Caroline had never been so content to wake up beside him, beside anyone really. That usual anxiety of confronting the person wrapped in sheets while trying to keep herself presentable had faded from her thoughts. They had spent the week in bed for longer than she would openly admit but every second, intimate or not, had her craving more. She had spent a substantial amount of time wondering when reality would hit, when the pit in her stomach would swallow the prospect of happiness whole. But for the first time in her life, she felt no need to doubt or to feel guilty in the face of her desire. For the first time, waking up next to someone felt right.
Her head rolled against the pillow to view his sleeping face. His lips were parted ever so slightly and she noted the trickle of drool that had escaped down the side of his cheek. It took her a moment to subdue the giggle bubbling in her throat. With her body entangled with his, she made no effort to move, no effort to even consider it. She could just watch him for hours. This way, she could see him without his guard up and consider all the information she had against the information she had yet to know.
Her eyes wandered to his chest; the black ink etched across his skin was peeking from under the paisley sheet. The little black birds dissipated from a large feather below his shoulder, of which only the top was currently visible. Her lips twisted as she weighed up her options. They had both been so busy that week with school, it would be cruel to take away those precious minutes of sleep. But she couldn't deny how tempting it was to entertain her impulses.
She sucked in a quiet breath, analysing his features, aware of every twitch. She spread her hand across the sheet atop him until it rested at the boundary between fabric and skin. Her fingers ghosted over the ink before she pressed one gently to the outline. She was surprised by the smooth texture of the art, having imagined a bevelled effect. It wasn't a new tattoo by the looks of the faded edges and it reached the space under his collarbone. She wondered how much it had hurt. Her finger stilled its travel when she felt a raised line in his skin. It wasn't part of the design most assuredly. It stretched across the birds, the appearance of it only clear in the gaps of beige skin. She traced over it again. He stirred. She froze at the sight of his nose twitching.
She supposed that her stay would present more irritation for him in her effort to remain occupied. But when she began to edge away, Klaus turned on his side and groaned. His arms outstretched to weave around her frame before pulling her into his chest. His nose brushed against the crook of her neck, his breath cascading down her skin. It sent an electric current through her body. His simple affections were positively thunderous in her mind. If she could look back on the day they first met, she wouldn't recognise her feelings for him. They were feelings of excitement, of arousal, of guilt, of dread. Now, she was washed with a fluttering warmth every time she thought of him.
His smell was another aspect she had come to enjoy under their new circumstances. Slipping into bed every night, whether he was present or not, was more comforting than ever before. His scent lingered on the pillow, lingered on her clothes. She berated herself for becoming so infatuated.
"Klaus," she muttered, her fingers wrapping around his curls. "I have a question."
"I might have an answer," he replied, a breath escaping his nose. He pressed a gentle kiss to her throat. She wished he would do it again. All of those months spent holding back had felt like she was starving herself and now that they were in this place, she was greedy for more.
"Hm," she murmured drily. "Your tattoo. How'd you get it?"
He cleared his throat discreetly before speaking against her skin, "Boarding school." The vibration of his voice running through her body was addictive. She found herself leaning into him more.
Caroline scrunched her nose up, her fingers playing absentmindedly amongst his hair. "What kind of boarding school has a tattoo parlour?"
That elicited a small, tired chuckle from him. "It didn't. It's a right of passage amongst classmates when you graduate," he replied, his thumb running up her spine.
She repressed a groan; that made a lot more sense than her rebellious envisionment of his boarding school. "Why did you choose the birds?"
He began to trace circles against her skin. "They represent freedom and s…" his words trailed off into an incoherent mumble.
Though his sleepy demeanour was looking to prevail, a question nagged within. Her chin tilted downwards as she muttered, "Was it to cover up your scar?"
Klaus inhaled slowly and exhaled all the same. His eyes opened, his voice fighting through sleep as he lifted his head, "Caroline…"
Her breath caught and she shook her head. "It's okay if you don't want to tell me." She considered pinching herself for the faux pas.
He shifted until they were nose to nose and his hand came to cup her cheek. "I want to, sweetheart, just not at nine a.m. on a Saturday," he informed her with a lighthearted grimace and kissed her lips.
She sighed into him, resisting a frown when he pulled back. "Right," she affirmed in embarrassment.
His words inexplicably felt poignant, though his face was the picture of calm. Because he wanted to tell her. She berated herself a little for ruining the morning with such a question, but his response had left her unusually panicked. Those dangerous thoughts once again rose within her.
Caroline cleared her throat, fumbling to pull the sheets off as she slipped out from under. "I'm going downstairs," tumbled out of her and she was rushing around the bed before his grasp could reach her.
"Wait," his voice wavered and it held her in place. Wrapped in those paisley sheets, he sat up and leaned against his hands. "Have I upset you?"
She spun on the balls of her feet and her eyes became wide as she assured, "Definitely not!"
Klaus sighed, his lips pressing a smile. He lifted the sheet covering his lap and gestured to the space. "Then for the love of god, please come back to bed."
She bit the inside of her lip and her eyes roamed his bare chest. Leaning on one foot, she inquired, "To sleep?"
He grinned sheepishly and echoed, "To sleep."
"I'm sorry, sweetheart, I can't help what the sight of you does to me," Klaus' tired voice became low and she staved off the thought of crawling back into his arms. His eyes sparkled with mischief. "Even at this time, you are most ethereal looking."
The giggle that spilled from her was most involuntary — and if she was being honest, she was disturbed by her own lack of control around him. Still, she straightened up and lifted her chin. "Well, I might be ethereal but I'm also hungry," she rebutted, wandering back until she reached the door.
"So am I." Klaus offered an offended hand, his brows rising.
She rolled her eyes, halting with her hand on the door knob. Tilting her head his way, she clarified, "For food." He grinned and she began to turn the knob.
"We'll visit that bar tonight, love?" his voice jumped in the quiet and she received him with surprise. He was resting up against the wall and his lips curled. He explained, "I would say that's a more appropriate setting for getting to know each other."
Excitement rumbled within but she pressed her smile tightly. She considered his proposal for a moment before saying, "Yeah, I'd like that."
Caroline had managed, for a whole two flights of stairs, to contain her upward tugging lips but had been careless when she walked into the kitchen, a bounce in her step and a hum in her throat eliciting the attention of her housemate. Katherine whistled from her spot at the head of the table, greeting, "Someone's in a good mood."
Caroline made it to the fridge, swinging it open as she turned to reply, "It's a good day." She then offered her attention to the contents of their refrigerator. She did her best not to let out a giggle between considering the orange juice and pulling out an egg — she was recalling Klaus' humming voice against her skin. Oddly, Caroline felt reluctant to share the source of her pep. It wasn't like Klaus was some shameful secret—the fact that they shared a bed lended enough teasing ammo for a lifetime—, but she enjoyed the idea of keeping their private moments private. Klaus wasn't someone she was eager to gossip over, he was someone she wanted to store in her mind, to savour in the moment. And that again led her into dangerous proposals.
Katherine adjusted in her seat, intently eyeing Caroline, who was preparing her breakfast with an unfounded ease. She rested her arm on the top of her chair and leaned her side into the back. "This wouldn't have anything to do with a certain...croquet-playing, wine-drinking, sketchpad-wielding, objectively good-looking—"
"Okay okay, I get it." Caroline leaned onto one foot as she sighed humorously. Her lips twitched and resigned to her unwilling giddiness, she faced the stove and muttered, "But yeah, it would."
She was all too aware that Katherine's eyes would be flaring with mischief, an image only confirmed by her dancing tone, "Oh, well in that case, I'm sure you guys would be interested in what I have in store for tonight."
Caroline considered the omelette before her in tandem with her friend's teasing. Her date with Klaus wasn't something she wished to delay but she was happy to take the bait. She rolled her head to Katherine. "Tonight?"
The top row of Katherine's teeth presented themselves. "There's a concert at Boston Common so you two can get all freaky," she replied with a wiggle of her eyebrows. Caroline had been ready to admonish but was swiftly intercepted.
"I love concerts."
It was then, Caroline realised that across the way in the living room, Elena had been sitting on one end of the couch. Opposite Stefan. She tilted her head slightly. That would certainly be a new development. In her eyes, Elena's addition to their home had been a blessing; she cleaned up after herself, offered to cook on the weekends, and replenished their food supplies whenever any ran low. But she could see why the pair would clash. Katherine wasn't one for beating around the bush and Elena had been doing nothing but that since her arrival. She had managed a few short conversations with her over the weeks but none that ran deeper than the basics. Caroline would admit that she, herself, had held back for fear of 'sleeping with the enemy' as she was sure Katherine would put it.
Katherine was staring into space, her tongue dragging over the bottom of her teeth. Caroline had seen that look from her when she would gear up for an insult. The first time, it had been towards a professor who had questioned her side of the debate on the death penalty; Kat had taken up the 'let the fuckers fry' stance, which earned her a few horrified looks.
Katherine made the bare minimum turn of her head, eyes piercing Elena's presence. "Did I say you were invited?" Though the severity was less than anticipated, the words still put a strain on the atmosphere.
There was a stand-off between the twins. Like two children on the playground, they were bickering over something so meaningless. But she knew best than to be a mediator between them. Yes, Caroline was happy to be an only child in this instance.
The silence seemed to hang for a moment too long; Katherine was offering her most challenging look while Elena looked to be one last straw away from a verbal spar. Caroline had been considering a chirpy 'let's all get along' but was intercepted once again. "Elena, would you like to accompany me to the concert?" Stefan enunciated grandly, a smile on show. Elena's eyes had lit up but she offered only a composed nod. He shared a glare with Katherine from across the room — a questionable move in her opinion.
Had Caroline not been so analytical on this day, she may not have caught the flash of hurt in Katherine's hardened brown eyes. She would chalk it up to the obvious case of betrayal—she was sure to receive a similar expression for such an act—but the look in her eyes ran deeper. Stefan and Katherine had been close since the day he and his brother moved in, though it was built on a mutual exchange of insults that eagerly teamed up in the presence of a common enemy.
"Whatever," Katherine blew out, her breath brushing the strands of hair away from her face. She nodded towards Caroline. "You in?"
A grimace spread across Caroline's face; declining the invite would be adding insult to injury. She turned to face the stove. "I kinda...already have plans."
"With Klaus," Caroline answered in a pitch higher than she would have liked. She would have cleared her throat but suspected it wouldn't leaven any questioning afoot.
"A date?! Where?!" the sound of Katherine's shrill voice caused her to recoil into her shoulders.
Transferring her omelette onto a plate, her absentminded reply floated through the air, "The bar next to Fenway."
"Oh." Katherine's chair thudded back against the floor as she rose. Her footsteps followed Caroline, who was setting a place on the opposite end of the table. "Giving away our special places, Care?"
Caroline shot her a dead-eyed glance. The plate knocked gently against the wood and the cutlery settled with a quiet clatter. "We went there once," she argued as she slipped into the chair.
Katherine leaned against the edge of the table, a hand to her heart. "And it will forever be ingrained in our friendship," she replied with much exasperation. Her lips twitched but she maintained her offence. With a flit of her wrist and a shrug of her shoulders, she rounded back to her seat. "Fine. You and lover boy get cosy at our bar and we'll be at Boston Common for the concert if you change your mind."
Through her diatribe, Kol had been lazily tottering down the stairs, a creak in his every step. He was wearing what she recognised as an old pyjama set of Stefan's. She could see how he would fit the role of a younger brother so well; all he was missing was a teddy bear dangling from his hand. Leaning against the end of the banister, he asked, "We're going to a concert?"
Katherine fell back into her chair and folded her arms. She proceeded to grumble, "Oh another uninvited guest."
Kol's eyes sparkled with delight before he gestured out a relaxed hand. "I am always invited."
Boston Common was a vast stretch of green and the sounds of distant tuning instruments drew them along the paths. Kol had encouraged them to take the scenic route to the concert space after Elena had mentioned it was her first time in the city. They lingered at the Brewer fountain, admiring the bronze sculptures of resting women. It surprised them all when Kol began unravelling historical facts and pointing out spots of his past antics. For less than two years in the country, he had explored more than any of them. It was a refreshing fact for Bonnie; he was totally off his rocker at times but knowing there was more to him did soothe her spirit.
Katherine only allowed a minute of viewing before shuffling them along with an impatient quip about it 'not going anywhere'. She then took the lead through the park, her eyes locked on the path in front. When they finally reached the concert area, they came into view of the attendees filtering in from all sides of the park. It was no Woodstock but it was a modest number. There were stands around the edge of the grass area selling food and drink; it was where most of the people were collecting. Kol gauged the free space before dropping to the green at their feet, his legs crossing comfortably while they all watched in confusion.
Bonnie shifted on the spot and glanced around at the scattered audience. "Don't you think we should find a space closer?"
"Absolutely not." His eyes were trained on the far-off sight of the preparing band. He placed his hands over his knees and declared, "This is the perfect distance to see the stage but not be deafened by the baseline." Bonnie exchanged a look with Katherine, who shrugged and let her crochet cross-bag settle against the grass before following after it. Bonnie considered the choice of sitting arrangement; if she were to move around to sit beside Katherine, she would surely earn some commentary, but sitting beside Kol...well.
Speaking of the devil, he raised his chin and grinned. "Problem?" She pressed her lips together, studying his calmly eager expression. With a strained shake of her head, she got onto her knees and sat beside him. She placed her hands into her lap and faced forward. If Kol Mikaelson was her company for the evening, she wouldn't argue with it but she wouldn't revel in it either.
"Does anyone want any drinks? I'm buying," Elena asked, her fingers fiddling with the strap of her bag. She was standing idly beside Stefan. She wore a plaid, pleated skirt under her matching mauve shirt; if Katherine was loud and colourful, Elena was reserved and muted in comparison.
Kol brought a pensive finger to his mouth before stating, "I won't have a drink but if they are selling any novelties or merchandise, I'll take a t-shirt." Elena's face twitched in confusion but she nodded nonetheless. Bonnie had come up with a few ways to describe him but so far the most accurate had been childish. It wasn't entirely a bad thing, however; he was utterly concerned with the little things to an almost admirable extent.
Katherine's brows furrowed as she lifted her head. "You're buying?"
Elena gestured her hands out and smiled bashfully. "Well, you guys have been so welcoming letting me stay this long. I just wanted to show my thanks."
"With what money?" Katherine shot the question firmly and much like the last interrogation, she could see Elena's lashes flutter nervously.
Katherine hadn't seen much of her sister's days but not once had a job been mentioned. She was sure she had heard her ask about their local library. If Elena had money, she had never been one to spend recklessly, not like Katherine. But it was a month into her stay and Elena was offering to pay for something so frivolous. She was entirely aware there could be a logical explanation; if she just acted civil, she might receive the answer. Call it neglectful, call it petty, but she felt physically incapable of doing such a thing.
"I think it's really nice of you, Elena," Stefan raised his voice against the growing sounds of guitars. "I'll come with."
Bonnie didn't miss the way Katherine's whole body grew tense. Elena threw a warm smile at Stefan and he ghosted a hand over her back before guiding her away. She had no intention of getting involved but she could thoroughly declare that Stefan was an idiot. As scathing as Katherine had been towards her sister, he could have stood to be a little more...subtle in his loyalties.
Katherine was practically burning holes into the backs of their heads as they walked to the stands. She spoke, her voice brittle and dark, "I don't trust her."
Bonnie waited for the attention of her friend before she sighed out, "She's trying. You have to give her at least that." Maybe it was that she had met Damon Salvatore but as far as siblings went, Elena was inoffensive. Besides, Katherine did require a little grounding at times.
"Exactly. She's trying...too hard," Katherine replied with narrowed eyes. She moved her gaze back to the food vendors, scoffing as she noted the pair sharing a laugh. "She's got Stefan wrapped around her finger just like our parents."
"Take it from me, Kit-Kat," Kol began, pausing to grin at how jarring his usage of a nickname had appeared, "family grudges are overrated." He leaned back on his hands, his colourful shirt unbuttoned at the top. "Still, as a spectator, I am obliged to encourage for drama's sake."
Katherine ticked quietly and looked out across the green. With a resolute jump to her feet, she announced, "I'll be back."
Kol watched delightfully as an intent Katherine stalked away. When the quiet settled between them, he nudged Bonnie's arm gently and drawled, "So, looks like it's just the two of us."
She breathed in heavily through her nose, analysing the ever-present glint in his eye. "How convenient."
"Don't look so encumbered by my presence, Bonnie," Kol began in a low tone. He shifted until he was leaning on his right side, theatrically stretching his arm over the green. "If your friend can learn to love my brother, I'm sure you'll find a precocious scamp like me just as appealing."
She eyed him and the way his lips curled. Laughingly (out of disbelief if he questioned), she asked, "How are you two even related? Were you dropped on your head as a baby?"
"Just the once." His sudden innocent expression didn't take long to return to its primal flippancy. "I know I know. I'm so fun and free and Nik is so boring, graceless," he lowered his voice, speaking comically through his teeth, "and has a bit of a temper if you ask me."
Feeling herself inclined to the messy texture of the grass, Bonnie leaned back on her hands. She muttered, "You don't have to tell me that."
"Ah, you've been on his bad side."
"I'm not sure I've ever been on his good side." She pressed her lips together, looking out in front. "But I deserved it that one time."
His lashes flared and she could feel him gravitate just an inch closer. "Oh, Miss Bennett, is there a darker side to you I'm not seeing?"
Bonnie glanced at him. He was terribly good at maintaining eye contact; it would be unnerving had it been from anyone more serious. "Please," she scoffed and focused on the stage once again. "He found out about something that had happened to Caroline, got angry, blamed us for not doing enough…" It was an odd moment to recall all these months later. To say nothing had changed would be an understatement. But that day, she really saw how quick Klaus had been to put them all on trial.
Kol stretched out his legs and she found herself mirroring the action, which he grinned at in turn. With a wistful sigh, he commented, "You know I don't think Nik has ever been so affected by someone as he is Caroline."
"That's a good thing, right?" Bonnie shot a dead-eyed look his way. "Because Kat and I will tear him limb from limb if he hurts her."
Kol laughed and threw his head back. "And I will happily watch." A churlish smile accompanied his words; it softened when he viewed the stage. "But yes, it's a good thing. Nik has a habit of believing he's got to protect himself above all else. That saying 'fight or flight'? He's very much fight and flight. Our father was never kind to him and the social confines of the family made it harder to reach out — not that Nik and I ever really saw eye to eye."
Bonnie's body shifted uneasily. She had already been mulling over her totally weird attraction to the younger Mikaelson but hearing him talk so candidly, so seriously, was affecting her more than his brash humour. Plus, he wasn't a sore sight. She cleared her throat as she felt her thoughts wander. "That's why you left? The 'confines'?"
"Yes. The dinners were boring, the conversations were hell, my clothes were dreadful. I mean, could you imagine this," he let his hand roam dangerously over his side, "in a suit and bow tie?" She could absolutely imagine it. Her heart fluttered at his returning sense of humour; it seemed to dance in and out of conversations so unexpectedly. He blew out a long sigh. "That and I fucking hated studying Law."
Bonnie allowed him a small, reactive grin (it seemed to be enough for him as his eyes lit up). "I can't say I agree but I see it." She shrugged. She wallowed in her thoughts for a moment, eyes narrowing as she considered them. With her mother so distant and her friends arguably on the dramatic side, sharing her worries had always been so unnecessary in her mind. But there was something about Kol that had her eager to share. Maybe, she wondered, it was because she knew not to take him seriously. And if she didn't take him seriously, any unwanted criticisms or quips could be received in the same way. Finally, she sat up and crossed her legs. He watched her with an intrigue that only grew when she faced her entire body towards him. Curling her hands into her lap, Bonnie admitted, "There's this internship I didn't get. Marcel says it's 'cause of my skin and I don't want to believe him but… Is it even worth trying in that case?" She hoped that she appeared patient because her insides were turning all of a sudden. Kol was staring intently at her face as he twiddled a stray blade of grass between his fingers. Taking in a breath, she swallowed her anticipation.
"If it is, your professor is an arsehole," he began casually as his eyes wandered. He threw the blade of grass aside and with a firm reply, engaged her once again, "but screw him."
"Wow, I wish it was that simple." Bonnie rolled her eyes and shifted away from him. "We can't all say 'screw you' and ditch the mansion life, you know."
He smiled. This time, it was a genuine smile. Slightly abashed. But contemplative. "It's a long game, Bonnie," his voice sighed out and he rolled onto his back. "You're smart. Twenty years from now and he'll be some dusty old corpse in a terrible suit, probably the one he wears to every lecture, and you'll be kicking ass in the courtroom." Her jaw fell slack. Kol smirked and tilted his head her way, his brush of dark hair tangling in the grass. "Anyway, am I going to have to battle this Marcel for your affections? I know I don't look it but I put up a pretty good fight."
The answer overtook her before she could think it through, "No—" She felt flushed the moment he raised an eyebrow. "He's just a member of this thing I joined."
Pulling her knees into her chest, Bonnie stated humorously, "I don't think you'd be interested."
Kol held a hand to his chest and gasped. He then sat up, startling her as he leaned in to say, "I am nothing if not interested, darling."
Katherine kept her distance from them. She watched Elena brush a lock of hair behind her ear as she spoke. It wasn't obvious or calculated. It was natural. No wonder Stefan was putty in her hands. Elena wasn't sickly sweet but she carried herself with an ease many found appealing. But to her, it was nothing but a way of covering her deeper personality. Everyone had flaws. Elena was just better at hiding hers and exposing others', something she didn't trust Stefan to see.
She lingered by the edge of one queue, intending to finger through the tawdry 'mood' jewellery laid out on the table at the front. One of the vendors had looked eager to make a sale and she considered listening to his psychedelic spiel as cover. But as hard as she may try, she had never been great at subtlety (she would prefer to call it intentional; you can't be a 'bad liar' if sharing the truth is your intention). Stefan caught sight of her when Elena had begun to eye the merchandise hanging off the stall. She felt the urge to chew on her nail as he stomped her way, the yellow and orange striped scarf bouncing around his neck.
She presented her most comfortable smile, swaying out of line to meet him. Stefan scoffed and glanced aside, "Really, Kat?" His feet came to a stop just two feet apart and he eyed her change in expression.
She pushed her lips out thoughtfully. "Did I interrupt something?"
"Don't play this game with me," he said with a low rumble. Yes, he had known her long enough to recognise her calculated approaches in the face of conflict.
Katherine relented, her jaw tensing, "Why are you being so nice to her?" What could it be? Elena was not so different from her. Same packaging, just different ingredients. A belly laugh escaped her, "You just want to get into her pants? Is that it?"
Stefan ran his fingers through his hair, wincing as he looked back at the girl in question. "She's not that bad."
Katherine laughed darkly, stepping in closer. Her teeth bared themselves as she commented, "I don't really think you're the right person to judge a sibling's character, are you, Stef?"
Stefan stared her down, his eyes softening as he began to sigh. "Well, maybe it's because I finally cut Damon out my life," he didn't miss a beat to add, "and he deserves everything that comes to him," he strayed back, kicking the dirt under his feet, "but I see you trying to do that to your sister and I don't think she does."
"What do you know?" she spit back the moment he offered his gaze. "You're not the one she ratted on."
"No, I'm not." His fingers curled at his sides and she wondered if he might grasp her by the arms. Instead, his eyes fell to the ground. "But I don't think you hate her as much as you say you do."
Her features twisted, her brows furrowing animatedly. "What?"
The chuckle that left his lips was tired. "You want her gone so badly? Kick her out." He grinned at the surprise that brushed over her features. "You can't," he told her calmly, finally inching closer, "'cause as much as you want the world to think you're the bad-ass, takes-no-prisoners Kat, you actually care about your sister." His gaze lingered on her face a moment longer. He shoved his hands into his jean pockets and shrugged. "So excuse me for not making her life a living hell." Katherine let the words settle in the air. That one, rational part of her brain leaned towards agreement, leaned towards accepting that maybe, just maybe, she did enjoy having Elena around, that cultivating a familial bond was important. But like any other rational thought, she knew it was best to smother it. Behind him, Elena was muscling a t-shirt over her arm as she managed a number of drinks.
Through her teeth, Katherine replied, "Fine then." His green eyes swirled with bewilderment as hers became fiery and determined. She threw her hair back and smiled brightly when her sister wandered into their space. The poor girl was looking so blissfully unaware but she only parted her lips before Katherine cut in, "Elena, hey, yeah, you living with us?" She sucked on her teeth, feigning sadness. It was enjoyable to catch the anxiety rise within Stefan. "Not working. I need you to move out by the end of next week," her words were expressed so evenly. The corners of her lips curled and she rolled her head Stefan's way with a dead stare. "Satisfied?"
With that said and the pang of disappointment on Stefan's face, she resolved to return to the others. Yes, she would have to deal with another week or two of Elena but she wasn't going to just throw her out into the cold. She wasn't evil after all.
They had taken a taxi to the bar, allowing the rest to use Caroline's beaten up car in exchange for something in the future, which really just meant they had nothing to offer. Still, this night was important, a way to see Klaus open up, something she had been bubbling over all day. If drinking alcohol led to more honesty, she had zero complaints. And since leaving the house, she began to realise it was more than necessary; though their morning had been filled with affectionate touches and promising conversation, she felt a distance take hold between them. The teasing tone he had wielded previously had been stripped away as he began to answer her questions rather concisely in the back of the taxi.
The bar greeted them with a haze of smoke. Through it, they could see the cohesive design of the place, unchanged from Caroline's memory. The Boston Red Sox was the team to root for around these parts. Red, white and a distinctive navy blue adorned every decoration in the place. A small crowd busied the tired looking bartenders. They came to a stop by the edge of it. Klaus leaned in a little, his voice rising above the music and chatter of the bar, "How about you find us a table? I'm sure I can handle myself up here for a while."
Caroline felt her heart sink. "Yeah, okay," she replied with a small smile. Her feet steeled as she glanced between him and the rest of the patrons. She considered whether he had been longing to be rid of her, whether he was another that would indulge in her in secret but become distant elsewhere. Or perhaps his intentions to share his past were just a false promise.
Shaking her head of all doubt, she headed away from the bar. The walls were covered in pictures of baseball teams and jerseys that sat in pristine cases. As she slowed her pace to survey her surroundings, a familiar character came into view. Her lashes fluttered, mouth agape. "Hayley!" she expressed in a flurry of uneasy politeness. It was a reflexive call and she questioned the action as soon as it occurred. Hayley Marshall had been slumped into the pile of red and white beanbags, a cigarette placed between her fingers. She held no recognition of those in her company but there was a girl at her side, lazily drumming her fingers against the seat. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she smiled to say, "Hey."
"Caroline," Hayley acknowledged her with a dull roam of her eyes. Her flared denim pants clothed her legs as they rested over one another. "Can I help you?"
It had been so long since their encounter but no love had been lost nor gained, especially not gained. Caroline had considered it thoroughly, however. "Um, yeah, so I guess now's as good a time as ever, right?" the words spilled from her nervously. Hayley's eyebrow crooked upward and Caroline began to prattle on, "I'm sorry about the whole...being a bitch for no reason thing. You were right. It wasn't very girl power of me." She bit her lip. "You don't have to forgive me or even like me—"
"I don't see that happening."
She laughed softly and shrugged. "Right. Yeah, well, I just wanted to apologise for being so hard on you." Even if you are being super rude right now she longed to add.
Her eyes strayed. Well, she couldn't really blame the girl for her cold reception. Still, she brightened with a roll of her shoulders. "Anyway, who's your friend?" She gestured to the young woman beside her whose attention had been focused solely on their conversation.
"Girlfriend," Hayley bit out the correction, her expression ever-hard. It was a shock to hear it said so openly but then again, Hayley had never been one for formalities.
Her girlfriend was much more forthcoming, shaking her warm brown locks away from her face as she greeted, "Hi, I'm Sophie." The girl had a youthful face, a square jaw that was framed by her shaggy hair. There was an unmistakable glow of confidence in her dark eyes, a twitching smirk bleeding into her visage.
"Oh…" Caroline's lips sat parted for a moment. With wide eyes, she exclaimed, "Oh wow, well I guess I really got things wrong." And Katherine got it right. Tyler had never mentioned it but she wondered whether even he knew. She would probably owe Katherine a drink for doubting it or at least Katherine would believe that.
Hayley offered nothing more than a tense, "Mhm."
The conversation seemed to find an impasse and she felt herself scrambling for a way out. It was then she felt a warmth at her side. "Caroline," Klaus' words were hushed in her ear and his fingers brushed her bare elbow. "Did you find a table?"
If they were alone she might have given a bitter comment about his sudden interest in affection. But not in front of Hayley. She couldn't risk the leverage it might offer her. "No, I...got caught up."
"I'll see if I can find one, shall I?"
She finally looked his way, noting the two glasses in his hands. "Sounds good," she answered with a fervent nod. Though he took a glance at Hayley and Sophie, he pressed his lips into a smile and excused himself.
Caroline watched him settle on a small, round table further back, twisting her lips. Hayley's voice brought her back into reality, "You're on a date? I'm sure Tyler will love that."
Caroline's chin lifted and her lashes fluttered. "You speak to Tyler? How is he?" Her mouth felt dry. She hadn't heard his name in months, hadn't even thought of him; there was a sudden guilt that thrummed within.
It was then that Hayley offered a short smirk. "He writes whenever he has the chance," she spoke idly, inspecting her hand. "He's okay. War's tough." Her eyes finally pierced Caroline's as she smirked again. "Tough enough that I'll keep your little date a secret."
Her lips slowly spread out into a brittle smile and her eyes narrowed. "What? Should I thank you?"
Hayley's head rolled laxly before she shrugged. "It wouldn't hurt."
Caroline finally scoffed, though it was layered over amusement, and folded her arms. "You know you're still kind of a bitch."
"I know." Hayley's lip twitched. She watched her for a long moment (Caroline was conscious to maintain a confident push of her chest) before sighing heavily, "Now, seriously," her hand flitted out, "go enjoy your date or whatever."
They exchanged what, on Caroline's end, felt like a cautious stare, but there was no anger nor irritation to be found. Instead, a smile crept onto her lips. When she slid into the rickety chair opposite him, Klaus' eyes were following her. "A friend of yours?"
Caroline scrunched her nose and fingered the base of the glass he had placed before her. She didn't recall making the order but was tickled by the obvious choice of wine—she refrained from giggling at the thought of the judgemental reactions from both bartender and patrons alike. "Not really."
He hummed and leaned into the table. "Now, if I'm expected to divulge some information with you, should we not be on an even playing field?"
She analysed him carefully. She wondered if he really had just been nervous, had stifled conversation to settle his anticipation. She wet her lips before explaining, "She's a friend of Tyler's." She was aware of the instinctual tensing of his jaw, would have laughed if she hadn't been so incentivised to share. "We didn't exactly get along but I think we've called a truce?"
"Which I would say calls for a toast then?" It was a relief to hear his lighthearted suggestion, even more so as he lifted his glass to her.
"Yeah, I guess it does," she giggled out and raised her own drink. It was at the clink of their glasses that she found her mind stilling. "This is kind of weird."
She swirled the red liquid around, mesmerised by the rich colour that spread over the glass. "Us… On an actual date."
"I hope you aren't tired of me already, love," his reply came as a low drawl, titillating enough to demand her full attention.
Though his charming dimples threatened her composure, Caroline grinned. "Well, now that you mention it." She laughed quietly and settled her wine glass on the table. "No, it's different. And it's kind of the first real date I've ever been on?" She bit her lip as she considered her scattered thoughts. "Tyler and I were...you know and then Damon was just so...you know. It never really occurred to me until now."
There wasn't a single thing she could say about his expression. Because although it seemed blank, her heart was racing at the sight. He pursed his lips and took a long sip. Finally, his gentle voice sounded, "So I suppose I better make this a night to remember."
"I suppose you should," she answered with an innocent lilt. "Tell me about your tattoo."
"How direct of you."
"I'm just holding you to your promise."
"I don't believe it was a promise but I'll appease you nonetheless," he relented with raised eyebrows that toed dangerously along her interest. "It's tradition when you finish boarding school to go on a pub crawl. Those of us who were underage still came along for the sake of being involved. I had just turned eighteen that March. At the end of it, you're supposed to get a tattoo."
Caroline rested her chin atop her palm, unable to fight the smile that had commandeered her expression. Her index finger began to trace the edge of her glass as she spoke, "I'm no expert on tattoos but I don't think that's advisable." Her nose scrunched playfully. "Y'know, getting tattoos while drunk."
"Well, thankfully, the boarding school equivalent of getting drunk is a couple glasses of red wine, maybe a sherry," he joked with a swirl of his own drink.
"So the tattoo?"
One corner of his lips tugged upward as he replied, "You're quite impatient tonight, sweetheart."
Her cheeks flushed and she avoided his gaze. "Sorry."
Klaus seemed to welcome the following silence, seemed to wait for her to offer contact again. When she did, he commented, "I didn't say it was a bad thing." If he had intended to soothe her, it had had the opposite effect. Her face was burning with a flurry of emotions. It was only his softening smile that brought reprieve. "One evening when I was about fifteen — it was half-term, my father goaded me into a round of fencing," he began carefully, his eyes drifting to his wine. She bit her tongue at the teasing words she longed to speak. "He insisted on no suits. Had me on the floor in seconds. The second time, I gave it my best, managed to score against him. The third time, however, he proposed using the very real swords we have in our old armoury."
Of course you do is what she wanted to say but there was a growing sense of dread that kept her lips shut tightly.
"It was a good round but he had me pinned down by the end," Klaus explained, the grim notes encroaching on the atmosphere. "I was just happy that he was offering me his attention; I understand now that it was a naive thought." He sighed heavily and leaned back into his chair. "He slashed me once, right here." He tapped the very spot over the fabric of his shirt. While her eyes grew wide, he took a sip of his drink. She began to prepare response after response, running over the possibilities, the ways in which he would react. But he cleared his throat, stroking the stem of the glass, and said, "My sketchbooks at the time were filled with birds. There was a nest on the grounds of my school, just outside of my window. They always looked so...free. I had imagined that one day I would be free, too."
She could tell he was ready to rebuff her, that he was ready to hear her disinterest or mockery and promptly shut himself away. "Do you wanna play pool?" were the only words she could think to offer.
His face seemed to awash with surprise but that twinge of relief was present in his eyes. She nodded her head to the pool table nestled in the corner behind them. His stiff expression softened. "With you? Of course." They were on their feet in a matter of seconds and, whether consciously or not, elected to desert their half-empty glasses.
Caroline twisted her lips as they reached the pool table. She focused on the task ahead, grasping two cues out of their stand. When she finally turned to face him, she said, "I think it's beautiful. Your tattoo."
There was another flicker of surprise but he quickly stifled it with a predictable smirk. "Well, you do have expertise on the matter."
Caroline handed him the cue, pushing it hard into his chest. "Shut up," she scoffed, though her lips twitched. "I still have one question, though."
His fingers grazed her knuckles as he accepted the cue. "What might that be?"
Gravitating back, the cold in his absence didn't go unnoticed. She breathed in deeply through her nose, hoping to re-centre her thoughts. "Do you feel free?"
His head tilted ever so slightly and he watched her prepare the pool table (of course she had to use something to distract her nerves). With his grip around his cue, he met her at the end of the table. "Right now, here. Yes," he muttered, his lips only curling when she dared to look his way. "Have I told you how ravishing you look tonight?"
It wasn't much of an answer. But he had given her enough to placate her curiosity. "No, actually, you haven't," she stated firmly and folded her arms. "You haven't kissed me yet, either." And with that, she parted from him, taking her place at the adjacent side of the table.
His brows jumped and his teeth bared in a smile. He was quick to busy himself, lining up the first shot. He eyed the cue ball for what felt like forever. When the balls finally scattered across the green, he grinned her way. "My apologies, love. I was under the impression that it came at the end of the first date."
She rolled her eyes and rounded the table. "I think we're a little past that, Klaus."
He continued to grin but soon pursed his lips. "In the interest of honesty?"
"Great interest," Caroline corrected promptly, earning a chuckle from him. She leaned over the table and lined up the shot. There was a three ball with an easy shot. She narrowed her eyes, tentatively running the cue back and forth between her fingers. A knocking sound rang out as it made contact with the cue ball.
"This is different for me, too." He caught the heavy red ball before it could reach the pocket, at which she huffed. He spun the ball along the green felt and she watched intently for his explanation. "My family aren't the most affectionate, especially not in public."
"What about Tatia?" Caroline asked abruptly, straightening up. She sucked in a breath of anticipation and her cheeks became hot. She hadn't meant it to be so tactless but there was some instinct to be had in comparing herself to the former.
She braced herself for his turn in attitude but his expression softened into a smile. He gazed at the pool cue. "She may have been lower class but she carried herself just the same."
She nodded slowly as her eyes wandered the surrounding walls. Her feet carried her closer, careful not to appear eager. She twisted the pool cue in her arms, absentmindedly questioning, "So...if I wanted to kiss you in public?"
"I might make an exception." Klaus' hand crept along the edge of the pool table, fingers tracing the glossy pattern. She pressed her lips together at the sight of his blue eyes deepening with lust. He narrowed the space between them; it was enough to urge a shiver down her back. Lowering his voice, he said, "But I would be inclined to request we return home if you did."
"To sleep," Caroline added succinctly, her eyes flickering with excitement. She lingered inches from him before pressing her lips on his, the cue falling loose between her fingers.
COMMENTS ENCOURAGED AND APPRECIATED
I have a lot to say about this chapter but mainly...I hope you love it because it really is the last you'll see for a while. It's twice the length of my usual chapters and there's a lot going on. I've made it no secret that all of these characters are flawed and I hope you guys can appreciate them even at their worst.
I'll see you when I see you!