The first time he fucks her, he looks like he's never done it before.

You wouldn't guess he's one of the most powerful monsters there is, when he's like this. He looks at her and there are two paths, one that consumes and devours and the other one, where he has to respect that she's someone who loved humanity but doesn't want to come back to it, a real woman, not a toy.

He chooses the second one. She knew he would. It's the reason she's doing it. No, there's no reason. She's doing it because she wants it, has wanted it for far longer than she will admit, and maybe this will get it out of her system. She's pretty sure it won't, but it's worth trying. She tells herself that. She wants it so bad. She's gotten used to the hunger, but this is different, deeper, more frightening. Blood doesn't compare.

Klaus. He drops the Mikaelson before he comes to her, but even without it he's a haunted man, the megalomania and the insecurity carved right inside his bones. She resents him for it, but he can't take it off. It's who he is.

He's also this man. He opens his hands, wrists upturned. "You're -" he starts.

She tries to complete it in her head: You're sure. You're ready. You're lying. You're true.

She is all those things. "Yeah," she says. Come here. Make my head stop. She can't take the noise.

She wants so many things she shouldn't have. It's always been like that. She wanted what Elena had, then she wanted Elena, then she wanted Matt, then Tyler. The bad boy, the car, the crown. Blood. She wanted the teeth that came with it. Of course Klaus is right. They're more alike than she'll admit, but it works both ways: she's like him, he's like her. As much as she hates it, she knows they will meld perfectly. If only the world wasn't there. He's an excellent drawer. They could make so many things out of what they have.

He steps forward. They're in his mansion. She doesn't like it, but this is the room he had built for her. It's better. He built it to persuade himself he owned her, but he doesn't. She knows that, he knows that. There are drawings he did for her, a big bed, some pink here and there. It fits her well. Some parts of her.

He walks towards her. She stands. She could step back and let him crowd her against the wall, but she won't. Cat and mouse. She'll do that when it won't be so close to the truth, when it will only be a game. Then she'll play. Gladly.

He raises his hands, fingers splayed, cups her cheeks. His fingers are on her jaw, in her hair, his thumbs brushing her mouth. She breathes hard. He looks at her. He's so focused. He looks afraid, like he's going to eat her whole. He might.

She kisses him. She wouldn't let him do it. Then she would convince herself that he forced her, after. She doesn't want that. No one could compel someone to love them, even him. She wasn't compelled. God help her, she really does love him, like she's never loved anyone. That's why she won't give in to him. He puts a hand on her hip, to steady himself.

His mouth is sweet, yielding, at first. She runs her tongue over his fangs. She makes a noise, a groan. Move. His hand tightens on her hips, brings her close, violently, sweeping her feet off the ground. Their bones collide. She's going to have a double set of bruises, low on her hips: one where he dug in with his fingers, the other under her belly, where it looks like they ran into each other.

"I wanted this for so long," he breathes when she finally pulls away. She'll burn herself. He doesn't sound tender but desperate, like she's the only thing in the world. It frightens her. It excites her, too.

"Me too," she says. She kisses him again, but this time he meets her head-on, his mouth already half open. The heat of it engulfs her. Their tongues slide together. If she wanted to run away, now would be the time. He won't run after her.

Another minute. There is a deadline to these things. Another minute and she won't be able to run away at all.

His hand slides from her cheek to the nape of her neck, tangles in her hair. Brings her closer. She holds on. She directs him. His mouth is even redder than usual. His eyes are shut. He loves her. She wonders: how can he love me? How is it possible? He's a freak of nature. He shouldn't be able to love her.

But he does. His fangs don't come out, he kisses her differently from how Tyler kissed her, with more reverence and less tenderness. "Klaus," she pants, tearing herself away. What does she look like? She's so good at making mistakes, but this doesn't feel like a mistake.

He looks at her, disoriented. "What is it? Caroline?"

He always says her full name. Caroline. Like he doesn't want to miss any of it, and it rolls in his mouth. She likes it. She liked it the first time, when she didn't know who he was, his accent. It sounded sweet. It's not sweet.

She thinks about what she could say. "No". She learned to say no, after Damon. If she does this, she'll call at least half the shots. She'll keep the power.

His head drops. "Tyler," he says with a snarl. He's recovered. He's getting away from her, still wobbling on his feet. He looks like the little black duck. That's what he is. "You want to go back to Tyler. I should have known."

"Don't decide what I want for me," she says. He asked her to go back to New Orleans with him. It wasn't him. He didn't ask her, because he knows she would've have said no. She's contrary. Now she wants to know what would've happened if she'd said yes.

His eyes are black. His eyes are always black. He always looks like he's on fire. Why is that? It makes her nervous, jittery. "I don't know," she says finally. "It's not easy for me." She sounds defeated. She isn't. Just tired. But she'll do this. If it isn't today, it'll be another day. Soon. She knows.

"You're strong, Caroline," he says. He's next to her again, touching her only in one place, her forearm, but it feels like everywhere. Her nerve endings are raw. She wants him more than food. It's animal, but she's an animal. He's right, she's strong.

He wants to protect her, too, but it's different. He knows the beast inside. He has it, only it's a bigger beast, more cruel, older. An ancient demon. Her beast is like a kitten next to it. But he knows it's there. Maybe the others didn't understand.

"I am," she says. She takes a breath in through her nose. "I want to do this."

He starts forwards. He would jump, but he respects her too much. She doesn't know how she achieved that. This is the same Klaus who kills people on a fancy, who sends graduation caps flying and slices someone's head off with them. She doesn't know why she's the one who has to carry his redemption. She's never been that girl. Elena is that girl. She does it well.

"You don't have to do this to thank me," he says, but the words are hard to get out. He would take anything from her. He gave her a dress because she asked. She said she hated him and then she burst into his house and asked him for a dress. Now she thinks it was a test. For him, for her.

"No," she says. "I know. I'm not."

His eyes are huge. Dilated. She commits his traits to memory. His beauty is strange, not handsome. Not Tyler. He looks almost small. His hair is auburn, he has scruff. He looks powerful, underneath it all, because she knows. He's not unsuspecting. It's hard to pin him down. She's not hard to pin down at all.

He takes a step forward, then two. He crossed entire continents once, but he's afraid to step towards her. She will reject him. That's what he thinks. He doesn't like rejection. From others, it enrages him, from her, it puts him down. It reminds him of who he is. It tells him he can't ever have the things he wants above all. He's not that hard to decipher, once you pay attention. But you've got to have a reason to pay attention. She doesn't. She looks anyway.

He's facing her again. She wraps her arms around his neck, draws him near. Their eyes lock, flit to each other's mouth, they want each other. They want each other so bad. It burns. But he doesn't kiss her, she doesn't kiss him; instead he drops his head to her collarbones, rests his forehead against her chest. Breathes. She used to know the Latin for forgiving someone. A very long time ago, she used to go to church. Her mother didn't really like it, but everyone goes to church around here. It's a small town. Elena and Bonnie and her used to play on the steps. It's a big church for such a small town.

He breathes. The air tickles her, swivels between her breasts. He noses at her neck, asking. She says yes. He laps at her pulse with his tongue, just a little, to see how fast her heart is beating. It's beating. It's beating. You're more conscious of things like that when you're a vampire. It occurs to her that it's going to be different with him. She had human sex with Tyler, most of the time. Not because they don't like being what they are, even though Tyler isn't overly fond of it and she sometimes pretends to be vaguely disgusted, but because they were used to it. Easier. It felt a bit impious to investigate something like that. Tempting the devil and all that.

Now she's blood and bones. Her beating heart. He presses his cheek against it, her artery, the bone of his jaw. He counts. He calculates. When he draws up to get them face to face he presses their chests together, and their heartbeats are synchronized. It steals her breath away. It's a fancy trick. It's like walking next to someone and falling into step. Moment wonder.

"Klaus," she says, for no reason other than it's his name, and it's him.

He presses a kiss to her mouth. I'm here. It's me. What is it. Caroline.

Then her cheekbone, her earlobe, her eyelid. It's dark outside. The room is hot. There's a bed. He got it for her, and then she had it changed. They didn't talk about it. It bothered her that he owned a bed for her, even though she was never going to sleep in it, but it couldn't be a bedroom without a bed. She likes order. She likes appearances. She ordered a bed and had it charged on his name. He didn't say anything about it. If he had, maybe she wouldn't be there today.

He can't bite her.

She kisses him again. This time she dives forward, like she's underwater. She mashes their mouths together and he opens readily, completely, without reserve. He kisses her back. He doesn't steady her. They're not a steady thing. Heat courses in her veins; he's so hot he could have a fever. Maybe she'll catch his disease. It makes her smile against his lips. He doesn't ask for the joke, only presses closer. Groans. His hands are on her shoulder blades, pulling her in. He'll always want to be closer. Consumption is their thing.

She drapes a leg around his waist. She doesn't care. She was always like that, impetuous. His vampire speed slaps them against the closest wall. She doesn't like it. She flips them over. He doesn't mind. He opens his neck. She can bite. She thought she couldn't, but now she knows. Whatever happens, he'll heal her. The blood can be black, it doesn't matter. It's clear. It's clear for a second. Good.

She doesn't bite, but she scrapes her teeth along his throat, and he likes it. He bucks his hips into hers. This is what she wanted. His kisses are hot, and he wants to keep her forever, even though he can't. He came back. Of course he did.

His hands get under her top, on her back. His heart is hammering. She opens her eyes and kisses him at the base of his throat, mouth open, hot, to leave a trace. Her teeth are out, but she won't draw blood. Not now. Not yet. This is still a moment where they need to tell the truth. A baseline: how do the subjects act when they don't feel threatened. It doesn't mean they're not afraid, they are, but the threat is here. Inside. They both believe it's better than if it came from the outside, barreling in, smashing the windows to pieces. But they're scared to dig it out. He'll find something fragile. She'll find something monstrous, more monstrous than she already is.

When she pulls away there's a red mark. His hands crawl up, she helps him get her top off. He looks at her, frozen. She's beautiful. She likes him watching her. It makes her feel in control. His hands are in her hair now, messing it up. No more perfect ringlets. It would feel out of place, anyway. He looks messy too. He looks like he's wearing every emotion on his face. It's strange, but it's exciting.

He kisses between her breasts. She steps back, and he marches her to the bed, litters kisses on the crest of her bra, where skin meets cloth. She shivers violently. She falls out of step. He puts a hand on her hip, steadies her. "I've got you," he says. Then he looks up, faintly alarmed. He didn't intend to say anything.

She doesn't answer. She hauls herself on the bed and drags him down over her. She doesn't know why, but now it doesn't mean domination anymore. She can splay her legs and make a noise high in her throat and press down on his hand as he slides it under her to unclasp her bra. It makes a soft pop. She smiles, and he smiles back, slightly predatory. He takes a nipple in his mouth. She pulls his hair. They're coordinated. They'll always be coordinated. They might not have the same opinions, but they won't fall out of rhythm. This is easier than conversation, in a lot of ways.

Somewhere, it's what she expected. When she thought about Klaus touching her in her bed at night and tried to convince herself it was dreams, unwelcome dreams, she thought he would kiss her up and down and leave her a panting, shivering mess. She thought he would be a little domineering but entirely devoted to her. That's what this is. Devotion. His teeth scrape over the nub of her nipple and she arches up, his mouth opens, his tongue soothes. He hums against her skin. His fingers are at her waist. Holding her. He's holding her.

She tries to think about what could have happened if she'd said yes about going with him to New Orleans, but she finds that she can't. Everything about this rests on their loyalty to who they are. She would never go to New Orleans, not in a million years, no matter if she loves him or not. It doesn't factor. She wouldn't be his queen. He knows that. He didn't ask her. He knows she wouldn't have come with him if he had. That's why he loves her.

That's why he's here, his hips pressing inside her thighs, his mouth on her breasts, why she's holding onto his head, his neck, with both arms, moaning loudly. She's never been ashamed to like sex. She loves him because he understands that there isn't only one side of her. She can't disappoint him. He can disappoint her, he does, all the time, but the reverse isn't possible. It makes her feel good. It makes her feel safe, loved. Those words shouldn't go with Klaus Mikaelson, but they do.

"You should fuck me," she says. She doesn't know how it makes it out of her mouth.

His head snaps up from between her breasts and she watches everything play out. First he looks like a newborn. He looks surprised and virginal. He's afraid to make love to her. Then his fangs come out. He grins. He wants her. It's not as paradoxical as it seems. "Alright," he says softly. His cock is pressed against her thigh, thrumming through the denim. Her chest is heaving. Their heartbeats are still in sync. It'll be like that all along.

They're naked quickly. He doesn't want to lose time. She can't even piece out his movements, how fast his hands move. She helps, but it's the same. She still can't see through her own strength. It still surprises her, and frightens her, because no one's really taught her how to use it. He could teach her. He knows how. It's been centuries. Maybe she'll ask, someday.

He's breathing. All those years and he hasn't stopped breathing. In Caroline's old world that would have been a miracle, something worth celebrating. But it's a curse. Here it's a curse. Caroline is okay with that too. Words don't matter. They don't mean much. Not now, at least. He's breathing, lying over her, naked, and she's there, naked too, and nothing is happening. Nothing is happening. They're together. That in itself seems huge, impossible to swallow. She would never have expected the day to end like this. She should've, though. They asked her to call him. She'd done a good job at forgetting how strong this thing she feels for him is. She doesn't call it love. It's not that she's afraid. It's that she's cautious, and it's not always love.

Right now, though, it might be. He sees through her, and she sees through him: all the veins, the blood, her friends and her enemies and the things he did for her. She flips them over again. She rests her hands over his heart, and she slides down onto him. It's good. She doesn't close her eyes, because she wants to see his face: his eyes widen, his mouth parts. I've got him, Caroline thinks. He's pinned. He's mine. It's a strange thought, not one she's used to.

She doesn't move for a moment, just stays there, still, with her nails biting into his skin and her thighs clenched around his hips, the hotness of him inside her. She's overwhelmed. She feels like she might cry, just to clear some space. She wants to move but she can't. She won't. They could stay like this forever, she wouldn't say no to that. No one could say he's done bad things like this, with his arms limp, barely enclosing her waist, his fingers brushing her ass, the small of her back. When he's lying under her, in wait. She could have done the bad things. She could be the villain of the story. She could be the dragon.

Then she moves. She bends down to kiss him and he meets her halfway, wraps his arms around her back, close. There's nothing he won't take. Nothing to throw away. That's what they meant when they invented that expression, take no prisoners. There's nothing he'll let slip away now. They couldn't be closer.

The rhythm is slow at first but it builds up, Caroline moves up and down, her thighs working. She's breathing hard. Her chest is dotted with sweat. She feels good. She feels better than good. She feels like this might be the last thing she does, and she wouldn't regret it. Tyler is probably waiting for her, and Klaus did that - he did that. He brought Tyler back. Caroline cried. Even then, she wasn't sure why she was crying, for Klaus's absurd kindness or for Tyler's return. She should feel guilty and she does, but she doesn't. Right now she doesn't. It only infuses her with a new energy, selfless, almost pure. She cries out, but she doesn't hear it. Klaus is leaning against the headboard. It's wood, but he's got his head tipped back, his throat open. She could kill him right now. They would all be so happy about it. They would be grateful. They would thank her.

But she won't. She doesn't even have to think about it. She kisses his throat, his hips buck up, he's all the way into her. Everything they always shared felt so intimate, maybe because she was the only one who ever gave him the time of day out of all the 'good guys'. He's right. She's not that good. She's not righteous like Elena and Bonnie. She'll come back home with him and fuck him in the bed she ordered with his money, in the bedroom he made for her.

"You're -" he pants. She wants to know. What am I. She takes his jaw between her fingers. Now he could break.

"You're everything," he says when he's caught her eyes. She feels something swelling in her stomach, she knows that feeling. She wants it to stop. She wants the in-between to last longer, so she won't have to come back down and think. She knows it won't be easy. It couldn't possibly be easy. She knew it wouldn't when she came back here with him, but she's desperate now.

"I don't want," she says, but it rips her open.

He holds her, close, without reserve. Her breasts are mashed on his chest, his lips on hers, not kissing, breathing, saying things. She doesn't listen. She doesn't hear. His knees draw up a little. Her thighs are shaking. Her orgasm blasts through her. Her face slides against his, cheek to cheek. He's breathing hard too. He comes with her.

"You're everything," he says just after, his voice more stable, but it's different. Now it's worrisome.

"Don't talk," she says. She doesn't climb down from his lap, or wrestle from his hold. It doesn't matter that she's sweaty and there's come in her. She doesn't like dirtiness, but it doesn't feel dirty.

He kisses her ear. Her neck. She sighs. It's not sadness, or weariness. She just feels very tired now. It was about giving, and he gave, but she did too. She's always been bad at holding back. She reciprocates. It's what she does. She's drawn in, and she gives. Open arms and all that. She's had to learn to be wary, and she was, with him, at first. But it's the most she can do. Now she loves him. She can't take it back.

Eventually she stands up. She goes to take a shower, her head empty of thought. The bathroom is steely and impersonal but she doesn't care. She dries herself off with a towel that's got an embroidered 'Rebekah' at the helm. She smirks. Those Originals really aren't subtle. She thinks about wandering in the house, finding a stake, killing him. She brushes her teeth with a toothbrush that's probably his. She looks at herself in the mirror. She doesn't feel wrecked yet, but she looks it. Red mouth, with marks on her throat, red high on her cheeks from the shower. She likes it.

When she comes back to the bedroom he's not moving. Dead, she thinks instantly, with a jolt. That's the first thing that comes to mind now. So many people are dead. But he isn't. He's the one who kills. He's not a victim. He's sleeping. His arm are open, like he's waiting for her. She's seen him sleep before, he doesn't sleep like that. He doesn't sleep with his arms open, like a god. He sleeps curled up on himself. It make sense.

She wanted to get her clothes on but she feels lightheaded. She won't leave. She wonders if she's glowing, like people say happens after sex. Probably. It was good sex. He's had centuries to perfect his technique. She slips under the sheets, next to him, naked. She lies with the side of her breast pressed to his ribs, his arms around her. She'll worry about it tomorrow.

"Good night," he says as she closes her eyes. She doesn't answer, but he knows.

She knows the rules, though. You've got to attack before he does. In the morning he'll ask questions, he'll want to know. Everything she was sure of a few hours ago is a blur now. Her vampire senses wake her up when he moves. It's still the middle of the night.

She opens her eyes, shoots up, still naked. He looks over at her from the other side of the room. He's moved an easel in. He's painting. Lots of things about the situation irritate her. She should've woken up when he moved the first time. She should be better than this. She hopes he isn't painting her.

He smiles. It's unnatural. She can see his fangs. "Go back to sleep," he says. "I'm just..." he motions to the easel. "I'm just painting."

She swings her feet off the mattress. "I have to go." Everything she'd forgotten is bubbling up in her. No. It shouldn't have happened like that. It shouldn't have happened at all. Even though she knows. It did.

"Don't -" he starts, and then: "Of course." She hears the shift, unsubtle. His voice is cold. Argumentative. It pains her slightly, but it also aggravates her. And she's satisfied. It'll make it all the easier.

Yesterday, she didn't mind what she'd heard about him and Hayley, back in New Orleans. It seemed inconsequential. He'd come back for her. Now she's Caroline Forbes again. She doesn't understand what she was doing here. No. That's a lie. She understands. But she feels guilty.

"You have Hayley to keep you company," she says, just to be mean. To make herself feel better. It doesn't work. Where is Tyler? Tyler is an anchor. He'll tell her what's wrong and what's right.

"Caroline," Klaus starts. He's going to reassure her about Hayley, say it isn't true, that he doesn't love her. Of course he doesn't love her. He loves Caroline. But Caroline doesn't want to hear that. It doesn't bring anything to the situation.

"Save it," she bites. "This was a mistake. I'm going to see Tyler." The words are rehearsed, like something out of a bad TV show. They feel comfortable in her mouth. It's nothing that would scratch her palate as it went out. Nothing that would make her bleed. Good.

In a second he's got her pinned to the door. Can he do that now? No. She glares at him. He steps back, ducks his head. She's satisfied; it's a sickly, miserable feeling. "I meant what I told you yesterday," he says, his voice low. She looks behind him. The painting is of her. She looks like the sun.


"I'll wait for you," he's saying now, low and furious. "I'll wait for you as long as it takes. Just don't expect me to wait alone."

It hurts, despite everything. She thought it wouldn't, but it does. At least he's not lying. Others - him, before - would have lied, and done it behind her back. Maybe it wouldn't have hurt anyone that way. But it wouldn't be the truth. Klaus is that to her. As strange as that sounds, he's the truth. He's the one who made her realize first, when they were talking about humanity, that she hadn't only lost. That she'd won, too, something far more precious. Even after everything, even without admitting it to anyone and much less to herself, she knows she's grateful to him for that. And what she gave him in return, the generosity and kindness, was a gift. It's complicated. The policy of trade-offs between them has never been clearly defined.

"I don't expect you to wait at all," she says, secure in the knowledge that he will. "You can get out of this town for all I care. In fact, you know what, you can just leave altogether. Everyone will thank me for that."

It works for her: half-truth, half-lie. He's not as clever as he thinks he is but it doesn't take a magician to see that she's lying. She would miss him. She doesn't want him to leave. She called him. They have something.

"You're right," he says. He's angry anyway. He's always angry. It's his default setting. But he doesn't regret the night before, and he's glad. She can read that all on his face. Someone should teach him poker. It's a miracle no one ever did. Caroline takes it as a sign, something that says he's not entirely lost. Her faith is like that. It feeds on every little thing it can. "They'll thank you."

It's the way he says it that makes her realize. Nothing is going to be the same now. She can come back to her place and kiss Tyler and explain away her absence, invent a friend emergency, a secret that won't come out because she's good like that - she can come back to her place, but nothing is going to be the same. She'll know. He'll know. It will simmer between them until it reaches its apex again. She doesn't mind. She can tell herself otherwise, but she doesn't mind. The only way she'll lose Klaus now is if one of them dies.

Caroline thinks about taking off her ring and walking into the sunlight. It's something she's thought about a lot since she became a vampire.

"Don't do it," he says behind her. He can't know what she's thinking. There's no sun. But he says it again, "Don't do it."

She doesn't look at him. There's no use. But the words infuse her, douse her. Now they're carved into her with the trace of his body, searing, a subcutaneous imprint only they are aware of. He must be happy about it, she tries to think as an accusation, but she knows it's the same with him. He'll wear her everyday until she comes back to him. Maybe things were meant to be like this. If her mother was there, she'd tell her not to use fate as an excuse.

Caroline walks out.

When she gets outside she breathes. She sets her feet on the ground, trying to repossess her body. She feels sore, heavy. Her limbs are marked. Her mouth stings. Her flank is still warm where Klaus's arm was draped over her waist. It's okay, Caroline tells herself. You can breathe now. She feels oddly separate from the world, like she left a part of herself inside, watching over his shoulder as he paints her from memory. Her eyes are open, looking out the canvas, bright blue. She isn't touching him, just standing behind him, her warmth against his back. He can feel her. He's got a speck of paint on the inside of his right wrist, like he did when she left. Everything is going to be okay. No, that's a lie. It won't.

Caroline looks out, around her, the fields and the forest. Everything seems bigger than it did when she came in, the tree tops are higher, towering almost; the distant moon is judging her. Caroline regrets the consequences but not the act. She left marks on him, too. It's a relief.

The sun will be up soon. There are things to do. She'll come back here in some time, and he'll show her the painting. It's a certainty. Caroline starts walking.

She doesn't stop until she's at her house. Tyler isn't there. She comes in as quietly as she can, trying not to wake her mother up. The house is silent. Caroline takes off her heels in the hallway and sets them down. Klaus kissed the inside of her thighs, her calves, her insteps. She let him mouth over the soft skin, and would have given him more, a lot more. She gets inside her room. Tyler is there. He looks worried. He springs up when he sees her, the wrinkle between his brows smoothing. Good. He shouldn't be worried when he comes home after so much time away.

"Caroline!" he says, a loud, fierce whisper.

Caroline feels a giggle burning her throat. She lets it out. She feels like a little girl with a crush, but inside her, something cold and detached remarks that he loves a girl he made up entirely, a perfect, imagined girl.

"Tyler," she says. Now she can celebrate. She can be happy. She deserves so much happiness.

He holds her, crushing, his thumbs digging into the skin of her back. He picks her up. He kisses her shoulder, off-mark. He can't see the bruises and the hickeys Klaus sucked into the skin. Later, maybe. They won't fuck tonight. There is too much emotion clogging the way.

"I'm so glad you're back," she says, and it's not a lie.

He pulls away, takes her face in his hands, messing her hair again, bunching it at the ears. His eyes are brimming with tears, he looks like he can't believe it. It's crazy, what some people can do for love. "I felt it," he says, an awed whisper. "Klaus, he... he won't hunt me anymore." He could cry. He will.

Caroline looks at him. He's beautiful, more beautiful than she remembered, his body taut and golden. His time away brought out the wolf in him, he looks more feral. He was in a pack. Then he left, because he was putting them in danger. He's like that, generous to a fault. Selfless. But he's alive, he's there now. His face is strong, a face worth loving. Caroline is a miserable girl.

"I know," she answers. "I know what he did."

But she kisses Tyler. There's no point telling him now. She'll break his heart later. For once, she thinks as she holds him again, tighter, closer, everything is clear. The night does that to her.

"I love you too," she answers when he says it, muffled in the skin of her neck, but it feels inconsequential, maybe because forever doesn't factor into this kind of declarations.

She breaks up with Tyler. It was inevitable, but everyone is surprised except her. Even Klaus. Half the time he's down in New Orleans, but that week he rides into town and looks at her like she's just come back from the dead. It's a strange kind of life. It's like they're perpetually on the edge of something - and they are, in some way - but it never happens. People keep promising the world is going to fall to evil. Caroline doesn't see how. There are vampires, and they're far from evil itself. Cruelty already existed before she made blood her favorite snack.

She's sad. Tyler is sad. She tells him he must have felt it too, how far they'd drifted, because she knows he has. He refuses to admit it. His jaw is clenched, he said he thought they were forever. The problem, Caroline doesn't tell him, is that the love they know is ephemeral, so human. It has to end to exist. Tyler won't accept that. He paces in the room, wants to find a solution.

Eventually he asks, livid, "Is there someone else? Is this... is this about Klaus?"

She had her answer prepared. "No," she says. She doesn't sound outraged, because yes, whether they want it or not, Klaus is in this equation. But there isn't someone else. There is life, stretching before her. Maybe Klaus will be in it. It's not the reason why she's breaking up with Tyler.

"I'm not the person you were in love with anymore," she tells him bluntly. It's true. He takes it like a punch to the face, steps back, mouth falling open. Will he have a bruise tomorrow?

"You are," he says.

"Then you don't know me. You've been gone for months, Tyler. Things aren't the same anymore."

He looks at her. They've spent enough time together that she knows what he means, what he's afraid of. What if I don't find anyone else who will love me? his eyes scream. But he will.

"You'll find someone else," she says, with more conviction than she's maybe ever said anything. "Someone who will love you like you deserve." She hates the words, how prefabricated they sound, but it's true. She smiles to make it better. It feels like a grimace, but she knows her face: she's practiced in faking it.

"You can't do this, Caroline," he tries one more time. Don't leave me. "I love you."

"I love you too," says Caroline, and she walks out.

She feels like she's shed something, a skin she was keeping in preparation for winter. She doesn't need it anymore. Animals are warm, their blood is hot. They don't need anything for winter but their own bodies, veins brewing, eyes ahead. She'll make it through this winter too.

Elena doesn't understand. Stefan isn't there, but he wouldn't understand either, and neither would Bonnie. Elena acts as their representative. At first Caroline thinks about telling her she can talk, seeing who she's with, but then she sees her and Damon together and she understands that Elena is with Damon because she wants to fix him. Caroline doesn't want to fix Klaus. She'll make him better, he'll make her worse, but it'll be equal if it ever is. Elena isn't like that. Elena takes all the pain on her shoulders and tries to deal with it for everyone. No wonder she lost it.

"I'll be fine," Caroline says. "It just wasn't working anymore."

"How can you say that?" asks Elena at first. Then she gets distracted by Damon, by everything about them that is newfound and exhilarating, and Caroline can't blame them.

She's alone. It feels strangely good, for the first time. When she was in high school she used to hate it so much, she always wanted a court, people around her. She wanted people to tell her she was worth-it. She wanted to be called beautiful and perfect and stylish. But this is the summer of freedom, no matter how cheesy and human that sounds. The town is deserted in some parts, hot, full of flyers for pool parties Caroline doesn't want to go to. She does things with her mom. She goes to the river. When Klaus isn't there, she walks to his house. He knows that: he's changed the spells so she can come in when she pleases, and she would bet her portrait is waiting for her right in front of the door, but she doesn't go in. She never goes in. She stays outside, sometimes she sits on the stairs. She plays with pebbles. Once Rebekah stops by on her fantabulous trip with Matt - yeah, that's a new one - and snarls at her, condescending, her face twisted with pity and disgust. "Don't tell me he's got you, too," she sneers. "I thought you were smarter than that."

I am, Caroline wants to say. There is an urge to explain that there are terms, that she covered her ass better than Rebekah and her all-consuming loyalty ever could. But Rebekah doesn't let her explain, and maybe it's better that way. Caroline dislikes her, but maybe she can try to be happy to. Who is Caroline to warn Matt about the ills of associating with vampires?

Truth is. Truth is, Caroline is afraid. The fear from before was a strong fear, and this one is too - but if she goes in, she'll open not one door, but ten. She'll want to see all the rooms, open all the drawers. She'll get the paintings out. She'll throw the cutlery at the walls. She'll open all the windows. If she goes in, she'll stay until Klaus comes back. She'll let him ask her where she wants to go, and she'll say the name of a city. Cairo. Bejing. Rome. He'll say yes.

If she goes in, she won't come out. Caroline used to be so young, and now she's immortal. That does things to a girl. Maybe she's better off alone.

So Caroline goes to Klaus's house, and she doesn't go in. She doesn't respond to Rebekah's mean comments. She sits on the stairs and plays with pebbles. Then she stands up and dusts off the folds of her dress. She asks Elena if she wants to go swim in the river with her, and she watches Damon stand in the water and catch her, and spin her, and kiss her. Klaus and her won't have that. Easy happiness isn't something for the likes of them. Klaus said it first, but Caroline agrees - of course she agrees. It's true. If they have love, happiness, it will be bigger than life. It will last centuries.

It's not about falling into darkness. Maybe Elena will get that someday.

Meanwhile, Caroline bids her time. She takes photos of those two frail people, too pale, one extreme, the other not. In the photograph Damon is surging up to kiss Elena and Elena looks caught in the headlights, her eyelids heavy, aroused, his hands at her throat. Love is different for everyone. Elena is just starting to understand that. In the part of her heart that's still worried about things like that, Caroline is satisfied that for once, she knows something before Elena. She can be the heroine of her own story. It was just a little difficult to get it started, that's all.

She's not waiting.

She's not waiting for him. He's waiting for her. She's waiting to be ready. She's waiting for something to change. And she has the time, too - now she can take forever to be ready, quite literally. It could be years or even decades, she won't age, she won't die. People will come at her and she'll be prepared. She'll be powerful. Nothing can kill her. She doesn't think the others really realize that. How much life they still have. Klaus was right: it's hard not to see it as a gift. Caroline used to be ashamed at how fast she got used to it.

She calls him, once.

"Klaus," he snaps when he answers, not even a hello. There is noise behind him. Music. She wonders what that hides, exactly, who he killed today, if he still wears the smear of it over his mouth, dripping red.

She can pinpoint the exact moment when he realizes it's her. He goes quiet, as if he were panicked - someone asks him what's going on and he snaps at them. He must step out or in, because the noise dulls and suddenly there's just his breathing. She can hear his heartbeat, even with all the distance. She could run to there, she realizes giddily. It's a thing she can do. She could run nine hundred miles and be at his door in less than an hour. She won't, but she could.

"Caroline," he says, breathless.

She can't talk. She doesn't have anything to say. She already asked him to come back once, and he did. If she asks him now, he will again. He will come back until she wants him. That, too, tells her how badly he wants redemption, because he's not a man who gets ordered around. But he does what she says. He lets her live. He lets Tyler live. He saves her, and she saves him. Or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe they destroy each other. Who knows. Does it really matter, anyway?

So he talks for her. He babbles, he's like a baby. "I'm so glad to hear your voice, Caroline," he says, and it sounds juvenile but it sends her heart skyrocketing between her ribs. He knows that.

He tells her about New Orleans, the promenades, the weather. He talks about the centuries he spent with his brothers and sisters before he met her, entire periods she learned about in history books, countries she'll never see, events she used to fantasize about. He tells her things too personal to swallow, things she would be afraid to touch because of how fragile they are. He tells her how much he loves blood, and killing, and power.

He talks and talks until he doesn't talk anymore. Then he stays silent and she can hear him breathing. The city breathes with him. You took part of me with you when you left, Caroline wants to tell him, but she agreed to it. She gave him that part of herself. She knows it now: she gave it to him and asked him to take care of it, to look over it for her. He's been nurturing it. He's been watering it like a plant, and when Caroline comes back to him it will be fully-grown, it will be golden. It will shine and blind her.

So the silence is it for now. Maybe for the next ten years she will phone him and listen to his breathing and remember what they are. She'll think to herself that they're the best monsters there is, that the night should feel proud to have them roaming in her womb. She'll hope that he's kind and beautiful and generous. She'll keep living like a teenager whose complexion is perfect whatever happens.

Maybe life won't get better. Maybe there will be more evil overlords and fires and cures, maybe Matt won't come back, maybe Stefan won't come back, maybe Damon will finally rip the throat of someone he cares about. But Caroline will pull through. That's what being a vampire means. It means she can listen to Klaus Mikaelson breathing in her ear and know that there are centuries ahead of her, of them, to make whatever decisions need to be made.

It's an hour later when she finally hangs up. She feels exhausted, like she's just had the longest, most in-depth conversation of her life. She falls backwards on her bed and opens her arms up, like a goddess, then she closes her eyes.

Elena doesn't want to let her go. Caroline understands. When people go, these days, they tend not to come back. But the summer is ending. If Caroline goes it has to be now.

"I'll be fine," she says, putting on her big movie star glasses. People as fabulous as her don't need partners for their road trips. "Think about me."

She sniffles a little anyway, because she was never that cool, she was always not-so-secretly sentimental. It doesn't matter. Damon gives her a wave, and she returns it. She still despises him, and it's not going to change anytime soon, but it doesn't matter now. Now Caroline's leaving.

She's been away a few times, but Mystic Falls is the kind of town where people don't really leave. It's wholesome. It's cosy. When Caroline hits the highway and the wind slaps her cheek, she understands what Matt meant about getting out of there. Yes. Maybe that was a dream worth having, too. She feels drunk, giddy. She sold her car and bought a new one, shiny, with an open top. It's not black. There's enough black in Caroline's life already.

She counts her goodbyes as she drives away. She hugged her mom hard, said she would be back soon. They both cried. She went to see Tyler. He didn't know how to behave. She said goodbye to him too. Just because they're not together anymore doesn't mean she doesn't care about him. That would probably be too easy. The tour of her loved ones was done soon, too soon. Neither Stefan nor Bonnie would answer the phone, so she left them messages. She went to Klaus's house and threw pebbles at the windows, even broke one of them. Saying things with him is never easy, but this edifice of beams and blood understands that she didn't mean anything by it.

She packed less carefully than she's used to. She didn't know where she was going, so she took dresses, heels, a parka, and books. She didn't bother with food. She can find blood on the way. She knows how to be careful now. They don't talk about it a lot, but Elena tries to do without, wants to convince Damon to do the same thing, too. But Caroline isn't like that. Caroline is a predator. She could be one of the old vampires, if it weren't for the occasional naiveté she displays. She won't get rid of that, either. It makes her stronger.

Now everything makes her stronger, or at least that's what she'll believe until the next time someone breaks her in two.

The thing about the summer is that it stretches like it's endless. Caroline drives, and it's not difficult at all to pretend that the rest of her life is there, in the trunk. That she's going to give up her dreams of going to college with her best friends. It's easy to pretend like freedom is the easiest thing in the world and doesn't involve its healthy dose of giving up. It's easy to pretend the past doesn't exist. But it does.

She doesn't realize where she's driving to until she sees the blur of a road sign pass her by. Well then. Maybe it was fate all along. Or maybe, maybe she wanted to go there, and it's what she's doing. Maybe now that there's no one to judge her she can do what she pleases, and to hell with the consequences.

It's a lovely thought. It's untrue, of course, but it's nice. Think about what life could be if you shed all your morals and left them on the side of the road with your two suitcases full of all that's left in you that's human.

Caroline decides not to think about it. She stops at a motel for the night, gets a tequila and a swig from the greasy-haired bartender and goes to sleep for a few hours. When she wakes up she takes a shower, rubbing her skin with the bad soap under the yellow lighting. She takes off before everyone else wakes up, with for breakfast a lonely trucker with heavy eyelids. She doesn't wipe her mouth. She doesn't feel guilty. The summer liberates her.

The next three days are like that. She drives all day: her body thrums and her hair flaps in the wind like a flag, as though she were saying, Look, here I come. She sleeps five hours a night in motels all more horrendous than the one before, and she doesn't care. She drinks and compels. She doesn't talk. She only calls Klaus once, and it makes her think that she'll never call him Nick or Niklaus. Their names are who they are to each other. She'll keep her Klaus with its harsh, modulated vowels on the tip of her tongue. He talks to her until he doesn't, like the time before. She listens for his heart and hears it hammering. She can't believe he's dead. That's what death is to her now: a bloom. She's happy. She can taste it on her tongue, it's acidic and sugary and perfect. Yes, she thinks. Yes, I'm here. Yes, this is who I am now.

She puts on red lipstick. She keeps the sunglasses on, and who cares if she will have a trace. She'll ride into the city and they'll see who she is. Death agrees with her. Klaus would be of the same opinion: she can make anything look good.

At night she drives on and invents new constellations no one has thought of before her, who bear the names of everyone she's ever loved. One for her father, with big, brightly shining stars, on the left. For her mother a cluster of smaller points of light, remote, who look like they're trembling when you look closely. Elena gets an already existing star, one everyone knows, since she's the center of the story whether Caroline likes it or not: the evening star. Her light is strong and unwavering. Stefan dots the darkness all around her, like a necklace or a collar, this kind of stars that don't ever got out. Matt is a lone star on the side, a little crooked in the night sky. Bonnie is the blue-black night and the crown of diamond stars at the bottom, dotting the highway.

Klaus can be the sun.

Klaus can be what rises red and falls red also. He can be what she follows, what she chases, what she drives toward. Klaus can burn and consume. He can be in danger of extinction. He can exist only behind someone's back half the time. Klaus can be universal and magnificent and he can be the biggest star. He can be someone whose head rolls at Caroline's feet every night, as she drives on to him. Klaus can be the sun.

She should be exhausted when she gets to New Orleans, but she isn't. Her blood is pumping in her veins. She still has her sunglasses on, but he'll recognize her if she goes to him. He told her once: he would recognize her anywhere, pick her out a crowd in a heartbeat. It wasn't a promise. It was a fact, fiercely murmured. He believes in them more than she's ever seen anyone believe in her. Maybe that's why she's here today. Maybe there's a thousand reasons.

She was expecting New Orleans, and she gets New Orleans, which is something else entirely. Later she'll learn that there's no expecting this city. You've got to ride into town like you're just passing through, and if you stay, well. Then you stay. You can't expect anything. If you expect things they will hide and sneak up on you when you expect them the least.

Like this. Vampires.

She heard about Marcel. But when he trots towards her, his wife-beater stretching on his chest, grinning his Cheshire grin, she's caught by surprise. "Hello, missie," he says. "What's bringing you here?"

He knows she's a vampire. What else does he know? She feels like royalty in disguise. "My name is Caroline," she says simply. She doesn't announce anything. They will know soon enough.

"I'm just here on vacation," she says. Her sunglasses protect her more than vervain ever could.

He surveys her, his eyes sliding over her so quickly she might not have caught it had she not spent four days in complete silence, learned to pick up every little sign. She feels as acute as a freshly sharpened knife. "Alright, then," he says after a while. He grins again, like a madman. It blooms on his handsome face. He was Klaus's disciple, that's what Caroline heard about him. He feels impertinent; now she wants to see him kneel. Maybe she's been spending too much time with Klaus's heart beating in her ear after all. "Knock yourself out," Marcel says. "Just remember, this is my turf."

We are more than that, Caroline wants to tell him. He probably knows better. Leaders and tyrants always have to affect simplicity. Machiavelli said that. Somewhere in there, he said ruling requires strength and knowing how to direct a people takes few words, all well-chosen.

"I'll keep that in mind," she says wryly. He laughs. Now he likes her. She'd rather he didn't.

He opens his arms. Caroline has had time to learn to recognize the different ways people do that. He doesn't want to welcome her. He wants to feel his wingspan, the limits of his power. He wants to know that there isn't one. He wants to be a god. It's okay. Lots of people want to be gods. They don't realize that there something better: you can be a vampire. Then you can have it all. Or if you're like Klaus and Caroline, you can have more than that. Light and darkness, as proverbial as that sounds. You can have the red gushing blood and the strength and kindness too. There are no limits when you learn to want the in-between. That's where power lies.

She doesn't try to find Klaus right away. First she learns the city. He built it, and it's his, it bears his mark in every corner. She could recognize it anywhere because for weeks she wore the same mark on her own skin. She wonders if maybe one day she'll build a city. It won't look like this. She dreams about it. Maybe Klaus will teach her.

She sees the fake street witches and the music and the dancing. The cobblestones walks. The starry night. It's like watching a film with special goggles: she sees what everyone sees but she sees everything underneath too. The real witches, who are bank clerks and bartenders and gym teachers. They sell waffles out in the street. Vampires play accordion. They chase unsuspecting girls in dark alleys and drink right from the bottle. Caroline can't blame them. She's not horrified: it's hard to be here, with the music constantly streaming, joyful, and she supposes it's part of the spell. But she can let herself go for a second. It's not her city.

She gets a donut, sugar dripping on her fingers and chin. The sugar energizes her. She will want blood soon, but for now she's good, satiated. She's wearing a yellow dress. Klaus will like it, but that's not why she put it on. Maybe that's the reason why her and Klaus are what they are, because what he wants and what makes her feel good are so often the same thing.

She walks through his door almost by mistake, following the trail of blood because it's lunch and she's hungry. It pleases her, a guilty pleasure, to know that if she had searched for him that's what she would have done. Followed the blood.

She heard all sorts of talk in the street, some she listened to, other not. There were things about Marcel and Klaus, the same kind of hushed and fearful whispers. Caroline isn't used to it, but in some way the fact that the whole city is ensnared fascinates her. She liked hearing them say of Klaus that he was a distant man, haunted. She haunts him. Other things, too, but she's one of his ghosts and she likes it that way.

His house isn't what she imagined, but at this point it's not that surprising. It's big, but it's also colorful, the walls orange and white with a long balcony that stretches around the whole house. She walks towards it a little warily. A beggar sitting a few feet away, by a big white church, cowers in fear. Caroline swallows.

The house welcomes her.

Caroline lets herself smile. There is a place for her here, she never doubted it until that very moment, because the fear in the beggar's eyes was absolute and absolute fear is not something to scoff at. But Klaus loves her, and his house lets her in. She takes in the flowers, the ivy and the bougainvillea, the red garish begonia. She likes it. It's not exactly classy enough for her taste, and she knows it isn't Klaus's usual style either - she's seen his long oak tables and delicately carved clocks - but it infuses her with a joyful sort of energy.

She only realizes what she's done when she's inside. She takes off her glasses, licks her fingers like a cat. She looks around. Everything is ready. Here we are, she thinks. There is no coming back from this. She feels strangely at peace with that.

She starts looking. There are paintings and she digs them out, some of them are of her, looking away, radiant in a dress, smiling. There is cutlery which she throws at the wall, as promised. There are drawers she rummages through, and no one tells her to stop. She feels exhilarated. Klaus is everywhere, in every peck of dust and impeccably cut suit. She can feel him. She could track him. He'll be back soon, and when he is she'll be there. Fear and excitement mingle in her veins. She didn't think her life would take that turn.

What would people say? No. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter anymore, not at all. She holds a mirror in front of her face and purses her lips. She's a princess now. She was always a princess, but now she knows.

There is noise upstairs. Her head shoots up. There was no one when she came in.

It occurs to her that the house might be full of enemies, new servants of Klaus's who don't know her, who don't know not to touch a hair on her head. She'll fight them off. She's strong. She's stronger than everything that could come in her way. She thinks about Elena and wonders if she feels the same strength now, with all the love people bring to her on a daily basis, now that she gave in. It's a selfish thought, almost unkind. Caroline doesn't care. Her throat is dry.

She walks upstairs. The first floor looks ravaged as she leaves it, but Caroline thinks it the right message: she will rip Klaus's life to shreds as he did hers. This is the kind of love they have.

The worry bleeds out of her when she walks into what must be his bedroom and sees him standing before the window. She's certain he wasn't there when she came in, but it's obvious that he's pretending now he was there all along, waiting for her. She loves him for it. It's sudden, unexpected.

"Caroline," he says, his voice wrecked. He's said her name so many times now, it's like he owns it as much as her.

"Hello, Klaus," she says. Her sunglasses are hanging to the front of her dress. She smeared her lipstick on her donut.

There is a painting over the headboard. It's the one she saw before she left his house that night. Her, the sun bursting out the canvas.

She motions to it. "I see you took this with you."

He blushes. He regrets it as soon as he does it, she sees, but he can't help it. She wonders how to tell him that this is it. "Yes," he says. "I didn't want to be separated from it. I hope you don't find that..." he grimaces, probably as much at the word as at the sentiment, "'freaky'."

She laughs. She looks at her own face, the way it seems like light is shining from inside her. "No," she says. "I don't find it freaky."

He's nervous. He touches his hair. He stops. His hands are clammy, she can smell it.

"I like the flowers," she says.

He purses his lips. "They're not really... discrete."

I'm done being discrete, Caroline thinks. "No. But they're beautiful."

When he looks at her it's overtly curious. His face hasn't changed. It's still open. She looks, and she reads. "Yes," he says. "I didn't think you'd like them."

She hums. It's still day, but she suspects the night here is different from the night in Mystic Falls. She thinks the music must continue, here. The night must be tinged with golden and red. No, the city doesn't look like him anymore, but it bears his mark. She was right.

"Why did you come?" he asks. He thinks she wants another favor. She could. She could pretend. But there is no pretending left, not a drop. She drove all the way.

"Is Hayley here?" she asks.

His brows furrow. "No," he says.

It's childish, but she feels triumph. It's white-hot in her veins, immediate, like a rush. It's what she imagines taking hard drugs would feel like. Of course she doesn't need hard drugs anymore, now that she has human blood, but it's probably different. All that creates addiction has its different kind of sweetness. Even blood doesn't taste the same in every vampire mouth. At first Caroline had to imagine it tasted like cherry to be able to swallow it. It didn't stick, but there's still the aftertaste.

"Did you kill her?" He might have killed her. She heard word on the street, of something Hayley was carrying for him - but she didn't want to listen, so she walked away.

He's breathing hard, for a vampire. A human couldn't even see his chest rise. "No," he says again. "Someone else did."

Caroline can't say, Good. She didn't care for Hayley, and she didn't care for her relationship with Klaus, but death without return is a miserable thing. She can't say she's sorry either. Klaus isn't sorry. She doesn't say anything.

"Did you drive here?" he asks. He's still trying to make out why she's here. He doesn't want to give in to hope too fast. It would be undignified. She can understand that.

"I did," she says. "God, it's hot in this city." She goes to the window, brushing past him - she feels him shiver violently, even though he tries to control it - then turns back to him. "But I like what you did with the place."

His smile is spontaneous, borne out of pride. Luminous. "Thank you," he says with a fang-adorned smile.

They're close. They're very close. She could kiss him if she leaned back a little, if she rested her back against his shoulder and tipped her head back. Her throat would be open, but she wouldn't be afraid. She would kiss him like a sailor who's been away for years. She would drink every last drop of him.

"I made a mess downstairs, sorry," she says lightly, and maybe that's the tell. Maybe that's what he was waiting for. He startles.

His eyes widen. She smiles. Oh, they're going to be so good together. They're going to be glorious. Like Caesar and Cleopatra. Like Mona Lisa and Da Vinci. They'll never die.

He'll let everything go for her. This house, the church, the beggar. His family. His friends. Hayley. The bougainvillea.

It's me, she tries to say without moving. You can throw out your painting now. Better, you can give it to me. I'll gift it back to you every birthday to remind you I'm alive.

"Caroline," he breathes. It's the only thing he can say. He looks like a king. She breathed life into him. He wasn't waiting for her, but he was. All this time.

"Yes," she says, and she takes that step forwards, walks right into his arms like so many people told her not to. "It's me. I'm here now."

I'm ready.

So he kisses her. He takes her face in his hands and she does the same. They look at each other. He can't believe she's here. He's humbled by it, and he's stirred, and he's crazy. Her love will be his redemption but it will also burn him to the ground. He doesn't care. It's a two-way deal. They'll both be brought down by it, so what? It's the only way those kind of stories ever end. You've never seen a conqueror finish his days happy with a wife and ten bratty children. Or maybe it exists somewhere, but it's not them.

He kisses her. She kisses him. They press their mouths together and they open them and they say things they won't remember, things that don't make sense. He kisses her forehead, not like she's a child but like you would kiss a madonna's feet.

It's searing. It brands her mouth. She will never be able to be kissed by someone else again.

"I -" he starts.

"I know," she says.

He drops his head to her chest and rests his forehead there. She holds on for dear life. She will remember this city in the future as the beginning of her life as a vampire. All that was before was only a prelude. She was human until this very moment. She loved with the fading, absurdly bright spark of people who die. She doesn't regret it. It's just not who she is anymore. Now something starts. Now she is one of those begonias. She will hurt people's eyes and cry out her color. She will dance. She will love harder, for longer, with more panache. She will feed on everything. She will be strong.

When he looks up his face has changed, too. She changed him. She will change him. His traits are a maze, a labyrinth. Something is sweet and something is hard and his mouth loves her. He would say the words a thousand times over. He will.

He closes his hands behind her back and she's between his arms, not trapped but held like a very dear thing. He's vibrating - if he let himself go he would touch her everywhere to make sure she's real, that this is not a trick. But her presence infuses her with a little of the calm he doesn't have. She's sure. She hasn't been sure a lot before.

So his eyes are quiet, and they're burning, and they're tender. "Where do you want to go?" he asks.

She smiles. All the doors are open, she let the wind in. She's had her answer ready for a while, but she feels giddy, like she could fly up if she wanted to. She doesn't want to. This is better than flying.

She kisses him, hard, fierce, her fingers pressing marks in the skin at the back of his neck. "Paris," she says. "I want to go to Paris."

He presses his mouth to hers, not a kiss, just breathing. Yes. It means yes, but she knew that already.

That was never a question.