Here we are. The big ending—and it really is big, almost 9k words.
I'm not going as far as to demand you reread the previous chapters, but it would certainly make me very happy, since I haven't updated this in forever, and I just want to make sure you don't have a tough time following the timeline and whatnot. But if I'm lucky enough to have people who loved this so much they committed scenes and inside jokes to memory, just soldier on.
Well, here we go… this one's for all of you.
They throw another ball.
It's extravagant and totally unplanned, but Rebekah comes home from another day of playing at normalcy to find Elijah giving explicit instructions to the hired workers on how to properly dust the delicate chandelier. Kol is mopping the floor with a miserable look on his face—
("Didn't we hire people to do this?" Kol grouses as Klaus passes by with an armful of stained brushes, just as sour-faced as he is.
Amelia barks and wags her tail, licking up any spots Kol might have missed, which he pretends to be annoyed by, but Elijah sees him sneaking her a treat when everyone's back is turned)
—and Klaus has been ordered to put all his dark oil paintings away and clean up his art studio.
Caroline comes and helps dress her up in gold and puts flowers in her hair. Rebekah opens her eyes after Caroline allows her to, and doesn't shy away from the mirror. They laugh and shimmy and twirl and even after Caroline leaves to get herself ready, she still studies her reflection, equally pleased and perplexed by how she looks—different, yet just the same.
When Elijah calls her down to the sound of champagne flutes clinking together and soft music swelling under the sound of chatter, she places a soft hand on the oiled Rosewood banister ready to float down the grand staircase when voice calls out, stopping her.
She turns around, slightly annoyed, and it's Elena.
Elena's dressed in black lace, and Rebekah doesn't know why, but it infuriates her. "Wearing black to my ball?" she asks snootily, not waiting for an answer. "Charming." She's about to turn her back on Elena, but the doppelganger wench calls out to her again.
"What?" she snaps, her fingernails digging into wood. "People are waiting for me."
Elena bites her lower lip and glances to one of the closed doors behind her. It's her room. The fact that Elena knows her place around the mansion well makes Rebekah's blood boil. "Could you come with me?"
Rebekah wants to ask why she should, but Elena has this look in her eyes, and Rebekah just can't place it. Despite hearing Elijah call for her, insistently this time, Rebekah leaves her post by the top of the stairs and follows Elena into the dark.
"I can't, Elena."
Caroline's face is pushed close to hers, dark shadows playing across her face, making her seem almost menacing with the glare of the flashlight under her shin. The covers are pulled tight and taut over their heads, and they are whispering.
"I told Klaus I'd respect any decision he'd make," she says.
"Even if it hurts him," she says.
"Even if it hurts me," she says, but this time her eyes flit away.
Elena understands more than anyone, but she's seen too much, gone too far, but felt too little. She hugs her teddy closer to her chest and closes her eyes. "Yes, but—"
"It's something we don't even understand, alright?" Caroline whispers fiercely. "The Originals' bond. They came to this decision together, and I think they're leaving with it. Together."
"But I figured—"
"You meant well." Caroline's face softens. "Remember in kindergarten? When that little bitch Brad Woods was shoving Bonnie around in the sandbox? You wouldn't let up on him until he'd left all of us alone." Caroline smiles at the memory. "It took months. You're the most stubborn person I've ever met, Elena."
"Then you know I won't just let this go," Elena says, so soft even Caroline has to strain her ears to listen. The blonde sighs and says nothing. They lie that way, cold feet tangled in warm ones, their noses almost touching together, until both of them fall asleep.
When Elena wakes up the next day, Caroline's side of the bed is already made. Already at school, no doubt. Elena stretches up to go shower, but then she spots it. The small vial filled with something thick and red on her dresser. She lifts it up with careful hands: the blood hits the morning light and gleams.
"Really." Rebekah looks down at the two vials clasped in each of Elena's hands with an incredulous look on her face. "This is your solution?"
The room below them is a swirl of sweeping gowns and golden light and tinkling laughter. Over here in her room the lights have been put out, no room for imagery. The hearth has been put out and Rebekah shivers from the cold, from anger – she's not sure which one.
"Vampire blood," Elena says, her voice shaking. "And mine. I—I'm not sure if… just, drink them, one after the other, stay here with us, live—"
"And if it doesn't work?" Rebekah demands, stepping closer. "This might be some fun experiment for you, but this is my life. My family's life. This is our choices, and your help is not one of them." She shoves the vials out of Elena's hand, expecting them to shatter, but they merely thud on the carpet.
"It's worth a shot," Elena insists, but it's weak at best as she bends down to pick up the vials again.
"I am not just worth a shot, Elena," Rebekah air-quotes. "I am everything your blood is made of. I am bigger than this house, bigger than this town, bigger than this curse." She shakes her head and backs away. "I'm sorry."
Elena blinks, surprised. "I am too."
For a moment, sardonic laughter fills the crevices of silence in the room. "No, I'm sorry you feel like you have to swoop in and save the day every time."
Heat rushes to Elena's cheeks. "And I'm sorry that you feel like you're above help. Open your eyes, Rebekah. Yes, I get that you're royalty, but put down your sword and crown and just see what you've always failed to before." She's shaking. She's angry too. "Our lives don't have to be like this. I'm not always out to hurt you."
"You've been remarkably bad at proving otherwise," Rebekah spits. All this scowling is probably ruining her eye makeup, but she can't help but want to tug at her hair and just scream whenever Elena Gilbert is around. Here she is, bright and bursting with gold on the night of her ball, a night meant to celebrate her, but here she is, mind wrapped around Elena Gilbert yet again.
Fuck Elena Gilbert.
"I hope you live a happy and long life," Rebekah begins, lifting her chin, "because that's how I intend on living out the rest of mine. So either you dance or you leave. It's your choice, and certainly not mine."
Elena looks crestfallen. "Rebekah—"
Rebekah sweeps out of the room. Her grown trails behind her with an air of finality.
Stefan and Klaus are sitting right in the middle of the vast Mikaelson theater: Stefan with his feet up and Klaus with a hand placed too casually on the side of his face. It occurs to both of them that they haven't so much as been in the same room together save for Rebekah's driving lessons, and considering what happened last time – all the murdering and the scheming and the burning and the screaming – yeah, it's weird.
But they're drinking, so that gives them something to do. The movie playing goes on for a while, scene after scene unfolding before them, and they're nearing the end of it before Klaus finally breaks the silence.
"When all of this…" Klaus pauses, before resuming in a level voice, "When all of this is over. This house…"
Stefan watches Klaus battle his sentence. Best to let him finish it.
Klaus takes a deep gulp of his liquor and leans back, his eyes on the ceiling. "I want you to take it down. The garage, the greenhouse—all of it. The stables, the fountain up front. The trees." Klaus pauses again, reconsidering. "Maybe not the trees. Finn seemed to have a certain fondness for them."
Stefan looks around them, trying to imagine the place as dust and rubble and bricks crumbling beneath his feet. He can't.
"It will be as if we were never here," Klaus says, eyes still on the ceiling. He takes another swig of his drink.
"I would've thought you'd want us to remember you. The Great Originals. Leaping through dust and through time; outliving even memories."
"Stefan. Dear, naïve Stefan." Klaus props his feet up, swirling his drink around. "What do you think is going to happen to us when time runs out?"
Stefan frowns, not following, but it's alright—Klaus hadn't been expecting an answer. The hybrid's mouth is a grim smile slashed across his face, and he says, "Do you think we fade into nothing, perhaps get carried by the wind? Just disappear into oblivion?" He snorts. "I highly doubt it. In our final hours, we will be human, dying a human death. There will be no spark and there will be no bang. Our flesh will rot; our teeth will crumble and fall away. We're likely to turn to ash beneath your boots."
Stefan turns his face away, and for a moment the room seems to be swaying.
"Not the delightful imagery you were imagining?" Klaus asks of Stefan's silence.
"So stay." When did his voice get so scratchy? "Stay here. With us."
"In this desolate little town, with no one to pray for us?" Klaus barks out a laugh. "Before Mikael's miserable life was ruled by hunting us down, he was quite the religious man. He would pray. Pray for our foul, desperate souls, even as the sun burned our skin and blood streamed from our lips."
"I guess he rubbed off on you," Stefan says with a bitter taste in his mouth from the liquor.
"I'm just lost, Stefan," Klaus admits gaily, swinging his glass in Stefan's direction. "Lost but not quite alone, and sometimes I find it's just as terrifying as being infinitely and utterly alone."
Even with the soundproof walls, Stefan hears bells chiming from somewhere in the mansion.
Somehow, Klaus hears it too. He stands and shrugs on the jacket he'd draped over the back of his seat in one swift movement and smiles at Stefan. "The guests are here. Let's make ourselves look presentable, eh?"
Stefan's hand moves to touch Klaus' shoulder as he passes, and yeah—it's weird.
The champagne tastes lovely on her tongue.
She feels like she's made of bubbles, effervescent, rising right off the toes of her shoes when she's dancing, held at arm's length one moment and then drawn to Klaus' chest the next. He's warmer than he's ever been, and all the dancing has got his blood pumping—she can hear it rushing in his veins, thunderous, glorious.
He's panting a little too, a delight to watch as she twirls around him—
and then she catches sight of Elena. The events of this morning comes back at her in a rush, and she misses Klaus' awaiting arms and plants her face right in his collarbones, and not gracefully either.
"You alright, love?"
"Yeah," she says over the music and smiles, but she's actually still trained on Elena and the way her smile strains to shine the way her hair falls over her shoulder. She's dancing with Elijah with swan-like grace, far from the way Klaus and Caroline fight on who gets to lead, with their hands grasped in each other's so tight she doesn't quite know where her fingers end and he begins.
The beads on Elena's dress glint red when the lights burn just a little lower to suit the smooth transition into a much slower song, and Caroline calms down, takes a deep breath and rests her head on Klaus' shoulder.
His lips brush against her earlobe just so, and she can't help shivering.
"I helped Elena with a project this morning," she murmurs into the curve of his neck. Klaus holds her closer when her voice hums through him. When she looks up, she can see the smallest peek of his teeth as he smiles, the space where, before, a fang would have peeked through.
"Phase three of Operation: Dick?"
"You totally know it's Operation: D.I.C.K.," Caroline chides playfully, where days ago she would have picked a fight over it. Maybe it's the champagne, or maybe it's just the buzz of being in a beautiful room surrounded by beautiful people that she feels mellowed out tonight. "It's more of a life project. Like picking-out-which-college-you're-going-to huge. Except not really?"
Klaus' eyebrows furrow in confusion. "Come again?"
Caroline shakes her head, curls swaying lightly. She'd pulled it up into an elegant bun, but all the dancing had caused it to come lose. She'd wanted to fix it, but Klaus had said he liked it that way, so. "Never mind. I'm just having second thoughts, that's all."
"Caroline Forbes, having second thoughts about helping someone?"
She jumps, definitely not expecting a voice that close to her ear. Kol smirks, pleased as he is that he'd unsettled her. "That will be the day."
Caroline jumps, not expecting Kol's voice to be so close to her ear.
Kol grins at her startled expression, delighted at all of this, and sidles even closer, if that's possible. It disrupts the dance she is sharing with Klaus, but maybe that was his plan all along when he dips his head and holds his hand out. "Mind if I cut in?"
Klaus looks like he very much minded, but Rebekah stamps up to them at that very moment and plucks Caroline's hand off of Klaus' shoulder.
"I just had a thoroughly exhausting row, and Stefan's nowhere to be seen," Rebekah informs her brother haughtily. "Dance with me before I make a scene at my own damn ball."
Kol shoots them a What do you know? look, rather mockingly, while Klaus sighs, resigned.
Exasperated, Caroline accepts Kol's extended hand, but makes sure they dance as far away from Klaus and Rebekah as possible. She'd expected him to be heavy with quips, but all he does is compliment her dress.
Caroline shoots him a smile. "I actually got to pick my own, this time."
"I thought I recognized my brother's taste in that last dress you wore," Kol says triumphantly. "You looked beautiful then, as you do now."
"Thanks," Caroline says uncertainly.
Kol chuckles, spinning her around. "Come now, Caroline. I would've thought from all those near-death experiences we had, we'd have shared a bond by now. No need for all that awkward jibber jabber."
Caroline relaxes in his arms, allowing a more genuine smile to peek through. "Let's just get this dance over with," she says, but there's no hostility there.
"First you deny helping people, and now you're refusing to let me enjoy my first dance with a beautiful lady in centuries?" Kol raises an eyebrow. "How the winds have changed."
Caroline's about to respond, but Kol's already laughing (heartily, she might add).
"I apologize," he says, but he looks more amused than he is sorry. "For a second there I sounded like my brother. Finn."
Kol's still laughing, but there's something sad about it too.
Bonnie's standing awkwardly to the side and looks like she wants to change her mind entirely and just leave when Stefan walks up to her with a flute of champagne.
"You look great," he tells her, but she doesn't smile.
"I'm not sure why I'm here," Bonnie says, biting her lower lip. "I pretty much secured their deaths, didn't I?"
"And yet here you are, with an invitation."
"An invitation to what exactly? An apology from me?" she snorts, fingers gripping her drink tight. "Unlikely."
"I'm not telling you to apologize." Stefan surveys the room, one hand in his pocket. "Just take it as it is. They've been kind of zen lately."
Bonnie shrugs, and they clink their flutes together.
Matt steps through the doors of the ballroom then, his suit—the same one he'd worn to the last ball—blending into the crowd, but the expression on his face very out of place. He spots Bonnie and Stefan, and his shoulders bob in relief.
"Two balls in just one month." Matt plucks a champagne flute from a passing waiter, but at Mrs. Lockwood's disapproving glance he puts it right back, and stares sullenly at the flutes in Stefan and Bonnie's hands. "They sure know how to live it up."
Stefan's smile is tight. "Sure they do."
It's such a tapestry of fine food and finer music, a pretty moment to be captured in photograph, but Elena finds herself steering away from the cameras at all cost.
Elijah, realizing this, slides his hand off her waist and finds himself leading her outside, through the back where there's nothing but miles and miles of green and trees, illuminated just so by twinkling lights.
It's by far the grandest house they've ever lived in (not counting the manse back in 1492, of course) but that's not why he's going to miss this place. Elena's fingers are wrapped loosely in his, thumb brushing against each other's every so often as they step out into the dark.
"You've not got anything up your sleeve, Elena?" Elijah asks gently.
Elena smiles and walks on ahead of him. After a while she turns back, walking slowly backwards. "I'm not wearing gloves this time, Elijah." She grins, running her finger down the smooth skin of her arm. "I'm bare for the world to see."
Not bare enough, but he keeps these thoughts to himself.
"And I've come to learn… that maybe it's okay." Her hair flits about her face as she spins a slow circle around him. "I've done all I can. You'll be okay. So that means I'll be okay."
Elijah reaches a hand out to stop her, and she reaches out just the same to place his hand on her cheek. "You're leaving tomorrow. I can tell."
"You don't…" Elijah clears his throat, tries again. "You don't know that."
She shakes her head and steps closer. "You have that look in your eyes."
"That it's time to move on." She rests her forehead against his, and Elijah closes his eyes. "You Originals weren't made for small towns, she says. You get restless, you leave. It's in your nature."
Soft laughter at the truth in her words, and he presses his lips to hers. "Is this your version of a good bye?"
Elena doesn't answer. Instead, still walking backwards, she guides him until the back of her dress scratches against the rough bark of a tree. The kiss deepens—she's hungry for him and him her, his hands in her hair and her fingers clutching at his shirt, ripping away his bowtie and picking at his buttons. Her fingers scratch down the skin of his chest and her legs find a way to wrap around his hips; the sound he makes against her lips is not entirely unfounded.
Dazed, breathless, and everything in between, he pushes her hair away from her neck and thinks what a curse it is, to desire the things that will destroy him in the end.
Rebekah leans over the banister and giggles, heady with champagne in her veins. She can hear Stefan's echoing footfalls as he follows her up the winding staircase, and she holds the nearly-empty bottle of Krug to her chest as she tries not to trip over her feet.
The guests have long left and their laughter echo through the hallways as she runs, and he chases. She's breathless by the time they make it to the empty ballroom. She doesn't bother turning on the lights as she traipses across the vast room to the balcony.
Stefan's outlined in silver in the moonlight and she loves it—he looks like he's stepped right out of one of Nik's paintings.
Rebekah's perched on the stone railing, chilled to the bone. Her feet dangle, and she kicks off her thousand-dollar shoes. She's still trying to catch her breath.
I wonder, Rebekah says, if I fall now, would it kill me?
If I just let go of this railing, Rebekah says.
Would it be like in the movies?
"A fall from grace, a crack in the head," Rebekah says, and then giggles.
"You're morbid when you're drunk," Stefan tells her, his eyes dark. "It's fascinating."
"We're dying by my mother's design," Rebekah says, daring him to come closer. "I wonder what she would think if I took it into my own hands."
Stefan shakes his head. "Don't let go, Rebekah."
She signs, leaning back, and he just manages to catch her by her waist. She laughs at this, a tinkle in the night. "Don't be daft, Stefan—I wasn't going to jump." She cranes her neck to look up at the night sky, a wistfulness in her eyes. "Just enjoying the night while I can."
Stefan lowers his head to her neck, but she stops him with a gloved hand. "Don't kiss me. Not just yet." Slipping out of his arms, she takes hold of his hand and leads him back inside. "I've something to show you."
"Where do you think they're going?" Kol passes a flask to Damon, eyes peering through his binoculars.
While the horses have long been led away to their stables, the carriage still remained outside. They're cooped up inside with enough liquor and cheese puffs to last them several nights of espionage.
Damon pulls a face, euch. "I'd rather not find out. And it's kind of weird that you want to."
Kol laughs darkly. "Damon, you know nothing of how my family works."
And that, Damon stabs a finger in Kol's direction, is another thing he would have been happy to live not knowing.
Anyway, Damon says, why does this feel eerily like a farewell party?
"Maybe it is." Kol shrugs easily. "This would be my first. Quite lively."
Damon kicks his feet up and hunkers down. "I'm planning on making this my last. I have had enough of balls to last my lifetime."
Besides, he adds, do you know how much dry-cleaning costs?
"Nope," Kol says. "These are just trivial things that belong to your trivial time. Hey—don't hog the whiskey."
"So I was right—there is some part of you hoarding away pleasure from this." Damon raises a fist, triumphant. "Like a sneaky, twisty chipmunk."
"To die would be an awfully big adventure," Kol says simply. It sounds like a toast.
It also sounds like Kol's been watching one movie too many. Damon claps his hand on Kol's back and snitches the binoculars. "Ooh, they're totally in her room now."
It's in the corner of my room, she says, and lets him find it.
It's not the flickering candles she'd lit or the way the bed looked especially inviting, don't be a perv, she tells him in a slightly breathless voice, cheeks pink and eyes bright.
"This," she says, and nudges him towards an open suitcase.
Rebekah looks a little bit excited, a lot scared, her eyes shining. He doesn't think he's ever seen her look so alive.
Her suitcase is filled to the brim with coats, hats, espadrilles, sunglasses, spare sunglasses, spare-spare sunglasses, with lip gloss to match her bikini and lipstick to go with a little black dress. Stefan looks from the dress to Rebekah to the dress again, touches it with a light finger.
"I don't know, a drive maybe. It's just an overnight-trip thing." She doesn't meet his eyes.
Stefan sighs and zips up her suitcase for her. It didn't look like an overnight-trip thing to him nor did it look like trip at all. It looked like she was skipping town altogether, not that he blamed her. He supposes, given the chance, he'd up and leave as well, go on a round-the-world trip, those rock-hard pretzels in New York or those fish sticks in Penang, the ones with the sweet-spicy sauce. Maybe live in a house by the sea, no ambitions, no need to prove a single damn thing to anybody, nothing but radiant happiness.
He'd be so damned happy he'd probably have to go on another Eat Pray Love venture to redefine happiness.
"You're being quiet," Rebekah says (just as quietly). "Not thinking of growing another beard, are you?"
It sounds like a joke, but he can hear the minute threat in her voice.
Really. Stefan knows by now.
"Nah," he says, and tilts her chin up with his index finger. She looks expectant. Her breathing's uneven, her lips parted just the slightest. "Just thinking what a pleasure it has been, driving with you."
(He wants to remember her like this, but he also wants to remember the way the sun shone and the trees moved the day he ran into her—after so many days of running into her—somewhere in Mystic Falls, looking forlorn.
"No," she snaps, side-eyeing him. He's in his car, rolling inch by inch to match the pedestrian pace she's going.
"Every time I pass by I see you wandering around."
"Nik and Elijah are too busy to drive me to school," she tells him, but it doesn't come out catty as much as miserable.
Stefan rolls his eyes. "Why don't you just drive yourself?"
Rebekah's eyes flash and she spins on the heels of her flats to fully glare at him. It's rather frightening, especially how low her voice is when she hisses, "I just woke up from a 90-year slumber, do you really think I know how to drive?"
"Maybe you should learn," Stefan retorts.
Rebekah raises an eyebrow. Haughty. Challenging. "Are you offering?"
Stefan regards her coolly. "Maybe I am.")
Rebekah clicks her tongue, breaking through his reverie. "Well, aren't you going to kiss m—?"
"Getting to that," he murmurs, and despite fate, circumstance and a treacherous curse, when their lips meet it's like they are kissing for the first time all over again.
The drive is silent, without even Rebekah's slow jazz music filling the air. Elijah has his arm propped on the door, and in the backseat, Klaus is busy putting the finishing touches on his now-filled sketchbook, and Kol tries to initiate an overly-enthusiastic game of footsy every three minutes or so. Amelia's sitting between them, alternating between resting her head on Kol's lap or letting out a bark every time Rebekah drives past a large green sign proclaiming how far she's gone.
After a while she turns out of the highway and onto a quaint little road, shaded with trees and blanketed by the azure blue sky. The wind ripples through her hair and Klaus is scratching Amelia between the ears and Elijah has a smile playing on his lips and Kol dangles his arm out the window, letting the air graze his skin, and everything's going great, until they see a squirrel scurrying across the road. Everyone immediately stops what they're doing to zero in on Rebekah and the vice-grip she has on the steering wheel.
The car doesn't veer off the road, neither does it let out that godforsaken screech every time Rebekah brakes. It comes to a smooth stop. Rebekah's giving them a smug smile, Hello, I've got my driver's license, and while she checks on her lipstick in the rearview mirror, misses how Kol's mouth drops open and how Klaus' drawing hand stills. Elijah turns to look at his sister.
"Bekah," he says. Not Rebekah, not sister, but Bekah. "I think you've got it."
Amelia scampers into her lap and Rebekah tries her hardest not to cry, but she does anyway.
Kol pulls a wicker basket out of the trunk and plops it down onto the red-and-white checkered blanket (of course), and tells his siblings that Damon had packed a picnic for them—
("And I really did pack it," Damon tells him almost gruffly as he thrusts it out to him. "Not because I wanted to," he adds. "No choice. Alaric's out sick."
Kol takes the basket with a curt nod, and doesn't mention how he'd seen the man walking around Mystic Falls hand in hand with that Fell doctor, looking as healthy as can be.)
—and starts setting out the food on the minute cliff. The sandwich has a crunch to it ("Doritos and peanut butter," Rebekah comments dryly after she's peeked at the contents. "My favourite."), but the strawberries are sweet and the dressing on the salad hits just right. Elijah picks up a brownie with a small smile, but sets it back down again. Amelia, in between begging for scraps, chases butterflies.
A little ways of, Ole Betsey stands solid and strong on the smooth road. Silhouetted against the afternoon sun she doesn't look defeated and battered, but rather the beauty of a carriage she had once been nearly a century ago. They all find themselves looking at it, and as the shadow of the car grows longer on the road and as their meal is finished off, Klaus fishes his car keys out of his pocket and rolls his eyes at the beaming look on Kol and Rebekah's face.
Amelia whimpers, and Klaus breaks.
"Oh, go ahead," he says with a weak imitation of a grumble. Rebekah and Kol scamper over each other in their excitement,
Kol's right hand covers Rebekah's (who covers Elijah's, who has one hand against the hood of Ole Betsey and the other on Klaus' shoulder) as they give the car one final push, Amelia barking away. The car rolls down the slight hill and bumps at the rocks peeking through the grass, and enters the lake slowly as if testing the water. Ole Betsey doesn't go quickly: the water around her splashes and bubbles, and the vinyl top even comes off. It's a scene eerily reminiscent of the sinking of Titanic (Elijah would know; he'd been there) and equally as painful—for Klaus, anyway. There's a droop to his shoulders as he flicks his car keys after her, and the arc of the key as it swings through the air to splash into the water is as good as any goodbye.
After that, there's a long silence.
There isn't much left to say.
"So… about that roadtrip," Elijah says genially as they watch Ole Betsey's front bumpers float for a fraction of a second, before finally going under in a flurry of gurgles.
Klaus crosses his arms over his chest, eyes still on the now-still surface of the water. His voice is thick when he asks, "Where to?"
"Doesn't matter." Elijah shrugs, hands in his pockets. "Kol?"
"Sounds good," Kol says agreeably. He nudges his sister with his shoulder. "Maybe we can find Finn. Drill into that thick skull of his."
"No sense in letting him go at it alone," Rebekah says, trying to match her brothers' airy tones. Amelia's ears seem to perk up in agreement.
They settle down on the grass, propped on their elbows and crossed at the ankles. The sun lowers and soon sets, basking everything in its red glow. Rebekah's about to rest her head on Elijah's shoulder, before it hits her. "How the hell are we getting back home?"
A phone call and a squabble later—
("It's a car service Kol, not a death march," Elijah says wearily. "Come out of the tree."
"You are utterly unlearned in the subtle art that is roadtripping," Kol snarks, his hand wrapped around Elijah's phone, which he had swiped just as Elijah was about to press CALL. "One does not carpool."
"…Brother, don't you think road trips entail carpooling?"
"Yes—well, I—that's not the point!" Kol's brandishing the phone. "We are not calling for any cars, or so help me I am never getting down from this tree."
Klaus, who had been sitting against aforementioned tree, drawls, "That doesn't sound half bad. Use my phone, Elijah."
Kol lets out a strangled cry and drops down on Klaus.)
—Elijah's standing at the side of the road with his thumb sticking out upwards (Kol wins).
This is ridiculous, he mutters, but Kol just grins and sticks his fingers in Amelia's mouth, making her smile as well.
"This whole running-off-into-the-sunset thing seemed awfully romantic when we actually had, you know, a car," Rebekah points out, swatting Kol's hands away from Amelia. She'd all but given up trying to hail a ride about an hour ago. Klaus hadn't even bothered to try.
"I swear to the higher beings above," Elijah swears to the sky, "if a car drives by I will give the entire contents of our offshore accounts to the owner."
No sooner had the words left his lips a car looms up over the swell of the road in the distance. Rebekah squints at it in the moonlight, and Kol stops messing around with Amelia's face to stop and stare.
Elijah just exhales his exasperation in one long breath.
It takes just about forever and twenty minutes for the car to reach them, and then the window rolls down to reveal—
"Matt?" Rebekah blurts out.
Even Klaus flips his sketchbook shut.
Matt, not used to being stared at so much, shifts in his seat. "You guys need a ride or something?"
"What on earth are you doing so far from home?" Rebekah asks.
"Uh, Caroline wanted fabric samples from the next town over, and—Jesus, will you guys stop staring? It feels like I'm being deputized."
"You most certainly aren't," Elijah assures him. "But you are about to be propositioned."
And this is how Matt finds himself standing on the side of the road in the oncoming twilight, blinking down dazedly at a string of numbers written on a napkin, in Elijah's neat print.
"Good bye, darling," Rebekah says, leaning out the window, but it's not for Matt—it's for Amelia, who's looking downcast, sitting obediently by Matt's dusty boots. "I'll miss you," she says thickly, fighting back tears.
She had picked Amelia up and hugged her for a long time while Elijah was calling up his accountant (who was, as it happens, also a vampire—Elijah had found him much too valuable to leave to the meddling of nature).
Klaus spends time ruffling up her fur and telling her she's a good girl, and even Kol kept clearing his throat thickly when it was his turn to say good bye.
"Get her to Stefan," Rebekah tells Matt, who just nods.
"Good bye, Rebekah," Matt says, voice gruff from the emotional turmoil in his chest. "Have—have a safe trip, I guess."
Klaus taps him on the temple as they're about to leave. "You. Don't forget."
Matt tightens his grip around Amelia's collar, just a little terrified. Of course he wouldn't.
Klaus gets the call about three hours later, when the stars are out and Rebekah's crammed at his side.
"Stop the car," he all but snarls, and Elijah curses and slams his foot down on the brake—
Rebekah is hurled against the dashboard hissing—
A dozing Kol is slammed against the partition window that separates them and the of the back of the truck, grunting something frightful.
"What is it?" Elijah sounds wary, urgent.
"Caroline called," Klaus says cheerfully and hops out of the truck before his siblings can throw him out of it. He makes sure he's a good distance away, with the crickets singing and the leaves rustling in the wind, before he answers.
"Took you long enough," her voice, made sharper by time and distance, snaps at him. Klaus stops in his tracks and rubs the back of his neck, the beginnings of a smile forming on his lips. "I got your sketchbook."
"Your friend Matthew has a bright future in the delivery service," Klaus remarks, but Caroline doesn't laugh.
"You left without saying goodbye. Seriously, Klaus?" Caroline sounds quite upset, but she's not crying or anything which kind of irks him a little, but whatever. And then she has to add: "I don't know who taught you the misconception that dramatic exits were needed in every single occurrence in life, but they were severely wrong."
Oh. So she's angry.
"And—and I don't even want your sketchbook."
Maybe a little hurt.
"Caroline," Klaus says softly. "I'm sorry. Maybe you should throw it in a river."
"Maybe I should."
"Yeah, alright," Klaus says, amiable, "but before you do that, just take a look at it."
Caroline huffs, and the sound amplifies against the speakers. "Not in the mood for your moody selfies, Klaus."
"Come on, Caroline," Klaus laughs. He's started to pace. In the car, Rebekah's started glowering at him, Elijah has his sleeves rolled up, and Kol's found his way into yet another tree.
Definitely not a good sign, so he turns away.
"Fine." There's a rustling of pages. "A wolf, another wolf, some sad looking peanut, a picture of—seriously?"
"In my defense, you really do look beautiful when you're asleep," Klaus says of the sketch he has of her. This time, he's not smiling—the cotton in his throat does not allow it. "What else do you see?"
There's silence on the other end as she keeps fliiping, until finally—
"A map." A pause.
Klaus clears his throat. "Not just any map."
"A map of a farmhouse. With geese too, so what?"
"You know Caroline, for a girl who's determined to be on every semester's honour roll, you can be remarkably daft." Klaus glances back at his increasingly-impatient family, raising an index finger, one moment. "Turn the page."
Klaus closes his eyes, waiting, and then there it is. The gasp.
"Tickets to Nice?" Caroline asks. He has to strain his ears to hear her voice, hears it grow from barely above a whisper to a feverish rush.
Klaus never knew he had it in him to sound so gentle, especially in the moment he says, "So you can visit Steven. There's an extra ticket as well, should you want to bring anyone."
(And he's hoping fervently that that 'anyone' would be Stefan—he trusts Stefan. Stefan would keep those handsy locals off of Caroline, keep her safe. Not that she needs any taking care off. But seeing as he wouldn't be able to do it himself…)
"Klaus, I—thank you, so much, but I just—"
"You have to," Klaus says, gruff. "I know you have a hard time accepting gifts—from me—but you know what? You're just going to have to put your issues aside and take it. Something tells me there won't be much of these little surprises after this."
"There's more?" she tries to laugh, but it sounds a bit watery.
"Let's not give away all my secrets all at once." Klaus opens his eyes again and looks for something, anything at all to stare at, to alleviate the bursting he feels in his chest: he settles on the stars. With his phone pressed against his ear to the sound of Caroline just laughing and gushing away, he feels a heaviness in him that has nothing to do with the curse weakening his system.
He walks on, eyes still tracked on the sky above him, celestial and vast. Who constructed their elements, shaped their formations? Determined the birth and death of a new day, a new time when things seemed utterly hopeless, like they did only twenty-three days ago?
"Thank you, Klaus," Caroline says quietly, not a single emotion betrayed in the unwavering of her voice, her voice that, even from miles away, manages to dismantle him every time. "Thank you for – for your honesty, for everything."
"Well," Klaus says, and clears his raw throat yet again. "I'd best be off."
He's pulling his phone away from his ear when he ears her say, "No, wait—"
And so he waits. With bated breath, with his heart in his throat, with his fingers gripping his phone so tight it might shatter in his hands.
"I…" Caroline's sentence trails off in nervous laughter. He imagines her sitting on her porch, staring up at the many shades that make up the night sky. She'd never really been able to figure out what colours they were.
Klaus doesn't want to prompt her, so he finds a tree and gets comfortable leaning against it. Above him, he hears Kol snigger.
After a while, Klaus just says, "I know."
"No, you don't," Caroline says in a rush. "It's not like, a declaration of love or whatever."
Klaus nods, even though he knows she can't see him. He knows. By God, he does.
"But I really do—"
"I know," Klaus says again, a hard edge to his voice this time. "Caroline, I know. And I want you to know that it doesn't matter. It should, but it doesn't, because I am at the point of no return." He looks down at his feet, wishing he could say those little words, but he finds that he can't.
Another time, another place.
If he's lucky, another life – but let's be real now. So instead, he says, "Good night, Caroline."
"Good night, Klaus. I won't forget you."
The line goes dead.
Kol drops down from the tree, but this time next to him instead of on top. "Things went well, I hope?"
Klaus doesn't answer, just puts his phone back in his pocket (the image of Kol throwing Elijah's phone over a cliff is still fresh in his mind) and walks back to the truck. Rebekah's shivering now, but she doesn't look so angry.
Elijah just nods at him and asks if everyone's ready to go.
"Hold on a sec," Rebekah says as she scooches out of her seat. "Just going to grab my coat from my suitcase. Kol, could you bring it down for me?"
Klaus settles back in his seat, lets his eyes trail past the star-speckled patterns in the sky. He hears Rebekah gasp and asks absently, "Something wrong, Bekah?"
"Nope," his sister responds after a moment, and his trail of thought continues. Busy ruminating, he doesn't notice Rebekah shakily fish out two vials from between the layers and layers of clothes in her suitcase and quietly slip them into her coat jacket—two vials filled with blood, just enough for five people to share.
He still has the strangest urge to slam his foot on the brake when he sees a squirrel. Sometimes he even slows his car down to let it scurry past, ignoring the blaring honks and the obscene words of the drivers behind him.
Sometimes he feels her next to him, when he's driving to school. Sometimes he thinks of her when Bonnie hangs up more posters around the hallways: thinking of all the dances she'd wanted to go to but in the end, never getting to.
Sometimes Amelia pulls her head in from the window and puts her paw on his knee, like she knows.
He has to stop the car then.
Life goes on, Stefan learns.
(Caroline's schedule becomes more and more hectic in the last few weeks leading up to prom, insisting on making it bigger and better and brighter than the one she helped Elijah throw. Elena starts discussing Duke with Alaric, staying late at school and oftentimes being the first to reach homeroom. Damon leaves for a while, and when Stefan searches his room for clues he discovers that Damon's brought nothing but his DVD collection with him.
He leaves nothing but a note that says, See you when I see you, brother.)
Stefan finds Caroline at the field (already in her buttercup dress and her lips dolled up in red), just sitting at the bleachers, staring out at the vast green nothingness. She doesn't have her serious vampire face on (did she even have one? he wonders) which doesn't worry him, but she isn't even wearing her usual smile (which does). She's just staring.
He calls out her name but it gets carried away with the wind in its faintness. After a while, he tugs on his bowtie and bounds up the bleachers to where she's sitting, two steps at a time. She doesn't look up when he goes right up to her—doesn't say hi—but he wraps his jacket around her bare shoulders anyway, in lieu of a greeting.
"It's cold," he says, and even though she can't feel it, she hugs his jacket tighter.
He slips into the seat one bleacher down, his elbows just grazing the toe of her lace-up heels. The breeze picks up and as the sun sinks further down the sky, she still hasn't said a single word.
He considers reaching for her hand, but he's not really the hand-holding type—not anymore, he thinks. But the way her hand is just peeking out of his jacket sleeve, curled loosely like an invitation, becomes a stitch in his side and eats away at his mind.
Tunnel vision, he recalls absently. Caroline had always said he had tunnel vision.
Mentally kicking himself, he reaches for her hand.
"Is there something you need?" she asks eventually, tracing circles on the back of his hand. It's not an uncomfortable sensation, he finds.
"Just to talk," he says, and leans back casually. "I'm surprised you didn't go all out. Just tumble out of a limo dazzling everybody."
Caroline offers a small smile (he surreptitiously taps his knee with a triumphant finger at this) and says, "I'm surprised you did."
"Only because it's all you ever talked about. The dress you've dreamed of all your high-school life." He gestures at her dress, va va voom, "a corsage made of your favourite flowers, even if it doesn't match aforementioned dress—" he pulls out a daisy chain from his pocket and quickly slips it over her wrist before she can pull it away in surprise. "A perfect gentleman—" he smirks to himself, "to pick you up from your front porch. The perfect prom."
When she doesn't say anything, he continues: "But you weren't there when I drove up to your house."
"About that…" Caroline blinks down at the flowers, her cheeks tinged pink. "Funny how things change," she says honestly, and drops her head into her free hand. "Everything's going as I hoped it would. I mean, I'm still at the top of my classes. Still Student Body President. Still throwing the prom to end all proms…" She trails off, and heaves a sigh. "But why does it feel so… inconsequential? Like everything I do, no matter how much thought I put into it, isn't going to amount to anything, anyway. What will I have to show for this? A couple of pictures." She presses her lips together, turns it up into a smile that doesn't reach her eyes as she says brightly: "Pictures fade away over time."
"But we won't." Stefan raises their hands still linked tightly together, and gives it a light shaking. "We're never going to."
"I won't let us," he says.
Life goes on, Stefan learns. (He's surprised he'd forgotten that.)
"There you are," Elena says, a little worried (a lot exasperated) as she picks her way to where Caroline and Stefan are. "Bonnie's about to hold a search party for you—the DJ isn't here yet."
Caroline lifts her head from Stefan's shoulder and groans. "I called the guy five times this morning and he sounded as high as a fricken' kite." She chews on her bottom lip, her mind already whizzing past Plan B and C and even F, but it's half-hearted at best. "Okay, prom starts in an hour, I'm sure we can find someone…"
She starts, because find someone they did.
Damon's staring up at them at the foot of the bleachers, standing straight in his shiny Italian shoes, slicked-back hair, and a tuxedo so sharp and black and cutting. He looks like a character straight out of a Nolan masterpiece, save for the daisy chain-as-a-bowtie at his neck.
("Stefan got me into them," he shrugs at their stares. "I was expecting a warmer welcome but I guess your adoring gazes will have to do.")
"Damon," Elena finally gasps. "When did you get back?"
"An hour ago," he says simply. "So are you guys planning on staying up there forever or…?" By the time he's made his way to where they're all sitting, a light breeze is starting to pick up. No one shivers but Elena, in her midnight blue creation.
"You sure are a gloomy looking bunch," Damon says. "So gloomy that I might just skip this whole prom thing altogether, if you don't mind."
Caroline's about to retort, for the forty-second time, that he hadn't even been invited in the first place, until he says: "I mean, I have other cooler things to do. And when I say things I mean a Model X Duesenberg, and when I say do, I mean… drive."
Caroline feels her eyes widen. "No. No way. Only one other person has the exact same car Klaus did, and that person happens to be—"
"Jay Leno?" Damon dangles a set of keys in her face. "My old buddy JayJay let me borrow it. And when I say borrow, I totally mean—"
"Shut up, Damon," Elena says, still trying to piece everything together. "You are not friends with Jay Leno."
Damon just smirks. "So what do you say?"
It's a no brainer, really.
Just as Caroline's about to grab for the keys, he pulls his hand back. "Let me tell you though, not just anyone can drive this baby. Only someone with expertise and experience should, could and so definitely would."
"Someone like me?" Stefan asks. The smile on his face drips derision, but he's enjoying this, Caroline can tell.
"Exactly!" Damon says, almost making rooster-choking gestures in his excitement that finally, finally someone's catching on. "And maybe said someone could teach other people said expertise. Share the love and whatnot."
Caroline looks at Elena meaningfully. "Well, you did back your car into that fire hydrant."
"That was one—"
Even Stefan's starting to look gleeful now. "And our prom's theme does happen to be the Roaring 20's."
"Really, Stefan?" Caroline asks, clapping a hand to her mouth. "And what era did you say this car was from?"
"He didn't," Damon supplies. "Well what do you know, old Duezy here was manufactured right around 1927, wasn't it?"
Elena rolls her eyes, but Damon is undeterred. "Like a sign from the Goddess Athena herself."
Elena sighs, resigned, but there's a smile on her lips and bounce to her step as she picks her way down the bleachers to the green. "Well, come on then—"
But Caroline's already beaten her to it, laughing the whole way, Stefan's hand clasped in hers. Damon flicks the keys at his brother, who catches it.
They all traipse down the field in something that looks eerily reminiscent to a Breakfast Club moment, when Bonnie appears, apparently already knowing what they're up to.
Bonnie has her arms crossed. Damon doesn't even bother with the pleasantries, just raises a hand and zips out of there; see ya, followed by Caroline and Stefan, who both cast guilty looks at Elena before making like a banana and splitting.
"One," Bonnie begins coolly, "Our DJ cancelled. There's forty minutes to prom."
"Yeah, about that…"
"Two," Bonnie continues, "what the hell is so important that you're willing to skip prom for—"
Elena raises her arms in defence, her corsage sliding down her wrist. "Bonnie—"
"And three: Can I come with?"
Elena gapes at Bonnie, and then a moment later they're bundled up in a hug, laughing into each other's hair, the air around them smelling like flowers and sweet, heady hair-product.
"So where are we going?" Bonnie asks once they've pulled away.
I'm not sure, Elena says, probably somewhere around town.
Stefan's teaching me how to drive, Elena says.
put down your sword and crown
come lay with me on the ground
You don't know how long I've been dying to type out those last few words.
I can't believe we're finally here, almost two years since I first published it. It's crazy, it's surreal, and I kind of want to cry a little bit, because this has been my baby, and most of you have been here since day one, and I wish I could just hug every single one of you for the endless support and enthusiasm and amazing feedback I've gotten.
I've never finished a story before, and yet here we are, at just over 56k words. Surreal, I tell you. This story hasn't always been the best—some of it is just plain old silliness, and sometimes, reading back, I even cringe a little. On more than one occasion I've thought of just deleting this whole thing and starting over, but then I read the reviews… and start seeing my fic (and my writing, and in retrospect, myself) in a different light. In a better light.
I'm just going to leave it up to here. Thank you for taking the time to read and (please, please, please do) review this. Thank you. Thank you.