Here it is! The epilogue of Punishment for Betrayal! I hope you all have enjoyed this story as much as I have; it's meant a lot to me over the past year to have such faithful readers and reviewers! I just want to give a special thank you to everyone who took the time to read, review, and favorite/alert! You have no idea how much that means to me!
Disclaimer: I do not own Vampire Diaries.
Forgiveness can be swift. Forgetting can take a lifetime.
Two-hundred years, two months, and sixteen days.
Though they'd seen each other a handful of times throughout the years, Klaus's hopes were always dashed just a little bit more each time when she would disappear, her silence telling him that she wasn't ready to return to him. So he continued waiting, keeping an ear out for the lovely little vampire that he wanted so desperately.
And over the years, she'd shown just how human she was beneath the façade of vampirism.
She was regularly spotted in areas hit by disaster, sneaking her blood into victims who would have otherwise perished. She worked tirelessly with unfortunate children who went without food and water, often working alone to steal those precious resources from the rich. With the money that her parents and grandparents had left her, she started a charity in their names that worked secretly with vampires willing to donate their blood so it could be used to cure disease.
Even so recently as twenty years ago, she was nominated for a Nobel Prize for the "research" her charity had donated towards the now-known cure for cancer and AIDS. He had gone to the award ceremony, hoping to find her, but when she was announced, the doppelganger went up and accepted it on behalf of her friend.
Klaus was a little surprised that Caroline had reconnected with her friends over the past two centuries, having expected her to leave every shred of her Mystic Falls past behind her. But after the death of Bonnie—at the ripe old age of eighty-eight—Caroline had seemed to make a conscious effort to meet up with the Scooby Gang.
Though they had always been in touch, the blonde and the doppelganger rekindled their past relationship, being seen all over the world as a tight-knit pair. When he'd put eyes on the last Petrova, however, Caroline vanished into thin air, a warning that she knew he was getting too close.
Stefan had actually been the one to reach out to Caroline, however. He had tracked her down—though how he did it while the hybrid could not was a mystery to most of the supernatural world—and apologized for the way that everything had ended up. After the battle with the Five, most of the group had split up, even the infamous love triangle. He told her that he wished he could go back and change things, that they could go back to the way things were, and Caroline had apparently smiled at him and told him she forgave him.
Then, only a few years ago, she had found Damon, practically shoving forgiveness down his throat, though he wanted nothing to do with it. She forgave him for all that he had done to her, though Klaus was still unaware of how much he had done to her.
Yet, after all that had happened, all the forgiveness she gave, Caroline had yet to turn up at his door. She didn't seek him out as she had the others, didn't visit him even though he wished she would, praying to whatever deity was listening that she would just put an end to all this wondering. She'd given out so much forgiveness; when would it be his turn?
As he went unanswered day after day, hour after hour, Klaus found himself growing more obsessed with finding her than he had been with even the doppelgangers. When information of her whereabouts came to him, he would fall upon that place like the plague. But she was always gone before he got there.
He always kept his eyes and ears peeled, wanting nothing more than to find her and lock her away as he had all those years ago. Whenever he saw her, however, he lost his nerve. The light that had beamed out of her was nothing compared to what it was now. She had not only kept the human part of her, but had managed to amplify it until it could light up an entire city.
And the last thing he wanted was to potentially diminish that light.
But he could no longer hold back his selfishness. Two centuries without her hadn't done much for his patience. So he had done something that might be completely unforgivable, even though he knew that this might be the final straw to break the camel's back.
He'd put out an order for her to be brought to him—alive—by any means necessary. If someone loyal—or, he supposed, just afraid of him—came across her, they were to immediately capture her and bring her to a warehouse that he had acquired when he'd finally had enough. Knowing that he should retract that order didn't change the fact that he couldn't.
Physically, he couldn't do it. He would call in one of his few remaining hybrids with the intention to do so, but the words would never slip past his lips. After a few moments of opening and closing his mouth, he would roar at them to leave him alone.
Because he couldn't take the pain in silence. Sometimes, it would get so hard to just think of what she had been doing behind the scenes, the things his spies couldn't know, that he would destroy everything in one of his many houses. Light fixtures and candles were his usual victims, anything that gave off light. After chasing away his one chance at salvation like a monster, he deserved the darkness that shrouded him. He deserved to languish in rotting homes with rooms that never saw the sun, moon, or stars.
It was karma coming after him, showing him that if one chose to live in evil, they would be surrounded by it forever.
And this was a particularly hard day, to say the least.
It was her two-hundred and nineteenth birthday today. A day that was always difficult for him, considering how his entire life had turned upside down in the blink of a defiant eye. It had been a moment that would live on in infamy for the rest of his life, reminding him of the first time he'd had a chance to really redeem himself.
Why should I be the one to be redeemed? Klaus suddenly demanded of himself, furious that he had ever thought to change. I am The Hybrid; no one else can tell me what I can and cannot do. I'm not confined by mankind's definition of decency!
That was the real reason he would never rescind the order for her to be returned to him. He was a monster; nothing would change that. No amount of love, of affection, would ever make him rethink how he had lived his life.
What he had always done, he had done out of necessity, for the sake of his own survival. Could he really be blamed for protecting himself over the past millennium he'd spent on this earth? He was the strongest creature on the face of the planet and he hadn't gotten that position by giving in to human emotions. He had the power to do whatever was necessary to protect what he wanted, what he needed, so why should he change in the least?
But it didn't stop the wish that he and Caroline had met under different circumstances. That they could have been human together and never had to worry about the things that they did now. Sometimes, he did want to be mortal…because of her.
At the sound of her voice, he was instantly on his feet, spinning around to see her standing there, looking just like she had the day she left…except that the darkness behind her eyes had disappeared. There was no fear or guilt, no shame or pain. Instead there was…happiness. Contentment. Relief. Like she had wanted this moment between them as much as he had.
Her blonde curls were loose around her shoulders, falling around her face like beautiful sunlight streaming out of her head. Those eyes of hers were more vibrant than he had ever seen them, shining brightly. Her skin was practically glowing with the joy it was obvious she felt on a daily basis.
Wearing an off-white dress paired with a gold shawl and flats, she looked like an angel sent from heaven, coming to give him what he needed.
That didn't mean he wasn't completely on edge, though. "Caroline?" he breathed, just stopping himself from going to her. "What are you doing here?" He couldn't trust that this wasn't something that would tear his heart apart. She could be standing in front of him to give him the terrifying news he had been waiting for: she was never coming back.
Then it would be two centuries that he had wasted on her! Two hundred years that he could have used to find someone like her, someone he could take and have for his own.
That wouldn't be the same, the sad little human part of him that he had buried for years whispered. You've wanted Caroline; no one else would do.
She smiled almost shyly at him before stepping into the room with a quick glance at the ground. "Can I sit down with you?" she asked. Like she actually needed to ask. He would give her the world if she would accept it. When he motioned for her to do so, she did quite quickly, watching him for a long moment, obviously waiting for him to do the same.
Except he didn't. He couldn't sit down if she was going to deliver terrible news. He needed to be able to storm around the room, to grab something that he could shatter—because he couldn't break her again. Not if this was the last time.
Sighing, she looked down at the hands she'd folded in her lap, twisting the material of her dress there. "I guess this isn't going to be as easy as it was before," she chuckled lightly, her eyes catching his from under her lashes. It wasn't a sexual thing, more like she wanted to look at him without him knowing it. "I mean, back then we went a few weeks without talking, but…it's been a little bit longer than that this time around."
Silence fell around them once again, making him wonder if the sound of the clock ticking had ever been louder. Caroline turned her gaze away after the first eternity or so, glancing around the room to take it all in.
He had so much he wanted to say, so many things racing through his mind that needed to come out. But could he take the chance of her letting him go forever? No more hope that she would change her mind or that something would change. Could he accept that if it did happen?
"I know about all your scouts out there looking for me," she murmured suddenly, eyes locked on one of the paintings he had done after the first decade she'd been missing. It had been made with angry slashes and bright, vibrant red against harsh black and dark brown. It reminded him every day that he had already hit rock bottom. "In fact, I got rid of a few of them on my way here from Argentina."
He was surprised, to say the least, that she could just talk about killing someone—anyone—so easily. But what shocked him more was that she was capable of taking on the kind of creatures he had sent after her. They had been so much older than her, yet she'd "gotten rid" of them?
"I've learned a lot in the past two-hundred years, you know," she said to his incredulous look. "Yeah, I've gotten stronger and faster, become a better fighter, but I also learned that…."
As she drifted off, she caught eyes with him again, understanding shining there. Her mouth opened slightly, like she was trying to tell him something, however the words weren't coming out. He wanted to hear everything she'd thought while away from him, to relearn this new Caroline who sat in front of him.
Klaus had known her back then. He'd seen her for what she was: a young girl making the best of a difficult situation that she had never thought possible. She'd been strong and full of light, beautiful even at her worst. She was capable of looking The Hybrid right in the face while she spit on him. Yes, some of the things had surprised him at the time, but looking back now made him realize that all the facts were there in front of him; he just let himself be distracted by the wrong things.
Now there was someone he couldn't have any expectation for. He couldn't anticipate what she would do next because she had done an almost complete one-eighty since the last time he had spent any time with her. She was someone else.
So how was he supposed to react? Anger came forth first as he realized that he could have known her—if she hadn't run away that night. That thought brought knowledge that no, he wouldn't have; she wouldn't have remembered him. He would have wiped her memories of everything that he had done to her, that had happened to her. Guiltily, he murmured, "Learned what?" in hopes that it would be something that he could work with.
Something that he could build on.
She slowly brought her eyes to his, courage obviously building as she sat a little straighter in her seat. "I learned that I'm going to live forever, that I can't think of things like humans do." There was wisdom in her eyes that bespoke years of life that hadn't been entirely rainbows, more like it had come from deep suffering. "If I'm going to live forever…forgiving is something I've always been capable of, it's forgetting that's hard."
What was she trying to say? What was she trying to get at that was supposed to changed something between them? She would probably say that she couldn't forget the things he had done to her and her friends all those years ago—though he had stopped going after even her little boyfriend Tyler shortly after she left.
Suddenly, she was up and standing toe to toe with him. Her hand came up and touched his cheek, making him jump—on the inside, not on the outside. Her skin against his was welcome, comforting, but also put him on edge more than he had been before.
"I'm not saying that I won't remember what you've done. I'd be an idiot if I did," she whispered softly, bringing both her hands to his shoulders. "But I'm saying that I've finally gotten to the point where I know that it isn't right to hold on to things from a past life. If I'm going to be immortal…I need to stop holding grudges that don't even apply to who I am anymore."
No. This couldn't be right. This was some sick dream, his mind taunting him. Because if he was hearing her right…she wanted to be with him. It was her way of saying that she wanted to try—which was all he had ever hoped for.
As he tensed at the thought beneath her hands, her eyes became questioning, as if this wasn't how she expected it to go. "Klaus?" she asked quietly, searching his gaze for…something. "Klaus, what's wrong?"
He couldn't contain himself any longer.
Ripping away from her hold, he roared, "So you can just forgive it all then? Everything that happened, you can just forget about it?!" In a flash, he was ripping paintings from the wall, tearing them apart with ease. His heart was breaking, afraid that this would turn into another midnight escape on her part.
He didn't want to believe that good things could happen to him; he had chased away the one woman he had loved since before he was turned. After the immortal life he had led, it was a shock that he'd even been given the opportunity to meet her. And now, with her offering him forgiveness…it felt like a cosmic joke, a prank to teach him a lesson.
Returning to stand in front of her, he seethed, "I have done more to you than anyone before! I've attacked you, brought harm to you…raped you. How can you just forgive and forget all that? Not to mention what I did to your friends, your town!"
Her expression turned sad as she reached out to him once again, her voice low when she spoke. "It isn't really about forgiveness, Klaus. I'll always remember what you did; the Caroline I was back then won't truly forgive it. But I'm not her anymore. Yes, at the core I am, but I've lived through nearly three lifetimes. I'm sure you've changed since you first turned, since you were human. It's something that has to happen when you live so long, otherwise you'll never make it."
"But those aren't forgivable things! You still have those memories and they're my fault!" he shouted, slapping her hands away furiously. His heart was beating wildly in his chest, reminding him that he could feel true fear.
Finally, a spark of the Caroline he recognized lit her eyes, annoyance in the harsh set of her lips. "Seriously?" she demanded, her fists going to her hips angrily. "You aren't the only person that's tortured, threatened to bite me, or raped me, so don't act like—"
"What?" he interrupted, a deathly quiet sound that cut off all the noise in the room. Her eyes widened, obviously catching her mistake as she took a step back. That didn't save her, however; he took a menacing step forward, asking once again, "What do you mean by I'm not the only person that raped you?"
Her hands came up, twisting together nervously as she tried to change the subject. "This isn't something I want to get into with you, okay? We need to focus on…the matter at hand. On what I'm trying to tell you."
Instead, he took another step forward, knowing that she wouldn't move away again, not when she was trying to show how unaffected she was. Things were coming together in his mind, things that hadn't made complete sense before.
Rebekah had once hinted at what Damon Salvatore had done to Caroline, saying that the then-human girl's view of forgiveness had been warped forever after what had happened. That it could lead to her easily forgiving him. So why hadn't it come to him then?
"Damon Salvatore," he growled lowly, his eyes narrowing dangerously. "He was the one, wasn't he?"
Not knowing what to say, her mouth opened and closed once before she finally shot back, "That's all in the past! This is exactly what I'm trying to tell you, Klaus!"
"You're telling me to forgive the Salvatore I loathe for something I can't forgive myself for? That simply won't happen!"
"Excuse me?!" she shouted in return, laughing incredulously. "You think you're the one who should forgive? I'm not even expecting me to forgive him!" Slamming her hands into his chest, Caroline attempted to shove him backwards—as if she had the strength to. "What I'm saying is that the past needs to be left in the past! We need to move forward! God, you just have to make me trying to tell you that I love you a battle, don't you?!"
As she continued her angry explanation, he blocked it out, too focused on what she had just said to him. She…loved him? Just like that? Could it actually be true?
He watched her for several more moments as she went on a tirade that would do the old Caroline proud, his heart slowing down in his chest as he knew exactly what he needed to do. Right then. It couldn't wait even a moment; it was something he'd wanted to do for two centuries.
Grabbing her face as gently as he could manage, he yanked her lips to his, unable to help himself now that he knew he had her.
The absolute end of Punishment! I'm so sad to see this story end! Ugh, this makes me cry. Thank you all for your continued support!
Oh, by the way, I know it is still a kinda-sorta indefinite ending. But this just felt right because that's how this entire story has gone.
Check out my Tumblr page for my upcoming stories, spoilers, and much more!