I sank to my knees, holding Kate's limp, lifeless body in my arms. I held onto her like I'd hold onto my mother: desperate, a little apologetic, looking for answers that may never surface. My whole world contracted to just her and me and the dirt floor on the one spot I stared at. I was numb.
I was in agony.
"I'm sorry," I whispered again to her, just in case her spirit could still hear me. "I'm sorry."
We both made our choices. Neither was right. Neither was wrong. One of us died and the other...became a killer again.
Tears welled up in my eyes and dripped down my cheeks. That's how Klaus found me, crying on the floor cradling a dead girl. He flashed over, his face a twisted mess of anger and fear. He went to his knees. He probably would have ripped Kate out of my arms and flung her away like a ragdoll, but I resisted. I hung on to her. It was the least I could do, because I knew the moment I let her go I would move forward with the path I'd picked for myself. I'd leave her in this dirt and dust covered basement, with no one in the world left to keep her company.
So for now, I wasn't going to leave her alone. Everybody deserved to have someone there for them in the end.
I was going to be with her. Just for a few minutes longer.
Since I was seventeen years old, I've questioned nearly everything I thought I knew about the world. About what it meant and where we all went when it was done. I learned about the veil and how supernaturals crossed into this niche in the afterlife. Mostly what I got out of that was that an afterlife existed. Funny how a vampire—something that wasn't supposed to exist—could date a werewolf, be an immortal's love interest, and still be worried about what would happen when she died.
I think it was because I couldn't stomach the idea of my mother dying and laying cold in the ground, rotting away. I needed to believe that there was something better waiting for her. Something Wonderful.
A place I wasn't so sure I would go, but that I really hoped Kate would experience. Not because I was that into forgiveness. Because...I wanted it for her.
I didn't know how long I stayed like that. I might have stayed a lot longer still. The problem was I was getting progressively weaker. It was harder to see, and my pulse wasn't as strong as it should have been. My bullet wound ached. My thigh burned. My wrists were...well, it was bad.
After I pushed him away a second time, Klaus had finally had enough and got his way. He yelled a few rude things and then I had to put her down. I laid her gently on the ground and was then snatched up. He cursed the entire time he made me feed from his wrist.
The bullet was expelled. My wrists healed. My thigh closed. The claw wounds on my back knitted back together. I could feel my whole body respond to the fresh, sweet magic of Klaus' blood.
Then he went silent, something I knew from experience was a bad sign. I heard screaming upstairs. The rest of the werewolves were being hunted down and picked off. Klaus had a lot of rage pent up and no one to unleash it on. I'd taken that from him.
His cheek was pressed into the crown of my head. He held me tight, and despite everything that had just happened, smelling his familiar scent comforted me.
Then..."Her entire family dies," he growled into my hair.
That hit me like a shot in the heart. "They already did," I said, drawing away from his chest to look at him. My cheeks were red and my eyes were swollen from crying, but I looked him dead in the eye and added, "You killed them a while ago. That's why she came after us. She wanted to hurt you through me before she finally got her revenge."
I thought I'd sound more upset. I just kept crying, but my voice was as steady as could be.
Klaus paused, gaze slanting sharply to Kate's body. Not a hint of recognition dawned.
That is sadder than anything else, I thought then. Kate and her family were dead, and Klaus didn't even recall they existed.
My world of right and wrong was totally gone now. It was just endless gray.
I wiped at my cheeks with a sniff. "I want to go home now."
He searched my face. "Caroline..."
"Can we bury her? All of them? I don't think we should just leave like this. What if animals—" I couldn't finish that sentence.
He seemed to reach a decision. "Once everything is taken care of, we'll burn the house."
Like a funeral pyre. They did that in India, right? The Vikings too. It wasn't all that different from cremation. I nodded.
He helped me off of the floor and we started for the stairs. I wanted to look back at Kate, who didn't seem much older than I was when I died. But that wouldn't change or solve anything, would it? We'd made our choices, I reminded myself, lifting my chin. It was better to honor them than to give into...whatever was swirling inside me.
I didn't look back.
Caroline was silent on the way home. She did not ask how I found her, and I suppose it was superfluous. I had her with me again.
I said nothing, but I was not silent. I was enraged. I was ready to raze a town. I was out for blood.
I held her hand tight.
Once at the house, I ordered the injured to be taken care of. I bit my wrist and carelessly filled a cup with just enough blood to sustain everyone. After that, I didn't give much of a fuck as to what happened to them. I could not tolerate their presence in my immediate vicinity lest some of my anger boiled over. I dismissed them all, giving Artie a meaningful glance. He was to go to Colby in hospital. Whatever he had to do to contain the situation, he had my permission. Compulsion, confession, I didn't care. He was not on my list of priorities.
Artie nodded his understanding and took care of the rest. Where everyone went or what they did, I neither knew nor cared to inquire. They were in the house. That was all I needed to know.
I took Caroline to my bedroom. I could not think of another place to be. A large part of me wanted to recapture the cloaked safety of 'our' couch. That long ago morning was a blip in my existence, and yet I remembered the feeling of holding her keenly. I wanted that morning back. A foolish, futile wish.
I watched her stand in the center of the room, her arms wrapped around herself. I wanted to go to her and smooth my hands over her back. To think of myself as a source of comfort was ludicrous, but was I not that very thing the day we were attacked? Just as Caroline was many things to me, I had become many things to Caroline.
Now, in the moment, I did not know what to be. Caroline was no longer crying. She was simply looking at the balcony, where I told her of my darker desires. Given today's events, I was certain she expected me to lock her up.
I tried to muster the will. Instead I stood in the darkness, the mass of feelings inside me too tangled to unravel.
Because while I longed to smooth my hands over her back, I could not deny how ragged she appeared. Her jacket was soaked. Her dress shredded in places.
Her light was...diminished. Dull.
"I could have let her go," she said after a length. "I didn't have to do anything except injure her a little and then get out of there. That's it. I chose to kill her."
My heart thudded in my chest and I cursed it. Why? Why did she have such power over me? I was already closing my inner doors, shutting up my emotions tight as a drum in preparation of the onslaught. It was coming. A thousand years of experience told me as much. It was clear Caroline regretted her actions. That damnable compassion that had originally drawn my notice would not permit anything else. The terrible thing about a light as addictive and true as hers...was that choices such as these did not leave it unmarked.
As long as she was with me, those choices would always present themselves.
It occurred to me then—that idea I've read about so many times. The notion of letting her go. For perhaps the first time I could see the merit in allowing Caroline to be free of me. She would stay as she was—this imperfect, dogged, demanding, stunning creature. Her light would not be damaged by my violence and unforgiving grasp. She would be as preserved as a lovely artifact under glass, and for once I began to see the appeal in that.
Had I ever been selfless? Even once, in my entire ten centuries of life? If I had I could not recall. As I stared at a fixed point over Caroline's head, jaw clenching, I wondered if such a thing could exist in me; a desire to put someone else's needs before my own.
I have seen it, of course. Many times. On more than one occasion I used it for my own gain. Ah, but see? Once again I prove my own selfishness. It is not something I have ever lost sleep over. In fact, there's quite a lot to be said for putting one's self first. You didn't see anyone else with an empire, did you? Anyone else with a reputation so fierce, whose name was bandied about in whispers?
What would prolonged exposure to something like that do to Caroline's character?
I have never believed that tripe about loving and letting go. I believed in subordination, in the application of one's will until one's opponent was cowed or crushed. Yet now as that terrible, nauseating seed of doubt presented itself to my conscious mind, I began to wonder...I began to understand the draw...
My stomach turned.
No. This was rot. Utter and complete melodramatic bollocks.
I looked away, unable to stand even a glimpse of her golden hair a second longer.
Or was getting her as far from me was the best option?
What had I been thinking, allowing myself this indulgence, pursuing her so relentlessly?
I could keep and twist and mold Caroline to my end, and then what? I'd be left with some pale shadow of what I craved.
Bitter gall burned my tongue.
"Perhaps it is time to cut our time together short." The thought slipped through with all the slyness of a housebreaker. My eyes widened. What was I saying? Was I a fool? No, I should have told her that we were not going to go through this again. I should have lied through my teeth. I had done it so many times before. It should have been easy.
But I was gripped by something I didn't understand and liked even less. That boy. That willful, pitifully weak boy that I once was. He was cowering in a corner with his hands over his heads, trying to block it all out. He lashed out before it got too bad. He protected himself before there was ever a need.
My arms were leaden at my sides. I could not look away from the floor.
I was disgusting.
I was paralyzed.
"What did you say?" Caroline's voice was unsure. Tremulous.
My expression shuttered. I pasted a smile on my lips. "Come now, Caroline, surely your unparalleled sense of hearing has not chosen to fail you." Stop. Stop now, I commanded myself.
I was crumbling inside.
She frowned, her delicate brows creating a single line. "You're...breaking up with me?" She sounded as if she could not quite grasp the meaning of the concept.
No. Yes. I didn't know. I didn't understand what was happening to me, and yet I was helpless to prevent the fall. My lips curled further into their customary smirk. "I'm afraid this has grown a bit complicated, sweetheart." I shrugged one shoulder. "It's time for you to leave."
This is done. It's done. I've done it.
Every muscle in Caroline had gone still. She stared at me, her heartbeat so steady as to suggest she did not understand what I meant. "You're breaking up with me," she said again, her voice strangely flat.
As if the sudden illogic of it dumbfounded her.
I turned cold eyes on her, chin tilted. "Is that a probl—"
– she slapped me.
My head snapped to the side. Rage bolted through me instantly. I seized her by the shoulders and picked her up, her feet dangling in the air when I bared my fangs at her.
She hissed back, black lines marking her face with fury. She was a black and gold thing of beauty, a tempest that I wanted to laud and subdue.
Caroline kicked me in the thigh.
I roared again, the pain enough to distract me when she knocked my arms to the side and dropped back to the floor. "Is that a problem?" she shouted up into my face. "Are you out of your freakin' mind?"
I was brought up short by the sheer force of her temper. My teeth did not retract. I barely moved. My amazement at her unmitigated gall was absolute.
"Do you seriously think that you can just walk into my life, blackmail me into dating you, watch me—us—go through emotional gauntlet after emotional gauntlet, and then just drop me? Well, let me tell you something, mister, you are STUCK with me now. So what's your damage?" Her chin jutted up. "Are you scared? Reacting badly to me getting kidnapped? What?"
"Be careful how you speak to me, Caroline. You are not that beautiful." A bitter lie.
"Buddy, I am more than beautiful, I'm a freakin' queen. The consort, remember? Consorts don't take bullshit, and that's exactly what this is. So in answer to your question: Yes, that is a problem. That is a very big problem."
We were almost nose to nose. Her voice dropped in volume from a shout to a quiet warning. "I've told you before, Klaus. Don't expect to make unilateral decisions without me reacting to it."
My upper lip curled. "Is that a fact?" I leaned down. We were sharing each other's breath now. "I suppose it's time to bring you down from that cloud you occupy, Caroline. You aren't strong enough to be my queen."
She didn't so much as flinch. "I'm beginning to wonder if you're strong enough to be my king."
A heartbeat of incredulity.
If she had daggered me, she could not have struck more true. My fingers itched to claw at her. How dare this baby vampire have the temerity to challenge me? Me, Klaus Mikealson, the most powerful creature on the planet?
Blood would flow.
My hand shot to her hair, intending to bend her to my will, when she twisted and dodged, flashing to the other side of the room. With a flick of her wrist she sent the chair next to her hurling into the wall centimeters from my head. It splintered like matchsticks.
"How does that feel, Klaus? Me insulting your strength? Me throwing things around?" She tossed the second one.
This I caught and shattered over my knee. I flung the pieces to the side without breaking my stare. If she wanted a fight, she'd get one. I started forward, pain pulsing through my bruised leg.
She jabbed a finger in my direction. "I am not letting you throw me away!" Tears glittered in her bloodred eyes. "I picked you, dammit!"
My haze dissipated slightly.
"I killed that girl today because I picked you! I could have let her go. I could have let her go. You deserved everything she could do to you for revenge and I killed her. Why would I do that Klaus? Huh? Tell me that." She glared, chest rising and falling, those beautiful tears turning her otherworldy eyes brilliant.
Because you love me.
I could not describe the feeling that took hold of me then. Part fear, part joy, part something I could never begin to name, burst into exist inside without warning. It rendered me immobile, powerless to do anything but feel.
Caroline loved me. She'd picked me.
"I'll destroy you," I said. The words were torn from me like small, dirty bits of flesh, and laid before her altar. "Whatever you are to me, it cannot survive the love I hold for you."
She blinked. The blood leeched from her face, slowly leaving it clear. The black receded. Her fangs disappeared. "Yes it can," she said. No more accusation. No more anger. Simply...sincerity.
I laughed humorlessly. "You're delusional."
Here I was, standing before her with my fangs bared and my eyes changed, and she still held my gaze.
"Or maybe I just know myself. I'm going to change, Klaus. That's something we can't prevent." She stepped forward. "But I'm not going to buckle. I'm not going to collapse. I'm going to fight for who I am. I've gone through too much to lose it at the first sign of trouble."
To my abject horror, her chin trembled. "So don't throw me away, okay? Just give me a chance—"
Never. Never never never.
I was on her before the last syllable died on her lips, taking her head in my hands and mashing my lips to hers in the most inelegant kiss of my existence. It was need. It was love. It was desperation and sorrow and too many emotions to quantify or separate. I kissed her as though I expected to die then and there.
She kissed me back. She always kissed me back, just as desperate and yearning, this girl that had picked me. I made a noise in the back of my throat, a groan and a whimper. "Caroline."
"Why?" she demanded between kisses. "Why?"
Her plaintive plea for understanding tore at me. "I'm sorry." I did not give a fuck if the words exposed my weakness. I was already raw and open before this girl. No, no longer a girl. A woman.
"It will never happen again," I assured her. "And anyone who suggests that it might will die a slow, agonizing death." It wouldn't and they would.
I was Klaus Mikaelson. I was not benevolent. I was not selfless. I was the bloody king of the supernatural world. I was the lover of Caroline, my queen, a woman that accepted the monster I was and made me wish I were a god.
She was Persephone. The sun.
I was Hades. The darkness.
We were perfect.
I picked her up and took her to the bathroom. It was large, larger than any other in the house, and it was outfitted with a shower made for five. Without bothering to undress I strode through the open glass door and set her in it. One wave of my hand activated the shower, which rushed down over us at the perfect preset temperature from all three nozzles.
I began to peel her clothes from her body, blood and a light smell of soot washing from us. We were in a similar situation but hours ago. I was pleased but skeptical of her declaration of love, sated by our sex. Burgeoning with the need to rip a few heads off.
Now...I was amazed by how different a life could become in a few hours. I had gone through centuries watching the world around me change and yet remain the same. I was a rock in a river, moving but essentially unaffected by time.
I threw her dress to he side and ran my hands up Caroline's ribcage, grazing the fading gunshot wound. I was made different by her, in ways that could not be articulated. She in turn was made different by me. For better—and I would ensure that it was better—we would grow together from then on.
She pulled my shirt from me and went to work on my jeans while I helped her from her bra. I was lost in my fascination of her. Sex was of course on my mind, but it was negligible compared to my desire to see her. To touch her. To reassure myself that she lived and I had not lost her, either by action or by word.
In moments we were naked. Bared. This time I smoothed her wet hair back and kissed her without passion. I was seeking comfort as much as I was comforting.
I did not believe all the drops on her face were produced by the shower.
She gave a little moan and hugged me tight, her arms going around my waist and linking together. She let out a trembling breath. "I don't know what that was about," she said under the steady fall of water, "but if you ever scare me like that again—"
I buried my face in her neck, shame and denial holding me silent.
She kissed my chest.
She kissed my neck.
I could barely meet her gaze.
She kissed me.
She forgave me.
I pressed my forehead to hers and closed my eyes. I knew I needed her much more than she would ever need me. I had always known that. It was the first time I felt glad for that. Caroline Forbes did need me—perhaps more than I gave her credit for—but what mattered was that she wanted me. Until tonight I did not know what that could mean to me. She was willing to be my opposite. My better half.
I smiled before I knew I was happy, but there it was, peeking out through the darkness. I opened my eyes only to find that she was looking back, a small smile gracing her lips as well. I was overcome with a sense of well-being I could not recall ever having felt before. As though a small piece that was minutely maladjusted slid into its proper position.
I leaned down to capture her lips—and the intercom system buzzed.
I would have growled, but Caroline's displeased huff interrupted, which turned my growl into a chuckle. I have always enjoyed vexing Caroline, and the sight of her adorable pout lifted my mood considerably.
"Stay here," I said, before I went to answer the call, naked.
Caroline, of course, watched me walk away, a hum of appreciation cutting through the air.
Unfortunately the news awaiting me was not good. Artie had called. Colby's condition was considerably worse than predicted. Artie had managed to compel his way through the red tape, but relayed a request for assistance.
She stared at me with wide eyes from the shower, pale. "What happened to Colby?"
My lips tightened. I did not want to be the one that told her this, but it had to be said. "We were tracked through Colby's mobile. They used it to follow yours. It seems Colby did not give it up without a fight."
If possible, her face paled further. "He fought...with a werewolf?"
I nodded grimly.
"Oh god." She ran a shaking hand over her forehead. "Where is he?"
"In hospital." I was already gathering towels for us. "Hurry; Artie says he needs us."
I should not have been surprised at how fast she moved. In minutes she was throwing her hair into a wet bun on the top of her head and clad in jeans, a t-shirt, her pullover, and sneakers. Then, when that was done, she ran about throwing things in a duffel for Colby.
By the time we were back in the car—only the two of us, no hybrids—she had books, clothes, shoes, underwear, and a canister of BandAids.
I did not dare point out to her that those were unlikely to be useful. She was too busy gnawing her fingernails to listen anyway.
When we arrived at hospital, it did not take long to locate Artie. Unfortunately we also found someone else.
Artie stood in front of Colby's room, a battered and bloody sentinel. He had his arms crossed, tattoos stark on his skin, glaring at a pair of older humans.
Who glared back.
"I said you can go," he half-snarled.
"You don't have any right to say what goes on here or not, sinner," the woman snapped back.
"Lady, if you don't back up within three seconds, I'm going to take that Bible out of your hands and—"
"What the hell is going on here?" Caroline interrupted, coming to a stop before the little group.
I watched from the side, deciding that Caroline taking point was the best course of action. I was in no mood to deal with a set of humans with about much sense as a flea.
"Who are you?" the older man demanded.
She didn't answer, looking to Artie.
"They're his parents," he explained through gritted teeth. "They were on the next of kin list."
She glanced at them, but again, addressed Artie. "Why aren't you letting them in?"
"Because these assholes haven't given a fuck about him for years and suddenly they think they have the right to take care of him." His face twisted. "When I got here they were reading him Bible verses about how this is God's punishment for his evil ways."
Caroline stiffened. "And you didn't compel them because...?"
"Ever tried to do it to two people at once in a hospital full of 'em, princess? It's really freakin' hard."
I had a better picture in those few sentences than an entire biography could have provided. So. These people were Colby's parents, here to capitalize on their son's lowest moment. Given what Caroline told of them, I half expected cross-wearing sign wavers. Instead they appeared to be relatively normal.
Then again, I thought with a cold smile, so do we.
"And frankly," Artie added suddenly, "I thought you'd like to have the pleasure."
"If you don't get out of the way right now, I'm going to call security to have you hauled out," the man threatened.
Caroline held up a hand. "Stop. Just stop." She pointed a finger. "You don't get to raise your voice to Artie like that. In fact, you don't get to talk at all. Colby is an adult. He is not your legal responsibility. He was your emotional responsibility, but we all know you dropped the ball and sissy kicked it to the side, don't we?"
She handed the bag to Artie. "Take this inside for me, please. This shouldn't take more than a minute." That done, she faced the parents with her arms crossed. "Let me make something clear to the both of you: You. Are. Failures. Not only are you some of the suckiest parents I've ever met—and I've met a few—but you give organized religion a bad name. You haven't got a clue what Heaven or God or whatever wants any more than the rest of us, and pretending that you do is a sick joke nobody laughs at."
"Call security, Ben," the woman said, ignoring Caroline completely.
Ben tried to pull out his phone. Caroline seized his arm in a move too fast to be tracked, clamping painfully tight on his arm.
He pulled. To no avail, of course. That did not keep him from trying.
The woman tried to intervene. "How dare you touch my husband!"
Caroline put a hand on her chest and pushed. It was more of a tap, really, but the force of it startled the woman to silence.
In the ensuing pause Caroline glared right into Ben's eyes. "You had one job, to love and support your son even if you didn't agree with how he lived his life. You screwed that up. You don't get to be his family anymore. That's my title now." She pointed a thumb at herself. "Understand?"
"Yes," Ben replied, eyes dull.
"What?" his wife nearly screeched, flying back into the fray.
Caroline turned on her. Ben stood by silently while Caroline captured the woman's shoulders in her hands. "Shut. Up."
The woman closed her mouth.
"Unless you plan on leaving everything you own to Colby, or try to mend your relationship with him, you will not come near him. You will not contact him. You will reread your Bible a hundred times. Maybe then you'll know it so well you'll figure out that love doesn't mean squashing the person your son essentially is. It's encouraging him to be all of that and more." She released her. "Now leave."
Woodenly, they obeyed. She watched them go until they disappeared from sight, then noticed me for what seemed like the first time. "What?"
"You," I said plainly, "are more splendid than I could have dared dream."
She almost smiled at me, but a thought interrupted. "Damn! I should have said they had to pay for his care!" She cursed again.
I petted her cheek. "Don't worry about that. I think you'll find we're more than capable of covering the cost ourselves."
She eyed me. I did not look away.
"You don't like him."
I shrugged. "He is important to you. And perhaps I feel a bit of kinship in the wake of those odious people." I narrowed my eyes. "I'm certain the feeling will fade."
She quirked a brow, then grew serious when she glanced at the door. She chewed on her lip. "What if he—"
"Caroline," I interrupted. "Now is not the time for doubts. Go in there."
She grimaced but nodded. She drew in a deep breath and reached for the handle, pushing the door open with a squeak.
Colby was in bad shape. Wires and tubes were everywhere. Caroline stepped forward, her hand flying up to cover her mouth, tears pooling. Even I could not ignore the stab of empathy I experienced, looking at him. His face had been clawed. Fresh bandages dressed the wound, but we could smell the sickness in him.
I closed the door behind me and leaned against it, loathe to interrupt as she approached the bed. "Colby?" she called out hesitantly.
He stirred. The morphine made him sluggish, but his eyes opened. "Terra?"
Her smile was tremulous. "Hi. Oh, thank god, I was worried. I mean, I'm still worried. I can't believe that you've been here all day and I didn't know..." A sob choked her voice. She grabbed Colby's hand awkwardly and squeezed.
She hesitated. "Colby...I don't know how to tell you..."
"He wasn't normal. That guy. Something was wrong."
"Yeah." I could see Caroline wrestling with herself. "There's something I've been hiding from you. At first it was to keep you safe. Then it was because I didn't know how you'd take it if I said anything." She inhaled sharply. "It's going to sound crazy."
"It's been...that kind...of day."
She laughed a little in surprise. "Yeah, I guess it has." She leaned in, licking her lips nervously. "Colby, when I was seventeen I was in the hospital. A girl came to see me. She was in a fight with some of my friends. She held a pillow over my face...and I died."
My fingers dug into my arms.
"But I woke up. When I did, I was a vampire." She rushed on. "It turns out our town has all kinds of supernatural things running around in it. Vampires, witches, werewolves, and hybrids. We had everything. I had to get away, so I jumped on a train and ended up with you. A werewolf attacked you because he wanted to hurt me, and then Klaus would end up hurt in the end. Klaus is kind of a big deal in our world."
He simply stared at her.
"I can make it better for you. I can give you some of my blood. It won't hurt and you won't change. You'll just get better. And if you want, if you can't handle all of this, I can even erase your memory. Only if you want, though!"
Then Colby's gaze turned to Artie. "And you?"
Artie was nervous for the first time in my memory. "Hybrid. Kind of a crossbreed between vampires and werewolves." He ran a hand over his stomach, clearly not sure where to look.
Colby absorbed that. When he looked at Caroline with that penetrating expression, I braced myself for her sake. "I just have one question," he said seriously.
Caroline nodded jerkily. "Anything."
"If you're a vampire, Artie's a hybrid, and Klaus is...whatever he is..."
"Is Dean Winchester real?"
Caroline burst out laughing. "No, you idiot, he's not real. That's just a show."
"Oh." Colby was clearly disappointed. "Damn."
Artie's head came up. "Hey!" he protested, offended.
"Have you seen...that man's ass?" was the offhand reply.
Obviously relieved, Caroline used her other hand to envelop his. "So what do you say? Do you want to blow this popsicle stand?"
"God yes," he replied fervently. "You have no idea how much the food here sucks..."
Later, our bodies temporarily sated and the furniture in a much worse state than when we arrived, I cradled Caroline to me. She played with my fingers, her head on my chest. I loved the spread of her sex-mussed hair. It was a badge of honor for me. Caroline was obviously well loved. And that was only the first of many, many times tonight.
"We're going to need furniture again," I told her.
She chuckled. "You sound like you're proud of that."
"Well, I'm certain their opinion of my sexual prowess will be significantly elevated."
"Your sexual prowess? They're just going to assume you can't get enough of me."
They would be right, I acknowledged privately.
"I don't think we should get any more," she said suddenly.
I lifted my chin from her crown and angled to look her in the face. "Oh?"
"I think we should get out of here for a while." Too much has happened, she didn't say...but I knew. She bit her lip. "Going to college out of state would be interesting." A light brown brow arched. "Any suggestions?"
I was silent for a moment, the future wide open before me. "I take this to mean that the ginger roommate will be accompanying us."
She gave me a Look. I supposed I deserved that.
I rested my head on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. When the idea came, it was so delicious, so perfect, that I had to smile. "Caroline."
"What do you think of New Orleans?"
A year later...?
"You're wrong," Caroline said patiently, never looking up from her desk.
As I am just as capable of counting as the next man—or vampire, or hybrid, or immortal—this statement vexed me somewhat. "Darling, today is your birthday. You are another year older."
"Then why do you persist in telling me I'm wrong?"
"Because you are."
I sat in the rolling chair carefully, struggling to breathe in a normal fashion and not give into the urge to growl at her. Today was our anniversary. I had promised myself that it would be as romantic and nauseatingly wonderful as I could manage. For weeks I planned this. I even enlisted the help of that pesky ginger roommate, Colby. The git was still human, but since he was made aware of the supernatural world I was honor bound to protect him. The least he could do was aid me upon demand.
Even Artie contributed. Roses. A trip to Paris. A bloody balcony view of the bloody Eiffel Tower and a bloody, BLOODY engagement ring burning a hole in my jacket pocket, damn her.
Roaring, shouting, and the destruction of furniture did not fall into my plans.
But she was making it extremely difficult. "In what way, my love, am I mistaken?" As if such a thing were possible.
She stopped working, glancing at me through her thick bangs. Some of my...pique must have shown through. She sat back in her chair and regarded me with one of those patient but amused looks only she could get away with. "Two ways, actually." She held up a finger. "One: birthdays should not coincide with any other special occasions. Do you know how sad it is that some people have to share the limelight with Christmas or Easter? Anniversaries are like that." She held up a second finger. "Two: We started courting on my birthday. That doesn't mean that's the day I want to celebrate."
Her sentence struck me with the unerring accuracy of a bullet. My jaw tightened. "I see."
She sighed. "No you don't, or you wouldn't be getting hurt." She got up and proceeded to push my hands out of my lap, setting herself down with an arm draped over my shoulder for balance. I had to hold her despite my dislike of the conversation; there was no conscious choice.
"Do you really look back and say, 'hey, that's our special day'? Things may have gotten rolling on my birthday, Klaus, but to be honest, it's not the one that sticks out in my mind as the beginning of our relationship."
I narrowed my eyes at her, not certain where she was taking this conversation.
"It was the day you took me to the museum."
I canted my head but said nothing. There were moments such as these when it was better let Caroline say exactly what was on her mind.
"The tea shop in the rose garden was romantic. Really romantic. The first time I kissed you was also nice."
I quirked a brow, but she ignored me to say, "But to me, the real start, the real turning point, was after our first fight. You were a total asshole about the journal and the fact that Colby was a guy. Then you took me to the museum and you calmed me. You were my rock. We talked, and for the first time, I felt us connect. When I look back, that's the moment my mind keeps pulling up as the point where everything changed."
I recalled that moment. I could picture her so clearly as she walked through the arches like Persephone stepping foot into the Underworld. The Queen of the Shades. Then when we were talking on the bench, surrounded by history I wanted to share with her, and she said I scared the hell out of her. It was a raw, unadulterated blip in time.
Muscle by muscle, I relaxed beneath her. "This is going to require some replanning on my part,"I said at length.
She smirked. "I know. Good thing you like a challenge." Then she grew serious again. "Klaus."
"About that ring..."
I paused in the middle of leaning in for a kiss. How did she know about that?
Then again, why was I surprised?
She was biting her lip. "Nobody will come to a wedding. You know that. And we can't risk a party." She shrugged, trying valiantly to hide how much that bothered her. "We're also, you know, vampires. What's a ring or a piece of paper-"
"Everything," I interjected. "I do not give a damn if time rots the paper or wear tarnishes the metal, those are symbols I've never offered anyone but you." I did not bother to explain what that meant. Caroline knew. She always knew.
"It would be just us. You, me, a priest, a rabbi, a minister, or a justice of the peace."
"We shall have all of them," I declared. "Every faith, every manner of devotion, and in every known language if you're up for it."
Joy lit in her eyes, but she subdued it just enough to ask, "Don't you think I should say yes to the proposal first? The one you haven't made?"
I exhaled, reaching up to stroke her cheek. I looked up into her eyes, so big and luminous, drawing me in. "Caroline."
It was all I said. All I could say.
Her smile broke through, watery but happy. "Yes," was all she replied, and no more.
It was everything.
This is the end of the story—the hardest and best part of any writing experience. I poured more of my soul into Inertia Overcome than I thought possible at the beginning. Part of me is happy that I was able to complete it. I'm sure more than one person thought I'd abandon it. We've all had that happen to us. I'm therefore glad that a story that was so involving for me as a writer came to a conclusion. I only hope that I did the Klaroline ship justice.
Part of me, though, will miss the magic. I can't say this is my last Klaroline fic, but I also don't think I'll do a sequel to Inertia Overcome. It's one of those stories that's fine just the way it is. I also know jack all about the TO universe and I couldn't fake it.
To all my readers, thank you for the reviews. Thank you for recommending this story to your shipper friends. Thank you for the support. Just...you know...thank you.
P.S. I won't lie, I cried during the first four paragraphs. And then nearly died at that "I doubt you're strong enough to be my king" comment. Was that an "OH SHIT!" moment or what?!
PSS: Inertia Overcome has been nominated in several categories for the Klaroline Awards on tumblr! I'm so excited! If you have an account, head over there to give all the authors a good reading. Let's get the fandom going!