Disclaimer: I don't even own my brain, The Vampire Diaries owns that, so why on earth would you think I own anything else? I don't.
A/N: I hope peeps will like this! I've been working really hard on it! The gist is: Caroline grows up with the Originals back when they were human. Yeah, that's it. This is a multi-chapter fic and this story is going to be insanely long. This first chapter is just retarded in it's length; I'm sorry please forgive me! This is word vomit, really. I just bled my heart out, and here it is. I don't even know where this junk came from. Blah.
Credit where credit is due: A billion thanks to Anastasia Dreams, who listened to me ramble on and on about this fic and then went above and beyond the call of duty and actually betaed it for me. Jeez, girl. She rocks, I love her, and you should go read her aaaaaamazing fic "Lead Us Into Temptation".
So Long, Lonesome
Chapter One: Little Talks
There's an old voice in my head that's holding me back
Well tell her that I miss our little talks
Soon it will be over and buried with our past
We used to play outside when we were young,
And full of life and full of love
- "Little Talks" Of Monsters and Men -
Caroline remembers that her mother always use to warn her: "You stay away from that Mikaelson boy. He's nothing but trouble." And she'd gaze up at her, all big-eyed and scoff, "Which Mikaelson boy, mama? There are dozens." Which, there were only five of them. But it certainly felt like a dozen at times. Like all those times they would ambush Rebekah and Caroline as they braided freshly picked flowers together, or other such girlish pursuits that the boys deemed were entirely inappropriate. They'd circle them, teasing and prodding in their usual irksome manner, daring them to a race to the waterhole, until the girls grew irritated and finally gave in to their cajoling.
Her mother would narrow her eyes at her. "Well, all of them. But especially Niklaus."
Caroline never listened. Niklaus wasn't trouble, he just tended to bring lots of trouble with him wherever he went. Like that time he'd dared her to try riding one of the wild horses that roamed in the fields, and nearly got her trampled in the process. Or the time he'd taunted that she couldn't climb any tree as high as he could. The incident ultimately ended with a sprained ankle and being forced to lay abed for a week on account of her overbearing mother. Frustrated beyond belief with boredom, Caroline had been only slightly mollified by Nik's rueful visits.
Well, fine, maybe he is trouble. But Niklaus Mikaelson is the kind of trouble that you just can't resist. All he has to do is flash those dimples, a mischievous glint in his eyes, and she will follow him. Always. Nik is her best friend.
After all, he's the one that pulled her away from that spooked horse just in time, when he'd seen the wild look in its eyes just before it reared up. He's the one that carried her on his back the entire way home when she fell out of that tree. He looks after her. They all do really, and it can get quite oppressive, but Niklaus always tends to keep an extra eye on her, like a worrisome mother hen. When she teases him about it he punches her in the arm, lightly, and rolls his eyes.
Nik puts up a tough act. He always has; he always will. But even after all is said and done, through all the years of heartache, Caroline likes to think he cares for her more than anyone ever has. She likes to think he always will.
Her mother just doesn't understand. Caroline needs them. Having no siblings of her own, she troops after them instead, and from the very beginning they took her in with no questions asked. As dusk falls outside, her and Rebekah sit before the fire and braid each other's hair; Nik teaches her to carve into the bark of a tree, patient, and always with a joke or three to bring a smile to her lips; Elijah sits with her on the roof as they watch the sunrise, arms looped around their knees and toes numbing in the frigid morning air; Finn regales her with stories of raids and sea voyages and foreign lands; Kol throws mud-pies at her; Henrik has two big sisters and not just one.
They bicker a lot; well, her and Kol do. Elijah tends to pull them apart by the scruff of their necks when things get too heated, like the tired older brother that he is. They get into far too much mischief running rampant through the woods, shrieking about the draugar. She spends nearly every moment of her life with them, these siblings who have become so much a part of her, from morning sunrise to falling asleep some nights with her nose buried between Rebekah's shoulder-blades.
Looking back, Caroline wonders where it all went wrong; where they all went wrong. She thinks she knows. And with a pang of regret, she wonders how it all would have turned out, if she'd only done things differently.
Caroline's earliest memories are vague; shrouded in a fog that distorts most of her old life. Thinking back to when she was just a tiny little bundle of limbs and tangled blonde curls is like looking at an old, black and white photograph; the picture grainy, faded, the edges tattered and worn. She feels that way herself, at times.
Nevertheless, there are images there, in her mind, of those earliest days. She can remember the feeling of riding across Elijah's back as he raced to the waterhole; turning her face to the side with a grin, enjoying each step as it bounced her, and seeing Rebekah perched likewise on Finn's back while beaming right back at her. Nik and Kol would always be just ahead, outrunning them despite all the punches they threw at each other along the way.
She remembers when the boys were first allowed to have weapons. Well, most of them. When Mikael had provided each of his sons a dagger of their very own, he neglected to have one for Nik. The crestfallen look on his face is still a vivid picture that she can bring to mind, even all these years later. As well as the embarrassed flush that colored his cheeks when Mikael asked him why he looked like he was going to cry. She remembers stealing Kol's dagger later and bringing it to Nik as a gift, but he still seemed sad. Not knowing how to fix it, she held his hand instead.
For a long time, she never understood why Nik always had so many fresh bruises marring his skin, while his brother's did not. He was always getting in to trouble, she thought. Always up to no good. She assumed he merely had more scrapes and bruises than the other boys. But then she walked in on them once; Mikael, with his fingers wrapped around Nik's throat, screaming horrible things at him; Nik, struggling to keep his tears at bay. He was only twelve.
Just another reason to hate Mikael. She has plenty of those.
Still, she tries not to focus on the bad times. There were good times as well; a wealth of good times, moments that she keeps tucked close to her heart, always.
When Caroline is nine, they swore they saw a draugr. It's black as pitch outside, and they're navigating their way through the barrow mounds; the terrain of the dead. The rest of the village is sleeping peacefully, tucked away in their fur pallets; they'd be in so much trouble if their parents knew what they were getting up to. Nik, being fourteen and by far the more experienced one, holds her hand like any good protector should. Rebekah latches onto his other hand, and Kol trails behind them, grasping the back of Nik's tunic tightly.
"It smells like death here," Kol says, ominously. "Elijah told me the stench of decay follows the draugr everywhere it goes." Caroline shivers, and strains her eyes to peer through the surrounding darkness. The shapes of the mounds loom up in all directions. The werewolves are a fact of life here, and death is visible around every corner; it seems there's always someone new to bury, someone traveling into the afterlife and beyond, through the gates of Valhalla.
A twig snaps nearby, and they all freeze. "What was that?" Rebekah whines, and Caroline's fingers claw into Nik's arm. Something hisses in the darkness, and she swears she can see great, big eyes looking at them; yellowed eyes filled with death. Terror is climbing through her chest, making her heart pound fast.
"Who's out there?" Nik calls, puffing his chest out. But even he sounds scared. Kol keeps tugging at Caroline's braid. She hisses at him to stop, but he keeps tugging and tugging until she finally looks that way, snapping at him: "What?"
Kol points a shaking finger behind them, and Caroline looks that way. The terror pounding through her intensifies, until it's a near blinding panic that leaves her frozen in place.
It's a figure; a dark, tall figure hunched over and peering right at them. Just paces away. Caroline searches for breath, her lips parting soundlessly, uselessly. The figure's head tilts, and then it hisses at her; it's a horrible sound, rattling in the creatures lungs, and the stench of its decay clogs her nostrils, making her feel dizzy. The scream that's been building in her chest comes bubbling up her throat easily enough after that.
Niklaus swore later that she shrieked loudly enough to awaken the dead laid to rest all around them. It's a piercing, terrified sound, and at the noise Rebekah takes off running back towards the village with never a backward glance. Caroline's legs want to follow her, but she feels frozen stiff, and Kol is using her as a shield against the walking corpse.
"Hold on…" Nik starts, and then trails off, stepping towards the draugr. It flaps its arms at him. "Finn?"
Arms clamp around Caroline and Kol from behind, and they both scream, sure that they will be pulled down into the barrows and left to rot in its deathly embrace. They cling to each other, and the draugr cackles with delight.
Wait…do the draugar cackle? That laughs sounds an awful lot like –
"Elijah," Niklaus chastises, pulling Caroline away and letting her burrow her face into his chest. She gives herself a moment to whimper, as the terror slowly abates. Kol is laughing now too, and telling Elijah he wasn't really scared, he was just playing along, no he did not scream like a girl he just didn't want Caroline to feel bad about being such a baby and –
Finn steps toward her and gives the end of her braid a playful tug, "I really do apologize, Caroline, but you make just the best victim, your face –"
Caroline yells at him then, fear giving way to anger, her voice nearly unintelligible with the tears still clogged in her throat. She tells them they are just the worst big brothers ever, and then she flounces off after Rebekah.
She's only made it several mounds away when the sounds of the night leave her quaking again. "Nik?" She calls, her voice small. "Will you come with me?"
He holds her hand the entire way back.
As a young girl Caroline always pictured herself growing up to be village healer and midwife, like her mother. She remembers a time when she use to follow just a step behind as her mother rounded the village to visit the sick, a basket of herbs and salves dangling from her elbow. Caroline would bring along her own basket and peer down throats with a frown on her face, taking each of their charges seriously.
When her mother let her watch a birthing, she dropped the notion. She never wanted to see anything like that again, and she most certainly never wanted to go through the ordeal herself. For a time after that, Caroline declared she would be a shield maiden.
She remembers the incredulous stare Rebekah gave her, and Kol's raucous laughter. "Oh, Caroline, you are not warrior material."
Caroline had scoffed, crossing her arms. "Says who? I will be a shield maiden. There's no need for me to ever marry, or have children."
She'd clung to Nik's arm after that, and pled with him to train her, giving him the patented big-eyed waif stare that always seemed to convince him to give her whatever it was she wanted.
Caroline will never forget their first (and last) disastrous training session.
"I cannot believe I let you talk me into this."
"Oh, come on, Nik. This will be fun! Now train your warrior princess in the ways of war."
Niklaus heaves an exasperated sigh, but she ignores him as she flits about the numerous weapons he's set out, tapping her fingers against each one and bouncing on her toes before moving to the next one.
"Where would you like to begin, oh ferocious valkyrie?"
Caroline huffs at him, but a smile is tugging at her lips and she points towards the broadsword and toes it carefully with her booted feet. Niklaus sighs again, and ignores her suggestion.
"The dagger it is, then." He says in careful monotone, unsheathing it from his boot. Caroline plants her hands against her hips. "What? No, that isn't the one I said. I want –"
Niklaus tosses the dagger up, flipping it end over end, catching it deftly as it sails back down towards him. He shoots her a grin when her mouth falls open.
"Oh, can you teach me how to do that?" Her voice has gone breathy, as it tends to do when she's been impressed. Niklaus puffs his chest out.
"No, only boys do that."
Caroline makes a swipe for the dagger, and he quickly backtracks, holding it out of reach.
"Ah-ah. You promised you would be careful, otherwise I won't teach you."
Caroline scowls. Who is he to patronize her? He's only a boy.
"Now, first let me show you how to hold it," he says as he carefully hands it over, handle out.
"I know how to hold it!"
"Funny, because you're holding it all wrong."
"I am not!"
"Most combat is done with a reverse grip, so you can stab more powerfully. See, like this." He adjusts her hand on the blade, her fingers so tiny next to his, and softer too.
"Stab? I'm not going to stab anyone with this!" Caroline whines.
Scenting victory, he tugs the weapon from her hands with a smile and bends down to stick the blade back in his boot. "I knew you would see sense event –"
"I'm going to stab them with this!" She crows from somewhere to the left. Niklaus straightens immediately, but she's already heaving the broadsword from the ground, staggering under its weight.
She swings the blade up with a grunt, surprised at how heavy it is, and her eyes widen as its weight propels her forward, very nearly taking off Nik's head in the process. He dives to the ground with an oof, dodging her, and Caroline promptly drops the sword, spewing apologies as she falls to her knees beside him. She says she's sorry as she forcefully drags his head into her lap and combs his hair back from his face, and oh, Niklaus, are you hurt and he shuts his eyes a moment before glaring up at her.
"We are never doing this again." He vows grimly.
Rebekah tells her it's for the best, as she combs Caroline's hair and deftly braids it down her back. You're not a warrior princess, she says. You'll marry one of my brothers, and we'll have babies together and we'll always be sisters, she says. Caroline pretends to gag.
"Bekah, I am not marrying one of your brothers. Disgusting."
Niklaus chooses that moment to walk in, and he frowns at her. And then Kol pops in and ruffles her braid, ruining all of Rebekah's hard work.
"She's my future wife, I can do what I want."
The werewolves are a prominent memory. Everything they do is in some way or another affected by the werewolves. From hiding themselves away in the underground caves on the night of the full moon, to the careful storing of foods. Caroline remembers the winter that the wolves had gotten into their village stores and ransacked it in their madness. They'd come upon the wreckage in the morning, and nearly everything was declared inedible; the dried mutton half consumed, their stores of grain beyond repair, barley and rye coated in saliva.
It was a hard season, spent in half-starvation. That winter a sickness spread among the village, and they lost six good people. Maybe if they had been strong enough to fight it, they would have survived. Their loss was felt starkly.
The memories of the caverns are always there, filled with terror. As a young girl, she would lay curled in her mother's arms, whimpering at the slightest noises. With age came a certain ability to distance herself from the fear; just get through the night, and do what must be done upon the rising of the sun. So instead, Caroline would sit crouched against the wall, limbs cramped, and fret over Niklaus and the way his eyes gleamed with excitement as the howls rent through the night.
However old, however vague these memories are (older than time itself, it sometimes seems), these are the moments she will always remember, Caroline thinks. Her childhood. Her friends. Memories strife with mischief and foolery, even amidst the werewolf crisis; carefree times, cherished moments. She thinks, no matter how far away she is, no matter the passage of time, she will always look back on these times with fondness. She will carry them in her heart, always and forever, and they will lead her in everything she does. They are her guiding star, her lodestar.
Looking back, she feels nostalgic. She feels pain; deeply, gut-wrenchingly. These are the days that she will always long for, and their dazzling flame is made all the brighter, eternal in her thoughts.
Kol and his waywardness; he had a laugh that could make you smile even on your darkest days. He wasn't always a killer. He once showed remorse.
Rebekah who use to be so gentle; Caroline can feel the softness of her hands in her hair still. Rebekah whose love once burned so bright for all, a wildfire reduced to a candle flame, buffeted by a cold breeze.
Elijah. Caroline thinks Elijah will always be the same. He is timeless; a shelter against the nightmares, a reminder of what they all once were.
Henrik. Alive. Human. A feeling that is scarcely a dream now.
Finn, once a figure they could all look up to, even Elijah. Altered to a bitter, husk of a man.
Klaus. He was Nik then; just her Nik. Her best friend. Her memories of him are by far the most painful; they are not dull pangs of nostalgia. Those memories are sharp, to a point of breathlessness. And yet, it seems, they are the most cherished of all.
You can't go back, Caroline thinks. You can never go back.
But oh, how she wishes she could sometimes.
Caroline remembers the first time she looked at Niklaus and didn't think, oh, boys, disgusting!
They'd long since left behind their wild ways, cavorting through the woods and splashing in the waterhole and clambering up trees. Elijah still sits with her on the roof, come morning, though he's often silent. Drawn within, she thinks. She'll curl up against his arm and doze as the sun beams its first rays of light upon them. Kol is still insufferable, but he's developed some level of tact, and he has an eye for the other village girls. Finn is distant, often planning raids with the rest of the menfolk or off on some new voyage; soon enough Elijah will be joining him, and then Niklaus. Her boys are leaving her behind. The thought pains her.
She is, by her mother's standards, a woman (though she doesn't feel it) and old enough to marry (she doesn't want to). She'd been grousing to Rebekah about it, grimacing and flinging her hands about, and at a noise from the woods she had glanced that way.
Niklaus and Elijah were what she heard, both of them laughing and shaking water from their hair as they emerged from between the trees. Niklaus wasn't wearing his tunic, and little beads of water still clung to his chest and ran over the well-formed muscles. Caroline's mouth had run dry, and her face had grown hot with embarrassment. When they arrived at the hut, she hadn't been able to look her dear friend in the eyes, for fear of what he'd read in hers. She'd made her excuses, and fled for home.
Caroline starts noticing lots of things after that. The way Niklaus smells; his scent is distinctly different from when he was a boy. She can't, for the life of her, quite describe it. She only knows that it's a masculine smell, and it makes her head spin. When he comes near her, smelling absolutely, sinfully delicious, it's as if his whole essence envelopes her, and at his nearness she can feel the warmth of his body; it heats her skin and sinks inside of her, until all she can feel is him.
The way his voice goes quiet, soft, when he's concentrating on something; like a rough purr. It makes her stomach turn to knots, twisting inside of her and causing a heated discomfort in her guts that she doesn't understand. The way he raises his brows at her when she says something silly, and his full lips peel back in a grin. When he dimples his cheeks at her, those very dimples that she once thought were just so mischievous and boyish, his face transforms from handsome to breathtaking. Those dimples make her heart skip beats, and when he's smiling at her like that, she can hardly even breathe.
She likes to take long walks with him through the woods; he always seems to find a reason to touch her, easing her pathway across the rough terrain; helping her overstep a fallen tree, his chest warm against her back and his arms like a safety net around her as he lifts her body easily. She likes to imagine that he enjoys feeling her body against his too, but she knows it's only a fantasy in her silly little mind.
Nik asks her why she's been so quiet lately. Where has my talkative valkyrie gone, I wonder, he'll say, teasingly. What has been troubling you, he'll ask, seriously. Won't you tell me, he'll plead. Worriedly.
What's troubling her is him. And she thinks her mother was always right; Nik is trouble. He makes her heart beat faster, he makes her head dizzy and her stomach churn with nerves. It can't be good. And yet she revels in every moment. So she'll smile at him, and coyly duck her face while batting her lashes up at him, and he'll stare at her perplexed, as if he's not at all sure what to make of the young woman that has taken the place of his best friend.
She doesn't tell Elijah. When they perch precariously on the slates of the roof, silent and gazing far, far away into the distance, she considers it. Opens her mouth with due hesitance, and then looses courage. She worries that he'll tell Nik; she worries that this ridiculous fixation of hers will ruin a friendship that means more to her than the world; she worries that she'll loose Nik. She couldn't bear that.
She doesn't tell Rebekah either, though she suspects that her friend might know. The way Rebekah looks at her sometimes, appraisingly, when Caroline has been admiring the display of muscle as Niklaus crosses his arms over his chest. Rebekah grins, and winks, and tweaks Caroline's nose with a little laugh before walking away.
"Do you like it?"
Caroline does a spin, pleased at the graceful swirl of dress about her ankles. "Oh, Rebekah, I love it! It's so lovely!" Caroline runs her hands over the soft, woolen folds of the skirt, admiring the deep blue shade.
Rebekah sits her down, tilting her friends head back to begin an intricate braid. She weaves small, violet colored ribbons through Caroline's hair, to match the edging on the dress. She'd dyed the colors carefully, ensuring a perfect match.
"You look beautiful in it, Caroline. I think you're officially a woman now." Caroline's cheeks turn pink. Rebekah really did her justice with the dress; she feels beautiful in it. It perfectly hugs the small curves that her body has started to develop; gives her a casual elegance she has never felt before. She's sixteen today, and she is starting to feel like a woman. A warm glow forms in her stomach at the thought. She wonders when Nik will be home from the hunting party.
Elijah arrives sometime after that, while Caroline is exclaiming over the beautiful pattern of ribbon through her braid, and wishes her a happy birthday with a smile. He's made her very own set of pieces for Talf, and promises to play with her later.
Nik shows himself after the meal-fire has been started, and her mother and Esther are both hard at work on food preparations. They've let Caroline and Rebekah sit before the fire and talk, instead of helping tonight. They're each sipping their mead, and giggling at Kol imitating Elijah behind his back, when suddenly Nik is there between them.
"Caroline," he says quietly, and she bumps her shoulder against his. Niklaus smiles. "Would you take a walk with me? Only for a moment."
She nods instantly, because of course! What else would she say to him? Caroline rises, trying to be graceful in her new dress, swaying her hips slightly in the way she's seen some of the village girls do when Kol is hanging around them with his glittering eyes.
Niklaus appraises her new dress with raised brows as they walk, and he very lightly grazes his finger over the violet trimming. Caroline's heart starts to beat faster.
"It suits you," he says softly, and there's a tenderness in his eyes as he looks at her. "You look lovely tonight, Caroline." She just bumps his shoulder again and mutters her thanks, because she's not sure what else to say to him. At times, these new feelings stirring inside of her breast leave her crippled with shyness when she's around him.
"I – I made you something," Nik continues as he stops her when they've disappeared from view of the others. "It's – Rebekah helped me, with the colors. To match your dress." He explains. He grabs her hand, placing something moderately light in her palm. Caroline peers down at it.
It's a beautiful bracelet, made from several different colored wooden beads. There's some dark blue, like her dress, and some light blue, and a few violets, and some are even white. Caroline exclaims softly as she holds it around her wrist, jutting her hand out in front of her to admire it.
"It's perfect, Nik! You made this?"
He smiles as he reaches forward to help secure it around her wrist, tying the thin leather strips together and tightening until it circles around her at just the right size. His fingers are rough when they graze her skin, and the back of her neck prickles at the sensation. After he's finished tying the bracelet, Nik lifts her hands to his lips briefly, kissing along her knuckles. Caroline feels her knees buckle slightly.
"Yes. Happy Birthday, Caroline."
He's staring very intently into her eyes; it's a burning look. It sears across her flesh and settles a little ball of warmth somewhere in her chest, almost painful but oh so precious. It's uncomfortable, like standing in front of a fire for too long, and heat is rushing to her cheeks, but she can't look away from him.
Nik is still holding her hand in his.
"I – Nik, I –"
Her mother is calling for her; and then Mikael is muttering curses over Niklaus. She watches as Nik's face instantly hardens, and he drops her hand like she's infected with something.
"Let's get back," his voice is aloof now, and it matches the scowl on his face. Caroline wishes she could calm this anger that always seems to be just beneath the surface, eating away at her friend. It hurts to see him so bitter.
Instead she follows him back, silently, and swallows thickly when she catches her mother's eye; she makes no comment, but her mother watches the two of them return with a frown marring her lips.
The celebration continues long into the night, and Caroline has more mead than she's ever dared before. It's Kol's fault really; he's the one that keeps bringing her tankard after tankard, and his grin gets more devilish with each one. Caroline only smiles at him, and tells him he's just the sweetest boy, and when is he going to find a nice girl?
At some point there's dancing. Some of the other villagers have stopped by, and more tankards of mead are handed out, and then a pipe is whistling into the night, shortly joined by the bodhran. Caroline lifts the hem of her skirt, dancing arm-in-arm with Rebekah, and her head is constantly whirling, even when her body isn't. Her mother has long since retired for the night, and Caroline exults in her freedom.
A bonfire has been started, and Caroline sways in its glow, enjoying the warmth along her skin and the pound of the bodhran, a slow lazy beat. She rakes a casual hand through her hair, and some of her braid unravels and spills over her shoulder, so she tosses her head back, still moving to the beat of the music. Some of the other girls have joined her and Rebekah around the fire, giggling and dancing.
Caroline peers up through her lashes, across the fire pit, straight at Niklaus. He stands apart from the others, leaning against a tree casually, arms crossed. His eyes have been following her since the moment she started dancing; his expression hasn't changed, he still appears aloof and uncaring, but his eyes are burning her. She bats her lashes at him with a grin, and the smallest of smiles catches at the corner of his lips.
Everything is spinning around her; Caroline closes her eyes with a groan, slumped over on the ground. She hears voices arguing above her. Nik is swearing violently.
"Why in the name of Hel did you give her so much to drink?"
"It's her birthday! I just wanted her to have fun. Come on, she had fun. She's just a little sick."
Caroline tastes something foul in her mouth, burning her throat, and wonders if that's what happened. Had she gotten sick? She breathes in through her nose, and instantly a vile smell assaults her senses. Her stomach turns over, and she wretches onto the ground; tears stream down her face at the violence of her convulsions.
Soon enough hands are holding her hair out of her face, and rubbing along her back soothingly. Caroline whimpers a broken little sob, and then more bile is forcing its way out of her.
"Sssh, you'll be fine," Nik says, and she realizes he's the one holding her hair back. "This will be over soon, sweetheart." His voice sounds so gentle. She hiccups, and then groans when she feels the sickness rushing through her again, and her whole body shakes as she heaves.
When it's over, she slumps back down with a groan, face first into the dirt. She can't bring herself to care.
"That was disgusting!" She hears Kol say, and his voice sounds gleeful.
"This is your fault, get your useless hide in the house."
"I cannot miss this, I'll torment her for –"
"KOL! Inside. Now."
Kol's voice disappears. Caroline closes her eyes, trying to shut out the way everything spins so much. Arms lift her up and she moans weakly in protest, but she's already being lifted from the ground, cradled against a firm chest. His arms are tight around her, one looped under her knees and the other around her back.
"Put your arms around me." Nik says softly, into her ear. "No, my neck. Like that, yes. I'll get you home."
He starts walking, slowly, being careful not to jostle her, but the rocking motion makes her stomach churn anyway; Caroline groans again and buries her nose against his throat, breathing deeply. His scent settles her; he smells divine. She sniffs again, running her nose along his jaw.
"Mmm, you smell good, Nik."
Niklaus laughs softly, his breath blowing her hair gently. "You've had too much to drink, Caroline."
She continues on as if he hadn't said a word. "When did you start smelling so good? Why can't you smell like a dirty little boy anymore?"
"It would make things so much easier," she whispers, tightening her arms around him.
Caroline doesn't answer; already, she's started to doze off as she lays curled against the warmth of his chest, and she hears Nik mutter something that sounds like, "never letting you drink again. Your mother is going to kill me."
But she just nuzzles her face into his throat again, murmuring his name in a soft, sweet voice, sighing happily as he holds her tighter.
When Caroline wakes in the morning, her head is in agony; it pounds in a similar fashion to the bodhran, only it's louder and faster and altogether a vicious, horrible sensation. With a groan she rolls over and presses her face into her arms, trying to swallow the sand that seems to fill her mouth. Her tongue feels coated in it, and her lips are cracked.
"Well, well, well," a voice says. "Look whose joined the land of the living once more." Caroline snaps up and immediately regrets it when the whole world shifts and seems to topple right over on top of her. She falls back limply, and glares at Kol.
"Go away, Kol. I'm sleeping."
"But I just came to give you the good news! Your mother is never letting you out of here alive," and Kol actually cackles.
Caroline panics, sitting up, though more slowly. Her stomach is still churning. "What do you mean?"
Kol preens, shining his nails on his tunic as if it's all thanks to him. And it is! "Well, she caught Nik putting you to bed." He juts him thumb to the entryway of her room. "There's a clay pot out there in pieces that she broke over his head." He's grinning maniacally.
"Oh, gods," Caroline moans, and kicks her legs out to stand up. "I have to talk to her," she says.
She stumbles a little, her legs uneasy, and Kol steadies her. Caroline smiles at him for a moment before she realizes this is all his fault. "You will come with me," Caroline hisses, fisting his tunic and dragging him closer. He looks mildly impressed. "And you will explain how this is your fault!"
Kol splutters at her, and she shakes him for added effect. He scoffs and removes her hands from him, brushing his tunic down as if he's removing something filthy from it. Caroline crosses her arms.
"Do it, or I'll tell all the girls that you've been promising to marry all of them with every intention of marrying none of them." She grins at him, and this time it's her grin that's maniacal. Kol pales. "After that, there will be no more girls for Kol."
He curses at her, but follows her from the room nonetheless in search of her mother.
Kol takes the blame when they speak with her mother; explains that Nik was just looking out for her. She chastises him sharply, and when he begs her not to tell his father, she frowns.
"I've already spoken to Mikael about Niklaus," she says, and Kol's face pales. He looks toward Caroline, panic written across his features, but she's already running for the Mikaelson's home. She knows how he treats Nik, how he despises him so, and she worries over his reaction.
Rebekah is the only one at the home when Caroline arrives, breathless. Her friend is shaken, pale, and the evidence of tears still line her cheeks.
"He was so angry," Rebekah says, her eyes distant. Caroline worries her hands. "I've never seen him so angry. He said Nik has embarrassed him, that he can't tolerate such a shameful excuse for a son."
"He – he hit him." She says, and her voice cracks. "Again and again. More than I've ever seen him hit Nik before."
Caroline grabs Rebekah's shoulders, forcing her to look at her. "Where is he?" She knows Caroline means Niklaus.
Rebekah frowns and nods toward the woods. "He went that way. But he says he wants to be left alone, he – Caroline!"
Caroline is already running in the direction she pointed to; she knows where he is.
Nik is sitting on the rock ledge over the waterhole, his legs dangling down and a scowl on his face. His cheek is marred with bruises, a florid stain that spreads over half of his face and over an eye as well. His lip is split open. Caroline's heart flutters with agony, with guilt. She did this. It's her fault, if she hadn't drunk so much mead, if she'd just said no; she should have known better.
She clambers up the rocks, making her way towards him. Nik turns his face away.
"Leave," he says. His voice is a growl, low and menacing. Like a dog that's been hurt and crawls away to lick it's wounds, growling at anyone that comes near. She doesn't heed him; she lowers herself down to sit next to him, peering at his face with apprehension.
"I'm so sorry, Nik," Caroline begins, her voice hesitant, cracked and bleeding raw. "This is all my fault."
"I'll talk to him, I'll go to Mikael and explain –"
Nik rejects the idea vehemently. "No," he barks sharply. "You will not go near him." Violently, he clenches his hands into fists. She places a hand over one of them, softly; they're shaking beneath her fingers.
She doesn't know what to say. The guilt wracks through her, but she can't fix it. She can't fix anything. She wishes, more than anything, that she could. That somehow she could fix everything for Nik, make it all perfect for him. He deserves perfection.
And Caroline is very far from perfect.
So she presses her face to his shoulder, and whispers how sorry she is, tears brimming in her eyes. Nik stiffens at her touch, frozen for only a moment before he shrugs her off.
"You have to stop that, Caroline."
She peers up at him in confusion, and he finally turns to face her; she could weep at the sight of those bruises, so vivid, so stark along his skin. Caroline lifts a hand to brush her fingers along the edge of them, but he catches her wrist, holding her hand away from him.
She drops it into her lap. "What do you mean?" She whispers, staring down at her fingers. They worry her skirt; she's still wearing the blue dress. The bracelet on her wrist matches it so well, she thinks, absently.
"Just stop. All of it. I don't need you here." His voice is cold, and it lashes against her like a fist to the face. It hurts, to hear him speak thus to her. "I don't need you always looking at me like you do, I don't need you telling me I smell good." Her cheeks grow hot as she remembers that. But his next words leave her pale.
"I don't want you." He says.
'I'll never want you.' She hears.
Her whole world shatters at those words; breaks and crumbles into pieces, and she can't hold the pieces together no matter how hard she tries. She has strength enough to keep the tears at bay, as she nods numbly at him. She has strength enough to get to her feet, to walk away, to get as far away from him as possible. Because once she's far enough away, the tears will be able to come then, and she needs to get them out. She has to, or they will drown her.
Elijah comes to find her as she's making porridge over the meal-fire. She hasn't had much of an appetite for food all day, but she thinks maybe if she eats, she'll feel better. Well, her stomach may. Her heart is another matter.
"You weren't around this morning," he observes matter-of-factly as he watches her heat the water. Caroline shrugs. "I missed your company." She huffs and shoots him an incredulous look.
"Oh, so you want me around?" Her voice is sarcastic, bitter. "At least someone does, I suppose." She throws a handful of oats into the heated water.
Elijah purses his lips, regarding her seriously. "Want to talk about it?" He says. She snaps No and glares balefully at her oats, stirring them around and around. Around and around and around, that's how it always goes. Always around, always chasing, never getting what she wants. Because what she wants, who she wants, doesn't want her back. So she's stuck spinning around and around, running in circles, and it's bound to drive her insane one day.
"Is it Niklaus?" Elijah asks softly, sitting next to her and breaking her thoughts. Caroline freezes, and her oats break from their organized circle and scatter in a billion directions; just like her and Nik. "How did you –"
"You thought I didn't know?" he frowns down at her, with his serious eyes; so kind, she thinks, and full of compassion. Elijah is different from the rest of them. "I know you like I know my sister, Caroline. I see the way you look at him." She flushes, looking away, and he tips her chin up back towards him. "And I see the way he looks at you."
Caroline jerks her chin away and laughs, but the sound is far from joyful; it seems cold, even to her ears. "You're wrong." She says, and she believes it whole-heartedly. "He doesn't want me."
I don't want you.
The pain is back, it lances through her chest and the lump is rising in her throat again. She thought she'd cried all her tears, sobbing into the bark of a rough tree earlier; the same tree she'd fallen from, on that day that he carried her home, back when he was her best and dearest friend. Caroline swallows the lump painfully, and it sinks down her throat and straight into her heart, where the pain continues to fester.
"Why doesn't he want me, Elijah?" She finally whispers in a broken little voice. When she looks up at him, expectantly, he has his eyes narrowed in thought.
"When – when father hit him, he said some things." Elijah's voice sounds pained. "Every punch he threw was followed with hurtful words. Words that, I'm afraid, Niklaus takes to heart. He always does. He believes every word."
"It had nothing to do with that," Caroline mutters, and the tears are there inside of her, begging to be shed. She won't let them. "He – he said he doesn't want me. He'll never want me."
Elijah is lifting her chin again, his big brown eyes searching hers. "He does, Caroline," he says, earnestly. "He does. You're the whole world, for him. In time, he'll move past our father's threats."
She wants to believe him. She yearns to believe him, so much. Elijah brushes a lock of hair behind her ear. "In time, Niklaus will love you. I'm sure of it."
The tears won't be denied, after that. Caroline burrows her face into his chest, throwing her arms around him, and her tears soak the front of his tunic as she sobs. She's only a girl, after all. Just a silly little girl who is imperfect and shallow and broken; everyone knows that broken little girls will always cry.
Caroline tells herself that the tears she spilt against Elijah's chest would be the last that she allows herself. After that, Caroline keeps her distance from Nik. When she passes by him through the village they may lock eyes for the briefest of moments, before the both of them look away, keeping their gazes carefully averted.
It feels awkward, to see him. Awkward, and painful. But Caroline is good at shoving the pain away, and letting anger take its place. If she has to speak to him, she is disdainful, verging on offensive; he is distant, cold. The rest of the village watches them in awe, scarcely able to believe that a pair as inseparable as they had been, could now be so hateful towards each other. It seems like everyone is holding their breath, waiting for the anvil to drop, for a screaming match to break out. But it doesn't, because for the most part, she doesn't see him.
Rebekah comes over to her home instead now, because Caroline refuses to subject herself to the torment of seeing Nik anymore than she must. The well-meaning girl had mentioned early on that she had yelled at Nik, told him what a fool he was being, but Caroline had firmly steered the conversation away from him. Eventually Rebekah stops trying to bring him up.
She still sits with Elijah on the roof come morning, but she tells him firmly each time that she doesn't want to talk about it, so he doesn't. He tries to make her laugh, like Nik use to, but when he uses a joke that Nik has already told her the pain gets to be too much, and instead of laughing she finds herself breaking her rule and sobbing quietly into Elijah's shoulder. He doesn't try to tell anymore jokes after that.
Kol disregards her rules entirely, when she sharply tells him to stop telling her about Nik. She thinks he feels bad, that he blames himself, but she knows he didn't really mean any harm on the night of her birthday. Kol is not malicious, he's not his father. He can be a sweet boy when he wants to be, and she knows that's why he keeps bringing Nik up, as he if can somehow fix the whole mess. She tells him again and again to stop, but he won't listen.
"Nik misses you," he remarks one day, as he's helping her carry buckets of water back to the house. Caroline sighs; should she even bother yelling at him anymore? "He asks us about you every day."
Kol screws his face up into a grievous expression and imitates Nik's voice: "Oh, how is my sweetest Caroline today? She, who is the fairest and most beautiful flower, with her bonnie blue eyes and hair made of sunshine –"
"Be quiet, he didn't say that, will you just –"
"How I long to kiss those sweet lips and set to right all of my wrongdoings," Kol continues in a somber voice, "thine love for her is greater even than that which tethers me to this world, and I shall lay her abed and show her –"
"Gods, Kol!" Caroline wants to drop her buckets and plug her ears, but thankfully he stops; mostly because he's laughing too hard at the sight of her flushing cheeks to continue. She wants to glare at him, but despite herself, she can't help the smile that twitches at the corners of her lips. His laugh always did make her smile.
When he's finally calmed down though, his voice softens. "He does ask about you, though." Kol says, and his eyes are more serious than she's ever seen them. "Every day."
"Well," Caroline starts, in her usual we're-talking-about-Nik-so-I-must-be-disdainful fashion. "If he asks about me, and I'm not saying I believe you, but if he does," she smiles a beatific smile up at Kol. "You tell him I said he can go drown himself in the waterhole for all I care."
And she flounces off. She knows she can trust Kol to pass on her message in the most insulting manner possible.
The days are getting hotter and hotter, and Caroline and Rebekah beg off work for the afternoon to take a swim. They crow with delight as they dive off the rocks in only their under shifts, splashing each other viciously when they breach the surface, and it's almost like they're children again. Back when things were simpler, and altogether less painful. Caroline misses those days; when she voices her thoughts to Rebekah, her friend sighs along with her and they both float along on their backs, staring up at the treetops.
They hear footsteps along the bank, and both of them sink down hastily so only their heads are showing, bobbing above the waterline. It has been an unspoken agreement, no longer swimming with the boys. Those days are long since passed, when they could splash together in the shallows of the water. The girls have become women now; their bodies have developed curves here and there, no longer flat and bony all over as they were when they were children. It would be entirely too inappropriate now.
But it's the boys, nonetheless, and it seems they haven't noticed the two girls treading out in the deep parts of the water. They're shedding their tunics and shoving each other forcefully, and Kol laughs as he knocks Elijah into the water before jumping in after him. Caroline feels breathless when she notices Nik removing his tunic, and her whole body starts to shake. She shoots Rebekah a panicked look when he starts to wade his way into the water.
Rebekah, the dear, sweet goddess, takes matters into her own hands. "Oh, gods! Can't you boys see that we're in here already? Get out!" Caroline hides behind Rebekah and tries to fade into the surroundings inconspicuously.
Nik looks like he wants to do the same. Kol's eyes shoot towards Niklaus and then towards Caroline, and suddenly a conniving smile is spreading across his face.
"Ah, Caroline! How wonderful to see your shining face. Doesn't our girl just look beautiful today, Nik?"
"Burn in Hel, Kol," Rebekah spouts off, gesturing at him rudely. He paddles closer, his eyes gleaming with intentions to dunk her under, and she swims out of his reach, kicking water back in his face. Her maneuver leaves Caroline unguarded.
"Don't worry, Caroline," Kol says as he swims past her, reaching for Rebekah's ankles as she shrieks. "I, ever the dutiful one, passed your message along. Nik has just come to fulfill your wishes."
Caroline turns her nose up. "Oh, yes?" She asks, scornfully. "Come to drown yourself, Niklaus?"
It's the first time she's spoken to him directly in a week. Nik glares at her, swimming closer. She wants to shrink away, but she stands her ground. Or, well, treads water in the same spot. "So sorry to disappoint you," he says darkly, a scowl on his face. "But not today, sweetheart."
Caroline glares back. "I am not your sweetheart," she snaps bitingly, her voice sharp. He's much too close now, and she has only words with which to fight him off. "I never wanted to be your sweetheart, you arrogant boy." The others have stopped talking, stopped breathing it almost seems, and are watching them in awkward silence.
Nik's scowl deepens, if possible, and his eyes flash at her. "Oh, I could have sworn otherwise," he says coldly. "With you batting your eyes up at me all the time, like some ridiculous little village wench."
"Nik!" Rebekah chastises, aghast. Both of them ignore her.
Caroline shoves him roughly, stamping down the pain that cut through her at his words. "Well if I was so ridiculous then why did you give me this bracelet? Hmm?" His eyes fall to her wrist, where the bracelet still lies. Angry as she's been this whole time, she hadn't been able to take it off; she even wears it to bed.
For a moment, just a small moment, his face softens. She realizes then how close they are, just a breath apart. His eyes meet hers with so much regret, and a stark loneliness that she feels as well; it eats away at her, and soon enough there won't be anything left. But then his face grows hard once more, his eyes stormy.
"It meant nothing," Nik says. "Throw it to the bottom of the lake, for all I care."
It stings, sharply. But she won't cry. Caroline will never cry for him again. "Fine," she hisses, as her fingers fumble with the leather ties. "Fine." And she lets it slide from her wrist and slip into the water. She swims past him, making sure to splash some in his face.
As she leaves, she can hear Rebekah shouting at Nik, but she can't make out the words. All she can hear are his, echoing in her mind; in her heart.
It meant nothing.
"Nik feels bad," Rebekah says. "He didn't mean it."
Caroline ignores her.
"He's so moody now," Kol complains. "Can't you two just sort this out?"
Caroline shakes her head.
"Why don't you come around anymore, Caroline?" Henrik whines. "Nik misses you."
Caroline never knows what to say to Henrik.
"I think he has a death wish," Elijah tells her, worriedly. "He's been picking fights with father."
Caroline feigns indifference.
"What has been going on since I've been gone," Finn asks her. "What has happened, Caroline?"
Caroline just shrugs.
She's hurt. She's angry with him. She thinks that things will never be the same again. And yet…and yet, in the deepest, most secret part of her, she holds out hope. Hope that one day they can somehow make amends; that maybe he will look at her and feel just as breathless as she does when she looks at him. She carries that faith hidden within her, almost subconsciously.
But one morning Caroline arises, and the talk around the village is all about some new girl. Tatia, they say her name is. Tatia, who is beautiful with her dark locks and big doe eyes. Tatia, who seems already to have an eye on the Mikaelson boys.
With the coming of Tatia, everything changes. Everything. And the hope that Caroline keeps buried is dug up only to be burned to ashes, crumbling in her fingertips and withering away into nothingness.
A/N: So what'd you guys think? I would looove to hear your thoughts! I've had just the WORST day ever, and reviews would make me feel oh, so happy.
Also, follow me on tumblr (come on, please?), I'm banana71588. I only just realized it's spectacular existence a few weeks ago, and I have hardly ANY followers. Sigh. I'll post teasers there for your enjoyment before each updaaaaaate. :)