A/N: Guys, I'm really sorry about how long it took for me to update. I went through hard times (lost my job, lost my apartment, had to move back home, and now I'm back in school which is pretty time consuming) so I just lost my writing mojo. I was also having a LOT of trouble with this chapter.

You guys owe a lot of thanks to Anne (bkgrl, author of I'm Not Calling You A Liar which is just FABULOUS oh my gosh read it) for this update, she inspired me to get back on track with this chapter and helped me figure out a lot of things I needed to address. You wouldn't have this update right now if it weren't for her help, so go read her stuff as a thank you, k?

Also a huge heaping thanks to Kelly (Sunny Daisy, author of the birth and death of the day WHICH IS AMAZING AND YOU NEED TO READ OKAY?!) for betaing this chapter. Lots of things were added because of her notes, so yeah, you guys owe her, cos I think the things that were added are some of the best parts k.

And another GIGANTIC thank you to Inge (swinty81) for the graphic cover she made for this fic. Isn't it beautiful? I dedicate this chapter entirely to her. Thank you Inge, you are the beset graphic maker!

So yeah, thanks to everyone who helped inspire me and everyone who reads and reviews, you have no idea how much those reviews mean to me when I'm feeling down in the dumps and just shitty in general when it comes to my word vomit. Thank you everyone, I hope this chapter will please you and make up for the wait!

And now...read on

So Long, Lonesome

Chapter Six: In the daylight we'll be on our own

Here I am waiting, I'll have to leave soon

Why am I holding on?

We knew this day would come, we knew it all along

How did it come so fast?

This is way too hard, cause I know

When the sun comes up, I will leave

This is my last glance that will soon be memory

- "Daylight" Maroon 5 -

Nothing ever changes; they've always been the same, all of them, and it's a fact that has been ingrained into her since childhood. Men, boys; the unfaithful and the foolish. They come to her with desperation on their lips, and part from her with satisfaction dancing on their tongues. It's been that way ever since she can remember; uncle in the dead of night; boys longing to shed their purity and transform themselves into men; and then the men, the ones that are married or promised to another, the ones with selfishness in their eyes and infidelity hiding in their hearts.

She was made for it, born for it. She's beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Glittering like a shooting star, hair like night and lips like poison. Beautiful. Uncle used to whisper that to her, as his hands brushed aside a child's innocence and forged her into a woman. Every night, until the aunt made her leave when she was old enough and she wandered from town to town, spinning lust like an expert weaver. An outcast, always, but a wanted one. Even if she was wanted in a wicked way, and for never very long at all.

Her parents hadn't wanted her, so they left her with an uncle that did. Her aunt hadn't wanted her, so she coiled herself into the lives of men that did, if only for a few weeks, sometimes just a night.

Love is an illusion, but there was a time that she let herself believe it. He was beautiful, and sincere, and maybe he had a wife, but he told her he loved her. Tatia; the one who is never loved. She believed it right up until the moment he left her alone, with his child growing in her belly, and an illusion crumbling like dust and floating away with the wind. Her tears slipped away like sparkling glass, drifted until they were gone, and the pain was forgotten. They never came back; not the men, nor the tears. She is a vessel of secret desires, a body for warmth and forbidden fruits, and she believes that now.

Love is an illusion, but she thought it was illusion she could keep with Niklaus. He was unwanted too; unloved, filled with darkness, made to be bad rather than good. Just like her. She thought he understood, thought that maybe two people unfit for happiness could perhaps imitate their own happy ending with each other.

But old habits die hard; and Elijah, good sweet Elijah, she'd give anything to be wanted by someone so wholesome.

She takes and she takes; things she was never meant to have. Goodness, love, happiness; those things aren't meant for her. And she looks at her son and thinks, bitterly; he'll be just like the rest.

She hates them all but she wants them so badly. If she wants them badly enough, maybe they'll want her too.

She'll make them want her the only way she knows how.

It's a delightful sort of awakening; filled with quiet serenity and a giddily pulsing contentment. Nik's running a hand along her bare back, and the warmth of his palm sets her alight, makes her burn and spark with vivacity. He's quiet beside her, perhaps lost in thought, unaware of her wakefulness. Caroline soaks it in, his warmth, his nearness, lets the feeling of him sink inside of her. She could awake to mornings like these every day for the rest of her life, so perfect, so serene, she could; and it would still never been enough. A smile slips across her lips as she imagines doing just that; waking up with him beside her every day, developing rituals and traditions, starting a life. A future, with Nik. It's a small, wistful smile, given with lips still swollen from his kisses. But then she shifts in his arms, notices the discomfort he's left prickling between her thighs, and the smile falters; perhaps the moment isn't completely serene.

A slight grumble tickles up her throat, and at the sound Nik presses closer, lips hot against her ear. "So you're awake now," he purrs, sucking the lobe between his teeth with playful mischievousness. It sets off a delicious frisson of pleasure, shooting all down her body.

"Hmm," she mumbles and burrows herself further against him, nosing his throat. The tranquility she felt before shatters completely as a hot flush creeps up her throat and onto her cheeks; she can't look at him. It's too embarrassing, she'll just stay right where she is and never look at anybody again, because oh gods. She's no longer a maiden.

"Did you sleep well?" his fingers bump along the notches of her spine as he speaks, the callused pads rough against the softness of her skin. When they trail back up, lethargically, they bring another shiver racing along with them.


"Will you come out and look at me?"

Caroline shakes her head adamantly, still nuzzled against his throat.

"I insist. Please, sweetheart?" So sweetly coaxing, like honey dripping over her still naked body.


But Nik will have none of that. His hands curve around her shoulders and up until they're grasping her chin, very gently tipping her face up. She peeks at him through her lashes, her cheeks still stained a vibrant red that grows hotter as he stares at her. And he's giving her this look like she's handed him the world and he's entirely smitten with it. It makes her stomach feel strange, as if her insides are running amok, and she wonders if he reads the same message in her eyes as she does in his.

Nik smiles at her, one of those slow, heart stopping smiles, and touches his lips very softly to hers; his kiss, for once, quite chaste. And as always, it sinks inside of her and twists around her heart and squeezes until she feels she might just burst into a thousand pieces. There is this incomparable yearning that she feels for him, not just all across every inch of her fevered skin but inside her heart, her mind, deep down into her very soul; it thrums to life inside of her until it's all she's breathing in.

Salaciously, his tongue slips between her teeth, hot breath fanning into her mouth; there's a little noise that claws at the back of her throat as she surrenders her lips to him, and Nik deepens the kiss. He hums, a rumbling sound, as his fingers skim across her bare thighs, fluttering, raising goose bumps along her flesh. His hand curves around her bottom, squeezing just slightly, and Caroline pants against his mouth, coiling herself around him like a snake, breasts pressed flush to his chest.

His fingers drift between her legs, slowly, teasingly, until they brush across her tender flesh. Caroline flinches, choking over her breath as the painful soreness between her thighs grows more abundant. She pulls away immediately, breaking their kiss and grabbing at his arm with a hiss.

Nik's brow crumples, his expression a picture of absolute confusion at her resistance. It's a pitiful sort of look; she almost feels sorry for him, but he's the one who did this to her so...

"Hurts," she groans by way of explanation, sinking back on the pallet, further distancing herself from him. Nik hovers over her anxiously. She's reminded briefly of the time she fell from a tree as a child (the tree he'd dared her to climb up, damn him), and he'd hopped around her like a worrisome mother hen while her lungs clawed for breath (you look like a dying fish Caroline, what should I do?!).

"Is that…typical?" He queries, and she nearly laughs at the hesitance in his voice until an unwanted thought bangs against her skull and is quickly paired with an image she does not want in her head; her retort is an acrid taste upon her tongue.

"How should I know? You're the one who's supposed to be experienced here, not I."

The bitterness that laces her tone shuts him up quickly enough as he continues to stare down at her, deflating with shame before her very eyes. Caroline throws an arm over her face to hide her mortification, but also so that she doesn't have to look at him, and remember that while this morning after may be her first, it certainly isn't his.

"How can I acquit myself, Caroline?"

Her lips twitch, remembering when he'd begged that of her before, that day at the vendor – the determination that lifted his shoulders and the unabashed stubbornness in his gaze. The most determined, pig-headed man she's ever known.

"Nothing," Caroline sighs. "Just let me rest."

She doesn't even know what he's up to until the blankets have been jerked from her body and tossed to the floor.

"Stop," she whines, still hiding behind her arm, shivering slightly as the cool air slithers across her unveiled flesh. She gropes blindly for something to cover herself with, but Nik bats her hand away and then without even a by-your-leave, his mouth is around her nipple and she's sitting up wildly with a shriek of surprise. "Gods, what are you doing?!"

"Trying to make you feel better," Nik grouses, frowning as he nudges her back down. "If you would let me."

"Nik –"

"Ssh," he hushes her, his breath fanning across her breasts. "Just relax."

He'd said the same thing to her the night before, and it has the same effect on her now as it did then; it sends a hurdling wave of heat over her body, a jolt that twinges hotly between her legs as the images and feelings all resurface; his touch, his body, filling her, taking her. All the buzzing thoughts in her mind fade and drift away as Caroline shifts uncomfortably and then stops moving altogether as Nik's tongue trails along the underside of her breast.

"At least," she huffs breathlessly, "warn me next time, you can't just, oh –" if she was having trouble breathing before, now she can't seem to breathe at all, as he takes the bud of her breast into his mouth and rolls his tongue over it playfully.

Without meaning to, her hands rise of their own accord, gripping onto his hair tightly, smothering Nik's face against her breast as she arches up towards him. She can feel his lips curling into a smile against her flesh, and it only excites her more. When his teeth scrape just slightly over her nipple, all she can breathe is oh.

His hands wander all across her body as his tongue and teeth worship her breasts, and it feels like he's touching her everywhere all at once; dancing along her collarbone, palm sliding along her throat as she swallows thickly, tracing the curve of her jaw. Skimming down her ribcage and dipping around her hip. With each inch of skin that his fingers trail across, they leave behind a fire blazing hotly, and Caroline squirms as her body grows unbearably warm. Nik's hands are terrible, breathtaking instruments of bliss and obliteration. It's intolerable but oh, it feels so wondrous.

"Feeling any better?" Nik breathes as her breast pops from between his lips with an embarrassingly loud sucking sound. She can feel her skin flushing all the way down to her toes, and can only hum and nod in accordance, suddenly nervous to look at him.

His lips are placed upon her skin again, and they begin a tortuous path down her ribs. As he reaches her navel and his tongue dips inside, her whole body quakes and she makes the mistake of looking down at him. Nik's staring up at her hotly, and the roguish grin he's leveling in her direction sends the heat instantly pooling into her cheeks; she doesn't know what he's intending to do, but that grin has always meant trouble.

He takes his sweet time before she finds out exactly what he's on about. First with his tongue curling around her hipbone, lips trailing kisses over her thighs and placing them, as they shake, over his shoulders. And then Nik licks the most delicious path of all, there between her thighs, where her flesh has grown damp and desperate. Caroline's hips jerk instinctively towards him, even as she exclaims in shock, "Gods, Nik!"

He only hums, his lips vibrating against her, sending a flurry of tingles dancing across her body. Caroline's hips jerk again, and suddenly there are hands placed on either side, pressing her to the bed, commanding her stillness as the hands firmly remain. Nik kisses her, in a place she never imagined you could be kissed, and then he's sucking and it's oh, too much. As sternly as he holds her down, her hips can't help but writhe, desperately seeking further nearness to the pleasure his lips and his tongue lave upon her body.

A fresh wave of shivers race up her spine as her thighs brush Nik's cheeks, his morning stubble scraping along her flesh. Caroline's fingers claw into the bedding of her pallet, frantic to grab anything as the unbearable warmth throbs faster and faster between her legs; and as his lips suck fiercely and wrench an explosive orgasm from her body, she sobs her release, leaving her thighs shaking against his cheeks and her flushed chest heaving.

Her throat doesn't seem to be working properly; her breath keeps catching, and as Nik sits up, looking so pleased with himself, Caroline gaps a little at the sight of him, with not a stitch of clothing to his name. Her gaze slips down his abdomen, eyes widening as they drop lower and – oh my, is that painful? He's so –

Nik's own gaze drops to where she's looking, and if she isn't mistaken, his cheeks take on a pink hue. Caroline licks her lips and clears her throat, stomach fluttering with curiosity. Slightly terrified curiosity, but curiosity nonetheless.

He'd made her feel so good, and a quiet longing suddenly sifts through her still-trembling limbs as she realizes; she wants to make him feel good too.

"Can I – umm, would you mind very much if – if I tried?"

Nik chokes, and the blush creeps all the way to his ears, so red she can almost see steam billowing out.


Caroline crawls to her knees, pressing her hands to his shoulders until he lies back, his expression bemused. She sits between his legs, hands braced against his thighs, and looks up at him uncertainly; he's watching her just as warily, cheeks definitely flaming now, but his chest his heaving. Caroline licks her lips again, and the muscles beneath her fingertips jump slightly.

She's not sure what to do with her hands, so she leaves them clenched against his thighs as she bends over. Hesitantly, she runs her tongue along the underside of…It (she's not sure what else to call It, so she'll just stick to that name, thank you). Nik seems to like that; he groans and his hands ball into fists, so she does it again, all the way to the top. Experimentally, she takes the head between her lips, sucking him into her mouth, and the noise Nik makes can't even be described but she can feel the pleasure of that sound curling all the way down to her own toes.

Nik's hand latches around one of her wrists, dragging her hand up and curling her fingers around the base of, well, you know. She squeezes her fingers slightly and sucks harder, and the growl ripping from his throat sounds pure animal.

The thought of taking more of him into her mouth is more than a little frightening, so she keeps sucking, swirling her tongue, trying to keep track of her hand; it's hard to remember to keep moving it, but she haltingly manages, and Nik doesn't seem to mind her clumsy efforts. On the contrary, the way he pants her name, like she's a treasured goddess, and the way his hips keep jerking slightly forward seems to say he's quite enjoying himself. There's an odd taste in her mouth as everything starts to get wetter; it's strange, but not entirely unpleasant, and all she can think is that Nik is feeling exactly how he made her feel moments ago.

Her lips curve into a smile at the sounds he's making; Niklaus is getting quite noisy. Caroline hums a little, pleased with herself, and the vibration of her lips seems to be all he can handle. With a groan of her name, Nik's fingers grip her hair and jerk her head away, and then there's all this…stuff gushing forth.

Caroline's face scrunches; the bodily functions of a male is a little bit…ugh. Her fingers brush Nik's hand away and rub consolingly into her scalp.

"Ow." She grumbles, making a face at him that he doesn't see; he's still lying back with his eyes closed, and the silliest grin on his face.

"Sorry," Nik mutters, and the breathlessness in his voice makes her forget to be upset. When he finally opens his eyes to look at her, she's grinning like a mad person. "I didn't think you would want me to – why are you looking at me like that?"

"Nothing, nothing." She waves her hand diffidently, glancing away. "I just – you enjoyed it?"

Nik laughs at her, his eyes warm. It makes her heart melt to see him like that— completely beautiful and undone. She hasn't seen him so relaxed, so content, in a long, long time. She did that. There's this feeling fluttering around inside of her, flickering to life in the pit of her stomach, like a little ball of light and it's growing and leaping and dancing, and suddenly she feels radiant when he looks at her like that.

He sits up, arms sliding around her waist, nuzzling his nose along her throat and inhaling deeply. When his breath puffs against her skin, Caroline smiles at the sensation, resting her hands against his shoulders, tracing patterns in his skin.

She sinks against him as he sighs softly, and that little ball of light just grows and grows and fills her up and swallows her whole and all she can think, all she can dream, is that they'll have this forever. She wants this, him, forever.

(And oh, how she'll grow to regret that wish).

It takes some time to convince themselves to leave the little cocoon of bliss that her pallet has become and brave the morning and its endless list of chores, but eventually they do. Caroline sends him off with a firm, "I have things to do, shoo!" and Nik heeds her command with an amused roll of the eye.

Her first order of the day is finding Elijah; she'd missed him this morning. Again. When she imagines him sitting on the rooftop alone and pining over Tatia (as he is wont to do), a stirring of guilt flinches inside of her heart. She applies herself to the task immediately, and eventually finds him alone, repairing a stretch of broken fence.

He hasn't spotted her yet, so she sneaks as close as she can and bellows out a greeting: "Good morning!" He once told her, when they were children, that her 'good mornings' were more cheerful than the rise of the sun itself. Caroline wishes it were still so, that she could lift this dreadful misery that has settled upon his shoulders, but her greeting falls flat when Elijah merely sends her a pained grimace.

"Or not so good," she amends, frowning at him. "How are you?"

"I am fine, Caroline, thank you for your inquiry. Now if you would just–"

"Oh, hush. You were there for me, when I needed you," Caroline argues, crossing her arms. "Will you not allow me to be here for you?"

Elijah looks entirely nonplussed at her request. "There really isn't anything you can do, Caroline."

And it's true; there isn't. But she can't stand the idea of him suffering his pain alone, in silence. She won't tolerate it.

"At least allow me to keep you company?"

He gives in to her request, albeit disapprovingly; he says she has her own chores to attend to. But Caroline only grins at him, coming closer to give him a hand. And before long, she spies the smile that flits across his features as she attempts to hold the rails evenly aligned between the posts. And it's good, so very good, to see a true smile on his face once more.

They say that time heals all wounds; that with the passage of days, weeks, months, the pain that once punched holes into your heart will eventually close over and fade away, leaving only the barest of scars. In a way, it's true; as time goes by, so fleeting and yet so perfect, the lesions that once stung so painfully lessen until the burn is hardly noticeable. Elijah starts to smile a little more each day, and every time it's slightly less forced than the one before it. Caroline catches them sword fighting once again, as they use to do, and the bitterness that at times still cuts between them is bit by bit torn asunder.

As for herself, well, Caroline finds that Nik is a marvelous distraction from the insecurities that still lance through her. When her mother returns, it's impossible to continue their charade of domesticity within the confines of her home, but they still find ways…places to express themselves.

(Like that time at the waterhole, with patches of dappled sunlight sparkling along the water around them and Nik's arms around her, their bodies bared and beautiful and oh, so sweetly glorious when caught in such rapture; stuck in a web of passion as Nik made love to her so very fervently).

Nonetheless, they try to keep it quiet. Caroline can feel Mikael's eyes on them when she dines at their fire; the suspicion in his gaze cuts through to her even as Nik has her rupturing into laughter at his jokes. He insists that they remain a secret for now, as they know not how Mikael will react.

(Lies. They both know how he'll react, but neither one of them will voice it. Herself, because imagining Nik at the end of his father's fists sends a flurry of distress churning in her gut. And Nik, because…well, he likes to pretend he isn't scared, but she knows that deep inside of him he's terrified of his father).

Elijah knows; it would be impossible to keep it a secret from him considering the smile that is so radiant upon her features when she meets with him each morning. Caroline tries her best to reign in her exuberance, for she does not wish to pain him with talk of love and joy, but he knows just the same.

Rebekah knows, although it's quite against her will. She is Caroline's dearest and closest female companion, and brother or not, the confession of Caroline's maidenhood, or lack thereof, is quickly divulged. Poor girl; Caroline suspects that she traumatized her. But who else is she to speak to of such things?

Kol knows. Quite unfortunate, but he knows. She's rather unsure as to how (she sure as Hel didn't tell him), but when she asks Nik he clams up and won't speak until she changes the subject. Caroline suspects it had something to do with mead. Either way, Kol teases her over the whole thing; she surmised he would do as much, but she's caught a little off guard by how half-hearted it is. As if he's only doing so because it's what is expected of him.

Caroline doesn't dwell on it though; her little web of happiness has been spun so perfectly, and she's more than content to settle herself within the net of light that has ensnared her so thoroughly.

In the meantime, breakfast! She's starved already.

Caroline's seventeenth birthday comes and goes. She doesn't feel older, but she feels…different. Something about her just feels dissimilar, and she can't for the life of her figure it out. It's a peculiar sensation, almost like a premonition. However, she has no time to waste on it. Caroline is always on her feet, anxious to get her chores finished, always so restless for the moment that she can escape into Nik's arms for a brief spell.

Of course, they spend time together throughout the day, but it isn't the same. What with the work of the village, especially now that winter hovers so chillingly at their doorsteps, just barely a knock away, there never seems to be enough time. But in the evenings, when they sneak into the forest together, or cuddle up in the warmth of the straw that fills the byres, there seems to be all the time in the world. And as more days pass, and her body grows accustomed to the hard, ridged planes of his own, Caroline learns a few tricks of her own, always trying to race a step ahead of him and fill him with the same sweet surprise and awe that he evokes within her.

And she's astounded, so very astounded, that this feeling of passion and desire that so consumes her never seems to lessen with time. On the contrary, it only seems to burn brighter and faster, an explosion of fervor that crackles across her skin and ignites something deep inside of her, tearing her apart and building her anew. It moves her; he moves her.

Nothing, nothing, will ever be the same for her. Not after him. Them.

(And nothing ever is).

Mikael suspects; Niklaus knows that he must, as he's grown ever more volatile towards Nik as of late. Not that his violence hasn't always been…excessive. But for a moment, one heart stopping moment, Nik had lain there with that sword pressed threateningly against his throat, and he thought…his father might do it; might actually kill his own son.

He'd never felt so terrified in his life.

Not that he would show it. When Caroline came to find him later after word of the incident reached her ears, she'd been so shaken, so close to tears, that he'd brushed the entire event off as if it had been nothing.

She looks so pale, so delicate, so –

"Caroline, are you feeling all right?"

She wipes a hand self-consciously across her lips, as if she's just recently been sick. "I'm fine," Caroline says. "I've just been feeling a little under the weather is all."

When Nik suggests that perhaps she should lie down (even offers to handle the rest of her chores for the day, which is big of him if he does say so himself. Women's work, he scoffs inwardly), Caroline snaps that she is perfectly able to handle them herself.

"My, my, quite the temper, Caroline," he teases in an attempt to make her smile; it doesn't appear to be a good one, for she only narrows her flashing eyes at him and flounces away, head held high.

And here he'd thought she was concerned for his wellbeing. Nik rolls his eyes to himself, even as he smiles towards her retreating figure.

He allows himself to think, he can keep this—keep her. He can be good for her. Perhaps everything is secrets now, stolen glances and hidden touches, but that will change. Mikael cannot control him for his entire life. Niklaus will not allow it.

He's done a good job of avoiding Tatia, but from time to time she'll turn up, the saccharine scent of perfume cloaking her with innocence and sweetness; both of which she is not. She's a persistent little thing, irksome, and Nik barely refrains from the groan of frustration when she appears next to him one night while he's alone in the byre, tending to his horse. He's heard talk that she still doggedly pursues Elijah as well (not that his brother discusses it with him, thank the gods); what makes him frown are the rumors that his brother has started to heed her pleas of guilt and forgiveness.

"Hello, Niklaus."

Nik ignores the way she looks up at him from beneath her lashes; he has no time for her nonsense. The little wench shouldn't have been carrying on with Elijah behind his back (he should have known she was lying, the vile seductress).

"I have missed you," Tatia continues on, as if he isn't blatantly disregarding her.

"The feeling isn't mutual, I assure you."

She has the nerve to look affronted at his tone of voice; as if she hadn't been playing him and his brother the whole time, one against the other. "That isn't true." She speaks so confidently, head high and shoulders back, like she'll be damned if she'll accept his rejection.

"Look, Tatia, we had our fun but –"

"You thought that was fun for me?" Nik's gaze cuts across to her sharply, surprised at the hysteria tangled in her tone. She sounds like she might cry, but her eyes are dry; hard and sharp and so devoid of emotion it's almost inhuman. "Being taken by a virgin because he's the only one I thought would understand, the only one who –" She cuts herself off, turning away.

His face tightens at her implication, lips parting to accuse that she'd looked as if she'd been enjoying herself just fine, when she interrupts with a huff: "That's not what I meant."

"Well what did you mean, then?"

He's unprepared for the creeping of her fingers across his jawline, cradling his face. Nik frowns down at her, uneasy, ready to pull away, and Tatia smiles up at him bitterly. "Don't you see, Niklaus? We're never good enough, you and I. I thought you understood that."

Nik prepares a weak rebuttal in his mind, but doesn't bother speaking it; they both will see it for the lie it is. She's right, and he knows it; he's always known it. Mikael has beaten that fact into his head since before he could even speak.

The delicate clearing of a throat interrupts their staring contest, and Tatia's fingers slip from his face as he glances to the side and internally groans at the sight of Caroline standing in the doorway, looking furious.

His throat closes at the look on her face, and he shakes his head at her almost helplessly, at a loss for words. Caroline crosses her arms and raises her brows at Tatia, and when Nik glances back at the dark haired woman, a smile like poison has slipped across her face; it touches her eyes and the venom in her gaze nearly burns him.

"Caroline will see it too, one day," Tatia promises him, and then with a stinging kiss pressed to his cheek, she flits away.

Caroline keeps her scowl directed at him, tapping her foot impatiently.

"Well," she barks. "Explain yourself, then."

They argue.

('I did nothing wrong, we were just talking, am I not allowed to talk anymore?')

('Talking, yes of course you were, and that is why her hands were all over you.')

('All over me, gods woman, stop being so dramatic –')

('You did not just say that!')

It's probably the worst fight they've ever had, and halfway through it neither even really remembers what they're arguing about, only that they must argue and win, or die trying.

('I swear, you are just so stupid, you're like this big, stupid village idiot. Nobody likes a village idiot, Nik!')

('I'm telling the village idiot you said that.')

"And just what exactly is going on here?"

It's not exactly the most opportune moment for someone to interrupt them; snarling in each other's faces, Nik's hands painfully tight about her wrists and Caroline's fingers dangerously close to poking his eyes out. But at the sound of that voice, they both freeze, and ice drips down into her veins.

No, no, no. Not yet. You can't take him yet.

Caroline turns to look at Finn, her lips parting soundlessly; she can't speak, can't move, can't think. He's home, he's back. And the implications of his homecoming…there can be only one possible outcome that it will deliver.

"Finn," Nik says, sounding off-balance himself. "When did you return?" Very slowly his hands release her from his viselike grip, and he steps away from her. The distance is already growing, swallowing her whole, and soon enough she'll be entirely bereft.

"Just now. I've been to see Father, he asked that I fetch you. We need to make plans for the next venture out, we have only a few days time to sort things out." Finn brushes his fingers together absently, as if he's all too eager to be gone already.

"So soon?" Caroline whispers. It strikes like a poison right into her heart. She can't breathe, she can't catch her breath, he'll be gone; oh, why does she have to be so angry with Nik now of all times?

His eyes catch hers, and it's like the gap between them just grows and grows.

His father keeps Nik plenty busy with the preparations to get their voyage underway, and Caroline sometimes wonders if maybe that's a good thing after all; whether it is or isn't, she avoids him. She won't admit it, not to anyone, but she's terrified of what will happen when he returns. When she thinks of the Finn she once knew as a child, and replaces him with the man he's become, distant and changed with eyes always focused on the next adventure, she wants to weep for their lost childhood. And she's scared, so scared, that Nik will come back to her, and she won't even recognize him anymore.

Deep down, she knows he was being honest, that nothing was going on that night. But she wonders; would it just be easier to let this remain unresolved? To let him leave, see him ride off into the sunset for who knows how long, move on from the anger and the hurt, and accept the fact that when he comes home, it might be to the end of them.

So she shelters her heart and is careful not to cross paths with Nik, as preparation for what she believes must be the inevitable. But she finds that Tatia is a little less easy to ignore; every time Caroline spots her, the rage burns anew, surging in her veins. She wants nothing more than to rake her fingernails down Tatia's face and ruin her pretty little features. Oooh, that girl just boils her blood!

The wound is still too fresh, after all, too deep. Caroline wonders if she'll ever truly forgive Nik. She knows that it isn't as if he was promised to her or even saving himself for her, but she had hoped, foolishly and beyond all reason as only a young girl can…

And every time she sees Tatia, a little voice slithers insidiously through her thoughts, reminds her that Tatia had been his first, that Tatia had felt the hardness of his body against her own and perhaps even pleased him. That thought hurts the most; imagining Nik finding release in Tatia's arms, just the same as he does in Caroline's. And it's those sorts of ideas that bring back the hurt/maim/destroy urges that she feels with each glimpse of her dark-haired rival.

But Caroline tries hard, so hard, to hold back. Fight the urge, bury it deep; she is a lady and she will act as such. She will not allow Tatia to provoke her. She reckons without Tatia's ability to slink her way under everyone's skin, her own notwithstanding; an unfortunate mistake.

"Caroline," Tatia singsongs, her voice a little trill that sets Caroline's nerves on edge. The blonde huffs, tossing her hair back as she shifts the weight of the water buckets teetering in her hands. "I was hoping that you may have seen Niklaus. He's been so busy with the preparations lately," a pretty pout graces Tatia's features, "he's had no time for me."

Caroline throws the girl an indigent glance, thoroughly unimpressed by the entire situation. "Seek him out yourself, Tatia."

"We never got a chance to finish what we started the other day, before you interrupted us," Tatia continues on as if Caroline hadn't said a word. "I'm hoping to send him away to his voyage with a proper farewell."

Ignore her, just ignore her. Caroline tries. She tries so hard.

"Am I making you angry, Caroline?" The question is posed so innocently, sung so sweetly.

"No," Caroline mutters through clenched teeth; not very convincing. "I'm busy."

"Look, Caroline, I think we both know that you and Niklaus will never work."

Caroline spins to face the dark-haired little vixen, eyes narrowed. "I beg your pardon?" And yes, she had been worrying over the same thing since the moment Finn showed up, but she'd be damned if she let this girl know that. Tatia smiles at her, and there's this devilish little glint in the girl's eyes; it sparkles and it gleams, strikes like poison from a snake.

"You're too…sweet for him," Tatia's nose wrinkles like she's just smelled something distasteful. "Nik needs a woman who understands who he really is."

She did not just call him Nik, she did not!

"You're too good for him, Caroline."

Something in her snaps; breaks apart and unravels her from the seams, stirring a tornado of hatred that storms within her. Tatia can insult Caroline all she wants, but she does not get to say a word about Nik. As if she knows him! Like she's some expert on the man that Caroline has known for her entire life. This – this woman! She came to her town and she took what belonged to Caroline, everyone knew that Nik belonged to her. He's hers, and he should have only ever known love and pleasure from her arms. And he does deserve good, he does!

There's this primal sort of wave that rushes through her, makes her feel this urge to defend and protect. The water buckets fall unheeded to the ground, splashing her boots and soaking the hem of her dress. And with a hiss of rage, Caroline swings her hand back and then surges forward, slapping Tatia across her pretty little cheek.

Tatia cries out, fingers rising to touch her cheek, skimming over the red imprint left by Caroline's palm. Her eyes fly to Caroline's, filled for a moment with shock, as if she can hardly believe that anyone would dare touch her with such violence. And then her gaze narrows, and before Caroline quite knows what's happening Tatia throws herself forward, knocking the both of them to the ground as Tatia's hands strike against any surface they can find. A wild, uncouth little warrior; but Caroline holds her own.

They roll across the wet ground, grappling for dominance, mud forming beneath them thanks to the water from the buckets. When Tatia ends up on top, Caroline grabs a fistful of the mud, slopping it into her opponents face, blinding the girl for a moment as Caroline knees her fiercely in the gut. The brunette grunts, breathless for a moment, but that doesn't stop her fingers from gripping tufts of blonde curls and scraping her nails across Caroline's skin, bringing tears to her eyes.

The noise between them must be deafening; shrieks and cries and oaths of rage. It certainly brings two men running. One moment Caroline is biting Tatia's wrist in an attempt to get her hair released, and the next they're being pulled apart from each other, limbs flailing as they struggle to continue their fight.

Someone is pushing Caroline's hair back, out of her eyes, and she gazes up to see Kol hovering over her. "That was quite a bite," he teases, and for a moment he glances at her lips. "Remind me never to get on your bad side." Caroline tries to smile, but winces when it irritates the scrapes across her face.

Kol brushes a drop of blood from her chin, a look of concern crossing his features. "Are you all right?"

She never gets a chance to answer him; her attention is pulled to where Niklaus holds Tatia. Although hold wouldn't really be the right term for it. Strangling is more like it.

Caroline's eyes widen when she sees the violence that trembles all across Nik's body. His fingers are wrapped around Tatia's throat, squeezing quite brutally if the purple hue that has taken over Tatia's features is any evidence. The brunette chokes, hands tugging uselessly at Nik's wrists, to which he pays no heed.

"You will never touch Caroline again, do you understand me, Tatia?" Nik shakes the girl for added emphasis, and her whole body sort of just flops about like a fish out of water. When she can't answer him, he growls low in his throat, dragging her closer, and the look in his eyes is the most terrifying thing Caroline has ever seen. "Do you understand me?" The hiss of his voice is filled with murder.

It's almost intimate, the way Nik tilts his head towards his terrified victim, infiltrating her space with a promise of retribution, the way his eyes penetrate her as he tightens his fingers about Tatia's throat. She chokes, a pitiful sound, and gurgles something that sounds like an affirmative, but it's hard to tell. Nik's eyes hold hers for another moment as she gags and claws at his fingers, and then he nods, satisfied, and drops Tatia to the ground in a heap. And Caroline just stares at him as if she's never seen him before.

Nik turns to face her then, his whole body strained and trembling, and there's this look of death in his eyes that sends a shiver down her spine. Unconsciously, Caroline latches onto Kol's arm, curling towards him. When Nik takes a step in their direction, she shrinks away with a flinch.

"Are you hurt?" he asks, and though his eyes still bear a wild, crazed look about them, his voice is soft. Caroline nods hesitantly as Kol helps her to her feet.

"I'll see you home," Nik holds his hand out towards her, and her fingers tighten around Kol's arm. "We should –"

"I'll be fine," she interrupts him, her voice little more than a rasp, and clears her throat quickly. "Kol can keep me company."

Caroline keeps her eyes on Nik's fists as they walk away; notes with unease the way they clench and shake with barely restrained anger; doesn't dare look up to see the expression clouding his face.

He doesn't know what's wrong with himself; he's not sure why he did that. He's – he's never been violent with a woman before, even one as enraging as Tatia.

He felt like he could have killed her.

He almost killed her. Why?

There's this feeling inside of him and it just keeps growing, right in the pit of his stomach. He's always angry, quick to incense, and it's just getting worse every single day. If someone looks at him the wrong way, he feels this maddening urge to rip their head off.

Caroline is scared of him. He saw it in her eyes; he frightened her. He doesn't want to frighten her – he would never hurt her. He would never – would he?

Dear gods, would he?

Is he becoming Mikael?

That's perhaps the worst part of it all; he just can't. He doesn't want to be like this – doesn't want to be like him.

But he's not sure how to fix it.

Tatia avoids both of them after that, which is quite fine with Caroline so long as she doesn't allow herself to dwell upon the particulars of the…incident. But more often than not, she finds herself laying in bed awake at night, remembering the grip of death she felt around Nik; as if Hel herself had deemed his body an appropriate vessel for her power. Caroline could almost taste her in the air, feel her upon her skin. Caroline is afraid for him, afraid of how much he's changing and the rage that seems to always eat away at him, like some voracious canker; every restless night she breathes a fervent prayer to the goddess Eir, that she might heal the anger that has festooned to his mind and bring him calmness. But still Caroline worries for him. Soon he'll be gone, and Odin knows how changed he may be when Nik returns to her.

On the eve of his departure, as she reflects upon her fears, Caroline knows that she can't possibly let him leave without saying farewell. She must put her petty resentment and hurt aside, and go to him before it's too late. Perhaps if she can impart on him just a glimmer of light, then maybe he can follow it back home to her and conquer the darkness that seems to swallow him more and more with each day.

(In those days she never realized, never dreamed of just how dark he would become. Darkness so consuming that even the brightest light is quenched, not even the barest glimmer left in a void barren of all human emotion and feeling. Perhaps if she had only tried harder, burned brighter for him…)

It's a full three days ride to the nearest village seaport. A boat belonging to their own village is docked there, its board paid for by the trading of goods that their men loot on their months long voyage. Both Elijah and Niklaus will be joining Finn and his band of able-bodied men, and already the horses have been tethered near the outskirts of the village, as the men gather and make last-minute adjustments. Caroline stands above them on a hillcrest, watching as Nik holds himself far apart from the rest, keeping silent, his hands caressing the soft muzzle of his steed.

He looks so solemn, so austere, with his taut shoulders and the frown that mars his face. So alone.

She wills him to glance her way, heart pounding and breathless, shaking with nerves now that this moment is finally upon them; but it seems to take ages before his gaze finally lifts and spots her figure in the distance. His shoulders grow stiffer as she beckons him towards her, as if he's been dreading this moment just as much as she has, and he throws a glance at the others before he heads in her direction. Caroline disappears beneath the hillcrest, to avoid the prying eyes of the other men and more specifically Mikael, who is present to bide farewell to his boys. He claps Finn's shoulder and shakes Elijah's hand with a grin on his face, but takes no notice of his younger son. That one, he ignores.

Caroline's breath sticks in her throat as Nik approaches, his expression somewhat wary.

"I thought you were still angry with me," he comments with feigned nonchalance. Caroline lifts her shoulder in a half-hearted shrug and looks away.

"I couldn't let you leave without saying goodbye." The words almost stick in her throat too, just like her breath, just like her heart; they crumble like cracked clay as they fall from her lips, her voice dry and hoarse. She's been crying all morning, thinking about him being gone, for once too distracted to wonder at the constant nausea that churns in her belly. Her heart starts to thud as he steps closer, the rugged male scent of him wafting to her nose, calming her overwrought stomach even as her heart beats faster and faster.

The heat of his body washes over her, and then his fingers are at her chin, tipping her gaze up towards his. He doesn't say anything; he doesn't have to. Nik's eyes say it all. And as his forehead presses to hers and he softly noses her cheekbone, Caroline's eyes slide shut and everything inside of her just stutters to a halt.

She wants to beg him not to go; wants to plead with him to stay with her, Mikael be damned. She wants to tell him about the growing fear that is mounting in her heart, tied to the suspicions that she can't escape, the signs that all say…oh, she wants to tell him. She's so frightened; he'll be gone, and she'll left alone to face this by herself.

Caroline parts her lips, but Nik takes this as initiative to kiss her, fervently, desperately; his lips say goodbye. The little ball of light is on fire inside of her, breaking her apart, and she finally understands. She can't stop it, she won't stop it, even if it crushes her in the end. It's too late. So when they finally break apart, and she tries to bring the words back that she'd been desperate to say before, Caroline ends up confessing to something else entirely.

I love you…

And without allowing herself a final moment to see his face, or maybe (foolishly, impossibly) say anything back, Caroline spins about and races back to the village, just as the tears well up and spill over. She chases them away with a prayer to every god imaginable.

Please, please let him return safely…

(It wasn't him returning safely that she should have worried about.)

A/N: That's all she wrote, folks. This is the second longest chapter of the story so far, and I added some sexy times (again, you have Anne to thank for that, she convinced me), so hopefully that makes up for the long absence? Yes? No? You hate me? Are you even there? Hellooooooo?!

If you ARE still reading, drop me a line and give me your thoughts, or just rage at me for abandoning you all (SORRY!). I promise I won't take as long with the next chapter. And I promise, now that Klaus is temporarily away, the next chapter will have TONS of Kol, Rebekah, and (sob) Henrik.

ALSO. Don't freak out. I'm pretty sure you can all tell where I'm going with Caroline's condition (and a few of you worried over this happening in reviews). I promise that this isn't a happy thing or unnecessary fluff; this is actually the biggest angst plotline of the fic. Umm...basically, Caroline's "condition" will eventually turn into a graphic death. Yeah, from here on out almost nothing about the human era will be happy, except for perhaps a few tiny moments. Whoops. Hope you soaked up the last of the happiness properly!

Anyway so yeah. Hope you liked this or something. I agonized over it and worked really hard and I just want to please you *wags tail*


EDIT: The beautiful, glorious Anne wrote a character sketch on the Tatia of this story, which sheds some more light on her (and will be explored some before her death), go read it guys cos it's great and it ties into this story. She's posted it to her tumblr, bkgrlrandomthoughts. Thank you Anne, I love you!