Open up your Lovin' Arms (Watch out here I Come)

ch. 2: Koroline

... ... ...

"I've taken it upon myself to develop our slogan."

She's sitting at a small table with Elena (definitely made to fit only two people) when Kol slaps a rough sketch down on the place mat in front of her. The drawing is crude; not so much as a stick drawing, but there's two bloated circles with eyes; one with embellished lashes and full lips, and one with spiky hair. Their names are scrolled at the bottom in Old English cursive, looking very much hand drawn.

The catch phrase: Koroline.

"It's perfect!" he says as he slides into the booth beside her, squishing her against the wall.

She pushes the paper back, ex'ing out their faces.

"Um." She cocks a brow, but she can't help the smile that stretches across her lips. "No."

But Kol ignores her rejection and picks up the paper, studying it closer. "We'll take an actual picture," he says, studying the drawing and carrying on as if she hadn't spoken at all. "It's just like, oh, who were those people now..." He taps his chin in thought, his dark eyes studying the ceiling. "Ben... Fer... what?"

Elena looks up, grinning, but Caroline just rolls her eyes. "You mean Bennifer? As is Jennifer and Ben?"

Kol snaps his fingers, turning to face Caroline. His eyes light up and he offers her a wide smile. "Yes." He nods. "That's it!"

But Caroline just snorts, because really? Bennifer? Okay, they were only from like, a decade ago. "First of all, we're not combining our names because we're not running together." She points at his chest, wagging her finger. "And second of all — where did you even see that?"

Kol shrugs nonchalantly, reaching across her to pick at the small triangular slices of pepperoni from her pizza. "Bekah had a magazine lying around."

Still so old, but Rebekah has been incapacitated since the 20's so . . . Caroline doesn't even want to know what she's come across since then.

But Elena is a bit more curious, and speaks up, looking directly at Kol. "Can I ask you something?"

Kol doesn't snap at her or whittle off a condescending remark, just frames her with brows raised in expectation, and a curious smile. So Elena takes that as her cue to continue and leans forward, resting her folded arms on the table.

"You don't know what you're doing for any of this, do you?" she asks. "The point of all of this?"

Kol narrows his eyes, but nods (somewhat reluctantly). "No, I do not."

"Then... why are you doing it?" She shakes her head, her confusion so plain and evident on her face. Elena really is like an open book; most of Caroline's friends are, their emotions visible on their faces and in their body language, but the one thing that Caroline absolutely loves about Elena: she never has to guess. She never feels jaded with Elena because whatever she gets, it's real. Always. "I mean, why is it so important to you? You haven't even been here the entire year."

Kol shrugs and glances down at Caroline's glass of soda, taking to tracing the Coca-Cola sign on the front. Whether he's feigning disinterest, she can't begin to know.

"Because people like me," he answers simply.

And that's a trending theme, Caroline's noticed, amongst the Original siblings. Klaus, Rebekah, Kol now, too. She thinks that maybe he shows his real age in moments like these. Maybe they all do. She definitely sees the loneliness that they hide behind savage masks of brutality and overly-assertive self-confidence, and she thinks that maybe they aren't so different from the rest of them; they just want to be accepted, loved unconditionally.

She feels bad, but, for like only a moment. Because she's not so sure what Kol's done (how impressive his rap-sheet is), but she knows for a fact that he came out of his coffin literally itching to kill. And yeah, maybe after one hundred years of being stuck in a coffin with a dagger in your heart and no blood, you'd kind of be itchy too, but, being a vampire doesn't mean that's how it has to go down.

(Which she can attest to, because she has first hand knowledge of this.)

Character assessment— Kol: blood-thirsty (pun intended) killer.

Character assessment — Herself: Mostly innocent Barbie vampire.

So, no. Absolutely not. No way was she voluntarily going to run with him, let alone empathize with him. If he wanted friends, he could make them. Killing friends of those friends: not really the way to go.

"And I want to beat my sister." — And of course, his real reason.

Elena sighs, propping her elbow on the table and her cheek in her palm. "She's running too?"

"Yes." He nods, chuckling with a pleased sense of mirth, "With your blond beefcake of a friend."

Ugh. Fan-freaking-tastic.

She doesn't even know what's worse: Rebekah running, or Rebekah chasing after Matt. Again.

Her phone beeps with an incoming message, and she cups her hand over the screen when Kol leans over her shoulder to peak. "Ha!" He grins jovially, "Too late! I saw it!"

Caroline just rolls her eyes, and pushes against his shoulder. "Whatever. We have to go."

He lets her push him from the booth, but his lips narrow and his gaze bounces between them, warily, as they throw a few bucks down for tip, and begin to gather their things.

"So the campaign?" he calls after her as she turns away from him, reaching out a hand for Elena. "I'll call you!"

"You don't have my number," she retorts from over her shoulder. She doesn't even blink when he yells —"I'll get it from Nik!"— and just keeps walking, trying her best not to huff or like, show any sign of emotion at all.

She can totally feels his eyes on her, and if her intuition is right (if the burning sensation that prickles at her skin is right), his eyes are fixated on a less than appropriate attribute.

... ... ...

"So what were you thinking?" Matt questions when she gets out of the car, and her and Elena meet him at the sliding doors of the local Lowe's. In truth, she hadn't really thought too much about it; she was kind of more engrossed in the blank expression that Klaus had stared at her with when her car broke down, looking indifferent to her rejection for his help.

She didn't want to spend more time with him — doesn't want to spend more time with him, but she just sort of had expected him to . . . well she's not really sure what she thought he'd do. She's not delusional; she hadn't expected him to jump out of his car and offer to explore the engine, dig around for the problem and then promptly fix it free of charge (that last one is especially a stretch), but she'd sort of expected . . . something. Something else. He's been, what, pinning over her for the past two weeks?

They haven't really talked since the incident in her room, but she sort of just thought that he'd have held onto some of those feelings. Seriously though, he'd been intense. Wooing her, courting her — or attempting to. Do feelings like that just, just go away?

Hers certainly don't. She'd cried over Matt for seriously how long? And like, even when she'd had Tyler, before they'd cemented their relationship, there was some part of her that couldn't let Matt go — and they hadn't really even dated for all that long.

"Maybe like a puppet booth?" Elena suggests, and her voice slices through Caroline's subconscious like a hot knife smooths through butter. She glances up to find a pair of light eyes and a pair of dark eyes, respectively, watching her, waiting for her in put.

"Caroline?" Matt questions, and his brows furrow and he gets that look on his face like he's tasting something sour that he doesn't particularly like. "What do you think?"

"Hm?"

Matt's eyes narrow and he folds his arms across his chest, leveling her a frown. "What's up with you?"

But Elena saves her from answering, "She's just got a lot on her plate, with the dance committee and Rebekah and Kol."

And that reminds her: "Hey, so what's up with you and Rebekah?" She goes all Mean-Girl on him, her head moving levels and her hip pops, and she's not trying to be argumentative or confrontational, but seriously? Rebekah? The Evil Blood Slut? It's a wonder the guy is still alive after turning her down once. She wonders if he has a death wish or something, because this whole Rebekah business is bad new bears.

She totally loves all her friends and would do anything for them, whenever, and she'll always look out for them (because that duty falls on her, now that Tyler is MIA), but sometimes it's just . . . exhausting, and they aren't like, trying not to put themselves right in the hands of danger (that goes by the name of any of the following: Damon Salvatore (more or less), Stefan Salvatore (a little more more than less), Klaus (no explanation necessary, but she can't really help that he's pinning for her, you know?), Rebekah Mikaelson, Kol Mikaelson... even Elijah Mikaelson, for crying out loud! — Hello, he was willing to sacrifice Elena after promising that he simply needed her assistance in killing Klaus! His apology after the fact shouldn't invalidate that, should it?).

She'd like to enjoy just one dance without worrying about who might die before the night ends.

Matt shrugs, and when he looks down at his shoes with pursed lips and cloudy eyes, Caroline knows she's put him on the spot.

Good, she thinks, he should be nervous. Maybe that'll keep him away from The Evil Blood Slut.

"Nothing," he says, kicking at a brown scuff on the glossy wooden floor. Caroline glances at Elena, who shakes her head knowingly and holds up a finger.

Don't push him, she's saying, let him be. But Caroline just doesn't have that kind of self control, and she wants answers! Dammit!

So she pushes. "Are you, like, running? For Prom King?" A silent beat passes between them, and Elena looks away from them both. A peach tint warms her cheeks and she inhales, holding her breath in her chest the way she does when she hears something she doesn't like. But Caroline's already broached the subject, so too late to turn back now! Plus, she needs to get down to the facts.

"Yeah, I guess." His eyes are bright when they land on hers and she sees the regret, the apprehension in them. The only person more expressive than Elena? Matt.

"Against Tyler?" So, maybe she's jumping the gun because she hasn't actually even spoken to Tyler yet, but he's going to be back in time for ball, she just knows it.

But Matt's eyes are sort of accusatory as he narrows them on her. "How are you gonna make that happen, Caroline?" he snaps, his voice low but unbelievably soft. "He's not even here. You can't run by yourself."

But that's okay — she has a plan! "No, he's not," she agrees, "but I'm gonna just . . . use Kol until Tyler comes back, then enter his name as a write in ballot." People do it all the time, and Tyler's popular. No problem.

Elena turns so swiftly that her hair flies around her in an elongated halo, and she tilts her head. "So, you are going to run with Kol, then?"

Crap. She'd just dug herself into a corner.

"Because if you run with Kol," Elena continues, rolling her hand as she contemplates Caroline's predicament, "that means that you'll have to actually run with him; like, be his date and wear matching colors."

Caroline frowns. She's not really pleased about it, but what choice does she have?

"Unless you just tell him that you're not going as dates, but you will run with him?" Matt suggests, shrugging one shoulder. "I mean, it's not like you have to actually go with him."

But she she's not sure how she can work that out. "Yeah, but once he realizes that I'm not actually running with him — like, when Tyler gets back and we enter him as a write in contestant, he's going to know something's up and that—"

"That's when he goes psycho," Elena finishes for her, with a sigh.

"Yeah."

Seriously, these Originals can just go stake themselves and burn their own coffins because they're are not doing a single person an ounce of good. Not even Elijah, who Elena likes to hum and hoo over, contemplating his whereabouts and whether or not he's thinking about her (which, yeah, maybe she sort of has something for Elijah? It's totally weird and not really cool at all though, because he's still an Original, and there's really no guess as to which path he'll take at any given moment, but it's only natural that Elena overlooks that, because... well it's just another day in the life).

None of them say anything then, and Caroline pretends that the weight that rests on their shoulders, the tension that lines her back and keeps her spine rigid, isn't a sense of impending hopelessness.

... ... ...

"Ah." Kol greets her with a grin. "I knew you'd come running eventually."

She just rolls her eyes and shoulders past him, stepping into the Mikaelson Manor. It looks different than she remembers it; much too open, big rooms with bigger spaces and expensive gold trim. The ceiling bursts into a an intricate design in medieval cathedral style, and four large, thick Persian rugs are hung up above the door, hanging from golden colored string twined together.

"Look," she says, pinching the bridge of her nose. "I've come to make a deal."

Kol's eyes light up with excitement. The way to an Original's heart, she thinks.

"Come." He pushes her forward, guiding her into the kitchen. It's large and everything is expensive and brand new; sparkling titanium steel refrigerator/freezer set, pure marble counter-tops, an island counter big enough to serve as a dining table in itself, and a cappuccino maker whistles from the corner of the room, near the stove.

"Care for a drink, Caroline?" he asks, graciously, courteous pretenses in place.

She rolls her eyes, and crosses her arms. "Oh, so you do know my name?" she comments as she folds herself into a tall bar-styled chair on the side of the island counter. He just shrugs and reaches into the fridge, pulling out a glass pitcher (it sparkles with crystals and Caroline doesn't even doubt for a second that each and everyone is real, and hand crafted — and that the thing was either stolen from a royal palace, or the owners were compelled into giving it away). He points and pulls a glass from the cabinet above his head.

"Would you—"

"No," she interrupts him, eying the coffee machine. "But I'd love a latte — no fat, no whip."

He scrunches his nose at her and she figures she's confused him with her order. He stares at her for a moment, perplexed, but then his expression goes sort of blank, placid-like and he holds his hand out, snapping his fingers.

"Delfie?" he calls, and a few seconds later a middle aged blond woman comes scurrying in. She doesn't make eye contact with Kol; won't even look at him. He tells her that his 'guest' would like a latte: no fat, no whip? and she nods, slipping around him. As Delfie prepares her drink, Kol turns back to her and leans his elbows on the table, bringing his fingertips together (she's not going to acknowledge the similarity in the motion to another Original she knows).

"So," he grins, and his voice carries, echoing in the space around them, "let's talk merger."

It's kind of like making a deal with the Devil. Or, one of them. Kol Mikaelson definitely has a set of horns hidden somewhere, and he's already got that sparkly black eye trick down pat.

"The prom," she begins, but he cuts her off.

"You'll run with me?" His grin is boastful and he raises his brows, shrugging noncommittally. "I knew you'd come around."

But Caroline holds up a finger. "I have conditions," she says, and he groans (really, he groans, like a child, and swings his head back like she's just demanded he go clean his room or something).

"Conditions," he mimics, his nose crinkled in disgust, and arms folded. "Alright. Do tell."

So she does. Holding up a finger, she rambles off her terms: "One: we aren't actually dates. We just have a common goal, so this is more of like . . . a partnership."

Kol's eyes roll to the ceiling and he strokes his chin, contemplating her first condition. "A partnership," he says slowly, tasting the term on his tongue. At Caroline's nod, he fixes his gaze back on her. "So then, I'm not responsible for you?"

"Um, what?"

"I don't know, Bekah said that Matt has to pay for her ticket and flowers or something such." He shrugs, uninterested. "But if we're not dates, then you buy your own ticket."

Ha, how convenient.

But, "Well, it is the gentlemanly thing to do . . . but no, I'm perfectly capable of buying my own stuff." Though, she wonders if maybe it'd be a good idea to coordinate, to at least fill the gag. She's going to coordinate with Tyler too, obviously (she's totally going to go ahead and order a tux for him), but prom is in three weeks, and the ballots go out next Friday; she doesn't have a moment to spare, and she needs this crown). So, pretending that she doesn't despise Kol?

Well, her acting skills have improved dramatically since she's been involved with Klaus and Katherine and stuff, and like, she did an amazing job tricking Katherine that one time at Tyler's house when they were trying to kill her, and even just recently, she wasn't even nice to Klaus, didn't extend an ounce of charm (but it was an act, mind you: the hard to get thing), and he still followed after her like a lost puppy, so she thinks that Kol, who's essentially Klaus-lite, will be easy enough to play, too.

Everyone has a game, she thinks, hope they like mine.

"Good." Kol nods, and that cocky grin is back. He looks so pleased with himself, so smarmy and apathetic and just, ugh. It digs beneath Caroline's skin, because these Originals may be 'Originals' in the literal sense of the word, but really, what have they done? Any of them? Nothing. Aside from Klaus killing people... the rest of them, Caroline thinks, are smug just for owning their title.

"I'm not done." She holds up another finger. "Condition two: we coordinate."

Kol's smile falters a little bit at that, but when she glares at him pointedly, he finally gives up with a huff and shrugs. "Fine," he sighs. "—But no pink."

Well, she's more of a red kind of girl . . . but for the sake of being agreeable, she just shrugs and rolls her eyes.

Kol purses his lips and steps away from the island, and folds his arms as he leans back against the counter top behind him. His eyes roam the length of her (and she scoffs because he totally lets his eyes linger a little longer than necessary on her chest, but whatever, he's a guy and she has nothing showing anyway), and he frowns, his expression just short of disgust.

"No purple," he adds, spitting the word like it's vervain on his tongue.

But she can't make any promises because she does love purple. But then again, Tyler won't wear purple, and since she actually does care about his opinion and how he feels, she's not going to subject him to that.

So she agrees, "No purple," but all other primary, secondary, and tertiary colors are free game. When she tells him this, he just tilts his head and stares at her, his expression slated somewhere between confusion, boredom, and amusement, and it's just too difficult for Caroline to decipher.

She doesn't get to think about it anymore though, because Klaus comes sauntering into the kitchen a moment later, a shiny guitar slung from his shoulder. And okay — he totally steals her attention, which is kind of unfair because he doesn't really make a show of acknowledging her. He just shoves Kol out of the way (literally, his hand is on Kol's shoulder one minute, and the next, Kol is flying sideways into the wall to his left), and tends to the fridge.

Kol regains his composure and comes to stand beside him, and that cocky grin is back on his face, and Caroline can just tell (be it from the impish sparkle in his eyes?) that Kol's about to instigate something. She hasn't even really seen them around each other that much (though she knows they have a special kind of relationship), and she's almost . . . nervous to see how this exchange goes. Kol totally reminds her of the pesky younger brother (she's never had) that likes to wind up his older brother just for the sake of seeing the conniption later.

And she's right, because her assumption comes to fruition a moment later when it manifests in the form of Klaus' guitar. She doesn't know much about guitars — anything really, but the one hanging from Klaus' shoulder just looks expensive, and when the polish catches the glare from the ceiling lights — it actually glints.

Caroline had no idea that Klaus played the guitar, but then she thinks that it totally fits the whole tortured-soul thing that he's got going on. Aren't all tortured souls artists or musicians? Isn't that like, part of the equation? If you're a tortured soul, then you must be either an artist or a musician, because you need the swirls and strokes of grays and blues to delve into, to paint out the things you can't say, or the smooth flow and the head-banging notes of music to transfer your feelings into?

"Brother," Kol greets, slipping around the island. It's probably a strategic move, because now, not only is the island separating him from Klaus, but he's pulled up a seat beside Caroline, and she has no doubt that if Klaus was to come at him, Kol would totally use her body as a shield.

Klaus turns, pulling a thick tumbler from a shelf above his head, and pushes it beside the bottle of Cognac that he's already set out. Caroline gets a glimpse of the label and rolls her eyes (it definitely said something about being the oldest known Cognac in the world, which doesn't at all surprise her, because one — he is like, the oldest person in the world, and two — she's sure that he probably stole it from a palace in England or something).

"How nice of you to take some time out of your busy day writing sappy love songs about Sweet Caroline here," Kol wraps an arm around her shoulders and nods pointedly, "to join us for a drink."

Klaus' eyes narrow and his jaw tightens, and he gets that same sour look on his face that he usually gets when Stefan manages to get one over on him (oh, and he gave her that look when she told him that she knew that his issues stemmed from the fact that his father didn't love him at the ball the other weekend).

But Kol pushes on anyway. He angles his head down to her, and smiles jovially. "Honestly, Caroline, you should hear him: strumming away on that thing," he levels a finger at the guitar, "singing ballads about unrequited love and the beauty with the golden hair..."

Okay, and Caroline's not sure that Kol is telling the truth, but she hears something akin to a snarl come from the back of Klaus' throat, and his eyes have gone that dark, stormy gray color that usually precedes some sort of attack (is it bad that she knows that?).

Klaus leans forward, looking every bit as threatening and menacing and angry as someone nick-named 'The Big Bad' should look (as declared by Damon).

"Say another word, Kol," he snarls, his eyes narrowing into dangerous, dark slits, "and I'll take this guitar, and shove it down your throat." But Kol just grins, shrugging like he's not at all phased (which he's probably not. She's seen him laugh off two other similar threats of bodily harm).

Apparently, Klaus wasn't done with his threat though, because he leans in a little closer and adds, "And then when you finally regain consciousness, I'll pull it back out, and use the strings to suffocate you."

Which is a really gross mental image, because the handle would have innards all laced through the strings and that's just gross, and totally not a visual she needed, thanks. Seriously, sometimes she wonders why she puts up with these people; all they do is talk about organ extraction and suffocation and If I don't get my way, I'll kill everyone you've ever met.

She misses the days before Stefan rolled into town, bringing along Damon and Katherine with him, when the gist of her conversations were everything sweet and innocent and right in the world, like cheerleading and the spring formal, and how many calories do you think are in chili cheese fries?

And like, now that she thinks about it that way: God, her life is so messed up. (Or her non-life, if you wanted to get technical.)

Caroline feels awkward now though, because Klaus is glowering at Kol and Rebekah comes flying through the door, shrieking at Kol (FYI—Mikaelson family theme . . . today, it's something about barmy brothers trying to upstage her), and then alternating to Klaus, demanding that he take her dress shopping because she doesn't have a credit card, and Caroline thinks that she's just about welcomed her stay.

So she slaps her hands on the counter, which sort of grabs their attention as she pushes herself away from her chair, and points to the door. Klaus and Kol both watch her, the former with an expression that's just a muddled mix of everything he's feeling (and too much too think about), and Kol thoroughly looking like he's enjoying himself.

Rebekah however, barely even spares her a glance. Which is fine with Caroline, because she's still pissed about Rebekah hijacking the dance and forcing the stupid Roaring 20's theme on them.

She leaves without a goodbye, and slips from the house unnoticed (she thinks).

... ... ...

"Okay, this is everything I got." Matt dumps a pile of wood and nails in front of them, later in the afternoon the following day. He holds out three plastic containers filled with various sized nails, and hands a hammer to Bonnie, Elena, and Caroline. The latter two just sort of stare at him, with matching, what exactly do you expect us to do with these expressions, but Bonnie seems satisfied and drops her hammer beside her, and reaches for the wood.

"Did you bring the sketch?" she questions Caroline as she organizes the wood into groups based on their sizes.

Caroline hands it over, gladly. "Thanks for helping me with this, guys," she says. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

Bonnie smiles, but Elena just sort of gaps, and she does that inhaling-holding-breath thing again, and Caroline crosses her arms, frowning. "Alright. Spill."

Elena looks over at Matt and Bonnie, like she's confirming their backup (maybe she's not, but Caroline has been hanging around too many back-stabbing psycho's lately, so she can never really be sure of people's intentions anymore). Then,

"Well we — I was thinking: it might be best if you had a guy do this, too." She waves her hand in the general direction of the paper, and shrugs a shoulder. "I think that the more people you have working the booth, the more money we'll make," she pauses, and her eyes slide sideways at Matt, "which is the ultimate goal."

And like, she's not even wrong, so Caroline can't even find it in herself to disagree, even though she (selfishly) wanted to be the only one doing the booth. But Elena is totally right, and it makes no sense for her to be the only one at the booth. And when she really thinks about it, there are some people at that school that she just does not want to kiss.

So maybe a few extra lips wouldn't be so bad?

"Okay," she agrees, slowly. "So, who did you have in mind?"

Elena shrugs, apparently not having thought that far ahead, but Bonnie speaks up. "Okay, don't be mad — I know you won't like this—" and her mouth scrunches into the frown that she gets when she knows she's about to say something totally forsaken and forbidden, and then the worst words ever uttered come out her mouth, and they seriously pound into Caroline, like a stake to the heart as vervain fills her mouth. "—But we were thinking that Rebekah might be a good choice."

And she's almost up and moving away, because seriously? That bitch is literally taking everything from her, and now it's happening at the hands of her friends?

Hello, metaphorical knife to the back.

But then Matt's on his feet again, his hands up and his palms facing her and he's basically pleading with his eyes, asking her to just calm down. "No, Caroline, just listen. Hear us out."

And she knows that he's only humoring Rebekah because he doesn't want to die, so she begrudgingly sits and folds her arms, and she's totally not pouting.

So she lets them explain.

"We know that you hate Rebekah — we do too. We all wants her gone just as much as you do," and she's completely right, "but you have to admit that the guys sort of . . . " Elena pauses, struggling for the words.

"Loves her," Matt supplies, deadpan.

Bonnie nods beside him, and her face lights up. "I mean, think about it Caroline," she's going all Wise Owl on her now, "with you and Rebekah working the booth — the guys will line up."

She knows they're right, she just hates the idea. She doesn't want to share anything with Rebekah, including her time, and she's sort of worried that they might like, get into a fight. Caroline's sure that Rebekah will pick at her, using one of her brothers as leverage or something, because that's the sort of crazy evil bitch she is.

But Caroline reluctantly agrees, because really — does she have any other choice?

"So who's going to be the kissing for the guys?"

Redirection. It's her best friend.

... ... ...

Bonnie's phone beeps a few minutes before the clock strikes 4:30, and her face goes hard; contemplative, defensive.

"I... I have to go." And she drops her pencil abruptly, grabbing her satchel from the floor and throwing them a haphazard wave behind her as she exits the garage, and heads for her Prius.

It's still light outside, thanks to the awakening spring, but darkened shadows peek through the shades, slicing dark lines across the room. The kissing both, one of them, has been put together (mostly thanks to Matt), but as far as designs to make it all pretty and enticing go: they're getting no where.

"So, why can't we just paint it one color?" Matt asks, shaking his head. He's perched on the edge of the work bench, studying his handiwork, and like a real man, he thinks that the easiest idea is the best one.

"Because we have to make it nice so that people will pay." Duh.

"I hope this is safe," Elena comments absently. She's standing behind the booth, sticking her face through the narrow space, as if she's testing out the booth. Caroline half expects her to motion Matt forward, because yeah, she's totally caught those coy glances between them, the fluttering lashes on Elena's part, the inside jokes and friendly nudges they think no one notices.

"It's sturdy," Matt assures her, but Elena shakes her head and gives him a soft smile.

"I meant the kissing part." She comes out to the front, running her finger across the top plank. "Maybe there should be rules or something; like, we could put up some sort of sign that says: Rule #1: Got a Cold? No Kiss. Or... something." Yeah, that was sort of campy. But Caroline gets the gist, and it sounds like the perfect idea, because the last thing she wants to do is get sick courtesy of a measly peck on the lips just before the Decade Dance and prom.

"And no tongue," Matt adds, grinning.

"One kiss per person?"

Caroline nods. "There's plenty of kids in the school. One kiss is all we need." Which is more for her own sanity/safety, but yeah, same thing. She really isn't looking to have some gross kid with big raging pimples and mustard breath trying to kiss her a couple of times.

So one kiss per person.

"And it can't last more than 5 seconds," she adds, because she's sure that there are kids who will take advantage of the moment, if they only get one kiss. So like, she totally loves the idea of a kissing booth and she can't wait until the booth is actually finished and they can try it out, but there's more to it than she'd really though, and some of it doesn't sound so amazing.

"How are we going to put up these rules?" Matt questions, glancing between them.

But Caroline actually has thought about that. So she pops up from the desk, and splays her hands out towards the booth, pointing towards the section below the counter. "I was thinking that we could use stencils to paint it here," she says, tracing out invisible letters against the wood.

Elena and Matt look to each other, and they share one of their synchronized nods.

"We could even paint the price up here at the corner or something," Elena suggests, running her finger down the length of the side plank. "I don't know, maybe we'd be able to find a stencil of coins or a dollar bill or something."

"And curtains," Caroline adds. "We have to have curtains. We'll close them when the booth is 'closed'," (air quotes), "so we'll have to figure out a way to attach them to the back."

But that shouldn't be a problem. Caroline is proud to admit that she's pretty crafty.

So they decide that tomorrow after school, they'll stop at JoAnn Fabrics and grab a few bottles of paint ("What kind of paint do we use?" Elena questions, "because we have to cover the entire thing"), and they'll search for some stencils and scraps of fabric ("I hope you guys know how to sew," Matt grumbles) and then start applying the details over the next few days. Caroline wants a plan first, some sort of cool, eye catching design, but she's not really sure where to start.

Maybe she'll try Google? Something that's been done already just simply won't do, and she wants it to pop out, to catch people's eye. But it can't look like a sore thumb in the middle of the hallway, because she's classy and still has a reputation to uphold, and she has a lot of lost time to make up on.

So after Matt and Elena leave (together, of course, in Matt's truck), Caroline grabs a few sheets of printer paper, and begins to sketch out a rough version of the booth. It's just like, a couple of overlapping rectangles, but it works just fine, and she digs around in the bin in her attic for the colored pencils. She's thinking dark, sensual colors; like reds or maroons, and dark chocolate browns. All curtains are velvety red, right? The color that they paint the wood can't be too dark, because she wants the stenciling to show up, but at the same time, she's basically trying to seduce her classmates into giving up their money: she has to make this worth their while.

"I could help you, you know."

The voice is so calm, so casual, his arrival quiet and undetected (and dammit! Why is he always doing that!) and she stills, panicking and suddenly not sure what to do with her hands.

He stands at the edge of her garage, where the pavement meets the cement floor, one hand propped lazily against the white-trimmed door frame. He's watching her with a soft smirk, looking all casual and relaxed with one ankle crossed over the other, a gray henley (all he owns, she's pretty sure), and a thick black cord wrapped double around his neck.

A rosary peeks through his collar, and she doesn't miss the irony.

Caroline just sort of gapes at him, because she's really not sure what else she should do. He's approaching her calmly, and the jerkish facade he'd worn the other day with the car incident is gone, showing her that soft, vulnerable side of him (which, really now? She only gets it when they're in private? So not helping his case).

"Uh . . . what?" She wants to look away, she should look away, she tries to look away — but she doesn't look away, because his gaze shifts between her and the booth, and his face lights up (and she doesn't like that, because no, he can't help).

"The booth," he says, nodding towards the kissing booth. He finally steps into the garage, admiring it, running his fingers over the wood. "I could help you with this." His eyes narrow in contemplation and she thinks that he's scrutinizing it. So, it's not the best work, definitely not professional grade, but what do you expect from a dish boy and a couple of ex-cheerleaders?

"It'll need some sanding," he comments, pulling at the ledge (and she wants to scream to him, don't do that!), and then turns it around to look at the back. "But with a good primer, there's some nice space to work with, here."

Too casual. Too casual. Klaus doesn't do casual.

She doesn't do casual with Klaus.

So, "No, that's okay."

But then he looks up at her, and she sees the hurt flash across his face. It's just for a moment and it's literally fleeting, and then he quickly replaces it with his mask of indifference (the one she'd been expecting).

"It's not like I have any experience to offer or anything," he says, somewhat self-deprecating and shrugs. It's so clear that he's mocking her, so she crosses her arms and arches a brow unamused, because there he goes again, his affection going awry when he feels slighted (but she'll keep slighting him again and again).

"No, I know that." The least she could do is validate his opinion, right? "I just don't need any help." She adds a quiet, hesitant, "But thanks."

When he speaks again, he's suddenly standing behind her, looking down over her shoulder at the number of scratched out drawings that little the little old red table in front of her are scattered upon.

Klaus harrumphs, stroking the short stubble on his chin. "Well, it doesn't look like you've 'got it'," he muses. He pulls a few of the pictures away before she can get her hands on them, and she reaches for them blindly. He steps around her so that he's standing in front of the table facing her, examining her pictures with way too much interest (which is probably fake).

"Well I do." Great. Now he's got her all defensive.

Klaus just shrugs though, holding up his hands in defense, but his grin is too playful.

"Alright, alright," he chuckles. She expects him to leave, but he doesn't. Instead, he walks around her garage (or actually, he more or less moseys around the room), studying the various objects there. It makes her uncomfortable, one: because he's there in her garage for no apparent reason, studying her stuff, and two: most of the junk lying around there is left behind from her father, and that in itself makes her uncomfortable.

If he notices, he doesn't show any sign at all.

She calls out to him, standing, but staying behind the table. It's not the ideal placement because she's stuck in a corner and a table isn't going to do that much in the way of defense (if she used it as leverage against him, he'd probably rip it right out of her hands and then she'd be stuck with nothing), but it sort of feels like a barrier between them, so she stays there, and crosses her arms, hoping that she looks as intimidating as she feels she looks.

"Klaus." He turns at his name, his brows raised in anticipation and a small smile stretched across his red lips. "What are you doing here?"

She sounds tired, more resigned than she wanted to, but he just shrugs and closes the distance between them with a few steps. His hands are behind his back, but she regards him wearily.

"Stalking you, you think I am?" he asks, and stupidly, his gaze holds hers. (She wants to look away but she can't, so darn you, you stupid, moronic, dimpled vampire-jerk).

She shrugs. "Well, you are here..." But she cuts herself off when her wallet suddenly appears on the table in front of her, right on top of her pile of sketches. She kind of just stares at it for a moment, her mind going blank. It takes her a minute to realize that it is her wallet, and that for some reason, he'd had it.

"You left this behind," he shrugs (oh, how convenient), "and I simply thought I was doing to respectful thing by returning it." (Ha, Klaus talking about being respectful...)

She picks it up, examining it, and even though she's sure that all of her money and credit cards are still there (well, maybe Kol would dig into it, just to hold it over her head later, but they have way more money than she does anyway so it'd kind of be a ripoff anyhow), she checks every single compartment.

Klaus just stands before her, steady as a rock, watching her with an expression she can't quite make out. Then, "I didn't take anything," he says, and she hears the amusement in his tone.

"I know," she nods, "but it's just... it's instinct." She shrugs, and finally looks up at him, raising her eyes slowly. The wind kicks up and a light breeze filters through the garage, coating her lightly in his scent. "I just... just wanted to check. To make sure that everything was in place."

He nods, curtly. "And is it?"

"Yes."

And they just kind of stand there, Caroline holding in her breath, Klaus grinning madly, and neither of them say anything. Caroline is trying to think of something to say though, something to do — anything to relieve the awkwardness of the situation (because the sunlight catches him just right, and his face seems to glow with tan, bright highlights and angles, and his eyes are this intense ocean blue and — no).

But then he pops his brows, and steps away from her, slowly. Taking his sweet old time.

"Good day, Caroline."

And just like that, he closes the conversation, and when she whispers a soft goodbye, it gets lost in the breeze.


A/N: Thank you so much to everyone that I couldn't respond to who reviewed for the first chapter! You guys seriously rock! And of course, all of my reviewers for the first chapter — you're all amazing, and can thank yourselves for the production of this chapter! (You're my motivation, you know?)

Oh, and one more, more thing: review reply's. How do you guys feel about them? I ALWAYS do them, but then I started wondering if people just get annoyed with them, so like, do you prefer a review reply to your individual review? Or would you prefer a general review reply/thank you at the end of the new chapter?