Chapter Twenty – New York
The lone neon nights and the ache of the ocean
And the fire that was starting to spark
I miss is all, from the love to the lightning
And the lack of it snaps me in two
"You ready to leave for your new house, Jack?" Caroline asked, looking down at the six week old in the baby the carrier against her chest. She had put off the move a little longer than she anticipated, giving herself more time to get packed and time for her to transition in the new baker replacing her in DC. The baby needed time to adjust, sleep through the night. As terrifying as it had been going into labor early, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Everything fell into place this way and Caroline was more than ready to restart her life in New York.
"Are you sure you have to leave?" Elena whined as she walked into the now empty apartment Caroline had been living in since they'd finished college. She walked over to the two of them and gingerly ran her hand over the top of Jack's head. "I mean, I just got a nephew and now you are taking him away."
"I'm sure Jeremy and Tyler will have a baby at some point, Elena," Caroline said with a smile as she took one last look around, making sure that she hadn't forgotten anything. The only thing left in the tiny one bedroom apartment was a Tory Burch baby bag resting on the counter. "I don't mean to take him away from you. You can always come visit us in New York. I'm sure that Aunt Bonnie wouldn't mind sharing her duties with you for a few days." She smiled, resting the bag on her shoulder as one hand remained on the front of the carrier.
"I will take you up on that," Elena said with a smile, "The moving company already finished loading all of the boxes into the truck and left. Stefan is waiting downstairs, but I don't think he'll mind if you change your mind and decide to stay longer."
"If I stay any longer, I'm never going to make it out the door," she said, giving Elena a small smile as they walked towards the stairs and into the bakery. Katherine, Stefan, and Damon were all seated at the bar waiting for them to come down the stairs.
"You ready to go, Care?" Stefan asked as they each slid off the bar stools.
"I think it's time. Especially if we want to get there before moving company puts everything in the wrong spot," she said as Katherine walked over and wrapped her arms around both Caroline and the baby.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do and try not to have too much fun in New York without me. Don't forget that I did everything there was to do before you did," she chuckled, pulling away from her.
"I will do my best not to let the Katherine Gilbert stamp rub off of anything you touched," Caroline said, as she wrapped her arms around Damon. Her hand rested on his shoulder moving up to kiss his cheek. "You take care of her alright?" she spoke to him.
"Don't get all sappy on me now, Blondie," he said returning the hug and pressing a kiss to the top of her head.
"I wouldn't dream of it," she laughed before looking over at Elena who was already beginning to tear up a little. "You are not allowed to cry. If you cry, I'm going to cry and I'm not going to cry." She shook her head as Elena wrapped her arms around her, pressing a kiss to Jack's head before pulling her close.
"That's not part of the deal."
"I have to go and you will be okay. We have Skype and phones and face time and visits. It'll be just fine," Caroline said, pulling away.
"You better send me pictures of him, every day. I won't settle for less."
"Alright, let's get on the road," Stefan wrapped his arm around Caroline as they walked out the front door with Damon.
"Hold him while I unhook this thing," Caroline said, pulling Jack out of the baby carrier and setting him in Stefan's arms so she could unhook the straps.
"Hell, Caroline, that thing has more straps than a sex swing," Damon said, unclipping the side of it for her.
She turned and looked at him, raising an eyebrow. "I don't want to know how you know that." She folded it over her arm before leaning in the back seat of Stefan's SUV to buckle the little boy into the car seat. She looked back at Damon one more time. "I'm serious, Damon. Take care of her. She's going to be stressed out the next few weeks. She's going to try to pretend she's fine and I won't be here to make her talk about it. That's your job now," she lectured him.
"I've got it, Blondie. Just get in the car before Stefan starts honking,"
"I'm going. I'm going," she told him, looking in the back of the car to check on Jack one more time before slipping into the passenger's seat. She buckled her seatbelt as they pulled away from the shop for one last time. It was bittersweet. She was starting a new life, one free of the stress she had been forced to endure through this pregnancy, but leaving everything behind was difficult. She had said goodbye to her mother the day before and that had been hard enough, but leaving Elena and Stefan would be even worse.
"So how are you and Rebekah?" she asked, trying to distract herself from thoughts of saying goodbye later today. She was worried about the two of them. Rebekah's performance in the bakery the day Jack was born had been dramatic and uncalled for, but Caroline hated the idea that she might be the source of any contention in her best friend's marriage, even if Rebekah had been in the wrong. She hadn't heard much about Rebekah since the baby was born and she was a bit scared of what that meant.
Stefan sighed, shaking his head as he adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. "We'll be okay. It's just a rough patch. We're working it out. I understand her need to protect her brother, but we're married. She needs to talk to me about things. If she had just mentioned it before taking any of this up with you, I would have been able to set her straight. She put you and Jack in danger, it's not something I can just forget about overnight. We'll move past it though."
"Just don't stay mad at her over me, okay? I'm okay. Jack is perfect. He probably could have stayed in a little longer but he's 100% healthy and I'm fine. He was already trying to come early. It's twisted, but in a way she meant well," she said, glancing back into the second row where Jack was contently staring up at his carrier toys.
"I'll keep that in mind," Stefan said with a smile. He admired that about Caroline. She could always find the silver lining in things, point out the good instead of the bad. She was usually the only one who could cheer him up when he was brooding. Even in the face of all that had happened lately, she was still looking at the positives and perfectly willing to let go of Rebekah's part in her scare.
"Have you heard from…?"
"No," Stefan answered quickly. He knew exactly who she was talking about and aside from his phone call the night Jack was born, Stefan hadn't heard from Klaus and even then he doubted voicemail counted. Klaus had made his decision. He could see the disappointment written all over her face. He wasn't sure if it was for herself or her son, but something told her it was a bit of both regardless of what she said. "Don't worry about it, Care. Jack has all he needs."
Caroline nodded, looking out the car window as they drove through the Baltimore suburbs. She tried not to think about it. To push past everything that had been said, to let go of the idea of Klaus and the family they could have had. If she was ever going to be happy, she needed to let him go. It had been almost two months. It was time to start looking forward, but she couldn't shake the disappointment. "Do you think he's going to regret this?" she asked, not bothering to peel her eyes away from the window as she watched the water pass by.
"I think he'd be an idiot not to. It's been a month and a half. If he's not already kicking himself for screwing this up, he doesn't deserve to have any part of Jack's life. I don't know if he's asked Rebekah or Elijah for pictures, but he hasn't seen him in person. I don't like that you are moving so far away from me, but I think moving Jack away from DC is the best thing you could have done for him."
"I know, you're right," she agreed. "So are you going to make me wait until New York for food or can we stop in Philly. I know I'm not pregnant anymore, but I swear I'm still having cravings," she asked, more than happy to change the subject.
"It's actually not uncommon for the cravings to continue for a few months after pregnancy while your hormone levels balance back to what they were before you had the baby. It takes time to get back to normal," he explained.
| Oh What A Night |
Three hours and two stops later, Stefan pulled up in front of the Bay Ridge brownstone that Caroline and Jack would be sharing with Bonnie. Bonnie already lived in the top apartment of the two apartment building and the moment her downstairs neighbors moved out she began hinting at Caroline moving in. It made sense. She wanted to be close to Jack and she'd certainly need help with him once they started with the bakery, which thankfully was just around the corner. Caroline would probably still need a nanny, but being close certainly helped.
Caroline climbed out of the car, watching as the movers moved her couch through the doorway as she began to unbuckle Jack from the backseat of the car. He'd been so quiet on the ride, only crying once, she and Stefan had nearly forgotten he was back there. She strapped him into the carrier against her chest as she mentally prepared herself to instruct the movers where they would need to move everything because as much as she loved Bonnie, there was no way everything was going to be arranged the way she wanted it to be. A tired smile graced her lips as she saw Bonnie walk down the steps of the brownstone towards the three of them. "Jack, look, it's Aunt Bonnie," she said, making the little boy in his arms wave at her as she walked closer.
"I was wondering when you three were going to make it." She hugged Stefan, pecking his cheek before doing the same to Caroline. "Jack, I'm going to be your favorite aunt. We're just not going to tell Elena or Rebekah that," she said, kissing the top of his head.
"That's Elena's worst fear," Stefan said, sliding the sunglasses off his face and tucking them into his jacket pocket.
"Well, I will settle for sharing," Bonnie said, before biting her bottom lip.
"I know that look. What's wrong?" Caroline asked, looking over at her. "Please don't tell me the movers broke something already. This is my worst fear. It's the last thing I need. I bought all of the furniture before I left so I wouldn't have to deal with moving and furniture at the same time. Especially not with the baby."
"Nothing is broken. Everything that has come out of that truck has come out in supreme condition and I don't know why you would expect anything less. I'm sure you vetted the company before you hired them. Don't worry. At least not about that," Bonnie reassured her.
"Then what's wrong? That's your 'Bonnie's worried' look," Caroline asked, looking at her suspiciously.
Bonnie sighed, looking down at the ground as she tried to figure out the best way to tell Caroline, "Klaus is inside. He showed up a few hours ago. I tried to make him leave, but he said he'd just come back tomorrow when you were home if I didn't let him wait. He promised he would leave if you asked him to so I told him he could stay until you got here, but I was calling the police if he decided not to leave when you asked him to."
Caroline looked floored, her hand rested on Jack's back, trying to figure out exactly what she wanted to do with the information that Bonnie had just told her.
"Do you want me to take care of him?" Stefan asked, setting his hand on her shoulder. "I can go in there and ask him to leave. You won't have to deal with him. It's up to you."
She shook her head without thinking about it. "No," Caroline said, "If he's here, I need to talk to him. If he bothered coming all this way then he's not going to give up without a fight. I need to do this. Just make sure the movers don't put anything in the wrong place. There's a floor plan in the top bag in the back," she told them. Taking a deep breath, she held her head up high and walked towards the front door, holding Jack tight against her chest. The conversation was necessary, whether she wanted to have it or not.
Tucking a blonde curl behind her ear, she walked through the front door and looked around the partially furnished apartment until she found Klaus standing in what would soon be Jack's nursery. It was still strange to see him standing there, though the pale gray walls and the white birds flying over the spot where the crib would soon be probably tipped him off to what room would be his son's. She looked him over for a moment as he turned and looked at her. He looked shocked. She could only guess it had something to do with Jack.
She bit her lip, looking up at him. "Did you come here for a reason or are you just trying to make yourself feel better and get closure at the expense of your son and I?" she asked, her arms wrapping protectively around the carrier Jack was resting in.
"I came to talk to you," Klaus spoke, his eyes not leaving the carrier. The top of Jack's head was just barely visible over the top of the carrier. Small wisps of blonde hair and soft skin.
Caroline ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it out of her eyes as she looked over at him. She could have gotten angry or showed her frustration, but it wouldn't help and it wouldn't be good for Jack. Instead, she shook her head, "What do you want to talk about? I thought you said pretty much everything you'd want to say the last time we talked."
"I know. You thought I took money from your father. You thought I did what Tatia did. I understand why that would upset you. I do. I would have been furious if I was in your shoes. Furious, heartbroken, absolutely shattered, but I wouldn't have felt any of those things until after I confirmed everything. Until after I talked to you and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was true. I would have given you the benefit of the doubt because I love you and the idea of you betraying me like that is something that I wouldn't even let myself believe until I knew it was true." She ran her hand over Jack's back. "I talked to Elijah. He said all you would have had to do was check the account to see where the money went. It was never cashed, just moved to another account. You've known I had nothing to do with this for a month and a half, but this is still the first time you've seen your son. You can be mad at me, but he didn't do anything. He can't do anything but smile and love and be perfect and undeserving of anything that has come his way in the last few weeks."
"I made a mistake, Caroline," Klaus said.
"Is that what this was to you? A mistake? Klaus you took the most painful thing from my past, something I don't share with anyone, and you used it to leave me and our son. Do you understand how cruel that was?"
"I do and it's not something I'm proud of. I can't take it back, but I didn't mean it. I thought you had betrayed me and-"
"You needed me to hurt as much as you did. If it was just me, it'd be one thing, but you put Jack in danger too."
"Jack? That's what you named him," he asked upon hearing his son's name.
"Jackson Stefan Forbes," she told him, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "He was early, but he's healthy, just a little small."
"I know I put him in danger and it's my biggest regret."
Caroline sat down in the one piece of furniture that had been delivered to the house already, a small rocking chair. "Klaus, at the end of the day, it's not about you or I. It's about Jack and what's best for him. I came here so he could have a fresh start. A life without problems. I don't have to worry about reporters pestering him or your mother and step-father interfering here. It's what's best for him. I guess I need to know why you are here because if it's not one hundred perfect for him, you can turn around and go back to Mikael and DC and leave us alone."
"I'm here for him, Caroline," he told her, taking a step closer. "And I'm here for you. I quit, I got on a plane and now I'm here. I haven't made a single decision today without you and him in mind."
"Just be here for him. I don't know what's going to happen with you and me. I don't know when or if I can get past those things you said. If I can believe that you aren't going to shove me away as hard as possible at the first sign of trouble." She could barely wrap her head around him even standing in front of her. She'd always said she'd never keep him from Jack unless he gave her a reason. She had plenty of reason, but she was still standing here, giving him a chance he probably didn't deserve. She just hoped it wouldn't come back to hurt Jack. "You have one chance and I mean that in the most rigid sense of the word. You leave again, you hurt him in anyway, you do anything to put him in danger, anything, and you'll never see him again."
"I have no intention of ever doing anything to hurt him or you again." He looked her in the eye as he made the promise.
"Just worry about him." She hated herself for believing him, but she did. "Would you like to hold your son?" she asked, unhooking the side of the carrier so she could lift the little boy from it and carefully place him in Klaus's arms.
One Year Later
"Everything is ready?" Caroline asked, looking over at Holly, the new cashier she had hired a few weeks after opening shop. The bakery had been open for six months now after nearly as long in the development and construction stages. It had been stressful and taxing, but she had gotten through it and things were thriving in New York. It was the happiest Caroline had been in months. She missed Elena and Damon and Stefan, but between the phone calls, Skype calls, and a few visits, everyone made things work. For a decision she had agonized over for months, Caroline knew that she had made the right one. Jack was happy here and nothing mattered to Caroline more.
When Holly nodded, Caroline wiped her hands off on her apron before pulling it over her head. "Great. Elena and Damon are already at my house. Klaus is bringing Jack over any minute now. I have to get back. Everything is set. You should come over once you close up. There's going to be a ton of food and Jack loves you. He only turns one once." She smiled before picking up her purse and the birthday cake she had made for her son and heading out the door.
It didn't take her long to make it back to the brownstone building that she and Bonnie shared. Balancing the cake in one hand, she unlocked the door before heading into the apartment. "Can someone help me?" she called out knowing there had to be someone lingering around as she struggled to keep the cake balanced.
"I've got it." Caroline smiled when she heard the familiar face, happy to see Elijah standing there once the cake was lifted from her hands.
"I knew Katherine was coming, but I didn't realize you were tagging along," she said, wrapping her arm around his shoulders and pecking his cheek.
"I thought it best not to miss my nephew's first birthday. Everyone else is in the living room with Jack," he told her, setting the birthday cake down on the kitchen counter.
"I'm sure he's loving the attention," she laughed, setting down the rest of the bags. "You can head back in. I just need to get a few things ready in here and then I'll be in." She watched him walk away before slipping off her jacket and hanging it on one of the hooks in her entry way. She walked over the kitchen island and opened one of the drawers, pulling out a pack of candles to place on the cake. She knew she'd probably have to help the little boy blow them out, but she wanted the full experience, especially for his first birthday.
"The cake looks wonderful, Caroline. Though I didn't expect anything less," Klaus spoke as Caroline turned around to see him standing over the counter top, looking down at the fondant dinosaurs sitting on top of their son's birthday cake.
"Thanks. I'm sure he'll destroy it the second he realizes there chocolate inside, but at least the pictures will be cute," she laughed, pulling the candles out of the package she'd pulled from the drawer. "How long ago did you get here?" she asked as he helped her pick up the plastic protector from the top of the cake so she could plant the candles in the frosting.
"Not long. Elena let me in."
"I sincerely hope she was pleasant." Caroline said, imagining how passive aggressive her best friend could have been when he showed up at the door.
"Far kinder than Bonnie was when I first showed up here last year," he told her, taking a few of the small candles from her package and helping her arrange them in a circle on the cake.
"Well, in Bonnie's defense, you deserved it then," she pointed out, before faltering to a smile. "Elena hasn't been here all year. She hasn't seen how good you are with Jack and how much you try. She's just had a year to be angry with you and keep hating you. It'll fade with time. Now that she can see how functional we all are at co-parenting."
He looked at her for a moment before setting down the candles and turning his full attention to her. "Caroline, I don't wish to simply co-parent with you."
She shook her head, walking away to look through one of the cupboards for matches. "No, Klaus, we've talked about this. When you came back, I told you to be here for Jack-"
"And I told you, I was here for you both. I don't care how long it takes. If you aren't ready or you don't trust me yet, I'll wait. I'll prove it to you every day."
She pulled out a lighter and walked towards the cake, "We don't work. We proved that last time."
"No, I made a mistake last time. And if that mistake keeps us from being together, that's one things, but it's not because we don't work. We do work. We could be a family, a real one, not just three people who happen to be tied together, one that loves each other, one that tries."
"Klaus, I.." The words died on her lips as Klaus pressed his mouth against hers. His hands grasped the sides of her face, bringing her closer, but not keeping her there. She could pull away any moment she wished. He leaned closer, her hips resting against the kitchen counter as his hands slipped down her back, wrapping around her.
When they finally pulled back, Klaus rested his forehead against hers. "Take a chance, Caroline."
Her hands cupped his cheeks, thumbs brushing along the bone as she looked up at him. "We're not telling anyone until tomorrow. Now we help our son blow out the candles," she told him as a smile broke over his lips.
"I think I can agree to those terms," he said, brushing his lips over hers once move, before letting her go.