel to draw on, those kinds of tales were never in short supply.

"I won't let you down," she promises.

Her dreams of freedom will just have to wait.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Mouse Trap Game

Klaus had often let his thoughts wander, while he'd been imprisoned. To all the things he missed, places and activities he enjoyed. He did it to keep himself focused and some of the thoughts had been completely mundane. But crowds of humans, cramped seats and horrid food, had not been among them.

He and Freya are on their way to New Zealand and it's not going particularly well.

He was technically supposed to still be in that sterile room in Chicago, and as such his fortune was out of reach. He'd been reduced to petty thievery. Freya had produced a passport from somewhere, but clothing and other essentials had needed to be procured. A credit card had been liberated from a man at a bar, his diamond encrusted watch and deliberate flashing of the black card making him a logical mark. A quick compulsion ensured he'd not miss it.

That had been the easy part.

Flying commercial means layovers, and wasted time, when they've precious little of it. It set him on edge. Klaus' desire to slaughter various travelers in the Guangzhou airport was strong. The only thing holding him back was the knowledge that staying outside of Tristan's notice was their best option. Massacres tended to draw attention.

Klaus is almost glad of the distraction the ringing of Freya's burner phone provides, the staring contest he'd engaged in with a small child growing old. He assumes it's Kol, with an update on his carousing. His brother had taken the witches up to Dublin, intent on causing a scene and waiting for Tristan to find him. And then hopping to the next biggest city. Tristan wouldn't let Kol go without eyes on him, would set trusted people on his trail to report back.

The thinner Tristan's forces were spread, the better.

Kol had drained several tourists before he'd been sated. He'd raged, left an old building unstable upon finding out how long he'd once again been put down for. Klaus had allowed it, to a point. But he'd only so much patience, a clock ticking in his head. He'd snapped at Kol to focus, told him there was work to do. Didn't he want revenge, for what Tristan had done? Kol had managed to pull himself together and Klaus had been able to convey what he needed. Kol had been incredulous, "You're asking me to misbehave?" he'd exclaimed with a grin. "How novel. What a terrible influence you are, Nik. Whatever would Elijah say?"

They both knew that for all Elijah's protestations of upright morality he'd understand that the end justified the means. Klaus hadn't bothered with the dig. "You just need to convince Tristan that you're not interested in politics. That you just want to live, gorge, fuck. Carouse with your witch saviours. That you want no interference, especially from me. Can you do that?"

Kol had looked insulted, "Of course I can do that. Bloody hell, Nik. It's not even a lie. I've no taste for your power plays. Making nice with people who think themselves important. Is there anything duller?"

Satisfied, Klaus had sent Kol and his little friends off, with instructions to make regular contact. He's proven wrong however, when Freya lets out an irritated groan, bringing the phone to her ear. "Lucien, you're not supposed to contact me unless it's an emergency. And please tell me you're not having one of those already. If you can't entertain a woman for longer than a few days you're nowhere near as charming as you'd like to think."

Klaus can hear Lucien's reply, and the street noise in the background, even over the airport's din, "I'd be happy to demonstrate my stamina for you later, darling. But I need to talk to Nik. There's a complication. One I'm not sure what to do about."

He reaches over and snatches the phone from Freya's grip, paying her indignant protest no mind, "Explain," he spits. 'Complication' was not a word he wanted to hear at this juncture.

Lucien sighs heavily, and from the way the sounds on his end rise and fall Klaus assumes he's moving while he talks. "I'm sure you've guessed that Tristan's plan wasn't a slap-dash sort of thing, right? It took time. And patience. He watched you. All of you. Particularly after you broke your curse and killed Mikael."

"He told me it took sixty years to make the daggers."

"Exactly. And after you went down he made it his mission to eliminate anyone who might try to aid you."

Klaus feels his impatience grow, Lucien's hedging is uncharacteristic and that makes Klaus uneasy. These were all things he knew. "Also something he indicated, during his self-congratulatory speeches, while I was held in Chicago. Make your point, Lucien."

His next words come in a rush, "There were several people in Mystic Falls that caught Tristan's interest."

Klaus clamps his jaw shut to keep from cursing, struggles not to let his hand crush the phone. Because he knows that Lucien's talking about Caroline. She's popped up in his thoughts, since his escape, and he's ruthlessly pushed her aside each time. Told himself that now was not the time to be reaching out to her, even to assure himself of her safety. Not when the stakes are so high. He wonders if that was a mistake.

Lucien continues, sounding more and more reluctant, "He had files. Pictures. Tons of information. There was a human boy that Rebekah was infatuated with – but he seemed to have no interest in anything but settling down and waiting to die. The vampire brothers are glued to the town, something about another doppelgänger, a sleeping curse? Tristan has people watching, just in case they prove useful. He thought to make the Bennett witch an ally but couldn't find her. Nor the werewolf boy. And, as far as I knew, the blonde that you were… friendly with, had escaped his notice too. She left town, after her mother died."

Klaus had known that, had been pleased for Caroline, that she was finally shaking off ties that only held her down, kept her stubbornly tied to a human life, even if he'd regretted the circumstances. And the pain he'd known she must have suffered. But something else in Lucien's words is far more pressing, "As far as you knew? What do you mean by that, Lucien?"

Lucien lets out a long breath. "I saw her. The day before yesterday. With Tristan and Aurora. Prodded Aurora for more information, in a roundabout way. Found out she's been with them for ten years. Works with them."

"What?" The question spills out, low and guttural. A few people shift away from him, sending suspicious glances in their direction.

Lucien hurries to elaborate. Smart man. "Aurora was being well, Aurora. So it was hard to get a coherent answer. Just coy smiles and cryptic remarks about ruined toys. But it sounds as if the girl's not there willingly. I think they did something to her. Tampered with her mind."

Klaus closes his eyes, knowing that they no longer pass for human, his anger winning over his control. He can feel Freya watching him, worry apparent. He takes a deep breath, forces a final question out evenly, "Where is Caroline now?"

"South America? Aurora wasn't entirely sure. Said Tristan sent her on 'another silly errand.' I can press, but she'll not take it kindly is she imagines I've taken an interest in another woman."

"No, don't," Klaus orders. "I have an idea. Just keep Aurora occupied as planned." He hangs up without a goodbye, hands Freya back her phone. Tips his head back, and breathes deeply, takes a moment to reorganize the pieces of his plan.

Freya's patience with his silence doesn't last long. She'd not have been able to hear Lucien's end of the conversation and Klaus has no doubt that his reactions alarmed her. He's holding on to his composure by the barest of threads, and only because he knows he must. "What was that about?" she demands.

He answers her with a question, uncaring if it irritates her, "Who can you send to Virginia? Someone that won't set off alarm bells. Can handle a couple of vampires with a few centuries of age."

She looks even more confused. "I'll make some calls," she says slowly, holding out her hand.

"Quickly," Klaus presses, giving back her phone. "I want someone there immediately."

Freya heeds, him bending her head over the screen, occasionally shooting him concerned glances. He'll have to explain at some point, though it should be easy because he's always assumed that she'd seen Caroline that time she'd drawn power from him, been inside his mind. He'd hated it, still hates it, but has to admit it's been useful, a time or two.

They'll collect Rebekah. One of Freya's contacts will get a lead on the Bennett witch. She'll be useful, when it comes time to get Elijah. And then they'll track down Caroline. Klaus will fix whatever Tristan and Aurora had done to her.

And then, should Caroline want it, he'll be more than happy to share his revenge. There will be more than enough to go around.

There's a method to tackling an assignment and Caroline's honed it to perfection over the years. She's careful, methodical. Doesn't like variables, wants zero surprises when she enters a new situation.

Step one: research.

Tristan keeps records that are both extensive and obsessively detailed. He has a database of vampires, witches, werewolves. What he knows of them, weaknesses that can be exploited. She always starts there. She'd combed through Martina's file, and that of her known associates, on the flight over. And then she'd pulled the files of any vampires with strong ties to South America, just to cover her bases. Covens, too. Some are familiar. It's not the first time she's been in this part of the world.

It's far from her favorite, and she wishes she could avoid it. It always brings her back to when she'd first woken up, how confused and helpless and adrift she'd felt. Aurora and Tristan had never been more cloying than in those first few weeks in Rio. Always asking if she was hungry, concerned that she felt lasting effects of her torture. Constantly assuring her that she'd be fine, and that they cared about her, that she was home and safe. Some of Tristan's most trusted witches had stopped by, to see if anything could be done about her memories, to check that Klaus hadn't left her with any parting gifts of the magical variety.

Each had shaken her head sadly, had offered apologies weighted with pity. There was nothing they could do, they'd said. Her mind was broken, always would be. They'd found no traces of residual magic, but had cautioned her that they couldn't truly be certain. Klaus was a master at covering his tracks, had plenty of practice.

She'd wanted to scream, felt suffocated under the constant reminders of what had happened to her. But she'd stifled the urge, and the desire to barricade herself in her room. She'd tried to be upbeat. Reminded herself that the de Martels meant well, were trying to help her. That she should be grateful, because she'd still be suffering, at Klaus' dubious mercy, if they hadn't rescued her. Caroline had repeated it, over and over again. Until she'd almost believed it.

She usually devotes more time to her prep work, gets out her highlighters and takes notes, looks for patterns and connections. But the urgency of this particular job means there's no time for that, so she'll need to rely on her memory. And she's going to have to streamline step two, cut her usual surveillance short.

Not how Caroline liked to operate but she had little choice, the possibility that her freedom, her life, was in danger never far from her mind.

Getting through customs is always easier with compulsion. Caroline's out of the airport, and in a cab, in under forty minutes. She finds her hotel and unpacks. Indulges in a long hot shower, and gets to work.

Step two: be the perfect lure.

When she's done her curls are perfect, shiny and just a little wild. She's painstaking with her makeup, makes sure her eyes pop and her skin shimmers. Caroline puts on a dress that's cut high on her legs and clingy everywhere else. She throws back a shot of bourbon from the mini bar for luck.

She'll stand out, but that's what she wants.

Caroline makes her way to a club that's purported to be the hub of vampire activity in the area. She's not easing in this time. There will be no finesse. She's barging, and crossing her fingers that it doesn't get her killed.

She walks in like she belongs, shoulders thrown back, wearing haughty confidence like a weapon. Scans the crowd, trying to pick out the vampires in attendance. It's not foolproof, doing it by sight. Younger ones especially sometimes slip under her radar, more human in their mannerisms. But it quickly becomes obvious that there's more than a few of her kind in attendance. Caroline falters, stumbling slightly into a dancing couple, when she spots someone she recognizes. But not someone she'd expected to be here.

Marcel Gerard had become a ghost in the last decade, with few confirmed sightings. He'd supposedly left New Orleans accompanied by a witch, a powerful one, which explained why he'd been able to elude Tristan's reach, despite the fact that he was wanted more than almost every single one of Klaus' known associates combined.

Only Freya Mikaelson was more highly sought.

It takes a lot of willpower for Caroline to collect herself, to resist the urge to turn on her heel and run. Marcel's dangerous, and the thought of speaking to him makes her skin crawl. Fleeing would be the smart play, calling up Tristan and asking for backup. Something stops her, a flash of a thought that's reckless and stupid and kind of crazy. But she can't resist it and her brain begins whirling, a plan forming.

Maybe, just maybe, Marcel Gerard could be her ticket out.

If she could deliver him to Tristan, wouldn't that repay her debt? Couldn't she convince Tristan to let her walk away, free and clear, if she eliminated such a large threat? It'd be the biggest blow to Klaus' supporters yet, would maybe allow Tristan to relax a little. It could very well be her best shot of getting out cleanly.

It couldn't hurt to try, Caroline decides. What did she really have to lose?

"Ugh, I cannot believe I have to burn that dress. It was so lovely. Well-constructed. Flattering. And do you know how much it cost? I'll never find another one, not ten years later."

Rebekah paces as she rants, wrapped in a hotel bathrobe, vigorously rubbing a towel through her hair. Klaus watches her, sprawled across a sofa, bottle of bourbon in hand. He's got plenty of experience with Rebekah's temper, knows letting her wind down on her own is the best option. She's alternated between complaining about her current situation, peppering him with questions about his plans, and spitting some very unladylike threats against Tristan's life and manhood since she'd been awakened.

Klaus is perfectly willing to let her carry most of them out.

Freya's tucked into one of the suite's bedrooms, tired from the use of her powers during their retrieval of Rebekah. The two vampires, close associates of Marcel's who'd been drafted for this particular errand, are out disposing of the remains of Rebekah's meal and should return shortly.

Joshua is a bit frightened of Rebekah, smart lad that he is. So Klaus can only hope that she's calmed by the time he returns. He'd been surprised to see the boy, even more surprised by how useful he'd been. Rebekah's prison, like his, had been situated in a populated area, the technological protections extensive.

But Josh had handled them neatly, coordinated things with Freya. They'd used a decoy body this time, Freya less certain of where to find those who Tristan paid to report on Rebekah's state. A few drops of Rebekah's blood, a few illusion spells. They wouldn't hold for more than a few weeks, but that's all the time Klaus needed.

He could be patient, but not that patient.

He's tuned out Rebekah's voice, until she throws herself down next to him and gestures impatiently for the bottle. "Honestly, Nik. Where are your manners?"

She's unfazed by the unimpressed look he tosses her way, reaches over and takes the liquor when it's not offered quickly enough for her liking, sloshing some of it onto the carpet in her haste. "I only stole the one bottle. Don't waste, Bekah," Klaus admonishes.

"Poorly planned," she snipes, taking a healthy swig. "Speaking of, where are we off to next?"

"South Africa. Depending, of course, on a few contingencies."

Rebekah nods approvingly, "For Elijah. And then?"

"And then I do believe we should head back to New Orleans. Have Kol join us. Invite all of our oldest, dearest, friends."

Bekah rolls her eyes, "Of course you cannot resist returning to the scene of the crime. Planning on making a grand spectacle of your return?"

Klaus grins, liberates the bottle, paying no mind to the dirty look Rebekah shoots him, easily dodging her attempts to snatch it back. "The people enjoy a good show. Why not give them one?"

Rebekah opens her mouth, likely to berate his dramatic tendencies. Hypocritical, but it wouldn't be the first time. Klaus gestures for her to be quiet, hearing Josh and Gia approach, bickering in low tones. Something about Josh forgetting the matches. They fall silent as they enter the room, both freezing momentarily when they notice the attention they're being paid. Gia recovers first, "I'm exhausted," she claims. "Going to head to bed."

Klaus inclines his head towards the second bedroom, "I don't sleep much. Take that room. It's not a problem for you and Joshua to share, is it?"

Gia shrugs, "Wouldn't be the first time. And we've stayed in way slummier places." She addresses her next comments to Josh, "Hog the covers again and I'll break your hands." She offers Klaus and Rebekah a faint smile, and exits the room at a quick pace.

Leaving a slightly awkward silence as Josh shifts restlessly near the door. Like he expects Klaus to bite him. Again.

"Drink, Joshua?" Klaus offers mildly. "I'm sure there's a glass around here somewhere."

Josh glances at the bottle and shakes his head, shifting once more. Klaus is surprised he's not grown out of such nervous tics. "No. Thanks. Uh, I'm just going to call Marcel, give him the news that things went alright here. See what's up on his end."

"Feel free," Klaus tells him. And it's really more of a demand, one Josh hears loud and clear.

"Ookay then," he mutters, turning slightly away and pulling out his phone. He doesn't bother to keep his voice down, aware that Klaus and Rebekah can hear him. He and Marcel chat for a few moments after the call connects, Josh relaying the details of their successful revival of Rebekah succinctly. He asks Marcel how things are where he is and Klaus straightens from his lax posture, hearing suspicion, maybe a little worry, in Marcellus' answer.

"There's a new vampire in town. Showed up out of the blue a few days ago, no connection to anyone, never been here before. Feels a little convenient, you know? Things being what they are."

Klaus is out of his seat, ripping the phone out of Joshua's hand immediately. Complications are not welcome, not at this stage. "What's his name?"

"Good to hear from you too, Klaus," Marcel replies sarcastically. "I'm fine, alive and kicking, thanks for asking." Klaus can hear music on his end, loud and upbeat. Marcel always did enjoy the nightlife.

"There will be plenty of time for pleasantries, family bonding, after we've won, and various enemies are no longer trying to kill and imprison us. We can play catch, if you'd like. Now, what's his name?"

"Her name. And she says it's Caroline."

Klaus pauses, goes very still upon hearing that name. It's not an uncommon one, but he's never believed in coincidence. He just knows. Rebekah sucks in a shocked breath, the bottle hitting the coffee table loudly as she stands. Vaguely Klaus notes Josh's head swivelling between him and Rebekah with great interest. "A tall blonde?" Klaus questions urgently, needing to be sure. "American, young, attractive?"

"All of the above," Marcel confirms. "And always dressed to kill. You know her? Is she one of yours? Or one of Tristan's?"

Klaus loathes that he doesn't know the answer to that question. "I'm not entirely certain. She was a friend, once upon a time. You need to detain her. But do not hurt her," Klaus orders, the words clipped and harsh. "Do you understand?"

If Marcel finds Klaus' ferocity, or his request, odd he doesn't comment. "I can do that," he agrees easily. "Martina's got cells that will hold her just fine."

Klaus wants to refuse that, dislikes the idea of putting Caroline in a cage. But he holds back. There's much he doesn't know. He'd like to believe that Caroline wouldn't work against him, not anymore. His instincts bend that way. The last time they'd parted it had not been as adversaries.

But caution must prevail. She had opposed him before, worked to put him down. Klaus needs to remember that. Still, there was no need to be barbaric about it. Just this once he'd keep to the principle of innocent until proven guilty. "Keep her fed, see what you can find out. Gently."

"Kid gloves. Got it. I'll call you when I get something."

"Brilliant. Good-bye, Marcel."

Klaus hands Josh back the phone, cuts the boy off before he can make the glib remark he's about to. "Go to bed, Joshua," he snaps. The boy's contributions today had been valuable, he didn't deserve to have his neck snapped. And Klaus wasn't certain he could resist, in his current mood.

Josh is self-preserving enough to obey, retreating to the room he and Gia had been assigned and closing the door behind him.

Leaving Klaus alone with Rebekah, who's unlikely to be so accommodating to Klaus' wants. He can feel the weight of her stare, knows she's incredulous. Her voice has ticked up in pitch when she questions him, "Do not tell me that Caroline Forbes is somehow involved in all of this, Nik."

Klaus sighs, doesn't bother to face her, "I cannot do that, sister. Because I don't know."

"How could she be? She's a nothing from nowhere. I'd have hoped she'd be done with her tendency to meddle in affairs she can't handle. But perhaps she's stupider than I assumed."

"Time will tell," Klaus grits out, forcing his face into a neutral expression before he turns.

Rebekah studies him shrewdly, "What aren't you telling me?"

"A good many things. As always."

Her teeth snap together, a hand flashing to the side. Klaus dodges the bottle she lobs at his head. "Wasteful," he scolds, after it smashes into the wall behind them.

"Don't you realize that's why we're in this mess?" she hisses, stalking towards him, her anger making her tremble. "Your paranoia, your need for control. Your ridiculous inability to accept that not everyone's out to get you. You wouldn't tell us anything, wouldn't trust us. And we all lost another ten years of our lives. Because of you."

A sharp stab of something like guilt pierces him, but he refuses to let it show.

It's a thought Klaus had often circled back to, during those endless cycles, in that cold white room. He'd done what he thought best back then. As he always has. As he'll continue to do. But it might be expedient, to consider what he could have done differently, better. Learn from the experience, so it's not repeated. He knows Rebekah makes a good point. He'll have to unbend, at least a little, if this is going to work.

But that will have to wait awhile longer. There are too many things he doesn't know just yet, and Rebekah's impulsive, liable to act without thinking. He's accepted that he needs her. Kol and Elijah too. But he's not ready for full transparency just yet. "A drop in the bucket. What's a decade to a millennium?" Klaus replies reasonably, dismissively, knowing she'll take it badly.

She shoves past him, making a noise of infuriated disgust, low curses in their mother tongue falling freely. She throws open the door to Freya's room, slams it so hard the frame cracks. He hears Freya's sleepy mumble, asking what's wrong followed by Rebekah's clipped reply, telling her everything was fine. That she needn't worry and should go back to sleep.

Klaus smiles to himself, listening to Rebekah's movements in the other room as she crawled into bed.

They were often more alike than not, he and Rebekah.

He returns to his seat, settles in for a long night. He'll listen and make sure they have no unwanted company. And wait for Marcel's next call.

When Caroline comes to she's stiff, her upper neck achy. It's a familiar sensation. She'd woken up feeling like this often after having been beaten in a training session. Tristan was ruthless, hadn't seen the point on taking it easy on her. Klaus, and those loyal to him, he'd told her, each time she'd lost, would show her no mercy. He thought it was best if she was prepared for that.

But it's been a while and she winces as she becomes more alert. She stays still, trying to work out where she is. She'd gone back to the club last night, hoping to strengthen the tentative connections she'd been making, in hopes of getting an introduction to someone on a higher rung in Martina's organization. They've been tough to crack, warier than she'd been expecting. It had raised her hackles, made her think that something major really was about to go down.

And that feeling had only made Caroline more determined to succeed.

She remembers flirting with one of the woman's underlings. He'd been a little drunk, his eyes glued to her boobs, and she's fairly certain that he wouldn't have been able to repeat a thing she was saying, even if he'd had a stake pressed to his heart. Caroline had been pleased at her progress until something behind her had caught the vampire's attention and his eyes had widened fractionally. Caroline had fallen silent but before she could turn she'd felt a solid frame at her back, big hands on her neck.

She hadn't had time to even consider fighting back before everything had gone dark.

So much for all those beatings she'd taken, the lessons she'd been meant to learn.

And it only takes a couple seconds for Caroline to realize that she's completely screwed, that the chances of this incident being innocuous are minimal. Temporarily killing someone didn't exactly say 'Welcome to the neighborhood!' She's resting face down on a thin, lumpy mattress. She's cold and damp and the room smells like earth and concrete, the slightest hint of vervain stinging her nostrils.

It was exactly what she'd expect an old vampire's creepy fancy dungeon would smell like.

A voice, deep and smooth, interrupts her growing alarm, "I know you're awake."

Her eyes squeeze shut, and she curses her luck. Caroline's never spoken to this man, but she has a sinking feeling she knows exactly who he is. And she isn't just a little screwed. She is epically and irrevocably fucked. Caroline tenses, muscles locking, hands curling, ready to spring. Something scrapes against concrete, several feet behind her.

"I just want to talk," he says, sounding completely relaxed. Friendly, even.

She pushes herself up in one swift movement, faces her captor through bars soaked in vervain. She's completely unsurprised to discover her assumption correct. It's Marcel Gerard, who'd spoken, his handsome face watching her with great interest. Caroline takes a few steps forward, letting her head tip to the side. Aims for casual indifference, "If you wanted to talk you could have bought me a drink. Kidnapping doesn't really invite a girl's trust, you know? Kind of makes you seem like a perv."

He grins, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair. Marcel's got his boots propped up on the bars, and he looks very comfortable. Like he's not planning on leaving anytime soon. "Ouch. And hey, maybe I would've. But you seemed a little skittish, always careful to keep half a room between us. And since we've never met, I've gotta wonder why that is. Hurt my feelings a little."

"Call it a gut instinct. Flawless perv radar."

"Maybe," he concedes, tipping his head in her direction, still completely refusing to rise to her bait. "Or maybe my reputation precedes me."

"A little full of yourself, huh?"

He doesn't react to her taunt, remains placid and curious. Shifts gears as if this is a pleasant chat, and not an interrogation. "Where are you from, Caroline?"

She sighs, sits back down on the cot. Tries not to cringe at how discolored it is. She makes a production of smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress, crossing her legs. "Maybe you should tell me your name before you ask for my life story."

He makes a disappointed noise, his face falling, "Come on, now. Don't pretend that you're stupid. We both know you're not. You know exactly who I am. And I have a fairly good idea of why you wandered down here. We went through your hotel room, saw you traveled light. And your cell phone only makes calls to one number, with a Paris area code."

"And? Is it a crime to be kind of a loner? Or to like Paris?"

He obviously doesn't buy her defense. At all. "Maybe not. But it is interesting, you poking around right now. An unfamiliar face, with strong ties to the de Martel's home turf. And at such an… unsettled time. There are whispers of a white oak tree found in Canada, you know. That an Original is feeding his way, very indiscreetly, across the UK right at this very moment. And after they've all been gone for a decade? You can't blame a man, especially a man who's got a price on his head, for being paranoid right about now."

Caroline forces a derisive reply, "And you think I have something to do with that? How would that even work? I haven't even been a vampire for twenty years yet. You just snapped my neck."

Marcel shrugs, lets his feet fall and leans towards her, "Age isn't everything. I know that as well as anyone. Brains level the playing field more than most people think."

Caroline hears a heavy tread on stone, and glances towards the door. The vampire she'd been cozying up to last night strolls through the door, barely glancing her way. Which was a little bit of a blow to her ego, if she was being honest. He's got a tall glass, filled with blood, and he hands it to Marcel. Leaves without a word. Caroline tries not to look at the glass, even though her fangs ache to drop. She hadn't fed before going out last night, planning on sneaking sips from men who got handsy on the dance floor. Healing from a major injury always made her extra ravenous, her control over her needs harder to maintain.

Letting Marcel know that, showing a weakness, was out of the question.

She's shocked when he offers her the glass without demanding something in return, carefully maneuvering his hand through the bars. Caroline blinks at him for a moment, wondering if it's a trick. His smile is gentle and wry, "I'm under strict instructions to keep you fed."

"Instructions from who?" Caroline asks suspiciously, slowly getting to her feet once more.

"A guy you don't want to piss off. Maybe you've heard of him? Klaus Mikaelson."

She'd thought it likely that Klaus was the one pulling the strings, aware of where Marcel's loyalties were said to lay. She'd maintained a slim hope that she was wrong. Hearing it out loud makes it real, all of her worst nightmares confirmed and Caroline flinches back until she's pressed to the wall farthest away. Marcel looks surprised, maybe a little concerned, "Hey, it's just blood," he tells her, retrieving the glass and taking a small sip, as if to assure her it's benign. "I promise. No tricks."

She shakes her head, a dry laugh spilling out before she can stop it. "Oh, great. So your boss wants me at full strength, huh? Can't have me weak to start off with. Must be totally boring to torture someone who doesn't have the strength to resist."

Marcel looks genuinely puzzled, moves slowly, like he's afraid to startle her. He crouches, sets the blood just inside the bars once more. "It's not like that, Caroline. I know you work for Tristan. Were it up to me, I'd have killed you. Nothing personal, but we've got a war brewing and I plan on winning it. This laying low thing really isn't my style and I'm sick of running. I'm sure you understand. But Klaus said no. You want to tell me why that is?"

Caroline looks away from him, sinks to the ground, uncaring that the dampness from the wall is seeping into her dress. She brings her knees up to her chest, bites out, "I have a few ideas. None of them good."

He sighs, and stands once more. "For what it's worth I'm pretty sure that whatever you're thinking is wrong."

"I guess we'll see," Caroline replies, unable to help the thread of despair it's laced with. She buries her face in her arms, avoids Marcel's probing gaze. She wants to take back the words. And she's dying to lunge for the blood, but she can't. It's Klaus' offering, his mind game. She won't start it at a disadvantage, owing him something.

Mind games were a specialty of Klaus' and he was very, very fond of them, Tristan had always said.

She refuses to look up, even after Marcel's footsteps have faded away. Merely curls herself into a tighter ball, digs her nails into the skin of her calves to distract herself from her body's wants.

Caroline might be dreading what comes next, but she'll be damned if she doesn't face it on her terms.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: A Slippery Slope

"That girl is terrified of you. Was stone cold, impenetrable. Gave me nothing until I mentioned your name. Then she was like a rabbit trapped in a snare. Twitchy and ready to chew off her own damn leg. What did you do to her?"

Klaus clenches his teeth, stares unseeingly at the city lights below him. The sun's just set on Cape Town, and the view from the high rise they're borrowing (its owner compelled to sit quietly in a corner of the dining room and not get in their way) is beautiful. But spoiled by the conversation he's having with Marcel.

"Absolutely nothing," Klaus defends himself, barely wincing at the lie. But he thought he and Caroline had managed to overcome certain things, their hostile beginning. She'd never truly feared him, even in the aftermath of his worst behavior. Had been filled with nothing but contempt, even as she'd lain dying of his bite. The idea of Caroline cowering, because of the threat of him, is not one Klaus enjoys. "But," he continues, "I believe Tristan made her think I did. Reinforced it, over the years. I mean to make him suffer for that."

"That's… twisted," Marcel proclaims, an edge of revulsion to the statement.

"Indeed. And just Tristan's style. Bring her with you when you come to New Orleans."

"She's not going to come quietly," Marcel warns. "She's refusing the blood I'm offering her but we fly out in less than three days. Not enough time to let her desiccate completely. Do you want me to vervain her or to keep snapping her neck?"

"You snapped her neck?" Klaus repeats, with just a hint of menace.

"Sure did," Marcel replies, unconcerned. "It was either that or risk her giving me the slip. Would you rather I had lost her? She woke up, no worse for wear."

Klaus breathes out heavily through his nose, gripping the railing of the balcony so tightly it gives. "We're going to need to have a chat about your loose interpretation of instructions, Marcellus."

"Sounds like a great time," Marcel drawls sarcastically. "But you didn't answer my question."

It's an easy choice, though he hates that he must make it. "Her neck, if you must." It's quick, relatively painless. Klaus is sure that Caroline would prefer it, if presented with those options. He still remembers her face, the raw burns left on it from the vervain after she'd run from Alaric, the hoarseness of her voice as she'd thanked him. "But maybe try a little of that charm you claim to have in such abundance. Coax her into trusting you."

The soft laugh Marcel lets out is disbelieving, "I don't see that happening. She doesn't strike me as the trusting type. But I'll give it a shot." Klaus' phone buzzes, a text coming through. It's Rebekah, letting him know she's on her way up with the items she'd been sent to collect.

Bonnie Bennett had been in Thailand, of all places. Rebekah had gone that way, with strict instructions, taking Marcel's vampires with her. He and Freya had gone ahead and set up a base in this city, scoped out Elijah's current resting place. It had seemed prudent, to split up for a time. He and Rebekah were less recognizable separately then they were together.

Klaus does hope his sister's minded his demands to be gentle. Bonnie Bennett was going to be most displeased to see Klaus, alive and well, as it was. No need to start their negotiations on a bad note.

"Do that," Klaus instructs Marcel. "And I'll see you in a few days."

He ends the call and re-enters the apartment, pacing as he waits for Rebekah to arrive. When she does Klaus lets out an exasperated sigh. Which Rebekah haughtily ignores. She has who he believes to be the Bennett witch slung over one shoulder, and she's pulling a sizeable trunk along behind her. Freya emerges from one of the bedrooms, surveys the scene and grows anxious. Probably objects to Rebekah's treatment of the young witch. But Klaus has no doubt that she'd have fought, applied aneurysms first, and not bothered to ask questions later, so perhaps he understands Rebekah's course of action.

"She had a guard dog," Rebekah informs Klaus, nodding back to the trunk. "Vampire. Talked incessantly." She's gentle when she sets Bonnie onto the couch, even propping a pillow under the witch's head. Klaus supposed the care was better late than never. Hopefully the witch would come to agree.

"Leverage?" Klaus questions, eyeing the trunk.

"Probably. The bed smelled of both of them."

"Get him out, then. Threaten to rip out his heart, if you must." Rebekah smiles at that, pleased and anticipatory. She begins to extricate Bonnie Bennett's vampire friend from his makeshift prison, lifting him so he's lying boneless in an armchair. "How long will those herbs you gave Bekah keep her out for?" he asks Freya.

"Six hours? Maybe longer, she's small."

"It was closer to eight, the first time. She put up a bit of a struggle when I tried to give her the second dose. I administered the third pre-emptively."

Freya shakes her head, appearing disappointed, "Rebekah..."

"It wasn't your skull splitting, was it?" Rebekah defends herself. "She can have a little blood, if necessary. Will be right as rain."

Freya sighs heavily, but says no more. She retreats to the dining room table, where her laptop and one of her grimoires rests. Bonnie lets out a soft noise, drawing Klaus' attention to her.

"She won't be out much longer," Rebekah says.

"Right," Klaus mutters, taking a seat across from Bonnie. "This will likely be unpleasant."

Sure enough, once Bonnie's eyes flutter open, and focus on him, he feels immediate pain. It intensifies, as she sits up, her eyes blazing and her hands flying out. "I'd rethink that," Rebekah sing-songs, and Bonnie's head turns. She makes a choking sound, seeing Rebekah's arm wrist deep in her dark-haired friend's chest cavity.

"D-don't," she chokes out, the feeling of her power lifting from Klaus.

Klaus rolls his head to the side, cracking his neck, shaking off the last quivers of pain, "A vampire lover?" he taunts, his amusement true. "My, my how things have changed."

The glare she sends in his direction is withering, "You are the last person who can question my life choices, Klaus. I'd say it's nice to see you but it's really not. I'd kind of hoped never to see you again, even if Junior-you has been on my ass for years."

"I think I'm offended by that," Klaus says mildly. "He's Junior Elijah, if anything. And I managed to find you in days so he's quite obviously incompetent."

"How did you find me?" Bonnie asks suspiciously, eyeing him with reluctant interest.

He had a bit of an advantage, had known where to look, what pressure to apply. "Damon gave you up. You've not met my older sister, Freya," Klaus says, nodding over at her. She offers a small wave, when Bonnie glances her way. The witch's face creases in confusion but Klaus has neither the time nor the desire to explain. "It's a long story. But she's something of an expert in sleeping curses. An offer of her help, my considerable resources at their disposal, and a guarantee that dear Elena will live to a ripe old age unbothered by pesky supernatural business once she wakes, was more than enough for Damon to give me your direction."

He'd also promised not to harm Bonnie, that he only needed to borrow her for a few weeks, but she didn't need to know that.

Bonnie mutters several very dire threats to Damon Salvatore, and Klaus does hope she follows through on at least a few of them. Absence did not make the heart grow fonder, Klaus had found. And Damon Salvatore still made him itch to lash out, to peel just a bit of that smugness away with the liberal application of pain.

Bonnie takes a deep breath, forces herself to calm down, straightening her posture and meeting Klaus' eyes squarely. He almost admires the backbone. "What do you want, Klaus?"

It's only centuries of practice that allows him to maintain a neutral expression, to not let his satisfaction show. He'd anticipated a great deal more resistance. "Bekah, dear. Release Ms. Bennett's friend, would you?"

Rebekah pouts a bit, but does it. And Klaus watches Bonnie cringe at the squelching sound Rebekah's hand makes as it pulls back. She averts her eyes, when Rebekah begins licking the blood off her fingers with a happy hum.

And Rebekah accused him of being overly theatrical. Honestly.

"Let's consider that a show of good faith, why don't we?" Klaus offers with a small smirk. Bonnie's expression shows disbelief, but she doesn't argue.

"Why am I here, Klaus?" she demands. "Again, what do you want? I've been dodging vampires for years, because that dick who declared himself emperor of the universe or whatever, wants me as his little pocket witch. I refuse to live my life at his beck and call. Why would you think I'd want to be at yours?"

Perhaps a rational assumption, given their history. One he quickly debunks, "As delightful as that would be, I'm afraid I don't need such a commitment. Freya's quite powerful in her own right, and there are some matters that really should be kept in the family. I'm just asking for a few weeks of your time. A couple of favors. A little assistance in retrieving my brother and putting down Tristan de Martel. And then you may be on your way, and I'll never contact you again. I'll even throw in a nice cash reward, how's that? Rebekah told me you were staying in a hostel. Sounds dreary."

But Bonnie resists, her eyes narrowed, "There has to be a catch."

Klaus sighs, leans forward. This one had occasionally been smarter then he'd credited her. It seemed that hadn't changed. "When was the last time you spoke to Caroline?" He asks, watching her reaction with interest.

Her brows furrow, at the shifting of the subject, and her eyes drift upwards in thought. "God, it's been forever."

"Just over ten years, I'd wager."

She doesn't miss the accusation in the statement and bristles slightly, "Caroline said she wanted to forget Mystic Falls for a while. And I figured 'a while' meant something a little different to a vampire. So we gave her space. She sent me postcards for a year or so but then everything went crazy and I was always on the move. I thought they just weren't getting to me. Last one I got was from St. Petersburg. It said that the food was better than expected but that winter kind of sucked."

"And did it not occur to you, given Tristan's interest in you, that Caroline might also be in danger?

Bonnie looks taken aback, "What? Why would she…" she trails off, eyes widening in understanding, the pieces clearly snapping together. "Oh, because of you," she breathes, horrified. "I didn't…"

"Didn't think," Rebekah interjects, sounding bored. "Not surprising, given your level of experience in such things. You have plenty of power but your strategies always left something to be desired. Frontal attacks are rarely the way to go."

Klaus shoots Rebekah a warning look and she falls silent obligingly. "Where is she?" Bonnie asks, standing up, growing frantic. "Is she okay? Please tell me she's alive."

"She's alive," Klaus confirms, and Bonnie sags in obvious relief. "And physically she is perfectly fine. But some of her memories seem to be missing. Everything about me, my family. And I'd wager more but I can't be sure. She's in trusted hands right now, will meet up with us at our next location. You're welcome to tag along, after Elijah's been awakened."

"Tag along where?" Bonnie asks warily. Klaus pays her reluctance no mind, grins up at her, because he's certain she's agreed, even if she's not confirmed it yet.

"New Orleans. There's something symmetrical about it that appeals, don't you think?"

She rolls her eyes. "Enzo comes too. Unharmed. Unthreatened. He's a friend of Caroline's. He'll want to help."

Klaus glances over at the still unconscious vampire, studying the face more carefully. It does look a bit familiar, perhaps he's noted it in one of the photographs sent his way from his occasional check-ups on Caroline's well-being. The fingers on the hand Klaus can see are just beginning to twitch, signs of the nerves in the vampire's spinal cord mending. He returns his attention to Bonnie, inclines his head, "I agree to your terms."

Bonnie smiles tightly, and seems to be at a loss, now that they've reached an accord. They're officially on the same side, and that has to sit strangely with her. She lets her eyes wander around the room, shifting her weight. She pauses on the human gentleman in the corner, but manages to refrain from commenting. She's obviously uncomfortable but unwilling to break the silence.

Freya, who had been quietly observing the conversation stands, smiles warmly as she approaches. "I suppose it's up to me to attempt to be civilized, isn't it?" She leans over the couch, offers her hand to "Bonnie. "Hi. Freya Mikaelson. I'm going to order some food. Do you like Thai?"

"I do," Bonnie says slowly.

"I do as well," Rebekah pipes up. She's slung her legs over the arm of a chair, and barely looks up from her bloody nails. "And we should probably feed our host," she finishes absently. "Unless, are we killing him?" she asks, looking to Klaus in question.

Klaus shakes his head no, mostly to appease the Bennett witch. Sparing one life, even that of a lech who'd been easily lured by Freya's attempt at doe eyed naivety, despite being old enough to have fathered her, was a small price to pay for a smooth partnership.

Once Elijah's up and among the living the need for secrecy lessens greatly. Kol, at last report, has made his way to London, with several of Tristan's people on his tail. Tristan himself had left Europe. Klaus is fairly certain that Tristan had set off for the white oak tree that had been rumored to have been found in rural Ontario. He'd not trust a minion with so important a duty, will likely scour forests himself. The image is amusing, because few people were less suited to the great outdoors then Tristan de Martel. He'd been born in a castle, had never had to hunt for a meal, build shelter, feed his own fires. Thought such things beneath him.

He'd probably be secretly grateful that his adventures in forestry would have to be cut short.

Their next step was a rendezvous with Lucien in Milan. He seemed to be above board, had checked in faithfully with details Aurora had spilled. They were mostly meaningless, but that was to be expected. Tristan would never trust Aurora with something crucial, something that could hurt him. Freya has assured Klaus that the spelled mark on Tristan's chest functioned both as a method of tracking him, should his cooperation not continue, as well as a way to kill him without having to get bloody or even be in the same timezone.

Expedient, if altogether less fun.

They'd secure Aurora, the perfect bait. The only thing Tristan would take a risk for. Kol would join them. And then they'd fly to New Orleans, Marcel and various other allies set to flood the city. Invitations would be issued, all civilized-like, to those in Tristan's pocket. With any luck, a decent number of them would be stupid or arrogant enough to show, lessening the necessity of hunting them down.

They would fix up the house, prepare for Tristan's imminent arrival. No finer form of family bonding, in Klaus' opinion.

Caroline's learned her lesson, doesn't move a muscle when awareness trickles in. She doesn't have long until she'll need to breathe and it will become obvious that she's awake. Might as well take any advantage she can get, glean what she can from her senses.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes obvious that no escapes will be happening at the moment. She's pretty clearly on a plane, the sounds and smells distinct. Even if she could overpower her captors (doubtful, since they mostly had her beat age wise) it's not like she was going to be able to jump out and get to freedom. Would the impact kill her? Probably not. But Caroline had no desire to make herself a bone and blood pancake. Having to heal from an injury of that magnitude would suck.

Resisting the urge to curse, to make her dissatisfaction known, Caroline sits up, and stretches her arms out in front of her shifting until her spine lets out a satisfying crack. There's a cooler next to her, its contents no mystery. She forces herself not to think about it, to push the hunger aside. Marcel's in the seat across from her, as expected. He's basically been her shadow since she first woke up in that cell. There's a woman next to him, dark haired and very beautiful. Her heart beat sounds like a human's, and Caroline would have guessed her identity even if she'd never seen her picture. She'd been young in it, still a teenager. Davina Claire's been widely credited with helping Marcel elude Tristan for so long. Tristan had never been able to get a solid lead, despite the myriad of tracking spells he'd commissioned over the years.

"Afternoon, Caroline," Marcel greets genially.

Caroline musters a glare, rolling her neck to the side. "Smart. Skipping the 'good' part."

His smile remains, no trace of regret. "Orders are orders. And mine are to get you to New Orleans in one piece."

"Lucky me," Caroline mutters, leaning over to look out the window. It's blue water, as far as the eye can see and she wonders how long she's been out.

"We're still over the Pacific," Marcel supplies. "But we should pass over Panama before long." Caroline doesn't acknowledge that he's spoken, as she generally tries to do when he speaks to her like they're friends. Marcel's remained kind and solicitous no matter how icy or hostile her responses and it's confusing. She's been looking for a hole, something she can exploit but he's given her nothing useable so far. He seems content to follow Klaus' word but Caroline can't quite figure out why. He doesn't seem to fear Klaus, and she'd caught bits of a phone conversation once. He'd joked, mocked even, in an easygoing way. It doesn't add up or fit with the image Caroline has of who Klaus Mikaelson is. He seemed the type to like his minions quiet and subservient and Marcel had been neither.

She can't help the stiffening she does at his next words. She's been working on it, but she always reacts to the name. "I just spoke to Klaus again. It seems that the whole family's up and kicking."

He's mentioned Klaus often, every time they've spoken, and he always watches her reactions carefully, tracking her flinches and clenching fists. Caroline has no doubt that he's reporting back every detail. Davina Claire lets out a scoff, not glancing up from her phone's screen, "Marcel, come on. Don't say that like it's a good thing."

Caroline can see Marcel's eyes roll upwards, and his reply is exasperated, "D, we've been through this. I know you don't like working with Klaus but…"

Davina brushes off the gentle reminder, "Blah blah blah, better the devil you know. I get it. Doesn't mean I have to want him back."

"You're not a fan?" Caroline finds herself asking. "Of Klaus?"

"God no," Davina says, nose wrinkled in revulsion. "He's awful. Deserves to rot in eternal misery. I'm only helping because several of Tristan's most wanted are my friends. They'll never be safe with things like they are right now. Plus, New Orleans is home and I want to be able to go back."

Marcel makes belated introductions, "Davina Claire, meet Caroline Forbes."

Caroline smiles tightly, a habit more than anything, and notes that Marcel's discovered her last name somehow. It's not on her travel documents, and she's fairly certain that she knows his source. She feels the ball of dread that's been sitting heavily in her stomach grow a little. It probably wasn't a good sign that Klaus remembered her.

Davina looks up, her head tipping to the side as she surveys Caroline, "So how do you know Klaus?" she asks.

"I don't," Caroline tells her shortly, unwilling to get into the details. At least not until she's had to chance to feel Davina out a little. Marcel's a bust but if the witch is only on Klaus' side reluctantly, it's possible that's an angle Caroline can play.

Marcel makes a noise, a considering hum, "Now that's not strictly true. At least according to Klaus."

Caroline rolls her eyes, "Yeah, well I'm not claiming I know the guy. I might not remember him but I doubt we exchanged friendship bracelets between torture sessions. And hey, his rep suggests he's kind of a liar, doesn't it?"

Davina seems to agree, "She makes an excellent point." Caroline's answering smile is genuine, and Davina returns it tentatively. "What do you mean you don't remember?"

Caroline shrugs, "I woke up like ten years ago and everything was blank."

"That's awful," Davina commiserates, her face softening in her sympathy.

Caroline tries to play it off, "Could have been worse. I had people to help me, a place to stay." She keeps her tone light, dismissive. Caroline has no reason to trust these people (hello, is currently being held against her will!) and she's never been able to handle being pitied. She'd done her best with what had happened, persevered even in times when it had seemed pointless. She didn't need anyone feeling sorry for her.

"Tristan?" Marcel guesses, his expression speculative.

"Ugh, he gives me the creeps," Davina mutters, a delicate shudder leaving her shifting in her seat.

Caroline can't really blame her. Tristan could definitely be a little intense and off putting. She meets Marcel's gaze squarely, "And Aurora. They were there when I woke up, showed me the ropes."

"Of what?"

"Being a vampire mostly. All I knew when I woke up was that I was starving. I had no idea how to control it." Though she'd mastered the cravings quickly, and had only killed unintentionally that first time. Tristan had praised her strength, even if he'd not seen the point of her denying herself. Both the de Martels fed fairly indiscriminately, various servants tasked with cleaning up leftovers. Caroline had always just thought it a waste, preferring neatness and subtlety to all out gorging.

"And I bet you felt all sorts of grateful, right? Alone in the world with nothing but them."

Caroline looks back out of the window, keeping her face carefully blank at Marcel's too knowing statement. It's something she'd thought herself, too many times to count. She'd been so tempted to leave, but the idea that she owed the de Martels a debt had always stopped her from actually doing so. Her plan to capture Marcel, as half-baked and ill-advised as it turned out to be, is the closest she's come to finally working up the courage to get out. She'd always figured that a home, even one that didn't quite fit, was better than nothing. That having people that knew her was better than being a faceless nobody in a massive crowd somewhere. It's taken a long time for her to get to a point where she wonders if that's really true. But maybe that's just a vampire thing, an instinctive avoidance of change.

Marcel's still focused on her, expectant, his question lingering between them. "Something like that," Caroline replies neutrally.

"Did you ever think that you weren't?" he asks, seeming genuinely curious.

"Alone? Not really. No one ever tried to find me."

"How do you know?" Marcel counters, far too reasonably for Caroline's tastes. He's casually poking holes in her beliefs, and he's not even putting in much effort. "How much of the last ten years have you spent somewhere Tristan sent you, with a fake passport and a mission?"

Caroline's teeth grind together, but she stays quiet. Because the answer to that question is a lot of them. She could probably sit down and do the math but her years had been filled with weeks and months away – gathering information and playing a part – interposed with brief interludes in Tristan and Aurora's company. Had someone wanted to find her it wouldn't have been easy. Had Tristan not wanted her to be found, a tiny voice whispers, he could have made it impossible for anyone who inquired to do so.

"Seems to me that a woman like you would have friends. You're smart, engaging, beautiful. I mean, you've barely said anything to me and I like you. And I saw you work your magic in that club."

"Maybe I'm just manipulative."

"Or maybe that's just all that Tristan wanted you be."

"What's your point, Marcel?" Caroline snaps, mentally berating herself for it even as the words fly out. It's the biggest crack she's allowed since he'd first said Klaus' name and she'd gone shaky and weak kneed. She expects satisfaction, a smugness at besting an opponent but Marcel remains composed.

His hands rise, a placating gesture, "Just making observations. I have no idea what happened to you. But it seems like you have no idea what happened to you either. It's just awfully convenient to me that Tristan was there to pick up the pieces, play on your confusion, and mold you into the perfect little operative."

"We were friends before that," Caroline tells him. It comes out with just a hint of uncertainty, and she hates that Marcel's getting into her head. He'd been raised by Klaus, according to what she knew. The exterior might be attractive, his manner inviting, but he could very well be every bit as poisonous.

"Were there pictures?" Marcel wonders, the innocent edge not fooling Caroline in the slightest. "Old letters or emails?"

There hadn't been, but all of her belongings had been irretrievable. Caroline had been living in Dallas when Klaus had found her, he had burned her home to the ground when she'd refused to allow him entry. And neither of the siblings were particularly fond of sitting for photos – Tristan too paranoid, Aurora too obsessed with spotting imaginary flaws – so she'd never really considered their lack damning.

It irks her now because she wishes she could shoot Marcel down. She should have at least insisted on a trip to Dallas, because something like that must have made the news. She can't afford doubts right now, not with this plane eating up the miles that separate Caroline from New Orleans, from another confrontation with Klaus.

She's not too optimistic about her odds of surviving it as it is, no need to go in a mess of nerves and insecurity.

Instead of answering Marcel's last question Caroline leans forward, her eyes narrowing. "Again, I have to ask, what's your point? I've got nothing to give you. I was sent to Chile almost immediately after returning from Montreal. I know nothing of Tristan's plans because I only had like three conversations with him when I was home. And okay, fine, Klaus wants me delivered and he clearly wants the privilege of ripping out my fingernails himself, or whatever. Why the nice-y nice routine? I already know he's the bad cop so you playing the good cop makes zero sense."

"I'm not playing anything."

Caroline's derisive noise is harsh and guttural.

Marcel ignores her, "Look, your intel doesn't line up with mine. And I trust mine about a million times more than I trust yours. Whatever he's done for you, nothing's ever going to convince me that Tristan's on the up and up. He's spent years playing the politician, claiming he's doing it for the little vampire. How many did he kill, Caroline? All in the interest of staying on top."

Caroline scoffs, "What, are you going to tell me that Klaus is better? That his hands are cleaner than Tristan's?"

"No, I can't do that."

"So what's the point? Why do you keep trying with me?" Caroline slumps back in her seat, suddenly feeling very tired.

He leans forward and Caroline watches warily, but Marcel just grabs the cooler and fishes out a blood bag. He hands it to her, "Going with what I know means you and I are going to be seeing more of each other, so why not be friends?"

Caroline bites her tongue, to hold back the exclamation that wants to erupt. She'd only be repeating herself if she shouted, 'Because it doesn't make any sense!' The other vampires that occupy the plane are giving their little seat cluster a wide berth, but she's certain they're listening. It's what she would do. Marcel's already figured out how to find her cracks, how to mess with her mind. That's bad enough. Caroline refuses to show them to anyone else.

She sets the blood bag aside, even though it's her favorite, and scoots closer to the window. Marcel doesn't comment and begins a quiet conversation with Davina. She listens, because she hasn't given up, still has hope that she'll somehow manage to slip away before Marcel can bring her to Klaus. But the conversation is benign, something about catching up with a friend of theirs once they're in New Orleans. Davina's heartbeat becomes distracting, the slow steady thump of it forcing Caroline to grit her teeth and fight the effort to lunge.

Wouldn't endear her to the woman, and Marcel's ease and attempts at kindness would dissolve, should Caroline's urges get the better of her. It would kill any shot of escape, however slim the odds of her getting one are. And she can't have that.

Grudgingly, she reaches out a hand and takes the blood bag. She won't drink it all. Just a few sips.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Hear Me Out

Patience has never been Klaus' strong suit. Oh, he can exercise it when absolutely necessary. But at times like this, when things are coming together nicely, a satisfactory (for him) ending in sight, it's something of a trial. He's back in the borrowed Cape Town home, its occupant officially dead (Elijah's fault and what Bonnie Bennett doesn't know…) waiting for his brother to finish showering so they can leave.

Klaus waits until he can hear Elijah muttering while he rifles through the closet in the bedroom – a sufficient quantity of suits were to be found, but not labels that he'd ordinarily be caught in – before he makes his way into the room. They can talk, while Elijah dresses. He'd been half crazed on the drive back, and Klaus isn't sure how much he'd retained. Elijah had fallen on the human as soon as they'd entered the flat, his usual preoccupation with neatness gone.

Not that Klaus blamed him. He'd been kept in a cave of all places, desiccated as Rebekah and Kol had been. The magical protections that covered the site were anchored deep in the earth. Elijah's prison had come with a contingent of witches guarding him and Klaus knew that neither the Bennett witch nor Freya were pleased about the pile of bodies they'd left behind.

But he'd given Rebekah the signal anyway, and between the two of them they'd managed to ambush the group before they'd had much time to mount a defense. They were powerful, and obviously very loyal to Tristan if they were willing to live in trailers in the middle of nowhere guarding his brother's lifeless body. No need to leave them alive, and available as a weapon in Tristan's arsenal.

Bekah had stayed behind, accompanied by Bonnie, Gia and Josh, because Freya had reluctantly mentioned that the coven had a few more members. They'd take care of them, torch what remained. Tristan would find out quickly, likely already knew. The protections on the cave had been difficult to crack even with Freya and Bonnie's combined power battering the magic that kept Elijah locked away. Klaus could only assume that Tristan would have been notified the second it fell. They had to move quickly now, and had transportation on standby. Freya was already en route to the airport, had been instructed to make contact with Lucien. It was no time for Elijah to get fussy.

So the man didn't own any cufflinks. Was that really such a tragedy?

"Tick tock, brother," Klaus calls out, making his way to the window. "We need to be leaving."

He can hear Elijah clearly, even though he remains deep inside the walk in, "Where to again, Niklaus? I am dreadfully out of the loop."

It's a benign remark but the delivery makes Elijah's displeasure (and disapproval, but Klaus is accustomed to that) at the situation abundantly clear. That he's the last of them to have been awoken, that so many plans have been set in motion without his knowledge or approval chafed. "Milan," Klaus tells him. "Perhaps we'll have time to stop and getting you something more suited to your tastes, hmm?"

Elijah ignores the joke, emerging in navy pants and buttoning a grey striped shirt, "Somehow I doubt it. I assume the lack of subtlety when I was extracted means that time is of the essence?"

They'd caused a minor cave in, had inadvertently half buried Elijah. He'd been filthy when he'd woken up, and Freya had sheepishly apologized and offered a brief explanation. "Things are well in hand," Klaus assures him but offers no further details.

Klaus watches Elijah's lips thin in the glass door's reflection. He hides a smile when Elijah sighs, sounding remarkably tired considering all the blood he'd recently ingested, "What are we after in Milan, Niklaus?"

"Bait," Klaus tells him succinctly. "And an ally, I suppose. Though I haven't entirely decided how convinced I am of that." He turns, notes Elijah's jerky movements as he knots his tie. Decides that he's likely tried Elijah's patience enough for now, "Aurora's there. With Lucien Castle. Who's evidently been colluding with Freya while we've been out of commission."

Elijah pauses, his expression growing dark. He'd never much liked Lucien, thought him a bad influence on Klaus. Silly really, since Klaus was equally guilty of pushing Lucien into unsavoury actions. They'd had such fun, once upon a time. "You cannot possibly trust him," Elijah states disbelievingly.

"Of course I don't," Klaus replies. "Do you think I've become completely stupid?"

A hint of a smile tugs at Elijah's lips, but he resumes his methodical dressing, "It has been ten years, Niklaus. And you've never been daggered. Perhaps it left you a bit muddled. Not quite up to your usual level?"

"I'm offended," Klaus deadpans, turning to leave the room. "And half-tempted to leave you sitting in the dark, just to prove a point. I'd intended to bring you up to speed on the flight over but…"

Elijah follows him, seemingly in no hurry. "No matter. I'm sure Freya will be happy to supply me with all that I've missed."

"You're probably right. She did advocate waking you first."

"At least one of you has some sense," Elijah says approvingly.

Klaus brushes that away, because his and Elijah's definition of 'sense' have always diverged. "Sensible or not things are going very well. Bekah will finish up here while we go ahead to Milan. I imagine Aurora will be thrilled to see me, and won't even see her fate coming."

"Such confidence," Elijah remarks dryly. "And if she's over you? Ceased her pining? Attempts to murder you with her bare hands?"

"As obsessive as she always was? I doubt it. No, she'll welcome me with open arms and her best attempts at seduction. And it's not as if she could murder me. The only reason I'm alive is Tristan's inability to get his hands on white oak. He'd have put Kol and me down first thing."

Elijah accepts that, knowing it's the truth. As much as Tristan enjoyed torturing Klaus he'd not have risked leaving him alive if he'd had another option. It's what Elijah would have done and his first protégé was very much cut from the same cloth. "We collect your wayward ex-lover. And then?"

Klaus grins, retrieves a set of keys from the table by the door. The man had owned quite the collection of cars. Might as well borrow one. "Then we go home. I imagine the house in New Orleans will need some work, but I'm sure with a little persuasion we can have it fixed right up. We're expecting guests, you know. Need to get out the good towels and such."

"Guests?" Elijah repeats and Klaus detects the faintest note of dread.

"Not to worry, Elijah. There will be plenty of company that meets your approval. Quite a number of your line survived Tristan's purge. I can write you a list of the ones who didn't if you'd like. Petrus de Bennis, for example. Can't say I'm sorry about that one. Bit surprised he didn't prostrate himself and willingly lick Tristan's boots. More backbone than I'd credited him for, I must say."

"All because he called your painting uninspired that one time? Petty, Niklaus."

"I do like a good grudge," Klaus admits cheerily.

"I'm aware," comes Elijah's arid reply. "But I must advocate ending this one with Tristan, once and for all. I'm sure you'd like for him to suffer, but we're safer if he's dead."

"Surely you can allow me a little while to enjoy that suffering?" Klaus asks. "You weren't a captive audience to his self-aggrandizing nonsense all these years."

"I'm sure that was very difficult to endure," Elijah begins, not sounding at all sympathetic. "He surprised us once, exceeded all expectations. I don't believe we should give him another opportunity."

Klaus hasn't made up his mind on that quite yet. He had so many plans, carefully crafted and finely detailed. It would be a shame if they never came to fruition. And yet, Elijah makes a good point.

Not something Klaus will ever admit.

He opens the front door, gestures for Elijah to leave. His brother doesn't budge, is watching Klaus with a raised brow, waiting for an answer. He'll not move, and Klaus would rather not move him, not when things are going smoothly. There will be plenty of time for family squabbles later, once they're firmly ensconced back in New Orleans. "I'll consider it," he allows, meeting Elijah's eyes steadily.

Elijah wants to argue, press his point, but Klaus turns away. His phone rings, and he fishes it out of his pocket, smiles in relief as he brings it to his ear.

He's never been so glad to hear from Kol.

She wakes up face down and sore once again. Less confused than she had been before. With a spark of anger kindling deep in her chest. This is her fourth snapped neck, in a handful of days, by Caroline's count. The only bonus seems to be her improved surroundings each time. From a dank cell underground, to a plush cabin in a private jet. To what seems to be an actual bedroom, the bed underneath her really freaking nice.

Caroline rolls over, eyes scanning the room with interest. She notes the finely carved posts of the bed, the expensive looking art on the walls. And it seems that her captors have seen fit to leave her daylight ring, because there's sunlight streaming across the room, warming her skin pleasantly. She's also alone, for the first time in days, no Marcel in sight. She vaguely remembers him apologizing just before he'd snapped her neck again as they'd disembarked.

Smart of him, because she'd totally been looking for an opportunity to make a break for it. And, knowing her time was dwindling, she would have taken any shot, with little care for being smart or cautious.

Sitting up in the bed Caroline throws off the duvet she'd been covered with. She closes her eyes and listens carefully. She can hear movement, multiple bodies moving around, more than one conversation. Hammering and the whir of an electric sander. But it all seems distant. Below her, at least a floor or two away. Easing her feet onto the plush rug, Caroline stands. Listens again, to see if anyone's paused, or has headed in her direction having noted that she's awake.

But the noise level remains constant, doesn't draw any nearer. She eyes the door, the ten feet she would have to cross to get to it. Decides she has to try. Caroline makes her way across the room, as silently as possible. The door had been left ajar, and her luck holds because the hinges are well oiled, and don't make a sound when she pushes it wider.

The tiny bit of hope that had built is short lived and she wants to smack herself for getting cocky. Of course it wouldn't be that easy, when was anything, for her? Trying to leave the room has her running right into what feels like a solid wall, and Caroline stumbles back a few steps. She bites her tongue until she tastes blood, slams her fist into the invisible barrier, ignores the splitting of her knuckles. Her anger grows, fed by her frustration and uncertainty, and years and years of being kept in the dark.

It makes her reckless.

She's past reason, unable to even consider being careful or strategizing. She's shaking, heart racing, and before she can even think to stop herself, she's opening her mouth and shouting. "Klaus!"

And that gets just about everyone's attention, judging by the hush that follows, the household stilling.

It's done, and she can't take it back, even if she wanted to. Caroline decides that she might as well make it count.

"Klaus!" She bellows again.

She swipes a lamp off of a side table, catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror across the room, wild eyed and pale. She throws the lamp across the room with all of her strength. It shatters her reflection, cracking the wood frame. She's just about to go for the bed, wants to rip it into satisfyingly tiny chunks with her bare hands. But there's a voice, in the doorway, before she can, "You rang, sweetheart?" it asks, sounding more amused than angry.

She whirls, wishing she had something to throw when she sees that he's just inside the barrier.

Klaus Mikaelson, in the flesh. Standing straight and relaxed, his eyes trained on her face. She knows he's going to kill her anyway, eventually. Why not attempt to draw a little blood of her own?

Her voice sticks in her throat, when she really sees him, the haze of emotion clearing. But it's not just fear, that gives her pause. She doesn't know that anyone's ever looked at her quite like he is. Greedily, like he's been starved of the sight. It's not what she would have expected, no anger or sick satisfaction apparent.

Maybe he just doesn't recognize her when she's whole and strong.

Caroline lets her eyes narrow, takes her time to study him, from the scuffed black boots to the untidy dark blonde curls. She'd seen pictures, memorized his features. But he's different in person, somehow more. She pitches her voice purposefully mocking, "Huh. Thought you'd be taller."

The smirk brings out a dimple, the curl of his lips emphasizing just how nicely shaped they are. She'd bet all sorts of money that the pretty package fooled more than a few people into spilling secrets they'd come to regret.

He doesn't lash out, and his expression doesn't shift. "How was your journey, Caroline?" He speaks with a warmth, a familiarity, that baffles her. And he stays where he is, making no attempt to encroach on her space. It's like he's trying not to intimidate her. And that just doesn't make any sense. "I regret that it had to be that way, but the circumstances required it. If you'd like, once we've settled things with Tristan and Aurora, I'll show you the city. Have you ever been to New Orleans?"

Her mouth drops open, at his audacity. Her words come out so shrill it almost makes her wince, "Seriously? You know I've been here. You held me here. I don't know what you're playing at but just stop it, alright? Torture me, kill me, whatever. Stop looking at me like that! Don't try to play mind games."

His eyes grow dark, bleed gold. She steps back instinctively and his jaw clenches tight. He makes no move to advance on her. Any trace of amusement has dropped from his face. When he replies it's quiet and precise, anger in the flinty tone, "I did not hold you here. I would never force you to stay somewhere you didn't want to. I'm no stranger to villainy, love. But I'm not the one playing with your mind in this instance."

Lies. They have to be. Even if she can't see their purpose.

A guttural noise comes from her, one she doesn't recognize. Her hands reach up to her hair, tugging harshly, "Just stop, okay? I can't take this. Tristan told me you'd want to finish what you started, and I'm not a moron, so I always figured it was a possibility. You'd never been beaten before, right? There's probably a reason for it. So fine, it's my time. I defied you and escaped and I've been helping keep you down ever since. Those are my sins. That's my confession."

He moves, so quickly it's a blur, and then his hands are on her face, firm but terribly gentle. Caroline goes very still, stops breathing as her muscles lock. He could crush her skull with his fingertips, tear her head from her spine with a flick of his wrist. End it all right here. But he touches her like he's afraid he'll break her, his eyes soft and searching. "You really don't remember, do you?" he breathes out, sounding almost sorrowful.

Maybe he's offended that his best work's been forgotten, the cynical side of her thinks. "What you did to me?" she snaps. "No. A mercy, according to your reputation."

His thumb feathers over her jawbone, "What about before that? Do you remember leaving Mystic Falls?"

"I ran away from Mystic Falls," she says slowly. Caroline has no idea why that matters. Why he'd care. "Since my parents hated me and wanted me dead and everything."

He shakes his head, eyes shifting back to blue. There's still anger there, but his hold on her remains soft. He almost looks like he's sad for her. "No. You didn't. They didn't, Caroline."

She opens her mouth to argue, but he steps back, his face smoothing into determined lines. It's an expression that promises action, "I'm going to fix this, love. You'll see."

Caroline opens her mouth, closes it again. She can't remember a time when she's been more confused. "Fix what?"

"Your memories," he tells her simply.

She scoffs, "Oh, like a parting gift? Can it even be considered that, since you're the one who stole them in the first place?"

A muscle in his jaw ticks, shoulders going tense. "Once again, I did not. And I'll prove it to you."

"Let me guess, a little compulsion?"

He smiles wryly. "Not of you. Never of you. If you'd like to check the mini fridge in the corner you'll find a supply of vervain. I imagine you're used to it, but it's been a few days since your last dose. I'll not compel you, and nor will my siblings. But I understand why you'd not trust that."

She glances over, and there is a small stainless steel appliance where he'd indicated.

He continues, speaking conversationally, the consummate host. "There's blood as well. B+ Water. If you'd like something fresher, or food, anything else, you only need ask. And there's a television in that cabinet. The remote in the bedside table. You have full access to our security feeds, in addition to our extensive cable package. We've been speaking to Aurora, since before you arrived. She has some interesting things to say about you. And how you came to her and her brother's attention."

Caroline blows out a frustrated breath, turns away from him. He's trying to make her trust him, making it sound like Aurora's a mutual enemy. But that's crazy, isn't it? She stalks towards the window, forces it open and leans on the sill. Breathes in deeply, to gather her thoughts. "Why are you doing this to me?" she asks him, hating that it sounds like she's pleading. She promised herself she'd never do that. Would never allow him the satisfaction of begging him for anything. And now, here she is, reduced to it, not even ten minutes into his company.

She feels him move closer but he doesn't touch her again. "Because things are not as you believe they are, Caroline."

"Then will you let me go?"

He hesitates, the pause long. Because he seems to have conditions. "When your memories are restored, when it's safe, yes. You'll be free. I promise."

He's silent for a moment, and she wonders if he has more to say. Doesn't know if she can handle it, not as muddled as she is right now. Because she kind of believes him, deep in her gut. Freedom is the thing she wants most, and he's offering it. Why would he bother, if this was just revenge? Her insight into Tristan's operations is minimal, and she'd spill them with little pressure. No need for smoke and mirrors.

Klaus puts more distance between them, lingering near the door. He clears his throat. Is oddly formal, when he speaks again, "I'll take my leave, now. Please drink some blood, Caroline. Marcel says you've only taken the smallest amount in days and you don't look good."

She snorts, "Charming. Bet the ladies love you."

His laugh is soft and fond. Like he's privy to a joke she isn't. "You'd be surprised. I'll speak with you later, love. And a witch friend will be along shortly, to talk about your memories."

"No point," she tells him bleakly, eyes still focused on the street below. "I've spoken to half a dozen witches and they all told me it was impossible."

"You spoke to Tristan's witches," he corrects, the edge of anger creeping back. "And they had reason to lie."

It hits her then, what he's hinting at, trying to make her believe. She turns to look at him, crossing her arms tightly, "Tristan's the villain. That's what you're telling me."

He appears pleased at her insight, "I'm not telling you anything. I'm going to let you make up your own mind. The Caroline I knew was stubborn, slow to trust. Particularly strangers with bad reputations, which is who you believe me to be. I think that's innate, that your lack of memories doesn't change your core."

"The Caroline you knew…" she repeats slowly, watching his reactions carefully.

"Yes," he says simply, holding her gaze. And once again, she sees no trace of a lie, feels no hint of a trick. Meaningless, she tells herself, more out of habit than anything. If anyone could hide the signs of subterfuge it would be him, wouldn't it? He'd told centuries of lies, pulled cons she couldn't even begin to fathom.

He gives her one last smile, almost shy, before he nods and leaves the room.

Caroline knows that Klaus Mikaelson is not to be trusted. But she finds that she wants to call him back, questions bursting on her tongue. Did he really know her, like he'd claimed? What could he tell her about herself? His assertion, about her suspicious tendencies, sat right. It was part of what made her good at the jobs Tristan had sent her on. If he told her other things, would they feel the same?

Caroline finds herself staring at the spot he'd stood in for a very long time. She shakes herself eventually, slowly wanders over to the mini fridge. It's stocked, just like he'd promised. She braces herself for the sting of the vervain, chokes it down, soothes the damage with blood.

She drinks an entire bag, but she's still hungry, days of keeping her needs in check piling up. Caroline stares longingly at the stacks remaining in the refrigerator. Reaches out slowly, with a furtive glance behind her to check that she's still alone. She makes a split second decision and takes another. Because screw it, she couldn't think straight on an empty stomach.

It's difficult to leave Caroline's room. He sees her struggle with what she thinks she knows and what her instincts tell her. He's certain he's managed to poke holes in the lies Tristan's poisoned her mind with, that she has doubts about where her loyalties should lie. He wants to press, is half tempted to sneak into her mind and show her the truth. Show her who she really was.

But Klaus dismissed the urge immediately. He will not do that, not without Caroline's permission. Her memories should never have been tampered with in the first place and pushing his way into her mind is a violation that Caroline, once she's back to herself, could very well find unforgivable.

The Bennett witch is pacing at the bottom of the stairs as Klaus descends them, her mouthy dark haired paramour seated on one of the lowest treads. She hadn't been happy to be barred from Caroline's room, had argued strenuously that she should be there when Caroline awoke. But he'd known it was possible for Caroline to attack, as hungry as she was. Bonnie was capable of defending herself but Klaus hadn't been sure if she would, thinking she might be unwilling to hurt Caroline after such a long separation. The last thing he needed was crushing guilt and regrets from either of them.

It would set Caroline back, once her memory was restored. And Klaus would need Bonnie, her power, in the coming days.

"Well?" Bonnie demands. "How is she?"

Klaus stops, and faces them when he's on the ground floor, notes the interest on Enzo's face. He hadn't said much to Klaus, but tracks him with suspicious eyes whenever they're in the same vicinity. Being abducted and stuffed in a trunk evidently didn't make the vampire amenable to Klaus' company. "Frightened," he responds succinctly. "And trying to hide it. Angry. Confused. More so the latter after our chat, I believe." That was the good news. Klaus delivers the bad quickly. "Her memory loss is as extensive as I'd feared."

Bonnie's eyes grow wide in alarm, "How much is gone?"

"Everything, as far as I can tell. Replaced. It seems as if Tristan's put in a few kernels of truth - her name, hometown, and such. Probably pulled things from public records to corroborate them, make her more likely to believe him about the rest. She thinks that she ran away, that her parents chased her out of Mystic Falls because they hated her."

The witch's lashes drop, her harsh swallow is audible. Enzo stands, grabs her hand and squeezes. "But we'll fix it, won't we?" he says confidently. "Gorgeous will be back to her old self in no time."

Klaus isn't so sure. She's lived ten years as a different person, done things that the Caroline Forbes she'd been wouldn't have. It will be a lot for her to reconcile.

Bonnie composes herself, though her eyes remain wet. "When can I see her?"

"Soon," Klaus tells her. He'd had Freya spell the room, keyed the barrier to his blood, so only he and a select few could enter. He'd meant it, when he'd told Caroline he'd let her figure things out without interference. She'd always liked control, had been granted precious little of it lately. He can give her some in this. He's banking on her curiosity, hoping she'll go right to the feeds. Confirmation that he's telling the truth is there, plain and irrefutable. Aurora had been simple to crack, zealously certain that Klaus was desperately in love with her.

Once Caroline watches she'll know that Tristan never had her best interests at heart. She'll feel duped, adrift. Klaus thinks it best to give her something to hold on to. They'll need to gather things to counteract the poison she'd been forced to swallow and he hopes the Bennett Witch won't be entirely useless. He really has no desire to speak to either Salvatore again, even for something as simple as a demand something from Caroline's hometown. "Do you have any pictures? Things from when you lot were small?"

"I do," Bonnie says slowly. Her expression brightens with hope. "For Caroline, right? I think I can do one better."

"Oh?" Klaus asks, raising an eyebrow at her confidence. "Do tell?"

"Caroline put a ton of stuff from her house into storage after the whole humanity switch debacle. But she was paranoid about losing it, of things getting damaged or stolen or whatever. Stefan's fault. Long story. So she scanned a ton of pictures, backed them up online. I know her usernames and passwords. I can get in."

That would be helpful, Klaus can allow. He nods, instructing, "Do that," before he turns to go.

"Going to spend more time in the dungeons, mate?" Enzo asks innocently. "Flirt with the batty redhead a little more?"

Klaus pauses, takes a moment to study the much younger vampire, intrigued by the probing question Not many would have dared it. The Bennett witch is shooting Enzo an exasperated glare. He has no doubt they'd have conversations about Enzo taking care to mind his tongue. Though Klaus knows his type and doubts any lecture of that sort will ever stick. "If that's what it takes," he agrees mildly.

He'd played into Aurora's feelings, sensing it would be the most expedient way of dealing with the woman. She'd lit up when Klaus had walked into the hotel room she'd been sharing with Lucien, asked if she should ring for tea, as if she'd expected a pleasant social visit. It was a simple thing, to bend to kiss her cheek. To snap her neck, despite the fact that she had almost as many years as he and his siblings, and really should have put up more of a fight.

So deluded, even after all these years. Had he wanted her, he would have found her.

It had been more than a thousand years and his thoughts had rarely drifted back to her. Klaus was not who he'd been then. When he'd met Aurora he'd been newly turned, unsure of what he'd been capable of. More human than not, weak and untested. That version of himself would not have survived, let alone thrived. Would have been incapable of seeing to his family's safety. He'd long since been burned away and precious little of him remained.

Aurora did not seem to understand that, persisted in calling him Nik, in a saccharine coo. Perhaps because she herself had remained much the same. A pampered daughter of a Count in life she'd not been expected to be much beyond a pretty ornament. And as he understood it, she'd not had to do much in all her years of vampirism, save for that first century where she'd been running from Mikael, as a decoy Rebekah. If whatever hardships she'd endured had taught her anything the effects of the lessons had long since evaporated. Tristan took care of her, servants doted on her. She was free to do whatever she wished without consideration or consequence. It had made her soft, and convinced of her own untouchability.

Aurora was in for a very rude awakening.

"Do you have a problem with how I'm handling this situation, mate?" Klaus asks Enzo coldly. "Because I think you know very little of it, and should perhaps keep any grievances you might have to yourself. You're a guest here, remember that."

Enzo is impressively unflappable, even when Klaus edges closer. He stands his ground, crosses his arms. "It's all well and good for you to play the white knight now, but where were you before? Imprisoned, fine. But before that? When Caroline was trying to hold herself together, when her mother died, after? She heard not a single peep from you."

Klaus grits his teeth, fights the urge to rip off a piece of the staircase and bury it in Enzo. Mostly because if Bonnie was correct, and Enzo's protectiveness leads him to believe she was, Caroline would not take kindly to him maiming her friend to vent his anger. "That is between Caroline and me. I'd thank you to remember that. And remember who you're speaking to."

Enzo waves a dismissive hand, "Big bad hybrid, scourge of Mystic Falls. Damon was most effusive with the insults. But Caroline spoke of you too, once or twice."

Klaus files that away, along with the open look of surprise that flies across Bonnie Bennett's face. "Make your point," Klaus demands. "I've things to do, as you can imagine."

Enzo shrugs, leaning against the bannister, suddenly the picture of affability. "No point, really. The batty redhead hurt Caroline, and I don't like that she's alive, and relatively cozy. I visited her little cell, you know. And I have a little experience with such things."

"Done a lot of torturing then?" Klaus asks disbelievingly. Enzo hardly seemed the type.

"Torture-ee, not torture-er," he corrects smoothly. "But I know the drill."

"She will die," Klaus promises, unsure of why he feels the need to clarify. "At the end of all this. That I can guarantee."

That seems to have been what Enzo wanted to hear. He nods, taking a step back, offering Klaus a smile that borders on friendly, maybe a little eager. "Good. Then you can officially count me in for whatever showdown you have planned. I do hope it gets bloody."

Klaus allows himself a smirk, "I think that's highly likely. But you're going to need a suit. There's a dress code."

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: Pull Me Out

She hadn't lasted long, after Klaus had left. She'd paced, alternately staring at the television, and the table that housed the remote, the offer, promises, he'd made swirling through her brain on a loop. Eventually, she hadn't been able to resist, her thirst to just know too great. Caroline had settled cross legged at the end of the bed, and turned the TV on.

Pulling up the footage had been easy. The menus were simple to navigate and the security feeds were helpfully labeled with Aurora's name, and organized into hour long chunks. She'd been able to fast forward through the first half-dozen. They only captured Aurora's still form in the frame, the utter lack of movement too complete for just sleep. It seemed like Caroline wasn't the only person who'd been brought into Klaus' home temporarily dead.

What did it mean that her cell was so much cushier than Aurora's? Caroline had a bed, natural light, amenities. Aurora was the bargaining chip, was she not? There wasn't much Tristan wouldn't do to ensure her safety.

It had been a fleeting thought, while she'd looked for something noteworthy from the videos. Finally, she'd spotted movement. Caroline had watched Aurora wake, and survey her prison. Her nose had wrinkled in distaste, and she'd sprung from the small cot making a disgusted noise. And then she'd started yelling. First for Nik, and then for Lucien. For Nik again, and again and again. There were some epitaphs for Elijah, some threats about what her brother would do when he found out she'd been mistreated and demeaned. Aurora worked herself right up, turning red faced and her voice pitching up into a painful screech.

Caroline had been forced to turn the volume way down.

And she had been confused because she'd honestly always kind of thought Nik was dead, and that Aurora continued to talk of him as some kind of weird coping mechanism. She was so dreamy, so besotted, every time she'd spoken the name, even though she'd claimed they hadn't spoken in centuries. How could that sort of obsession endure for a person still walking around in the world? Wouldn't Nik have come for Aurora, at some point, if he truly loved her like she said he did? Caroline assumed that he couldn't be with Aurora and that he must have been long gone.

But now, Aurora seemed to expect he'd suddenly materialize, and sweep her from her prison on horseback or something. Slay those who dared harm a perfect, red hair on her head, never mind the fact that her jailer wasn't easily taken down.

Neither man she called for turned up but still Aurora kept shouting. Calling for blood, screaming about how they would pay for this, diatribes about how dare they put her in such a place liberally mixed in. Quickly growing bored, Caroline had continued to fast forward.

Until another person had shown up. A blonde woman, wearing killer heels and a bored expression. She had stared Aurora down through the bars of her cell. Caroline had recognized her, hadn't needed Aurora's simpering greeting to place the youngest of The Originals. Aurora had run a hand through her hair, straightened her dress before smiling sweetly, "Rebekah! So nice to see you, don't you look lovely? It's ever so bold, to attempt that shade of green with your coloring."

They'd engaged in some impressive passive aggressive sniping, vicious taunts hidden under pretty words and compliments. Eventually Rebekah had walked away, leaving Aurora fuming in her cell.

She'd ripped her cot from its anchors in the stone floor in her temper, leaving the metal a gnarled heap when she was through. Caroline thought she'd come to regret that, as she doubted Aurora would be offered a replacement.

More fast forwarding was required, Aurora occupied with doing laps around the small room, muttering under her breath. It was somewhat interesting, to see her so out of sorts, her instability closer to the surface than usual. She gesticulated wildly, pulled at her own hair, dug her nails into her palms and smeared bloody handprints on the walls and bars. Aurora was capable of hiding what she could be. Most people were easily fooled by the sugar sweet exterior and unthreatening appearance.

And Caroline knew many a person had been lured to their deaths because they hadn't seen the madness that Aurora's perfect shell neatly concealed.

But there was only so much of Aurora's wild tantrums that Caroline was interested in watching. She wanted answers, and Klaus had hinted that she could find some in these videos. And he hadn't lied about their existence, or the mini fridge. Maybe there was something. And even if there wasn't, if this was a trick, it's not as if she had anything better to do. Caroline kept looking.

Eventually, Klaus himself showed up. Aurora's demeanour had changed drastically, the second she'd laid eyes on him, calming instantly. She'd licked her lips and slinked to the bars, hips swaying, mouth twisted in an alluring pout, "It's about time you came, my love. Are you here to let me out?"

He'd reached a hand through the bars, tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Let his fingers linger on the curve of her neck. Aurora had leaned into the touch, her eyes fluttering closed. Klaus had sounded regretful, when he'd pulled back. "I'm afraid I cannot do that. Not with your brother unaccounted for."

It was then that Caroline had been given a shock. Aurora's face had turned mullish, and she actually stomped her foot, "You cannot hurt him, Nik. The two of you need to stop this silly feud of yours. Honestly. It's been centuries. Can't we all just be friends? Family, like we were meant to be?"

And as crazy as that assertion was (seriously, where had Aurora been?) it wasn't the thing that left Caroline blinking in shock. It was Aurora calling him Nik. Nik, Aurora's Nik, was somehow Klaus?

She'd paused the video to absorb, to consider what the new piece of information meant.

The man Aurora had always spoken of, the great love of her existence, was Klaus Mikaelson. Not dead, obviously.

Caroline had difficulty reconciling what she knew of the two. Nik had been described to her as sensitive, tortured. Gentle and kind. The Klaus of her nightmares was nothing like that. And she'd yet to make up her mind about the Klaus who'd visited her a few hours ago. He hadn't hurt her, though he'd seemed to run through a fair number of emotions. They'd been fleeting, and hard to read but Caroline had seen them. Nevertheless he'd been in control of himself, calculating. Not the kind of guy who wrote love letters and picked flowers and promised happily ever afters.

She'd turned the video back on, wanting to know more.

They'd gone back and forth about Tristan for a while. Klaus prying - trying different angles from feigned concern to subtle threats - and Aurora either hiding her knowledge of her brother's plans expertly, or being entirely clueless. Caroline would bet on the latter. Tristan loved Aurora, deeply and to a degree that had always made Caroline a smidge uncomfortable. It was a possessive and controlling love, intense and seemingly suffocating, at least from Caroline's point of view. But he was well aware of her capriciousness, the uncertainty of her shifting moods. He wouldn't trust her with his schemes.

Klaus seemed to reach the same conclusion, steering the conversation away and towards Lucien. "You cannot be mad at me," Aurora had told him coyly. "You were ever so distant and a girl must keep herself entertained. Lucien understands what you mean to me. And he's a dear, and wants me to be happy."

But Klaus seemed unconcerned, and if he was jealous Caroline didn't detect a single flicker of it. He'd drifted closer, but not near enough for Aurora to reach out and touch him, his hands clasped behind his back. "Lucien told me you'd made the acquaintance of an old friend of mine. Caroline. He said he saw her at your home in Paris."

Aurora had let out a giggle, leaned in close, and gripped the bars. "Come now, Nik. We both know she was more than your friend."

"Do we?"

Aurora's words had dripped with mockery, "You got a bit infatuated, didn't you? Poor thing. You must have been frightfully bored, in that little town, to be taken by such a simple trinket. She's pretty enough, I suppose. And much brighter than Tristan assumed. Proved very useful. I don't blame you, my love. For taking advantage of a distraction in my absence."

"Yes, I'd gathered all of that," Klaus said dryly, keeping a careful distance from where Aurora was pressed against the bars. "I'm afraid the whys elude me, however."

Aurora shrugged, dismissive. "Tristan spotted her, recognized her, just after he defeated you. Took her, thinking she might know something that could help him track Marcel, or Freya, or any of your more dogged supporters. High pain threshold, that one. And stubborn. Impressive, really. It took ages for him to get even the littlest scream."

Caroline had fumbled for the remote, stabbed at buttons until the feed stopped, unable to hear any more at the moment. She'd swallowed hard, and felt as nauseated as she could ever remember feeling. Her eyes stung, moisture gathering.

God, she'd been so freaking stupid.

Klaus was telling the truth. He'd known her, before all of this. Aurora and Tristan hadn't. They'd never been her friends. She'd been a pawn in their sick little coup all along. They'd tortured her. Taken her memories. Used her.

How could she have fallen for it? She'd helped them, and they'd stolen everything from her. She wants to scream, or cry. Maybe punch a wall. But Caroline can't move, her muscles locked as she swallows convulsively.

She closes her eyes, tries to breathe through it. Control, she tells herself, mouthing the word but not making a sound. Get it together, Caroline. Control. You can't lose it, not now.

She repeats it, over and over again, until the words bleed together, a continuous hum in her mind.

Caroline startles at the soft knock on her door. She glances at the window, surprised to see it's gotten dark. She clears her throat, swipes at her face. She hadn't been aware of the tears falling, but her fingers come away wet. She calls, "Come in!" barely managing to keep the quaver under control.

The door opens and a woman Caroline's never seen before enters, a soft smile in place. Her eyes take in Caroline for a long moment but she's polite enough not to comment on what a wreck she must see, "Hi. I'm Freya. And this is…" Caroline looks past the elusive Mikaelson sister (Tristan had never managed to find a decent picture of her, and it had always bothered him) and she almost falls off the bed when she spies the other person in the room.

She recognizes the woman. Has seen those green eyes in her dreams, sketched and destroyed the lines of that face over and over again. It's not exactly the same, a little older, a few faint lines marking years and worries that hadn't been there before. Still beautiful, and achingly familiar. And watching her nervously. "You," Caroline breathes out in wonder. "I know you."

A laugh bubbles out of the woman, her face lighting up. And then she's hurrying over, flinging herself at Caroline with such force that had she been human it would have knocked her over. She's being squeezed, but she's not uncomfortable at all.

Something about this feels like home and her eyes close. She breathes deeply and returns the embrace gently.

The woman pulls back, her expression stern, "God, Caroline you scared the crap out of me! Klaus said you didn't remember!"

Caroline shakes her head, apologetic, and eases away slightly. "I don't. Not really. Actually, you should probably tell me your name if we're the kind of people who hug."

The woman's face falls, and she steps back, her hands balling at her sides. "I'm Bonnie. Bonnie Bennett. And yikes, it's really weird to introduce yourself to someone you've known since preschool." She offers Caroline a cautious smile, and Caroline finds herself returning it. Bonnie shakes herself, "Oh! Sorry. I am here for a reason. But what did you mean when you said you knew me?"

"I…" Caroline glances at Freya, who's backed off and is perched on the back of one of the armchairs. She's used to thinking that the Mikaelsons are enemies so the idea of letting something personal slip in front of one of them is daunting.

She's going to have to do it though. That conditioning had been purposeful and it's faulty. Caroline's refusal to entertain the idea that Tristan wasn't who he said he was had gotten her nowhere. She's got to start listening to her gut and her gut says that Bonnie is trustworthy.

Caroline takes a deep breath. "I have dreams. Sometimes you're in them."

Bonnie's eyes spark with interest, and she grins. "That's actually great news! Your memories can't be gone then, can they? And maybe I can help. I made a slideshow. It's probably not up to your standards, but Klaus was all 'chop chop!' and menacing. It's just us, in Mystic Falls. Your parents, all of our friends from when we were kids. Do you want to see it?"

Caroline nods, throat tight. Freya steps forward with a laptop, hands it to Caroline and retreats once more. Bonnie settles next to her on the bed, reaching over and tapping keys until an image pops up. It's a blonde woman, a baby in her lap, both covered in cake and grinning.

She knows even before Bonnie says anything, reaches out to touch with a shaky fingertip. "That's your mom. Liz. She was the sheriff in our town."

Caroline's next inhale is unsteady, and the picture fades into another one. A blonde toddler in a yellow dress, held aloft in a man's arms. "My dad?" She asks, just to be certain.

Bonnie nods, reaching out to take Caroline's hand. "Your parents got divorced. Your dad moved away."

Her next question comes out small, and soft, "Did they hate vampires?"

"They did. But they didn't hate you, Caroline," Bonnie rushes to assure. "You managed to prove that not all vampires were what they assumed. Turning made you better, strong. Made you realize what was important. It took me awhile to accept it, them too. But they came around."

"I want to see more," Caroline tells Bonnie, eyes trained on the screen. She watches intently, as the pictures come and go. She grows, goes through a pretty intense awkward stage, all gangly limbs and bad posture. She sees other people she recognizes, faces that had popped up in her dreams. They're young in the photos. Happy and seemingly innocent in stills. Bonnie narrates quietly, offers little stories. Tyler, her first love. Elena, their other best friend. Her little brother Jeremy, their friend Matt. Damon and Stefan Salvatore, the vampires who'd kind of changed their lives. And not always for the better.

She's silent for a long time, when the last image fades away. Until the screen goes black, the laptop shutting down. Bonnie stays put, her hand warm and wrapped tightly around Caroline's. "I want them back," she blurts out, turning to face Bonnie. It's more than a simple want, it's a need. A hole she can't imagine never filling. "Klaus said he had a witch friend," she says slowly, remembering his vow to help her. Caroline turns to Freya, who lingers near the door, words coming fast and frantic. "You're a witch, right? Powerful? Did he mean you? Can you fix me?"

Freya's sympathetic, "I am. And I could try, if you'd like. But I don't think he meant me." She nods at Bonnie.

Caroline turns back to Bonnie, eyes widening in surprise, "Huh. You're a witch too?"

Bonnie laughs. "Well, that's a good deal less skepticism than the first time I told you. Yes, I am. And I'm assuming that Klaus meant me, even if he and I are far from friends." Her tone makes it abundantly clear that she's not a Klaus fan. Maybe that was a witch thing. "Because while I hate to admit it, Klaus did kind of get you. He'd have known you'd be leery of a stranger poking around in your head. Especially now."

"Oh, I definitely am. But it really can't get any worse, can it? Worst case scenario, I lose everything, start all over. Been there, done that, doing it again really can't turn out any crappier, given what we all know, right?" She keeps getting louder, maybe a touch hysterical. Bonnie tugs her hand away from Caroline's, shaking it out. Caroline winces, not having realized she'd been squeezing, "Oops, sorry. Are you okay?"

"Fine, don't worry about it." Bonnie stands, faces Caroline. "Don't move, okay?"

Caroline nods, takes a deep breath as Bonnie's hands come up. She touches Caroline's head, her eyes going out of focus. A few moments of chanting and Caroline begins to feel pressure. Nothing unbearable, but it's not exactly comfortable or pleasant. Bonnie yelps, just as it begins to worsen, her hands dropping like they'd been burned. Freya rushes forward, "What is it?"

"A lot of magic," Bonnie says, her eyes turning stormy. "Like, layers. Fail safes. It definitely took time, more than one witch."

Caroline throws herself back on the bed with a groan rubbing her temples, "Ugh. Of course it did. Couldn't make anything easy, could they? You know, I never really liked them. Tristan and Aurora. And I always felt terrible about that. Am really regretting that right now."

A laugh bubbles out of Bonnie, and Caroline shoots her an annoyed glare. She claps a hand over her mouth, shaking her head. "Sorry. It's just… that was very you. And I've missed you."

Tears spring to Caroline's eyes once more, and she lets out a watery laugh of her own. She's spent so long feeling alone, unsure if she had a single connection out there to anybody who would even remember her, let alone miss her. "That's actually really nice to hear."

And then Bonnie's laugh turns strangled and she's hugging Caroline again. Caroline closes her eyes once more and breathes in, wrapping her arms around Bonnie's smaller form and committing this moment to her memory. When Bonnie pulls back she looks determined, and a little intimidating. Appearing, for all her diminutive size, like she's not someone you want to mess with. "I will fix this, Caroline. I promise. Just let me do a little research. Klaus has an insane collection of books. And I'm going to ignore the fact that he probably got a hold of most of them by really sketchy means. Because I love you."

"And I'll help," Freya says, smiling kindly. "Now, Klaus will be along shortly, to let you out of this room."

Bonnie makes a disgusted face, "Yeah, I had to drink his blood to get in here. Super gross, and kind of makes me wish I could be compelled to forget about it."

Caroline's eyes narrow, trying to process what that means. She's never had another vampire's blood (that she knows of, anyway) uneasy about the intimacy of it, considering that she was typically conning the vampires she interacted with. That she'll evidently be having some of Klaus' takes her aback. "Uh, what? Can't you just poof the barrier down? I don't know if you guys know this but bloodsharing is kind of a big deal."

Freya looks apologetic, and amused, "No. I'm sorry. Not with the spell I used. Klaus was the anchor. We're going to do a similar one when… well, when it's time."

Bonnie's brows are raised high, "Um, Caroline, what did Klaus say to you? About how you guys knew each other?"

"Nothing much. Just that he didn't do what Tristan said he did. That he knew me, before all this. Why?" Caroline glances at Freya, who's studiously avoiding her eyes. Bonnie looks like she's swallowed something sour, and is shifting awkwardly on her feet. "What?" she asks slowly. "What am I missing?"

Bonnie sighs, "It's… complicated. And I'm not even entirely sure about a lot of things. But trust me, you don't need to worry about drinking Klaus' blood."

"Too late," Caroline grumbles, crossing her arms. "Yesterday I was convinced he was going to torture me to death and today I'm supposed to happily guzzle his blood? Vampires only do that during sex, FYI."

Freya coughs loudly, turning slightly pink. Caroline winces, "Right, sorry. That's your brother so probably awkward to talk about." She looks at Bonnie for help, only to find her hiding a laugh. She swings an arm around Caroline's shoulder in a comforting gesture, "Don't worry, Caroline. You'll be fine. And you'll totally understand why this is funny once I fix your memories." Her expression turns mischievous, a wicked smirk tugging at her lips. "Or, hey, ask Klaus. I'm sure he'd be thrilled to explain it to you."

The witches can't seem to hold it together after that. And Caroline's left looking back and forth between the two while they giggle at whatever joke has gone entirely over her head.

She makes a mental note to get revenge at some point.

As eager as he'd been, to return to Caroline once his sister and Bonnie had left her, Klaus had made himself wait and give her time. He longed to push now that she knew some of the truth, but he sensed he would gain little from it, that Caroline would withdraw and keep her own counsel if pressed. Klaus stayed away, gave her some time to process, and occupied himself with his plans.

Both Aurora and Lucien's cell phones had begun ringing, not long after they'd breached Elijah's stone cell. Lucien had evidently played his part well (and had managed to kill the guards Tristan had on his tail neatly and without Aurora noticing). Calls and texts had continued to flash across the screens on the flight from Europe. Klaus knew Lucien was itching to answer, dying to taunt Tristan and make him suffer with the knowledge that his grip on the power he'd claimed was slipping.

Klaus had forbidden it, wanting to be safely ensconced in New Orleans. And he wanted Tristan to think that Lucien was also a prisoner, just in case they needed a little double dealing. To that end he'd sent a photo once they'd arrived, Lucien hung by his wrists, his neck at an unnatural angle. He'd protested, of course. But Kol had been too quick.

But he'd sent nothing of Aurora yet. Let Tristan stew, question the safety of his beloved sister. When the time came he'd send Kol and Rebekah, have them collect something of Aurora's to send to Tristan. They'd bicker, but it would keep them occupied. Rebekah would advocate ripping out Aurora's hair, Kol would likely favor removing a hand. As long as they got a clear video Klaus would leave them be.

He'd instructed Elijah to have another go at Aurora, talking only – to see if her hatred of his brother, and his meddling, would cause her to speak more freely. And, even if it didn't, watching her lose her composure while Elijah remained cool and condescending would at least be amusing.

And then he'd decided to check in with Kol and Rebekah.

Until they were needed, his youngest siblings were at loose ends and Klaus was growing impatient with them. Kol had been in and out of the house since they'd arrived – claimed that he was feeling out the remaining New Orleans covens, getting an idea of which would be amenable to supporting them in overthrowing Tristan. But Klaus hadn't seen much of his younger brother and that made him nervous. He sent Rebekah out to fetch Kol, see that he'd not gotten into trouble. She was incredulous at being reduced to errand girl, and had stomped out in a huff.

Klaus hoped Kol managed to mind his tongue, once Bekah found him. They'd not made any great effort to hide their presence in the city, the whole point being to draw Tristan to them. But a messy scene, something that had to be tidied, and hidden from the humans, was not something Klaus wanted to deal with.

Finally, Klaus had left Freya in charge of the Bennett witch, after he'd stopped by the room Freya used to practice magic in. He'd demanded the particulars of how Caroline had taken the things Bonnie had imparted – all the better to tailor his own approach. The witch had been close lipped, reluctant, but Klaus had gleaned enough to know that Caroline was softening. Hesitantly, and maybe a touch unwillingly, but that was to be expected. She had no solid memories of her own, and hundreds of lies and half-truths to work through. She'd never been one for blind trust, her natural intelligence and her life's experiences teaching her caution. There was no chance that all that she's learned recently would have done anything but heighten that tendency.

Finally, having run out of things to occupy his time Klaus makes his way upstairs, pointedly ignoring the amused expression Marcel does not bother to hide as they pass one another in the foyer.

Klaus knocks, waits for Caroline's call before he enters. She's curled up on an armchair, watching the TV. She turns her attention to him immediately, and Klaus is pleased that though she seems wary he detects none of the hatred, the frustrated, helpless rage that had been in her before. And her color's better, suggesting she'd at least fed. Caroline seems to struggle for something to say, her mouth opening and then snapping shut as she rethinks. Eventually she jerks her thumb towards the TV, "She's really not a fan of your brother, is she?"

Klaus smiles, chances a glance at the screen. Elijah looks as unflappable as ever, despite the fact that he's been at it for nearly an hour, asking Aurora calm, pointed questions and receiving nothing but vitriol about how he'd ruined her life, Klaus' life, and evidently the lives of a whole host of others, in return. "It's perhaps one of the few instances in which Aurora's reactions are perfectly reasonable," Klaus admits. "Spending a century compelled to believe you were another, living in fear the whole time, close calls in which you barely survived. All things Elijah caused, none very endearing."

Caroline blinks for several seconds, "That… does not sound like a fun time. And I should know, right? I guess ten years is nothing so I shouldn't complain, right?"

The joke falls flat, her tone laced with bitterness, and Klaus doesn't comment, save for a small smile. He gestures to the chair across from her, "May I?"

"It's your house."

"Ah, but it's your room. And what sort of host would I be if I took such liberties?" Klaus teases.

She rolls her eyes, but Klaus detects a hint of amusement. It's familiar, and edged in exasperation. Very much the Caroline he remembers. The one who'd often tried to hide her genuine reactions, and only show him those she believed to be acceptable. "Hate to be a broken record, but 'guest' doesn't really apply to those who've been kidnapped and held against their will."

Klaus settles into the seat, leans back and studies her. "I do intend for the unwilling portion of your stay to be as brief as possible. And, in my defense, I'm sure you can agree that the circumstances appear to be extenuating."

"Maybe," she admits grudgingly. "Still, don't expect a thank you fruit basket."

"Pedestrian. Not your style, Caroline Forbes."

She startles, at her full name, or maybe at the way Klaus had said it. With more affection, admiration, than he allows almost anyone else. He'd always been fascinated by her will, the grit and drive and ability to persevere that he'd not often glimpsed in others, even those much older than Caroline. It's still there, more apparent than ever, even if she doesn't know it. Klaus lets her reaction go without comment, knowing she'll not want to explain it. Her eyes narrow, fingers tapping against the arm of her chair. "I'm still not 100% sold on your version of events. I have questions."

She wouldn't be Caroline if she didn't. "I'd expect nothing less," Klaus tells her. "Ask away, sweetheart."

"You knew me," Caroline begins, the words coming slowly. "Before I left Mystic Falls, from what Aurora said?"

"Correct. I showed up just before your final year of high school, after you'd been turned."

Her nose wrinkles slightly in distaste, "Do you make a habit of hanging out with high school girls? Because that's a little weird."

Klaus finds himself chuckling, "No. Not before, or since. Unless you count Rebekah, I suppose, but she quickly grows bored with playing at school. It was somewhat inevitable as your friend Elena was what brought me to Mystic Falls."

"Still weird," Caroline deadpans, crossing her arms.

Klaus ignores the dig, to continue his explanation. "I had to return to break my curse, and become a hybrid. Elena, several of your friends were… involved in that." Rather unwittingly, and with great reluctance, but Klaus sees no point in rehashing the finer points at the moment.

"Doesn't sound like sunshine and rainbows," Caroline says knowingly.

She'd always been perceptive, "It was not. We were on opposite sides, for a time. You were dying, the first time we really spoke. My fault, if I'm being honest."

Her head tips to the side, chin coming to rest on her palm as her eyes remain focused, measuring. If she's looking for a lie she won't find one. "And why are you? Being totally honest, I mean."

Klaus shrugs, having expected the question, "Because I meant it when I said I'd return your memories, love. Lying would gain me nothing but a few days of your good graces. Besides, your dear friend Bonnie would eagerly and gleefully debunk any falsehood I told you."

Caroline seems to accept that, her posture relaxing slightly. "Well, clearly I didn't die."

Klaus smiles, "No. You asked me to save you, and I did. You were suffering from a hybrid bite, and my blood is the cure."

"Hybrid bite," Caroline repeats, growing accusatory. "Did you…"

"Not that time. Your boyfriend, Tyler, was a hybrid. He bit you, on my orders, as a test of his loyalty."

"Tyler," Caroline says the name almost to herself, like she's testing it out. "Bonnie showed me pictures. And he's popped up in my dreams."

Klaus perks up, at that new tidbit of information. Perhaps Caroline's memories weren't as deeply buried as Tristan had intended. He rather hoped so, that they could be restored before Tristan arrived in New Orleans one final time. She deserved that, to have a chance to confront him. "Dreams?" Klaus asks, leaning forward. "What dreams?"

Her face creases in embarrassment, like she hadn't meant to mention them. "It's nothing. Just… sometimes I wake up from a dream, and it felt so real that I'm disoriented finding myself in a bed. I wondered if they were memories, and it's looking like they might have been. I knew Bonnie's face and when she showed me the pictures so many of those people, my friends I guess, were familiar too."

"Is it always faces?"

Caroline shakes her head, "No. Sometimes there's no one there. It's just a room, sharp and detailed. Smells, sometimes. Or even activities. I remember running, at full vampire speed, whipping past trees and laughing. Eating a bunny, for some dumb reason. And there's one where I'm dancing, like really fancy expert dancing, with a guy who knows what he's doing. His face is never clear."

It's a struggle not to grin at that last sentence, to show just how pleased he is with it. There's a chance she's speaking of one of her friends, perhaps Stefan. The younger Salvatore is a passable dancer, certainly better than Caroline's peers, for all that he'd hated the activity. But somehow Klaus is sure that he's not the one Caroline's remembering. "Interesting," is what he says, striving for casualness. "And curious, as you and I once attended a ball."

"A ball?" Caroline repeats skeptically.

"Yes. Thrown by my mother. A tedious attempt to exterminate her wayward children. You wore blue. And diamonds. We danced."

Caroline lets out a small disbelieving noise, "You think you're the guy in my memories? Ego much?"

"To spare," Klaus agrees, unashamed. A thought hits him, and he unfolds himself from his seat, pushing it and the table into the wall. "In fact, let's do a little test, shall we?"

"What kind of test?" Caroline wonders, brows high as she watches him clear furniture away.

"Dancing. The steps. It wasn't a simple waltz in your dream, I imagine. Something a little more complex. I'm wagering I know them." Klaus stops in front of her, holds out his hand. "Dance with me, Caroline."

She eyes his hand, obviously struggling with whether to take it. Her curiosity is warring with distrust, the battle plain on her features. Klaus decides to sweeten the offer. He pulls his hand away, swiftly bites into his wrist and speeds over to a glass. He lets his blood drip in, enough to let her out of the room, and offers it to her as he approaches her chair once more. "So you can flee if I step on your toes," he jokes lightly.

Caroline takes the glass delicately, careful not to touch him. She looks down at her lap as she brings it to her lips. Klaus turns away, hiding any reaction to the sight, his fists clenching momentarily. He's deeply regretting their current circumstances, would like nothing more than her fangs buried in his skin right now.

He has very fond memories of the last time he'd had the pleasure.

He waits until he hears her stand and set the glass aside, glances over to find her licking a drop from her lower lip contemplatively. She meets his eyes for a moment, her cheeks going slightly pink. Caroline clears her throat, shifting her gaze so she's no longer looking directly at him, "I've had your blood before," she says slowly. "To cure a hybrid bite, like you said."

"More than one."

Caroline's face twists, "That sounds painful. Werewolf bites are supposed to be an awful way to go."

"And hybrid venom is exponentially more so."

"Past-me had seriously questionable survival skills," Caroline muses. She holds her ground, as Klaus draws nearer, her spine straightening and chin lifting. He moves slowly, taking one of her hands and setting it on his shoulder. She doesn't pull away, merely shifts restlessly when he sets his palm on her waist.

"Not a point I can argue," Klaus replies softly. He'd often thought the same thing, mystified by Caroline's willingness to take risks for people who didn't deserve her loyalty. He takes her free hand and draws her closer, watches her face intently as he speaks, "Except to say that it wasn't death on your mind, when you asked me to bite you that last time. Nor was survival what you were after when you sank your fangs into my throat. Not with the way your thighs tightened about my hips."

Caroline's jaw drops, a gasp emerging, and Klaus grins and easily sweeps her into the dance. She's blinking rapidly, stuttering out bitten off syllables and shocked noises. Her mind's racing but still she dances, her movements unthinking, automatic, following his lead beautifully, even without the benefit of music. The steps aren't typical, like he'd said, but she knows them, and it's not until he spins her, pulling her back into his embrace that she manages a coherent sentence, "So you're saying that we… you know."

Klaus can't resist taunting her, "Not certain what you mean, sweetheart."

Her nails dig into his shoulder, and Klaus winces exaggeratedly, "Careful now. I'll heal but walking downstairs with my shirt torn to ribbons will invite all sorts of questions. My siblings are awfully nosy."

Caroline brushes that away, "Please. You've got to have a room somewhere. I'm sure you can sneak better than anyone else in this house." She flounders for a moment, and Klaus can feel her nerves in the tension of her muscles, the rigidness of her spine. "I thought you said we were enemies! And now you're implying that we…"

Klaus pauses, and Caroline stumbles into his chest. "Were enemies," he stresses. "And then we were friends. And for one very long, very satisfying, afternoon we were more than that."

Caroline's forehead creases, her brows drawing together, "So sex? That's all it was? I guess I can see that. You're attractive, we're vampires..."

Klaus shakes his head, and steps to the side, Caroline's body once again flowing perfectly with his. "That's all it could have been, at that particular moment. But we're immortal, love. Things change. I had every confidence that it would be more than just a stolen moment at some point. And I was reasonably certain that whatever feelings you had for me were far more complicated than you ever would have admitted."

She's quiet, staring at a distant point over his shoulder. Her body remains slightly stiff, the distance between them more formal than it had started out as. Klaus sighs, and executes another spin, more complicated than the first. He slips behind her, rests his hands on her waist, pausing her motions. "But of course that's only speculation on my part."

Caroline swallows audibly, but doesn't reply. Nor does she attempt to pull away from him, and Klaus will count that as a small victory. "You're free to leave the room," he tells her. "Wander anywhere you wish on the grounds. I'm afraid I can't let you leave the property just yet. Tristan can't enter, but it's entirely possible he's got people lurking in the city."

Caroline nods, and inhales shakily. "This is just… kind of a lot," she says, a note of apology there.

One Klaus neither needs nor wants. "I understand, Caroline. You needn't feel guilty for a thing. Everything will sort itself out. I will ensure it."

She nods again, steps away from him, taking a few steps towards the door. She stops when Klaus speaks again, "This room remains safe for you, sweetheart. You and I can enter freely, my siblings and your friend Bonnie. That's it. And they'll not disturb you, should you decide you need some time to sort out your thoughts."

Caroline turns to look at him, an expression of guarded gratitude on her face. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, "Thanks. And, in the interest of honesty, you might have been right."

"About?" Klaus asks, mostly because he wants to hear her say it.

"You being the mystery dancer guy."

Klaus smiles at her, and walks over so he can escort her out the door, "It would be a travesty if I didn't know what I was doing, at my age, don't you think? But I'll accept the compliment, of course."

Her reply, and a tiny amused snort comes immediately, arch and dryly amused, "Geez, you really don't try to hide the ego thing, do you?"

Klaus laughs, and Caroline joins in. She doesn't startle when he rests his hand on her back, doesn't resist when he steers her in the correct direction. She listens as he explains where they're going, gives her a general layout of the house and its current occupants.

It's progress, more than he'd hoped. He's eased Caroline's fear of him and gained a tiny bit of trust, if Klaus isn't mistaken. It's all he can do, for now.

He'll have to pay a visit to Bonnie later. Impress upon her how important it was that she work quickly. Because while Klaus enjoys Caroline's company, he can't help but feel like something's missing. He'd always knows that she'd be different, when they next met. She'd settle in some ways, grow in others. And she has, but it doesn't feel authentic, with their shared experiences erased. He wants to give them back, and he'll stop at nothing to make sure that he can.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven – Get Out of This

Caroline stills, hearing footsteps, her mouth full and a hand in the cupboard. "Uh oh," a familiar voice rings out from behind her, a mocking sing song. The pang of guilt is automatic even if she knows it's silly. Klaus had insisted she was welcome to make herself comfortable in his home. Repeatedly. And she's accepted that he's not as advertised. A monster, definitely. But not the one from her nightmares.

Even with that knowledge swimming in her head she's existed on blood bags and sugar for days now, on the fringes of the household's activity, her anxiety just below the surface, constantly battling her instinct to flee. It's obvious, and not exactly healthy and she kind of expects judgement, concern or a gently inquiry about her mental state. But Enzo brashly plows ahead, mockery in his tone, "I know that look. Why the stress eating, Gorgeous?"

Caroline turns slowly, eyeing the dark haired vampire warily as she chews the cookie in her mouth.

Say what you would about the Mikaelsons, but they kept a seriously killer junk food stash.

Enzo reaches over her shoulder, plucking a bag of pretzels from a shelf, unbothered by her silence in his presence. Bonnie had introduced them, explained that Enzo was a friend. A newer one but someone Caroline trusted. He certainly acted familiar, with the nicknames and the playful eyebrows and the casual personal space invading.

She might have knocked him on his ass the first time he'd bounded up to her. But, in her defense, he'd surprised her. And after the last couple of days of turmoil, the whole kidnapping thing not to mention finding out that basically her whole life was a lie courtesy of a couple of psychos, could anyone blame a girl for being a little jumpy?

Klaus had let her be after their confusing conversation and dance, told her she was free to look around the house and she'd begun cautiously exploring. She hadn't been out of her room for an hour before Enzo had come up to her in a hallway, at full vamp speed. She'd reacted accordingly to a perceived threat, fangs dropping and going for his throat. He'd dodged with a laugh and she'd managed to kick him into a wall.


Sending a painting that looked expensive crashing to the floor but Caroline had barely noticed, intent on finding a weapon.

Klaus hadn't appeared to mind the damage, the crack in the wall or the destroyed furniture, when he'd come flashing up the stairs. He'd seemed amused, biting his lip to hide a smile as he snatched the chair leg she'd been wielding from her hand, "Careful, love. I find him a bit tiresome but your witch friend seems fond. Best not anger her until she sorts out your memories."

She'd continued glaring at the unfamiliar vampire who'd been nonchalantly brushing plaster dust from his shirt, completely unconcerned about the fact that she'd been about to stake him.

Bonnie had made her way to them then, before Caroline could demand an explanation, slightly sweaty and out of breath from her sprint through the house. She'd taken in the scene, made the correct assumptions, and shot Klaus a dirty look, "Damn it, you can't just run off after casually saying something ominous about attempted murder, Klaus!"

He'd blinked down at her, an expression on his face that Caroline was pretty sure meant he was going to say something smart ass-y but Bonnie had stalked over to Enzo, pointing an accusatory finger, "And you! Did we, or did we not, go over the fact that you had to wait for me to re-introduce you to Caroline? She doesn't remember you Enzo! How would you react to some weirdo popping up out of nowhere?"

Enzo had straightened, smoothing his shirt and opening his mouth to defend himself but Bonnie had ruthlessly cut him off with a harsh poke to his chest, "Don't even try it. You'd react just as violently as Caroline did. Worse, since you're a murderous impulsive ass."

Klaus had immediately stopped hiding his glee, grinning, his hands clasped behind his back as he'd watched the scene unfold. And Caroline had found herself relaxing, and hiding a smile of her own. It was a funny sight. Enzo easily had eight inches on Bonnie and looked down at her with something like adoration as she berated him. He'd grabbed for her hand once she'd wound down, pressed a kiss to the back of it. "Apologies. Couldn't help myself."

Bonnie had quickly turned away with a disgusted noise, offering Caroline a contrite nod. "Sorry, Care. I promise he grows on you. Grew on you way before he grew on me, actually."

Klaus' head had swiveled to Enzo sharply, "Really?" he bit out. "You neglected to mention that."

Enzo had smirked, sidled slightly closer to Caroline ignoring her bristling and Klaus' murderous expression. She'd surmised he was either completely immune to social cues or had a bit of a death wish. Maybe both. "Not like that. Though she did proposition me once. I turned her down all gentleman-like."

"Oh my god. Shut up, Enzo." Bonnie had groaned, slapping a hand over her face. She'd forced a smile, and stepped towards Caroline. "Let's try this again. Caroline, this is Enzo. You were friends"

He'd held out a hand, a charming smile on his face. Caroline had found herself reaching out, letting him shake her hand.

Still a little guarded, ready to throw another punch if he moved too fast.

But he hadn't, had merely rolled his eyes and pumped her arm roughly and enthusiastically. "Be seeing you, Gorgeous," he'd told her with a wink before snagging Bonnie's arm to draw her away and jovially telling her that he'd hide all her spell books if she didn't eat a proper meal and rest a bit.

And since then he'd popped up often unbothered by Caroline's less than warm reactions to his company.

But she was probably his best option.

It's been nearly 72 hours since Caroline had first left her cushy temporary prison. Bonnie was once more locked away in Freya's study, as she often was, and Enzo was barred from that room. He had a tendency to touch things he wasn't supposed to, he'd confided, and apparently wasn't very good at not talking when Bonnie or one of the other witches was trying to concentrate. He'd been threatened quite creatively, he'd told Caroline with a shrug. He thought it best not to test them when they were under so much pressure.

The ban left him at loose ends and, since Klaus had promised to rip out a non-essential organ or three if Enzo did not cease getting in the way, he often sought out Caroline. She found she didn't mind, had managed to relax more and more each time they spoke. He didn't seem to hold it against her that she didn't remember him, unlike some people. Klaus' sister Rebekah had been particularly snide in their few encounters. Enzo didn't treat her like she was off or broken in any way. It was kind of… comforting.

The scrape of the stool Enzo pulled from the island shook Caroline from her thoughts. "Well? He prompts. "What's got you all pinched looking this time?"

He reaches for her cookies but Caroline holds them to her chest protectively, "Excuse you, eat your salt. Leave my sugar alone."

He pouts, but obligingly crunches down on a pretzel. "Fine. But let me guess, you're nervous about Bonnie digging around in your brain? Can't say I blame you."

Caroline sighs, leans against the counter. It's only one of her current preoccupations, but probably the easiest to talk about. "Kind of. I mean, I don't think she'd do anything to hurt me. But what if it gets worse instead of better and I end up a vampire vegetable?"

She expects Enzo to make a joke, but he doesn't. His reply is nonchalant, and something about his confidence warms her. "Unlikely. You'll heal. And if your memories don't come back you'll then you'll deal with that too, Gorgeous. This time Bonnie will be 'round to help you. I'll probably be dead since Mr. Original Hybrid won't take the news well, however. I suspect I'm about the most expendable person in the household, should he need to vent a little rage."

"Probably," Caroline agrees.

"Do tell him you adore me once you're back to yourself, would you? I quite like living, thank you. Not fond of the constant evil eye."

"I wish I was that sure that I would be back to myself," Caroline mutters, digging out another cookie. "Whoever that might be."

"Ah, that's because you don't remember Bonnie Bennett. Wicked powerful, willing to go to completely insane lengths to help the people she loves. You're right near the top of that list, and I know she feels guilty that she never went looking for you, never put it together that you'd be a target. She'll fix you right up, I'm sure of it."

"I hope so."

Enzo's uncharacteristically quiet for a long moment though Caroline can feel him watching her. She keeps her face smooth and serene because most of the other entries on her list of concerns are things she's not super comfortable discussing with Enzo, even if he used to be her friend. Caroline's just reaching for another cookie when he leans forward abruptly, "So, pep talk successful? Wallowing done? Gonna do something useful now?"

Caroline blinks, a touch offended, "Um, what?"

His face creases in exasperation and he eyes her pointedly, waving a hand. "This! The Ghost-Caroline skulking routine you're doing. It's odd and making me uncomfortable."

She rolls her eyes, slumping in her seat. "Oh, well if you're uncomfortable."

He makes another grab for her cookies and she smacks his hand away with a warning noise from low in her throat, not bothering to mind her strength. It's only the fact that he's a vampire, and older than her, that saves him from breaking a couple of bones. He grins, seemingly pleased by her little act of violence. "Ah, there she is. Was beginning to wonder if she'd been completely erased. Would have been a bloody shame, if you asked me. Meek and fidgety doesn't suit you in the slightest."

"Now you're just being a dick," Caroline grumbles.

Not something Enzo seems to have a problem with. "The Caroline I knew always had a plan. Would steamroll anyone who got in her way. Wouldn't be content to sit back and let the menfolk do the war waging, you get me?"

"Last I checked there are plenty of women on Team Klaus," Caroline shoots back, but it's a feeble argument. Because as obnoxious as he's being Enzo does have a point. She'd followed directions, been a good little soldier for a decade. She's capable, knows she could help. But all these faces, these strangers who look at her with varying degrees of sympathy and interest and pity make it difficult to dive right in.

She'd kind of done it with Tristan, embraced the missions he'd given her. And look how that had turned out.

She's knows it's not the same, Bonnie had answered question after question and Caroline had seen hundreds of pictures that proved that she had known Bonnie for a very long time. She's just not sure where she stands with anyone else, if she can trust the things they tell her.

And Klaus, and the way he looks at her, is a whole other can of worms.

"Are you? On Team Klaus?" Enzo asks, watching her reaction closely.

"I don't have much of a choice, do I?" Caroline tosses back blithely. She's well aware that's not what Enzo meant but Klaus is so not something that's up for discussion. "Kind of stuck here until further notice. And probably dead if he loses, so…"

Enzo snorts, "Oh come on. Don't play stupid, Gorgeous. You have plenty of choices. More than just about anyone in this house from what I've seen. It's quite the hot topic."

"What do you mean?"

"The sister, the scary one, is dying to pick your brain about what you know about what Tristan's been up to these last ten years while they were out of commission. Says you're not quite as dim as you look and you might have a helpful nugget or two somewhere. The brothers agree but his hybridness says no, you're not to be bothered. Awfully considerate of your delicate sensibilities for an evil overlord attempting to stage a comeback, no?"

Caroline finds she doesn't have a snappy comeback. She's not exactly thrilled to be called delicate but she can't deny that she's noticed a speculative quality, a certain amount of calculation when some of the Mikaelsons look at her. She gets a little of it from Marcel and Lucien too, the few times they'd been in the same room, before she'd managed to edge away.

Enzo continues, propping his feet up on the kitchen island. "Now, the question is, what are you going to do with your abundance of choices? Keep hiding? Not exactly productive, if you ask me. And the Caroline I knew did hate to be idle."

Apparently a trait that hadn't faded with her memories because she's never lacked a project in the last ten years either, having picked up things to keep herself busy in her scant downtime. Some activities she'd discarded but some she'd kept. Maybe she'd see if she could get her hands on an actual sketchbook, now that she doesn't have to hide her drawings. Klaus has people running out into the city to get supplies, surely she can find a list and make a teeny addition to it without bothering anyone?

She'll look into it, Caroline decides. Right after she finds Klaus and tells him she's all in, and that she wants to know what he has planned.

She's never going to figure out who she can trust by sitting back and avoiding everyone. Her instincts about Klaus and Bonnie and Enzo seem to be steering her right and ignoring that they'd been screaming that something was off with Tristan and Aurora had gotten her nowhere.

It's time to stop hiding and do something.

He listens to her footsteps approaching at a hesitant, plodding pace. It's maddening - so unlike Caroline that Klaus almost wants to call out for her to hurry up, to goad her into anger and hope that her temper will erase her insecurity. The Bennett witch's vampire plaything has accomplished it a time or two, goaded Caroline into forgetting to be quiet and watchful and painfully careful. Klaus knows he could do it too with nothing but a few well-chosen words.

But he restrains himself.

He's got the door to his studio open, his attention always partially on the goings on downstairs, somewhat uneasy with having so many people in residence. They might be allies but things remain precarious and shifting loyalties are always possible. He'd easily heard Caroline ask Marcel where she could find him, Klaus had mentally praised her choice.

Lucien and Kol hadn't been far from her and they'd not have offered the information as freely as Marcel had if she'd thought to ask them. Would have likely made nuisances of themselves and that might have gotten messy once Klaus got involved.

Later. Outside of Caroline's notice.

Would probably bad for morale, too. And might have set Freya to lecturing.

Luckily, Klaus had been saved the trouble. Marcel had given clear, concise directions and Caroline had thanked him softly before making her way upstairs.

At a slower clip than a human would have managed, trying Klaus' patience. It's the first time she's sought him out since her initial awakening, when her frustrated fury had left her destructive and demanding. She's been unnaturally solemn these last few days, subdued and watchful. She flits around the peripheries of rooms, speaks little and slips out away swiftly whenever more than three people gather in a space. It's impressive and most wouldn't notice if not for their heightened senses

She takes meals in her room, sometimes allowing Bonnie to join her.

But she's feeding, according to the maid who restocks the blood bags. Klaus also knows that Caroline's not touched the luggage she'd brought with her from South America, the things she'd brought from her former life, items bought with Tristan's money, since she'd watched Aurora unwittingly spill Tristan's lies on the security footage.

The reclusiveness is concerning but he cannot blame Caroline for keeping her own company, not when she's been used as a pawn so callously.

Klaus has vowed not to push, has forbidden anyone else from attempting the same. Enzo doesn't listen but Klaus allows it since he does seem to lift Caroline's spirits.

How Caroline tolerated Enzo Klaus simply did not understand.

Freya reports that Caroline's been receptive and cooperative when it comes to breaking the spells that lock her memories away, answering questions and offering information without reservation. That she'd seemed cautiously eager when informed that Bonnie and Freya almost had a solution. That Caroline hadn't even blinked when she'd been informed that it would hurt, had even managed to joke about it.

She's been slowly thawing, growing more comfortable, and Klaus had been very pleased.

And now she's seeking his company, of her own volition, an absolutely delightful development. Klaus has never believed in signs, has always been determined to make his own path through persuasion or manipulation or blood and pain if (and when) necessary. He can't, won't, employ his usual methods here but Caroline's too timid footfalls are an overture, one he hadn't been certain she'd make.

Perhaps he'll have to start believing in such things, if only occasionally.

Klaus keeps his back to the door but trains his ears carefully, pretends to study the canvas in front of him. He hears the rustle of her clothes as she brings her hand up to knock, the soft tapping of her knuckles against the door frame. "Come in," he calls in response, making the words seem absent, like he hadn't been waiting for her since she'd first headed in this direction.

She swallows, harsh and audible and shifts restlessly. "Hey," she begins, hesitating before crossing the threshold. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

Klaus turns and approaches her, moving smoothly and deliberately, motioning Caroline further into the room. She goes a bit too still when he brushes past her and shuts the door but if Klaus can hear downstairs he knows some of the house's occupants can hear what's happening inside his studio. No need to supply his siblings with ammunition, give Lucien any ideas if he's not trustworthy. Klaus makes no indication that he'd noticed her unease and Caroline doesn't attempt to flee. She straightens her shoulders and makes her way to the sofa. He's about to warn her but she sits before he can, sending a plume of dust into the air and leaving her holding in a cough behind pinched lips. Klaus tries not to smile as Caroline's nose wrinkles in disgust, her hands flailing as she waves at the air, the thick layer of particles visible in the sunlight streaming through the room. "Apologies, love. I'm afraid the house isn't quite sorted and since I'm the only one who sets foot in this room it wasn't exactly a priority."

"Surprisingly magnanimous of you," she notes tartly, her eyes shifting to take in the room.

Like the rest of the house it had been thoroughly smashed and looted, canvases torn and the tables demolished, paint smeared haphazardly along the walls and spilt on the floors. The upholstery at the back of the sofa is torn, and the shelves that had once lined the room are in pieces. The worst of the debris had been swept up but not much else had been done. Klaus was waiting on a call that would give him a better idea of Tristan's current whereabouts and had decided to see if there was anything salvageable. He's not had much luck and was happy with the distraction Caroline provided.

Klaus drags the metal stool that he'd managed to bend back into a useable shape over and perches on it. "I manage good manners occasionally. Can't have my guests sleeping in squalor, can I? Whatever would the neighbours say?"

Caroline looks briefly chagrined, and doesn't seem to register his humor. Klaus continues before she can dwell on it, or think to take back her flippant, natural, comment.

"What brings you up here?"

Her eyes snap to his, her curious perusal of the room forgotten as her nerves return. Her spine straightens, chin lifting until she's meeting his eyes squarely, determination evident. "I wanted to talk to you. To let you know that I want in. I want to help with whatever you're planning."

He'd been expecting this. Her vampire friend wasn't much for subtlety or whispers. "Ah, yes. What was it Enzo called it? Team Klaus? I find I like the sound of that."

Her posture wavers slightly, and he thinks she's fighting not to scoff. "Well, I'm not about to wear a t-shirt with your face on it or anything."

"I'd never be so gauche, sweetheart. Though Elijah's horrified expression when presented with such a thing would surely be worth the expense. I'd do something a little more upscale, I think."

"Fancy blazers? Matching tattoos? Signet rings?" She's blinking up at him, the picture of innocence as she rattles off options sarcastically, a hint of a smirk curling her lips. It really is too bad that there's not a useable pencil in the entire room because he wants to capture it, will have to work from memory.

"I'll ponder it," Klaus replies lightly. "Tell me how you think you can help."

She bristles at the phrasing, the perceived slight, eyes darkening as they narrow in offense. Klaus remains silent, makes no attempt to soothe her ruffled feathers. He's genuinely not questioning her abilities, is merely unsure of just how dirty she's willing to get her hands.

There will be no compromise, no bargain that will keep the body count minimal. Caroline needs to understand that if she truly means to be an active participant.

Ten years ago Caroline had very specific ideas about what it meant to be a good vampire. She'd been heavily influenced by The Ripper's self-loathing teachings, her parent's prejudices. He's always known that she'd need time, space, to leave that worldview behind. Klaus is not sure where she stands now, and the experiences that have shaped her have been heavily manipulated. He thinks it's quite likely that Caroline isn't sure where she stands anymore either. Will helping in Tristan's demise make it harder for her to reconcile what she's already done? Klaus cannot be certain.

But ultimately, it's Caroline's decision.

"My laptop," she clips out. "I assume you have it?"

"In my office," Klaus confirms.

"Have you tried to get into it?"


She leans back, a flash of triumph in her gaze, "Unsuccessfully I'm guessing? Tristan's paranoia is a teeny bit intense. You could have gotten my prints while I was out but you'd need my code too."

He'd been told as much. Josh had taken a crack at it as soon as Caroline had arrived at the New Orleans compound. He'd stood restlessly, all fidgety hands and shifty eyes, while telling Klaus that Tristan's encryption software was top of the line and unless they could guess a 10 digit code in three tries the whole thing would be erased, and become be useless to them.

"3837564153," Caroline rattles off sweetly. "That's my code. It changes every mission and it was such a bitch to remember in the beginning. It's possible he's already cut off my access but he might not have. I have had to go dark once or twice before and it was too risky to call in immediately. It's only been a couple days. I could…"

"No," Klaus says instantly, harsh and firm. "There will be no double agent nonsense, Caroline. Do not even suggest it."

Few would argue with him. But Caroline has always been singular. Her face settles into lines of stubbornness as she leans forward in her seat, "But if it could help, if I could convince him to meet me somewhere…"

He bites his tongue until he tastes iron, wills away the urge to snap at her. He'll not have Caroline fearing him again, won't let his temper show. "Out of the question," he finally manages. "It's not necessary, and it's too great a risk."

Her hands ball into angry fists and her eyes hide none of her irritation, "If I log in without contacting him he'll think I've either turned on him willingly or been forced into giving you access. He'll shut me out."

"Then we'll have to pull what we can before he can manage it. I've a person or two who should be able to work something out."

She shakes her head, "It might not be enough. There's so much in those files, Klaus."

Klaus studies her, "What did you use them for, love?"

Caroline shrugs, her fingertips drumming on the arm of the sofa, "Research. I liked to be prepared. It's easier to lie to people when you're not going in blind."

As he'd suspected.

"Then we'll steal what we can from your laptop. I'm sure you can fill in all sorts of blanks from memory if need be. Lucien can likely help. He's got his own ears to the ground, you see."

She's not happy with the solution he's presented Klaus can tell. The urge to push, to try to get her way is still there. But Caroline's evidently learned to pick her battles. She shakes her head, and subsides in her seat, turning her attention back to the shambles of the room. "Fine."

We'll do it first thing tomorrow," Klaus promises.

Caroline hums softly in response, eyes riveted in the paint-splashed walls. "What was this room?" she asks curiously.

"An art studio. Mine," he tells her, watching her brows creep up. It's a conversation they've had before and he's wondering how it'll be different and how it will be the same.

Her eyes flit over him, assessing. "You don't strike me as the arty type."

He lets out a laugh, getting comfortable on the stool. "Don't I?" Klaus asks knowingly. "I hardly think you know me well enough to judge at present. Though I've no doubt that whatever fairy tales Tristan wove painted me unflatteringly. Pure evil, no sense of decency or decorum, a bastard and a brute, that sort of thing?"

"Something like that," Caroline replies.

"I'm a thousand years old, love. Plenty of time to develop a little nuance, don't you think?"

"I guess," she allows and smirks once more. "I could maybe buy you throwing the blood of your enemies onto a canvas in a fit of rage. If I'm going by Tristan's stories."

Klaus smiles, "While using bodily fluids is occasionally trendy I personally have never favored blood. It degrades, the color changes. Not so aesthetically pleasing, you understand."

"Clearly the important thing," Caroline deadpans, but there's amusement there, a tease not an accusation. "Did I know this about you? Before?"

"You did. Wandered into another studio of mine. We had quite the enlightening conversation that night. I've never had a woman throw diamonds back in my face before that night but, as they say, there's a first time for everything."

"Diamonds?" she repeats incredulously.

"A birthday gift."

"I really hate that you keep dangling these stories in front of me," Caroline mutters peevishly, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes. "Seriously, how did I manage to convince you not to kill me?"

Klaus looks away, swallows back a laugh she'll not appreciate. "Surprisingly easily, all things considered. But you'll remember the hows and whys in time."

She huffs and Klaus curses the knock at the door that interrupts what she'd been about to say. She'd been relaxing, not weighing every word and response. It had been refreshing and Klaus has no desire to cut their conversation short.

But duty called.

Marcel at least has the grace to look apologetic as he opens the door. He smiles at Caroline, the picture of affability, before turning his attention to Klaus. "Elijah's taking that call you've been waiting for. Thought you might like to know."

Caroline's eyes flash in annoyance, shifting back and forth between them, "Can all the cryptic stuff stop now? It's super annoying."

Marcel grins, clearly amused and interested in Klaus' reaction, his eyes eager and completely unsubtle.

"As you wish, sweetheart," he tells her with a nod. Klaus pushes himself to his feet and addresses Marcel. "Caroline has decided to take a more pro-active role in what we're doing. And I do believe she's more than entitled since she had just as many years stolen as I did. Would you be willing to bring her up to speed?"

Marcel agrees easily, rocking back on his feet, "Sure. If the lady doesn't mind. I don't think she likes me much."

A disbelieving noise comes from Caroline. "You kidnapped me!" she exclaims, rising as well. "Told me you'd have been totally cool with killing me too. So not endearing, for future reference."

Klaus lifts an eyebrow in Marcel's direction, not pleased to be hearing that. But Marcel's paying him no mind, focused on Caroline. "But that was before I really knew you," he tells her playfully, in a smooth and intent way that Klaus is certain has endeared Marcel to a woman or two in his centuries.

It's grating and they will definitely be speaking later.

Caroline is not the least bit charmed, drawing herself up to her full height and glaring as she spits out a reply, "Oh, please. Do I look like an idiot? You're gonna have to try harder if you want me to forget the repeated neck snappings."

Wisely, Marcel doesn't point out that those hadn't technically been Klaus' idea, likely sensing it would go over badly. Klaus leaves the room, listening to Caroline and Marcel continuing to verbally spar as they trail him.

Caroline's not going to be letting Marcel forget her imprisonment anytime soon. She's definitely a woman who keeps a grudge.

Caroline can more than hold her own, Klaus knows. He glances back, catches her gesticulating, eyes bright and livelier than she's been in days. She'd always liked a good battle of wits, enjoyed besting opponents in an argument and getting the last word. And as she tosses out pointed words and sharp barbs Caroline seems far more like her old self – confident and secure – than she has since arriving in New Orleans.

Klaus trusts Marcel, as much as he trusts anybody, and he wouldn't mind if Caroline managed to come to do the same. A friend, another connection to New Orleans, to Klaus, couldn't hurt once Tristan's dealt with and Caroline's free.

The more reasons she has to return the better.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Supposed To Know

"Okay," Caroline breathes, hands reaching out. She wills them to be steady. "I'm ready. Are you ready?"

Josh's, "I was born ready," comes out deeper, and with a certain action hero-esque inflection that has Caroline fighting a smile, nerves abating slightly. Gia lets out a pained groan from beside her, and Caroline thinks the other woman might have reached out and smacked Josh had her hands been free.

But nope, she was on cord duty, as Josh had dubbed it. Tasked with handing things Josh's way when he asked for them. Gia, Caroline could tell, was less than enthused about her role, jaw tight and eyes flashing in annoyance.

And Josh was totally milking it. Caroline finds it pretty entertaining.

She'd reported to Klaus' study bright and early as agreed and had been surprised, and maybe a little relieved, to find him not in it. To say that her feelings about Klaus were mixed was an understatement. And it only got worse the more time they spent together. Caroline had tossed and turned all night, trying to fit the new pieces of him into place, make them work with what she knew, what her instincts were telling her.

It was proving difficult.

She woke up dreading the new curveballs she'd assumed Klaus would be throw her, more thing to keep her up at night. But there had been no need. She'd poked her head into the room, blandly polite smile pasted on, but it had been wasted, Klaus nowhere to be found. Instead Marcel had been there, waving her in and making introductions. They hadn't been totally necessary but she could grudgingly appreciate the attempt at politeness. She'd recognized the two vampires who'd also been in the room. Both from her wanderings around the New Orleans compound the last few days and from before. They'd both had files, been marked as close allies of Marcel's. Josh had been a prime target of Tristan's and more elusive than anyone would have expected given his newness to life as a vampire. There'd only been a single grainy photo of Gia, at Elijah's side, and little information about her.

Once pleasantries had been exchanged it had become clear that Caroline had never met either of them before in her life. She'd relaxed quickly, found herself making conversation without any reluctance. It was much easier to be around people who had no expectations of her. Plus, they'd both been all the way on the other side of the world when she'd first met Marcel in Chile, had no knowledge or part in her transport to New Orleans, so no grudges were necessary. It was basically a fresh start. Easy, and Caroline didn't have to sort through any anger or resentment or confusion, could just be.

Doing something felt good too. It felt like control, like she was finally cutting the strings Tristan had tried to trap her with, and Caroline liked it.

And Josh was ridiculously likable, chatty and irreverent. He'd shaken her hand and the first thing he'd said had been, "So, amnesia? That kind of blows, huh?"

No one else had been so blunt. She'd found it refreshing.

Marcel had favored Josh with a quelling look and he'd hurriedly moved on. But Caroline hadn't minded. It was nice that he didn't feel the need to tiptoe. Josh had asked her a few questions about her laptop's specs, laid out a plan for how they were going to pull as much off of it as they could, as fast as they could, just in case Tristan was going to cut them off.

"Anything else you want me to try to save?" he'd asked. "You know, in addition to the scary vampire Big Brother stuff."

She'd been unable to help the derisive snort, "Um, no. Tristan likes to reward his employees. Keep 'em loyal and show his benevolence. The first gift for a job well done that was something I'd been ogling online I dismissed. The second made me suspicious and the third time it happened made me extra cautious. No man is that good at picking out presents. There's nothing personal on that laptop. He'd have found a way to use it."

Josh had winced, sympathy in the gesture, "That's gross. Sorry."

Caroline had shrugged. It was something she'd long since resigned herself to. Told herself it was part of the price she paid for her safety. Her torture free existence. That it wouldn't be forever, just until the threat Klaus presented was eliminated for good. She'd gotten used to ferreting out the nearest internet café, or charming people into letting her borrow their phones or tablets when there was something she wanted to look up and keep for herself. Mostly leisure activities. Books she wanted to read, clubs she could disappear into for a night of dancing with no agenda. The odd afternoon off at the movies, a quick, stolen tour through a museum. She'd spoken dismissively, not wanting any pity. "I can access my online shopping carts anywhere. And my iTunes library is all in the cloud. I'll pick myself up another one later on. Once this whole house arrest thing is done."

She couldn't even remember the last time she'd picked an item out for herself. Not for a mission, or something she was told she needed. But just something she wanted.

It was an incredibly depressing realization.

Josh hadn't seemed to notice the slight dip in her mood. "Ugh, tell me about it," he had groaned. "Ten years I couldn't set foot here without risking torture and death and now I'm finally back and I'm stuck in this stupid house."

He'd frozen, stilled like a deer in the headlights, listened carefully. Shaken himself, at Caroline's questioning look. "Oops, habit. Back in the day Klaus liked to dangle the consequences of failing to jump to complete his requests. Super menacingly. Usually with very creative threats to my life and physical well-being. I'm not really used to him not doing that."

At least that fit into what she knew of Klaus. "So you're not really gung ho about being on Team Klaus?" she'd asked. "Like Davina?"

He'd let out a dry laugh, "Um, no. I am here because it's my best option. I'm going free agent as soon as this mess is done."

"That's my plan too," Caroline had agreed, liking the sound of it immensely. "Hopefully my brain gets unscrambled too."

"I'm rooting for you," Josh had told her seriously. "I'll even take you down to my favorite computer place. Hook you up with all the best privacy software. If it's still there, of course."

She'd believed him. Thought she might take him up on the offer. It's not like she was drowning in friends these days.

"Thanks. It could have been worse. Since I wasn't supposed to know him I was at least spared the protection detail reporting my every move. Could get away and do something normal once in occasionally. Aurora had four guards on her at all times. Kind of makes sense that she's a little unbalanced."

"Talk about Big Brother Tristan." Josh had appeared vaguely disgusted, nose wrinkled and lips twisted. "Maybe it's weird but I have to say I'm really glad I don't have any brothers and sisters who got turned with me," Josh continued, fussing with his own laptop. "Old vampires get kinda creepy about familial bonds. Totally awkward to witness, so experiencing it must be a treat."

She'd cracked a smile, but refrained from commenting, even if she did kind of agree. Josh's eyes had turned furtive and he'd leaned closer, voice dropping, "There's a bet going. And you can finish it. Win me some money. To the best of your knowledge were Aurora and Tristan…" he'd trailed off, made a whistling noise. Between that, and his waggling eyebrows Caroline easily got what he was asking.

She'd snuck a peek at Marcel, found him looking more resigned than anything. Clearly used to Josh. Caroline wondered if he had any money in the pot. "More than familial? Not that I know of. But I only knew them for a decade, and I wasn't around all the time. I would lean towards no. Neither were exactly celibate from what I did see. Though the overnight guests Aurora didn't kill herself usually ended up dead by some other means, so…"

Looking thoughtful, Josh had shaken his head. "Could be a lover's jealous rage, could be old timey brotherly control freakiness. Gonna need more proof. These lovers of Tristan's. Teeny redheads with crazy eyes or no?"

That had shaken a laugh out of her. "Nope, sorry. Mostly brunettes. Actually, the men that I saw usually resembled Elijah, now that I think about it. And the women had kind of the same vibe. Cool and classy. Chanel and pearls, you know? Like a spec of dirt wouldn't dare to cling to their pristineness."

Josh's eyes had widened as she'd spoken, and he'd scooted closer appearing gleeful, "No, but tell me more!" He shot a sly glance in Gia's direction, jabbed his thumb her way. "Tell Gia too. She…"

"Shut up, Josh," Gia had clipped, stare lethal.

Confirming to Caroline that there was something to Tristan's assumptions about her relationship with the eldest Mikaelson brother.

Josh hadn't been cowed. "Oh, come on. Tristan might be evil and slimy but you can't deny he's pretty to look at. Details, Caroline. Pretty please?"

She'd been about to confide, drawn in by his eagerness, but Marcel had spoiled their fun. Caroline had found herself disappointed. It had been a long time since she'd indulged in something as light and trivial as gossip. Every tidbit she'd ever dropped on a mission had been purposeful, a mini bomb meant to lead to a bigger explosion. She'd occasionally nodded and smiled when Aurora told tales of people Caroline only vaguely knew. But she really hadn't had the opportunity otherwise. It was almost… fun.

"Focus, please," Marcel had drawled. He'd kept his distance since Josh had started speaking, had settled on a chair out of the way. But Caroline had been aware of his presence. Known that he was listening, cataloguing. Probably reporting back to Klaus later.

Another reason not to like Marcel. And another bullet point in Caroline's mental list of reasons to be wary of Klaus even if he wasn't who she'd always thought he was.

He might not be her enemy but he was still a thousand years old. Had done awful things to survive. To gain power. Things that had made Tristan hate him, and others too since Tristan hadn't acted single handedly. Things he wouldn't deny or feel ashamed of, Caroline would guess.

Did she blame him, knowing what she'd spent the past decade helping to do? Would she, with her memories restored? He'd told her (and Bonnie had confirmed) that their past wasn't neat and tidy. Caroline couldn't be entirely sure how she would feel until she knew everything.

Josh had sobered, proceeded to tell Caroline what the plan was. He'd displayed a great deal of technological knowledge, something Tristan had known nothing about. Caroline assumed it was a big part of the reason Josh had been able to stay undetected for so long.

And then they'd gotten to work.

Or really, Josh had. Caroline's part had been over with quickly, only her fingerprint and her passcode had been required once she'd answered all of Josh's questions. She'd slipped out of her seat, letting Josh take it over, and proceeded to pace behind him, feeling tense and nervous, darting glances at the screen, even if Josh seemed calm and collected, his tapping of the keys the only sound in the room. They'd discussed time, how long it would take Josh to get everything he needed, given what Caroline knew of the size of the database. She kept her eyes on the clock, resisted the urge to bite her nails.

Josh had let out a curse at the six minute mark, his movements growing frantic. They'd hoped for ten, but it seemed like fortune wasn't on their side.

Or maybe that had nothing to do with it. Maybe the minion Tristan paid to be glued to a tablet was just a little too well compensated not to notice something like his boss' kidnapped asset's laptop pulling massive amounts of information that said boss really wouldn't want to be in the wrong hands. Tristan's people were scarily efficient, Caroline knew. She had been one of them.

She peeks over Josh's shoulder, trying not to crowd him. The screen stills, before growing black, all the lights fading at once. Josh's shoulders slump, and he shakes out his hands. He twists and glances over at Caroline, "Well, I'm glad you're not going to miss it because your laptop is well and truly fried."

He doesn't seem upset, but Caroline presses, "Did you get it all?"

"Not quite. Maybe seventy percent? I'll have to look."

He doesn't seem to be in any hurry to do that though. He's cracking his neck, reaching for a bottle of water. But he was a vampire, so it's not like he had to worry about dehydration. Caroline steps forward, waving at the functional laptop, "Well? What are you waiting for?"

It's not like they were swimming in time here. They had things to accomplish and the lackadaisical vibe was grating on Caroline.

Josh blinks at her, but Marcel chuckles from behind them. "Not so fast. You've got somewhere to be."

That was news to Caroline.

She lifts a brow, crossing her arms, "Oh, really? Where?"

He grins, takes zero offense to her biting tone (which she'd totally meant to be offensive!), "You've got a date with some witches. Your friend made a breakthrough last night. Wanted to get you right away but was bullied into sleeping and powering up first. Looks like you're about to get your memories back. I look forward to meeting you, Caroline Forbes."

She stops breathing, a million feelings rushing through her. Shock, because she'd been told it was impossible so many times that she'd truly believed it. Joy. Relief, that she would finally know herself. There were nerves there too. A sharp stab of fear, the idea that things could get worse nagging at her.

They're all watching her carefully, with varying degrees of interest. It's habit that keeps Caroline from reacting outwardly, her inner turmoil not for public consumption. She lifts her chin, meets Marcel's eyes steadily. "I guess I'd better get going then. In Freya's workspace?" she'd been up there a few times, answering questions. Talking to Bonnie, trying to piece together her former life.

"Yes. They're waiting for you. Good luck," Marcel offers.

Caroline doesn't reply, leaves the room quietly, smiles tightly in response to Josh's tentative wave as she goes. She'd already been informed this was going to hurt like hell so she wasn't feel all that lucky.

Pain she could handle. It was only temporary.

She just really wanted it to be worth it.

Klaus shatters the glass in his hand the first time he hears her scream. He barely feels it slicing through his skin, nor the sting of the alcohol making its way into the cuts. Because the first shout is followed by a second, this one less surprised and more distressed. Hearing it, knowing that they've just begun to work on Caroline's memories, makes focusing on a minor bit of his own pain impossible for Klaus.

Freya had told him that this would happen, that the spells placed on Caroline were deep and that they would not come down gently. He'd been forbidden from witnessing it, his sister claiming she didn't trust him not to interfere and that they couldn't have him disturbing Bonnie after she'd begun.

It would only make it worse, she'd told him, more unpleasant for Caroline, if they had to start again. Klaus had agreed, grudgingly, to stay away and occupy himself elsewhere in the house.

Accomplishing anything of note, however, was unlikely to happen, his senses focused on the room above him. He hears footsteps, soft chanting. Caroline's hoarsely voiced cries occasionally rising above the scrape of what he assumes are her nails clawing at the floor.

Elijah reproaches him, "At least pull out the glass, Niklaus. It'll never heal that way and you're making a mess. We just replaced that carpet."

Klaus throws his brother a hard look, one that would make most flee his sight in fear. Elijah remains relaxed, turning a page in his newspaper. Klaus does as he's told after a moment, digging out the embedded shards and watching his skin heal. Elijah offers him a handkerchief and he takes it, managing to suppress a sigh of annoyance.

"I'm sure the girl will be fine," Elijah says calmly. "Miss Bennett is exceptionally talented, you know. Particularly when she's motivated."

Klaus gets himself a fresh glass, doesn't bother to comment. He knows that, hence why he'd placed tracking down the Bennett witch so high on his list of priorities. But he has no desire to discuss Caroline with Elijah, not now and likely not ever. He'd retreated to his study to be alone but Elijah had followed. Klaus suspects Freya's influence, that she'd wanted someone capable of at least slowing Klaus should his control fray.

He can feel Elijah watching him, and Klaus turns to stare back, lifting an eyebrow. "If you've something to say, brother, spit it out."

Elijah debates for a moment, before setting his paper down. He leans back and rests an ankle on his opposite knee. Klaus regrets asking the question immediately, once Elijah settles into that posture. It's familiar, one he uses when he's set on being overbearing. "I'm curious, Niklaus. How is it that you came to care for a friend of Elena Gilbert's?"

Klaus grits his teeth, and takes a sip of his drink. It would be pointless to deny it, he knows. For all that he and Elijah have been at odds over the years there's no one who can read Klaus better. He settles on a truth, but a vague one. "Many things happened that you were not privy to in Mystic Falls, Elijah."

"Evidently. Aurora seems to think Miss Forbes was a momentary infatuation of yours. And usually I'd be inclined to agree, given your… habits. But, if that were the case, why would Tristan go to such trouble? Taking her, altering her memories of you. Keeping her with him all this time."

Klaus has also wondered at Tristan's motives. It's something he'll need to find out. He's saved from replying to Elijah by Bonnie's voice growing louder, and the lights in the room flickering briefly, reacting to an enormous output of magic. Caroline lets out one last shriek, high and loud until it breaks off into a whimper, and then there's nothing from upstairs, no voices or movement, the silence almost eerie.

Klaus hesitates for only an instant before he's speeding from the room.

He'll allow Elijah to draw his own conclusions.

Klaus is less than pleased to be greeted by the sight of Enzo, leaning against the wall outside of Freya's workspace, when he gets upstairs. Enzo's ceased to react to Klaus' presence with anything but an irritatingly geniality and it grates. He barely moves from his slouched position when Klaus approaches. "Witchy barrier still intact, mate. You're going to have to wait."

Not something Klaus is prepared to do. He raises his voice, just loud enough to carry through the closed door. "Freya," he grits out warningly, knowing she'll read the tone perfectly well. That she'll understand that either the door opens immediately or Klaus will reduce it to matchsticks. Sure enough he hears his sister's familiar sigh, and the sound of her approaching the doorway.

She throws the door open with an unimpressed look, and swipes the toe of her boot through the salt line that made up the magical barrier. Klaus plows past her before she can scold him, Enzo just a few steps behind him. He pauses, upon seeing Caroline crumpled on the floor. The Bennett witch is next to her, Caroline's head resting on her lap. She looks up at Klaus tiredly. Her voice is weak when she speaks, "She's fine. I think. Just out."

"How long?" Klaus asks, the question clipped.

He only receives a shrug in reply.

He'd rarely been so annoyed by the unpredictability of spells.

"Did it work?" he demands, turning to look at Freya.

Much like Elijah she doesn't react to the edge in his tone. "We won't know for sure until she wakes up," she tells him. Freya turns away, and busies herself with clearing off a sofa in the corner. "We just have to wait and see. Let's get her off the floor. Enzo, would you mind going to grab something for Bonnie to eat? The spell took a lot out of her and I'm guessing she's not going to be willing to leave Caroline until she's up."

Bonnie nods determinedly and Enzo only hesitates a minute before heading back downstairs. Klaus takes a step forward and Bonnie glares. Klaus ignores her, leaning down and easily picking Caroline up. He tenses, smelling her blood and quickly deposits her on the cleared sofa. He brushes her hair back from her face. The skin around her eyes is stained rust red, a smear leading down her cheek. Caroline seems to have bitten through her lip at one point and it's healing slowly. Klaus swallows down the angry noise that's trying to claw its way out. He wants to threaten, make it known that he'll be incredibly displeased if whatever Bonnie had done had failed. If she'd forced Caroline to endure such pain for nothing.

He resists only because she remains Caroline's friend. And, assuming that her memories have been restored, Caroline will have very pointed words for Klaus on the subject of his treatment of her friends, should she find out. And he'd really rather avoid that.

They have much more enjoyable things to discuss. Though he imagines she'll want to address the way she'd come to New Orleans before they get to anything pleasant.

Bonnie moves carefully around Klaus, keeping as much distance as possible between them as she settles near Caroline's feet. It's almost amusing, and in most other circumstances he'd point it out, attempt to make her uncomfortable. But as she focuses on Caroline he's reminded that he and the Bennett witch have a common goal. They remain silent, both of their attention on Caroline's still form. It's not precisely comfortable, nor is it as awkward as it once might have been. Klaus feels Freya come up beside him, "I think it will be fine," she tells him quietly, her eyes on Caroline. "She told us to keep going. Said she had to know."

He'd heard that, of course. Had been both impressed and exasperated by Caroline's characteristic stubbornness. And relieved to find it intact, though he'd not doubted it. He sees her fingers twitch against the upholstery, holds his breath as she lets out a soft grumble of discomfort. Her eyes blink open, hazy at first and sharpening once they find his. Klaus braces himself, half-expects that tinge of fear that had greeted him days ago, before they'd managed to convince Caroline that he wasn't quite the monster he'd been painted as (at least as far as she personally was concerned).

But he sees no fear. Just a furrow of confusion, and then the widening of her eyes in recognition. Her head snaps to Bonnie and a rough laugh bubbles out of her. "Oh my god, Bonnie!" Caroline launches herself across the cushions, and practically tackles her friend, burying her face in the witch's shoulder. Her next words are muffled, "You're a genius and I love you," but Klaus manages to catch them.

The Bennett witch is laughing too, and it's a touch watery. She awkwardly pats Caroline on the back, "Love you too, but you're kind of squishing me, Care."

Caroline backs off immediately, and she pulls Bonnie up gingerly, studying her, "Crap, sorry. Did I hurt you? I'm just so excited. It's been so long."

Bonnie shakes her head, watching Caroline carefully. "I'm fine, promise. So… you're back?"

Caroline takes a minute to answer, and a rapid cycle of emotions crosses her face. "I think so? I remember everything. I…" she falters, swallowing heavily. "I can't believe I didn't… For so long I…" and then the tears are spilling and Klaus finds himself looking away. It's odd, feeling so helpless, but he's aware that there's very little he can do, at this precise moment, to ease Caroline's pain and confusion.

She needs to feel it, to process. To think through who she'd been for the last decade and remember who she'd been before.

He'll let her come to him, after she's had some time to think. He has questions, needs to know how Tristan had found her. He's certain Caroline will have many of her own.

Klaus takes a step back, motioning for Freya to follow him, assuming Caroline would prefer privacy, the opportunity to catch up with her friend. He catches her eyes just before he slips out the door, offers her a smile that he hopes is reassuring. It's difficult to make himself walk away, but she does currently reside in his home. Klaus knows he'll have plenty of opportunities to speak with her, in the coming days.

And weeks and months and years, because he's vowed to keep better track of Caroline's movements. She's important to him, and he's long since passed a point where he can change that, even if he wanted to. Tristan had noted it, and though he was the oldest and most capable of Klaus' enemies, and soon to be extinguished, he was far from the only one who could pose a threat.

Many will die, having sided with Tristan. Klaus assumes that some of the more intelligent will have fled, that it will take time to track them down. He knows he can't keep Caroline within his grasp indefinitely, not without causing friction. She'd been in search of freedom, when Tristan had stolen it from her. He assumes she'll want it once more.

Klaus will do what he must, kill and threaten whoever necessary, for her to have it.

Caroline stood outside of Klaus' bedroom door for a long time, trying to gather the courage to knock. Klaus had disappeared so quickly after she'd woken up. He'd been there, and then gone, and she'd barely had time to process his presence. Bonnie had quickly captured her attention and they'd talked for close to two hours before Bonnie could no longer hold in her yawns. She'd insisted Bonnie go take a nap, told her she'd more than earned it. Enzo had backed her up and between the two of them Bonnie had been given little option but to cave.

Alone, her thoughts had drifted back to Klaus. He'd looked exactly the same, of course. But it had been so long.

She'd sought out Freya, remembering how accommodating she'd been since Caroline had arrived and hoping that would continue. Caroline was seriously going to need an explanation for how Freya even existed at some point. How does a completely mortal sister pop up after a thousand years? Caroline sometimes wondered if new weird things would ever stop coming at her. At least Freya was far less abrasive than Rebekah was and hadn't even blinked when Caroline had asked how to find Klaus' room. Small mercies. It occupied a top corner of the house and the sounds from the lower floors were muted, at least to her senses. Klaus' were probably a different story, Caroline mused.

And immediately felt like a moron.

Because he had to be completely aware of her standing outside of his room dithering like an idiot. Was letting her do it. She considered retreating, but that would only make her embarrassment more intense. Might as well brazen it out. Scowling to herself she stood up straight and knocked sharply. The door opened immediately, and to Klaus' credit he mostly hid his amusement. She found her eyes narrowing, a glare forming anyway. It only made the slight smirk he wore grow wider. "Caroline, what a surprise," Klaus greeted her pleasantly, managing to say it without a hint of mocking. "Would you like to come in?"

"No," Caroline said quickly, pushing aside the fleeting thought about how strange being invited into Klaus' bedroom was. Along with the urge to peek over his shoulder and see what his room even looked like. Hey, you could tell a lot about a person from their bedroom, couldn't you? And he'd already seen hers, embarrassing posters and all. "But thanks. This won't take long. I need to shower, I'm still a little gross." She'd wiped off the worst of the blood on her face, but her eyelashes were still gritty and clumped together. "I just wanted to say thank you. For helping me. I'm going to magnanimously ignore the whole kidnapping part. Since you were kind of doing me a favor."

"Gracious of you," Klaus drawls as he leans against his doorframe, "And thanks are unnecessary, sweetheart. As your predicament was entirely my fault."

"Not entirely," Caroline corrects, shaking her head. "I'm the idiot who bumbled my way into the aftermath of your arch enemy death match. I probably should have called ahead."

Klaus doesn't crack a smile at her joke, his eyes sharpening and staying locked on her face. "What do you mean?"

Caroline fidgets under his scrutiny, feeling awkward about the confession she's about to make. "I was in St. Petersburg."

"I knew that actually. Your friend mentioned that was the last place she got a postcard from."

"Well, when I was travelling, I discovered that I kind of like museums. Art galleries too."

Klaus' face reads pleasure after she rushes the words out, and there's a hint of smugness that makes Caroline roll her eyes. She'd known he'd take it that way and hurries to explain. "Not everything is about you, Klaus, so don't look at me like that. They're quiet, and the people watching is excellent. And I like pretty things, okay?"

"Of course," he replies, schooling his face into a neutral expression. There's a light in his eyes though, and she knows that he's not buying her denials. And okay, fine. Maybe her habit had been a little about him. She'd embraced food easily on her travels, sampling anything and everything she could get her hands on. Became super thankful for her vampire's metabolism. There was a lot to sample and so much of what she tried was good. And required a second taste. Sometimes a third.

Culture wasn't hard either. Caroline liked people, and people liked her. She did her best with the languages and locals were usually happy to laugh at her, and indulge her questions, suggest things she should do and see. She followed their advice, found gems that she never would have otherwise.

Art had taken longer, Caroline had picked up a camera at some point, started pointing it at things that intrigued her, thinking that scrapbooks would be cool. She'd found that she'd really enjoyed looking at the world through her lens. A building with a weathered façade, a boulevard covered in flowers. A clump of people laughing over lunch. One day she'd gotten to talking to a woman in Zurich, about shutter speeds and color saturation. The woman had handed Caroline a flyer, invited her to an opening at a gallery.

She'd gone, mingled, studied works that she didn't necessarily like but found that she could imagine stories behind them. And from there Caroline had been kind of hooked, made a point to check out different galleries in every city she stopped by, some famous and some off the beaten path. She even had a fair cache of purchases, mostly photos but some paintings, even a sculpture or two, tucked away in a storage space. Caroline really hoped they were okay.

She snaps herself out of her remembrances. Klaus is waiting patiently for her to continue. And while he appears as though there's nothing he'd rather be doing than waiting for her to gather her thoughts Caroline knows that he probably has things to do. She can't help but be a little charmed by his reluctance to rush her. It managed to be every bit as annoying and as weirdly endearing (because she knew it wasn't a courtesy he'd extend just anyone) as ever.

Caroline huffs, crosses her arms, and braces herself for the next part of her tale. The self-satisfied thing he was doing was only going to get worse. "So, St. Petersburg. The Hermitage. I spent two days wandering around when I saw a landscape. And I knew it was yours." Klaus looks surprised, and Caroline rushes ahead. "And I wasn't looking for it! Honestly, I'd kind of forgotten. I mean, you mentioned it once back when I was convinced you were totally evil and just trying to get into my pants because you thought I was an easy way to manipulate Elena."

Klaus' expression turns darker, lips pressing together like he wants to protest and Caroline holds up her hand to stall him. She doesn't need an explanation, or even a denial. It had been a long time ago, and so much had happened since. She wasn't the girl she'd been. The fact that she's standing in this hallway is proof enough that whatever his initial motives had been they no longer mattered. "Yes, I know. Bygones. The point is I found your painting. And I didn't even have to check the signature. It just felt like you. And it got me thinking about you."

She holds her breath, fidgeting nervously as she waits for his reaction.

"And what did you think about, love?" Klaus asks lowly, and Caroline's not sure what to make of his expression. There's intrigue there, and satisfaction. Something warm and greedy and predatory that makes her stomach clench.

She remembers how anxious she'd been buying that ticket to New Orleans, wondering if she was being a presumptuous idiot. If Klaus would even remember her, since it had been years since that day they'd spent in the woods and they'd had no contact.

Though she has no doubts now that he would have, given the lengths he'd gone to for her. Watching him, how still he is, the way he watches her, she's never been surer of anything. That he still seems to want her is a revelation and Caroline's surprised by how welcome it is.

She thinks about reaching out, about touching him. Aches to do it, but she knows it's not the time.

Caroline clears her throat. Decides it's probably best to avoid his leading question and tears her gaze away before she could decide 'screw it' and shove him into his room. "Anyway. Spontaneity was kind of my goal back then so I packed my bags and headed your way. I was gonna drink a ton of hurricanes, eat some beignets. Say hi, and maybe take you up on that tour you once offered. Figured you'd know all the cool places."

The idea of possibly indulging in some hot hybrid vampire sex might have been on her mind back then. But there's no way she's going to say that out loud.

"But I didn't know where you were, exactly. Thought you might have moved on. I'd heard things, here and there. Enough to know New Orleans wasn't exactly short on vampires. I found a bar, and asked around. And that's when someone snapped my neck."

God, if that never happened to her again it would be too soon.

"And when I woke up Tristan was there." Caroline says. She finds herself cringing, the memories of what had happened next not ones she's had time to examine. Not ones she wants to, afraid of what will happen if she does. She takes a shaky breath, tries to keep her recitation clinical. "He… knew me. My name. That you and I were… well, whatever we were. Said he'd been looking for me, and wasn't it lucky that I fell into his lap?"

She laughs, aiming for self-deprecating but it comes out harsh. Caroline looks down, blinking rapidly. She kind of wants to flee, hates that she's really freaking close to crying. Wasn't she tougher than this? What was another round of torture, an unending barrage of questions she had no answer to? It should have been old hat but Tristan had been thorough. And exacting. It had taken him a very long time to be convinced that she'd known nothing. The horrible acts he'd told her that Klaus was known for, the ones he'd used to reinforce her fear of being captured again? The nightmares that had fueled Caroline when she'd wanted to quit working for Tristan's goal? All things he'd done to her.

She flinches, feeling something brush her face. Klaus has drifted closer, and his palm cups her cheek, urging her to look at him. There's something wild in his eyes, a burning determination. He's angry, his jaw tight, but she knows it's not directed at her. "What did he do, Caroline?"

Caroline shakes her head. "I don't want to talk about it. I can't, Klaus. Not now."

She can hear his teeth snap together, watches him go rigid as he fights for control the flare of yellow that rings his pupils telling her it's difficult. His hand remains gentle however, thumb feathering over her jaw. "He'll regret it," Klaus tells her, sure and steady. "I promise."

That brings her to the second reason she'd come here.

"I'm still in," she tells Klaus firmly. It's not a request, it's something she needs. "I won't be kept in the dark like I'm broken. It was my life he took. I want to know why. And I want him dead."

She's prepared to fight but she doesn't need to. Klaus' mouth twists, the curl of it savage even as his eyes glow gold. Her blood pumps faster in response and she feels herself smiling back, her fangs very close to dropping, monster achingly close to the surface at the promise of violence. It might have horrified her, once upon a time. But Tristan doesn't deserve her pity. Will never earn her forgiveness. She leans into Klaus' touch, unable to help herself.

"Anything you want," Klaus murmurs. He shifts closer, his fingertips falling and tracing the line of her throat. "Marcel gave you the basics but I'd be happy to tell you what I've been up to. What's to come, should my plans fall into place. And they will."

"And I want to talk to Aurora," Caroline adds before she can become too distracted, lose herself in the feel of him so near, the scent of his skin a heady temptation. She's not used to being able to take something she wants. And she knows Klaus would be happy to indulge her.

Plotting to murder her enemies seemed to be a kink she hadn't known she had. That it's one of Klaus'? Not a surprise.

Klaus' head tips to the side, his hand warm on her collarbone. "If you're sure. I'm fairly certain she's just a pawn, sweetheart. Won't be able to tell you much."

Caroline pulls back abruptly, wary of his hesitation, "Please don't tell me you're actually still in love with her. She would be insufferable."

Klaus snorts, his denial immediate, "Hardly."

"Are you sure? She talked about you. A lot. More than a lot. I'm kinda weirded out by the sex stories now. Wish I could scrub my brain of her detailed recital of how you deflowered her. Although, Nik sounded a little different from the Klaus I know."

Klaus looks affronted. "He was. I am. A thousand years, love. It's a very long time. You're not quite old enough to know what it means. But think about your life. How different was the Caroline you were on your graduation day from the Caroline you were when you stood alone in The Hermitage?"

She has to admit he has a point. The girl she'd been fresh out of high school, intent on living out the things she'd planned as a human would never have even considered flying halfway across the world on a whim, let alone doing it to see Klaus. If she could change that much in a handful of years, after a couple of big blows and some time on her own, how different would she be in a century? A millennium was unfathomable.

Caroline nods, "Okay, so you're over her. Why don't you want me to talk to her?"

"Simple. Aurora's vicious, particularly when backed into a corner. There's no need to subject yourself to her poison when she's entirely useless."

"I can't decide if that's sweet or a little condescending," Caroline muses. "But either way, I can handle Aurora. I always forced myself to be nice to her but I'm totally willing to go full mean girl."

Understatement. Caroline was looking forward to it, itching to push the buttons she'd never allowed herself to. She can see that Klaus' resistance is crumbling, and that she's nearly got him convinced.

"I need answers, Klaus," Caroline presses. "She's in a cage. What can she really do to me?"

He studies her for a long moment, and Caroline stares back, lets him see how determined she is. She's doing this, one way or another. Klaus agreeing just makes things easier. Finally he smiles wryly, "I did say whatever you wanted, didn't I? Hate to make myself a liar, after I've been doing so well."

Caroline grins, bites her lip, relief flooding her. Another tiny bit of control, getting something she wants, after everything feels kind of amazing. She wants to hug Klaus, is practically bursting with the urge. But they'd never really progressed to the hugging kind of friendship. Caroline settles for stepping into him, planting a kiss on his cheek. Klaus inhales sharply, his hands brushing her arms like he wants to haul her closer.

Caroline steps back quickly, shocked by how much she wants that. "Thank you," she tells him seriously, before flashing a smirk. "Figuring out a way to sneak into the dungeons would have been such a hassle."

She flees before he can say anything else. Doesn't look back.

Even with years between the last time she'd seen him and now, everything that had happened, Klaus remained way too much of a challenge to her self-control.

The only thing that had changed was how little that bothered her.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine – You Were The Past

Klaus feels his brows rise when he catches his first glimpse of Caroline because she'd obviously put quite a bit of effort into her appearance, and he spends a long moment appreciating the result. He makes no attempt to hide from her, knows the heat in his eyes must be easy to read when she bites her lip and glances away, a pale pink flush appearing high on her cheekbones.

There's no hint that the attention is unwelcome, her spine straight and proud as she joins him.

Caroline had been missing all morning, and he's been waiting on her. They'd agreed on a time for her to speak to Aurora and it wasn't like her to miss such a thing. She'd gone hard yesterday, her anger simmering under every clipped word, when they'd spoken of the de Martels. Caroline's eyes had spit fire, her demeanor turning steely and intractable. He had no doubt of her commitment to making them pay handsomely for the things they'd taken from her.

It's why he'd been a bit worried, when she hadn't shown up when expected. The fact that there was no way she – or anyone – could have left the house without Klaus knowing was the only thing that allowed him to maintain a hold of his patience.

Tristan was in Louisiana, and a confrontation was inevitable. Klaus was keeping all of the major players close. Some chafed under the restriction and even now he could hear crashes and low voiced taunts emanating from the backyard as a few of the houses inhabitants turned to destruction masquerading as competitions of strength and skill to vent their boredom.

When he'd seen Caroline he'd understood her tardiness, found that he did not mind being kept waiting.

Her curls are soft and shiny, her lips tinted a deep pink. He'd had a selection of clothes bought for her, and she's mostly stuck to the more casual offerings - jeans, loose fitting tops, flat boots. But now she's got heels on, a dress in a stunning shade of blue hugging her body. "What's the occasion, sweetheart?" he asks, letting his eyes linger on her legs.

Caroline's eyes narrow, a playful warning, as she shakes her hair back. "Clothes are armor. Tristan and Aurora were big on the idea that appearance is everything. There was a dress code for freaking breakfast. Aurora's been in the same outfit for days and has no access to running water or soap. She's got to be getting pretty gross and it must be driving her nuts. Well, nuttier."

Ah, this was a mind game. A presentation of strength to drive home an enemies' weakness. Klaus supposed he could appreciate that. He offers Caroline his arm, nods to the door that leads to the basement, "Shall we?"

"I'm going alone," Caroline tells him firmly, chin lifting like she's preparing to argue about it.

A reasonable assumption. Caroline had told him some of what she'd done for Tristan, some of the training he'd had her put through. She might be more equipped than ever to hold her own but Aurora's age, her strength and speed, meant it wasn't a risk he was willing to take. "No," Klaus denies.

Caroline doesn't deflate. If anything, her posture firms. "I'm not asking for permission here."

Klaus ignores his first instinct, the urge to forbid her. He's always been careful to avoid issuing demands with Caroline, knows it won't endear him to her. She knows her own mind, chooses her own paths. He admires that even if it is occasionally frustrating. "It's dangerous, love. She's very old and very strong and uses the fact that people underestimate her to her advantage. One tiny misstep and you could be seriously injured."

Caroline doesn't soften but she doesn't anger either. "I get that, Klaus. Seriously. I will stay out of her reach. Like, four feet from the bars at all times. Aurora's a tiny person. I'll make sure she won't be able to touch me."

Klaus remains unmoved, "No."

A noise of annoyance rumbles out of Caroline and she crosses her arms. "I don't want to go behind your back here."

"Simple solution. Don't."

"I won't be able to stop myself and I'm fairly certain at least a couple of 'round here would be willing to help me solely because it would piss you off."

He's not surprised she's noted the various tensions floating about. His siblings weren't shy about goading him in front of their guests secure in the knowledge that they were needed at full strength in case an attack came unexpectedly.

Caroline presses on, taking advantage of his silence, "Just a couple of minutes. You can leave the door open and listen. We need to get a couple things straight, girl to girl. It'll go better if you're not there until I need you."

He observes her for a long moment, can read her resolve plainly. It's been years, but her face remains expressive. He senses that Caroline will be very difficult to budge, on this particular matter. Klaus considers his options carefully. Aurora's already tested the strength of her prison extensively and failed to escape. She's weaker than ever now, the blood rations she's been provided with purposefully small and spare. And Kol had won his little tiff with Rebekah. They'd removed her hand yesterday, sent it off in a pretty little box to Tristan, daylight ring attached. Proof of life, of her continued captivity.

There was a pool going, last Klaus had heard the pot was hefty, his family and the house's other assorted occupants betting on just when Tristan would attempt a valiant rescue.

Reliable intel said it would be a few days yet and so Aurora would languish in her cell. Her hand had yet to grow back, the process hindered by her hunger, so she would only have one with which to strike at Caroline.

He loathes the idea of putting Caroline at risk though he can grudgingly admit that, in this case, it's a minimal one.

Suppressing a sigh Klaus makes a counter offer, "Six feet. I will be listening. You'll throw the curtains before you approach her and let the sun in. She'll be cornered, will have to keep her distance. Agreed?"

She beams, and nods. "I can do that." Caroline brushes past him, opening the door. Tosses a smirk over her shoulder, "Pleasure doing business with you."

He can't reply, not without giving away that he's eavesdropping. Perhaps that's for the best as all of the myriad of rejoinders on the tip of his tongue are suggestive and it's unfortunately not the time. Klaus leans against the wall, training his ears on her movements. The heels are helpful, the sharp click of them as she descends the staircase marking her progress nicely.

Aurora speaks first, lets out a breathy gasp. When she speaks her voice is tremulous and pitched to its most pitiful tones, "Caroline! Oh, Caroline you have to help me."

He nearly gives himself away once more, has to hastily swallow a scoff. Honestly, did Aurora really think that a rescuer could waltz in, passed Klaus and all of his siblings? Especially at such a precarious juncture? That they'd be so lax and idiotic? It was a miracle she'd survived as long as she had.

"Do I?" Caroline asks. Klaus hears the slide of metal against metal, and a pained yelp of Aurora's followed my shuffling. He assumes she's backed herself into a corner, away from the sunlight Caroline's ever so thoughtfully brightened the space with. "And why would I want to do that, Aurora?"

"Caroline, please. What are you doing? You have to get me out of here. Have you spoken to Tristan?"

Caroline ignores her pleas, "Well, I've had an eventful week. Would you like to hear about it? Since we're such good friends."

She's cool and controlled, an impressive amount of venom in her words. There's a lengthy pause, he imagines Caroline's rage is on full display. Klaus isn't surprised when Aurora's next words come out resigned and he winces a little at her blitheness, "Ah. Guess our annual trip to fashion week is off, then?"


"I gather your memories all in order? Shame."

"For you," Caroline spits. "And your creepy brother."

"So dramatic," Aurora drawls, sounding bored. "Tristan could have just killed you, you know. A little gratitude wouldn't be remiss. For your life, and the lifestyle you enjoyed. You were living out of a backpack when we found you like some sort of vagabond."

There's a long moment of silence, and Klaus can picture Caroline's face quite clearly. "Gratitude?" she hisses in disbelief. "Are you insane? Oh, wait. Yes you are. My bad."

"Rude, Caroline," Aurora admonishes primly. "Especially after I was so very nice to you."

Caroline's laugh is bitter and harsh, "You and I have very different definitions of nice. But where was I? Right, my week. I've learned all sorts of interesting things. Like, Lucien? So not as into you as I thought. He's a good actor though, I'll give him that. Totally had me fooled when we met in Paris. His besotted face is a masterpiece."

"Poor Lucien," Aurora murmurs. "He must be in awful shape. I assume Nik was brutal. He can get a bit jealous."

This time Caroline's laugh is quick and bright, sprinkled with genuine amusement. "Not quite. Last I saw Lucien he and Kol were tossing each other around in the backyard. They seemed to be having a great time with their weird male bonding."

A harshly indrawn breath sounds. "You're lying," Aurora accuses tightly. "Why…"

"Because he was working with Klaus, you idiot. Well, more with Klaus' sister since Klaus was unavailable. I'm assuming she's the witch you mentioned because he seems pretty into her. She pretends like she thinks he's a dick but I've seen her get her magic on and she could totally set him on fire if she wasn't kinda charmed. They're really super cute and I'm totally rooting for them."

Aurora seems to have no reply. Klaus hears movement, however and he tenses, prepared to flash downstairs. He hears flesh slap against metal. "Why don't you come closer?" Aurora invites sweetly. "And tell me more."

Caroline's snort is derisive. "Because I'm not an idiot. You fooled me once, Aurora. But you have to admit the playing field was rigged. It won't happen again. Besides, Klaus gave me very strict instructions not to get close. He can get a bit protective."

"Of you?" Aurora exclaims. "Please, darling. Don't make me laugh."

Caroline hums, the tiny sound dripping with smugness. "Do you want me to tell you about all the times Klaus saved my life?"

"Why would he bother?" Aurora mutters resentfully.

Caroline continues as if she hadn't spoken, "This one time I got bitten by a werewolf. I won't bore you with the details." Klaus shakes his head, smiles at Caroline's somewhat dishonest retelling of events. Her aims are clear, and she seems to be having fun, so who is he to stop her? "It was my birthday," Caroline continues. "I was in my bed, dying and in pain. And then Klaus showed up. He tried to be charming, play the worldly older man card. I didn't really buy it, but I think he liked that. Klaus likes a challenge, you know? Probably gets bored when women just throw themselves at him. But, anyway. He sat on my bed and let me bite him. Have you ever had his blood? Because he tastes good."

The little thrum of heat that arcs through when Caroline purrs that final statement makes Klaus glad that he's alone.

"Left me diamonds the next day," she continues breezily. "A bracelet. There really is something to be said for a guy who's good at presents."

Aurora's reply comes out mulish, dripping with badly concealed anger. "You hadn't spoken to him in years. Do you really expect me to believe he cares about you?"

"I don't care what you believe. You hadn't spoken to him in centuries, yet you're pretty damned convinced that he cares about you, aren't you? Even sitting here, half-starved and filthy, lacking a hand. Do you seriously think that someone who's been pining for you for most of your super long lives would do that to you? And if he did, why would you want him? I kinda hate you now but come on. Don't you think you could do better?"

Logic, as usual, is not a concept Aurora has much patience for. "You wouldn't understand Nik and I. Our love isn't simple, it's better. Forever. We understand each other. What would you know of it?"

"Absolutely nothing. Because Klaus never talked about you. You'd think he would have mentioned your forever when he was promising to be my last love, wouldn't you? Kind of a conflict of interest there."

Caroline says it casually, but it lands like a blow. Aurora's intake of air is sharp, and he hears the bars rattle, assumes her anger at Caroline's needling had led her to futilely test them once more. "He wouldn't say that," she spits. "Not to you."

"He sure did," Caroline chirps cheerfully. Klaus can't help but be a little pleased at how expertly she's twisting the knife. She's a predator, in her core. Glorious when she goes for blood. "Right after he showed up and saved my ass again. And yeah, I hadn't spoken to him in years. Do you know why? Because I asked him to leave. I was only a teenager then, still stuck on doing all the things I'd planned before I even knew that vampires were real. I needed to figure my life out and he understood that. So Klaus walked away. But not before he made it clear that I was welcome to come and find him someday. And hey, I totally did. My timing just sucked."

"You're lying. Tell me you're lying! Nik! Nik get down here," Aurora screams. It's a touch hysterical, reedy sounding and desperate.

Caroline laughs again, claps her hands together. Her voice quiets, becomes conspiratorial. "He is listening, you know. And if I were lying, do you really think he would let me?"

Klaus has always been excellent at reading a cue.

He pushes off from the wall, and makes his way down the steps. Caroline doesn't turn to look at him but Aurora's eyes widen, her good hand going to her hair in a self-conscious gesture. "I would not," Klaus confirms, setting his hand on Caroline's back. She leans into him, a movement that's easy and almost sensual, and he masks his surprise carefully. "I do hate dishonesty."

Aurora looks livid, and decidedly ill, her eyes glued to the lack of space that remains between his body and Caroline's. There are tears in her eyes, and she sounds so very young when she speaks again. "Nik? Nik, please."

He's surprised at the pang of pity her feels, and incredulous that she remains so naïve. He assumes some of it is purposeful, encouraged by Tristan. Aurora was every bit as powerful as Tristan was, truthfully speaking. He'd had to manipulate Aurora in order to control her, to make her believe that she needed him. "How did you think this would end, Aurora? What Tristan did, what you helped him do. Did you really think I would ever let that go? You came into my home, threatened me, my family. That will not be tolerated."

There's a hint of defeat, a slight slumping of Aurora's shoulders. "You were supposed to come for me, Nik. But you never did."

"No," Klaus says simply, "I didn't." Enumerating all the reasons why is pointless.

Aurora straightens from her lax posture, her eyes trained on Caroline hatefully. He tenses, fights the urge to shove Caroline behind him. "She's an infant," Aurora whines, petulant and seething.

If it was an insult, it's ineffective. Caroline steps forward, makes a low mocking noise. "Way to spectacularly miss the point, Aurora. And you know what? Maybe I am. But one day I won't be. And you? You'll be long gone. I'll forget you. Klaus will too. Enjoy the rest of your day, Aurora. It might be your last."

Caroline wraps her hand around his arm, pulling him along with her as they leave. It's a proprietary gesture and they hear nothing from Aurora, save for her harsh breaths, growing heavier and coming at faster intervals.

Neither of them look back.

Klaus allows Caroline to go first, and they don't speak until the door to the basement is tightly closed behind them and, because of the spells in place, Aurora can no longer hear them. Caroline smiles, perhaps a bit nervously, and puts a few more inches of space between them. Klaus grins, closing the distance once again. "Careful, love. You'll make me feel cheap if you only get hands on when we have an audience."

She rolls her eyes, shoves him away, but she's still smiling. "Shut up. You liked it."

She's not wrong. There had been something satisfying about it, the way she'd claimed him with her actions even if it was only for show. He still believes that someday it won't be, that he'll revel in her possessiveness and have ample opportunity to return the favor. That Caroline will sleep in his bed and wear his scent, let him know every corner of her fascinating mind and every inch of her skin.

Now is not the time to dwell on such things. "You do realize you left the curtains open? The sun will shift."

Her smile grows dangerous, sharp and malicious. "I know," she says simply. Caroline slips around him, heads towards the kitchen. "Let's get some food. You can fill me in on what I've missed while I primped."

A few long strides and Klaus is at her side, he sets his hand on her back once more, half expects an indignant glare, now that there's no one impress. To his pleasure, Caroline barely reacts, "You missed little," he informs her.

She swivels her head to look at him. "Please," she says flatly, "I know Tristan and I know you. Things can happen in minutes, let alone hours. We're getting close, aren't we?"

"Very," Klaus confirms. "He crossed the border into the US two days ago, as you know. Reached out to one of the local covens Kol's been working on last night. They're amenable to our terms, passed along information willingly. It seems Tristan's holed up in Baton Rouge."

Caroline stiffens, nearly imperceptibly. It's only his touch, and how carefully he was watching that allows Klaus to see it. He understands the source of her unease immediately. "He won't touch you," Klaus vows. "I promise he'll not get close enough to even attempt it."

That does not seem to reassure her, and her words come out strained. "He said the same thing about you, once. And look, here we are."

Klaus drops his hand, stung. Caroline glances over at him, and comes to an abrupt halt, reaching for his arm. "I didn't mean it like that. I just meant that anything could happen, you know? Did you think it would go down like it did the first time? Probably not, right?"

His next admission is difficult, "I… miscalculated a few things ten years ago. It's not a mistake I'll make twice."

"I guess even you can have an off day, huh?" Her eyes are bright, teasing, so Klaus finds he can't bring himself to bristle as he might usually at being questioned.

"One in a millennium? I think I'm doing quite well."

She throws her head back and laughs, and Klaus is pleased that her worry seems to have melted, "One? Is that what we're going with? Because there's quite a few people hanging around this house that I'm sure would have some really good stories about other off days."

One last challenging look and she whirls away. Klaus hurries to catch up. They still need to discuss a few things, and it would be a shame if she ran into Rebekah. Or worse, Kol. He needs his siblings does still need his siblings. For the moment.

It would be such a shame if he was forced to mar the victory celebrations with a daggering if one of them got too free with their reminiscing.

"Honestly Caroline, have you no taste?"

Her teeth grind together as she blows a blonde curl out of her face, slumping back in her seat while forcing herself to count to ten. She keeps her face smooth, doesn't let a hint of her aggravation show. Rebekah would take that as a win and Caroline refused to allow that.

Party planning had once been her happy place but she's finding it hard to care too much about the details of this particular event much to Rebekah's intense and vocal displeasure. At the moment they're trying to finalize the menu, without a Klaus-buffer, and it's not going well. Caroline's trying (really, really hard) to be understanding since Rebekah's been stuck in a box for ten years and that's got to be a hit to her already scant people skills. Plus, she's now confined to the house that's brimming with bad memories and also housing plenty of people she's not fond of.

Or so Caroline keeps repeating as she resists the temptation to take a nose dive off the balcony in hopes of getting a few moments peace.

Caroline's never been great at being the bigger person, a flaw she's long since accepted. Rebekah had always had a special talent for getting under her skin and she's unable to help fighting back, volleying back barbs and faux sweetness, even though she's not really all that invested in the winning this time.

Her thoughts are loud, her worries stubborn, and her attention keeps wandering. She knows she's going to be too distracted to really enjoy the evening their planning and no one who was set to attend would be under any illusions about the party's true purpose.

Besides, they were vampires. Food wasn't even truly necessary.

But it would look weird if they didn't serve anything even if fun and mingling wasn't in the cards. They were setting a trap, an ostentations one and, with or without Caroline's contributions, it would be beautiful.

She's gained a new understanding for the phrase, 'Money is no object," and it's a little overwhelming.

Rebekah had looked at Caroline like she had two heads when they'd first sat down and she'd inquired about their budget. Apparently thousand year old vampires didn't believe in such practicalities.

Which, in hindsight, was probably a good thing. Caroline was positive they wouldn't be getting their security deposits back. When the party inevitably devolved into a fight the snowy white table linens and delicate hand blown champagne flutes had no hope of coming out unscathed. The heavy silverware would make convenient weapons and no one would care about the pretty, painstakingly detailed vines and blooms that twined their way around the handles.

When Caroline had pointed that out, suggested that they maybe they look at more economical options, she'd been overruled. Despite the fact that they were actually paying for things this time (something of an anomaly judging by the things she'd gleaned from Klaus and Rebekah's frequent bickering). Their wishes are being communicated via text and email to a human planner in New Orleans, one that was already costing an arm and a leg since the timeline was so rushed. Caroline feels for the woman, can tell she's beyond frazzled trying to keep up with the demands they're making.

There was a countdown, insistently ticking down, and everything had to be perfect.

A few of Tristan's known allies had begun trickling into The French Quarter, laying low but definitely present. Unhappy with the invasion, small though it was, Klaus had decided action was necessary. He'd arranged for invitations to be printed, named a date and time.

Tristan would show, Caroline knew. His notions of honor and propriety wouldn't allow him not to.

Without much to do other than obsessively go over scenarios Caroline had jumped at the chance for a distraction, volunteering to help out with the plans. Klaus had seemed pleased, and vaguely knowing, and she'd had some suspicions that he'd been anticipating her offer.

If she'd had known she'd have to hang out with Rebekah so much she might have reconsidered.

Which is not to say it had all been bad. She'd once lamented Klaus' ability to throw together a kickass party in what had seemed a matter of hours – had been super pissed that it had managed to upstage the one she'd been painstakingly putting together for weeks. She's learned that in addition to having loads of experience with such things (she's been filing away all sorts of little tips and tricks for the next time she gets to do this for fun), Klaus actually kind of enjoys it.

He even makes his own ice sculptures. Something Caroline wished she'd known back when she'd been planning her senior prom – the company she'd hired in Richmond had totally gouged her back then and the sculptures hadn't even been that good.

Once Elijah had started demanding more of Klaus' attention Rebekah had gotten involved. And then well…

Ten years and some change wasn't nearly a sufficient amount of time for Caroline to figure out how to work with Rebekah peacefully. A century probably wouldn't be long enough.

That she's managed not to storm away or lose her mind is kind of a miracle.

It's been just over a week since her confrontation with Aurora, six days since Klaus had decided he was done with wait and see. Several people have lost the money they'd put down on Tristan attempting a quick, heroic rescue. Caroline hadn't bet, unsure of the exact state of her finances, but she wasn't exactly surprised at Tristan's slow action. He'd take time to gather what forces he could, to attempt to spin the coming confrontation in his favor. Caroline doubted he'd be successful and she breathed a little easier each day as news rolled in from various spies and their plans developed accordingly.

Klaus forcing his hand was a good thing, gave him less time to do something oily to sway any fence sitters.

Caroline had always gotten the impression that Tristan had scant few true believers in his pocket. Sure, there were people who showed up to kiss the ring, to attempt to curry favor but such interactions had always rung false. He'd spent serious money putting Klaus down the first time but once a bribe was spent it didn't mean much and Caroline saw little evidence of lingering loyalty from those transactions. He'd made certain promises to others, those with great wealth of their own, and while he'd usually fulfilled them the results weren't always satisfactory. Vampires who'd expected more power under his regime were disappointed because power was something Tristan hoarded greedily. Few had the means to challenge him and none of those who did had any love for the Mikaelsons.

It had always been her job to keep her eyes and ears open and the whispers that reached her about Tristan, the reviews about his leadership, were rarely positive. Most had been benign, complaints with little heat or intent, and she hadn't often reported them unless there were any rumblings about any sort of connection to Klaus.

She'd mostly been concerned about her workload, had figured she'd be sent haring off to do Tristan's dirty work even more frequently if she tattled. It was only natural, she'd told herself, that people grumbled about the current monarch, especially a self-styled one like Tristan. One only had to have a passing familiarity with politics to know that. She'd decided that there was no need to exterminate even more vampires over some idle dissatisfaction.

Sometimes she'd felt guilty, lazy, like she was betraying him somehow. Now? Not so much.

Caroline had been able to remember many of the people who'd spoken in hushed tones against Tristan. Had listed them painstakingly in those early days when she'd first gotten her memories back and she'd picked through the files they'd retrieved. Some of the names she'd rattled off had become allies, eager to make deals with the Mikaelsons. A few agreed to remain neutral, promised to refuse aid to Tristan, to relay information if he pressed, in return for being left alone. She'd been surprised to learn that some of the people she'd met and dismissed as harmless hadn't been. Several had been in contact with either Marcel or Freya, having hidden them or collaborated. She's honestly impressed with how sneaky and effective the pair had been over the years, quietly slipping under Tristan's radar and making promises of their own, swaying power players to his side. There was something to be said for charm and tenacity and Marcel and Freya had proven to have a ridiculous amount of both.

Klaus and Elijah have been busy since they've awoken, shoring up those deals, making new ones of their own.

The forces Tristan's managed to gather are the smallest fraction of what he'd had on hand a decade ago. Caroline takes great glee in knowing just how much that must irk him.

Tristan thought himself a great leader, respected by his subjects, might have even been up his own ass enough to believe that he was well-loved. Being confronted with reality must be killing him.

He has no outlet, not a single confidante. Aurora was the only person who got to see even a glimpse of weakness. Caroline had learned to read the slightest twitches, could see passed the cool reserved façade, but that had taken years, regular contact. He'd never quite trusted her even though she was brainwashed. Caroline imagines him alone, pacing and muttering to himself, turning red faced and sweaty as his paranoia rises, his suit wrinkled and hair ruffled, unable to vent because he (rightly this time) sees betrayal at every corner.

She's okay with being petty when it's so satisfying.

Rebekah snaps out Caroline's name and she shakes herself out of her wandering thoughts. "Sorry, what?"

"Have you heard a single thing I've said?"

Caroline considers lying but she knows Rebekah will press. "Nope!" she chirps. "I should probably say sorry but I'm really not."

Rebekah's head tips to the side, the annoyance in her expression growing, "And here I thought with Nik gone you'd actually be helpful. Silly me."

"What does that mean?" Caroline asks though she immediately regrets it.

"Caroline, please. I've seen a great deal of flirting over my lifetime. Most of it far more artful than the hair tossing and lash batting you employ."

She presses her lips together, well aware that getting into an argument with Rebekah, about this of all things, is a terrible idea. Still, Caroline can't seem to help herself. "I know there's not much to do around here but surely you can find something better to focus on? Didn't you pick up a hobby or two over that super long lifetime you just mentioned?"

Rebekah answers with a dismissive flick of her wrist, "Oh, I've had plenty but they come and go. And while I'd love to pay attention to anything else I find my eyes drawn to your attempts at coyness. It's like a train wreck, really. Grotesque though sadly lacking an easy meal."

Caroline blinks for a moment, "Wait, are you saying you've eaten train wreck survivors?"

Rebekah shrugs, unabashed, "A time or two. Before the advent of blood bags meals in sparsely populated areas were tricky."

It's a testament to how immersed Caroline's become in the supernatural world that she can kind of see Rebekah's point. A train accident in the middle of nowhere, before hospitals were really a thing, wasn't likely to leave a lot of survivors. Waste not, want not, right?

God, she hasn't hidden what she is for years now. Can she even be a convincing human anymore? Does she really want to be?

Rebekah makes an aggravated noise, leaning over to snap her fingers in front of Caroline's face, "Honestly, what is wrong with you? I don't remember you being this easily distracted. You used to be annoyingly dogged when given a task."

"Excuse me for having a lot on my mind," Caroline mutters. "I might be dead in less than 48 hours and if I'm not I have to build a whole new freaking life. But sure, the fillings in the stuffed mushroom canapes are super important."

She should have known better than to look to Rebekah for sympathy. Caroline tries not to cringe as Rebekah surveys her face disdainfully. "You know," she finally remarks, all casual venom, "I always found your ability to look on the bright side annoying but somehow this pessimism is worse. It does something odd and displeasing to your face."

And that's about the limit of Caroline's patience.

She stands abruptly, shoves her stack of notes across the table. Her movements are jerky and she hopes it's enough to disguise the shaking in her hands. Showing vulnerability, even that teeny hint of it, in front of Rebekah was a mistake. "Good talk, Rebekah," she bites out coldly. "I really feel like I've developed a deeper appreciation for why you have zero friends."

She's halfway to the door, blinking back the furious tears that had built up – no way was she going to cry – when Rebekah's voice stops her. "So dramatic. You're not going to die, Caroline."

Caroline swallows hard, is thankful her voice remains even and unemotional, "Easy for you to say considering you can't die. And even if Tristan had managed to find white oak he wouldn't shove it through your heart and kill his precious sister at the same time."

"You're not going to die because ten years ago we were ambushed. I rather think we'd gotten complacent. We thought that with our father gone, a threat we'd lived in fear of for centuries upon centuries, that nothing could touch us. That was a mistake and, in a thousand years, I've never seen Nik make a mistake twice."

A wry smile tugs at Caroline's lips, "Yeah, I'm finding the idea of Klaus admitting to something as mundane as a mistake hard to picture."

"Oh, he would never. Mistakes are for lesser beings than my brother, you know. And if you don't I'm sure he'd be happy to drone on and on about his superiority sometime."

She chances a glance over her shoulder now that her eyes are mostly dry, finds Rebekah smiling slightly. It fades away after a moment, and she smooths her hair back as she fiddles with the papers strewn about the table, her face settling into its usual haughty lines. "You're not going to die because we're going to win, no matter what puny offensive Tristan manages to cobble together. You're going to be free because Nik will ensure it. And you'll land on your feet, flit off into the world, your optimism and pluck restored to their previous nauseating levels."

Caroline rolls the words over in her mind a few times, weighs Rebekah's sureness carefully. She'd detected not a hint of uncertainty, not even a sliver of doubt. She had to admit that, as far as pep talks went, it wasn't a half bad one.

"Thanks," she manages and Rebekah nods sharply, averting her eyes.

Caroline rushes to follow the single clipped syllable of gratitude with something that will put her and Rebekah back into their usual territory. The combative one that they both prefer, "I still think crab is retro and we should go with sharp cheddar and bacon."

Rebekah takes the bait, swiftly jumping to defend her choice, and it's not long before Caroline's being called an unsophisticated peasant with the palate of a suburban mall rat. And really, she doesn't even mind.

Dwelling on what's to come hasn't been much fun but arguing with Rebekah is a blast from the past, a distraction that Caroline allows herself to sink into. Klaus has told her that she'll be fine, Bonnie and Enzo too. She hadn't quite believed them, knowing that the fact that they cared for her made them biased. She knows Rebekah holds very little affection for her, that a few brief moments of understanding years and years ago didn't make them besties. Rebekah had no reason to lie to Caroline, would gain nothing from sugar coating reality. Knowing all of that Caroline found her certainty, the matter of fact way she'd proclaimed Caroline's future, weirdly comforting.

Was that just another indicator that the past decade had irrevocably warped her? Maybe. Caroline found that she was less and less worried about such things. People changed, grew up, evolved. She'd had Tristan puppeteering her life, trying to mold her, twist her into a perfect little disciple. That had changed her but Caroline refused to allow it to dictate how she went forward.

He'd be gone soon and she'd already decided that she'd never think of him again. He'd have no power over her, her life, her choices. Caroline would pick up where she'd left off and answer to no one but herself.

Just a few more days to get through first.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: Louder Than Ever

He's not in the mood for company.

Klaus has been pacing the halls of the compound for hours, flitting in and out of unoccupied rooms, his ears carefully trained to pick out the sounds of an approach. While it's a large residence, even ostentatious, or so he's been told, it's begun to feel cramped. He'd ordered everyone to stay indoors once enemies began to infiltrate The French Quarter, ensured that the windows stayed covered, knowing it was likely Tristan would attempt to get eyes on the building, if only to get an accounting of players to inform his strategy.

It would be easier if they were dealing with an idiot though perhaps less satisfying. Winning, watching the confidence in Tristan's eyes dim, shredding his sense of superiority, is going to be a treat.

One that Klaus would savor for weeks while Tristan enjoys the dubious comforts of the basement cells and he and Elijah dismantle everything Tristan has built.

The close quarters, the mounting stress, have led to both blowups and seething frostiness and Klaus isn't up to listen to more complaints or petty squabbles. Everyone has been instructed to gather in the ballroom promptly at seven (though he imagines his patience will be tested with lateness) to go over the plan for tomorrow night's confrontation. He's been organizing his thoughts while he's walked, going over what he knows of Tristan, the information Caroline, Lucien and Freya have offered about his habits in the last decade. Klaus is just as afflicted with restlessness as everyone else, has found himself longing to spend a few hours in wolf form, and the movement is the managing to help him focus.

The idea of tomorrow going badly is untenable; another endless stretch of days strapped to a table a fate he refuses to contemplate. He needs to be at his best. They've got Tristan nicely boxed in but Klaus wanted every contingency accounted for.

There's been some grumbling about his demand that they run through plans as a group, and Klaus' insistence that attendance was not optional, but his siblings and their assorted guests will all be there. He only hopes that gathering the house's occupants in one room doesn't end in disaster.

Priceless pieces of furniture, art, and the house itself, have paid the price for ill temperaments. When things calm Klaus will have to decide if he wants to fix the wall on the second floor or just take the opportunity the Lucien-sized hole offers and open up the space up entirely.

He's not particularly good at playing mediator, nor does he enjoy the task, but Klaus has been unable to avoid it. Taking some space, giving all the breathing occupants of his home a wide berth for a bit (thankfully saving him from having to listen to their issues) seems like a prudent course of action.

He's enjoying the peace and quiet. Until he hears the singing.

It's not a song he recognizes but he knows the voice. Klaus abandons his solitude without hesitation, doubling back towards the ballroom. Caroline's vocals become clearer as he gets closer. She sings absently, melodic and sweet, occasionally skipping words and dropping into a hum. The first doorway he comes to is ajar and he slips into the room. Caroline doesn't notice, the headphones in her ears obscuring the sound of his footsteps. She's intent on her task, sorting through a stack of the boxes delivered by the party vendors in front of her.

She's turned on every light the ballroom has, brightening the room despite the heavy velvet drapes that cover the windows and doors that lead outside. The room still smells faintly of chemicals, paint and cleaning supplies. The gold and crystal of the chandeliers glint and the wood floors are buffed to a high shine. It's a bit cluttered, tables and chairs stacked around the perimeter, and he's not surprised Caroline has taken it upon herself to impose some order.

Klaus takes a moment to observe her, smiles at the slight shimmy of her shoulders and the bobbing of her haphazard ponytail as she sings more enthusiastically. He's warmed by the knowledge that she feels safe enough in his home to let her guard down. She'd spent the first few days seeming hunted and, given the stories she's told about living with Tristan, he knows she'd never been comfortable in the man's homes.

Ten years was an awful long time to spend looking over your shoulder.

He doesn't want to risk sneaking up on her. Caroline might be relaxed but, given the tenseness of the situation they're in, he's sure she'd lash out if he startles her. Klaus could easily fend off an attack, of course, but he'd rather not have to. There would be plenty of violence tomorrow and the next time Caroline touches him he wants it to be for a very different reason. He steps back, reaches for the door and pushes with enough force so shut it with a bang. Caroline would feel the vibration even if her music is overly loud.

She goes rigid, whirling with bared fangs. Her grip on the box cutter shifts, making it a weapon, even as her free hand closes into a tight fist. She appears fierce, dangerous, and Klaus moves closer. Caroline's breath leaves her in a rush when she spots him, her posture going lax. She yanks the headphones from her ears, "Way to scare the crap out of me, Klaus." She takes a deep inhale and the black veins around her eyes recede.

Pity, because Klaus finds them fascinating.

He lifts his hands, making his way towards her, "Apologies. I haven't seen you around much today."

"Yeah, I've been trying to lay low. I don't want to get caught in the crossfire of a super old vampire brawl. I'm a little more delicate than most of the rest of you."

Klaus swallows a harsh noise along with the instinct to assure her that no one would harm a hair on her head without invoking his deep displeasure or suffering consequences. She'd not find acts of violence, particularly against allies, in her name endearing. He keeps his reply light, "Yes, I was just considering the redecorating I'll have to do."

She grimaces though he detects a twinge of amusement, "Yeah. Good thing that wasn't a load bearing wall. It's hard to host a fancy party in a pile of rubble."

He inclines his head, turning his attention to the open boxes of party paraphernalia scattered about. He'd checked in on the delivery, wanting to compel the humans who entered the premises himself, but it seems as if Caroline's spent a great deal of time unpacking and sorting. "Did you do all this?"

"I wanted to keep busy. Distract myself."

He does not like the knowledge that she'd felt the need, the underlying anxiety it hinted at. "Caroline, if you're afraid of…"

She cuts him off, shaking her head and turning to face him fully, "No, please. Not another pep talk. I really don't need it, I promise. I'm sick of thinking about tomorrow, about Tristan."

That he can't blame her for. "Do you want me to go? I can leave you to your private dance party," he teases.

Her eyes squeeze shut, an embarrassment painting her cheeks pink. When they open they immediately narrow, her chin lifting proudly. The bravado is familiar. "Don't knock a private dance party until you've tried it. Maybe it would be good for you. Make you a little less murder-y, hmm?"

"Somehow," he shoots back, "I don't think that would work." Quite the opposite, Klaus assumes. If his siblings ever got wind of him trying such a thing, and they would, nosy lot that they were, his tendency to murderousness would only be heightened. "Your voice is lovely."

A small smile tugs at her lips, "Thanks. I'm a little out of practice. Too used to trying to melt into the walls."

That remark ensures he'll have to plot something extra painful for Tristan to endure. She's said she didn't want to think about him though so Klaus does his best to help, "I didn't know you sang."

She shrugs, "Not surprising. As… intense as things have been we didn't spend much time chit-chatting."

A fair point. Klaus knows the broad strokes of Caroline Forbes – her loyalty to those that she loves, her singlemindedness in pursuit of a goal, her struggles with the shades of grey that one can't avoid as a being a vampire. It's the minutia that he's missing, the hidden quirks and nearly forgotten memories, and he's eager to collect them.

"Do you play any instruments?"

"Not well," Caroline admits ruefully. "I tried when I was young. I had the determination but not the ability to sit still for long periods of time to practice. My parents steered me towards more energy burning activities pretty quick."

"Like?" Klaus prompts. She'd wanted a distraction and he's happy to provide one. He's not about to turn down the opportunity to hoard every bit of her she'll allow herself to reveal. Not when he's sure she'll leave when she's safe to go out into the world.

He is hoping she'll keep in touch this time, planning on making the idea attractive. Caroline had sought him out a decade ago, had indicated a willingness to renew their friendship, so he's optimistic about his chances for success.

"Dance," Caroline answers. "Gymnastics before I got too tall. I tried rhythmic for a couple months but the appeal of twirling pretty ribbons only held for so long. I was actually pretty good at basketball. Being tall, plus a willingness to throw some elbows, is helpful there. I stopped in middle school, decided to focus on cheerleading."

He's not the least bit surprised to hear that her ruthless streak extended to sports. "Because you liked it more?"

Her nose wrinkles, "Honestly? I think it was the dubious influence of teen movies. The most popular girl in school is always head cheerleader, you know? And that's all I wanted back then."

"A lot has changed for you," Klaus notes.

"For the better. Excepting the whole brainwashing thing."

It seems he's failing at his chosen mission, her thoughts stubbornly circling back to Tristan and the life he'd forced her into. "Ten years is a large stretch of your life, love. Now. In a century it won't be."

Caroline's hands knot together and she shifts her weight, "Do you ever really leave the bad behind? I was getting ready this morning and I was considering one of the dresses in the closet. My first thought was, 'Huh, pretty but too much cleavage for breakfast.' All because of Tristan's stupid dress code. I want him out of my head."

He's not sure how to offer comfort. Letting go of the past, moving beyond slights and grudges, was fairly foreign to him. "I can't tell you that it'll be easy. But there are still great things ahead for you, centuries of them. I'm confident that, someday, Tristan will just be a vague unpleasant memory."

She's quiet for a long moment, arms crossed protectively in front of her body. Finally she sighs, shakes her head in exasperation, "Ugh, I can't believe I ended up needing a pep talk. Again."

Klaus takes the cue, leaning in and offering her a smirk, "Should I have instead mentioned that you should feel free to wear anything you wish to breakfast? Be scandalous if you'd like. There are no rules at my table."

It coaxes a smile from her and her arms fall, "Yeah, I think I'll keep it PG. No need to invite Kol's perving."

A fair point though they both knew that Kol's commentary was largely meant to bait.

Caroline's head tips and she studies him for a long moment, her expression growing curious. "Now, I think it's only fair if you tell me something I didn't know about you since you just got a whole info dump about me."

He's delighted by the interest, decides to offer up a piece of his own youth. "I was a decent swordsman but a better archer. Mikael disapproved, citing it as proof of my inherent weakness."

Caroline scoffs, "That's kinda dumb, isn't it? Any moron can stab someone with a pointy piece of metal. Skills are skills."

"Brute strength, aggression. Both were highly prized."

He braces himself for pity but Caroline doesn't offer it. He sees a spark of anger in her eyes and the smile she offers is sharp. "Well, he's dead so I guess you got the last laugh, huh?"

Klaus grins, rocking back on his heels, "I suppose I did."

She softens slightly, swaying closer until her shoulder brushes his. She focuses on the task she'd abandoned when he entered, unearthing a champagne glass from a pile of folded cotton. "Seems like he was a real dick, by the way."

That startles a laugh from him, "No one's ever quite phrased it that way, love."

"I call it like I see it."

A trait Klaus is very familiar with, one that he's enjoyed in Caroline from their earliest acquaintance. He takes the glass when she hands it off absently, having inspected it for chips. He sets it safely on a nearby table before returning to her side. "Wherever is Rebekah? I thought you two had reached a truce. Don't tell me she's pawned off the heavy lifting."

Caroline suddenly finds her task incredibly absorbing, ducking her head and avoiding his gaze. "Uh, no. Not exactly. Last time I saw Rebekah she was a little busy but she was technically taking care of party business. Sort of."

"Oh? And what was she doing?"

"Consulting with the chef the event planner hired."

He waits, certain there must be more. Caroline's answer and her sudden bout of shiftiness were at odds. Her head twists slightly, and she realizes he's watching her. She lets out an aggravated groan, "The chef's name is Sven. He's a super-hot giant of a man from Sweden. Last I saw Rebekah she was licking various sauces from her fingers and giving him serious sex eyes. I just hope she doesn't break him before he can make the appetizers we planned."

Klaus hides a smile. Trust Rebekah to make the most of an opportunity for entertainment. She's been getting awfully snippy about their limited company. "I understand why you took your leave."

Caroline shudders exaggeratedly, "Yeah, if they're going to be having sex where food gets made I do not want to know about it."

"I'll make sure Rebekah's compelled the kitchen staff to mind the sanitary concerns."

"On the bright side, maybe she'll be less cranky. I saw the sketches. You have her and Kol working together as a murder team, right? They've been… disagreeing kind of a lot. Violently."

Several rugs and some original woodwork had been ruined by blood pools and spatter. "I do. They are a rather effective duo. As long as they don't need to talk to each other."

"Hopefully they don't need to talk to get through the dress rehearsal then."

"Dress rehearsal?" Klaus repeats, amused.

Caroline throws him an unimpressed look, a hand lifting and gesturing at the surrounding grandeur. "Please. I know full well that you're going for dramatic effect. The fancy party wasn't really necessary. You're basically just burning stacks of money so Tristan goes down in the way he'll find most humiliating."

Caroline is correct about his motives. He doesn't care about the expense, money had been easily amassed in the days before computers and security cameras and Klaus had compelled fortunes upon fortunes. He wants to leave Tristan without a scrap of his haughty pride, to die knowing there's not a soul alive to who would pronounce his name with respect. "When we first met Tristan we were on the run. Brand new, still figuring out what we could do."

"With no help."

"Exactly. We spent a lot of time terrified, unsure. Tristan's home was a haven."

"With a pile of strings attached?" Caroline asks knowingly.

"Mmm. In the end, yes. We stayed at his father's castle, enjoyed his family's hospitality. He was snobbish even back then, fond of snide remarks. He values appearances. I'm simply using that against him."

"Where was this?"


A flash of surprise lights her eyes. "Huh. So they went back home."

"As soon as they could. Tristan's primary residence has always been in the same area; save the years he thought he was Elijah."

"Bo-ring," Caroline declares. "But not surprising."

"They were royalty, a thousand years ago. I think Tristan liked to think that they still were."

She makes a derisive noise, low in her throat, stilling her hands above the box of crystal. They tremble slightly, and she curls her fingers into her palms. "He definitely did. The maids had to curtsey. Guests were announced. Teas were a big thing. I hated that house. Oh, excuse me, manor."

"We can burn it down, if you'd like," Klaus offers.

He's perfectly serious but Caroline laughs, more tension draining from her frame. "I don't even like to pump my own gas so arson's probably not for me. But thanks for the offer. And for trying to distract me."

"Perhaps that can be one of our things."

She doesn't throw it back in his face like she once had a similar statement. Her smile grows bright, "Deal," Caroline agrees.

It's a small victory but he relishes it all the same.

She awakes to gifts. A whole pile of them sitting directly in her line of sight.

Her first thought, warm and sleepy, was to marvel what a pleasant way to begin the day it is. Especially considering some of her recent experiences.

A large white box, a beige shoe box and two black velvet jewelry boxes make up the neat stack on her nightstand. Caroline, after luxuriating in a satisfying stretch, sits up slowly, eyeing the pile. There's a confusing mixture of nervousness and anticipation twisting her stomach into knots.

Tonight is the night, her costume tucked into the packages. Tristan's coming and everything would end, she realizes. One way or another Caroline will finally be free.

Sliding out of the bed, Caroline takes a moment to consider where to start. She reaches for the longer of the two black cases, and when she flips it open she's almost disappointed. The bracelet she'd revealed is beautiful, of course, but it's not the one she'd been expecting. It's gold, a floral motif, sprinkled with diamonds, both clear and pink.

She gets it once she tears through the rest of the packages.

The bracelet Klaus had gifted her for her birthday, all those years ago, really wouldn't have gone with the outfit he'd selected for her. This dress is definitely more grown up, black and sultrier than either of the fairytale dresses he'd provided her with back in Mystic Falls. There's a slit up one side, and when she tries it on she notes that it will make movement easier. The shoes have no straps, simply slip on, and can be kicked off without trouble should she have to fight.

Leave it to Klaus to think of something like that.

The invites they'd sent (on tissue thin gold paper, with flawless calligraphy) had stated 7 PM. Caroline has some serious butterflies as she leaves her room at half past six. Thankfully, she runs into Bonnie and Enzo. Bonnie looks lovely, her black dress fitted, lacy and long sleeved. Enzo's in a tux, and while Caroline wouldn't have ever pictured it, he pulls it off nicely.

Bonnie's eyes widen, "Wow, Care. You look hot. Didn't see that one when I was given my options." She grabs Caroline's arm, brows shooting up, "Nice bling, too."

Caroline fiddles with her skirt, "You had options? I wasn't given options."

"Klaus?" Bonnie asks knowingly. "Should have guessed. Don't ever tell him that I said so but he has good taste."

Caroline laughs, amused by the face Bonnie makes while delivering even the mildest of compliments to Klaus. It's equal parts pained and revolted. Caroline can't imagine such an admission, tiny and grudging though it is, coming years ago, so it is progress. "Your secret's safe with me, Bon. Should we go? You need to help with the spell, right?"

"Yeah. You guys have to come too. If your blood's not in the bowl when we do it you're not leaving this house until Klaus dies. Which will be never, unfortunately."

Caroline throws Bonnie a quelling look, but doesn't bother to scold her. She'd hated being guilt tripped on to Team Damon, just because of Elena's feelings for him. She's not going to do the same thing to Bonnie, especially considering that Caroline's feelings for Klaus remain complicated and messy and unnamable.

That she wanted him was fine, understandable. He's attractive, confident and charismatic, would appeal to just about anyone with a pulse and an interest in men. That she thought him interesting also made sense given just how old and accomplished and knowledgeable he is. The fact that she likes him, more and more as she gets deeper glimpses of how he ticks, has always been the sticking point. She used to tell herself that she couldn't, refused to acknowledge that she already kind of did.

Doing so now is pointless. Caroline's a decade removed from her friends and Mystic Falls and while she plans to renew certain acquaintances, shore up some friendships, she can't see herself allowing anyone else's opinions to inform her choices. About Klaus or any other aspect of her life.

Bonnie didn't have to like Klaus, or even endure his company. As long as she doesn't try to shame Caroline for her feelings, didn't insist that they're wrong or stupid or traitorous, Caroline's fine with her feeling however she pleases about Klaus. He can handle it and Caroline thinks he prefers playing the antagonist to all but a select few.

"Shall we?" Enzo asks, wrapping an arm around Bonnie. "The faster you work your magic genius the sooner we can get on to the fun part of the evening. When things get bloody."

He's grinning, practically bouncing at the idea, and Bonnie rolls her eyes. "Don't do anything stupid, Enzo. Pick on vampires your own age, okay?"

"Well that's boring," Enzo complains, even as he crowds closer, offering physical assurance. "Can't a man enjoy a challenge?"

Caroline trails after them, listening to them bicker and hiding a smile. They hadn't been together when she'd left Mystic Falls. She'd been a little shocked that Bonnie would date, let alone fall in love with, a vampire. But, Caroline had changed, evolved, while she was gone, even just in the short year she'd spent travelling. On her own it had been easy to leave some of her old habits and ideas behind. It probably would have been more surprising if Bonnie hadn't done her own growing up in all the years Caroline had been stuck under Tristan's thumb.

She's too lost in her own thoughts, absently following her friends, that she startles when Klaus says her name, jumps a little at finding him at her side. He smirks, and hands her a glass of champagne. "Are you alright, Caroline? You seemed quite far away just now."

"I'm fine. Just… thinking."

She hides a wince at how lame that had sounded, taking a sip of champagne to cover, but Klaus lets it go. His eyes drift over her, from her bare shoulders down to her feet, and Caroline swallows hard at the appreciation she sees reflected in his gaze. She'd been left breathless, once upon a time, by the stunned look he'd worn when she'd walked into his mother's ball. This is different, hotter. It leaves her skin tingling, as if he'd touched her and not simply looked. Klaus licks his lower lip, "You're…"

"Ravishing?" Caroline interrupts, needing a little levity. Mostly so she would stop wishing she'd been the one to do the licking. "Don't I get a new line?"

"I was going to go with striking," Klaus murmurs. He leans in closer, and she can feel his breath on her neck when he speaks again, "And unbelievably tempting."

She shivers, and looks away, pretending like she hadn't reacted. Her pulse picks up, and she knows he can hear it, if he's paying attention. Stupid hybrid senses. They made it awfully hard to keep a secret, and her reaction to his proximity was anything but mild. Her own senses quickly tune to him and he smells kind of amazing, she can't help but notice.

Looking for a distraction, Caroline glances around the ballroom. She's momentarily surprised, by the sea of people in the room, having been too focused on Klaus to notice before. All of Klaus' siblings are in attendance, spaced throughout the room in a way she recognizes as strategic. She spies Marcel, and the contingent of vampires who'd accompanied them from Chile. Dozens upon dozens of others in pairs and clumps. All dressed to the nines, everyone in black. There are a handful of waiters, the crisp white of their shirts making them obvious, weaving in and out of the guests with gleaming silver trays. "Wow," Caroline breathes. "Quite the turnout."

Klaus hasn't moved, still standing far too close to her, his lips the barest inch from brushing her skin. He laughs softly, his nose skimming her throat. "Are you surprised? That people would prefer my slightly more laissez faire style of management to Tristan's iron fist?"

Caroline looks at him incredulously, widening the distance between them so she can breathe properly. "You? Laissez faire? Really?"

Klaus shrugs, gestures around him. "I did say slightly. My rules were simple, and I did expect them to be followed. I simply didn't have the patience to police things as tightly as Tristan."

Having lived with Tristan, Caroline can see Klaus' point. He'd never slept much, and had seemed to spend every waking moment doing something. Reading reports, directing his people. She can't see Klaus bothering, knew her was fond of his leisure activities.

"Thank you for the dress," she says primly. "It's beautiful."

"You're very welcome," he tells her. Klaus withdraws to a more polite distance, but stays near, at her side as they face the room. She can feel the heat of him, and peeks out of the corner of her eye. His black suit fits perfectly, and he wears it as easily as he does the henleys and jeans. And honestly, how was that even fair? He's smirking, and Caroline realizes that her checking him out is maybe not as stealthy as she'd meant it to be. She's saved from having to actually say anything, by the tapping of metal against glass in the center of the room. Freya smiles, somewhat nervously, flanked by Bonnie and Davina. "It's time to begin," she says. "We need a few drops of blood, from everyone, to complete the spell."

There's a ripple of unease, throughout the room, and Caroline understands. Blood means something to vampires. Surrendering some, even a few drops, would make anyone wary. They only do it to heal, or to heighten pleasure, and both instances require a certain amount of trust. It's Marcel who steps forward first, confident smile in place. He doesn't falter, his hand steady as he holds his palm out to Davina. She winces, as she makes the cut. Mouths an apology while Marcel squeezes a few drops out. Others trickle forward after that. Caroline waits until the line thins, squares her shoulders and makes her way over. Bonnie smiles reassuringly as she wields the blade, holds Caroline's hand gently with hers. A quick slash, brief pain, and it's done.

Caroline grabs a towel from the table provided, careful not to get blood on her dress. She's just begun to wonder if maybe that's the reason for the all black dress code (because she kind of imagines this party, should things go well, will spill out onto the streets of New Orleans. No need to alarm the tourists with obvious blood stains). She stops short, taken aback. Once again Klaus is just there. Her breath comes out in a rush at the look in his eyes. She doesn't even think to stop him when he dips his head though she knows his intent. The rasp of his tongue across her palm, collecting her spilled blood, leaves Caroline biting the inside of her lip and uncomfortably turned on. His hum of satisfaction makes it worse and her thighs clench together. Her fingers twitch, the urge to touch him surging through her, as he presses a lingering kiss to her wrist.

Music kicks in, from the band in the corner, interrupting the moment. Klaus' smile is a slow invitation, a seduction, dangerous. There in a room full of people, couples sweep past them as a waltz begins, low snippets of conversation drift past her. Yet, Caroline can't focus on anything but him, the awareness sparking between them.

Klaus asks her to dance. She doesn't even consider saying no.

He'd caught Elijah's eye several minutes ago. His brother's signal, a pointed straightening of his already perfect bowtie, letting Klaus know that the rest of their guests, and the guest of honor himself, were about to arrive. Klaus had nodded back and watched as Elijah had immediately sent Kol and Rebekah to fetch Aurora.

She was the bait, after all. They did need to dangle her.

If Aurora had been bothering to ingest vervain regularly it would have long since left her system. Kol and Rebekah had been instructed to compel her, make certain that she wouldn't be a problem. It was possible that they would take it upon themselves to do some other less pleasant things, but Klaus hadn't forbidden it. Aurora's usefulness was just about done. He saw no point in restricting his sibling's fun. Not when they so seldom managed to work together harmoniously.

Caroline's managed to relax, her outer calm back in place. She still trembles slightly, when he brushes his fingers across her back, presses just a bit too close to be considered proper. They've danced for several songs, their conversation sporadic and laden with flirtation.

Klaus suspects the evening will end spectacularly for him, in more than one fashion.

He's bared his teeth, subtly of course, at any one who'd gotten too close, and looked to have intentions of cutting in. Caroline had been reluctant to speak at first, but Klaus had prodded, and managed to draw her out. Has even coaxed a laugh or two from her. Her eyes remain alert, occasionally scanning the room, more evidence that she's so much more than just a pretty face.

Perhaps he shouldn't have pushed her earlier, laid his desires bare, but he doesn't regret it. The scent of her blood, the arousal she wore on her skin, had been far too much of an enticement, and he hadn't been able to resist. Hadn't cared who'd seen, or about the fact that this evening was set to be a battle, hopefully the end of a war. He'd just needed a taste to see him through.

There would be time for more later, once the pressing matters at hand were dealt with.

Klaus glances around the ballroom one last time, ensuring that everyone is where he needs them to be. He can hear footsteps outside, guesses Tristan's forces to number about fifty. Far less than he'd brought with him last time but, from what he's gleaned from Caroline, and from a number of others of the vampires in attendance, Tristan hadn't been very good at maintaining ties with those who'd been loyal to him. Some had died for dissenting; others became disillusioned and went into hiding. Either way many of Tristan's former allies weren't willing or available to support him this time.

Not an advantage Klaus thought he had needed, but one he was willing to exploit. Klaus would need to look into the situation later, examine the reasons behind certain individual's changes of heart, and decide if they'd pose a threat down the line. It would be tedious work but necessary. He'd ensure that no one else thought to duplicate Tristan's momentary success in seizing power. For now, Klaus is inordinately pleased at the small showing of enemies and eagerly anticipating Tristan's fall.

Caroline's watching him carefully when he looks back. "He's here, isn't he?"

"Just outside," Klaus confirms. "Will be along any minute now."

She swallows and nods sharply, her features smoothing into steely determination. "Okay. Let's do this."

Klaus squeezes her hand just before he lets her go. Watches as she joins Enzo, Marcel hovering nearby as planned. There are several sets of doors lining the side of the room that leads out onto the grounds. The glass panes in each of them shatter simultaneously. Several of the vampires nearby let out yells of pain as the shards hit them and the metallic scent of blood fills the air.

Klaus is entirely unsurprised that Tristan's brought witches, his inquiries with several covens having been reported back. It's also typical of him to have gone for a dramatic entrance. Klaus steps forward, eyes alert. Tristan walks in first, shoes crunching loudly on the broken glass. He's dressed to perfection, fussy pocket square perfectly coordinated with his tie. Elijah will be so very proud.

Vampires follow him in, but Klaus pays them little mind. He has one target and they're unimportant. They won't be leaving, not with the borders of the estate spelled. Klaus can wait until tomorrow, when they're dead, to ascertain their identities, figure out whom he still needs to kill.

He does glance at the witch to Tristan's left when her hand flies up. He feels a stab of pain, brief and annoying, before it's abruptly cut off. Klaus blinks, favors her with a mild glare. The witch looks confused, and tries again. She trembles with the effort and yet nothing happens. Klaus rocks back on his heels, shrugging out of his jacket. "Nice try, witch. You might have power but mine have more."

She looks offended, "Don't speak to me."

Klaus laughs, genuinely amused, letting the jacket fall away carelessly. He's leisurely about unbuttoning his cuffs, folding back his shirtsleeves. "I can see why he picked you. You're every bit as uppity as he is. Thinking you can come into my home and dictate to me." Her expression remains sour, but her eyes fall shut, and she looks to be attempting to gather another burst of magic. Klaus makes a chiding noise, "I'd leave, if I were you. While you still can. I'll find you, of course. But you might as well say goodbye to your loved ones."

"Such posturing," Tristan says. "Your sister is just one witch. I brought a coven."

"Yes, they seem to be doing an excellent job. What with all the breaking glass. Very intimidating." Klaus spots several witches, dotted amongst Tristan's ranks, varying degrees of frustration marring their faces. He assumes that he and most of the older vampires are meant to be on the floor writhing in pain right about now. Unfortunately for Tristan, that wouldn't be happening. "Besides, whoever said I only had one witch?" Klaus wonders aloud. "Freya is exceptional, but I like to stack the deck." He gestures behind him, and if it's a bit dramatic Klaus thinks he's entitled. "I believe you know Davina Claire? Oh yes, and the elusive Ms. Bonnie Bennett. I hear you were quite eager to recruit her."

Neither women crack a smile, regarding Tristan with barely concealed disdain.

Witches. So humorless.

A muscle in Tristan's jaw ticks, the only sign of his discomfiture. He draws himself up, his shoulders stiff. "Where is my sister?" he clips out, his cool blue eyes darting around the room.

"With my sister," Klaus offers genially. "Should be along shortly. I do hope she doesn't lose that other hand. The first one has yet to grow back completely. Alas, you know how temperamental Bekah can be so who knows? Sadly, Aurora's not one for minding her tongue when she ought to."

"She is not a part of this," Tristan hisses. He's begun to quiver the slightest bit, his obvious rage barely controlled. It's exactly the reaction Klaus had hoped to inspire and maintaining an air of boredom grows more and more difficult.

"Oh? She seemed a part of it when she was nattering on in my cell."

"That you've taken such low measures is despicable," Tristan sniffs disdainfully. "A thousand years and still no honor?"

Klaus steps forward, knows his incredulity is easy to read. "Honor? Really? Tell me, is that some backward notion of chivalry? Spare the women? That's highly hypocritical as Rebekah was every bit as imprisoned as my brothers. And, had you found Freya, what would you have done to her? I imagine you would have conveniently forgotten your commitment to honor. Or is it that you perceive Aurora as an innocent, too soft for your schemes? She's not, I assure you."

"It was my plan," Tristan insists.

"I'm sure though I do believe our mutual friend Caroline would have something to say about Aurora's participation in your plans."

Tristan's eyes widen, mouth going slack, the biggest falter in his righteousness that Klaus has managed to illicit thus far. He does a more thorough sweep of the room, obviously recalculating. Tristan sneers briefly before his attention snaps back to Klaus. "I'd hardly classify that one as innocent. She got very dirty while she worked for me."

There's nothing but malice underneath the words, and he greedily looks for a response. Klaus rolls his eyes heavenward, seriously considers flashing forward and ripping Tristan's heart out. A thousand years old and still locked into such mind numbing conventions. Klaus wonders how it's even possible, though it likely contributes to how Aurora behaves.

Sadly, Klaus can't kill him just yet. Taking apart what Tristan's empire would be easier once they could compel the pertinent information from him. It was the compromise he and Elijah had agreed upon, a way to satisfy Klaus' desire for vengeance while minimizing the risks, and he's stick to it. A few weeks of torture, weeks that Klaus would make count. A little information gathering as they did it. Then they would kill him.

"Well," Klaus says, drawing out the word mockingly. "As fascinating as that immovable stick up your arse is, we really must be getting on with it. Here are my terms. You surrender, and everyone who has accompanied you dies quickly. If you chose to reject my terms well, some of you will still die quickly. Space in the dungeons isn't exactly unlimited. You understand. But, if you fight, the survivors will be treated to something a bit more drawn out and unpleasant."

"That's hardly an attractive offer."

Klaus grins, rocking back on his heels and watching the vampires behind Tristan. They look angry, and some still wear cocky smirks. He wants to see them fall as the reality of just how outclassed they are dawns. "Oh, but I wasn't finished. If you choose to fight, and somehow miraculously win, you'll still die."

The silence that follows the proclamation is all encompassing, and makes the harried muttering that swells afterwards seem deafening.

He hadn't promised death like a threat, because it isn't, it's a certainty

Tristan's eyes narrow. He's striving for confidence, but a touch of dread has leaked in at Klaus' easy delivery. Tristan isn't stupid, and he's obviously finally sensing an angle he'd not considered. "And how," he blusters, "are you going to make that happen, should you be defeated?"

Klaus takes another few steps forward, reaches out and tugs Tristan's bowtie askew. "It's a bit extreme, I will admit. Took an awful lot of effort. There's a spell on the grounds, anchored to me. Since you were rudely late to my little party, you missed the magic that kicked it off. You see, everyone on my side can leave. But no one on yours can. Unless I'm dead and since I don't believe you ever found that white oak you went traipsing through the Canadian wilderness for…"

Tristan's teeth grind together, and Klaus knows his own glee is palpable. The fact that Tristan had not yet worked out that his trip up north had been nothing but a diversion was immensely gratifying. "Well, isn't that is unfortunate?" Klaus adds, finishing his thought. "With no white oak I suppose I won't be dying, will I? While I've not yet done the calculations, I assume it won't take long for most of your little friends and underlings to desiccate from a lack of blood given the limited supply available. Oh, and then there's the fact that the house will blow up. Eventually. A nightmare to arrange, but it would kill the stragglers neatly, don't you think?"

He watches Tristan's vampires shift uneasily, the furtive exchanging of looks between them, the twitching of limbs as certainty is shaken. It takes less than a minute for one of them to break, whirling and flashing away. They all hear the short shout of frustration, followed by inventive cursing, as the barrier holds.

"I can just kill the witches," Tristan says. He remains steady, but it's more bravado than anything.

"You could try," Klaus corrects. "But it wouldn't do any good. You should know how magic works by now, Tristan. If the spell's anchored it endures after the witch that cast it is gone. Now, tell me. Are we going to do this all civilized like? That is the way you profess to operate, is it not? Unlike me."

He watches Tristan carefully, sees him sift through options, grope for a solution that is in any way favorable to him.

He won't find one.

Klaus has very carefully crafted the hole Tristan's in. There will be no escape. Tristan's calculations are interrupted, head snapping to the side, when Aurora's brought into the room. "Tristan!" she cries, and makes to rush to her brother. Rebekah and Kol have a firm grip on each of her arms, so she doesn't manage to get far. Really, he'll have to remember to compliment them on their flawless timing.

Tristan's expression darkens, grows murderous, taking in Aurora's disheveled appearance. His fists clench, and Klaus watches avidly, pinpoints the moment where Tristan's control snaps. The veneer of civility was all well and good, but Klaus knew what Tristan was, even if the other vampire liked to think himself better than a monster.

That's where they differed. Klaus knew what he was, embraced it. It's why he'd won.

The spreading of veins and the drop of fangs is quick, Tristan's lunge swift and precise. It would likely have been lethal to any other opponent. He goes right for the kill, aims for Klaus' heart, and manages to rip into Klaus' shirt, before his wrist is snapped with a brutal crack.

Klaus lashes out, a closed fist sending to Tristan's face leaving bone fractured and his opponent staggering. He gains his footing quickly, tugs his wrist back into place with a grimace before he begins to circle Klaus.

Tristan's attack seems to have been the signal everyone was waiting for, because the room erupts into chaos. He sees Rebekah act quickly, out of the corner of his eye, snapping Aurora's neck so she crumples into a heap on the dance floor. Bekah and Kol exchange giddy smiles before flashing towards a clump of Tristan's people.

In his peripheral vision Klaus sees a great deal of blood, and hears all sorts of interesting pained noises from that corner of the room, so he knows they have the situation well in hand. He notes that Elijah and Lucien and a few others have circled to block off the exits, neatly taking care of any who think to try their luck with the magical barrier.

Caroline's fine, with Enzo and Marcel. She's drawn blood, efficiently killed the first vampire who went after her. Red speckles her arms, and her stance is focused, ready for another attack. Enzo fights well, Klaus can see. It's evident that he likes it, his bright eyes and occasional snarky comment giving the impression that he's having a great deal of fun. Klaus had taught Marcel himself, knows what he can do in battle. He's measured and smart, dispatches opponents without fanfare. His skills are why he'd been instructed to stick close to Caroline, to ensure that she had assistance if necessary.

With the important parties accounted for, Klaus lets his full attention rest on Tristan once more. He's got the injured arm held close, the limb weak while healing is not yet complete. Klaus can use that. Flashing forward he stays on Tristan's bad side, and he pivots awkwardly to compensate, his balance off. Tristan lashes out, a desperate move. Klaus smiles, blocks the blow that comes his way and kicks out. He hears a bone break, a large one from the sound of it. Pain flashes across Tristan's face and he staggers, weight leaning heavily on one leg. Klaus shakes his head, makes a show of looking around, as if he knows he's already won. Tristan takes the opening, his fury overcoming reason, just as Klaus had wanted. It's an amateur move. He sinks his hand into Tristan's chest, forcing his way past muscle and bone, finds the heart and wraps his fingers around it. It quickens, and Tristan freezes, the slick muscle working overtime in Klaus' grasp.

Klaus forces Tristan down, enjoys the pained yelp he emits when he hits the ground on his knees. "My my," Klaus murmurs. "Isn't this familiar? This exact room, this same pose. I must say, I much prefer being on this end."

He assumes Tristan would have liked to reply, but a quick harsh squeeze leaves him gasping and gurgling, the words unintelligible. Tristan grits his teeth, pale and pinched looking, "Do it," he forces out, pain lacing the syllables. "End it. Isn't that what you want, Klaus?"

Klaus smiles, hums like he's considering the words. "The suggestion is appreciated, but I'm afraid that's not in the cards. Not today. It'll be a cell for you. I'll even be generous, set you up next to your darling sister. Let you two chat away your final days. Although honestly, mate, perhaps that's a torture all in itself. I know I'd go mad, listening to her prattle on."

Tristan's only response is a vicious glare, his eyes drifting over to where Aurora lays. Klaus glances up, applying pressure to Tristan's heart once more to ensure he won't be able to make any sudden moves. The room has calmed considerably, bodies littering the floor.

A shame, because they'd already replaced it once this week in preparation for this event.

He spies Caroline heading in their direction, her head held high. There's blood smeared across her throat, her eyes remain red, delicate black veins spreading across her skin. The single shoulder strap of her dress is torn, barely hanging on and her hair's tumbled down from its sleek style. She's missing her shoes, but she looks triumphant.

She's never looked quite so lethal, like the loveliest of predators, and Klaus has never wanted her more.

She meets his gaze steadily, unashamed of her dishevelment, her obvious blood lust, and her eyes raking over him in a way that tells Klaus he's not alone in his base desires. She spares Tristan a glance, loathing narrowing her eyes. "Tristan," she greets evenly. "Can't say I'm happy to see you. I do have one little question. A curiosity to satisfy before I put you far behind me."

Tristan makes a noise, undeniably derisive. Klaus tuts, "You'll indulge the lady if you know what's good for you." Klaus relaxes his hand, enough to allow Tristan to draw breath. Necessary for speaking, after all.

She smiles her thanks, expression darkening when she eyes Tristan. "What was your final goal? The point in keeping me around? I mean, you could have taunted Klaus, told him I was working for you, but you never did because he had no idea."

Tristan's swallow is audible, his voice raspy when he replies. Still, there's a hint of laughter in it, "Isn't it obvious? Come now, pet. Don't tell me that clever little brain of yours has failed you."

Klaus digs in with nails, perforating one of the heart's chambers, and Tristan coughs wetly. "I believe she asked a specific question," Klaus says mildly.

Tristan gasps, blood spilling out of his mouth. "I was going to have you kill him. Watch his face as someone he cared for pressed white oak to his chest and drove it home. Make sure he knew, before you did it, that you'd follow right after."

Caroline's eyes snap to his, pain and guilt clouding them briefly before she pushes her reaction aside, unwilling to let it show in front of their audience. She manages it admirably, cold as she raises her eyebrow in derision, no trace of her horror remaining. "Such a drama queen," she mutters dismissively. Tristan stiffens at the insult, more so when Caroline circles behind him. She reaches out, her hands hovering near his shoulders. "Do you mind?" she asks Klaus, tilting her head to the side, a spark of mischief in the curl of her lips.

He grins, pleased, "Have at it, sweetheart."

Caroline returns the smile, and reaches out. "Night, pet," she spits snidely. She's quick about it, wrenching Tristan's neck with a satisfying crack. Klaus lets his hand slip away, and Tristan's body slumps between them. Caroline steps over it, barely glancing down, eyes never leaving his. One of her hands lands on his chest, the other circling his wrist. Klaus watches her avidly, as she brings his bloody hand to her mouth. His breath stutters out, shock and arousal tightening his muscles. Caroline probably deserves a little payback, after his stunt earlier, and she's taking it. The sight of her pink tongue darting out, swirling around his thumb, leaves his temperature rising and his cock just beginning to ache. She molds her body to his, the press of her curves heightening his arousal. She lets out a soft little moan, and takes another taste, sucking his thumb into her mouth before her teeth nip at the pad. Klaus grits his teeth together, barely managing to resist slamming her against a wall, spectators be damned.

Caroline's voice is low, throaty and inviting, when she speaks. "I'm going to go clean up." She holds his gaze for another long moment, licking away another smear of blood.

If she'd just left, Klaus might have been able to let her. But Caroline leans into him, rocking her hips subtly against his, another of those sinfully tempting noises spilling from her parted lips as she presses a kiss to his throat. When she leaves, shooting one last fiery challenge of a glance over her shoulder, Klaus doesn't even consider not following.

He makes eye contact with Elijah once more and though his brother looks exasperated Klaus knows he's got the situation well in hand. The bodies will be disposed of, Tristan and Aurora and any survivors tucked neatly into cells for Klaus to deal with.

Which he will. Tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: Lay Down By Me

Winning feels so freaking good.

She'll never have to lay eyes on either Tristan or Aurora again. She'll never be beholden to them, to anyone. She has her life back, can go anywhere or do anything. She's free, in control of her own destiny. It's all that she's wanted, for years, and now that she's got it she's giddy with excitement. Caroline feels exhilarated, her entire body buzzing with adrenaline.

A celebration is in order. A private one.

Later she'll be sure to tell Bonnie she's awesome, Davina and Freya too. Enzo deserves a hug and Marcel had totally had her back so maybe she can stop giving him a hard time. They've got plenty of supplies kicking around. It would be easy enough to throw a victory party, one that's actually meant to be fun.

It's a thought for tomorrow. Right now? There's only one thing Caroline wants, one person she wants to revel with.

The door to the ballroom opens, a brief burst of noise filling the hallway before it's cut off by a quick slam. She doesn't need to look, knows exactly who's followed her out. Her stride doesn't pause though she adds a little extra swing to her hips.

When she'd left the ballroom she'd had no doubt that Klaus would follow. She'd pressed herself against him, had felt the way his muscles had coiled when she'd touched him. His eyes had been dark when she'd pulled back, heated in a way that meant there was only one possible option for how the evening would end. With him and her, sprawled out on a reasonably flat surface. Nothing between them but sweat and need.

She's sure they'll make it to his bed eventually. Once isn't going to be enough, not with the rush of victory flowing through both of them. It's a heady high, intoxicating, and she wants to see how far it can take her.

Caroline can hardly wait to have Klaus touch her again, her skin's prickling in anticipation. She's been far from celibate over the last ten years but she'd always been lying. Often intentionally, as a ploy to get information, or because she didn't want to leave a trace of herself behind. Frequently the untruths had been unintentional because she'd had no idea who Caroline Forbes really was.

Klaus knows exactly who she is.

He's always seen the whole – the rough edges and the sharp angles – instead of just the shiny, happy parts she likes to show the world. Caroline doesn't have to hide anything from him, there will be no coyness or hesitation. Even if she's capable of it in this moment she doubts Klaus will accept it.

She reaches the stairs, grasps her skirt in preparation for ascending.

There's a hand on her wrist before her foot hits the first step. She's spun, pressed between Klaus' body and the wall before she can blink.


"Took you long enough," Caroline taunts, setting her hands on his arms. She glides them up, digging her nails into the thin fabric of his dress shirt, wishing it was skin.

Later. She'll mark him and watch it heal.

A quick flash of a smile and Klaus is crowding closer, his hips settling between her thighs. Caroline doesn't fight him when his hands inch her dress up, when they settle on her ass and lift. His head dips, tongue darting out, tasting her skin and the blood that's been drying on it, just as he grinds harshly into her. Her mouth falls open at the flash of heat the motion sends pulsing low in her stomach, and she moans when his teeth scape gently along her collarbone. "Apologies, love. I had to ensure we wouldn't be disturbed."

Caroline smirks, tightening her grip on him as she rolls her hips. The friction is delicious, her damp lace panties against his covered hardness the perfect tease of what's to come, "Are you sure it'll take that long? It has been ten years for you, so it's totally understandable it your stamina's not up to par."

Klaus lets out a noise, a growl that promises he'll pay her back for that little joke. She hears a rip, and her dress slips down to pool around her waist. She feels his thumb hook into the metal band that had cinched the waist, there's a faint ping as it hits the floor. Then he's hitching her higher, his mouth tracing the edge of her bra. She wants to protest because there's no relief in her new position. She can't rock against him splayed out as she is over the flat planes of his abdomen, but Klaus tears her bra off, and licks across her breast before she can get the words out.

She expects hunger, roughness and greed. Would welcome teeth and claws, the crashing of his body against hers. Klaus, it seems, has other plans. He's so very soft, delicate laps and nips until her nipple is an aching point.

She realizes what he's doing, forces back a frustrated whine. She totally should have kept her mouth shut.

He pulls back, blows a stream of air over her wet flesh. Caroline shivers. "Klaus," she grumbles, digging her nails into his neck. He resists her efforts to pull him closer, dropping a deceptively innocent kiss on the skin between her breasts. His lips don't leave her skin, tasting her leisurely.

Caroline tries again, shifting restlessly against the wall. "Klaus, come on."

His smile is pressed into the slope of her breast, his contemplative hum muffled, "Such impatience. Perhaps I have something to prove."

"Prove it later. I am practically naked," Caroline huffs. "There's a ton of people who could interrupt us at any moment. So excuse me if I actually want to get off before that happens."

Klaus moves one of his hands, eases it between them. Caroline bites her lip when his thumb brushes over her panties, finding her clit and rubbing through the scrap of lace. He traces slow circles that leave her thighs twitching and her breath quickening. Her eyes flutter shut and she tries to relax into it, chase the sensations, but Klaus makes a chiding sound, stilling his motions. She starts to whimper, but he swallows it, sealing his mouth over hers. He strokes into her mouth, a slick hot glide and she moans at the taste of him, the hint of her blood that still lingers on his tongue.

He presses closer, leaving no space between them and Caroline arches her back, rubs her nipples against his clothed chest. It's not enough, and her fingers find his collar, tearing his shirt away impatiently. His skin is better, hot and smooth under her fingertips, and she gasps into his mouth.

He bites down on her lower lip, tugging as he pulls back. "Hold on," he grits out.

As much as she wants more, him inside her, right now, she doesn't want witnesses. Caroline clutches at his shoulders, kisses his throat as he flashes them away.

Caroline's back hits something soft, sheets that smell like Klaus. He relieves her of her dress, shredding what remains and tossing it aside carelessly before he follows her down, his hips pinning hers. Caroline moans, grinds up into him before attempting to wriggle her hands in between them to go for his belt. Klaus thwarts her, grabs her hands and pins them on either side of her head. She glares up at him, but Klaus is unmoved, brushing his lips over hers. "There," he murmurs. "I do believe I've solved our need for haste. No one will disturb us. If they know what's good for them."

She pushes up against him, spreading her thighs to get more pressure where she wants it. There's a dull demanding throb of need building and she can't stay still. "Your need for haste," she complains. "I'm still totally pro haste."

He squeezes her wrists gently. "Keep them there," he tells her, as his hands slide down her arms. "Until I tell you to move them."

Caroline shakes her head, barely notices the pins in her hair jabbing at her skull, her fists clenching because all she wants to do is reach for him, "I want to touch you," she tells him.

"Later," Klaus assures her. "As much as you want to, love. I want this memory. I want to be able to close my eyes and recall the exact texture of your skin, how you smell when you're aching with want."

He cups her ribcage, rubs his thumbs over her nipples, watching hungrily as the pucker and strain. He smiles, tone growing teasing, "I confess I'm a bit offended that you'd forgotten certain things. After I worked so very hard to ensure I'd be memorable." He nuzzles the underside of one breast, mouthing down her stomach and nipping at her belly button. Caroline jolts upward, draws her knees up as he continues down.

She twists her hands, grabs a hold of the pillow under her head when he licks her though her underwear. He does it again and Caroline moans. It's not enough, the hint of heat and slickness, the too fleeting pressure against where she's most sensitive.

"Take them off," she demands, her voice rough as she glances down at him.

"Ask nicely," Klaus drawls, the point of his tongue finding her clit.

Refusing isn't an option, her entire body screaming for more as he continues to work her up. "Please," she breathes. "Please, please, please…"

She can't say anything else, her pleas a garbled mess in her throat. She'd felt a quick sting as he rips her panties away, lace and elastic abrading her skin. Any pain is quickly forgotten as his lips wrap around her clit, a fingertip ghosting over her entrance as he sucks. Caroline's head thrashes against the pillows and, mindless, she reaches down, threading her fingers through his hair as she moves against his mouth jerkily.

Klaus pulls back, and his look is pointed. "Ugh, come on," Caroline moans, relaxing her grip.

He smirks, bites down gently on her thigh, draping it over his shoulder and urging the other flat against the bed. She expects him to get on with it, the muscles in her stomach tight with anticipation. But Klaus, the smug jerk, remains in no hurry, brushing his lips lightly against her as he speaks, "Perhaps you need something to occupy them, hmm? Touch yourself for me, love." Her breath shudders out, eyelids falling as she lets her hands creep towards her breasts. Caroline cups the weight of them, shivers at Klaus' low voiced encouragement, "Just like that, Caroline. You're so lovely like this, sweetheart. Flushed and dripping for me."

She pulls harder at her nipples, cries out when Klaus slips two fingers into her, curling them expertly. He sets his mouth back on her clit, flicking over it again and again, occasionally treating her to a rough caress of the flat of his tongue. Caroline's back bows, her heel grinding into the muscle of his back. It's not long until she's so close, straining for an edge he's keeping just out of her reach. She's sweating, her hair sticking to damp skin, her exhales ragged. "Klaus, please," she moans, "I need more. I need…"

His motions speed up, his fingers scissoring inside of her as he licks at her with enthusiasm. It's his groan, hoarse and appreciative, the vibration of it against her, that sends Caroline over, her body quaking uncontrollably as she comes. Her hands fall away, fingers tearing at the sheets, his name rasped from deep in her throat as her head digs into the pillows.

She sighs as she relaxes, sinking into the bed, feels better than she has in ages. She really couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate being free.

Klaus seems to be in no hurry to take something for himself, his touch gentling as he works her though. Caroline pants up at the ceiling as her trembling subsides, fighting through her daze, feeling lax and sated. She swallows hard, "Okay, fine. I'm sorry I forgot you could do that. Damn."

He laughs softly, nudges her leg down as he crawls over her. He looks smug, but Caroline can forgive him. She can be generous, considering he'd been pretty freaking selfless just there. He settles over her, and she lets out another moan, feeling him cock nudge between her thighs. He's still wearing his pants, the coarse fabric an interesting sensation but not the one that she wants.

"Why are you still dressed?" Caroline mutters. She pulls at his belt, "Off. Now. Seriously."

Klaus pushes up, kneels above her. Caroline sits up, kisses his chest. Sinks her blunt teeth into the lean muscle just to hear him hiss. He slides his hands through her hair, tugging out the last of the pins and sweeping them off the bed. Urges her back down as his hands go to his belt.

Caroline raises her arms over her head, languidly stretches out her back. He swallows, grits his teeth, as he stares down at her. She watches with heavy lidded eyes as Klaus strips away the rest of his clothes. His motions are quick and forceful, and she hears seams tearing. It's tough not to comment, make a crack about his eagerness, but she kind of doesn't know how much more teasing she can take.

She might have already come but she wants more, squirms beneath him in a silent plea for him to hurry.

Besides, who's she kidding? Mocking him would be pointless because she loves that he wants her like he does. That his hands are unsteady and his skin jumps at her touch. It makes her feel powerful, invincible. And it's only fair, because her body doesn't lie, her racing heart and fever hot skin, the wetness coating her thighs, all solid proof of her own desire.

She reaches for him once he's naked. The sight of his cock, thick and ready, sending another ripple of need through her. He lays over her, skin to skin, and Caroline opens her legs, encouraging him to press her into the bed with a contented moan, her hands on his back urging him closer.

She rolls her hips, her slick folds parting and rubbing against him. Klaus' eyes drift shut, his jaw clenching. Caroline bites her lip and moves again, reaching around him to run her nails lightly along his spine. There's a ring of yellow lighting up his pupils when he looks at her again, and Caroline feels her own vision sharpen in response. He doesn't speak, and she doesn't need him to. She holds his gaze as she bares her throat, tilting her hips until his cock presses inside of her.

He lays a kiss on the skin over her artery, she feels the hot rasp of his tongue before he bites down. Caroline's eyes roll back at the sting, and she moans when he drinks, clenching down around his cock.

She'd been kidding earlier, but when he pulls back, claiming her mouth hungrily, the forceful motions of their hips jostling the bed frame, she really can't believe she'd ever forgotten this. She can taste herself, her blood and her arousal, and it only makes her hotter. The way he moves, reads her body is insane, and the noises she makes get louder, grow in pitch and frequency, once he adjusts and his length rubs over her clit every time he drives into her.

Caroline grips him tighter, legs twining high around his waist. His venom burns, but she likes it, finds that it heightens her anticipation. His blood is incredible, and she wants it, knows she'll come the second it hits her taste buds. One of his hands delves into her hair, cupping the back of her neck. He slows, drags his cock from her heat and thrusts back in with agonizing precision. Caroline whines, dragging her nails down his back. "Shh," he soothes, and her belly quivers as he works his hand between them. "You need to heal. Bite me, Caroline. Drink and come around my cock."

It's all the invitation she needs, her fangs sink into his skin as his thumb works her clit. She goes flying and it's a rush, better than the last, her nerves on fire. Caroline's scream is muffled by her mouthful of blood, her body fluttering around him, drawing Klaus deeper into her embrace. She drinks greedily, not caring that she's spilling. She feels his blood, metallic and sticky on her skin, and sliding down her throat, and has to tear her teeth away, sucking in air.

Klaus doesn't let her go far, "Eyes on me," he demands, as he shudders against her, his hips pumping roughly as he spills. Broken curses fall from him, interspersed with her roughly uttered name, she watches his face go slack with pleasure surges up to steal another kiss.

He's still inside of her when he rolls them, holding her tight to his chest. Caroline buries her face in his shoulder, struggles to get her breathing under control. His hands are soft against her back, long strokes like he's memorizing the quivering of skin.

Caroline clears her throat, and pulls back enough so she can look at him, her hair falling around them in a messy tangle "Hell of a round one," she remarks lightly. She's smiling, and makes no move to put distance between them.

Klaus returns it, dimples on full display. She runs her fingertip over one, finds that she misses the usual stubble. He'd shaven completely, in deference to the formal occasion. It emphasizes the stupidly attractive planes of his face nicely, but she has fond memories of the texture of his usual facial hair against some of her more delicate patches of skin.

"I aim to please," he murmurs, eyes bright. He bites at her finger playfully when it brushes over his lower lip.

Caroline makes a show of rolling her eyes but her inability to flatten her smile makes it obvious that her exasperation is feigned. She brings her finger to her neck, swipes up some of the blood that had spilled when she'd bitten him. She watches his eyes darken when she slips it into her mouth, feels his cock swelling, nudging against her slick center. She pulls her finger out with a pop, and sits up and adjusts until she can sink down on him, swiveling her hips trying to find pressure against that perfect spot.

Klaus grips her thighs, raises an eyebrow, "Round two? So soon?" he asks innocently, his hands firm, denying her attempts to move.

Caroline shrugs, and leans forward, planting her hands on either side of her head. "Why? Did you have other plans? I was kind of hoping for shower sex for round three, to be honest. In my fantasies you looked really good wet."

He smirks, an enormously pleased expression flitting across his face that never bodes well. Caroline kisses him before he can make the stupid joke he was clearly going to. He really is nowhere near as funny as he likes to think. And if he's so distracted when she pushes her tongue into his mouth that he lets up and she can move against him, he really can't complain. He's soon much too busy palming her ass and urging her to go faster to even remember what he would have complained about.

It's a little victory, but Caroline will take it. She's sure he'll soon turn the tables once more, leave her a gasping quivering wreck.

She'd forgotten Klaus, all the things he makes her feel. They memories had been returned but Caroline wants to make new ones, better ones, to sit alongside the old.

She doesn't think she'll ever feel isolated in the same way – not with people who care about her, the real her, just a phone call away. Still, she'll be travelling alone, might occasionally need a pick me up. She'll think back to this night, the past few days, the ones to come. She'll remember passion, safety, camaraderie.

This time, when she's out in the world, she'll take the good things with her.

Extricating himself from Caroline proves to be difficult.

Largely because Klaus finds he doesn't truly desire to leave his bed, the tangle of limbs they'd become over the course of the night. He'd first attempted it in the predawn hours but when Caroline's eyes had fluttered open she'd smiled, slipped a hand into his hair and drawn him into a slow, lazy kiss. She'd hooked a thigh over his hip, let out a throaty little moan, and Klaus had decided it was far too early to begin his day no matter how extensive his to do list.

He tries again once the sun begins to heat the room. Caroline's got her back to his chest, curled into herself, but she still makes a soft noise of complaint when he pulls away. He pauses, brings the covers up around her shoulders and she relaxes, turning her face into one of his pillows as her breathing evens out.

His first stop is her room, her closet more specifically. He piles his arms high, choosing a wide variety of dresses and jeans and shirts and sweaters. He wants her to have options. He grabs one of the B+ blood bags from the mini fridge before he leaves.

Caroline doesn't stir when he enters his room again, sleeps deeply as he lays the clothes he'd selected in her line of sight. He leaves the blood on the nightstand and slips back out, making his way downstairs. He'd been aware of the sounds coming from the lower levels, had heard the music and the voices, but he hadn't paid them very much attention so he's not entirely sure who's still in the house.

He soon realizes that no one had thought to get Rebekah to break the compulsion she'd placed on the catering staff. He spots nearly a dozen humans in wrinkled uniforms, sprawled out over various pieces of furniture.

He spies no blood spatter on their white shirts, and they all seem to have steady heartbeats. Klaus assumes the party had spilled out into the French Quarter before anyone had gotten too thirsty. Or perhaps the hired help had just enough skill in self-preservation to make themselves scarce once the liquor and the canapes ran low.

Klaus spots a man he vaguely recalls issuing orders through the open library door. He's older than most of the others, maybe forty with greying hair. Klaus approaches the sofa he'd claimed and he doesn't stir until he's rouses with a rough shake. Klaus keeps his expression placid when the human recoils in fear. He lurches back, but he has nowhere to go, and the sofa's rocked off its legs.

Klaus raises a brow once the furniture has settled, "Find the cooks," he instructs. "Tell them that we'll be needing breakfast for…" he takes a moment to think, "…twenty or so. Round up what's left of the alcohol as well." He's got a few cases of champagne stashed in the lower levels but he'll retrieve them himself. No need to send a human down and provide his prisoners with an easy snack.

The man doesn't move, only his eyes flit around the room. "I… we tried… we couldn't leave."

He holds in an annoyed sigh, "No, you couldn't."

"I… my wife will be…"

Klaus leans down swiftly, straightening the man's tie. He shudders, cringes away, his hands curling into fists. He manages not to make a sound though his heart races. Somewhat impressive, for one in his position. "Worried about you?" Klaus says. "The poor dear. Don't fret, you'll be home before lunch to soothe her ruffled feathers. If my instructions are followed."

The man nods slowly and Klaus is glad he's selected an intelligent one. He pulls back, brushes his hands off briskly, "Excellent. I'll just need to round up my wayward family and assorted guests. We'll say, breakfast in an hour?"

He leaves without waiting for a reply.

Elijah finds him before Klaus can search his brother out, walking down the stairs adjusting his cufflinks as soon as Klaus exits the library. "Good morning," Klaus greets. "I trust everything went smoothly last night?"

Elijah's lips twitch in amusement, "After you left me to clean up the mess, you mean? Of course."

Klaus doesn't think an apology is necessary. It's far from the first time Elijah's been tasked with such a duty. "My thanks. Did Kol and Bekah heed my request to stay inside?" He'd insisted everyone of import – his siblings, Marcel, their assorted friends and paramours, along with Caroline, the Bennett witch and her vampire shadow - not risk The French Quarter. It's not safe until they can ensure that any stragglers loyal to Tristan are flushed out. Klaus doesn't fancy having to mount a rescue mission. Kol and Bekah had been resentful of the edict and he wouldn't put it past either of them to disobey.

"Safely tucked in their rooms, as far as I know." Elijah eyes the humans stumbling out into the hallway behind Klaus. The man Klaus had elected their leader is making his way through the rooms, quietly setting tasks for the rest of the workers. "I'll have to remind Rebekah to add a bonus for the staff to the caterer's bill. We don't want to be blacklisted if we're settling back here."

The company they'd selected is said to be the best in the city so Klaus supposes that's only prudent. He nods in agreement. "That's fine."

Elijah steps down until he's next to Klaus, "Are you staying?" he asks. It's neutral enough but Klaus knows better than to be fooled by such a careful tone. Elijah's fishing.

"I'll want to reestablish myself, yes. Get things in order. I imagine we'll have to travel a bit, clean up loose ends."

Elijah studies him, head tipped to the side, "And Miss Forbes?"

Klaus is careful to keep his response flippant. No need for Elijah to get it in his head to meddle. "Will be doing some travelling of her own, I imagine." They haven't discussed Caroline's plans much, too focused on what they had to get through. Given what's been stolen from her, Klaus can't imagine Caroline will be satisfied by what she's managed to see of the world.

The noise Elijah makes is contemplative, "I see."

Elijah always sees more than Klaus wants him to. He steers the subject to something less revealing, "She's asked you to call her Caroline. Repeatedly."

"Perhaps I will," Elijah says. He smiles, small and inscrutable, resting his hand on Klaus' shoulder. "Now, what's on the agenda for this morning?"

Klaus casts a glance behind him, to check that his instructions are still being followed. He thinks he's applied sufficient motivation. He decides that the humans should be able to get on without being supervised for a bit. "Let's head downstairs. See who we've got to work with, plan a bit."

It's too early to torture anyone, best to let them stew in the anticipation, but a few well phrased threats wouldn't go amiss. And he does need to retrieve the champagne.

"Eager to get everyone out of the house, Niklaus?"

"I'd like it to still be standing," he replies lightly. "It's technically a historical landmark and I'm fond of it. The longer we must keep everyone corralled the less likely that seems."

"I have missed the city," Elijah says, almost wistful. He leads the way towards the basement door, "The music especially."

Klaus understands, is eager to reacquaint himself with the wonders of New Orleans. He'd made an offer to Caroline, many years ago, and he intends to follow through. "Soon, brother."

They fall silent as they descend the steps, listening to the breathing of their prisoners grow heavy and tense. "Morning!" Klaus calls cheerfully. He walks the length of the room, down the narrow passage between the walls of cells. "I trust the accommodations are to everyone's liking?"

No one is brave or stupid enough to supply him with an answer.


A quick glance around tells him the prisoners are cramped. Likely uncomfortable. Most of the vampires within have injuries in various stages of healing. He sees anger he'll have to stamp out, fear that'll come in handy. A bit of defeat here and there. That last emotion will expedite the interrogations, though sadly rendering them less fun.

"Tristan and Aurora were granted some privacy," Elijah says, nodding towards the stairs. The cell Aurora's occupied for her duration of her stay is on the other side of the house. "I'm told he's been awake for some time, if you'd like to speak with him."

Klaus mulls his options. He'd like to gloat a bit, of course, thinks it's only fair after he'd endured Tristan's visits. However, he'd wager that leaving Tristan until last, refusing to treat him like a priority, would do nicely to drive home his defeat.

He hadn't been joking about Aurora's rambling being enough to drive a man insane. Perhaps, after a few days in his sister's constant company, Tristan will be eager to spill his secrets to gain a reprieve.

"Later," Klaus decides. "We need to have a proper celebration first."

"Since you dashed out of the last one?" Elijah replies, dry as dust.

If his brother expects Klaus to feel so much as a hint of shame he'll be disappointed. "From the sounds of it things were quite festive without my presence."

"Our guests seemed to have a good time."

Elijah's behind him so Klaus allows himself a smile his brother would recognize as needling. "I imagine you didn't indulge much, what with all the work you were doing. Must I resort to clichés, brother? Surely there's an old friend or two you're eager to get reacquainted with? That girl who left with Marcellus, perhaps? A bit of play would do you good and I'm certain she'd not object to participating in any games you might suggest."

Elijah's not the only one who's been paying attention.

Before Elijah can reply, and Klaus imagines it would have been a stiff denial, one of their guests finds his courage. He stands, shaky, on a leg that looks like it's not yet healed from a nasty break. He lurches forward, slamming into the bars next to where Klaus stands. He's filthy, his fair hair darkened with blood and grime. He's very tall, slender, and it takes Klaus a moment to place him. He's of Rebekah's line, a boy who she'd been rather infatuated with a few centuries ago. One who'd not held her interest long enough to be irritating. Klaus thinks his name is Alfwar or something similarly Nordic. "You won't get away with this," he hisses.

"Really?" Klaus counters, amused. "Seems to me like I already have."

He takes a deep breath, his narrow chest puffing up in outrage, but he seems to swallow back his words at the last minute. Elijah steps forward, speaks with exaggerated lightness, "My. I think this one is eager to speak of his accomplices."

"Kind of him," Klaus murmurs, watching the vampire's fair skin grow impossibly paler. There's nothing in the cell that can kill a vampire though, if one is motivated enough, one could likely claw out their own heart. "I think we should make sure he's comfortable while we eat, hmm?"

He and Elijah haven't always fought on the same side but they've done it enough to be good at it. The curtains are pulled swiftly, shrieks of pain ringing out from all corners as Klaus makes quick work of the lock. He wrinkles his nose at the scent of charred flesh, reaching in to grasp Alfwar's throat. He's out of the cell with little effort, the cell door slamming shut when Klaus tosses him against it. The boy makes a split second calculation, one with no correct answer, and makes a run for it.

Elijah's in position, snaps his neck neatly. He's got his handkerchief out, wiping down the grime that had transferred to his hands, when Klaus turns.

"I assume you've got the chains set up?"

"Freya renewed the spells yesterday."

Klaus nods, pleased, and scoops up the body on the floor. Elijah gets the door, holds it for Klaus' exit. They chain Alfwar to the wall quickly and Elijah rolls up his sleeves and assists with bringing the champagne upstairs.

It's… pleasant. Working side by side at something so simple.

Klaus may just have to accept that his siblings have a point. With no secrets between them, all of them working in tandem, their plans have gone swimmingly.

He'll have to remember this, the next time there's a threat.

It's Day Five of their post victory house arrest Caroline is thanking the capitalist powers that be that next day Amazon delivery is a thing.

After that first morning, the impromptu celebratory breakfast that Klaus (with compelled help, of course) had thrown together, tensions had once again begun to mount. The compound is large but for their particular group, most of whom had been on the run or imprisoned for the last decade, its walls feel suffocating.

They can hear the noises from The French Quarter, the music and the merriment. It's just beyond their reach and so very tempting.

In the lead up to the big confrontation with Tristan there had been blow ups. Clashing personalities, centuries old beefs, vampires with dramatic tendencies – squabbles and light violence and property destruction had been perfectly understandable. As tense as things had gotten nothing had escalated too far because they'd all had a common goal, an enemy to direct their anger at. They'd known that a fight, a release, was inevitable.

This time, there's no end to work towards. There's not even a timetable. Several members of Tristan's inner circle are unaccounted for. It's likely they're attempting to go to ground, to disappear with their lives, but Klaus remains paranoid. He insists that desperation leads to recklessness and that it's possible one of the vampires he's hunting will choose to go out in a blaze of glory and take whoever they can down with them. The Originals are unbreakable but, as the past ten years had proven, they are containable. The rest of them are even more vulnerable.

Until something gives they're stuck.

They're bored and restless and by the third day there had been six separate neck snappings. Klaus had threatened to bring his sibling's coffins out of storage and leave Rebekah and Kol resting in them until they learned to mind their manners. That had not gone over well.

Freya had slipped away in the melee and had been smart enough to hide the daggers.

Caroline had been less than sympathetic to his pain when Rebekah and Kol teamed up and gotten some good hits in. She'd buried her nose in her book and ignored Klaus' grumbling, had let him pop his own shoulder back into its socket and straighten out his finger bones so they'd heal correctly.

She has no desire to stick her nose into Klaus' family dysfunctions, knows that if they're ever going to get over all the simmering resentments and the back stabbing he's perpetuated over the last thousand years, that Klaus and the rest of the Mikaelsons will have to figure it out themselves.

Fixing Klaus isn't her job, probably isn't even possible.

Sensing things were only going to get worse Caroline had decided distractions were in order. She'd figured that slightly more wholesome outlets to combat boredom would be best, because excessive drinking had led to loosened lips and frayed tempers, ratcheting up the discontent instead of soothing it. She'd added a gigantic pile of games, cards, poker chips to an online cart, handed her laptop off to Klaus and told him to input his credit card details.

He's snorted but held his tongue, had completed the transaction without arguing.

Less than twenty four hours later she'd been ripping into brown boxes and instigating games with a careful mix of puppy eyes, trash talk, and coaxing. Eventually, everyone had succumbed and morale seems to be inching up.

Klaus totally owes her one and Caroline intends to collect.

As a bonus, she's learned a ton of old time-y card games (most of which she kicks ass at, thank you very much) and has won tidy sums of money.

Right now, paired with Josh, she's totally cleaning up. Caroline snatches up the neat stack of twenties, shaking her head at Kol mockingly, "How is it that you are so bad at this?" Bonnie's his partner but is a much more gracious loser. Probably because Kol's footing the bill.

Kol's teeth grind together and he slouches down in his patio chair, nearly pouting. "I missed the centuries this game was popular."

"Excuses, excuses," Josh chirps, taking his pile of cash off Caroline's hands. "We," he says, jerking his thumb in Caroline's direction, before pointing across the table at Bonnie, "hadn't even been born when y'all were sneaking off from fancy balls and musicales to gamble."

Caroline shoots him a surprised look and Bonnie giggles softly, "Musicales? Really?"

Josh shrugs, picking up the cards to begin shuffling. "My mom liked romance novels. The ones with the dukes and the spinsters and the waltzes. Whist was the only card game they seemed to play."

"I don't know that I've ever heard of a duller book," Kol mutters, tipping his head back towards the sun.

Caroline's super tempted to correct Kol – she's sure he'd change his tune if she informed him the books Josh is speaking of are liberally sprinkled with sex – but she catches Bonnie's eye and Bon shakes her head, her eyes wide and pleading.

Kol's been flirting, pretty shamelessly, with both Bon and Enzo. Adding sex to this conversation will in no way discourage him. Caroline's still tempted, her entertainment options are limited and watching Bonnie go from flustered and blushing to murderous and barely refraining from using magic to drown Kol in the pool is always fun.

However, she thinks Kol's got a torture shift coming up in a few hours and he'd be peeved if he missed it. The whole point of ordering the games was to reduce crankiness, not instigate it.

She smiles at him, pitching her voice to a level of perkiness he'll surely find annoying. "It's totally good for me that you suck, Kol. I don't want to be roughing it when I finally get to leave here. Your money's gonna buy me some cool tours."

His head rolls back up, brows furrowed in confusion, "Darling, I'm fairly certain you have more money than I. Nik and Elijah only let me pull from the small accounts, you know. A man loses a castle on a horse race one time…"

"You lost a castle?" Josh exclaims.

Caroline has no idea why that's a surprise. It's totally on brand for Kol.

"I haven't touched my actual accounts in years," she says slowly. "They've probably all been eaten up by bank fees. It's going to take me awhile to compel those away but even so, there's no way I have more money than you."

Kol shakes his head, reaches out to pat her hand, watching her like she's a slow but adorable child. "Where do you think Tristan's money is going to go?"

She hasn't given it a single thought.

Kol's staring at her like he's waiting for her to catch up, both Bonnie and Josh have glanced away. Bonnie's swirling her straw around in her iced tea and Josh is very focused on the two decks of cards he's intermingling. Caroline's still a little lost. "You can't mean… me?"

"Did Nik not tell you?" Kol asks mildly. "Perhaps it's just slipped his mind. You two don't seem to talk over much."

She narrows her eyes in annoyance. She and Klaus talk plenty, they're just usually naked and sweaty for their conversations, tucked away in the spelled privacy of Klaus' rooms. Not that Kol needs to know any of that, even if his assumptions are freaking rude. "I don't want Tristan's money."

"Um…" Josh interrupts tentatively, "maybe don't be so hasty."

She turns to look at him, incredulous.

He holds up a hand, leaning away, "I'm just saying! It's not like he's gonna need it. Klaus clearly doesn't."

"He's got a point, Care."

She shifts her gaze to Bonnie, "You too? Seriously?"

Bonnie doesn't falter, "He took years of your life. Money won't fix that, can't give you back the time you lost or erase the things you did. Money can make the next ten years of your life, all the years after that, better. You can go anywhere, buy every pretty thing your heart desires."

"Since when did you embrace treat yourself as a life philosophy?"

Bonnie shrugs, "There's been times over the last few years where I only ate because Enzo could compel food for me. I see the appeal of financial comfort."

A quick flash of anger floods Caroline, followed by a heavy helping of guilt. Her hands falling to knot in her skirt and her eyes sting. She takes a deep breath, pushing passed it all, reminds herself that Tristan's days are numbered, the remaining few sure to be miserable.

Exactly as he deserves.

"I'm sorry," Caroline blurts out. "I'm sorry I helped him and that you were hurting and…"

Bonnie shakes her head, leaning forward in her seat. "No," she says firmly. "No apologies. That's your rule, remember? You said I'm not allowed to feel guilty about not looking for you so it's only fair if that goes both ways. Nothing that happened to me over the last ten years was your fault."

"If either of you is going to cry I'm leaving and taking my money with me." Kol says. He glances back and forth between her and Bonnie, his face showing his distaste. "There's no crying in gambling. Everyone knows that."

Bonnie cracks a small smile, Caroline manages a laugh. "Far be it for me to offend your delicate sensibilities, Kol."

He protests the use of the word delicate, neatly turning it into a reference to his dick. Bonnie sputters a reply and Josh props his elbow on the table, watches them avidly. Interjecting just enough to keep Bonnie and Kol bickering. Caroline doesn't really register the substance of their words, letting her thoughts drift.

She has no idea just how much money Tristan had amassed in all his centuries, trying to do the math based on what she knows of his properties and tastes is just too daunting. She's sure it's an astronomical sum, far too much for her to manage. Still, maybe Bonnie's right, maybe she deserves something.

Enough money to see the world, a few times over. Enough to provide for her friends, should they ever need the help. She definitely owes Bonnie a kick ass luxury vacation, complete with fancy spas and mouth-watering food and the fluffiest towels in existence.

She's spent the last ten years thinking she owed Tristan and Aurora. The part of her that rebels at taking their money, living off of it, is the part of her that wants to forget them, that refuses to be beholden.

Caroline decides she's going to have to get over that. To accept that she's the one who's owed, and far more than money.

There will be no strings, nothing for her to worry about. Not once they're dead.

He's hit with an odd flash of déjà vu when he knocks on Caroline's door. She hasn't spent much time in her room over the last few weeks. Occasionally she and Bonnie lock themselves away, and the smell of sage permeates the area. Sometimes she'll retreat for some privacy, and Klaus will hear the scratching of a pencil, the clicking of computer keys. She's making plans, he knows, though he doesn't like to think too much on them.

"I think I'm going to work backwards," Caroline murmured sleepily. Slumped across his lap, naked and replete, her back rested against his chest. Klaus had been just about to move them, relocate to his bed.

"Hmm?" he asked absently, running a hand along her thigh.

She reached back and played with one of his necklaces. "I want to start in Maipu. Go back to Montreal when I'm done. All the places Tristan sent me to, the ones I never got to actually enjoy. I want to erase those memories, make better ones."

He stiffened, and Caroline noticed, her hold on the back of his neck firming, like she anticipated his need to fight. "I'm still not ready," she said quietly, giving him pause. "For what you want. And I don't really think you are either."

Klaus opened his mouth to argue, to snap that he was quite certain that he knew his own mind, but Caroline continued, "You have things to figure out. You did just spend more than ten years dead to the world, Klaus. And I've seen you ducking Elijah every time he comes at you with his tablet."

He relaxed slightly, glared up at the ceiling, annoyed. "Investments and accounts and property checks. Tedious things. He can handle them."

"Maybe," Caroline said reasonably, "that's his way of spending time with you. Getting things back to normal. Or, well, as normal as you guys get. Doing things that don't involve torture and interrogations."

"I enjoy those," Klaus muttered, just a touch resentfully. "Kol and Rebekah have an excellent time as well."

Caroline's shoulders shook, her soft laugh making him smile in spite of the less than enjoyable topic at hand, "Yeah, I know. And I can't say I don't enjoy the aftermath. But that won't be there forever. You'll have to go back to day to day stuff at some point. I think that's what Elijah's trying to do."

He weighed her words, enjoyed the comfort of her body against his, for several long moments. "Fine. I will submit to a few hours of brotherly bonding via catching up on paperwork. Are you happy, sweetheart?"

Her head lifted, and she turned to face him, her brows furrowed. "I actually kind of am. Which is nuts, everything considered. And I've been meaning to say thanks for that."

Klaus shook his head, "Don't, Caroline. I don't want your gratitude."

But she'd refused to be swayed, "Well, too bad. But you have to know that's not all you have, right? When I leave, I don't need it to be like last time."

He went rigid once more, at her firm 'when.' He'd never force her to stay with him, intended for her to want to be at his side, when the time came. But the reminder of her inevitable absence was unwelcome He's always known he'd live years without her. The knowledge is harder to carry now. Klaus found himself intrigued by the rest of her statement, however. "Oh? What does that mean, love?"

She smiled, brushed her lips over his, the simple affection foreign and breathtaking. "It means I'm going to call you. Send you emails. Or wait, would you prefer letters? Is email too impersonal? Do you have a 'kids these days' speech handy?"

Klaus poked her side, dangerously close to a spot he'd found delightfully ticklish and she squirmed on his lap. The press of her arse against his cock had it stirring, and she did it again, more deliberately. His next words came out low and raspy, "Make your point, Caroline. Because I'll not wait much longer before setting you on the bed. I'm thinking hands and knees, to start."

She shivered, directed his hand to her breast, "We're friends, Klaus. Even if we're more. I'm not interested in pretending that's not true anymore. And hey, I'm sure I could use a restaurant recommendation occasionally. And maybe there are a couple of places you can show me, if you can squeeze me into your busy schedule of wrangling your siblings."

It was more than Klaus expected to be freely offered. And he was going to make certain that she never regretted making such an overture. He scooped her up, ignoring her indignant squeak, speeding her over to the bed.

Footsteps, then the door's thrown open, Caroline on the other side. She's got a tube of mascara in her hand, and she's wearing a short robe of thin silk. The ban on leaving the compound has officially been lifted, enough gleaned about Tristan's operations that Klaus is certain it's safe. He'd asked her to dinner and she'd happily accepted, claiming she's going completely stir crazy.

New Orleans can be the first city he shows her. Klaus thinks it's only fitting.

He quirks an eyebrow, glancing down at her decidedly disheveled appearance. He likes it, particularly the view of her legs, but it's not fit for public consumption. "Did we not say 6?" he asks curiously.

Caroline looks momentarily aggravated, reaching down and pulling him into the room, "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. I was hanging out by the pool talking to Enzo and I totally lost track of time. Am I going to screw up a reservation? I'll hurry and be like ten minutes, tops."

"It's fine, love," he assures her, sitting down on the end of her bed. His hold on New Orleans will need to be strengthened, but no one's going to turn them away for slight tardiness. "May I ask what Enzo and you were speaking of that was so engrossing?"

Caroline makes a face in the mirror, leaning in to continue with her makeup. "Ugh, he wants me to go back to Mystic Falls with him and Bonnie for a bit. He's not exactly thrilled about it but is basically unable to say to Bon. She's been doing a ton of research about the Sleeping Elena situation, and I know Freya's made a few suggestions."

"And you don't want to go?" Klaus asks, somewhat puzzled. He'd not been aware of any ill feelings she had towards the town, thought she'd gotten out before she'd felt too smothered.

She shrugs, "I just don't want to have to skulk around, avoid everyone. I mean, apparently Damon and Stefan never leave The Boardinghouse, live like shut ins and only creep out to steal blood bags and check to see if Elena's coffin's been disturbed. It's weird and I kind of want no part in it."

"I can't blame you."

Caroline's face reads guilt, and she looks down. "Elena accepted what happened to her, you know? I just don't think it's fair to expect Bonnie to put everything she wants on hold. And I know they'll make her feel like she has to. I don't want to get sucked in."

Klaus stands, approaches her. Shifts her hair over one shoulder and kisses her shoulder. "So don't," he says simply. "Go to Mystic Falls, or don't, that's your decision. Tell the Salvatore's to stuff it, that you've better things to do."

Caroline laughs, quick and humorless. "That easy, huh?"

It should be, but Caroline's loyalty is a tricky thing. She's not one to rescind it once given, even if those she's gifted it to are spectacularly undeserving. "I could threaten to kill them, if you'd like," Klaus offers. "Particularly Damon. Who knows, perhaps the doppelganger will be grateful? She wasn't very good at firm decisions. A lack of options could prove helpful. I'm sure Stefan would be happy to comfort her."

"You're not funny," Caroline tells him. But the smile she's trying to hide says otherwise.

Klaus smirks before sobering, holding her eyes in the reflection. He wants her to remember what he's about to say, to hold it close and know it's true. "It's your life, Caroline. Don't let anyone else rule it. Not again."

She's quiet, for a long moment, leaning more heavily against him as she considers his words. They don't speak much of Tristan or Aurora, Caroline's determined that they'll have no more power over her, she hasn't set foot in the basement since her confrontation with Aurora. She slips sometimes, usually in the dark. An idle story or casual remembrance. She has nightmares, both about what Tristan did to her and what had happened to her in the past she newly remembers. Her strength, the steel of her spine remains impressive, and as captivating as he remembers.

Eventually, Caroline nods, firm and decisive. "You're right," she says.

"Obviously," Klaus sniffs, only partially joking. Caroline elbows him roughly, and he lets her move him back a few steps.

"Shush, you. Now we're going to be like twenty minutes late. Actually, you know what? Meet me downstairs."

"Why?" Klaus asks. He's quite content to stay and watch her, doesn't care how long she takes.

Caroline smirks, "Because I'm hungry. And I want to see people other than the ones who hang out here. And I totally don't trust you not to make us even later when you see what I'm wearing under this robe."

Klaus lets his eyes drift down, intrigued. "I could close my eyes?" he offers.

She snorts, "Please. You'd peek."

It's possible she has a point. Self-denial and integrity aren't what Klaus would consider his strong suits. He gropes for a possible bargain, something to convince Caroline that they should stay in. But she anticipates it, turning and pushing him towards the door. "Nope, don't even. You'll see it later. Assuming I am sufficiently fed and entertained. New Orleans is awesome, right? I want to experience it like you promised."

He complains, but Caroline refuses to listen. Eventually he goes, but not before he presses her against the door, slants his mouth over hers and gives her something to think about.

Tonight he'll begin to show her the things he loves about the city, fulfill his old promise. It will take more than a single evening, and they've got time. Klaus still has loose ends that he's tying off, doing his best to ensure every bit of Tristan's power is obliterated.

In the meantime, until it's safe, he'll savor having Caroline near.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: I Can Hear You

The door to Klaus' studio is ajar but Bonnie's knock is still timid, a match to the slow, plodding steps she'd taken up the stairs. Caroline's been holed up here all day. It's brighter than Klaus' bedroom, quieter than the guestroom that's technically hers. She's pretty sure she knows why Bonnie's made the trek all the way to the top floor and, judging from how slowly she's walking, she's not super enthused about the topic she's about to broach.

Caroline can relate.

"Come in!" she calls, setting her laptop and notebook aside. Klaus is out for the afternoon, and probably most of the evening. He'd taken Marcel and Elijah out to The Bayou, something about touching base with the local werewolves. Klaus and the rest of the Mikaelsons hadn't been shy about reinserting themselves into the city, had made it plain they intend to stay.

Reactions from the other supernatural populations have been… mixed. Some vampires had fled, others are trickling back. Freya (and a grudging Davina) are working on the witches but the werewolves had retreated to their territory. Klaus, having used up a fair amount of patience waiting on Tristan, had decided to make an overture rather than wait them out. A mountain of food and liquor had been packed up and Caroline's crossing her fingers that the peace offering will be accepted.

If tensions rise it'll be easy for her to justify staying and she knows can't.

Bon's planning on leaving at the end of the week. Caroline's been noncommittal about heading back to Mystic Falls, fighting between really not wanting to and feeling like she should. There's a little, annoying voice in her head that complains she's being a bad friend. Thankfully, it's drowned out by Caroline's bone deep certainty that there's nothing left in that town for her.

Just about every other person in residence had weighed in on her choice, even those she definitely hadn't asked. Klaus' two cents, carefully worded and more measured than his actual feelings (she'll give him props for personal growth) had been appreciated. Rebekah had reacted with a wrinkled nose and an incredulous, "Ew, why?" Kol had muttered something vaguely threatening but he'd shut up quickly enough when faced with the threatening look Bonnie had sent his way.

Elijah still holds some fondness for Elena. He's promised to work a few contacts when he's able. Word of Tristan's defeat is spreading but it will likely be a few weeks, maybe months before it's well known. Allies who'd gone underground, and apparently the most useful ones had been smart enough to make themselves scarce, will need time to resurface.

Bonnie had deflated a bit when Elijah had given her that news, gentle though he'd been. Caroline had thought about consoling Bonnie by pointing out that Elena had nothing but time. Elena's not aging, in any pain or danger. That Stefan and Damon had lived in doppelganger obsessed dysfunction for over a century so what was a few more years.

She'd swallowed the words when she'd realized the real problem. Bonnie doesn't have the luxury of time. Surrounded by so many vampires these last few months, having little contact with humans in the previous decade, Caroline had kind of forgotten the realities of mortality.

She doesn't want to waste her life doing someone else's bidding. Not again, and she doesn't want that for Bonnie either but, ultimately, that's Bonnie's call.

Though she's not above a little pointed nudging.

Caroline's not going back to Mystic Falls. Has had a conversation defending her reasoning about six (okay, more like sixteen) dozen times in her head.

Hopefully the reality will align closely with the more optimistic scenarios Caroline's constructed.

Bonnie slips inside, shuts the door with her foot. "Do you have a sec?"

Judging from the goodies she's brought - two bottles of wine cradled to her chest, a pair of glasses in one hand and a giant bag of chips in the other – she's going to need more than a second. Caroline's not going to complain. She won't see Bonnie for weeks or months so, assuming Bonnie takes Caroline's no graciously, they can Netflix and stuff their faces after they've talked.

No boys allowed, like they'd done in high school, just with way more options than the video rental place in Mystic Falls had ever offered.

She gets off the couch and snags the envelope she'd left on her side table, and takes the wine off Bonnie's hands. She sets it down and piles her stuff neatly, "I'm just checking out hotels. Klaus gets sneer-y when I browse anything less than 4 stars so it's better to do it solo."

Bonnie actually smiles and it's not even mocking like it might have once been, "I am not the least bit surprised that Klaus is a hotel snob."

Caroline suspects he's being extra picky on her behalf in an attempt to delay her departure date for as long as he can. He won't outright say anything discouraging but the way he goes a little stiff, how carefully blank he keeps his expression, tells Caroline plenty about how deeply he's dreading the day she goes.

"I thought you were committed to winging it."

"I can't entirely wing it," Caroline says, unable to hide her horror at the thought. "Decade long bout of amnesia aside, I didn't get a personality transplant. I'd probably manage to be the first vampire to faint if I got off a plane in a foreign country with no clue what my options were."

Bonnie's lips press together severely as she tries not to laugh. She pulls a corkscrew from her pocket and grabs one of the wine bottles. "At least you know your strengths and weaknesses."

Caroline watches her steady the bottle between her knees, the deft way she gets the cork out. "Oooh, not a screw top? We're so fancy."

Bonnie snorts in disbelief, "Oh, please. Do you really think there's anything in this house with a screw top?"

Alright, she has a point there. "I'm picturing the look on Elijah's face if he found one in the cellar and, let me tell you, it's hilarious."

"He helped me pick the wine out. I did not tell him we would be eating sour cream and onion chips with it."

"Good call."

"At some point, while on the run, I may have conceded to Enzo that compelling nice things wasn't really all that more morally upright than compelling fast food and cheap beer." She confesses it quietly, like she's ashamed, and Caroline can't have that.

Caroline holds up a glass, "Your arteries thank you and so do I."

"I appreciate the lack of judgement."

Caroline takes a taste of the wine, than another, deeper drink because it is good. Bonnie lets out a little hum of her own enjoyment and Caroline sends out a silent thank you because good wine certainly can certainly make the decision she's about to communicate land easier.

But first, a teeny bit of bribery.

She pushes the envelope Bonnie's way. "I have a present for you. Technically two but one won't get here until tomorrow." The car that'll be delivered will have a big red bow on it, to make up for the fact that somehow Caroline forgot to get any wrapping paper.

Bonnie's rips into the envelope, pulls out a thick sheaf of papers. "Thanks?" she says, beginning to flip through them. Her head tips to the side as she studies a page more closely. "This is a…"

"Bank account," Caroline supplies. "In your name. There's a credit card too."

She's braced for a fight and Bonnie doesn't disappoint. "Caroline, I can't…"

"You sure can," she argues cheerfully. "You told me to take Tristan's money, right? Because he took ten years from me. Only fair you take some too. You haven't exactly been living the life you wanted and it's his fault. I set one up for Enzo too but honestly, I'm not sure if he gets how credit cards work. Were those even a thing pre 1950?"

Unfortunately, a little rambling won't distract Bonnie. "You don't need to do this. I can finish school now. Get a job…"

"You're going to do all that and find a way to wake up Elena? Sounds like an awful lot of work and no time for play and I have it on good authority that that's a terrible combo."


"But nothing." She reaches over to shove Bonnie's wineglass closer to her. "You told me to take the money and now you have to deal with the consequences. Don't make me borrow one of Klaus' minions to follow you around to jump out of bushes and pay for things."

That coaxes a smile out of Bonnie, "He would absolutely help you do something that annoying, wouldn't he?"

Klaus would do it eagerly, Caroline knows, if only to save her from having to do it herself. "We're not going to have to find out, are we?"

Bonnie sighs, slumps back into the chair. "No, we're not. Thank you, Caroline. Really."

Caroline shakes her head, "Seriously, no thanks necessary. I might be iffy on taking the money but there's a certain amount of satisfaction in using it to help the people I love."

Bonnie's quiet for a moment, eyes focused on the rich red liquid swirling around in her glass. "Speaking of the people you love…"

And now for the hard part.

"I'm not going to Mystic Falls," Caroline says. Winces a bit at the bluntness, once the words are out. She'd planned on easing into them. Bonnie doesn't appear especially surprised. "Not now, at least. I know you're set on working out how to break Elena's curse and I'm not going to try to talk you out of it. I will be periodically calling you and reminding you to do fun things, things for you, so be prepared for that."

"Things for me," Bonnie repeats, sounding dubious. "How pathetic is it that I don't even know what those are anymore?"

Caroline can relate. But she's trying not to wallow in what she's lost, is actually super excited for what's to come. She wants Bonnie to be too. "You can find them again now. Find new ones, even."


Caroline grins, ticks off options on her free hand. "Skydiving? Cupcake making? Sweaty threesomes with superhot vampires?"

Bonnie chokes, slapping a hand over her mouth but a few drops of wine dribble out. Caroline can't resist laughing even as Bon grows more outraged. "That last one is not happening."

Caroline's skeptical. Kol's ramped up his seduction efforts with Bonnie's exit date looming. Caroline had spied Bonnie sandwiched between him and Enzo on the dancefloor at the club they'd been at last night and she hadn't looked like escape was on her mind. When pressed Bonnie had been breezy claiming it had just been dancing, fueled by rum heavy Hurricanes and good music but it had certainly looked steamy.

"If you say so."

Prim now, Bonnie wipes her hand on her jeans, "I do."

It's time to back off but Caroline can't resist one last taunt, "If something like that ever does happen I expect details. Vivid details." The glare she gets is withering and she lifts a hand in a gesture of surrender. "Fine, fine. Cupcake making would also be awesome. I like baked goods."

"I remember," Bonnie mutters. She's sitting straighter now, perched on the edge of the sofa like she's going to bolt.

Uh oh. Perhaps Caroline's joked a little too much.

"I taught myself how to draw. Secretly," Caroline offers.

Bonnie looks up, surprised. "Really? I seem to remember some distinct opinions about how art class was a waste of time."

Caroline had taken it freshman year, had sat in front of a boy whose version of pigtail pulling involved flicking paints in Caroline's direction. The teacher had been a bit of a hippie dip, always spouting vague platitudes about how Caroline needed to be less literal, to give up control and feel. She'd gotten a B- and promptly switched electives.

It's a memory that hadn't been important enough to come back in the initial rush so it feels new. Caroline wonders how long it'll take before the tiny pieces of who she used to be stop surprising her.

"At some point I just needed something that was mine. A lot of what Tristan and Aurora said to me felt off but I had nowhere else to go. It was a relief to go on missions even if I was technically sticking my neck out."

"Is that when you picked up drawing?"

"Yeah. Originally I just wanted to talk to a cute guy, distract myself for an afternoon." There'd been something Klaus-like about that guy, now that Caroline thinks about it. She can never tell him that, he'd be unbearably smug. "I really sucked in the beginning but I used to wake up in the middle of the night and scribble out pictures of the people I'd dreamt about. Just in case they were real. You and Elena and Tyler and Stefan. Matt. Even Katherine and Damon. I thought I might see one of you in a crowd someday and my memories would come flooding back and I'd remember who I was."

Caroline knows that wouldn't have happened, not with all the magic Tristan's witches had shoved into her. That doesn't matter now. She'd clung to the hope that she wasn't alone in the world, drawn strength from it.

She shakes away the flare of anger, the sense of loss that's quick to follow, and smiles brightly. "Anyway, I figure if I can pick up a new hobby under those circumstances it should be a snap to find a few more. I'll text you. We'll compare notes. Maybe figure out things we might like to do together when we meet up."

"I'd like that."

"How long do you think you'll stay? In Mystic Falls."

"Not long," Bonnie says quickly, confirming that she's not looking forward to the hometown visit. "I need to see if Damon and Stefan have learned anything useful. Stefan said Alaric's been helping, getting them books. I picked up a lead or two when I could. Not many, since we moved so often, but…"

"Nothing wrong with saving yourself, Bon. If Damon's a dick just remind him that you're the best shot he's got at getting Elena uncursed." Especially now that she's made a few new witch friends.

"I'll be heading back this way before too long. Freya's got a lot of ideas, says she can reach out to the covens she knew here for help. Will you be coming back when you're done in Chile?"

Well, that's a loaded question. "At some point. Chile's only my first stop."

Bonnie studies her thoughtfully, "Oh, I thought you and Klaus…"

Caroline can't help but smile. Bonnie's really doing a great job at hiding her distaste for Klaus and Caroline's feelings for him. "I'm not planning on never seeing him again or anything. But I still have a whole lot of world left to see and a bajillion things to do." All by her lonesome, so she can form her own impressions and pick her favorites. She'd just been starting to define herself, away from home, without fear of what people would think, before running into Tristan had derailed her. It's even more necessary now, to reconcile who she'd been, the things she'd done. To figure out what she wants.

Someday, she and Klaus will compare notes about the places she's planning on seeing. And argue, probably.

Bonnie struggles, her mouth opening a few times as she tries to work out what she wants to say. "And he's just going to let you go?"

Caroline exhales slowly, reminds herself that Bonnie's got a huge list of reasons to think the worst of Klaus. "Yep," she says and she kind of hopes that's all she'll have to say.

Sue her, she's an optimist.

"Are you sure?" Bonnie blurts.

Caroline breathes deeply, exhales slowly. Reminds herself that it's not even a little bit unreasonable for Bonnie to have doubts about Klaus' intentions. "Do you remember how I told you I only spoke to him for a few minutes at graduation? Well, that was a lie."

He'd driven her home and she'd been reluctant to get out of his SUV, to officially say good bye. Klaus hadn't been in any hurry to encourage her to go in and they'd talked until the sky had begun to lighten. About the six different majors she was considering, about how different New Orleans was after nearly two hundred years. He'd pointed out constellations and she'd complained about his radio presets and neither had called the other out on any lingering, memorizing, glances that might have happened.

He's heard her mother's alarm go off and Caroline had known she had to go inside. She'd pressed a kiss to his cheek, thanked him, and hurried up the porch. She hadn't let herself look back but she'd held her breath until she'd heard his engine turn over.

She'd distracted herself in the kitchen, and had a feast ready to go when her mother made her way downstairs.

"Okay," Bonnie says slowly and Caroline feels a rush of gratitude because Bon's trying to understand.

"And when he came back, when Katherine was dying…"

Bonnie makes a noise of amusement, "Yeah, your little woodsy rendezvous didn't stay low key for long."

"I just… I told myself that I couldn't like Klaus. Couldn't want him, because of what he did to Elena and to Tyler and what he's capable of in general. That he was a killer and the worst kind of vampire and that any decent person should hate him."

After her mother had died, when she'd left Mystic Falls and mostly cut off contact with everyone she'd grown up with it had been harder to claim moral superiority. She'd killed people, so had nearly all of her friends. She'd had to acknowledge that they hadn't always been the good guys.

"But you didn't hate him," Bonnie says, knowing, with blessedly little judgement.

"I think that's pretty obvious at this point," Caroline tries to joke.

"Just a little."

"Klaus could have stuck around. Could have worn me down. Honestly, if he'd come to find me when I first left it probably would have been easier than I would like to admit."

With her mother gone, far from home without her friend's distaste for the realities of vampirism, she'd taken the opportunity to explore.

Blood bags hadn't been easy to come by on her travels and choking down animal blood had never appealed. Caroline had first started regularly feeding from the vein then. Had stopped feeling guilty about it quickly. She'd found vampire friendly nightlife, clubs that humans clamored to get into, not knowing that the purpose of tightly controlled exits was memory alteration not crowd control. She'd even imagined Klaus finding her on a dark dance floor, moving with her to the pulsing beat, closer and hotter than the proper ballroom dances they'd shared before.

Had he found her, offered her Paris or Rome again, she would have said yes.

"But Klaus doesn't want to wear me down." He wants to be chosen but she doesn't explain that to Bonnie. Caroline understands the desire to be the one well.

Bonnie takes a long drink of wine and Caroline sure she wants to say more but Caroline's really over having to justify her choices.

She's leaving, Klaus gets why and he's not going to hold her back. End of story.

She takes a handful of chips, crunches loudly for a long moment. "If you really need me, call me and I'll come. If Elena wakes up, call me and I'll fly out and help you catch her up on what she's missed."

Bonnie cracks a smile, slumps back into the cushions. Doesn't try to protest the subject change. She curls her legs under her, "I'm not going to call you just if I need you."

"Obviously. If I don't hear from you at least once every forty-eight hours I'm going to worry. I really missed good girl talk."

"Oh god, me too."

Bonnie doesn't call her out for her paranoia. Caroline might relax about the time gap. In a year or two or five. She's not alone in her worries because Bonnie confesses she's been trying to work out a way to ask for a vial Caroline's blood, so she can work a location spell in case of an emergency.

That leads to hugging, and a couple of tears, and Enzo freezes when he enters the room to find them sniffling, but only for a moment before he's asking if he needs to kill someone.

He looks alarmed when that only makes Caroline cry more, glances behind him and mutters something about getting his heart ripped out. Bonnie assures him that Caroline's fine, and that Klaus is miles away, sends him to the kitchen to collect all the chocolate he can find and then meet them in the living room with the good TV.

Caroline doesn't mind when Enzo crashes movie night, or when Kol and Rebekah and Josh and Gia wander in and drape themselves over the furniture. Davina and Freya make do with the floor, wheedling throw pillows away from everyone else. Caroline gets a little heated about Kol's wrong opinions about Legally Blonde (though maybe he has a point about Chihuahuas being pure evil) but not enough to retreat to a more private room.

Surrounded by her friends – old and new – and Klaus' family she can barely remember the suffocating loneliness she'd endured while working for Tristan.

It might just be the best (not actually) girl's night ever.

Klaus is doing his best to be quiet even if sneaking through his own house galls. He'd left Kol and Rebekah below stairs, and careful listening tells him that there's several people gathered in a room on the main floor, four or five voices rising and falling. Otherwise, the house is still.

He's just gotten through attempting to extract information from Tristan and he needs to remember to store a few changes of clothing in the basement. He'd washed up as best he could in the sink but his grey shirt is heavily crusted with blood.

None of his guests are unaware of what's happening in the basement. The witches just prefer not to be reminded of it. Bonnie Bennett's thawed to him, ever so slightly. Klaus isn't about to risk back sliding in her estimation by reminding her of the root of her disapproval.

He'd been the villain, once upon a time. Still is, to some.

Today he'd managed to carve a decent rendering of the Eiffel Tower in to Tristan's back over the course of the interrogation. A bit cliché but the many tiny cuts necessary to capture the details had made it a wise choice.

Tristan's given them nothing useful yet, has only named his most obvious allies, vampires and covens either Caroline or Lucien knew of. Having spent sixty years plotting to bring Klaus down, and a measly ten enjoying the fruits of his labor, it's only logical that he's reluctant to admit defeat. He's arrogant enough to believe he's got a path of escape.

Fortunately, others have been more accommodating. They've gleaned much from interrogating the vampires and witches who'd accompanied Tristan. In exchange for the promise of quick deaths, safety for their loved ones, they'd been willing to spill all that they knew. Caroline had claimed that Tristan had very few true believers on his side and she'd been proven correct. Klaus is very much looking forward to the day when Tristan's pride shatters, and he lowers himself to beg for the mercy of death.

He hears someone coming towards the stairs and he's about to speed through the last bit of distance to his room when he hears the humming. He pauses instinctively when he recognizes Caroline's voice and she stops short when she sees him. She looks like she's been outside, the tops of her shoulders and cheeks reddened with sunburn that'll be gone in an hour. A pair of sandals dangles from one hand.

Her eyes widen, taking in his bloodied clothing. She's stopped trying to guard her thoughts from him and the surprise on her face is quickly overtaken by a grim sort of satisfaction, "Did you have a productive afternoon?"

"Not especially," Klaus admits. "But I doubt we'll ever get all that much from Tristan himself."

Caroline's head tips forward, like she agrees, but she doesn't offer any other commentary. She turns to mount the stairs and Klaus falls into step. He doesn't offer more information and Caroline doesn't ask.

She's avoided any mention of Tristan and Aurora. Has insisted that allowing them to take up space in her thoughts was more than they deserved. They creep into her dreams, Klaus knows, and she'll sometimes wake up struggling and fearful. He's coaxed her to talk a bit then, she'll burrow into him and whisper the briefest of stories until she stops shaking.

Klaus is careful not to go directly to Tristan's cell the following morning. He doesn't trust himself not to get overzealous.

"A delivery guy came earlier," Caroline tells him. "With the computer stuff from Paris. Josh is really milking the resident tech vampire thing and bossing people around while it's unpacked. I've never seen Marcel so peeved and I spent a fair bit of time actively trying to annoy him."

Klaus steps closer, takes Caroline's free hand in his. She doesn't resist though she darts a quick glance over and down at his shirt. "Yes, well Josh lacks your charm."

Caroline groans, squeezes his hand, "Ugh, you can cut out the cheeseball flattery, you know. It's wasted on me at this point."

"You like it," Klaus shoots back breezily.

"You wish," she counters. She pulls away from him but heads in the direction of his bedroom. When Klaus reaches for her she quickens her pace, tossing a glare over her shoulder. "I like this dress. Don't get blood on it."

The dress is pale green, with thin straps and buttons down the front. Klaus thinks it's one of the things she's ordered for herself so if she wants it to remain pristine he'll oblige her. He lets her get a few steps away, holds up his hands in agreement, "As you wish, sweetheart. I'll shower quickly."

She makes a noise of agreement as she opens the door, making her way to the bed and flopping down. She stretches to reach a book she'd left on her side of the table. "Are we going out to dinner tonight?"

"If you'd like." He's pleased that she seems to want to, isn't sure when the novelty of Caroline desiring his company will wear off. He's taken her to most of his favorite spots, alternating with places from a list Caroline's made, some of which hadn't existed ten years ago.

"Yes, please. Bon's leaving tomorrow. Enzo's taking her somewhere fancy for dinner but I thought I'd catch up with her for drinks. Maybe Elijah or Marcel would be willing to come out too?"

Caroline's become adept at arranging circumstances so that tempers don't flare. "I'll ask," he replies. In such a manner that would ensure an affirmative response.

"Cool," Caroline mumbles. Her head dips, comes to rest on her forearm, her attention on her book. Klaus doesn't move, glad to have the opportunity to remember her like this. It's safe for her to go now, and with her closest friend leaving Klaus knows Caroline will begin making firmer plans. That he'll not have very many more of these moments.

Her knees are bent, her feet swaying in the air behind her, twitching and tapping to some rhythm he can't hear. She's perfectly relaxed, in a room that's only ever been his. She's managed to imprint herself in it and he knows it'll look wrong without her clothes draped over the bench at the end of the bed, without pieces of jewelry and her phone cord on the bedside table.

Years ago, when he'd proclaimed his intentions to Caroline, he hadn't known what the reality would look like. That he could sleep next to someone and not wake, ready to fight, when they touched him. That he could have a side of the bed, a designated shelf in the shower. That he would like staying in with her, doing nothing of great excitement, as much as he enjoyed showing her New Orleans.

He's gotten a glimpse of what a life with her could be and he's going to miss it.

She twists to look at him, smiling with some degree of exasperation, "How long are you planning on staring at me?"

"I'm afraid any answer I could possibly produce is going to be written off as cheesy."

She does a respectable job of not smiling as she points at the bathroom, "Just get in the shower."

He spins without further comment, mentally rifling through the restaurants they've yet to sample. It's his turn to choose and, though he knows Caroline leaving is inevitable, he's still doing his damnedest to ensure she'll want to return.

She's been saying her good byes all day. Some easy (Rebekah, cool and frosty had scoffed, "I wish it was goodbye. But unfortunately you'll likely turn up again."), others more difficult. She's going to miss more people than she'd ever expected to when she leaves New Orleans tomorrow

But she's not dumb enough to think that she won't miss Klaus the most.

She'd woken up alone, sprawled over his side of the bed as she tends to do when given the opportunity. She's barely caught a glimpse of him since then. He'd skipped dinner, and Caroline can't help but feel a little hurt. She gets why, gets that it's hard on him and he sucks at expressing emotions in a positive way. Or at all.

Maybe it would have been better for her to have kept her distance, to have avoided falling into the comfortable intimate patterns they have. Caroline can't bring herself to regret it, not when she's gained so much from it. Klaus isn't good, or easy, but Caroline can admit that she isn't either, that she no longer really wants to be. They'll never be simple. They'll always butt heads, and he'll always test her control.

That used to scare her, and it still kind of does. The bigger part of her has come to crave it, and recognize that it makes her better. Stronger.

She knows she'll be back someday. Permanently, just like he'd claimed she would be.

Caroline's checked all his usual haunts, and some out of the way ones, just in case he's putting in some serious effort to avoid her. She's circled back to his bedroom, even though she'd already checked it. Walking into the room it still appears empty. The TV is off, his sketchbooks undisturbed. Planting her hands on her hips Caroline feels her annoyance skyrocket.

Until she spies the doors to the balcony, the glass ajar.

Stalking over, she opens it wider, sticks her head outside. "Ha!" she crows. "Found you."

Klaus is sprawled out on one of the chaises, and his head rolls to the side slowly. His eyes are just a little unfocused, and she suspects that the mostly empty crystal decanter is to blame. Doubts it's his first. She snatches it from the table, takes a sip. Winces at the potency of the liquor. "And here I was hoping you'd show me a good time on my last night," Caroline jokes.

It's the wrong thing to say because Klaus' expression darkens, his eyes shifting back to the night sky. He doesn't reply and Caroline sighs. "Move over," she demands, crowding him on his chair.

He goes, slowly and grudgingly, "There's a perfectly good lounge right there, Caroline," he complains, his arms held stiffly at his side.

"Yeah, but this one's already warm. Since you've been lying here. For hours and hours. Blowing off my good bye dinner."

She's going for guilt but from what she can see Klaus remains stony. Unsurprising, considering his overall unfamiliarity with the emotion.

Caroline flips over onto her side, so she can look at him. "Klaus, come on. I get that you're pissed that I'm leaving. Do we really have to say goodbye like this? Is freezing me out right now going to make tomorrow easier?"

He fights with himself, but eventually relaxes, his body softening next to hers. "I supposed I can be angry at you tomorrow," he allows. "After you've left."

Caroline nods, shifting over when he lifts his arm and wraps it around her, burrowing into his side. "Totally. Just don't smash anything I actually like, okay? Maybe go after that green couch in the living room. It's ugly and scratchy."

She sees him smile reluctantly. "Noted, love."

She rests her hand on his chest, feels the steady beat of his heart for a long moment. "Or," she ventures tentatively, "You could just not be angry with me?"

Klaus sighs, rests his hand over hers. "Unlikely. Anger is easy."

"I know. But it's kind of not necessary. I'm coming back, you know."

His head twists to the side, so quickly she thinks it must have hurt. He studies her face, his eyes wide with surprise. She kind of wants to laugh, because she's not certain that she's ever seen him wear that particular expression. There's an openness that's endearing. So of course Klaus has to ruin it. "Don't make promises you can't keep, Caroline," he warns.

"Don't threaten me," she snaps back, sitting up higher. His face turns stony, stubborn, and he looks like he's going to get up. Caroline acts quickly and sighs, throwing a leg over him, pushing him down. She can't actually pin Klaus, but she glares down at him until he settles reluctantly. "I'm coming back, Klaus. I don't know when. Maybe it'll be an entire century. Maybe you won't even be here anymore. But when I'm ready, and I'm pretty damn sure that I will be ready, I'll find you. Okay?"

He nods once, sharp and jerky. But his eyes are soft, maybe a touch uncomfortable. His words come out measured and firm, "Be very sure, Caroline. When you return. I'll let you go tomorrow, because I know there are still things you need to find for yourself. But when you come back, I'll hold on. I'll do everything in my power to make it impossible for you to leave."

She knows that, deep down. Knows that she's testing the limits of his patience, of the lengths he's willing to go for her. That he's letting her, the fact that he's not trying to keep her when she's fairly certain he could, with a little effort, is one of the reasons why she thinks that he's going to be it for her.

"Deal," she says lightly, tracing her fingers down his throat.

She hadn't come out here for heavy, wants to make a few more good memories before she goes. She smirks teasingly, "Besides, it's not like your minions aren't going to be creepily reporting back on my every move. And we both know I'm going to call you in like four days because my high school Spanish is awful and I'm going to run into some dick at a marketplace who thinks I'm nothing but a pretty blonde idiot and will try to gouge me when all I want to do is buy something shiny. I want to know all of the swear words, Klaus. And I'm sure that you know them."

His hands span her hips, his thumbs tracing idle circles. "You can call me for other reasons. Any reason. At any time. Say, if you happen to wake in the middle of the night with a nightmare."

They're less frequent now but who knows if that'll change when she's sleeping alone. Klaus has learned the worst of her memories late at night, and she's felt better, lighter, with speaking them out loud. "That would be nice, actually."

He smiles, soft and pleased, pulling her a little closer. Caroline realizes that there's one more thing they need to make clear. "You can call me too, you know. I encourage it. Kol's been weirdly mope-y since Bon and Enzo left and I'm invested. And I want to know if…"

Klaus interrupts but Caroline's not mad about it. His hand is in her hair, his mouth a hot demand over hers. He tastes like whiskey but she doesn't mind, because his hands are slipping up the back of her top, tracing distracting patterns on her spine. He rips the fabric when he pulls it over her head, his lips wandering down her chest as her head tips back.

She closes her eyes, and goes for his shirt, needing his skin. She doesn't know when she'll see him again though she can't imagine, feeling like she does right now – with his hands fumbling with the buttons of her shorts and his mouth on her nipple – that it'll be very long before she wants to.

She's learned that like throws curveballs, both awful and fantastic. It's important to save up the good. Hoard it and hold it close. This, her and Klaus, the clear night sky and the heat that consumes them. The things they feel that they've yet to stay. It's one of those moments. Caroline's determined to make it count.

He fishes his phone out of his pocket, grins when he sees Caroline's name on the display. He's been having a drink with Marcel but he holds up a finger and swipes across the screen to answer. She's speaking before he manages a greeting, "Why are there so many zeros, Klaus? This is so not what we talked about!"

Ah, so she's checked her bank accounts. He'd been expecting this. Marcel looks on with interest, leaning back in his seat. "Hold on, love. I'm just with Marcellus."

"Hi Marcel!" she yells, loud enough that he needs to pull the phone from his ear. "I'm sure he'll support my need to ask you what the hell did you do?"

Marcel has a finely honed sense of self-preservation, manages not to hold in his laughter. "I'm just going to get another drink." He doesn't wait for a reply, slipping into the crowd, his shoulders shaking obviously.

"Caroline," Klaus begins reasonably, "we agreed that you were entitled to some compensation, having essentially worked for Tristan, unpaid, for so many years."

"Some, compensation! This isn't some. This is…"

"A small fraction of what the liquidation of his assets resulted in. Trust me."

He'd thought to give her all of it, having no need for Tristan's money himself. It's not as though any of Tristan's underlings remained, and those who'd jumped ship at one time or another were not to be trusted either. The wealth was considerable, and money was power, even for creatures such as them. It had to be managed.

Caroline had balked, when he'd first told her of the plan, had insisted that she wanted nothing of the de Martel's. Told him he could burn every house of theirs she'd ever set foot in for all she cared. She'd stuffed the clothes Tristan had paid for, the ones she'd packed for his last errand, into one of the fireplaces.

It was cathartic, she'd claimed. Cleansing.

"How teeny of a fraction?" Caroline asks, her voice heavy with suspicion.

"You'd have to ask Elijah, if you want an exact accounting." It's a bit of a fib, he's got a fairly good idea. There's still the Paris house to go through, and since it was Tristan's primary residence Klaus imagines it will yield an impressive collection of valuables. Plus there's an estate near Tuscany, a high rise in Sydney both awaiting buyers.

She makes an aggravated noise, her breath blowing out noisily. "I have no idea what to do with this much money," she grumbles. "Bonnie will have kittens if I try to give her more."

"Shop," Klaus suggests. "Buy a piece or two from a reasonably established artist instead of the desperate starving types you like to gamble on. Fly first class, once in a while. Learn to sail and buy a yacht…"

Caroline laughs, a bright happy sound. "Okay, okay. I get your point. Just buy everything, basically."

"Compulsion is tricky, these days. All the cameras."

"Ah, yes," Caroline says dryly. "Tell me about the good old days when free will was so much more difficult to steal."

Klaus finishes his drink, digs out his wallet and throws some money on the table. He finds Marcel in the crowd, watching him, good natured and amused. He returns Klaus' nod as he leaves. "I'd rather talk about you. How are you finding Greece?"

"Hot," Caroline says. "I was really jet lagged so I've only seen my hotel but the room service dinner I ordered was incredible. I totally thought I wasn't a fish person but I was wrong."

"I'll text you a list of my favorite places. It's been about thirty years since I've been, so hopefully some of them are still there."

"That'd be great," she enthuses. "I really liked some of the places you suggested in Montreal."

Klaus smiles, dodging humans on his way out the door. He'd known that, had looked forward to Caroline's frequent texts and pictures. He now has an Instagram account and she's the only person he follows.

Caroline had left New Orleans and traipsed up and down the Chilean coastline, occasionally dipping into Argentina, drawn by talks of ArteBA and then staying for a music festival. She'd spent nearly four months there, before packing her bags, determined to get to Montreal before it got too cold.

She'd fallen in love with snow, however, had stayed through the holidays. Said she liked how different it was, from what she'd grown up with. She found she could embrace the things she'd liked about the Christmas up there, without the painful reminders of her childhood home.

A bitter January, bleak and frigid had driven her away. She'd met up with The Bennett witch, and they'd had a grand time in New Mexico for several weeks. Including a wild weekend in Las Vegas that Caroline's intriguingly tight lipped about.

He'd coax the story from her someday.

Bonnie's now working with some New Orleans covens, her quest to wake the doppelganger continuing. Klaus is expecting her to turn up in his city before long, knows she and Freya correspond regularly. He's sure it will be delightful, having grown accustomed to the strained politeness Caroline's friend strives for in his presence.

Hopefully she'd leave her vampire whelp at home. Klaus' fondness for Enzo remains nonexistent.

Caroline had just embarked on the most recent leg of her journey, a stay in Athens, and Klaus is very much looking forward to her impressions on another older city. It had never been one of his favorites, but perhaps it will be one of hers.

She tells him about her flight, laments her inability to sleep properly in planes. Klaus strolls about the city as he listens, no destination in mind. "How are things with you?" she asks, once she's done.

Klaus hesitates, unsure if he wants to risk bringing down her mood. In the end he decides to tell her, because he believes she'd want to know. "Very well," he begins. "We're finally satisfied that we've learned all we can from Tristan and Aurora."

"Oh," Caroline says, sounding stunned. "Does that mean…"

"We'll be disposing of them, yes. Tomorrow." Via the sun. Klaus will have to coax Kol into helping dig a pit in the backyard once he arrives home.

She's quiet, for long minutes and Klaus listens carefully for sounds of distress. But her breathing remains measured, there's no indication of nervous movements. One deep inhale and then words rush across the line, "I'm actually really glad. And then I thought that I'm a horrible person for that reaction. But I remembered that they're horrible, and that they deserve it. For what they did to me. And to you. So even if it is horrible of me I'm fine with my horribleness in this instance."

"Well, I don't think you're horrible," Klaus remarks teasingly.

"You better not," she shoots back, laughing once more. "I'd be super offended."

"Noted." Klaus decides a subject change is prudent, "How long are you planning on staying in Greece?"

"Not sure. Depends on what I find to do. I kinda like keeping things open ended way more than I ever thought possible."

"And you're headed to Kuala Lumpur afterwards?" Klaus asks idly, even though he has her planned itinerary well memorized.

He's surprised by the tiny nervous hitch in her breathing. "Y-yeah. That's the plan."

Klaus pauses, glares at the human who curses as he nearly runs into him. The man is young, large, and slightly inebriated, and he spews a few more slurred profanities as he steps around Klaus. Really, the fool is lucky that Klaus is in the middle of something important, and not all that hungry. Caroline pulls his focus back, the nerves in her laugh making his brows rise. "What's wrong?" he asks.

"Nothing!" she exclaims. "Nothing at all. I just…"

Klaus waits her out, and now he can hear her pacing. "Things were a little weird, when I left New Orleans. I wasn't sure how you and I would work. But we figured it out and it's been really good! I like talking to you, and I don't want to mess that up. Except…"

Caroline seems to flounder again, and Klaus thinks this would be so much simpler if he could see her face. "But…" he prods.

She blows out a noisy gust of air. "I'm thinking of taking a little side trip. Tokyo. After Kuala Lumpur. And you can totally say no, because this isn't me coming for you, because there are still things I want to do on my own, but…"

"Yes," Klaus tells her, without hesitation. He'll take an interlude, the opportunity to see her face to face. To be able to touch her and watch her as she tries new things and experiences a new place. To shore up her resolve, to ensure that she doesn't change her mind. She still has a mental list and Klaus is determined he'll be at the end of it.

"You'll meet me there?"

Klaus begins walking again, turning and heading towards his home. It's been years since he's been to Tokyo, so perhaps some research is in order, some preliminary plans to be put in place. Something flexible, because Caroline's timetable is unpredictable. "Just give me a couple of days' notice, sweetheart. And I'll be there."

Caroline watches the numbers on the elevator display nervously. She's tapping her foot against the plush carpet of the car, and the attendant is giving her a mildly concerned look.

It's stupid to be freaking out. It's just Klaus.

Klaus who she hasn't seen in over a year. Klaus who she wants to call far more often than she actually allows herself to.

She'd only booked one room. Had second guessed that decision approximately once an hour since she'd made it. Because who was she kidding, there was no way they weren't ending up in bed together.

Their phone calls often bend flirty, his voice in her ear can turn her on to a degree that's almost embarrassing. And he knows it, curves his accent around consonants and vowels in what Caroline's certain is a deliberate seduction. They've come dangerously close to phone sex a time or two but she's never let it get that far. She's touched herself once they've hung up, bit her lip to keep from shouting his name when she comes. She half suspects that letting him talk her to orgasm would mean admitting something that she's not ready to.

Sharing a room just seems logical, given all of that. But, an annoying little voice, one that sounds suspiciously close to Caroline's human teenage self, keeps piping up. 'What if he's over you?' it nags. "What if he's sick of waiting for you to make up your mind?' 'What if there's someone else?'

She'd managed to tell that voice to shove it, that Klaus would say something if there were someone else, someone serious. She'd made the booking with shaky fingers, sent him a copy of the confirmation. Only answered texts, let the calls go to her voicemail, so he couldn't cotton on to her (admittedly possibly melodramatic) inner turmoil.

It's easier when he's half a world away, when this plush elevator isn't silently eating up the physical distance that separates them. She closes her eyes when the doors open, takes a deep cleansing breath and squares her shoulders. Gives a faint smile to the young guy with her luggage and follows him in the indicated direction.

Her hand's unsteady when she slips the keycard through the door, and she braces herself. His flight had gotten in hours ago, and she'd insisted he not wait around the airport for her. No one liked airports and Klaus likes humans less than most. She can't imagine a place teaming with bitchy, travel weary members of the species is high on his list of places to hang out. And hey, she'd argued, he was kind of going on vacation. No need to start it out on a bad note (or an excessive people eating one).

She expects him to be in the room and he is, just not totally alert.

Caroline makes a mental note that Original Hybrids are not immune to the tiring parts of traveling. He'd clearly just rolled out of bed when the door had opened, primed for a threat. His clothes are rumpled and his hair's a mess. She's so used to him being imposing that seeing him like this, passing for your average twenty something traveler, makes her giggle behind her hand. She crosses the threshold of the room, barely noticing the hotel employee slipping in after her. Caroline tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, approaching Klaus slowly. "Hi," she says.

He beams at her and looks at her, taking her in. It's all consuming, the force of his attention, makes her forget they're not alone. She's just glad she'd freshened up before landing. He probably wouldn't have cared if she'd shown up in leggings and a chunky cardigan the pretty floral dress she'd changed into makes her feel good.

"Hello, love," he drawls.

This hotel's trained they're employees well (and she did splurge on one of the most expensive in the city) and her luggage is neatly deposited before he slips out quietly. "Are you tired?" Klaus asks, looking at her carefully. "Do you need blood?"

She shakes her head, and stops resisting her instincts, stepping into him. He goes stiff, under her surprise hug, but relaxes once she buries her nose in his throat. Caroline inhales deeply, his familiar scent both a comfort and a stimulant. "I'm good," she mumbles. "My flight was way shorter than yours, remember? And I snacked on a flight attendant." His hands span her back, gentle and tentative and Caroline lets her body melt into his. "Do you want to sleep some more?" Caroline wonders, pulling her head back to look at him. "You said you're flight time was what, like 18 hours?"

"I texted you," Klaus corrects. His hand cups her face, preemptively stopping her to look away. "We haven't spoken in eight days. Something of a record, and not one I'm especially fond of."

Ugh, of course he wouldn't let that go. She feels her face heat, knows he notices when his thumb rubs over her cheekbone.

"Something on your mind?"

"Kind of?" Caroline hedges. "I only booked one room. I didn't ask you, and I felt a little weird about that."

Klaus blinks, confusion clear across his face, "Why? You spent plenty of nights in my bed in New Orleans. If you'll recall, I'm exceedingly fond of testing the depth of your sleep with my tongue."

Yeah, Caroline didn't exactly hate that.

"I've only ever had boyfriends," Caroline says, by way of explanation. "I'm not sure how to do… this. Whatever this is."

Something like distaste crosses his face, "I'm not fond of that term."

Caroline fights a smile, "Yeah, I figured. I can't imagine using it, to be honest."

One of his arms bands around her waist, the other threading through her hair. "When it's applicable, we'll discuss the appropriate terminology, agreed?"

Caroline nods, and Klaus continues. "I can't say I've ever done this before, either. You have to know that you're singular, Caroline. I spent centuries ready to run at a moments' notice, on the lookout for betrayals. Connections, forming or even desiring them, did not often cross my mind."

It makes sense of what she knows of his life, the little bits he's started to tell her, and what she's learned secondhand from others. And of how clumsy he can be with emotion, the deep and messy ones, for all the easy charm and perfect words he can produce when he's only dealing with surface feelings.

"So… we make our own rules?"

Klaus grins, "I do enjoy doing that."

His hold on her firms, and Caroline feels them tipping, landing on their sides on the bed. She narrows her eyes playfully, "Hey, now. Who said anything about jumping into bed?"

Klaus rolls on top of her, holds himself up with his forearms, "That's certainly got to be a rule, don't you think?"

"Jumping into bed?"

Klaus' expression is mock serious, as he nods, "I'll also accept chairs, sofas. Probably tables, too. You did quite like the one in my studio, if I recall correctly. I've not been able to bring myself to smooth out the marks your nails left."

She presses her lips together, tries not to laugh. Moments like these, when he's so light, make it difficult for her to believe that vampires the world over practically pee themselves in fear of his name. She'd seen glimpses of it, back in Mystic Falls. The guy who'd teased her about a beauty pageant application, who'd taken her sarcastic barbs with good humor and had managed to tease back.

She's going to be so love with him someday.

And she's going to have to accept the monster when she does.

Once upon a time Caroline had thought reconciling the two impossible, but she'd been very young then, convinced that her own monster was controllable, that her slips were forgivable because they weren't who she really was. That if she tried hard enough to be a good vampire she could make her parents proud.

They're gone, and she isn't.

Caroline has lived just over three decades, with centuries stretching out before her. Slips will happen, because she's a vampire. Blood keeps her alive. Who she is can be dangerous, Caroline has come to accept that. She feels no shame in protecting herself, or in protecting those she loves.

Klaus is the same. He just has more years, and more enemies. More people who he'd kill for.

He'd been right. They really are the same, in a great many ways.

He's waited patiently, while she's mused. When she focuses back on him, it seems to be what he'd been waiting for. He settles more firmly against her, and Caroline suppresses a moan at how good it is. "So, sex is happening," Caroline states, maybe somewhat unnecessarily, given the solid evidence of how onboard he is with that plan. Klaus' head drops to her shoulder, and she feels his body shake with his chuckle. He kisses her neck, the rasp of his tongue on her skin a pleasant shock. "I certainly hope so."

Caroline considers that, and how she'd like this to go. It has been almost a year since she'd had a really good orgasm, after all. "Okay," she says, before a quick shove and a powerful twist of her hips lands her on top.

She strips her dress off before she settles against him, reaches behind her and slips her bra off too. It's nice, comfortable and expensive, and Klaus is prone to ripping things. "Rule number two. I think since I invited you, I should totally get to call the shots to start with."

He raises a brow, his hands landing on her thighs. "Does that mean I'll get to take a turn? And if I were to invite you somewhere, I would be entitled to dictating how our first night progresses?"

Caroline pulls out her braid, shaking her hair loose as she considers him. "Yes. And within reason."

He folds his hands under his head, smug and so satisfied that Caroline's left wondering what sort of evil mental loophole he's just crafted for himself. When he shifts slightly, under the pretense of getting comfortable, the press of his cock between her thighs sends her thoughts down more pertinent, carnal, avenues.

Whatever he's plotting it's pretty likely that she'll enjoy it, so Caroline figures she might as well focus on the here and now.

She slides her hands under his shirt, pushes it up until he lifts off the bed enough to help her remove it. She traces his biceps, the breadth of his shoulders. Ducks down to kiss his collarbone and trace a few of the birds inked there with her lips and tongue.

He's remarkably placid, his breathing even. It's only the tensing and relaxing of his abs under the hand she has there for balance that shows he's affected.

Well, that's no fun.

Caroline reaches back to toss off her sandals before she pushes herself to her feet. She notes the slight twitching of his hands, like he wants to grab her and pull her back down. She peels of her panties away while he watches her greedily. Nudges his legs apart with her foot so she can kneel between them. His jeans sit low, waistband of black boxer briefs visible and she mouths along the elastic, nipping at his hipbone and hiding a smile when he twitches.

She attacks his belt, then the fastenings of his pants. Tears them, along with what's under down his legs so he's as naked as she is. She grasps his cock, pumping leisurely and thumbing the head. He grits his teeth, "Caroline," forced out between them in a dangerous rumble. She aims for innocent, with her smile, but suspects she misses the mark. His lips are parted, and he's so tense, control on a very short leash.

She flicks her tongue out, takes a quick taste of him, salty-bitter on her tongue. His eyes slam shut, head digging into the pillows. "What would you do if I drew this out, Klaus? Do you remember that first time in New Orleans? I was so ready, had been ready for you since you licked blood from my palm. I wanted you for hours before it was possible. And when it was, you wouldn't just get on with it. I wanted you hard and fast against that wall. But you made me beg."

His voice is rough, coaxing. "It was worth it, in the end, wasn't it?"

It really, really had been.

She rolls his balls for a moment, just to give him a little taste of his own medicine, and enjoy the strangled groan that comes from deep in his chest, before she lifts up and straddles him. Caroline throws her head back as she slides down his length. She's slick and more than ready, moans when her hips are pressed against his.

Rolling her head forward to look at him, she's gratified by the strain on his face. She doesn't know if he'll ever beg, but she files the thought of trying away, thinks it might be a fun way to spend a few hours.

Not right now. She wraps a finger in one of his necklaces, tugs until he's sitting up, bites down on his shoulder when his cock nestles deeper. "So good," she rasps out, wrapping her arms around him. "I want…"

She doesn't have to ask for it, he's pulling her into him, helping her until they're a rough messy perfect clash of hips. She tips his head back, licks into his mouth to quiet her moans. The bed creaks, he slips a hand between them to palm a breast and she moans when he rolls her nipple between two fingers. She'd soon breathing too hard to focus on kissing him, sets her sweaty palms on his shoulders to she can rock down on him faster. One particularly rough thrust sends her reeling, her control fraying. She feels her fangs drop, cutting into his lip. The blood pushes her higher, and she whines as his taste fills her mouth.

"Fuck," Klaus pants, kissing down her shoulder. He shoves his wrist in front of her mouth and she grabs for it, sinking her teeth in and drinking deep. She feels the prick of his fangs in her shoulder, his feral noise of want rumbling through her. A needy little sob spills from her as she pulls away. She's so close it's painful, almost too much. "Come, Caroline," Klaus demands, thick and forceful, licking at the closing wound on her neck. She shoves her hand between them, circles her clit as he drives into her, calling his name as her climax rushes through her. He follows her with a hoarse moan, hips pumping erratically.

Her vision goes hazy, white around the edges, and she feels herself falling backwards. Klaus tugs her up and they tumble to the bed together, a messy heap of twitching limbs and raged breaths. He gropes for the blankets, disheveled underneath them, manages to pull them over the two of them, tucking her body half under his.

She'd been kind of surprised that he was into post coital cuddling, but she's not going to complain. Or ever mention it to another soul. She enjoys his warmth as her pulse settles, traces patterns along the damp length of his spine.

Klaus' heartbeat returns to normal before hers does but he makes no move to pull away. Caroline clears her throat, "All right. So rules one and two are awesome."

Klaus head lifts, and he reaches out to push her hair away from her face. His fingertips linger along the shell of her ear, sending surprising new shivers through her. He smirks, pleased, and Caroline thinks he's cataloging her reaction for later exploitation.

Klaus is an opportunist like that.

"Perhaps you should wait before making such a sweeping statement, love. I find myself of half a mind to attempt to revisit making you beg. You sound so very tempting when you do."

"After I was so nice to you? Mean."

"Hmm. You may have a point. I do want you to invite me somewhere new, after all."

Caroline snorts, "That's kind of a given at this point, Klaus."

His eyes sharpen, grow calculating. "And I do believe that you indicated I could invite you somewhere, did you not?"

She strives for nonchalance, but it's hard when her shrug leaves them more tightly entangled, "I think it's only fair."

"I don't want to wait another year, Caroline."

Her breath catches, her eyes widening, at him saying it so plainly. She wouldn't have, even though she agrees. "So don't. Here, how about we make rule three. If it's too much I'll say no. If you don't want to come see me, if you can't for whatever reason, you'll say no too. I know you have things going on, a ton of stuff in disarray. That your family is… a lot. It might happen. We agree to try not to take it personally, okay?"

He nods, his expression considering. "We can try that," he agrees.

She's sure there will be kinks to be worked out, and she expects that the gaps between encounters will grow shorter and shorter as they pile up. And maybe that's for the best. They'll get to know each other, away from his crazy family, and her judgmental friends, before they attempt to fit their lives together.

She's beginning to suspect it'll be easy, in the end. That the trips will bleed together and one day she'll wake up alone and hate it.

She'll take the next plane out and show up at his door, move all of her stuff into his room and reorganize his closet. They'll fight about it, because they're both kind of particular. And they both enjoy riling the other up.

It maybe won't be exactly what he'd meant, all those years ago. Not as swoon-y and romantic, more real. They hadn't really known each other then, they're still just in the beginning stages now.

They're immortal, so who knows how long it will take to reach the middle, or what that will even be like. She's oddly comfortable with him now, secure in the fact that there's nothing she could do, save for betray him in some way – and that's just not in her, not with people she cares for – that would disgust him or make him turn away.

She's not afraid of him leaving her, knows he doesn't choose people lightly.

There will be no end, once she's decided. It's difficult to contemplate, the idea of forever when she's lived only a third of a lifetime.

Caroline will get there, likely sooner than she'd ever anticipated. Klaus will be waiting when she does.