Disclaimer: I own nothing. Contains spoilers up through TVD 5x05.

Chapter Lyrics: "Constant Craving" by K. D. Lang.

A/N: Welcome back, my dears! I figured why not celebrate the end of the TVD drought with a new chapter? Sorry for the wait, and thanks for your continued patience with my slow writing. This chapter was a bit of a struggle to say the least, but I'll leave the details until later. You've waited long enough ;)

Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls towards truth
Or maybe it is life itself
That feeds wisdom
To its youth

Part 3: Bargaining

For a beat, the silence is so loud it threatens to unhinge me. Dimly I register the far off cries of water fowl mingled with the soothing undertones of wind and waves licking the shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain. I latch onto the distraction like a lifeline.

But then Klaus recovers from the bombshell I just dropped, and from the look on his face, I know I'm toast.

"Let me see if I have this right," he starts calmly – too calmly, if you ask me, "you're actually asking me to – ?"

"Compel him," I force out, hating him for making me repeat those damning words. Hating myself even more for suggesting this.

Because if there's someone out there who knows the devastation of being repeatedly mind-raped better than me, I'd sure like to meet them. Damon really did a number on me when I was human, and even though Elena and Stefan like to believe I'm over it, I just don't have the heart to tell them otherwise. That kind of traumatic shit doesn't ever leave you. Not really. It just leaves invisible scars.

But at least scars can be born. Death? Not so much.

And that's all the justification I need to interfere.

Don't get me wrong – engineering a bitter, mind-puppet Tyler Lockwood won't exactly earn me my cape or heroic theme song, but it's a million times better than letting him go through with his stupid kamikaze mission, right? I mean, even Elena's had her share of entanglements with the morality police: She once had Damon compel her own brother out of town to save his life, and yeah, okay, perhaps referencing him isn't the best way to build my case for model behavior.

When another painful lull descends without so much as an eye twitch from my stony companion, my nerves kick into high gear and my mouth wastes no time trying to pick up the slack.

"You see, because if you just compel Tyler, then he'll have to back off from you and the extended Original family… and he gets to leave New Orleans in one piece since, you know, he's obviously not a threat anymore. And bonus! I'll get to sleep at night, knowing I've prevented the preventable. Everybody's happy. Win-win-win." Still crickets. "You could do it," I add unnecessarily. "You could make him drop the whole revenge fantasy thing. For good."

Apparently, watching me hang myself is the key to a response. "I could also make him off himself in whatever creative manner strikes my fancy, but let's put a pin in that for the moment, shall we?"

I bristle. "Klaus – "

But he's done playing statue. "Weren't you so adamant before that Tyler Lockwood never belonged to me? And now you want him back on my leash?"

I really, really don't like the predatory gleam in his eye right now.

"You want him at my disposal once again? At my mercy?" he pushes, and I belatedly realize he's not looking for confirmation at all. He just wants an audience. God, he's actually relishing this – Tyler's hatred, my fear, all of it. "The poor lad who fought so hard to break the so-called shackles of my sire bond. So that he would be free of me forever. Well," his lips quirk upward, "I can't say I don't find the irony amusing. Not to mention that the idea of him living, knowing he can't touch me, having yet another reason to loathe me for the rest of his existence – one he has only because I allow it – is an appealing notion. A flattering one, as you called it."

Bile rises in my throat throughout his speech, but I force it down. "Whatever works for you."

"And yet," he ignores me, "there's a reason I never let my enemies live. Oh, they can't kill me, much as they're fond of trying, but they do have a knack for remaining eternal thorns in my side. Nuisances, you see. Which is why I find death – " he savors the word in a way that sends my last shred of confidence into a tailspin " – a far more convenient, permanent solution to Tyler Lockwood's futile conspiracy against me. And given how much motivation he handed me during my stint in the Gilbert's lovely home, taunting me like a petulant child, threatening me with the cure… Well. Suffice it to say I made the most of my imprisonment and planned his demise to the last spectacular detail, and let me tell you, love," he lowers his voice conspiratorially, "it's a masterpiece even by my standards."

Oh. My. God. I can't believe that not ten minutes ago I actually felt guilty for thinking the worst of this bastard – and here he goes, proving me right!

Goodbye, fear. Hello, reality check.

"Seriously?" I shake my head, disgust amplified by fury. "Are you fundamentally incapable of restraint? What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Your negotiating skills leave a little something to be desired," he comments drily.

"This isn't funny!"

"Oh, I couldn't agree more." His tone is hard enough to cut glass. Before I can react, he's in my face, eyes flashing, his warm breath a shock to my senses. My comeback dies in my throat. "You do not get to show up in my town, pull me away from my life, and expect me to yield to your selfish demands, Caroline. I am not your tool to wield whenever you see fit."

I crane my neck to peer at him. "That's what you think I'm doing? Manipulating you?"

"Wouldn't be the first time, love."

Jesus, the hypocrisy is killing me. How many times has this guy lied, cajoled, threatened, extorted, stolen, tortured or straight up killed in the name of getting what he wants?

But I digress…

"God, what are you getting so bent outta shape for? You're actually objecting to a plan that hands you all the control? This isn't even just about Tyler's wellbeing; this is the best solution for everyone!"

"Hardly," Klaus sneers. "Caroline, the reason Tyler even has the audacity to challenge me at all is because he knows he can use you as a pretty shield against the fullest extent of my wrath. He fancies himself immune because, relationship or no, you still fight his battles for him. But that ends now," he vows. "He's already used far more than his allotment of get-out-of-jail-free tokens. I can't let his insolence pass any longer."

"And I can't let you destroy the people I care about," I counter, just as fiercely. Klaus says nothing; settles for glaring at me, clearly vexed with my resolve. He's in good company, trust me.

Any sense of satisfaction I might take from that, though, is short-lived because we're barely one round in, and already we reached an impasse.

We're still standing uncomfortably close; the sparks between us might as well be magnetic because for the span of several brutally long seconds, neither of us moves. At all. We just simmer in each other's anger, unwilling (or unable) to yield our ground. It's familiar standoff.

And freaking exhausting.

Enough is enough. I'm not getting anywhere with this stubborn jackass fighting fire with fire.

Through no small effort, my feet shuffle backwards until we're a more… ah, appropriate distance apart. I can breathe again. Wait, when did I stop? Oh, never mind.

Bottom line is, removing the distraction (ahem) affords me enough clarity to test drive a different strategy. A better one, I hope.

"You said before that you didn't want me to push you away for keeping me and Tyler apart," I remind him, as gently as I'm capable, "so don't take that back. Don't undo the progress we made at graduation. Because – " the words tumble out before I can second guess myself " – I don't want to hate you forever for ending his life."

Because in spite of my revulsion, in spite of listening to Klaus delight at the mere idea of killing my former beau, I actually mean that. I don't want to hate him.

Because – that's right, folks – yes. Turns out I am capable of feeling something other than pure loathing for the man who led the Hybrid Reign of Terror through my hometown, dragging it through the mud for months on end, leaving an endless trail of bodies in his wake.

Because, as previously established, the monster's not all he's shown me.

The proof, however, lies buried beneath layers upon layers of violent tendencies, emotional baggage, and general pigheadedness, and actually accessing it is about as easy as disarming a bomb. Actually, I think I'd rather tackle the bomb. I mean, let's be honest: It's safer, more predictable, and certainly more compassionate.

With Klaus, all I can think to do now is sweet talk my way through this until his humanity deigns to make a cameo appearance and we can all leave here winners.

But that phrase about flies and honey? Total crap, if his reaction is anything to go by.

"There it is," he fumes, and I'm more than a little stunned by the venom in those three words. "Fond as I am of your signature scoffs and scathing retorts, love, I have to say that this particular weapon of yours might be the most powerful one in your arsenal. Well done."

Um… what the hell?

All I can do is gape and wait for an explanation.

"But you should know better," he obliges, tone laced with disapproval. "Emotional blackmail won't work on me. You can't threaten me with hatred, sweetheart, not when that's all I've ever known from you."

Threaten him? Sheesh, paranoid much?

"And as you've made abundantly clear," he adds, "you have no intention of granting me the alternative, so you tell me, love. What have I to fear?"

Well, then. Strike One, Forbes.

It should horrify me that my gut instinct is to contradict him; tell him there is still more to lose – don't go there, Caroline – but I'm not stupid or desperate enough to throw myself on that grenade. He's still Klaus. In spite of my evolving perspective or whatever, I haven't forgotten that. Not for one second.

Which is exactly why I don't fold my hand. Because just as he's still Klaus, I'm still me, and lord knows I've had more than my quota of his self-righteous bullshit today.

"You know, you're hardly innocent in all this," I point out. "Yeah, Tyler broke your sire bond, turned your minions loose, and tried to kill you. So what?" I pair my taunts with a careless shrug, and yeah, okay, I admit I'm deliberately stirring the pot. And it feels good. "Honestly, what did you expect, Klaus? You made him. Is it really so surprising that the hybrid you created is following in your footsteps?"

Aha. The mask slips for only a fraction of a second – I almost don't even catch it – but I see enough. I said enough.

There, underneath all that hostility, all that thinly concealed pain, is the human I'm so desperate to reach.

The growl that escapes him, though, bears no human resemblance whatsoever.

"I am nothing like him."

"Then prove it," I challenge. "Don't let his flaws become yours. Let him go, Klaus."

It's a distant, yet recognizable echo of my last plea for Tyler's life… right before he was condemned to the Katherine Pierce treatment, A.K.A. an eternity in Vampire Witness Protection. Because even with yours truly running interference, that's all that the mercy of the infamous Klaus Mikaelson is worth.

I wish I could say he surprises me this time.

"Points for effort, love, but as you recall, the last pardon I gave turned out to be such a disappointing investment that I'm going to have to pass on a do-over."

And there goes Strike Two.

My whole body deflates, so much so that you'd think he just cancelled Christmas. Or, you know, signed Tyler's death sentence yet again.

You know what's sad, though? I mean besides the obvious? That in spite of everything, a part of me still pities this miserable creature. I mean, seriously. He holds all the cards, and yet somehow manages to lose this game every single time. Oh, he'll save face, kill his nemesis, reclaim whatever alpha male pride he can salvage from the wreckage, but he'll still lose – and I can't even believe I'm saying this – me, perhaps the only 'light' in his infinite, pitch-black life. For good this time.

But of course that's what he'll do, and I'm an idiot to think I could ever change any of this, because even when I pave the way for him, give him chance after chance after chance to prove me wrong, prove that I can trust him, he still can't get out of his own way. That's who he is. He's proud and stupid and self-destructive and believe me, I'm only just scratching the surface of his long list of character flaws.

God, I should've just turned my back on him ages ago.

(And don't even get me started on the implications of that. One emotional crisis at a time, please and thank you.)

"Let's discuss what this is really about, Caroline," Klaus cuts into my internal monologue. He's pacing in front of me – not sure when that started – and the slow, even rhythm contrasts sharply with how unbalanced he sounds. "You're only after my assistance in order to remove the lone roadblock in your damaged relationship. To compel away Tyler's reason for leaving, so he'll come running straight home to you."

My chin snaps up. Honestly, that never even occurred to me. At all. And even if it had, there's no way I'd actually come here for that.

Now, I'm no saint. I freely admit to orchestrating a ridiculously risky plan that puts Tyler's entire fate in the hands of his greatest enemy – an act which quite possibly earns me a one-way ticket to the big sauna downstairs. The way I see it, though, if compulsion turns out to be the insurance policy Klaus needs to let Tyler reach two decades and beyond… then my conscience can take the hit. Wouldn't be the first time I made a deal with the devil, after all.

But even with that enormous black mark in my ledger, I'm not a total bitch. All I'm after is to deprive Tyler of the ability to make a futile (and very suicidal) attempt on Klaus' life. That's it. No backhanded scheming whatsoever to manipulate his feelings, to make him come back to me out of some twisted obligation. I mean, yeah, I still love him, obviously, and of course I hate that he's gone, but my God, there's low and then there's low.

It's as I'm about to launch my defense campaign that Klaus suddenly throws on the breaks, halting right in front of me, his entire body angled away from mine. Doesn't do much good. I still see what he tries to hide.

I see; still working on understanding.

His jaw is set and his stormy eyes turn hard, fixed on some arbitrary point in the distance. With an audible sigh, his shoulders slump; the rest of him, however, remains completely rigid – a bizarre contradiction I can't make heads or tails of. It's like he's fortifying a fortress that's already started crumbling to the ground. Like he's already resigned to some failure. Or maybe not; maybe he's readying himself to weather through a devastating storm, determined to come out the other side on top in spite of the forces against him. Just like the strong, battle-weary castle we're currently standing under.

One way or another, Klaus' shields are operating at full capacity, and I know I am this close to losing him for good.

"How many more times will you take advantage of my feelings for you, Caroline?" he demands, still looking anywhere but me. "Despite whatever impression I've given you, my tolerance for your games isn't endless. There is a limit to how far you can push me, and believe me when I say you are dangerously close. So if you're done wasting both of our time trying to make me your doormat – "

"Why'd you come then?" I interject, exasperated. "If you hate being at my beck and call so much, why do you bother showing up at all?"

Finally, his eyes snap to mine. "Pretense doesn't become you, Caroline," he returns harshly. "You know why."

Boy, do I.

I don't like it. I sure as hell don't get it. But I guess I can't deny it anymore.

At the end of the day, he just can't seem to turn his back on me either.

"I believe you know the way back to Mystic Falls."

Okay, scratch that. He's running. Again.

Looks like Strike Three, I'm out.

Except, here's the thing: Contrary to what Klaus thinks, this isn't a game. Not to me. There's no cap on how many attempts I get, there's no game over, and I am so done playing by his stupid, fickle rules.

I barely let him take a step before I flash in front of him, my hand stopping him in place.

"Why do you do this?" I cry helplessly. "Why do you sabotage everything, huh? Why bother with all those stupid speeches about seeing past the villain in you only to turn around and prove that I was right in the first place? Why build up my hope only to crush it?" My grip on his forearm is bruising, and even though he could tear through me easier than tissue paper, he doesn't so much as flinch. "Show me those weren't just empty words, Klaus."

What I hear in response is this quiet, hollow sound that's so unlike the man in front of me that I snatch my hand back as if burned by it.

"I told you, love. I am who I am. Accept that."

"Like hell." My voice snaps like a whip in the void. "You also told me we're all still evolving, remember? Looks like I'm not the only one who needs a wakeup call."

His mouth twitches – a subtle crack in his armor. I'll take that.

"Clever girl." Nope. Not a compliment. "Trying to trap me with my own words. Why am I not surprised that you pick the most inopportune moment to start listening to me?"

I laugh briefly in spite of the tension. Or perhaps because of it. "Yeah, well, I'll give just about anything a shot if it means saving people I care about."

I pause, my own words reminding me of something so crucial, so obvious, I can't believe I didn't think of it until now. Something I need to say just as much as he needs to hear.

I suck in a breath. You got this, Care.

"Remember when I said as much earlier? That I wouldn't let the people I care about be destroyed?" He simply stares, waiting for me to connect the dots. "Hello! I said people, Klaus. Not person. As in Tyler and you."

"That's touching, sweetheart, but frankly I'm a tad insulted that you think the pup even stands a chance at defeating me."

I roll my eyes. "That's not what I meant."

"Then what – "

"The day you bit me," I elaborate, not bothering to sugarcoat it. "Don't you remember what I told you then either? Or is your memory really that selective?"

The low grumble from my hybrid companion only serves to remind me to add 'impatient control freak' to his aforementioned list of character flaws.

And then, all at once, the warning cuts off and his eyes go wide. He remembers, alright.

'I know that you're in love with me. And anyone capable of love is capable of being saved.'

"I wasn't hallucinating," I offer, my voice strangely small. "And I believe it now as much as I did then."


My little confession blasts right through his defenses, and judging by the way his lips part, a rush of air hissing between them, I can tell he's more than a little affected.

For all of two seconds it takes for him to regroup.

"Well, then. I see you haven't lost your fondness for heroics. Although, I would point out that it is misplaced now as it ever was."

Aaaand let's go ahead and add 'liar' to the pile, shall we?

See, that's the funny thing about Klaus. He tries to act like he doesn't give a damn when anyone with a pulse can see that he feels everything more deeply than a wounded puppy. I'm not even being mean here, it's the truth.

Which is exactly how I know that my hunch isn't misplaced at all. He wouldn't be this edgy if I didn't strike a nerve. He wouldn't hold me at arms-length if I wasn't so close to the truth about his deep, dark secret. So close, in fact, it isn't all that hard to fill in the gaps.

He doesn't think he can be saved. Doesn't stop him from craving it, though. And maybe, just maybe, that's enough.

"Guess I'm just a sucker for lost causes," I reply, my lofty tone belying how serious I am. "Maybe it's because I don't really believe in them."

There. I said it, and I'm not taking it back. I tossed him the life preserver, and now it's up to him to decide if he takes it. If he sinks or swims. Because the only way this works is if he meets me half-way. I can't just want this enough for him. He has to want it – and act on it – for himself.

What I can do is be the catalyst; remind him there is hope; and tip the scales in his favor… and in mine. Tyler's.

It must be tattooed on my face or something because Klaus reads my thoughts plain as day. "Let's not pretend this is some noble pursuit to save my twisted soul, love, when we both know there's only one you care about, and it certainly isn't mine."

To be fair, the two aren't mutually exclusive.

"You're wrong," is all I say.

"Am I?"

I smile, and whaddaya know, it's one hundred percent genuine. "Would I even be here, reaching out to you, if I honestly thought it was pointless? If I didn't see something redeemable in you? If I didn't care at all?"

Whoa. I just… whoa.

Even I'm surprised that I said that, let alone how much I meant it.

You know what? No, I'm not. It's like I just told him: From the very beginning, this plan never stood a chance without the humanity I knew existed deep inside him. Just as I now know this plan can't succeed without my unguarded honesty. Throw in a couple other key ingredients, say a quick Hail Mary, and about all I can do is hope this recipe equals Jackpot!

Which brings us to now.

Klaus' gaze pierces me so deeply I could swear he's reaching inside, constricting my heart with his fist rather than his eyes. Like he's in shock; honestly, I know the feeling.

Seconds tick by, each and every one testing my sanity, but I don't speak. I don't move. At this point it's enough just to make myself keep breathing as I wait on pins and needles for the final verdict.

"He will hate you for this, Caroline," he says quietly, and it takes me another couple seconds before I catch on.

He's talking about Tyler. Which means…


"He'll be forced to give up his vendetta against me," he goes on, voice oddly detached, "but the lingering resentment will fester like a gaping wound for all time, never able to heal. And one day, if and when he puts the pieces together, it will be you he turns to. You will bear the burden of his hatred, Caroline, for having taken away the one thing that gave his life purpose in his darkest hour."

My gut twists at the warning, but I manage, "I can live with that."

I spent over half a day trapped in a confining vehicle convincing myself of exactly that. No going back now.

He peers at me, sensing my hesitation. "Can you?"

I nod with as much resolve as I can muster.

"Very well," he acquiesces. "As long as you understand the consequences… I accept your proposal."

Then his face transforms, and it's a far cry from resigned; it's devilish. He's stacking the deck again. Crap.

"Under one condition," he amends.

Of course.

"There's no quid pro quo here, Klaus."

He quirks an eyebrow, that familiar cockiness resurfacing. "Is that so? Suddenly Tyler Lockwood's life is less valuable to you?"

"Fine," I concede through clenched teeth. "Name your price."

It's then that his attitude switches gears yet again. I swear, this man has more costume changes than a freaking chorus girl, because in the span of five minutes he's gone from angry to mopey to arrogant to…

Huh. If I didn't know better, I'd say he actually looks… nervous?

Klaus Mikaelson doesn't do nervous.

"Stay," he says suddenly.

I blink, confused. "I wasn't about to bolt."

"No, I mean," he says slowly. Deliberately. "That's my condition."

My stomach hits the ground so hard it's probably half-way to China.

He wouldn't. He's not seriously asking me to –

"Stay with me, Caroline. In New Orleans."

Son of a bitch.

A/N: The last bit might seem odd for several reasons (not the least of which is the drama going on in NOLA that Klaus warned Caroline about), but it'll all get cleared up in the first part of the next chapter.

By now, I hope it's clear why Caroline is doing what she's doing and what her exact intentions are (even if you don't necessarily agree with them). If it isn't, please let me know and I'll take another look. I did edit this pretty fast so I could get it posted ASAP, so it's very possible I missed something.

Like I mentioned before, this chapter gave me a hard time for some reason, and unfortunately I feel like it shows. Looking back on it now, I realize there's a good 10K+ words of Klaroline bickering between this chapter and the last, and although I quite enjoy showcasing their chemistry that way, I do understand that for some readers, it might be starting to feel a tad redundant and exhausting. If that's the case, I hope the next chapter is more to your liking. It should have a different feel to it. I won't say what… I'll just say different ;)

I also went back and forth (and back and forth, and back and forth…) about which of Caroline's persuasive strategies would be the most effective in swaying Klaus to her side. I'm still not 100% sure I made the right call, but the one that I ended up writing somehow felt more right than the others to me. Feel free to offer a dissenting opinion – in fact, I welcome it. I like to hear different theories.

Lastly, if anyone out there is interested in creating cover images for this fic or any of my others, please let me know :)

See everybody at Part 4!