Greetings from the afterlife. Just kidding! I know I dropped off the face of the earth for quite some time—a lot of that had to do with real life, and another to do with my dwindling interest in klaroline and the vampire diaries as a whole. This chapter has been sitting on my hard drive for months, and after a bit of revision, I've decided to post it. It's rather short, compared to my other chapters, and for that I apologize. I thought long and hard about abandoning this story, and I simply couldn't do it. I do plan on finishing it, though I do not know how frequent my updates will be (I say, after not updating for nine months... yikes). I have, however, finished the outline, and know where the story is going. So I ask you to bear with me while I get down and dirty to finish this story.

To everyone who's been with me from the beginning, to new readers, thank you so much for your continued support. I think you all are the absolute greatest.

Don't own, never will. Enjoy.

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"Mama," Caroline breathes, the words getting caught in her throat as she takes a hesitant step forward.

And suddenly her mother is running towards her, pulling her into her arms and enveloping her in an embrace that holds a thousand unsaid words. Her mother is warm and familiar, smelling of flour, ash and strawberries. Caroline inhales, tears burning at the edge of her eyes. Her mother's here, in her arms, and she cannot seem to reconcile it as reality. "Caroline," Liz murmurs into her hair, tone soft and immensely grateful. "Caroline, my precious daughter, I thought I'd never..." she trails off, squeezing Caroline tighter.

Caroline brings her arms up to wrap around her mother in return, hands sinking into the thick woolen fabric of her shirt. "Me either," she croaks in return, tears hot as they stain her cheeks. She closes her eyes and let herself rock back and forth in her mother's embrace, relishing the warmth and safe feeling of her mother's arms around her. A soft hand falls on her shoulder, breaking her out of her reverie. She blinks her eyes open again to stare up at Klaus.

"Have your mother to invite us in, love," he says to her, tone grave and uncharacteristically unguarded.

She nods against her mother and pulls away reluctantly. Liz is more unwilling than she. "Mom," she urges softly. "Invite Lord Mikaelson inside."

Liz wipes away the tears staining her cheeks. "Of course," she sniffs, leading Caroline by the arm into her childhood home. "Come in, if you would."

Klaus and Stefan trail in behind them, entering the small dwelling without comment. If they're disgusted by the homely little cottage, neither shows it in their faces. Her home is just as she remembers it; a simple open room with a fireplace, dining table, and two pallets shoved into the corner nearest the hearth. She concedes it may not be fancy or lavish but its home to her—was her home-and she isn't ashamed of it. She smiles gently and glances at Klaus, affection bursting within her chest. "Thank you," she says, meaning it with the whole of her heart.

He merely inclines his head, but says nothing further. His face is like that of a stone wall; blank and unreadable. It's times like this she desperately wishes she knew what went on behind his dark eyes. She wishes to know him, his innermost thoughts, what his aspirations are, what his motives are. She feels bare before him, as if he knows everything about her, yet she knows next to nothing about him. It should be disconcerting, but she finds it merely frustrating, instead.

Her mother notices her staring, and scowls. She then turns to glare venomously at Klaus. "So you are the reviled man who bought my daughter like she was livestock," she spits, the former warmth and gratitude gone from her face.

Klaus chuckles humorlessly at that. "How eloquently put," he sneers in reply, eyes blackening.

"How else should I phrase it?" she demands, all but slamming her hands on top of her flimsy table. "That auction you nobles partake in is barbaric."

"Mama," Caroline says, eyes narrowing, "stop."

"Stop?" Liz seethes through clenched teeth. "The last time I saw you, you were being taken away by strange men to be married off to some Lord who only wanted you to breed magic capable children. I thought I was never going to see you again." Her voice breaks, cracking horribly as she fights back angry tears.

Across the room, Stefan's shoulders slump. He's gritting his teeth and looking away, shame etched into his posture.

Liz's gaze is back on Klaus at once, who has remained ever the impassive statue throughout her rant. "And then you show up here out of the blue, my daughter in tow, with vague mentions of danger! To add insult to injury, you haven't even made an honest woman out of her, and you expect me to hold my tongue—"

Caroline's eyes go wide. "Ma," she shrieks in embarrassment. "We haven't, he hasn't, he wouldn't—" she sputters in embarrassment, cheeks tinged red in utter mortification.

It's Liz's turn to be surprised. "You haven't?" she says, incredulous.

Klaus' ridged posture relaxes slightly as he smirks. "I don't take young women against their will, Lady Forbes," he says, tone wholly amused, if not a bit insulted. "That's a lesser man's game of power and control."

"Lord Mikaelson has been perfectly gentlemanly," Caroline offers, carefully avoiding Klaus' gaze in favor of glaring at her mother.

"Oh," Liz huffs, "well, in that case, it seems I may have misjudged you."

"So it would seem," Klaus drawls, eyes shifting to rest on Caroline. She can feel the way his gaze burns into her, causing her pulse to race. She frowns at the floor.

Liz pulls Caroline in close and it is all she can do not to roll her eyes. "Well, will you gentlemen be staying the night here?" she questions, quirking a brow. "There isn't much room... but I could make do, if need be."

"That will not be necessary," Klaus answers. "We have made arrangements to stay at an inn in town."

It's Caroline's turn to be surprised. "You're leaving me here, alone, with my mother?"

Klaus cocks his head to the side, though the slight uptick of his lips gives away his amusement. "Will that be a problem?"

"What if we run away?" she challenges, gaze burning.

He grins at that as he gets to his feet, stalking towards her. "You won't," he hums, leaning down close to her ear. "And if you did, I would track you to the ends of this earth."

A shiver climbs down her spine, slow and torturous as he pulls away. Damn him, she thinks as her cheeks once again flush bright scarlet.

Liz stares at her, grimace set in the thin line of her lips.

"Stefan," Klaus calls as he motions for his right hand man to follow him out. They start for the door. He pauses in the entranceway and turns to look at her and their gazes lock. He looks reluctant for the briefest of moments before his face is set in stone once more. "You will be safe here, Caroline. Stefan will fetch you in the morning," he states, as Stefan comes to stand behind him. She nods as they exit, Klaus' gaze never quite leaving her mind's eye.

Her mother pulls her into another embrace the minute they're alone. "Caroline," she exhales, pulling back to cradle her daughter's face in her hands. "Please tell me you are alright. They haven't done anything horrible to you, have they?" she pauses, biting her lower lip. "Please tell me he hasn't fed from you?"

Caroline brings her hands up to cradle her mother's. "Lord Mikaelson has been nothing but kind to me," she promises.

Liz exhales shakily. "Oh, I love you so much," she cries. "It hasn't been the same without you."

"I know, Ma," she returns. "I missed you, too."

"Let's get you fed," Liz says, patting her daughter's stomach enthusiastically.

Caroline smiles; she really had missed this.

They talk until the sun goes down. She starts the fire easily and they bake bread, cuddling close to the fire's warmth. She tells her mother a great many things, but omits all the bad. She tells her of the lavish manor she lives in, of the servants, of Elena and Elijah. She tells her mother how happy she is and, to her great surprise, she isn't lying. She is happy. The feeling is soft, burning at a lukewarm setting, but still ever present. It's odd, to think amongst all the bad, the good shines through brighter and more clear.

"Do you love him?" Liz asks suddenly, the question heavy.

It's a question Caroline quite honestly doesn't know the answer to. "I care for him," she replies, voice wavering. And isn't that what all over her inner turmoil has been about? Caring for a man considered a monster, who takes life, who kills, murders without remorse; a lonely, surprisingly gentle man. He frightens her, yet intrigues her. But, love? She doesn't know. The word carries far too much weight. To love someone is to give oneself over to them completely and, she isn't quite sure she can. She trusts him, cares for him, but love? That's a whole other beast in of itself.

"I care for him," she starts hesitantly, "but I—I don't know if I would call it love."

Her mother smiles at her, albeit a little sadly. "I see." A beat. "I suppose I should have asked a different question—do you think you could ever love him?"

Caroline blinks, bites her lower lip, and fixes her gaze on the burning fire before her. That question, at least, is easier to answer. "Given time," she says, barely above a whisper, "I'm sure I could."

Liz hums, pulls her daughter in close and kisses her atop her head. "I'm glad."

Caroline falls asleep like that, curled into her mother's side, the soft smell of home and happiness surrounding her.

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Short, I know! I apologize. The next chapter is quite filled with action, heartbreak, and lots of other fun stuff. I'll try to get it written as soon as possible. As usual, comments and critique are absolutely welcomed. I really enjoy reviews, but I know sometimes it's hard to think of stuff to say! So simply copy & paste this template!

Dear Muffintine,
Glad to see you haven't died.
This is a short chapter.
I'm mad at you.
Update soon, you cretin!
Love,
Your name.

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