a/n: I know! I know! I need to update 'We Are Infinite' and I will, I swear! Next chapter is half written and in my head all the time but, omg the latest episode! I'm sorry, but I couldn't help diving into this post ep one-shot after the idea hit me. I just had to!
So as always, thank you so so much for your encouragment and enthusiasm, it means the world to me - and I really hope that you enjoy this little story!
The darkened cobblestone streets look as something out of a dream, ancient and beautiful and haunted. They feel strange beneath her feet, like she isn't quite touching the ground. Like she's floating.
It takes Caroline only the briefest of thoughts to realize where she is. She does the moment she hears him, his footsteps only a few feet behind her, careful and assured, like he is and he moves and he attacks. His scent pervades the dream, still, as it also invades her senses—these are his thoughts, running freely in her head; his blood rushing through her veins, chasing his venom away.
She turns around to look at him before turning the corner. "I know I'm not dead," she says, dead serious even if her voice rings lightly in the dream. "I remember your blood—" She strokes the roof of her mouth with the flat of her tongue; she can still taste him, "—and I'd bet they wouldn't welcome you in Heaven even as a tour guide so, where are we?"
His eyes barely meet hers for a second. He keeps his distance, and only lifts his hand to indicate her, "Turn the corner."
He's only here to lead the way, it seems, and she may or may not be grateful for that. Still, she fights off the desire to let herself go into the dream one second longer, looking insistently for his evasive gaze and holding it locked on hers when she grabs it. He doesn't get to avoid her eyes, after all. Not now. "I could ask you to stay out of my head—" She should ask him to stay out of her head, "—but I don't want to be in pain."
He nods. His eyes are still moist with unshed tears; not much is different in the dream, except that now she doesn't feel the pain that he caused her, his fangs piercing into her skin; werewolf venom rushing into her veins as her blood rushed out into his mouth. She had felt each second of it: his mouth on her skin, burning as bright as his hands, one holding her by the waist, keeping her pressed tight against him; the other buried deep in her hair, fisted, almost pulling. She'd felt the overpowering waves of his unbearable strength, a mixture of hurt and anger and hunger—and not even here can she forget.
Even as her feet turn the corner, and she sees: the majestic silhouette of the Eiffel Tower standing tall at the end of a seemingly endless greenspace, beautiful and unexpected. Her breath hitches and, against herself, she bites back a childlike, overexcited grin.
She's dreaming, after all.
His voice comes from somewhere close behind her; still weak and sore, as if struggling to climb out through the tight knot in his throat. Like he's still holding in the tears he hasn't cried. "Field of Mars," he says, walking away to sit on a bench.
For a moment, she debates whether to follow him and sit by his side, but then she remembers: this is but a dream, and back in the world of the living she's lying asleep in his arms, she can only assume. She was there before she fell asleep, her open lips still pressed to the soft skin of his wrist, her back pressed to his chest as he cradled her in his arms. It was intimidate and terrible. He drank her blood and then she drank his, and now they're both submerged deep inside the thunderstorm of her subconscious. This'll end badly, she can guess—but so far he hasn't felt inclined to take advantage.
He's still not even looking at her. His glazed eyes are lost in the clouds of dreamlike old Parisian buildings that he has conjured up himself, billowed over the horizon. She makes the decision to go and sit beside him, so when she finally asks, "Why are we here?"—he can answer her, and still keep his eyes away.
Now, the burden of his unvoiced confession hangs heavily above them, heftier and more overshadowing than the things that she confessed to in exchange for her life. Secret, guilty wishes of things that, he thinks, can never come to be. It's clear when his deep voice quivers, remote and unfamiliar, around the words—"I told you once I'd bring you here."
Paris. Rome Tokyo.
She closes her eyes and wishes she didn't remember—the things he had promised and the things she had dreamed in return. "I didn't think you meant this."
"I didn't," he admits, his eyes still almost as far away as his voice.
It doesn't feel real—none of it does. It feels like a lie. It feels like he made a promise and now he's broken it—with his teeth breaking into her neck and his darkness crawling into her soul. She hates, and hopes—"Will this ruin it for me? When I actually see Paris?"
The city outline, grey and old and shadowed at the other side of the river, is beautiful and haunting; it looks water-coloured and unreal, as a picture perfect drawing, sketched in shades and warm hues, pulled together in stark contrast to the hard iron lines of the Eiffel Tower that stands in guard, climbing up to Heaven in between the endless, boundlessly green park and the ancient city waiting patiently behind. It looks too perfect and yet too hazed. It's not the real thing, she realizes. It's only a picture that Klaus is drawing from memory, for her.
"I don't know," he says at last. There's a tiny, quivering smile tugging at his mouth, but he crushes it with a smack of his lips. "If you come soon, send me a postcard and let me know."
It's a ridiculous thing to say, and it makes no sense whatsoever. But she understands anyway. He told her once that he'd show her the world, but he can't do that anymore. It makes her dizzied with vertigo, the way she feels her stomach fall to her feet when she realizes without a hint of a doubt that he has brought her here to say goodbye. But it can't be forever—
"I wasn't lying, you know?"
Her assurance comes out louder than expected, and perhaps it's that silly squeak in her voice that finally manages to grab his curiosity hard enough so that he turns his face and finally looks at her. He looks still shattered, but at last he's looking at her like she is really there, with him, and maybe she is more than just a figment of his very guilty, very rusty conscience. "What to do you mean?"
She swallows, and forces herself to be glad that his eyes are locked on hers now. "I have seen the humanity in you, and I've caught myself wishing for things I should not have been wishing for. Sometimes, I'd wish for those things so hard that I'd actually forget why is it that I shouldn't be wishing—" His frown deepens and she knows, she is beating around the bush, and she can't really afford to do that, if he is planning for this to be the last time they are ever going to talk. So she tries to smile as genuinely and detachedly as she can, and says, "Sometimes I have to remind myself that you've done horrible things. You asked me if I could forget those things and, the thing is, I wish I couldn't. Because the truth is, I can. I keep forgetting, again and again, and each time I do I feel so guilty that I have to overcompensate, and then I do stupid things like go on cruel mean-girl rants to anyone who's listening about how you killed Tyler's mom and Elena's aunt and how I shouldn't be even thinking about you. And I'm so so—"
"No!" His eyes widen and he gulps down the air he can no longer just breathe; and again he has to look away as he pleads her, "Please don't apologize to me after—after what I did to you."
On pure animal instinct, she drapes her hand over his. His fingers are gripping the edge of the bench so hard that his knuckles look as if about to snap. It may be hurting him, she notices, so she tries to get him to relax. Tries to get him to understand. "I was reminding myself," she begins again, "because if I stop reminding me for even one second, then I forget. All those things I said—about how we could never forget how bad you've hurt us, I—I wasn't just talking to you. I was so mad at you, even though I wasn't supposed to be. I wasn't supposed to expect things from you, but I did, and I was so angry at myself for being disappointed in you. How could I have let myself believe that maybe you were not that bad? You killed Tyler's mom because you wanted to get back at him, and I felt betrayed by you, and I was furious at myself for feeling that way and I wanted to hurt you back. When I saw you—I said things I didn't believe, and you have to know I was saying those things to myself more than I was saying them to you. I had no business feeling bad for you losing your brother and I had no right to be angry at Tyler for making fun of your misery—you killed his mom and you killed Jenna and you weren't worth all the guilt you make me feel for caring about you. I was just reminding myself because, yes, to answer your question—I'm perfectly capable of forgetting the horrible things you've done. That's the actual fucking problem!" She doesn't realize she's crying until she stops to take in a breath, and somewhere down her throat, the air gets clotted in a painful sob. "I just don't want to forget, because I'm scared of what may happen if I let myself forgive you. You might be a thousand years old, but I am only eighteen. Little girly girl Caroline, from a small town in Virginia. I don't know how to do this any better. I don't know how to cope with this and you and what I feel, other than putting on my mean-girl pants and just wishing it all away. And I am sorry for saying that you are worthless. You are not."
Not even once, for as long as she rambles and sniffles and swallows back her tears¬—not once he turns to look at her. But she does look at him. Her eyes remain fixed on his profile, running over the hard line of his clenched jaw, the shadow of the stubble that she still feels grazing her neck, ghostly. He chokes on the air he still cannot breathe, and she keeps on talking and talking until she has nothing left to say. And only when her angry childish babbling dies out, he dares make a sound: a pained exhalation, a mixture of a whimper and a broken cruel laugh.
"You don't know how to do this?" he hisses through his teeth, shaking his head and flexing his fingers even tighter beneath hers. "Love is a vampire's greatest weakness, Caroline. I do not feel, and I do not care. For over a thousand years. Haven't you heard 'bout how you can't teach an old dog new tricks?" He turns to her at last; eyes filled with tears, and a terribly miserable smile frozen into a painful-looking grimace, drawn across his lips. "I desperately wanted you to die."
Her heart clenches achingly in her chest, trapping her words inside so they really hurt her as they fight their way up her throat. "Then why didn't you just let me?"
His mouth opens but nothing comes out; he's still struggling to breathe. Somehow he finds the strength to pull his hand away from beneath hers, and immediately his fingers begin tugging at his hair, almost maniacally. "I didn't—I could have staked you through the heart, but I never wanted to kill you. I wasn't thinking clearly. I was so furious and I wanted you to hurt like I was hurting and I wanted you to need me so I just—I bit you. I had every intention of giving you my blood, I thought I could use it as leverage to get myself out of the Gilberts' house so I could ensure my own survival, but then Tyler started begging me like a pathetic lapdog and all I could think about was how he had mocked me right over Kol's body, and the things you had said, and how you hated me and loved him and I kept getting angrier and angrier and then you asked him to take you away and so—" pausing for a shallow, choking breath, he unearths his face from the well of his hands and looks at her, eyes blue and wet and open as the ocean, "—you weren't there anymore, and I was once again living in a world where you didn't exist, so I had nothing to worry about. I knew that if only I could let you die, then that would mean that I was alright—that I did not love—"
That he did not love her.
She holds his eyes in hers and nods. Dead dogs don't bite. "I meant what I said," she offers, "I believe that you can be saved."
And at last, the tears fall. He shakes them off with a sharp movement of his head. "There is no saving me, Caroline. I am done for. I couldn't let you die, but I at least can let you go. I know now that I am weak, that I am no better than any other man on this earth. And I won't hurt you again, I can't. I won't give myself the chance."
She doesn't understand. "Are you leaving?" she asks, biting back the me tilting on the tip of her tongue.
Still not looking away, he shrugs his shoulder and leans back on the bench. Then his eyes move away, losing themselves among the sunset rays seeping sideways over the city silhouette. The smell of foreign spicy food reaches her from a nearby food truck, and it distracts her momentarily—how detailed his dream is. Until he speaks again, his voice deep and calm at last.
"I'm taking the cure."
And so the dreamworld disappears around her, until she can't see the city anymore. She can't even hear the words as they slip out of her mouth on autopilot. "You want to be human?" No, she thinks, even if she doesn't understand why her whole being is resisting so painfully to the thought.No. "What happened to being the most powerful creature in the world?"
A bitter, cut-up laugh breaks out of his throat, coarse and painful. "Powerful? I am powerless, Caroline. Whatever resemblance of power I ever had, it's gone now. I lost it tonight. Now—I'd do anything for you. I would sacrifice everything, and that means that anyone can hurt me now. But I will not give them the chance, I swear. No one will ever hurt you because of me, I can promise you that."
She shakes her head, clenching her eyes shut and pinching her leg. Desperate to wake up. She'd take the pain of the werewolf venom being cleansed off her system any time before this; this haunted, corrupted memory of Paris, the city of love, that he's branding in her brain forever. What a broken, broken promise.
It doesn't work, trying to get herself to wake up. Even though she pinches herself so hard that he ends up taking her hand in his, his strong fingers firm but gentle around hers. "I've lived enough, Caroline. Rebekah will be human too in a couple of days and Elijah will help us. I can't—it's not worth it."
Not even worth the calories I burn talking to you.
She wants to slap him, but she can't, because he's still holding her hand in his, like he's scared she'll disappear out of her own dream if he lets her go. She wants to. She's trying desperately, but no matter how tight she squeezes her eyes shut, he's still there every time she opens them again. The city has returned, too. The stone bench where they're sitting. The endless fields of bright green grass before them. The unreal Tower at the end of their sight, and the faded out, blurred old skyline standing right behind. She turns from it to sink her eyes in his. "No," she says, firm and resolute. "You won't make it a day as a human."
His mouth open as if to protest, but again not a word comes out. He can't deny it. He's keeping a thousand years worth of collecting mortal enemies in his chest pocket, right above his heart; so this is how it ends. One curve ball that he wasn't expecting, and he just gives up.
"Take me back," she demands, steel in her voice and fire in her eyes. "I don't want my first memory of Paris to be a fake one, and if we're gonna fight about what a gigantic coward you are, we might as well do it while I'm awake."
"But you're in pain," he protests, his face crumbling like he's the one poisoned, and only now returning from the hour of his death.
She doesn't cave. "Take. Me. Back.," she insists, mad with anger once again—
—and so he does, the city vanishing around them in a second, one blink away from the sight of him sitting next to her on the bench shattering as well. It's immediately replaced by the feeling of his hand still caressing her hair, like an automaton that just can't stop. His other arm is draped over her chest, still; her back against his chest; her whole body nested into his like it was when she faded into the dreamful sleep.
It's warm and comforting, the feeling of his arms around her. It takes the edge of the receding pain, and so for a few seconds neither of them moves. They remain entrapped in the strange embrace; her hands curled around the arm that imprisons her against him and her head resting in the crook of his neck. It's not as awkward as it should be, she imagines; but after a short while the feeling of him so close, the memory of his taste on her tongue, and the rush of his blood in her veins—it's too much, so she leans away and immediately he lets her go, scooting back on the couch while she sits up against the backrest, mirroring the scene she remembers from the stone bench in the dream. Except now they're back in the real world—back in Elena's house, where the reek of his brother's charred flesh mingles with the scent of her own blood, spilt by his hands.
It gives her the courage to look at him unapologetically when she says, demanding like only the midons he's made her to be can say, "You are not taking the cure."
He returns her gaze, at last cold and confident like it's easier for her to remember him when she feels confident that she can hate him after all. "It's not your call, sweetheart."
The pet name fuels her aggravation. "You are a moron and a butthead, and a thousand-year-old spoiled child, and I am calling your bluff. This a tantrum, and you are not going to basically kill yourself over a tantrum," she deadpans, almost smiling for the sake of sassy Caroline's return. "So what? Love hurts? You bet your ass it does, but I don't care on what century you did most of your reading on the subject, Romeo, you're not killing yourself over it and putting that one on me. No freaking way."
He purses his lips like he's trying to contain a smile, which actually makes her bite her bottom lip to keep herself from giving in when he shakes his head at her. "You don't understand."
"I don't understand? Well, how quickly you forget." She throws his own words at him because, duh. Remember that night she was ready and more than willing to die because she hated being undead and stuck at a filler year, and he made her believe that eternity could be something worth living for? "There's a whole world out there, remember? Great cities and art and music? I don't believe for a second you're ready to give that up over little old me."
"I've already seen all those things, Caroline, many times, and I don't—"
"But I haven't!" She cuts him off without thinking, her reasoning clouded by mindless, sudden rage. How fucking selfish of him, making promises and then going back on his word.
"You don't have to take the cure!" He leans closer to her then, his hands grabbing her shoulders urgently. "Don't listen to your friends, love. You don't have to conform to their small-minded expectations. You are extraordinary, don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise, or try to push you over, you have to promise me, sweetheart. You are wonderful just the way you are now, and I am sure that Tyler doesn't want to take the cure and go back to being a werewolf, so you can be with him. You don't have to be alone, Caroline. You can travel the world and see and haveeverything that you've ever wanted."
Small-town boy. Small-town life.
This time, she does slap him. Fast and hard, full vamp-mode. She's sure that he doesn't even feel the blow—not beyond the humiliation of her striking him, and him taking it without a hum, because that's the least that he can do.
"No," she whispers when her palm stops itching, forcing the word to shape the breathing air between them deadly like a curse. "You don't get to say things like that to me anymore; not unless you actually mean them." This is where they stand now, all cards on the table. He's in love with her, and she knows it. Now either they move forward, or they don't. But he better come up with a new speech if he's counting on ditching her like she's yesterday's news. "This is not how it works, Klaus. You don't get to say that I am extraordinary and that you love me, and then go and die on me or whatever next best thing you think up later. No way. I have no plans to spend the rest of forever thinking about how great it was that I got to meet the original hybrid who ruled over the supernatural world for over a millennium, and feeling so freaking special because he fell so damn hard for me that he just gave up the fight. Because that's how special and extraordinary little Caroline Forbes from small-town Virginia is, you see. So freaking goddamned special that you would rather sacrifice your entire eternal existence than take a fucking chance at something that scares the shit out of you."
His voice comes out strangled, hanging from a skinned thread, "Caroline…"
"Am I not even worth your fear? It won't kill you, you know, being afraid? We're all afraid, all the freaking time, but we still keep on going, because that's what you do. You go on living for the people that you love. That's how it works." She swallows, and turns to him. His hands are back on his lap, his head hanging, hiding his eyes away since she slapped him. There's only one way to undo the damage, she knows, so she picks up his face, her hands cupping his cheeks and pulling him closer as she leans in. "You don't want to take the cure," she whispers, "and I don't want you to leave me. I don't know how to deal with this, but I do not want you to disappear on me, any more than you want me to die."
He closes his eyes, trying to hide away the things he cannot say. "They'll hurt you," he protests, the words suffocated into pained whimpers that she feels knotted in her own throat. "I can't let them hurt you."
"You won't," she assures him.
His eyes snap open at that, a frenzied look in his eyes as he takes her in like he doesn't even recognize her. Like she's gone mad, or maybe he doesn't believe it's really her holding his face to hers—but a dark ghoul torturing his soul. "How can you say that—" he hisses, "—after what I did to you? I can't even protect you from myself! How can I claim to protect you from anybody else?"
"You don't have to," she murmurs, leaning closer. "I will protect myself. From you, and from myself, and from anyone else who wishes to harm me. I won't let them break me, but I won't let them scare me either. And I won't let you scare me." She feels her eyes burning, her lips twitching with the urge to smile a sad, tearful but determined smile. "I'm not afraid of you."
His eyes drop to her lips, but she thinks it happens only because he's still trying to escape the things unsaid that are gleaming in both, her eyes and his. She can barely hear him when he pleads, one last time, desperate, "I will hurt you. I don't want to—"
She lets her lips brush over his mouth softly, and then she presses a light kiss on the ridge of his upper lip. "And I will hurt you," she promises, taking in his kiss.
Thank you for taking the time to read this as always! Drop me a line if you have comments!