Notes: I've been a bit scarce, and this fic is the reason! It's a birthday gift for the lovely cupcakemolotov (she wrote me mate!fic and it was beautiful!) so I felt like it was only fair to give her a complete thing. But this thing got REALLY long. It is complete, and chapters will be uploded every Friday. I have to thank both Sophie and Angie for their help in wrangling it, because it definitely made it better. I listened to a lot of Cold War Kids while writing so both the chapter and fic title came from 'Louder Than Ever.' Enjoy, and please let me know what you think!

WARNINGS: Mind manipulation.

Whisper To Me, Help Me Remember

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.