notes | I'm sorry this took.. Forever. I got stuck in a writing rut, and then I wrote 'she's murder grey' instead of finishing this but now all is good. I swear. Also, sorry this is so jumpy and erratic time-line wise. The next part will be more streamlined; this is just wrapping up a lot of the scenes from last chapter. Guess the song lyrics, win a prize!

Okay, not really.


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I'd like to collapse with you
And ease you against this song
I think we're compatible
I see that you think I'm wrong

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Here's what nobody remembers: she's insecure, she's neurotic, she's Caroline Forbes and she's a control freak. Her back-up plans are going to have back-up plans, okay? She may hate Damon most days but she's not going to just let him die from a werewolf bite and a half-assed contingency plan that would make him proud any other day. Because, seriously, the odds of Klaus helping them were slim to none. He was probably more likely to kill Stefan, laugh as Damon died slowly, and then kidnap her and drag her to some obscure third world country— or Rome, or Tokyo, or Pa— stop it — where she'd be forced to deal with showering once a week.

That was just not okay.

So, she's in Elena's room and she's about to tell her exactly what she thinks of Elena's new-found taste for attempted murder (is it murder if he's already technically dead? whatever) when Elena reaches into her night stand and pulls out a small bottle of blood.

Caroline wrinkles her nose. "Is this one of those Angelina Jolie-Billy Bob Thornton things? 'Cause I hate to break it to you, but I'm pretty sure Stefan drank whatever you gave him."

"It's Klaus' blood." Elena exhales heavily when Caroline chokes out, "so it is one of those things—" and fixes her with an exasperated look that's usually reserved for Jeremy. "From when Damon got bit."

Caroline races through all the questions in her head and settles on, "but I thought Damon drank all of it?"

Elena shrugs, indifferent. "I don't think there's a ratio system for this sort of thing."

Caroline, who's always hated fractions because seriously, who cares about adding bits of numbers together or whatever, mutters, "ratios" like it's a curse and Elena smiles almost absently. "Why did you keep it? You're not a secret Klaus fan girl, are you?"

Because that would be all kinds of wrong and she's already getting enough flack from Damon for his creepy obsession; she doesn't need to get blamed for Elena's sudden fixation too and oh my god, what if she has a shrine?

Deep down, part of her brain wonders why she can't keep just one thing to herself, just one, even if it's really disturbing.

Elena shifts closer, the hem of her pajama pants dragging across the floor, and presses the vial into Caroline's palm gently. "I kept what was left over a secret, in case of an emergency."

Caroline thinks, with a strange swell of pride, Elena, you are so shady sometimes.

Elena says, "You know how Damon is." ("Oh, you mean an asshole?")

She says, "I didn't want them getting reckless."

She says, "I think this counts as an emergency."

Caroline blinks once, twice, and folds her fingers over the vial carefully. "Klaus is going to want a deal, probably."

A part of her, that secret, ancient part that still worries about Tyler choosing Elena one day, the one she thought she'd let die in that hospital all those months ago, thinks he'll want you and doesn't shiver for the right reasons. She squares her shoulders, takes a deep breath, and pushes the thought down.

Elena leans on her, chin hooking her shoulder, and exhales slowly. There's a scratch above her eyebrow from a training session with Jeremy earlier that day— she'd refused the gaping vein in Stefan's wrist afterwards, said she'd wanted to feel human, and it hadn't been serious anyways but it's just another reminder of how very fragile Elena's life is. "Doesn't he always? At least this way you guys have an out."

Caroline huffs a laugh, says, "this isn't an out, Elena, this is just another way everything could go wrong."

Fingers twist into the back of her shirt, near the base of her spine, and Elena's eyelashes brush Caroline's cheek when she frowns. "I know," she whispers, "but it's the only thing I could think of to keep him away from you."

Caroline turns halfway to see the sad, downward tilt of Elena's mouth. "What—"

And then Elena says what she's been thinking all along. "He's going to want you." She pushes their foreheads together and shakes, her voice catching. "If he wants a deal, odds are it'll be for you, and I can't, Care, I just can't lose anymore people. So you have to say no and you have to run and I'll become a vampire if I have to, just—" she hiccups violently, "just say no, okay?"

Caroline stares across the room at Elena's vanity mirror. There's a picture of the three of them — her, Elena and Bonnie — in their cheer uniforms, and she thinks of the life Elena could still have, one full of love and grandchildren and aging gracefully. One full of boyfriends she'll break up with for regular reasons and epic human romance.

She knows she really wants Elena to be around forever, her eternal bestie, her frenemy, the girl she'll kill for if she ever needs to. But Caroline also knows that's a selfish thought, one reserved for the selfish, shallow, human girl she'd been once.

"Okay," she finally says, after a long pause, and Elena smiles a small smile that is still painfully bright into her shoulder.

(Caroline wonders how much dry shampoo she'll need to survive wherever Klaus takes her. Wonders if she'll have to beg him not to make her kill people. Wonders if Elena will ever forgive her.)

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The moment is broken when Damon yells, "hey! Kind of fucking dying out here, Blondie. But it's no big deal or anything, take your time. Not like it's your goddamn fault or anything."

Caroline's head jerks up sharply as Klaus' fingers slowly pull through her hair one last time. She can't describe the expression on his face as anything other than soft and it's not a word she'd ever though she'd associate with him but it fits—

(and that's a lie, because he's always looked at her like that, like she's the only one in the room, and she's tried to pretend it doesn't make a part of her race, just a little, to have someone want her that badly, so she tells him off and throws parties when he's sort-of dead and drinks a lot so she doesn't remember the bit of a thrill she'd had when he'd pressed up behind her in the school, whispering in her ear. Pressing into her thigh. Wanting. Always wanting.)

"I take it something has happened to Damon," he drawls, lips curving with mirth. Caroline pushes herself to her feet— when did I end up on the ground again, oh my god is that a spider, ew, ew, oh god— and nods. He stares when she drags her tongue over the front of her teeth. "I take it that's why you all came here to begin with?"

"Not all of us were willing," she says without thinking, and winces when he looks at her almost… oh, god, was that triumph in his eyes? "It's a long story?"

"We'll have plenty of time for you to tell me all about it later." And she hates the way he purrs at her because seriously, who does that, and her boyfriend is dead and she's still really messed up, so she rolls her eyes and leaves him crouching next to his coffin. "Did you miss me, Caroline?"

"I'm not answering that," she says. Stefan is standing near the entryway, foot tapping impatiently, lips a thin, white line. "That's honesty you won't be thanking me for."

He huffs a laugh, suddenly much closer behind her, and all she thinks is freaking sociopaths before they're both outside and Stefan is crowding up against him like he can take him in a fight, his face drawn. Caroline guiltily stares at her car, where Damon is half leaning out of the backseat.

"What," he says, panting, "did you two have a quickie? How charming."

"Don't be crass," Klaus says drolly, squinting at him.

"Don't be an ass," Caroline grumbles, leaning in Stefan's spot against the outer tomb wall. Damon flutters his eyelashes at her.

"Oh, Stefan, they're speaking in rhyme now! It must be love."

"My reasons for helping you are quickly fading by the second." Klaus quirks an eyebrow at Stefan. "Actually, I believe they just ran out."

Stefan growls, actually growls at him. "We woke you up, didn't we? If anything, you owe us. So help him already."

Caroline puts her face in her hands when Klaus outright laughs in Stefan's face, thinks this night has definitely gone straight to hell and quietly makes her choice.

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Stefan is hustling Damon into her car when Elena murmurs, "remember the blood" into her neck, cheeks damp. "We'll take care of Tyler."

She wants so desperately to say fuck this plan and just curl around Tyler and never move ever again. She wants to throw Klaus' blood across the parking lot, scream until her throat is raw, hand it off to Stefan and tell him to deal with it because she's done.

Instead, she bites her lip and nods, slowly, as Elena backs away from her with her sad, dewy eyes. Stefan presses his palms insistently against the space between her shoulders and pushes her almost roughly into the passenger seat.

"Sorry," he grumbles, slamming her door too hard. Caroline thinks she hears the metal dent. "We're kind of on a time constraint."

"No shit, Sherlock," Damon mutters from the back seat, sucking greedily on a blood bag. Caroline grits her teeth when he sprays red all over her new seat covers and turns on the radio. "What, did you and Watson over there figure that out all on your own?"

"Damon," Stefan says, patient as he pushes on the clutch and tears off down the street so abruptly Caroline feels the seatbelt cut into her throat, "say it, don't spray it. And shut up. And lay down."

Caroline can feel Damon rolling his eyes behind them. "Anything else, your majesty?"

"I will break your neck." Stefan's got his crazy face on when she looks at him, but the worried lines around his mouth make her relax. His knuckles are white against the steering wheel. "You need to save your strength until we get to Klaus."

Damon groans, loudly. "Ugh, is anyone else getting a bad taste of déjà vu?"

"All I can taste is your cologne," Caroline mutters, pushing down the wave of nausea when she realizes it's the same brand as Tyler's, "did you bathe in it this morning or something?"

"Sorry, next time your boyfriend decides to bite me, I'll be sure to wear something different. Oh, wait."

"Damon," Stefan snarls, taking a sharp turn on the highway and side-eyeing her as she digs her nails into her seat. The leather tears cleanly beneath her hands. "Be quiet."

"Oh, for fuck sake's," Damon mutters, head lolling against the window, "me and Klaus have a thing. I get bit by werewolves and, for the new discounted price of your soul, he saves my ass. This is now our thing."

"Damon," Caroline says through her teeth, as Stefan nearly rips the steering wheel clean off the column, his eyebrows drawn together tightly, "please just try and stay alive. You can be an asshole later."

"We have a thing," Damon's got his crazy eyes going on when Caroline turns halfway to glare at him, "just let me die."

"Not happening, brother," Stefan pushes down on the gas and the engine sputters briefly before roaring. Caroline presses her face into Tyler's jacket and counts backwards from ten. World War III in her car between the Salvatores is the last thing she wants to put up with right now. The tires screech against the pavement.

She smells burnt rubber, wrinkles her nose, and reaches back to pat Damon's knee awkwardly. The vial feels heavy in the pocket of her sweater. "Do not throw up blood in my car."

He fakes a cough that sounds suspiciously like assholes but she's too busy watching Stefan swerve around construction signs and drive right through the cemetery gates to care. "Oh my god."

Gravel sprays up around them, and she can see every tiny crack in her windshield as Stefan brakes heavily and sends them all lurching forward. Damon hisses against her center console, an old Styrofoam coffee cup crumpling beneath his forehead. "When was the last time you cleaned up, Blondie?"

And suddenly, she's just so mad.

"The last time you had a likeable personality," she snipes, throwing open her door, and tearing off her seat belt. Stefan is already pushing the stone slab in front of the tomb away. "So, like, the Ice Age."

"So clever," Damon groans, rolling backwards onto the seats, face pinched in pain. "You're so fucking clever, Barbie."

"Just shut up and let me save your life," she growls, "and if you leave sweat stains in my backseat, I will end you."

Stefan is leaning against the side of the tomb, hands shoved in his pockets, trying to feign indifference, when she stalks up to him. He looks pale in the moonlight and his jaw is made of rock. "He's in there."

"Joy," she seethes, somewhere between angry and hysterical for too many reasons, and ignores the curious rise of his eyebrows as she storms past.

Walking through that first tangle of cobwebs, her face crumples back into tears and a runny nose, but she refuses to let Stefan see.

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Here's what no one remembers: she's Caroline Forbes, Vampire Barbie, and she'll do anything to protect her friends.

"I honestly don't see why I should," Klaus sneers, drawing in close, "the world would be a much better place less a Salvatore and then it'd be so much easier for me to kill Elena."

This is where the catch lies, Caroline knows, because he's agreed to help her kill Alaric but Elena has to die for that, and if he thinks that she wants that to happen then he really doesn't know her at all.

She opens her mouth, and Stefan steps forward. "He's my brother," he snarls, curling his fists into the collar of Klaus' jacket, and they all know Klaus is just humouring him by letting him. "What do you want? Another ten years? Yours. Just do it."

"Doesn't this bring back memories," Klaus drawls, smirking, "you negotiating for you dear brother while he slowly inches towards death. I must say, I'm feeling a little nostalgic Stefan." The curl of his mouth has a cruel edge to it now. "But I'm not interested in your time anymore, old friend."

The chill that goes up Caroline's spine isn't from the cold, and when he looks at her with that tilt to his lips, that knowing look in his eyes, that lift to his brow, she thinks maybe he really does know me.

She wants to scream we don't need your blood, you bastard with her thumb pressed against the vial in her pocket a little harder than needed, but this is about more than Damon being on his apparent deathbed, and it's about more than Stefan pissing him off. It's about negotiating a truce for Elena, having a plan for Alaric, keeping the Originals away from them all, saving the people she loves once again from mayhem—

And maybe it's about how he'd looked at her in that hallway at the school, just a little, too.

She sets her jaw, murmurs, "yes, just do it."

Klaus laughs and actually sounds delighted, and her life wasn't supposed to be like this, making deals with the devil to save a guy she can barely stand and has every reason to hate, watching Stefan's face crumple into something horrified, desperate, pleading and thinking that she has the cure in her palm, dammit, she doesn't have to agree to this.

But then she remembers Elena downing tequila shots with a quick flick of her wrist, begging to keep that moment in her kitchen for just a little longer ("Hear that? It's the sound of a Klaus free life.") and she has to. She knows she does.

"No," Stefan crowds up against her, gasping against her cheek, and he's shaking a lot like Elena had been in her room the week before. "Caroline, no."

Klaus is already pulling open the door to the backseat and digging his teeth into his arm. She waits until she sees Damon's mouth open against his skin, pulling, to smile and touch her fingertips to Stefan's jaw.

"It's okay," she whispers, lips turned down, and they both pretend Klaus can't hear them, "if it keeps you all safe, I'll do it."

She doesn't say, this is all partially my fault, anyways.

She doesn't say, we don't even know what he wants from me.

She doesn't say, we both know you'd never forgive me if Damon died.

She doesn't say, I have nothing left to lose.

But from the look on Stefan's face as he hugs her tight and buries his face in her hair, she thinks he hears it all anyway.

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Later, Stefan's knuckles are white on her steering wheel and his crazy-eyes are back in full force, but he doesn't look away from the street, not even when Damon leans over the center console and starts prodding at his cheek.

"Stefanie," he drags out the 'e', lips popping off the cap of his third blood bag, "why are you side-eyeing the road like it's a blonde co-ed from the deep south?"

Caroline jerks, jarring her elbow against the window hard enough that the glass cracks. "Damon!" she hisses, pushing at his shoulder. "What, does Klaus' blood not cure brain damage or something?"

"He's a hybrid," Stefan says flatly, stone-faced and focusing intensely on making the next turn as sharply as possible. Damon's cheek bumps her shoulder. "Not a miracle worker."

Damon snorts and leans back into his seat, making a point of leaving sticky red fingerprints all over the sleeve of Tyler's jacket. Caroline bares her teeth at him and pulls it tighter to her body. "Was that a failed attempt at humour? You must be fine."

"Shut up, Damon," they both say, but Caroline is exasperated where Stefan is simply deadpan. She bites her lip and curls up further into her seat, trying to ignore the way Stefan is clearly ignoring their situation.

"Ya'll," Damon drawls, slouching with his arms draped over the back seat, "are a bunch of depressing Debbie downers."

"How long did it take you to come up that one?' Caroline snarks, as WELCOME TO MYSTIC FALLS rushes by in a blur of peeling white paint, "a century?"

"Feel free to run off with Sugar Daddy Hybrid any time now, Blondie."

Stefan slams on the brakes abruptly, hissing, "how can you both act so normal?"

Damon smirks, unfazed by his sudden sprawl across the dashboard— again. "Because a Barbie free life is all I've dreamed of for the past year."

Caroline doesn't miss a beat. "You dream about me?" She smiles down at him brightly. "Man, it's a good thing I'm used to, like, getting creeped on by raging psychopaths or we'd really have a problem."

"You're so heartless," Damon puts a hand to his chest, and gets this look in his eye, and she remembers that he still thinks she tried to kill him. "Oh, no, wait, that's your boyfriend."

Stefan has to throw her out of the car to keep her from ripping Damon into pieces. Her door barely hangs onto the frame, and the tree she slams into snaps cleanly at the base. The noise that comes out of her throat is caught somewhere between a scream and a sob, and Stefan is suddenly leaning over her and putting his hands through her hair gently, his poker face crumbling into something sadder, more hollow.

"I'm sorry," she hiccups, and reaches into her pocket to pull out the vial, but all her fingers meet are bits of glass and liquid. She shows him her palm, smeared with blood. "I didn't have another choice."

Stefan inhales once, and then his eyes flash, and then his face is hard and unrelenting in the dark as he drags her to her feet, Damon sauntering away from the car towards them slowly. "That's Klaus' blood."

She nods and makes a quiet noise of consent. He shakes her violently. "Why didn't you just give us that Caroline?"

"Because it wouldn't have kept Elena safe," she meets his glare head-on, her eyes narrowing. "Tell me you wouldn't have done the exact same thing."

Damon is suddenly at her hip, examining her hand in fascination. "This is—"

Stefan nods tersely. "Yeah."

The fingers digging into her wrist press tighter until his nails bite into her skin so deep she feels a vein tear. "What the actual fuck is going on, Barbie?"

So she tells them, in one breath, and doesn't look ashamed when they both step away from her. Damon's gaze sweeps over her like he's never met her before, and she realizes he's looking at her with approval, and god, could everyone stop giving her the eye like she wasn't capable of being useful for like two seconds?

"I can't believe Elena," Stefan says, on a forced exhale.

Damon shrugs, still staring at her critically. "I can."

"She didn't want me to make a deal," Caroline defends hastily, chewing at the inside of her cheek. Her fingers curl around the edges of Tyler's sweater. "She didn't know about that part."

Stefan's eyebrows slash together and he turns away from her, towards the tree he nearly put her through instead. Damon takes two steps forward and raps his knuckles against the side of her head. "You did good, Barbie," he mutters grudgingly, lips pursed. "Just keep him entertained until we get rid of Stabby McStabs-a-lot. Then we'll whisk you away to… I don't know… Ethiopia, I guess?"

Caroline scoffs, the corners of her mouth quivering as she thinks of dry shampoo. "Bzzt. Incorrect. Sorry, you are the weakest link. Goodbye."

Damon rolls his eyes. "Whatever, I'll get you back in Double Jeopardy later."

"You are both insane," Stefan says, staring at them, arms folded. "How are neither of you reacting at all to what happened tonight?"

"Tyler's dead," Caroline says, fighting the watery break in her voice, "and Klaus has a crazy family who'll help us now. I won't let anyone else die because we couldn't get things right the first time, Stefan."

"But this," Stefan gestures wildly, "this is dangerous."

Damon catches Stefan's eye and the corner of his mouth kicks up. "This is dangerous?" The side-eye comes out in full force. "Is this your first day alive here in Mystic Falls or something?"

"You agree with this?" Stefan asks, gritting his teeth. Damon gives him a one-shouldered shrug. "And I know I can't talk Caroline into living underground."

"Please, have you seen how much time she spends sunbathing even though she's dead? She'd have a stroke."

"And here I was hoping you'd do that for me," she says out of the corner of her mouth. Damon winks. His mood is significantly lighter without the whole attempted-murder thing looming over him, so there's one plus for the night. "I'm keeping my end of the deal, Stefan. Whatever that may be."

"Probably sex," Damon muses, as Stefan rushes forwards and pulls her to his chest, arms pressing into her sides until her bones start to creak, and, when they both shoot him scathing looks, adds, "what? That's probably the best case scenario anyway."

"Sonuvabi—" Caroline mumbles into Stefan's shoulder, because oh god, she can't even. Stefan half-laughs, half-sighs, and for a minute, she pretends everything is okay.

"I'd say this is touching," a voice drawls from the shadows, "but all I really want to do is throw up."

Damon whirls first, fangs out, snarling, "Kol."

"Relax, darlings," he purrs, grinning too wide to be up to anything even remotely safe, a baseball bat cradled under his arm. "I'm simply here to collect the prize."

He extends his hand towards her, and Caroline thinks of course he couldn't give me a little time with Elena, of course before stomping forward. Damon and Stefan immediately put themselves between her and Kol. "Guys, what the hell?"

"Oh," Kol's lips twist unpleasantly, tone bordering on dangerous. "Shall we play again? I've gotten rather good at hitting home runs and, Damon, you make a fantastic ball."

"That was terrible," Caroline says, without thinking, as she cautiously side-steps the boys and pinches the bridge of her nose. "Like, actually really, truly terrible."

Kol's grin gets wider, more sinister, if possible. "You'd best get used to it, sweetheart. Rumour has it we'll be spending a lot of time together."

"Okay, I lied," Damon says, expression utterly blank as he slouches down, Stefan's fists curling in synch with his, "a ménage à trois is the best case scenario."

Caroline punches him, shrieking, and then Kol is grabbing her around the waist and chuckling, "oh, this is going to be fun" into her ear, and Stefan's shouting while Damon prods at the rapidly healing bones under his eye and then—

Darkness.


TBC.