Original Tattoos was a legendary establishment located in south Chicago. Like most tattoo parlors, it was located in a nondescript brick building on the corner of two nondescript streets. Unlike most tattoo parlors, it was the best place in the city to get inked.

The shop was owned by the three Smith siblings, all of whom were blessed with attractive features and distinct British accents. Elijah, the oldest sibling, dealt with the financial aspects of the shop. He was a noble, fair man, and the stern set of his face reflected his evenhandedness. He rarely smiled, and his brown eyes were always serious, but the way his brown hair flopped to the side of his face had a way of softening his appearance. He didn't have many tattoos, and the ones he did have couldn't be seen when he wore anything more than a bathing suit. Elijah considered himself an entrepreneur first and a tattoo artist second. He was very concerned with maintaining his image as a proper businessman, and proper businessmen, even the ones who worked in the tattoo industry, did not have tattoos snaking out from their Oxford shirt sleeves.

Elijah's younger sister Rebekah had several ear piercings and tattoos, the longest one being a long, colorful array of star lilies that blossomed over her shoulder and across her back. As the public face and voice of Original Tattoos, she used her inherent charm to schedule client appointments, play nice with the health inspector, and promote the shop's superiority to all other places. Her pale blonde hair and powder blue eyes rendered her the image of china doll innocence, but those eyes quickly turned cold and unforgiving whenever someone tried to treat her like a dumb blonde. Her mouth was dirtier than the ones featured in Orbitz gum commercials, and she wasn't afraid to unleash it on her naysayers to make them cry.

Niklaus, the remaining Smith, adored his baby sister's creativity when she swore up a storm. He lived for creativity. He lived for the world's aesthetic pleasures of great cities, art, and music, desiring nothing more than to drown himself in a cosmos of true beauty.

Klaus' passion for artistry bled into everything he touched. He was Original Tattoos' main tattooist, using his steady hands and creative talents to outline and ink the most intricate, inimitable tattoos in the city. He also designed the interior of the tattoo shop. The walls were painted a precise shade of blood red to give the space a primal feel. The black leather couches he secured for the waiting area were sexy and inviting, and they matched the three leather tattoo chairs that sat in the main part of the parlor. The walls weren't decorated with blueprints of Chinese symbols or tribal tramp stamps, nor were they covered in images of the tattoos he and his siblings inked onto their patrons, but were instead littered with erotic photographs of black and white entangled limbs, heavy lidded eyes, shadowed flesh opening to lovers in complete surrender. The act of tattooing a woman was just as personal, just as intimate as the act of making love to her, and although Klaus was very good at both, he never mixed business with pleasure, preferring to keep the women he marked with his needles separate from the women he marked with his mouth, his hands, and his cock.

Women and men alike certainly tried to entice Klaus to blur those self-constructed boundaries of his. His looks were just as renowned as his tattooing abilities. His teal eyes belonged in the tropics, and his light brown hair that curled at the ends just begged lovers to fist their hands in it. The metal barbs and rings that pierced his ears and eyebrows brought even more attention to his face. He was tall and lean and preferred to work shirtless, allowing his customers a free view of the innumerable tattoos that flexed across his arms, torso, and back. A crooked smirk was permanently plastered onto his full lips and hinted that he knew every dirty little secret the world had to offer. Every one of his motions exuded sexual promise. They guaranteed him a full schedule each day at work and, if he so chose, a warm body writhing underneath his at night.

It was 9:56 on a weeknight, and pulsing strains of metal music filled the room as Klaus and Rebekah cleaned their tattoo equipment. The howl of Chicago's winter winds bounced between the blood walls of the shop. Klaus, clad in nothing but a pair of low jeans and motorcycle boots, raced his hands up and down his arms.

Rebekah noticed the gesture and snorted. "Your groupies are gone, Nik; put some fucking clothes on."

"I don't have groupies, Beka, I have multiple clients who are extremely devoted to me." The corners of his mouth twitched upwards, but his attempted smile didn't reach his eyes the way it usually did.

Rebekah furrowed her brow at Klaus' unusually sullen demeanor. Her brother never worried about anything, but he'd been stomping and sulking around the shop for the past month. She imagined women found his brooding sexy, but she just found it fucking annoying.

"All right, Nik, out with it. What's eating your ass?"

"Nothing."

"Don't lie to me, you arse. You've been scaring the customers all day with that bloody scowl of yours."

"I do not scowl."

Rebekah laughed loudly at that. "Brother, you own the act of scowling. You're fucking scowling right now!"

Klaus' eyes glanced over to the full length mirror near his tattoo chair. Sure enough, his glance was dark and hooded, and his lips twisted in a gruesome frown. His eyes were bloodshot, the skin surrounding them puffy and pale. He sighed, slowly scrubbing his face with his long, capable fingers. He looked as tired as he felt, thanks to the faceless, nameless phantom woman who had invaded his dreams every night for the past month.

He saw Rebekah approach him in the mirror. Her eyes narrowed as she studied him, making him feel uncomfortable and exposed beneath her probing gaze. No one knew him better than his baby sister. He got along with Elijah, but no one in the world understood him the way Rebekah did.

"You haven't been sleeping." Her words were blunt and to the point, a direct reflection of her personality. Klaus had learned it was pointless to deny the truths Rebekah so often identified. His head shook back and forth.

"No."

"Why?"

Long, slender limbs constantly wrapped around his hard body. Warm, inviting peaches and cream skin flushed with pleasure. Full, passion bruised lips. A single bead of sweat that slid down feminine curves.

Her face was always hidden in the shadows of his dreams, but Klaus knew that she was the most beautiful creature he would ever set his eyes upon. She never spoke, but the breathless, pliant sounds of her moans were the sweetest symphonies he'd ever had the pleasure of hearing. She tasted of innocence, vanilla and lemons, and she'd consumed his every thought ever since she first haunted his dreams over a month ago.

Klaus didn't even know if she existed.

"Why haven't you been sleeping, Nik?" Rebekah probed, freeing Klaus from his trance. "Late nights?"

"Sometimes."

A smirk pushed at the corner of Rebekah's mouth. "It's a girl, isn't it?"

"It's not like that."

The smirk grew wider. "Well, fuck me. I never thought I'd see the day when you look this miserable over a bloody female." She crossed her arms and leaned her back against the mirror to get a better view of Klaus' face. "What's her name?"

"I don't know."

"Where'd you meet her?"

"I haven't."

The grin on Rebekah's face morphed into a glare. "Please tell me that you're not bloody stalking some fucking schoolgirl, Nik."

Klaus threw his arms up in the air. "For the love of God, Rebekah, would you please give this a rest?" He stormed away from her and the mirror and paced across the shop floor, running his hands through his brown curls. His phantom beauty was stalking him. He never asked for her to be a part of his dreams, but night after night she showed up, touching and kissing and taking him into her, making him feel and want more deeply than his heart could possibly handle. Frustration and fury at his circumstances raced through his veins as he trod a path in the floorboards, letting the toll of his emotions assail him.

She always left him, this unattainable woman of his dreams. He asked her to stay, demanded that she reveal her name, her face, anything that would let him know more about her, but she always slipped from his clutches like a thief in the night, and he always awoke with a start, cold and naked, wrapped in a disarray of sweaty sheets that smelled too much like him and not enough like her.

He hated her.

He wanted her.

She wasn't even real.

The sound of Elijah's footsteps echoed in the room. Klaus looked towards the source of the noise and saw his brother approach him with a black cashbox in his hand. The coins in the metal box clanked with Elijah's every step.

Elijah stopped between Klaus and Rebekah. He glanced back and forth between the two siblings, picking up on the tension that emanated between them. "So, Niklaus, what did I miss?"

"Nik's been acting like a zombie all bloody month because of some nameless lady friend of his."

Klaus gave Rebekah a murderous look. She returned it with a smug smirk. Elijah merely rolled his eyes.

"If this is true, Niklaus, find a way to pull yourself together. Our clientele has remained steady this past month but the number of tips we've received has decreased a notable amount. Seeing as you are our most requested tattoo artist, you must be doing something to discourage your patrons."

"Yeah, the number of phone numbers horny females leave for you has also decreased," Rebekah added, haughtiness dripping from her voice. Klaus rolled his eyes and scoured his face with his hands once more. He knew he was going to scrub his skin off by the end of the night if he continued to rub his face, but he needed to keep his hands occupied so he didn't wring his siblings' necks. He didn't give a rat's ass about the tips, phone numbers, and sexual offers he hadn't received lately.

He just wanted his phantom lover to stay out of his head.

Klaus gave both of his siblings pointed looks. "Are we done here? I'm ready for you both to go home."

Elijah sighed. "Yes, Niklaus, we'll leave you now." He buttoned his black peacoat and wrapped a plaid scarf around his neck. Rebekah mirrored his actions with her fitted leather jacket and matching leather gloves. Klaus thought he heard Rebekah and Elijah exchange more words with each other, but he had no idea what they were talking about, if anything. They never said anything of importance, really. He'd finally started to tune them out.

"Have a good night, Niklaus," Elijah said. Klaus' head snapped up and saw both Elijah and Rebekah staring at him. Their eyes were filled with something that resembled sympathy.

Klaus hated that look.

He nodded at Elijah, who nodded back at him before walking through the shop door. Rebekah slowly walked over to him and kissed him on the cheek before she followed Elijah outside.

Klaus watched them walk down the street together until they disappeared around the corner. He sighed and turned off the metal music before trudging back to his tattoo station. He ran his fingers over the metal equipment. The tattoo gun was his paintbrush, his choreography, his tool of self-expression, the device he used to bring his artistry into the world. Wielding it usually brought him contentment, but not anymore.

His relationship with his dream phantom needed to become a little less one-sided – or a little more non-existent – for him to feel content.

Feeling the familiar itch to sketch something, Klaus stalked towards his supplies of carbon and transfer paper. He lifted two sheets off the tops of the piles. Grabbing a sharpened pencil from next to the paper, he strode over to the black receptionists' desk Rebekah sat at when she scheduled their tattoo appointments. He sat down in the desk chair, placed his sheet of carbon paper ink-side down on the transfer paper, and he began to draw.

The feminine curves that possessed Klaus' dreams began to appear on his paper. His forehead wrinkled with concentration. The tip of his tongue poked out of his lips as he pressed the graphite onto the paper and drew the delicate arch of her foot, the power in her slim thigh. If she wouldn't leave his head, the least he could do was capture her image on paper…what he could see of it, anyway. Maybe he'd even ask Beka to ink this design on one of the bare spots of skin he still had on his upper body. It had been a while since he'd felt the exhilarating sting of the tattoo gun piercing his skin. He might as well immortalize the faceless fantasy that had such a powerful effect on his state of being.

The strand of bells abruptly clanked against the glass door. Klaus didn't bother to look up, knowing one of his siblings had returned. Original Tattoos was closed for the night, and no one else had a key to the shop besides himself, Rebekah, and Elijah. His eyes remained on his paper.

"I thought I told you to get out," he said, shadowing the curve of an ass cheek. His faceless vision had a fantastic ass. In his dreams, he loved digging his fingers into it as she rode him hard and fast.

Neither Rebekah nor Elijah answered him. This was unusual. One of them always had something to say whenever he made a rude comment. He decided to say something a bit more explicit to provoke a response from them.

"Look, I don't know what the fuck you want, but I bloody well told you to leave me the fuck alone. You can't just barge in here whenever the fuck you feel like it. I don't care what you forgot, or what you think you forgot, or whatever the bloody hell else you're doing here. Just get the fuck out and let me be."

More silence. Either one of them definitely would have responded if they heard him say something like that. Klaus didn't think he imagined the jarring noise of the bells hitting the glass, but he heard no other sounds in the shop but his own. He lowered his pencil to the paper again.

"Do you always talk to people like that?"

Klaus immediately stilled his motions. That wasn't Elijah or Rebekah's voice. No, this voice was a perfect blend of femininity and grit. It was verbal vanilla, light and airy, feathery and sweet. It was pointed and edgy, stiletto sharp and citrus strong. This voice had the power to make him feel like the most powerful man in the world and bring him to his knees the next second. Klaus only knew of one other voice that had that effect on him…and until that moment he'd only heard it in his sleep.

Klaus's heart pounded so hard he thought it would beat itself out of his chest. He stood up with so much force that his chair clashed to the floor. His glance shot towards the door, towards the source of the voice. His breath stilled as he met a pair of crystal green eyes. They were fathomless…infinite…two pools of endless depth that simultaneously froze him in his place and pulled him into their source.

He knew it was her. Somehow, after seeing nothing but this person's eyes, he knew that this was his phantom woman, his unattainable lover, his fantasy in the flesh. How such a thing was possible, he had no clue, but there was no one else this woman could be. The realization caused anticipatory fire to blaze through his blood. He clenched his fists and steadied his breaths before he could look at the rest of the body that belonged with those mossy eyes.

Klaus was surprised to see that his dream girl – literally – looked like a Barbie doll. Her hair cascaded past her shoulders in loose blonde waves. Her face was full, though the soft line of her cheekbones and jaw still showed. She had that same peachy skin he saw in his dreams, but her cheeks were flushed a bright pink from the cold. She was taller than the average woman, and although her figure was slender, she wasn't a walking pile of bones. She looked soft and lush. Klaus could easily imagine how good it would feel to have all of that silky softness underneath his body, and he felt himself grow hard at the thought.

His eyes continued to travel down her body. She was horribly underdressed for the Chicago winter. She wore a pink shirt underneath a fitted denim jacket, and her slim black jeans accentuated her perfect curves. Dusty black motorcycle boots sat on her feet, the sight of which made Klaus' stomach clench with wanting. All women looked hot wearing motorcycle wear, but the contradiction of the rugged boots with the bubble gum colored tank top made her look positively sinful. A pair of fingerless gloves completed her edgy look. His initial impression was completely wrong. This woman was no Barbie doll. She looked too strong, too commanding to ever be mistaken for a soulless fashion mannequin.

Klaus finally stopped staring at the woman's body and quickly pulled his eyes back to her face. Her stare narrowed, cutting into him with an intensity that made him shiver in a way that had nothing to do with his shirtless state. He realized that he'd probably spent too much time focusing on her curves instead of her face. The women he usually spent his time with always welcomed it when he eye-fucked them before introductions were made, but this woman was different. Of course she was. She was his phantom beauty. Every single thing about her was automatically a thousand times better than anything any other woman could provide.

"I'm sorry, what?" Klaus knew that she had said something, but he couldn't quite remember what that something was. He'd been a bit too distracted by the fact that the woman who'd haunted his nights for so long finally had a face…and was standing in his tattoo shop.

The nameless beauty huffed and crossed her arms. Klaus found the motion utterly endearing. "I said, do you always talk to people like that?"

"Talk to people like what?" Bloody hell, what did he say when he first thought that either Elijah or Rebekah had returned? He certainly talked to them with a lot less propriety than he would to someone he'd spent the past month fantasizing about.

"Like, get the eff out. Leave me the eff alone. Bloody hell this, bloody hell that," she replied in a horrible mockery of his British accent. "Are you always so polite?"

Klaus wanted to laugh at her adorable imitation, but he didn't dare express his amusement at her. He had the decency to look sheepish as he recalled the high percentage of swears he said when he thought he was talking to his siblings. "I thought you were someone else."

"Oh."

Unsure of what else to say, they stood in place and watched each other. Much to Klaus' delight, the woman's eyes slowly appraised Klaus' body. His skin burned underneath her hot gaze as her eyes drifted over his torso, widening as they took in each of his tattoos. He had some incredible artwork on his body that many women had appreciated over the years, but her approval would outrank everyone else's admiration. He wanted her to take a closer look at his tattoos, to run her fingers over them, to trace their outlines with her tongue.

He also wanted her to take her clothes off so he could do the same.

She looked like the kind of woman who had several tattoos in hidden locations. Part of him didn't like the thought of any ink marring that pretty pale skin of hers, but he was certainly willing to look past that shortcoming if it meant he could discover those secret pictures.

"So…uh…can I help you?" It wasn't the smoothest thing Klaus had ever said to a woman to break the ice, but it would do. Besides, he still had no idea why she was standing in his shop.

She shifted anxiously between her feet. Her eyes darted around the shop as she looked anywhere but his face. "I want a tattoo."

Klaus struggled to contain his moan at the thought of making his art a permanent part of this woman. Nothing would be more erotic than marking her with his ink. His hands twitched with wanting to touch her. "We're closed now, but if you come back tomorrow I'll give you whatever you want." Did the second half of his sentence sound as suggestive to her as it did to him? Fuck, he was going to scare her off and never see her again if he didn't start to censor his words.

"No, I won't be here tomorrow," she stammered, shaking her head back and forth so quickly Klaus thought it would fall off. "I need this tattoo tonight."

"What's the rush?" Klaus couldn't stop the question from exiting his mouth. She looked so stressed. Her body shook with agitation, and worry lines crinkled around her wide eyes. Klaus wanted to take her in his arms and smooth that anxiety from her body. He then wanted to find the person who made her so frazzled and kick his or her ass for putting that strained look on her pretty face.

The woman's eyes flashed, turning a gorgeous shade of sea foam. "Look, pal, I don't have time to answer your nosy questions. Can you give me the tattoo or not?" Venom dripped from her words, making Klaus need to know that much more why she wanted a rush order on this tattoo. He also couldn't help but think how hot his little spitfire looked when he pushed her buttons. A lazy smile spread across his face.

"I'm sure we can work something out, darling."

He wasn't surprised to see her eyes darken to a deep green at the obvious implication of his words. He was, however, taken by surprise when she stalked towards him, all sparks and fire and magnificence, and jabbed a delicate finger into his chest.

"Don't hit on me," she hissed. Her face hovered a mere inch from his. Klaus's breathing hitched as they stared at each other, their eyes locked in a dead heat. She was so close. Every inch of his body screamed at him to close those few inches between them, pull her to his bare chest, and ravish her mouth senseless. Those pink lips of hers taunted him with their nearness. Would she mewl if he sucked them into his mouth? Would she fist her hands in his hair if he bit the lower one?

God, how he ached to find out.

His hand involuntarily reached up to push one of her escaped tendrils behind her ear. Her hand shot up to counter his movement, colliding into his. Electricity cracked. She gasped. She instantly pulled her hand from his as if she'd been shocked, her green eyes deep and wide and staring at Klaus as if he was a predator and she was his prey.

Klaus had never believed any of those stories about love at first sight until now.

"Tell me your name," Klaus murmured, willing himself to not touch her. He didn't want to spook her, but after months of losing sleep over visions of her, he needed to know the name of the woman who'd bewitched him so.

Her head shook slowly, though she didn't break the connection their eyes shared. "I can't."

"Please."

"You shouldn't want to know me—"

"—Klaus," he interrupted, interlacing her fingers with his. She attempted to tear her hands from his grasp, but he tightened his grip, rubbing soothing circles on the tops of her hands with his thumbs. "I want to know you more than anything."

"It's not safe," she insisted, continuing to try to wrench her fingers out of his. "I just want a tattoo. I'll pay you double, I promise, just please mark me."

Klaus almost lost it when she asked him to mark her. He wanted nothing more than to mark her in every way possible. It took every ounce of his strength to keep from taking her right there. "I don't want your money," he finally said through clenched teeth. Her booted foot did a little stomp on the floorboards.

"Then what do you want?" she demanded, the corners of her mouth turning down in a scow

You. "I'll offer you a trade…my tattoo for your name."

"But I—"

"Those are my conditions."

His beauty frowned. The color of her eyes changed erratically, shifting from malachite to bottled glass to summer grass as they stared pointedly into the distance, her resolve waging an obvious inner war against his stipulations. Klaus watched her internal conflict manifest itself in her eyes. She had to be running from something, he'd concluded that much, but he couldn't begin to presume what that something was. If he knew what made her so fearful, he would remove it from her life in a heartbeat. The intensity of his protective feelings surprised him. All he could think about was finding ways to care for this woman.

After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, she sighed, a resigned sound that suggested her acquiescence, and met his teal eyes with a staggering determination.

"My name is Caroline."

Caroline. It was such a simple name for such a complicated girl, and yet he knew that its meaning of freedom meant more to her now than ever before. Klaus repeated it softly, drawing each syllable out to make them drip from his tongue. He saw her shiver as he spoke, and he wondered if the sound of his voice had just as powerful of an effect on her as hers did on him.

"Thank you, Caroline," he said, speaking to her with as much sincerity as he could possibly convey. She nodded, maintaining their shared look for several more seconds before abruptly breaking it. Klaus shifted uneasily, all too aware of the suffocating tension that radiated between them. He took a reluctant step away from her and tried to calm his racing heart. Caroline. Caroline. Caroline. Her name was the sweetest word he could say, the most reverent word he could utter. To place his hands on her body and tattoo her would be nothing short of a religious experience.

"What tattoo do you have in mind?" he asked. What image did she want to make a permanent part of her so badly that she flew into his tattoo shop after hours? No stars or basic flowers for his girl, no, she was more complex than that. A quote from one of her favorite authors? An homage to a family member? A tribute to a lover? Klaus growled at that thought. Caroline was his. He wouldn't share her with anyone. He would kill any boyfriends, past or present, who tried to steal his Caroline away from him.

Caroline took a deep breath as she pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of her jacket pocket. Klaus watched her unfold it and smooth out the wrinkles. She looked at it for several seconds before thrusting her hand out towards him. He looked at her with curiosity before taking the paper from her fingers, careful to not touch her again. He looked at the paper for a minute before looking up at her in awe.

"A phoenix?"

"Yes."

Klaus couldn't have chosen something more perfect to ink into his Caroline than the image of the firebird. Rebirth. Startling beauty and strength. Immortality. His fingers itched to sketch the design she gave him. Ideas to personify – and therefore enhance – the image flooded his mind. This would be the best artwork he'd ever ink, he was sure of it.

"Have you ever gotten a tattoo before, Caroline?"

She shook her head, shuddering at some distant memory. "I once thought about getting a tiny star on my foot, but I chickened out."

He almost moaned at the eroticism of being the first to penetrate her skin. He disguised his longing with a curt laugh. "This is a lot bigger than a star, Caroline. Are you sure you want this design?"

"Yes." Her answer came immediately. "I…I need this. It's important to me."

If receiving this tattoo was important to Caroline, it was imperative to Klaus that he be the one to grant it to her. Whatever she asked for, he would give it to her. He didn't have the strength to deny her of anything. He walked over to his paper supply, took a sheet of plain, carbon, and transfer paper from the tops of the piles, and sat back down at the desk. He quickly shoved the partially finished drawing of his dream woman – Caroline, he could now call her – into the desk drawer. His fingers gripped his pencil tightly as the graphite danced across the page, giving slow birth to an image of a bird triumphing in the firelight. His free hand waved towards Caroline, motioning her closer to him. After several moments of hesitation, she walked to the front of the desk and propped her arms on the ledge, keeping a cautious distance from him as she watched him work.

"You're good at drawing."

Klaus laughed at the starkness of Caroline's statement. "It's good for business if a tattoo artist is good at drawing." When he glanced up and saw her downcast expression, he immediately chided himself for making her feel like a fool. "But thank you, Caroline, for your kind observation."

"You're welcome."

They became silent again. Klaus' pencil moved feverishly across the paper, adding curves and erasing lines as Caroline's phoenix emerged. Her stare pricked his skin as she watched him work. His thoughts grew self-conscious, desperate to make this design thousands of leagues better than the image she originally gave him. The quiet pecked away at his nerves and caused his hands to tremble. He tried speaking to her again.

"I'm assuming there's a story behind this design."

When Caroline didn't immediately answer, he looked up and saw her eyes go to that sad, distant place of hers. She eventually glanced down at him with a heartbreaking smile.

"It's better if you don't know it."

His gaze turned serious. "Caroline, I wasn't lying earlier when I said that I want to know you more than anything."

"You can't," she said, taking a quick step back from the desk. "I'm not a good person, Klaus. You can't get to know me."

"I can't imagine anything you could tell me about yourself that would scare me away." Klaus added some final curls of fire to his drawing. He pushed the desk chair back, stood up, and motioned to Caroline to walk towards him. The pulsing throb Klaus had felt ever since she walked into his shop intensified as she stood in front of him.

Klaus extended his sketch to her. "Do you like it?" His breathing sped up as he watched Caroline study the drawing, terrified that she would disapprove or think him inadequate. His eyes locked onto hers as she examined every inch of the paper, taking particular interest in the powerful spread of the bird's wings.

She finally looked up at him. Her eyes shone with approval. "It's perfect." He exhaled heavily at her admission, unwilling to admit just how much her approval meant to him. He smiled at her, thrilled when she returned it with a sincere one of her own. Her smile lit up the room. It made everything better.

She made everything better.

Klaus immediately began to trace the sketch on the carbon paper, making sure it was positioned ink-side down so the image would appear on the transfer paper. He was so impatient to begin tattooing Caroline. He wondered where she wanted it to go. The phoenix he'd drawn was rather large. There were only so many locations on the body that she could put it…and all of them required her to remove at least one item of clothing. He was dying to know if the skin underneath her clothes felt as satiny in reality as it did in his dreams.

"How many tattoos do you have?"

Caroline's sugary voice snapped Klaus out of his fantasies. His reprieve from them was probably for the best. "I don't actually know. Twenty? Thirty? I received some of them so long ago."

"Thirty!" Her exclamation sounded like a squeak. Klaus wondered what else he could say or do to provoke that sound from her again. "Are they all on your upper body?"

"I'm more than happy to remove these jeans so you can learn that answer for yourself, Caroline." Another squeak escaped from her mouth at his provocative comment. He sent her what Rebekah declared his "panty-dropping grin" and liked the way her cheeks flushed a lovely pink color.

"No, that's okay," she stammered, looking everywhere in the room but at him. "You can keep your pants on."

Klaus was thoroughly enjoying Caroline's flustered state. He couldn't resist teasing her a bit further. "I don't know whether to be amused or offended, darling. Do you find my appearance that unsightly?"

"No, not at all!" she stuttered, oblivious of what she admitted. "You're very, um, sightly."

Klaus raised an impish eyebrow. The light in the room reflected off the metal barb that was positioned there. "Am I now?"

Caroline immediately became aware of what her words implied. The shade of her cheeks deepened to a vivid red. "Are you finished with that yet?" she demanded. Klaus chuckled at the blatant way she attempted to deflect attention from herself. He nodded and stood up, clutching the finished tracing in his hand. Caroline watched him with a wary eye, reluctantly taking his outstretched hand and allowing him to lead her to the full length mirror.

Klaus couldn't help but be struck by how fantastic they looked together in his mirror. They were a pair of visual contradictions. The hard planes of his body balanced her soft curves. Her beauty complimented his masculine features. Together they were powerful and unexpected, edgy and strong, a perfect combination of all of their dominant physical and emotional qualities. Klaus knew he could never ask for a better woman than Caroline.

He just needed her to realize that as well.

"Where do you want this?" His voice sounded rough. Low. Guttural. His eagerness to mark his love was slowly beginning to overtake him. The hand that didn't hold the transfer paper tightened as she slowly removed her jacket and laid it on the back of the leather tattoo chair.

"My back," she whispered, the breathless rasp of her voice causing pressuring coils of heat to tense in every canal of his veins. Klaus gulped as Caroline gripped the hem of her pink shirt and pulled it over her head, revealing that much more of her perfect, unadorned skin. The urge to back her into the mirror and trace his tongue along the outline of her pale blue bra overwhelmed him. This urge, however, was quickly counteracted when Klaus took a closer look at Caroline's body and saw the multitude of bruises that covered it.

A snarl escaped his lips. His eyes turned hard and cold as they raked every inch of her body, glaring daggers at the finger and fist shaped purple splotches that sporadically covered her skin. He was going to kill the motherfucker who dared to cause Caroline pain. His fists clenched with unadulterated rage, but when he looked up at her and saw her fearful eyes staring at his closed hands, he immediately opened them and splayed them across his legs.

"Caroline," he growled, trying his best to keep his voice steady, "who did this to you?"

She wiped the rogue tears from her cheeks. "It doesn't matter."

"Caroline, I will tear whoever touched you like this apart, limb by limb."

He shook so hard that he couldn't concentrate. He wanted to hit something. He wanted to destroy anything and everything that stood in his path to murder the motherfucker who set his hands on Caroline. His body quivered, and just when he was about to punch the mirror, Caroline's soft hands reached out and touched his shoulder, instantly saving him from his lethal wrath. She tenderly cupped his face in her hand. He leaned into her touch, reveling in how comforting her presence felt. It didn't entirely quell his fury, but it certainly brought him back from the edge.

"He can't hurt me anymore, Klaus," she said, her sugared citrus voice and smell working wonders to cool his temper. "He can't hurt me anymore."

Klaus stared at Caroline, positive that his eyes glowed with his love for her. "No one will ever hurt you again, Caroline. I promise."

Her answer came quickly. "Don't make promises you can't keep."

"I keep all of my promises, darling."

Feeling somewhat more composed, Klaus gently turned Caroline around so her back faced the mirror. He was fully aware of the electricity that flowed from his touch to her body as their skin came in contact with each other. He felt her breathing speed up underneath his touch, and he released an inner whoop of satisfaction as he hovered the transfer paper over her flesh.

"Where on your back?" His voice sounded so sensitive, so quiet. It was a voice one would use to speak to his lover, full of worship and adoration and need.

"My left shoulder blade." Her voice was a whisper, soft and pillowed and full of promise. The satin sound nearly brought Klaus to his knees. He shifted the paper slightly to the left. When he thought it was located where Caroline wanted it, he met her eyes in the mirror. She nodded, her body shaking, and she reached around her back to unhook her bra and let it fall to the floor.

For a split second, Klaus forgot how to breathe. His eyes burned into hers as he pressed the paper into her skin, careful to be delicate around her bruises. When he peeled it away, he forced himself to stare into the mirror as Caroline examined her back.

"That's good."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

Klaus whirled around and rushed to his tattoo station. Although Caroline's arms covered the majority of her bare chest, the tantalizing side curve of a breast still showed from underneath her arm. That curve taunted him. Mocked him. Beckoned him to its side with a blood red fingernail. He ground his teeth in resistance as he dug out the supply of ink he required to complete Caroline's tattoo.

When Klaus finished setting up his station, he motioned for Caroline to come sit in his tattoo chair. She hesitantly moved towards the leather chair and slowly sank into it. As she leaned forward, she removed her arms from her chest and rested them on top of the chair's headrest. Klaus swallowed at the sight of her bare back. As he inserted the black ink into his tattoo machine, he heard Caroline's small voice.

"Will it hurt?"

Klaus didn't know how to answer her. Some people had a high pain tolerance and thought that getting a tattoo was no more painful than a bee sting. Others who had low tolerances for pain passed out from the experience, claiming that they felt like their skin was being forced through a sewing machine when they came to. Klaus didn't know what kind of pain tolerance Caroline had, but he was sure that this tattoo would hurt her a lot less than the person who gave her those bruises.

"It's not going to hurt any worse than anything you've already experienced," he finally said, watching her carefully. She nodded and then mumbled something underneath her breath that Klaus assumed was a pep talk of sorts. "Caroline, you don't have to get this—"

"—that's just it, Klaus," she interrupted, knowing what he was about to say. "I do have to get this. I can do this."

"Are you sure?"

She paused for a split second before bobbing her head. "Yes." She settled back down in the tattoo chair. Klaus thought about running his hand across her back in a comforting gesture, but he realized the motion would probably do little to calm her nerves. He turned on the tattoo gun. The sound and feel of the buzzing machine sent a charge racing through his blood.

"Ready?"

"Yes."

He penetrated her with the needle as gently as possible, feeling his loins clench when she cried out softly. She didn't make another noise the entire session, much to Klaus' relief. The experience of permanently marking Caroline with his art was intimate enough without her making any more sounds that were more at home in the bedroom than the tattoo parlor. He tenderly worked the needle around her flesh, thrilling in the way his phoenix came to fiery life on her skin. As he finished the tattoo outline, he noticed that her body shook.

"Caroline, do you want a break?"

She shook her head. Klaus could see several tears trickle down her cheeks. He thought about giving her numb skin a rest, but he knew that receiving this tattoo was a part of Caroline's healing process. By pushing herself through the pain of the needles and emerging from it intact, she would be assured that she would be the victor in her current struggles with life. The image of the phoenix represented her own personal rebirth, and Klaus was thrilled to be included in this process.

He could also feel smug at the fact that her bruises would fade, but his tattoo would remain. Whoever the fuck thought it was appropriate to beat Caroline would disappear from her life. Klaus wanted to be a permanent part of Caroline's life, and he would do whatever it took to show her that they belonged together. Fate had sent him his literal dream woman. He would be damned if he let her slip away from him in real life.

Klaus pushed the sunset colored inks into Caroline's skin. His tongue poked out in concentration as he blended the scarlets with the rusts with the goldenrods, creating a jaw-dropping portrayal of fire for his little phoenix. Flames licked at the bird's plumage. He added a smudge of cherry here, a dash of amber there, working and joining the colors until they looked as if they were one continuous ball of heat. A drop of white for the eyes, a line of cream to accentuate the feathers, and just a little past twelve in the morning, Klaus turned off his tattoo gun.

"All finished, darling," he said with rushed and excited breaths. Pride swelled in his chest as he stared at Caroline's back. The phoenix looked as if it could fly off her flesh and into the world. Its wings were spread in magnificent flight. Its talons curled in an act of boldness. The expression of the bird was fierce and knowing. The entire image was a true testament to the phoenix's powers of rebirth and strength through time. It was Klaus' masterpiece, and he was all too happy to give it to his love.

Klaus watched, with bated breath, as Caroline slowly pushed herself upright in the leather chair. His hands shook as she covered her breasts with her arms, having trembled during the entire experience at the feel of her underneath him. His eyes followed her with nerve-wracking anticipation as she made her way over to the mirror. She rotated her body around. His heart thumped frantically against his chest as she eyed the tattoo for the first time.

"Oh, Klaus," she sighed, her eyes growing wide with delight and satisfaction. "It's perfect."

"Really?" He couldn't help but ask. He knew he sounded like a pansy, asking for Caroline's approval, but he needed her to love and receive this tattoo. This particular piece of artwork felt like an extension of his soul, and he wanted her to have it, and he needed to know if she truly accepted it.

"Really." Her eyes looked like a kaleidoscope of green, shifting from hue to hue as her expression evolved from surprise to comfort to empowerment to one of untainted happiness. "This is just…I mean, I never thought…and all of those colors…I just can't believe it. This is so much better than I ever imagined. It's glorious and sublime and feminine and powerful and everything." She looked at him as happy tears spilled over her eyelids. "You're incredible."

"Not as much as you." The words fled Klaus' mouth before he was even aware that he said them. He didn't want to take them back. She deserved to know how amazing she was.

Klaus felt his muscles tense as Caroline's focus on him grew more intense. Her brow furrowed as she studied him, those endlessly deep eyes of hers doing terrifying and wonderful things to his body as they raked over him, putting him to some sort of internal test in her mind. The searing look in her eyes compressed the springs in his veins even tighter. He'd just spent the past two hours imprinting on her, marking her, making her his. She couldn't look at him like that, not when she was half naked, and expect him to act like a saint.

"Caroline," he breathed, taking a cautious step towards her. Her eyes grew wide as he took another step, and another step, and another step until he stood in front of her, mere inches away. Their chests rose with heavy breaths as they watched each other. Klaus prayed that Caroline would make the first move soon. He knew he should be gentle with her, but after a month of waiting for her to come to him, his thoughts were consumed with getting her in his arms as quickly as possible.

She gazed up at him, her eyes both hesitant and hopeful. "I should really get going—"

"You're not going anywhere."

Klaus didn't know what caused his restraint to snap at that moment. It could have been Caroline's talk of leaving, provoking a sense of fear in him so powerful he was willing to do anything to keep her around. It could have been their close proximity to each other, both of them topless, both of them high on the tattooing buzz and their increasing lust for each other. Whatever the reason, Klaus was tired of trying to stay away from Caroline, and he pressed his lips to hers for a quick, potent kiss.

Klaus tried to pull away from Caroline to let her make the next move, but her mouth opened underneath his, and a seedy little moan came out of those innocent, perfect lips, and he was a goner. His hands gripped her backside as he backed her into the mirror, consuming her mouth with a desperate fervor that startled him. He couldn't get close enough. He could be inside of her and it wouldn't be close enough. He lifted her and pressed her back into the mirror as she wrapped her legs around his waist, perfectly aligning their parts that needed relief the most. She arched into him, and he growled, sucking her lush lower lip into his mouth and nipping it hard.

His lips remained on her flesh, kissing and sucking at her satin skin as he walked them towards the back of the shop. He stopped when they reached the staircase that led to his bedroom, pushing her against the cool wall as he ran his tongue along her collarbone. Her fingers wove themselves into his hair and tugged, and he hissed at the sharp sensation.

"I've dreamt of you," he murmured into her neck, walking them up two steps before he pressed her into the wall again and sucked at her delicate flesh. "You've tormented me for weeks, appearing in my dreams like some phantom beauty." His fingers dug into the denim covering her ass. His lips latched onto her earlobe as he carried them up another two steps, causing her to cry out and wriggle beneath him. "You never told me your name. You never showed me your face. It drove me positively mad."

"I'm sorry," Caroline gasped, yanking his head back to her lips. Klaus moaned as she shoved her tongue into his mouth, clashing it with his. They stumbled up three more steps. Her legs tightened around his waist as she pulled herself into him, rubbing her heat against his hardness. He growled at the motion. Thoughts of removing all barriers between them flew to the forefront of his mind. He held her snugly against him as he staggered up the rest of the stairs, kicking the door to his apartment open.

Klaus shoved Caroline against the back of his apartment door. He kissed a trail down her neck as his hands shot down to the button on her jeans. He flicked it open with deft fingers and tugged down her zipper. She kicked off her motorcycle boots as he shimmied her pants and cotton panties down her legs. She stepped out of the fabric and quickly returned the action, popping open his jeans button, pulling his zipper down, and sliding his denim down his strong legs. He wore nothing underneath his pants, and his cock jutted out as he toed off his boots and jeans.

They flew back into each other's arms within a second of becoming naked. Klaus groaned at the feel of Caroline's soft skin beneath his hands. His fingers splayed across her ass, and he pulled her against his length as he ravished her mouth. Her hands sought to touch every inch of his skin. She traced a path over his front tattoos, following her trail with a series of hot, sloppy nips and kisses that made his blood dance and simmer. Her lips traveled across his chest, down his ribs, and over his hips. He watched, his eyes heavy with want, as she sunk to her knees in front of him, looking up at him with those piercing crystal green eyes before taking his cock into her mouth.

"Jesus, Caroline." Klaus' eyes rolled to the back of his head as Caroline's tongue traced a circle around his head. He had nothing to grab onto, seeing as they stood in the middle of his studio room, so his fingers latched onto her blonde curls as her head moved up and down his length. He felt his balls constrict as she sucked down around him, her mouth so hot and tight. He swore the most colorful oaths he could think of as he met Caroline's eyes, watching his cock slowly disappear into her mouth and reappear seconds later. The sight of his beauty on her knees before him was too erotic for him to handle, and his entire body clenched as she sped up her movements.

"Caroline…darling…I'm close," he grated, willing his eyes to not squint shut. He tried to pull himself from her mouth, but she hummed with displeasure. The vibration shot tremors down every inch of his cock. He came hard in her mouth with a guttural roar, sending spurts of hot spunk down her throat. Her tongue darted out and licked his tip. The sight rivaled the images that plagued Klaus in his dreams at night, and he pulled Caroline to her feet as he crushed his mouth against hers.

He could taste himself on her. Klaus didn't think anything could be more satisfying than tasting himself on his beauty. He thrust his tongue into her mouth as he wrapped his arms around her waist, kissing her with zeal as he pulled them into his bedroom and walked them to the edge of his bed.

She fell down onto his crimson sheets. Her hair fanned across the satin. Her flushed body spread itself before him like a sacrificial offering to the gods. Her pale skin looked positively radiant against its scarlet background. There was no doubt in Klaus' mind that Caroline belonged in his bed, and he followed her onto the sheets, hovering his body over hers as his eyes took in the magnificent sight beneath him.

"You are so beautiful," he said, dipping his head down to suck one of her nipples into his mouth. His tongue licked and tapped the pebbled bud, and he repeated his ministrations with his hand on her other breast. She writhed beneath him, curving herself into his mouth, holding his head tightly to her chest. His mouth jumped from breast to breast, sucking and nibbling on her sensitive flesh until the sounds of her breathless cries filled the room.

Klaus captured Caroline's eyes with a scorching stare as he pressed soft kisses down her stomach. Her breathing grew heavy as his teeth grazed her hipbone before continuing lower. He spread her legs and placed them on each of his shoulders, leaving her exposed for his viewing pleasure.

He lowered his nose to her folds and took a deep breath. The musky scent of Caroline's arousal filled his air. Klaus moaned loudly. His hands held her upper thighs in place as he moved his mouth to her center. His tongue darted out and licked a long trail up her folds. She gasped. Her hips tried to buck, but the strong grip he had on her legs kept her grounded. His tongue touched her pussy again, reveling in the way her juices tasted in his mouth. He glanced up at Caroline and sent her the most heated of looks before placing his mouth back on her. He feasted on her like a starved man. His tongue probed at her folds, tracing unknown patterns around her sensitive bud. She whimpered and clenched his sheets as he pushed his tongue in and out of her center, speeding up his actions as he felt her muscles tense below him. With a final kiss to her heat, she came hard, crying out as her legs squeezed his shoulders.

Klaus kissed a trail back up Caroline's body until his mouth was back on hers. He twined their fingers as his lips melted against hers. He'd never felt so connected to anyone before. His mouth moved sweetly against hers as he positioned himself at her entrance. He tenderly lifted his lips from hers to meet her eyes. She nodded. Her hands gripped his tightly as he slowly slipped into her.

He closed his eyes for a brief second at how good it felt to be inside of her. When he was finally able to open them again, he saw that Caroline had shut her eyes as well. He wanted to see those gorgeous green pools as he moved inside of her, and he pressed a gentle kiss to her lips to coax her eyelids into fluttering back open. Their fingers remained interlinked as he rocked into her, gently easing his way in and out of her wet heat as if he had been made to be with her alone. She met him thrust for thrust, wrapping her legs around his waist to take him in deeper. He discovered that she sighed when he entered her from a specific angle, then realized that she would moan and squeeze his fingers if he swiveled his hips a certain way, so he continued to rock and press and grind into her as a steady stream of sighs and moans and cries fell from her lips. He felt her muscles tense beneath his, so he sped up his movements, calling her endearments like "darling" and "little love" and "Caroline" because her name was the sweetest affection of all, and when she clenched beneath him and cried out, he continued to move within her until his release came seconds later. She blinked and stared at him, and he smiled and kissed her sweaty brow. When he tried to move off her, she linked her arms and legs around his body like a little spider monkey, and he chuckled at the motion and held her close to him, because he could never get close enough to her and he didn't really have the strength to move anyway.

Klaus finally rolled off Caroline, but he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his side. She sighed and nestled into his arm, releasing a rumpled, adorable growl when he moved to turn his lamp off, emitting an equally adorable purr when he returned to her. He brushed an escaped lock of her hair behind her ear, and she left a gentle kiss on his chest, and they both drifted off into a sated sleep.

He woke her three additional times during the night, sliding into her with movements more effortless than breathing. The first time he slipped into her from the side, lifting her leg and nudging her with his length until he was inside and she was panting and he kissed her phoenix as they came twice. The second time he pulled her on top of him, palming her breasts as they bounced with her motions. He told her that he loved her and kissed her look of shock away. The third time happened as the sun began to peek over the horizon, and he took her from behind as they watched daylight filter into the room. She whispered that she loved him, and he felt his heart swell as he pulled them back beneath the covers.

When Klaus woke up for a fourth time, his arms stretched out to search for Caroline. His bed was empty. His eyes shot open, and he sat straight up in bed as he glanced around the room. Her boots and pants were missing, and he didn't see a note. Swearing loudly to overcome his flash of panic, he wrenched the sheet from his bed and raced to the apartment door, down the staircase, and into the tattoo shop.

As he burst into the room, he saw Caroline shoot upwards from her crouched position. She'd already dressed in her jeans and boots, and she held her discarded bra, shirt, gloves, and jacket in her hands. Her expression was a mixture of shock and guilt. Klaus stormed over to her, his eyes blazing with fury.

"Were you even going to leave a note?" he demanded, backing her into the mirror. His arms rose on either side of her, effectively trapping her within his grasp. She couldn't meet his eyes as she shook her head.

Klaus snarled at her response. "Did last night mean that little to you? Do you tell every man you fuck that you love them?"

"No, Klaus! I told you last night that you shouldn't want to know me, and I meant it. I'm not a good person. I've done bad things and now I'm on the run to avoid their consequences," she spluttered, haphazardly trying to fasten her bra behind her back. Klaus tore it from her hands and ripped it into two pieces, letting them both fall to the floor.

"You told me you loved me," he growled, pulses of hurt creeping into his voice. "You told me that you loved me…why would you leave me?"

"Because the last man I said I love you to beat me within an inch of my life, and I had to kill him to get away from him!"

Klaus' motions stilled at Caroline's confession. He took a small step away from her, feeling helpless as fat tears fell down her cheeks. She sank down to the ground, clutching her head in her hands as she cried a river of tears into her fingers. His heart broke for his beauty, and he fell to the floor with her, wrapping his sheet tightly around his stomach as he slid to her side.

"Caroline…don't cry, little love…please don't cry, darling," he soothed, taking her into his arms. Her tears felt hot against his cool skin, and he kissed her hair as her sobs calmed down.

"His name was Tyler. He's the mayor's son, and she hates me and lets him get away with everything, and she knows that I killed him and I had to get away, Klaus, I had to get away," she blubbered into his arms, wiping her tears with half of her broken bra. "I can't stay here with you, Klaus, it's not safe for either of us."

He held her tightly to his chest. "I don't care what you've done, precious firebird, I'm not leaving your side. I just found you…how can I let you go?"

She sniffled, burrowing her face deeper into his side. "I dreamed of you too, you know," she admitted. Klaus' head snapped down to look at her.

"You did?"

Caroline nodded. "You never showed me your face or told me your name, but every night for the past month I dreamed that I was with you, and it was perfect, but I always had to leave you behind, and it broke my heart as much as it broke yours."

Klaus couldn't help but laugh at the intricacies of the world that had given him and Caroline shared dreams. "You were still going to leave me this morning though, despite having found me."

"Only because I need to keep you safe," Caroline insisted, pushing herself out of his arms. "I'm serious, Klaus. You can't come with me. I'm not going to screw up your life by being in it."

"Firebird, I'd be a ruined man if you weren't around." He pulled her into a standing position and gestured towards her fresh tattoo. The colors and ferocity of the phoenix seemed more vivid in the morning light than they did last night. "I'm running with you. You got your wings last night. Give me twenty minutes so I can get mine."

"What do you mean?"

Klaus nudged her towards the back steps. When she stood at the foot of his staircase, he crushed his lips to hers in a kiss that they both felt in every inch of their bodies. He finally pulled his mouth from hers and rested his forehead against hers.

"You and I are leaving Chicago today. Go shower in my bathroom. My sister leaves her stuff in my bottom drawer when she spends the night. She's about your size, so you can probably find a bra of hers to wear underneath your clothes. I've got to take care of something first, but I'll be upstairs in twenty minutes. There's a Greyhound bus terminal located ten minutes from here, so we can go anywhere we want."

Caroline had an incredulous expression plastered to her face. "But what about your shop? And you don't know anything about me! What if—"

Klaus cut her off with another searing kiss. "I love you. I don't want to spend another second without you. Do you feel the same way?"

Her answer came immediately. "Yes."

"Then we leave here within the hour. Now, go!"

He swatted Caroline on the backside as she ran up the stairs. The movement of her muscles gave her phoenix's wings the illusion of flight. The impression was fitting for what they were about to do together.

Smiling at the image of his firebird in motion, Klaus strode back into the empty tattoo shop. He grabbed two more sheets of carbon and transfer paper and sketched a quick image. Satisfied with its appearance, he applied the paper to the parts of his feet behind his ankles. He loaded black ink into his tattoo gun, started it, and pushed it into his flesh. Within twenty minutes, he had four little Hermes wings surrounding his ankles. He cleaned up his station, wrote a quick note to Elijah and Rebekah, and bounded upstairs.

Caroline sat on the edge of his bed. She stood up when he walked into the studio apartment and studied his new tattoos. "Hermes?"

Klaus nodded. "He protects travelers."

"We're going to need that protection," she muttered. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Caroline," Klaus said, placing his hands on her shoulders to steady her. "My life is wherever you are. A month was too long to live without you. I will not submit to that pain any longer."

"You're giving up your entire world to be with me," she breathed. He stroked a finger tenderly over her cheek.

"You are my entire world now, my little firebird, and now that we've both got our wings, we can fly together."


Was anyone else fascinated by the Klaroline scene at the end of Our Town? Joseph Morgan and Candace Accola are golden together - I am so interested to see how this relationship plays itself out! This story's not my usual cup of writing tea, but please do leave me some review love and let me know what you think!