In celebration at Laine's birthday, I have tried my hand a florist/tatto artist AU. I hope everyone enjoys!

Also, a big thank you to everyone who helped me get this thing written. You ladies know you are and I greatly appreciate all your help.


Caroline had a thing for tattoos.

She liked the splashes of color against skin; she liked to guess what those little pieces of intimacy meant. So the hot guy at the bar, with the fascinating line of tattoos along his forearm, was distracting. It didn't help that she was a teeny, tiny bit tipsy, but the night was for celebration.

She had just made the final payment on her mortgage, taken out to modernize the home she'd inherited from her grandmother. She'd nearly danced her way out of the bank, now several hundred dollars richer each month, and decided to celebrate. She'd tried to talk Bonnie into ditching her cheesy walking ghost tour, but she'd refused.

Her friend had an odd sense of humor, seemed to honestly enjoy mixing the history of the quarter with a few sneaky witch tricks for the odd jump scare. Humans came to New Orleans to find magic, to gaze at the strange and the weird. Bonnie helped deliver that without letting them see beyond the careful veil kept between humanity and real magic.

Over the past century, strides had been made to bridge the gap between supernatural and humanity, but it was a slow process. So Caroline left her friend to her job and she'd dragged Gia out instead. So far, they'd gone just a smidge heavy on the tequila.

The Firehouse was a fun witch bar tucked away from the beaten path, and it was a short walk from Caroline's shop. A fun mix of witchery and humanity, it was a place most witches took their human friends or significant others for a night of fun. Teetering on her heels, she'd pressed against the counter and grinned at the bartender, who looked swamped at the other end of the bar.

For a weeknight, it was strangely packed.

Willing to wait, Caroline had let her eyes drift across the faces of the regulars. Other than the odd tourist she wasn't really expecting to find anything interesting. Then her gazed snagged on curious lettering inked along skin, before her eyes drifted across the rest of him.

He was pretty, with tumbled curls and full lips. The scruff along his jaw only emphasized his mouth and cheekbones, and if Gia hadn't been waiting for the next round at their table, Caroline would have introduced herself. It really didn't help her self-control that he'd unknowingly provided her with eye candy by rolling the sleeves of his shirt up towards his elbows.

There was something about his jaw, the way he held himself, that she found appealing. Biting the corner of her mouth, she sneaked a second glance, eyeing the colorful line of symbols that scrolled along the cords of muscle. She'd puzzled over the meaning, as she waited, never one to be satisfied with an unfinished puzzle, and she wasn't familiar with the runes.

"See something you like, sweetheart?"

His voice was low and accented, and carried a hint of something that sounded like magic. Flushing slightly at being caught, Caroline pursed her lips as she pressed her hip against the counter and blatantly took in the entire package in a longer perusal. She wasn't disappointed. Those lips of his quirked upwards, suggesting dimples, and his shirt hinted at a lean strength she quite liked. Combined with the low timbre of his voice and accent, she stopped her attempt at subtlety.

Amusement darkened his gaze the longer she looked, and she arched a brow as he returned her lingering once over, gaze a slow drag down her work outfit. She nearly wrinkled her nose as she realized she was probably sporting streaks of pollen and that her button up was colorful, but not necessarily flattering. Shrugging mentally, she decided to brazen it out, see if she could at least get a name.

"You're new around here," Caroline drawled.

"Hmm, so I am, love," he murmured, head tilting to the side. "What gave me away?"

His tone was perfectly polite, but it ruffled her feathers anyway, and her eyes narrowed. Maybe it was the lingering amusement behind his gaze. His words could have been taken as a good natured tease, if it hadn't felt like he was laughing at her. She hated being dismissed as a bit of blonde fluff, and tequila left her direct.

Reaching forward, she wrapped her nails sharply next to his wrist. "Actually, it was the tattoos. Glyphs like that tend to make an impressions in the community, and I get all the best gossip. So that means either you're visiting or your move here was super recent."

Something moved behind his eyes at her bite. It was the way his eyes caught the light that she couldn't quite explain, and it buzzed against her skin. She wondered if he was a witch. That would explain why he was visiting New Orleans. Gaze narrowing as he frowned, her temper spiked and she gave him a cold smile before swiveling on her heels, dismissing him.

Leaning forward, she waved down the bartender and motioned firmly for another round, spine stiff. She tensed as calloused fingers wrapped lightly around her wrist, the hold feather light. His fingers were warm against her skin, and her breath hitched at the unexpected caress. Unnerved, she twisted around and glared at his forwardness, but paused as she took in the contrition on his face.

"Apologies, love. My ill temper isn't your fault." Caroline pressed her lips briefly together before giving a nod. He continued, thumb briefly grazing her pulse point. "Perhaps you'll allow me to acquit myself, buy you a drink?"

She squinted at him, trying to get a read on his sincerity. Each brief caress against her skin sent sparks racing up her arm, and she fought a shiver as he graced the delicate skin on the underside of her wrist. His eyes didn't waver, unabashed, and she briefly caught her lip with her teeth.

"I know about shitty days," Caroline finally admitted, tone only slightly begrudging. His lips curled, but before he could reply, her next round of shots appeared. Murmuring her thanks, she gently tugged her wrist free and ignored the flutter low in her belly as his fingers slowly released her.

"It appears I spoke too late," he canted his head. "Perhaps the next round?"

Caroline glanced at him from beneath her lashes, gathering the glasses. Another night, a little less rudeness, and she might have taken him up on the offer. "Thanks, but not necessary."

His mouth curved, and to her surprise, this time his amusement didn't leave her wanting to shut him down. It was a coaxing smile, one that spoke well of him after being turned down, and it briefly lightened his eyes. "Perhaps a rain check then."

"Perhaps," she murmured, before she turned and walked back to the booth were Gia was waiting for her. It wasn't until Gia was peering over her shoulder with both brows raised into her hairline, that Caroline realized she hadn't gotten a name.

"Who's the hottie?"

Caroline made a face as she slid into the booth, glad she'd done a tiny privacy spell when they'd sat down. The last thing she wanted was for someone to overhear Gia. Her friend's volume fluctuated when she was drunk. "I didn't get a name."

Gia blinked and then looked down at her shot glass with the faintest touch of betrayal. "I must be sloshed. I could have sworn I just heard you say that you didn't get his name. You."

Eyes rolling, Caroline picked up her glass and downed the tequila in one go, savoring through the burn. "You're not drunk. Well, not completely."

Gia pressed one hand over her mouth, clearly trying to hide her tipsy giggles, and Caroline snagged a lingering chip from their earlier plate of nachos. "Laugh it up, then."

Gia shoulders shook for a long moment, eyes bright with laughter. "Well, it couldn't have been a complete disaster, because he gave you a loooooong look before he left."

Caroline froze for a moment as she fought the urge to confirm Gia's words. "He was pretty, but a bit rude."

Although his apology hadn't been too shabby.

"Ah, one of those?" Gia drawled, brows drawing together. "I mean, with a face like that, you wouldn't necessarily need him to talk."

Snorting out a laugh, Caroline finished off the nachos. "Now that'd be a pity. He's British."

Gia shook her head. "Your love of accents, Forbes. They do eventually lose their charm."

"Some of us weren't blessed to spend a semester at Oxford," Caroline complained. She ducked her chin, and chanced a quick look through her hair to confirm the stool was empty. "Besides, it wasn't just the accent."

Something about the way he'd spoken, that faint hint of gravel in his voice. Caroline was pretty certain in bed, even with all those lean muscles on display, his voice would still be a distraction. And his hands…

But she was most curious about those tattoos, that hint of magic that clung to him. It was probably a good thing he was probably just passing through. A hot stranger with a lovely face and voice would be fun fantasy material, but reality rarely matched her imagination, and she'd be really disappointed if he'd tattooed his ex-girlfriend's name on his arm.

"But enough about me," Caroline murmured, pushing those thoughts aside. "My lack of love life is nothing new. What about you? I thought you'd agreed to tequila because of some mysterious ex-boyfriend from college moving into the area. A hot one."

Gia slumped forward to grab her shot, knocking it back with a groan. "I got a lovely little note, asking if I'd be interested in getting together for lunch. It was very polite."

"I mean, polite isn't bad?" Caroline tried, brows arching.

"It's exceptionally unfair, when I want to rip his pants off," Gia complained. Caroline almost snorted out her water, coughing heavily as she groped for a napkin. "It's ridiculous. I mean, we broke up amicably enough when he graduated. Stayed in touch, but there was the whole family drama after his brother died. I'm pretty sure he was engaged, at some point. Now he's here."

"Single?"

Gia pressed the palms over her eyes. "Very single."

"Doing what?" Caroline questioned, trying to crunch a cheese-soggy chip. "NOLA ain't London."

"He's some fancy pants divorce lawyer," Gia admitted, blowing out a breath. "Surprised the hell out of me. I mean, a more buttoned up man you will not find. The one time he wore jeans they were ironed. I think he sometimes sleeps in his suits. But…"

Gia trailed off, cheeks flushing and Caroline grinned, knocking her foot against Gia's calf. "It's always the quiet ones, huh?"

"God, I miss good sex," Gia sighed, staring forlornly at the empty plate between them. "I think that's enough about either of our nonexistent love lives. Let's get more nachos, and you can give me all the gossip, like who's shop is moving in across from Bloom?"

"Whoever bought Matt out seems to be finished with the renovations. I tried snooping, but my view inside was annoyingly limited. What I could see makes it seem like they've made some good changes. Opened the space, added a couple of rooms."

Thankfully, her shop gave her a great view of the comings and goings across the street. Caroline was giving them until that open sign switched over, then she was introducing herself. It was the neighborly thing to do, after all.

"Uh huh," Gia drawled. "And if you had to guess?"

Caroline grinned. "If I had to guess? Based on the layouts and the rumors? And maybe the construction worker I chatted up? Tattoo parlor, can't tell if it's strictly human or not. Be an odd place for it if it was all human, but weirder things have happened."

Gia snorted a laugh. "Oh, that's going to ruffle quite a number of feathers. A den of iniquity and sin, squashed next to such a lovely bookstore and the bakery? Maybe a human one? I can hear the complaints already."

Caroline shrugged as she caught the eye of a waitress and pointed to their empty plate, mouthing a thank you before turning back to Gia. "Should make things interesting for a few weeks, at least. Things have been too quiet lately, that always makes me nervous."

"Speaking of making things interesting," Gia said, tone lowering. "You know how it's been driving me crazy for years that I've never met Marcel's secret financial backer? The mysterious N.M.?

"Yup," Caroline drawled. "One of your favorite mysteries. Did you finally dig up some gossip about him?"

Gia grinned and leaned forward, pitching her voice even lower. "Marcel had lunch with him yesterday. Disappointingly, neither Josh nor I were invited. But I was able to glen a few details, such as he's moved here for the foreseeable future, which means he can't hide forever. Marcel likes to think he's subtle, but he's not that subtle."

Caroline's brows arched upwards. Marcel Gerard was Gia's boss and co-owner of Rousseau's, a local Supernatural Bar. The Firehouse had its cool tricks, but Rousseau's made it look like child's play.

Gia bartended on the weekends, and acted as an assistant manager, filling in for Josh Rosza occasionally when Marcel wasn't around. Which made it very interesting that this co-owner hadn't been introduced now that he'd made an appearance. As far as as Caroline knew, the irregular hours and rotating duties fit Gia. Her friend liked to play electric violin few hours a week with a local band, and occasionally helped Bonnie out with her tea shop. Gia was a curious jack of all trades, and her schedule gave Caroline hives if she thought too much on it.

"I wonder why he moved here now?" Caroline said thoughtfully.

A nod, dark hair bouncing. "I think the de Martel situation is escalating. You know how Marcel feels about people cutting into his profit. Plus, there was an interesting rumor that a vampire was seen in town."

Caroline absorbed that with a frown. "Really? A vampire?"

Gia nodded. "Could be some muscle the de Martels hired to replace that ghoul that ended up as gator-bait in the swamp."

"Vampires mean demons, usually," Caroline pointed out. "Ghouls are less useful, unless you need to hide bodies. Not even the Gemini Coven had a vampire."

"I haven't heard anything suggesting a demon. Our previous experiences aside, demons usually keep to their own hierarchy, and New Orleans has too much ancestral magic for them to be comfortable here."

Caroline nodded in agreement. For the most part, New Orleans' supernatural politics remained fluid, but there were always power players. Marcel was one of them, for all that he was human. Ex-military, he'd settled into New Orleans a few years after Caroline, and set about turning it on its ear. Backed by his shadow investor, he seemed to have his fingers in every supernatural pie. But for all of his strongarm tactics, Marcel walked a very fine line and he did it well.

Once, he'd offered to buy out her loan. With strings, of course. Marcel was interested in her stock, expressed an interest that she'd keep part of it just for him. Caroline had turned him down. Not only because she didn't trust his brand of generosity, but because she'd worked hard to keep her independence.

Marcel had seemed to accept that, but Caroline knew she was under observation. He liked to know who she was selling to and when. Unfortunately for him, between her and Bonnie's spell work, that was no easy task.

The de Martels were relatively new to New Orleans. Half siblings, Tristan perfectly human to Aurora's witchiness. But for all her power, Aurora had never been someone who Caroline had thought of as dangerous. She was too flighty, her vapid narcissism matched only by her brother's thirst for power.

"Well," Caroline murmured after the next plate of nachos were dropped off, swooping in for one heaped with toppings. "The next few weeks certainly don't sound boring."

Clinking her water glass to Caroline's, Gia grinned.

"Amen to that."


Caroline glared across the street, fingers tightly pinching the bridge of her nose. The brand new sign had been installed that morning, and it was far subtler than its predecessor, Abstract Ink emblazoned across its front. Normally she'd have been counting down the minutes to when she could politely introduce herself. Instead, for the first time in years, she wished her powers included fire.

She couldn't even blame the tequila for this headache. The magical pulses that were emanating from Abstract Ink were loud enough that normal humans could feel them. Nothing drove her crazier than shoddy warding, and she was seriously considering marching across the street and raising hell.

What on earth were they unpacking? Stolen Egyptian relics? Greek temple stones? It was a rare thing, for her to react badly to magic, particularly since proper warding wasn't difficult. If they didn't own chalk then she'd loan them some of hers, possibly by tossing it at their heads.

And her day had started so well.

Summer was hot and humid upon New Orleans, and while her sundress and sandals were a bit chilly inside her shop, trudging through air that she could practically swim through left Caroline dreading pants. Still, the cute dress had turned out to be a win when she'd bumped into the yummy werewolf firefighter who kept making eyes at her.

She'd taken his distraction with her cleavage that morning as a good sign and hoped it meant he'd actually make a move. Caroline had no problem initiating a first date, but werewolves could be tricky to read, and she'd prefer not to spark an accidental incident. Werewolves were hot but moody.

Cheerful, Caroline had opened Bloom and set about filling her arrangement orders for that weekend. She'd noted the delivery truck when it'd arrived, but hadn't been able to snoop properly. June weddings weren't just a human tradition, and she'd had enough orders that she'd seriously considered hiring another set of hands to get her through the wedding season.

She was hesitant as some of her plants could be considered volatile at best and terrible at worst. Caroline had inherited more than just a green thumb from her mom's side of the family, and generally, the plants she sold were harmless, pretty indulgences. She sold herbs to the tea shops and created pretty bouquets, and she kept her crawling ivy from actually crawling.

Owning her own business at twenty had been hard, figuring out how to wiggle out every possible profit even more so. But it'd been exactly the kind of challenge she'd needed to work through the grief of her mom's death. Her mom's life insurance policy and the profit from selling her childhood home had left her just enough capital after paying off her mom's medical bills that she'd managed not to go under her first year. The community college business classes she'd taken had proven to be exceptionally helpful.

But it hadn't been until she started her side business that she'd started to make a decent profit. Caroline wasn't the only witch in New Orleans who dealt in plants, not by far, but she was the best at cultivating the rare and exotic. The greenhouse in her backyard was heavily warded, and a steady source of income.

Another pulse from across the street had her teeth clenching. Most of the more tempestuous plants were kept in her greenhouse at home, but there were a few in the shop who were not reacting well. Not to mention the throbbing of her headache.

Glancing at the clock, she grabbed her keys and headed for the door. She'd justify an early lunch, but first, she had neighbors to yell at. A tattoo parlor in the middle of the witch quarter could have meant any number of things, but right then it wouldn't take snooping to realize someone was setting up a warding shop; not with the light show behind her eyes. That could be useful, in a city like New Orleans.

If they survived long enough to open.

Fingers curling into a fist, fully prepared to bang on the door until it was opened, she deflated a bit when it pushed open underneath her hand instead. Setting her teeth, Caroline scanned for someone to yell at as she barged in. She caught a brief glimpse of dark hair disappearing in the back, but was distracted by the way her shields were immediately walloped by the strength of the unwarded tools laid out on the counter. Her headache steamrolled straight into a vicious migraine and she clamped a hand over her mouth as her stomach twisted.

"We're not open," a clipped voice said, the aggravation vaguely familiar. Caroline took a slow breath, eyes darting to where the voice came from. She had a moment to stare in disbelief at the hot guy from the bar, before her stomach heaved and she frantically looked around for a trashcan. He cursed, footsteps loud against concrete flooring, and then a receptacle was slammed in front of her.

Just in time for Caroline to heave up what was left of her breakfast.

Shuddering, embarrassment and rage a terrible knot in her chest, she tried to get her breathing under control once she'd stopped gagging. Long fingers pressed against the base of her spine as her new neighbor crouched next to her. She squeezed her eyes shut, her face burning in embarrassment.

"Can you make it to my office?" His voice was a low rumble, and if she hadn't been so mortified, Caroline might have appreciated that. Instead, she just nodded carefully. His hands were steady as he ushered her forward, and a moment later she stepped past the wards around his office, and the worst of the pressure eased.

"I wasn't expecting company today," he said mildly as he nudged her into a chair. "Would you like some water?"

Stomach rolling, she'd cracked open her aching eyes and glared. He'd crouched down, so that they were nearly eye to eye. There was a faint streak of dust across one cheekbone, and the t-shirt he was wearing was paint streaked and a little damp across his abs. His curls were a riotous mess, and how he managed to look this good after a clear morning of hard work was beyond her.

Straightening her spine, her palm pressed flat against her stomach, Caroline glared at him. "Your wards suck."

Both of his brows crawled towards his hairline, and those pretty eyes narrowed, his head tilting. Caroline caught an intriguing splash of color just below his collarbone as his shirt shifted, necklaces rustling. "Do they? And do you usually go charging into unsuspecting stores, to inform people of such?"

Lifting a hand, Caroline jabbed a finger towards the room they'd come from. "Whatever you have in there is giving off enough noise to have a disco party, and it's awful. You're scaring my plants."

"I'm…" his head tilted, gaze narrowed. Those intriguing sparks flickered across his gaze again, lightening the blue with tiny bursts of yellow. "You own the flower shop across the street."

Caroline pressed her lips together at the sudden interest. She took another deep breath, wincing as she squinted through her pulsating eyeballs. "Look, my plants have just gotten over the shock of all the construction. And clearly this room is warded fine, so I'd really appreciate it if you could stop turning my street into a magical rave."

For a moment, he simply watched her, head tilted. Caroline wasn't certain to make of his expression, the faint glimmer behind his eyes, before he stood. If she hadn't been so rattled, that little flare of heat would've intrigued her. As it stood, she was just annoyed.

Instead of addressing her demand, he walked over to a mini fridge she hadn't noticed. A moment later, and he set a bottle of water on the desk near her. He tilted his chin towards the door, brow arching.

"Give me a moment, love. Drink the water, it'll help. Small sips." Caroline wanted to growl at the drawl in his voice, which he must have seen, and his mouth quirked. But he was right, so she uncapped the bottle as he shut the door behind him.

She took careful mouthfuls as she studied what would clearly be an office. Sturdy desk and boring chairs, there was a filing cabinet and collection of boxes that might be documentation. But it was the half dozen pieces of art that had already been hung on the wall that caught her interest.

The colors were striking, and she wondered if they held any particular significance. Worrying her lip, she glanced at the desk and forced herself not to snoop. Closing her eyes, she tried to let the quiet ease her headache as she waited for her neighbor to return.

She wasn't certain how long he was gone, but when she blinked her eyes open again he was shutting the door behind him. Chalk dusted across his knuckles, a streak of it stark against the black of his jeans. The edges of his lips curled as he looked at her, she was treated to a pair of dimples.

"It appears there was some miscommunication regarding the level of warding required to contain a few pieces. I've temporarily shielded them, and once we've rearranged a few spaces, those wards will be permanent."

Something about the edge to his tone made Caroline wonder what he considered a miscommunication. Finishing off her water, she capped the bottle and nodded. "Thank you. And I'm sorry for the…"

She waved her free hand, grimacing as she felt her cheeks heat.

"Not necessary, love. It's not the first time I've seen that reaction to magical energy. "

Caroline stood, dropping the now empty bottle into a clean trash can. "Still. Not exactly a great impression."

"Ah, but it isn't our first," he murmured. "And I haven't even introduced myself."

Glancing at him beneath her lashes, Caroline considered the way he watched her. That surprising glint of interest he'd made no attempt to hide. His gaze remained steady, unblinking, and she bit her lower lip.

"I suppose you haven't."

Smiling slowly, he offered his hand, "Klaus Mikaelson."

The last name rang a bell, something familiar that she couldn't quite place. Promising herself to call Gia or Bonnie, she reached out and settled her palm against his. She swallowed at the buzz of his skin against her own, that lick of heat. "Caroline Forbes."

"Caroline," he repeated, the sound of her name on his tongue sending a shiver down her spine. "Can I take you to lunch? An apology, for the rudeness this morning."

It was a tempting offer, but she glanced at her watch and winced as she realized how much time had elapsed. Pulling her hand free, and briefly pressing it to her stomach, she shook her head. "Thanks, but I really don't want food right now."

His gaze narrowed as his eyes slid across her face. "Would you accept a ride home?"

"That's not necessary," she dismissed. "Nothing is wrong that some ginger or peppermint tea won't eventually fix, now that you've proper wards up. As long as you continue to keep whatever magical energy you have in here to yourself, it'll be fine."

A hint of amusement flickered across his gaze, and his eyes skimmed her face, lingering on her mouth. Caroline swallowed at the sudden static shift in the air, before a loud bang shattered the silence, followed by a yelp. Mouth tightening, Klaus stepped back.

"It appears my attention is required elsewhere."

Caroline let him open his office door and usher her to the front of the shop. "More mis?"

"Younger siblings," he said with a sigh as she stepped into the street. "Do try to eat something, love."

She scowled at him as he shut the door, her gaze narrowed at the smile he didn't attempt to hide as he turned away. Huffing, she turned to cross the street, but paused when she caught the faintest hint of sulphur. Frowning, she took a deep breath, brows bunching when she didn't smell it again. It could've been nothing, sulphur wasn't entirely uncommon in the witch quarter, but it was always jarring.

Sulphur could be anything from bad eggs to a demonic presence. After her conversation with Gia about vampires, she found herself wondering. Glancing back over her shoulder, she studied the door of Abstract Ink before blowing out a breath. She had bouquets to put together, and bridezillas waited for no one. That puzzle would still be there tomorrow.

Klaus watched his intriguing neighbor cross the street, the afternoon sunshine bright against her hair, the lovely length of her legs bared by her skirt. Caroline Forbes. He took a slow breath, breathing in the lingering scent of her perfume, and the heady smell of her skin. Witch descent, but there was something more, a hint of sweetness that was decidedly not human.

She'd been spirited and biting at the bar, a pretty distraction from the annoyances that had left his already uneven temper black. He'd brushed aside her ability to see the markings on his skin as a quirk of her obvious witch heritage and her tipsy state. But now, he wasn't so certain.

The tools that Klaus had left Caroline to ward had been an older set of Kol's, the first he'd owned. Kol kept them now as an odd keepsake, a reminder of the past. But it wasn't Kol's power that lingered along the handles, that stained the sharp points, but the remains of dozens of blood bindings.

Klaus found himself curious. Witches weren't particularly aware of his magic, especially when it was in a dormant state. The possibility that Caroline was sensitive to raw magic was intriguing. He wondered what her reaction would be to his magic in its pure form.

"Tasty little witch," Kol said as he stepped into the front room. "You get a feel for her magic?"

"Not as much as I'd have liked," Klaus murmured. "Find out what Marcel knows about her."

Kol snapped a sloppy salute and then headed back to the room he was working on. Klaus gave himself one more moment to study her storefront. The pleasing arrangements in the window, the flowers that grew around her door. Pretty to look at and inviting, Bloom was made all the more fascinating now that he knew it's owner had secrets.

Slipping his hands into his pockets, Klaus turned and strode towards the back room, an area that had been mostly left untouched by the construction work. Around the doorway shimmered runes that were naked to the human eye, a flicker of the power he was allowed the manifest in this realm.

But inside was his territory.

It was fortunate he'd taken the time to draw the wards for this room himself. Pretty Caroline would have reacted quite differently if she'd unexpectedly brushed against this kind of power. And while he'd no intention of hiding his presence in New Orleans for much longer, there was no need to alarm her just yet.

Others were less fortunate.

Klaus stepped through the doorway, and he could feel the way his humanity sloughed off like an old skin. Kol had once described the change as freaky. Humans, even witches and the occasional vampire found the subtle shift of bone and muscle, the dramatic yellow of his eyes, to be alarming. Others reacted differently. Aroused, terrified, the chaotic fight or flight response mingled with an almost hypnotic need to touch. It had been those tangled reactions that had helped garner Chaos Demons their name.

Thankfully for humans, his kind rarely bothered to slip between worlds.

Esther had been cunning for a witch, had attempted to twist her bargain until she'd nearly wrung it dry. Klaus didn't particularly mourn her death, not when she'd left behind so many siblings that anchored him so firmly to the realm that he'd been born on. It was his greatest amusement that Esther and Mikael had thought such blood bonds would weaken Klaus' power, make him more malleable. But Ansel had been no fool, and Esther had forgotten that while demons were trapped by the same bargains that gave them such endless power, they were far more clever.

And in the ruins of his mother's ambitions, Klaus had built the foundations of his kingdom.

But no kingdom ran smoothly. It was unfortunate, for those who chose to betray him that Klaus preferred to bind the letter of his bargains with ink and flesh. "I'd apologize for the delay in my return, but the company was delightful. I'm sure you understand."

Lucien didn't respond, but Klaus hadn't expected one. Lucien Castle was both clever and smart, two traits that rarely went together. He'd always been amused by that resourcefulness when Lucien attempted to bargain. Klaus had been impressed, with his attention to detail, how he'd carefully closed the loopholes that most human minds missed. He hadn't closed them all of course, but enough that perhaps he'd finally felt safe enough to move against Klaus' family.

That would be a mistake that Lucien would not recover from.

Lucien sat on a chair that was visually deceptive, the smooth wood modest in its design. Simple lines, until you came to the arm rests. Smoldering veins were wrapped around his guests forearms, holding him still. Not that he could have moved far. When Klaus had commissioned the chair, he'd instructed it to be carved from a single block of wood. So the smooth, wooden spikes protruding from Lucien's palms were nearly unbreakable.

"As much as I've enjoyed your suffering," Klaus said serenely as he took his own seat, his chair for more comfortable than the other. "You'll have noticed those little runes have been growing brighter, the more you've bled."

Lucien swallowed harshly, face pale and slick with sweat. "I haven't betrayed you."

Klaus arched both brows, his smile the curve of a blade. "Perhaps, perhaps not. But Freya is still missing, Lucien. I don't have to explain why that's a problem for you?"

A shiver ran across Lucien's skin as the tattoo's inked along his forearms flared brightly into being. There were other ways to wind his bargains into human flesh and bone, but Klaus had found he enjoyed this particular method. It was a bit of a family talent. Klaus enjoyed the artistry, of making such ugly sins into something beautiful, that one day some poor fool might admire. Because tattooing his bargain was a permanent reminder that the human hadn't always been their own master.

Of course, anyone with demonic blood could see a powered rune, but mere human eyes rarely glimpsed the spelled ink. Lucien jerked as he realized his promise was on display, and Klaus smiled as he breathed in fresh blood and pain.

"Freya is your blood," Lucien rasped into the growing silence. "You know I cannot betray her."

Klaus knew why such a thing was a bad idea, he'd written it onto Lucian's skin. His affection for his family ranged depending on their usefulness, but he'd never forgotten that when given the opportunity, Freya had attempted to protect him. An older sister from an earlier, failed bargain, Freya had been a constant reminder to Esther that she could fail; much the way Klaus had inadvertently reminded Mikael of his wife's infidelities.

It's was why, when he'd tossed Finn into his own personal hell, he'd offered his older sister a choice. Him, or the burning remains of his parents. He'd no reason to believe she'd chosen to betray him all these years later.

Klaus crossed his ankles, posture deceptively casual as he spoke. "Are you aware, Lucien, that Freya has a certain fondness for you? You could live to regret that, should you be an instrument in her disappearance."

Lucien's next words were raw. "I love her."

Klaus arched a brow at that statement, amused by the shock that ran across Lucien's face. "Ah, I failed to mention the purpose of those runes, didn't I? You'll find it is impossible to lie to me. You're welcome to try, of course, but I'm told the agony of it isn't worth the attempt. The longer you sit in the chair and bleed, the stronger the compulsion becomes. You've been my guest for what now, four? Five hours?"

"I don't know," he said, gaze darting around.

"How rude of me, perhaps I should bring in a clock? Regardless, there are of course many means of gathering information, but torture can be so unreliable. And I find I quite enjoy this one; I'm told having your will stripped from you, the horror of any part of your soul I wish to explore laid bare can be quite the torment. A few previous occupants spent years with waking nightmares. One poor soul cut off her arm once our bargain was complete. She'd apparently kept dreaming that her tattoos were holding her down and strangling her."

Sweat beaded along Lucien's temples, and slid slowly down his face. "I didn't betray you or Freya. I've been trying to find her."

"Have you? How interesting. See, Lucien, what concerns me is that you consider yourself a kingmaker," Klaus said mildly. "A good one, but that is why you came to me to bargain. The gift of a silver tongue, was it not? The charisma, the affluence of a king? What was the charming name of your corporation? Kingmaker Land Development, Inc., wasn't it? Some might believe you're position to be a bit problematic, don't you think, now that the true power has located here?"

"I build them up," Lucien ground out, the cords of his neck drawn tight. "So that I can take it all away."

"Now that I believe," Klaus said thoughtfully, fingers folding across his abdomen. "Avarice is far more predictable than other human inclinations. Particularly the emotional ones. But perhaps we should start there, hmm?"

A fine shudder went down Lucien's spine, his face tightening as he moved his hands. Klaus smiled, letting the sharp points of his fangs just start to show. The fear in the room thickened, the desperation, and Klaus breathed it in like perfume.

"Tell me about my sister, Lucien. Don't feel like you should leave anything out, including those pesky little emotional attachments you've seemed to have developed. And perhaps if I like your answers, I won't feel the inclination to spend additional time with you. This is hell, after all, and while torture can be quite intimate, I've yet to decide just how personal this hell will become."

Lips bloodless, Lucien did as he was told.


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A big thank you to Melissa, Steph, Shy and Colleen for all their help in getting this story correct. :)