Which Way to Go
Buffy: Angel's a vampire, I thought you knew.
Cordelia: Oh, he's a vampire! Of course! But the cuddly kind, like a Care Bear with fangs.
– Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 2.06, "Halloween"
Mystic Falls, November
The Saturday after the Halloween high school party, and Vicki's death, as well as learning about Damon and Stefan Salvatore, Elena, Bonnie, and Caroline converged on Alaric's apartment at the ungodly hour of seven in the morning.
When Alaric opened his apartment door, hair sticking in every direction, his face pale, and circles under his eyes, wearing just a pair of low-slung pajama pants, Caroline took pity on him. She held up a brown paper bag with rolled top in one hand, and a cardboard tray of coffees from the Grill in the other. "I come bearing breakfast as a gift!"
Bonnie and Elena were already at Ric's breakfast bar, watching from behind perfectly-coiffed hair and expertly applied makeup, as the man shuffled back into his apartment; leading Caroline further in with muffled curses under his breath.
"This was your idea, remember, Ric?" teased Elena, her legs crossed and a smile on her face. Caroline set down the bag and tray, and each girl grabbed one while Bonnie began rummaging in the bag, pulling out a buttered croissant.
"Yeah, yeah," the man muttered. "Give me five." He looked at the clock and the bemused faces the girls, at his breakfast bar, wore, and then amended, "Maybe, make that fifteen. I'll be back then and we'll start."
As soon as he was out of earshot, Elena turned to Caroline. "How are you holding up?"
Caroline shot her a haughty look. "I was Miss Mystic Falls, Elena. I think I can handle myself." She paused. "But to answer your question, other than some really strange dreams lately – which I think are memories – I'm doing fine. I guess."
"Are you sure?" asked Bonnie quietly.
Flashes of her screaming in pain as she was bitten, sobbing, "No, no, please, no," over and over again; the iron, coppery smell of blood and the feel of the thick, dripping liquid covering her body – they rolled over her quickly and Caroline did her best to hide her shiver. Instead, she responded, "Yeah. Of course. I'm totally fine."
Both Elena and Bonnie gave Caroline looks that implied they didn't believe her, but did not continue with the conversation. Caroline was grateful, as she certainly didn't want Alaric to hear – as a teacher, he had a deep-instilled need to ensure everyone was taken care of on some level – and soon, conversation turned to Elena and Stefan. Things such as, what they spoke about after Caroline, Bonnie, and Jeremy left them, and speculation on what would happen next, now that Stefan and Damon knew that the young women knew they were vampires.
"I don't think Stefan's going to hurt us," Elena tried saying, defending her new crush, while both Bonnie and Caroline eyed her. "Really!"
"Well, even if he isn't, there's no telling what his brother may do," said Alaric, freshly showered and changed into sweats and a form-fitting t-shirt. "From what you three said, Damon seems the loose cannon and the more dangerous one." He looked the three over, frowning as he took in their designer brand exercise wear. "Is that what you're wearing for this?"
Caroline looked down at her clothing, wondering what was wrong with her shorts and sports bra; Bonnie and Elena, who had also been cheerleaders with Caroline in high school, wore similar outfits.
Alaric sighed. "Never mind." He gestured for them to following him further into his apartment, where a cleared floor area boasted a punching bag, several weights, and a exercise machine in the corner. The rest of the space was free. "We're going to start on some traditional defense moves, which you can use for anyone attacking you..."
Caroline's goodbyes to Elena, Bonnie, and Alaric were quick and brief as everyone began to pack up their towels and water bottles, as well as weapons Alaric had them using, and went their separate ways. Caroline herself, after Alaric's rather slow-building work out and lesson, was feeling grimy and her muscles were protesting every move she made. She was dreaming of a steamy, hot shower and a tub of Ben & Jerry's while curling up on the couch for an evening at home.
With that in mind, Caroline left Alaric's apartment and drove directly to the nearest grocery store, picking up a basket and wandering up and down the aisles as she spotted snacks and ready-meals, adding them to her growing pile. Her mind was off on its own, as well, thinking back on the techniques and moves Alaric demonstrated and urged the three to practice whenever they had free time.
Despite her rather exhausting job, other than the Founder's Day Gala and the Miss Mystic Falls crowning in December, Caroline had very little planning to do. She was chaperoning the next Decades Dance the high school committee was organising, in two weeks, but November was a rather quiet month in general. That left Caroline with loads of free time – time she was planning to put into good practice.
At first, as Caroline stood outside the frozen section, staring at the numerous pints of B&J and wondering which flavour to choose, she didn't realise she was the object of someone's scrutiny. Only when she saw from her peripheral the large male body move next to her, did she look up.
"Ms. Forbes," said the burly man, whom Caroline recognised as Logan Fell.
"Hello," replied Caroline cautiously. She knew most of the Fells – by reputation, if not by name – and Logan Fell was fairly famous in Mystic Falls for his role as the only "on location" news reporter. But how did he know her?
Logan offered Caroline a wry twist of his lips as he opened one of the chilled freezer doors, reaching in and pulling out a tub of Chunky Monkey.
"My favourite," he said, and Caroline narrowed her eyes.
"Is it, now?" she asked.
Logan smiled, although Caroline noticed it was a rather empty smile, a fake one someone uses to merely placate the person in front of them and emotionless.
"It is," he confirmed, the small, fake smile still on his lips. "Also one of your favourites, if your mother is to be believed; and surprisingly, Damon Salvatore's. He shops he quite frequently. Apparently the cashiers are tasty as well."
Caroline's eyes grew wide, and "Excuse me?" escaped her mouth in a squeak, rather than an explosively loud Holy shit, you know they're vampires?!
Caroline flushed red in her cheeks when Logan Fell's smile tightened into a smirk. "Don't play dumb, Caroline. You may be blonde but you don't fall into the stereotype at all. Straight-A student, numerous scholarships into university; you don't get those by being unintelligent."
"But still," continued Caroline's mouth, heedless of her brain's mental warnings. "Damon Salvatore has a craving for Chunky Monkey? Seriously?"
"He's got a craving for sweet things," replied Logan darkly, glancing at Caroline's neck as he said so. Involuntarily, Caroline's hand rose and gently touched the side of her neck where Damon had bitten her numerous times. Her hand fluttered away from her throat and she let it drop to her side, suddenly very conscious of her shorts and loose-fitting knit sweater over her sports bra.
"So you know," she said, instead, turning to face the freezer, stubbornly keeping her eyes straight ahead.
"About them? All Founding Families do," answered Logan tightly. "And imagine our surprise when we found a body in the woods the other month, all mangled and drained of blood. It wasn't much of a stretch to realise who would be back in Mystic Falls – and then lo and behold, dear, sweet, little Caroline Forbes, the Sheriff's daughter, attends the Ball with a new beau on her arm, by the name of Damon Salvatore."
"How much do you know?" whispered Caroline.
Logan looked at her as though she were an idiot for even asking such a question, although Caroline, keeping her cheek determinedly to him, barely noticed the look – being blonde, she received a lot of those looks, especially during her high school days.
"When our ancestors burned the vampires back in 1876, they made a pact to teach their children so they were aware of the dangers in this world," answered Logan, also turning so that their profiles were matched, as he looked into the freezer. "But it seems like not all the families were keeping up their end of the pact."
"Clearly," quipped Caroline, opening the freezer door, and pulling out a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk to add to her basket.
"Stay away from them, Caroline," said Logan in a low tone. "If you don't, they'll kill you."
"Yeah," she said to his back as he began walking away, "Damon's already tried, thanks for the memo, but it's a bit late." Once he turned from the aisle, she muttered, "Asshole."
With a sigh, she moved away from the ice cream section and began making her way to the front to pay, idly considering Logan's warning. Damon had already been in her house, in her room, and – Caroline made a disgusted face – in her bed. His invitation couldn't be revoked, and Bonnie's protection spell needed to be renewed every month on the full moon. Perhaps it was time for Caroline to move out? To find her own place?
On one hand, she didn't want to – because finding an apartment in Mystic Falls meant that saving up the money for getting the hell out of the place would be incredibly difficult and it was as close as a declaration of having a mortgage, a white picket fence, a dog, and two-point-size-kids while attending church every Sunday for her mother. And Caroline was meant for the world – not this strange, small town.
But, getting her own place meant that Damon would come after her and leave her mother alone, and leave (ideally) her childhood home. Plus, a new place wouldn't have a Salvatore invitation – Caroline would be free to sleep at night without fears of Damon sneaking into her room and compelling her again, and then—
She shook the thoughts off. Jenna was a real estate agent on the side of the Doctorate studies, from a previous employment track that went off the rails when Logan Fell was caught cheating and Jenna left Mystic Falls. Caroline could ask her if she had any low-rent apartments available.
A smile lit up Caroline's face as she began mentally planning an apartment, choosing paint colours and furniture, a house warming party and what food would be served and what music played; as well as where she could hide potential stakes and other vervain-like items designed to stop vampires.
At the checkout lane, Caroline's eyes were drawn to the magazine rack and the various magazines on display. She quickly scanned the headlines – Ooh, another Kardashian scandal, hmmm... Leanne Rimes needs to seriously put on some weight and Blake Shelton looks good on TV Guide... – when one in particular caught her eye. Normally, she wouldn't purchase the magazine because she only participated in the sport recreationally, despite winning awards through her university team; she was never really serious about it. And while the young, smartly-dressed woman in a brown, fitted jacket and white jodhpurs didn't draw Caroline's attention, the model's accessories did.
Other than some seriously wicked kick-ass boots that Caroline was immediately envious of, her eyes were drawn to the dark brown riding crop the model had in her hand, a bit of the leather strap wrapped around in her fist and a small, short braid of leather hanging from it.
"Your biggest asset," began Alaric, as he positioned Elena's right arm in front of her and aiming the wrist crossbow, "Isn't any weapon you carry, because anyone can hold a gun and not know how to use it and be dangerous – but any weapon you carry that you know how to use because it isn't originally meant as a weapon." Elena aptly demonstrated this as she let the dart fly from the wrist crossbow and it fell short of the intended target Alaric had set up on the far side of their training area. He continued, motioning Elena to pick up her cheerleading baton, "A terrified cook wielding a frying pan is far scarier than a schoolteacher who eats out all the time. But I wouldn't want to be up against a schoolteacher with a five-pound hardcover book in their arms, or a schoolteacher using a metre stick or chalk pointer. Who knows what they could do with it?"
Elena then twirled the baton in her right hand, adding a few flairs and flips with it that were easy to do once someone knew how to do them but looked dead impressive to an unskilled eyes. The baton had been laced with vervain earlier and with Elena's twirls getting faster and faster, she suddenly let the baton fly as she neared a practice dummy, drawing the edge of the baton across its neck.
"And that," declared Alaric as Caroline and Bonnie inspected a red line across the dummy's neck to indicate a wound, "Is how you would handle an everyday weapon against someone who is only going to see a frightened young woman, instead of a capable young woman who can bring down a vampire."
An idea blossomed in Caroline's mind. Elena had her wrist crossbow that Alaric wanted her to continue to train with, as well as the majority of their cheerleading accessories and equipment since she and Bonnie kept up with cheerleading at Whitmore. Caroline enjoyed cheerleading, but she enjoyed organising and leading the team more than the actual cheers. As such, she didn't use batons or pompoms and Duke University wasn't that mediocre when it came to cheer equipment; however, the equestrian team on the other hand...
With several plans coming together in her head, Caroline was suddenly feeling a lot better, despite Logan's efforts earlier to warn her about Damon. After all, he was a bit late with them, given what already happened.
She wasn't girly little Caroline anymore. She was strong, she was wise, and in this case, knowing was definitely half the battle. Caroline quickly handed over the twenty-dollar bill the cashier asked for, bagged her purchases, and was swiftly moving to her car, Bonnie's number in her cell phone before she even left the building. She'd need Bonnie's stash of vervain if she wanted to put her plan in motion.
On the morning of November fifth, Caroline left her house early in the morning, intent on meeting Jenna outside the Grill. Her friends' aunt had agreed to show her some of the apartments in Mystic Falls, including some of the older converted buildings, which would be cheaper for her. Caroline had neglected to tell her mother about her plan, as Logan Fell had confirmed that she knew of vampires and yet kept it a secret; if she could keep something as large as an entire supernatural species from her daughter, then Caroline could keep house hunting from her.
So she was sneaking out of the house, like she was seventeen again and meeting up with Elena, Bonnie, Matt, and Tyler Lockwood at the lake for the back to school bashes the teens threw, hoping to not wake her mother and alert her of her plans.
Unfortunately, Caroline's cell phone didn't get the memo, blaring out It's Gonna Be Me from N*Sync. (Yes, Caroline's choice in ringtone for her friends were awfully childish at times, but they were her choices, thankyouverymuch) "Elena. Hi. What's up?"
"Caroline? Can you do me this super big, massive favour?" asked Elena.
"It depends on what that favour is," replied Caroline, juggling a porcelain travel mug, a large tote back filled with her notes, laptop and work-related accessories, and her car keys, as she made her way across the drive and away from the porch.
"Umm... could you possibly help me plan a party for the Grill, tonight?"
"I know it's short notice," pleaded Elena, "But you're awesome at this sort of thing, and I just found out it's Stefan's birthday"—
"Excuse me, Elena," said Caroline carefully, unlocking her car and tossing her tote bag in as she carefully set her mug down in the cup holder, taking a deep breath and counting to five before shrieking, "Since when are you still talking to him?!"
"He's not Damon," argued Elena. "Stefan's not like him, at all. And we're friends. Again."
"You weren't friends before," muttered Caroline. "You wanted in his pants. His undead pants, might I remind you?"
"You were in Damon's," snapped Elena immediately, and Caroline's eyebrows rose.
"Yeah, because I totally had a choice, Elena!" Caroline responded heatedly, breathing heavily through her nose as she eased into her car. "Look, I'm meeting Jenna in ten. I'll think about it. If i do it, you owe me so fucking big, it'll be the size of the solar system, got it?"
"Got it," chirped Elena happily. "I'll be hearing from you shortly."
As she hung up, Caroline muttered, "Not anytime soon, I promise," and started her engine. She was beginning to think that today was a bad day to get out of bed.
Finally, after seven viewings, (four apartments, one loft, and two townhouses) Caroline decided she was entirely too nice and texted Elena to inform her that she'd be at the Grill for five and would have everything ready as long a Elena took care of the guest list and ensured Stefan arrived by eight. As if that had magically changed the tone of the afternoon, the next building Jenna showed Caroline – and the last she had on her comps in Caroline's price range – approached.
Located at the intersection of White Oak Avenue (which led to the highway and out of town) and Main Street, but all the way down the main drag so that it was located on the outskirts of the inner town and opposite the church and graveyard, was Mystic Fall's public library. Added in 1923 when the population boomed and reading materials were necessary for the growing number of children in the local schools, the building was small and stood on its own; the nearest building was a flower shop, separated by an alleyway that Jenna indicated led to the car park at the back of the building.
It was a two storey, red brick square with a single bay-turret on the far end of the building, at the end of Main Street, facing White Oak. The ground floor door was large, solid wood – original, Caroline thought as she and Jenna approached it, with Jenna pulling out an old key from an envelope – with a half-round stained glass design above it. All the windows on the ground floor, which were overly large and wide, with two windowpanes separated by a wooden centrepiece, had a half-round window above them, creating a round top design. Around the door and windows, the bricks were stacked around the shape, providing a design frame.
The turret rose to a third level, its peaked roof and wind vane towering over the sloped roof and the square-shaped second floor windows that jutted out of the sloped grade. Creeping vines, bare of their leaves and flowers due to the season, snaked up from the ground to the second floor, wrapping up and around the Mansard roof and second floor windows.
"I know you work for the town," began Jenna as she eased the key into the massive bronze lock, grabbing the doorknob and twisted it, "But I'm not sure if you know this – not all of the documents from the town's early years are located in the town hall, but rather here. The library was turned into an extension of the town records hall, because they ran out of room in the basement. They removed most of the early stuff, until about nineteen-ten, and put them here."
"I didn't," replied Caroline, stepping into the foyer. What was once a large, open space for patrons to visit the library, was now reduced to half its original size. Despite that, large white tiles – marble – lay on the floor leading to a smooth, brown, curving staircase that curled up to the left. There were two matching wooden doors, one on either side of the stairs and opposite of each other.
"There are two units," explained Jenna, "The downstairs, which is actually used as the archival room," here, Jenna pointed at the door on their right, "And the upstairs, which is tenant-ready and vacant. No one likes the building, apparently," explained Jenna with an eyebrow wag, "It's too quiet and people think it's haunted."
"Haunted?" replied Caroline with a tiny laugh. After vampires and werewolves, a ghost wasn't something scary or anything Caroline couldn't handle.
"Who knows?" laughed Jenna in response.
"What's in the other door, at the bottom of the turret?" asked Caroline, as Jenna led her up the wooden stairs. The interior walls were new, smooth white plaster, but an original chandelier hung from a smooth, white ceiling, which was obviously new and plastered over as well.
"A spare room. It was primarily used for storage, but it's empty now," explained Jenna. "Maybe you can use it as your office? You are in a town-owned building and work for the town, after all."
Caroline hummed her agreement. After climbing the stairs and standing on a small landing that overlooked the entrance foyer, Jenna took out another key and handed it to Caroline, gesturing for her to open the only door at the top of the stairs.
Caroline slid the key in the lock, twisted it, and turned the knob (which matched the front door), and gasped as she stepped into the converted attic. Completely remodeled with matching white plaster and the rooms removed to create an open concept, loft feel, Jenna began listing the highlights of the apartment.
Original dark, oak wood floors; built-in storage underneath the built-in window seats, including a nook in the turret section; a spiral, metal staircase hidden behind the door led up to the bedroom loft, which they could explore later. The kitchen and living space was combined, a drastic slope of the roof meeting the far wall combined low under-counter cabinets and a sink as well as a built-in light wood table with a matching bench, while on the car-park wall, the cabinets extended to include a stove and then, as the roof slope heightened, the refrigerator and pantry. Opposite that wall were two windows jutting from the Mansard roof, including more storage that is built-in and window seats, as well as a large white space in-between for a television set.
Next to the fridge was a door, which Jenna explained led to the bathroom. Caroline opened it to reveal nineteen-twenty inspired, but modernised, bathroom: a large, soak-in Victorian tub with curved shower rod, curtain, and chrome showerhead as one entered the bathroom, a standalone sink pedestal with a deep sink and matching chrome faucets. In addition, there was a modern toilet opposite the sink and next to the tub in the room, while all appliances stood on black-and-white floor tile with white subway tiles that rose to waist height. A single window, overlooking Main Street, had a wooden built-in that was merely an open cupboard for towels and storage.
After climbing the dark metal spiral staircase into the turret, Caroline saw that the third floor, while not large, had matching wooden floor as the main living space, and four windows facing out to White Oak Avenue and the graveyard, was enough for her queen bed, two matching bedside tables, and a wardrobe. There were no window seats built into the turret up in the bed area, providing just enough room.
Caroline loved the place. "I want it," she told Jenna, determination ringing in her voice. Moreover, it was hers, Damon hadn't ever come into its space, there was enough room in the living area for her to work out and practice her Buffy skills. The place was light and airy, due to the new plaster, and the rent (a steal of under a seven hundred a month) wouldn't set her back from her dreams of escaping Mystic Falls once the drama was over.
"Great," answered Jenna, opening her tote bag and pulling out a binder, "Let's go over the terms of the rent and sign the property over to you."
After signing, Caroline would plan Elena's stupid birthday party for Stefan, but then she planned on heading back to her mothers' to begin packing. A new part of her life was starting now, and she didn't want to wait to move out – the sooner, the better.
Caroline's last minute party plans were a success: Matt called in another line cook for the Grill and had an entire selection of party finger foods steadily pumping out of the kitchen for hungry party-goers (mainly friends of Elena); satellite radio pumped out over the speakers, commercial-free; and Matt was behind the bar serving drinks, wearing a big grin as the tips rolled in. Elena was with Bonnie by the dartboard, speaking to Stefan and another girl with long, blonde hair.
As Caroline made her way to them, for a quick hello and then dash, she spotted Damon hovering by the bar, nursing a drink and her smile widened. If he was here, he wouldn't be anywhere near her mother's house when she began packing. A spring in her step, Caroline reached Elena and drew her into a hug.
"This is fantastic, thank you so much, Caroline!" Elena gushed, her eyes then raking up and down her friend in her classy purple dress. "And you look great! Are you staying long?"
"Only a bit," replied Caroline, "I've got other plans tonight."
"Look like that, I bet you do," laughed Bonnie, also drawing their friend into a hug. "Go get 'em, Tiger." The rest of that sentence, especially after Damon, went unsaid.
The blonde turned away from Bonnie and Elena to see Stefan, wearing a black shirt and dark jeans, stare at her thoughtfully. "I'm told that you planned this?"
Although she was still slightly hesitant about spending time around him and his brother, Caroline nodded. She wasn't sure she could trust either of them, but so far, Stefan hadn't tried to hurt her and Elena and Bonnie seemed to like him. "Yes. Do you like it?"
"It's great. Thank you," answered Stefan, in the same even voice he usually used. "Have you met Lexi yet? She's my best friend. I've known her my entire life."
Vampire life, you mean, thought Caroline to herself as she smiled at the other blonde-haired woman, a petite, pretty woman with a round face and bright smile. She wore all black, as well, with heavy eye makeup, and was holding a shot in each hand.
"Hi!" she greeted Caroline, taking one shot and handing her the other. "I try to see Stef every year on his birthday. Having the Alt Rock station on is perfect, we once stalked Bon Jovi for an entire American tour because he's Stefan's favourite."
Caroline wasn't sure if she should have been creeped out by the admission, or feel pity for Bon Jovi. Instead, she settled for, "Enjoy yourselves, okay? I need to get home soon."
"Already?" asked Elena, with a pout. "Are you sure you can't stay for another drink?"
"Nope," replied Caroline, "I'm driving."
Elena moaned a bit more, but then relented. "Fine. At least walk by Jer and check out his friend from university for me, and then text me what you think."
Caroline raised her eyebrows and scratched her nose as she looked around the crowded restaurant, spotting Elena's brother with a short Asian girl. Both were sharing a table and leaning in closely to one another. The girl's head was tilted in their direction and Caroline rolled her eyes. She was clearly listening in, and doing so from across the room. Jeremy's friend was a vampire, and given that Jeremy already knew about them – due to his handling of the Vicki situation – Caroline was beginning to think he was a supernatural groupie.
Exiting the Mystic Grill, Caroline shivered in the November breeze, her phone in her hand as she texted Elena her thoughts on Jeremy's friend. Later, when she was at her mother's – her childhood home – when her phone beeped, indicating a text.
Thinking it was Elena, Caroline finished packing her first suitcase of her summer clothes, things she'd leave in storage in a wardrobe in the bedroom, and letting her friend stew while waiting for a response of whatever she wanted. Caroline was not at Elena's beck and call.
When another message came through, Caroline sighed and retrieved her phone with an eye roll, wondering what catastrophe struck the Grill now. Instead, her eyes widened.
Planning a visit to Virginia, sweetheart – care to meet up? The first message read.
Then, the second: Lexi's dead. Damon killed her. The FF attacked the Grill. Stefan's really upset. Can u come by?
Caroline didn't know which text to respond to. On one hand, she was elated – Nik was coming for a visit! And wanted to see her again! On the other, Elena did have a problem that she wanted her friends' help with and Caroline was being asked to do something she didn't really care to do. What worried her more was where Damon was.
She sent a text asking such, and didn't like the response.
Dunno. Stefan said he was talking to UR mom and Myr Lockwood. Then he left.
Misplacing Damon was a bad idea.
Who knew what he could get up to?
A knock on her front door made Caroline groan, as she realised where Damon had disappeared off to – her house!
She left her bedroom, shutting the door from any prying eyes and made her way down the hall, sighing as she saw Damon's distinctive height in the frosted glass of the front door. She pulled it open with a sigh, eyeing the vampire warily.
"Damon," she said.
The tall, black haired, blue-eyed devil smirked. "Caroline," he said, stepping into her house and shouldering past her as he did so.
"Yes, please, come in, make yourself at home," muttered Caroline, her eyes darting to the umbrella stand where a vervain-soaked stake was hidden. She remained standing in the entrance.
"Need your help, Blondie," said Damon.
"I haven't even asked yet," protested Damon with a chuckle, sitting down on the couch in the living room and then stretching his arms out along the back.
"It's still 'no,'" replied Caroline, crossing her arms.
Damon sighed. "We're all on the same side, now, Blondie. Sabrina's going to do her witchy juju and open the tomb, and then I'm gone from here. I'm not going to harm anyone or anything between now and then. You were there when I gave my word."
"It's still no, Damon," sighed Caroline.
"Oh, c'mon," wheedled Damon, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "I need your help."
Caroline's eyebrows rose up. "With what?"
"I don't think my brother was honest in his reasoning for being in Mystic Falls," replied Damon, staring at Caroline steadily. "Something's not right."
"How do you know?" asked Caroline, tilting her head.
"I've been following my brother for the past one hundred and thirty eight years," replied Damon slowly. "Not always, but most of the time. When he was a Ripper, when he was with Lexi"—
"Who is dead now, by the way, great job there," interrupted Caroline sardonically with an eye roll. Damon continued speaking.
"—when he was in New Orleans and Chicago, I was there too," continued Damon. "He's always been a bit dark, unable to balance his bunny diet with his bloodlust. But this? Here, and now? It's... conniving. Something's not right."
"Stefan's not conniving?" gapped Caroline mockingly. "I thought it ran in the Salvatore family."
"Shut it, Blondie," snapped Damon. "This is definitely off. He would've had my head for attacking you or coming near you, Elena, and the witch. He didn't."
"So what do you need me for?" asked Caroline warily. "I'm on vervain, so don't even think about compelling me."
"I need you to be my date at the 50s decade dance on Friday."
"Seriously?" laughed Caroline. "Why?"
Damon scowled. "I need you to be the Bonnie to my Clyde, Blondie."
"I'm not robbing any banks with you, Damon," laughed Caroline, tossing her head and shaking her blonde hair out. "Not a chance."
"Stefan's going with Elena as chaperones. Bonnie will be there too," said Damon, rising from the couch and moving towards Caroline, stalking her. Caroline held her ground as he moved closer. "I want to keep an eye on Stefan. You can keep an eye on Elena and your friends. I just – I need to watch him some more and have an excuse to do so."
"Cuz you can't in your own home?" snipped Caroline.
"Pretty much, yeah," replied Damon.
Caroline sighed, rubbing her hand against her forehead. "I'm going to regret this," she muttered. "Touch me and I'll drive a stake through your heart, Salvatore. Got it?"
The two shook on it, Caroline's skin crawling as she did so. Quickly, she dropped his hand, and opened the front door. "Goodbye, Damon."
"Night, Blondie," the tall vampire said, stepping out onto the porch, and then disappearing quickly as he sped away.
Caroline sighed as she shut the door, locked it, and headed back to her bedroom to finish packing before her mother returned from her evening shift. She felt like she made a deal with the devil, but, as she thought to herself, wasn't she having the same thoughts about Stefan since they met?
Klaus looked at his phone as it beeped, reading Caroline's reply with a small quirk of his lips. Sounds good. Where and when? Do you need a place to stay?
Although Greta had informed Klaus of Katarina's movement a week previous, it took some time to organise the right people and make plans for the transportation of his family to the States. He could charter a private plane and compel customs to ignore the five coffins, but sometimes it was a hassle – he would have to be there in person (he never trusted his vampire staff with his family), and then someone would inevitably annoy him, he'd snap a few necks, drain a few humans, and it was all very messy and tedious.
So, he applied for the appropriate forms, and now was on the tarmac of Gatwick, ready to track his elusive vampire Doppelganger to Caroline's hometown. A part of him was terrified that Katarina would find Caroline and snuff her light out, extinguish her soul, but another part of him was certain that Mystic Falls, although small (he had Googled it) was large enough that Katarina might not even run across the full-of-light human.
He was hoping she wouldn't; after all, there one night in Paris was a carefully concealed matter, as he was supposed to have been in Brussels instead – all his associates thought he was there and while out with Caroline, they hadn't run across any other vampires. Even Elijah, who liked to keep tabs on him (he still didn't know that Klaus knew he was watching him), hadn't found him in Paris. There was nothing to tie Caroline to him.
Nothing but his memories.
At first, after he dropped her off at CdG, he stared at her scrawled address on his hand and wondered what he had done, cavorting with a human so freely, without biting her, draining her of her blood, disposing of her body. He wondered why the taste of her chapstick lingered, the scent of her perfume on his shirt made him smile.
At first, in the Louvre, she was a lonely, easy target staring at a painting with a furrowed brow, indicating she didn't understand the piece and was, therefore, uncultured. Then, they spoke – and she analysed the piece with a crazy amount of BS that Klaus found himself amused by her and her bold analysis instead of disgusted by her.
And then they were pulled into conversation and he found he quite liked Caroline Forbes, with her sassy one-liners, her over-use of "seriously?" to indicate astonishment, exasperation; Klaus found he liked her quick wit and her art background, as well as the fact that she was deceptively simple while remaining complex. She was a walking contradiction of shy naïveté and aware confidence. But most of all, she was bright, happy, engaging, full of life.
He, who usually snuffed life out callously, found himself drawn to her instead, like a moth to flame.
And then he burned when they lost themselves to each other in bed. She wasn't as experienced as other partners he had, but she put her all into the act, drawing him in further to her light as she made him feel like the only man in her life, for those brief hours.
He wanted that, for the rest of his eternal life. To be first, to be someone's love, to be unconditionally chosen and worshipped by someone who thought he hung the moon. Caroline, for that last day in Paris, fed him all that.
Looking back, Klaus realised that was the beginning of his obsession with Caroline Forbes. One that he continued to fuel as he raced to Virginia, although he told himself it was due to Katarina Petrova. In reality, it was an excuse to see Caroline.
He learned all he could about her, set a trust-worthy vampire to follow her during the last of her spring term and the summer, to her home in Mystic Falls, to learn her habits. She lived alone with her mother in a still-mortgaged bungalow; her father lived with his male partner in Georgia; she had a grandfather Bob and grandmother Mary on her mother's side that was alive and no cousins; despite being a social creature, she was in fact, incredibly lonely.
He could offer her the world, companionship, friendship; the things she craved when she moved to North Carolina for school. He could take her the next step further, if she wanted. But he would turn her first. Make her like him, a vampire, someone who could eternally shower him with the same affection she demonstrated in Paris.
Klaus had determined that immediately upon his return to London, a day after meeting Caroline. It would be a slow build, give her time to adjust to him, thinking he was human, before he sprung immortality on her. Maybe she would even want it – he could dream.
First, though, he had to protect his interest.
Caroline didn't tell anyone she moved out of her childhood home, enjoying the peace and quiet of no one knowing where she was. Her mother had, predictably, shed some tears, thinking that Caroline was settling and demonstrating she was ready to stay in Mystic Falls forever, perhaps even begin dating one of the many Fells in town.
Well, one less Fell. After Lexi's death by Damon's hand, Logan Fall transitioned into a vampire and Elena and Alaric had staked him. The vampire had kidnapped Damon and managed to spring a few surprised vervain-soaked stakes into the Civil War era vampire, leaving Elena and Alaric to save him.
However, the person who turned Logan Fell remained a mystery, which set Elena, Bonnie, Caroline, Alaric, and even Stefan and Damon, on edge. Another vampire in town without them being aware wasn't good, and Elena had disagreed with Caroline's assessment of Jeremy's university friend.
"Looks like our partnership is will have another purpose," Damon said to Caroline over the phone the night of the decade dance, as she got ready in her new apartment. "I'll watch Stefan, you'll watch your friends, and we'll both try to find the shady new vampire in town. All those teenagers in a small, contained space? It's a feast for them. They won't resist."
"I just love how you're capable of talking about humans like we're a delectable five-star meal," deadpanned Caroline as she leaned close to the mirror over her sink, opening her mouth and lining her eyes with eyeliner.
"It's a talent," replied Damon. "Are you ready yet? I'm on my way to your house."
"I'm not there," replied Caroline, realising she either had to come clean about her living arrangements, or lie.
There was a huff on the other line. "Then where are you, Blondie?"
"I'll meet you at the school," tried Caroline.
"Not a chance. None of us are going alone," answered Damon quickly. "Bonnie and Elena are going together with Alaric and Stefan is already there."
Caroline sighed, putting her eyeliner down and admiring her Jackie O costume. "Fine. I'm at my apartment."
Damon whistled. "Well, well, Blondie. Who knew? Where's this new pad? I can't wait to see it."
"You're not coming in," warned Caroline as she gave the address. "Ever, ever, ever."
"You'll change your mind," chuckled Damon throatily.
Caroline scoffed. "Nope." She then hung up on him and left her apartment, meeting him outside the front door on the street instead.
He whistled at her as he pulled up in his blue convertible, eyes roaming her from head to toe. "Lookin' good, Blondie."
Caroline rolled her eyes and slid into the passenger seat, clutching her matching pink purse in her white-gloved hands. Her matching blazer and skirt were conservative, but also hid a riding crop attached to the inside of her thigh and a bottle of vervain disguised as perfume in her purse.
"I can't be out too late," said Caroline as Damon pulled away, "So this little partnership needs to be over by ten."
"I've got a friend visiting from abroad tomorrow."
"A friend, huh?" Damon glanced at Caroline and wiggled his eyebrows, making her shake her head in exasperation.
Sometimes, Damon was such a child, thought Caroline, almost fondly. She'd never get over what he did to her, and he wasn't about to apologise, but this showed that they could, at the very least, work together.
"Yes, a friend," stressed Caroline. "He needs a place to stay since he's only driving through."
"A male friend," chortled Damon with a wide grin. "Blondie, you are full of surprises."
"Damon, shut up," said Caroline, "Or I will stake you."
They pulled into a vacant parking space in a very full parking lot at the school, watching as teenagers in various stages of fifties dress walked into the brightly lit gym. Finally, after people watching a few minutes, Damon exited the car and sped around to Caroline's side – the very image of a gentleman as he opened the door and offered her his crooked arm. She took it, a question on her lips. "Did people actually look like this?"
At first, Damon glanced at her in surprise, but then his face softened. It was the first time someone had asked him about the passing of time, in a roundabout way.
"A bit, yeah," answered Damon, his eyes lingering on a young girl wearing the entirely wrong decade.
The gym was decorated with a large video screen, showing black and white images of Mystic Falls during the 1950s, as well as other iconic American images; party streamers and helium-filled balloons were strung in clumps or stretched from one end of the gym to the other. Several tables were placed around and near the refreshment area, so people could have somewhere to place their drinks.
"Looks nice," commented Caroline, listening to Mr. Sandman as it blasted across the speaker system.
Damon's head lolled as he casually stretched and gazed from one corner of the gym to the other, taking in the sights. "I've spotted Elena and Stefan. You going to be fine on your own?"
Caroline gapped up at him. "Now you're worried about me?"
Damon smirked down at her. "You're Elena's friend. I have to now."
She rolled her eyes and cut through the crowd, opposite of Damon and hoping to cover more ground. Although Stefan did give her the creeps sometimes, Elena was fairly safe with him, based on the fact that so far, Stefan hadn't done anything versus his brother, who had. Despite that, Caroline felt enough caution to warrant being wary of them both, like Bonnie. It seemed that it was Elena who didn't care that they were vampires, and had already forgot what Damon did to her.
An hour into the dance, Caroline had spoken to Jeremy and his friend, Anna, as well as Alaric, Elena and Stefan; she and Bonnie had spent some time at one of the refreshment tables sipping from white cups a fruit punch, and now it was hitting her.
All the ground floor toilets were open and operational for the school dances, while the second floor was off limits to all. Caroline swiftly made her way to the first available toilet without a long line, cutting through hallways and loitering crowds.
She took off her blazer to wash her hands, clad only in a thin, square-necked tank top that tucked into her matching light pink skirt. She was lathering soap on her hands when the bathroom door opened and Elena stepped in.
"Managed to leave Stefan's side, did you?" commented Caroline idly, looking at her hands and not her friend.
"Briefly," drawled Elena.
Caroline hesitated in her lathering and looked at her friend. "Only briefly?" she teased, while mentally taking note of Elena's change in timbre and voice tone. She had also curled her hair, wore darker eye makeup than what Caroline saw a few minutes ago, and as she walked towards Caroline at the sinks, was over-exaggerating her heeled steps, swinging her hips back and forth as she walked.
This wasn't Elena.
The imposter's lips drew into a tiny, smile, a tint of maliciousness in her eyes as she stopped a few paces away from Caroline, who returned to lathering her hands and then rinsing the soap off under the tap.
"I left Stefan to speak to Damon," the imposter said, placing a hand on her hip and cocking it out as she observed Caroline, who reached next to and above her blazer on the counter for the paper towel dispenser.
"What did he want?" asked Caroline, playing along. She hoped her heartbeat – thundering in her chest – wasn't too loud. She just needed to reach the stake in her jacket...
"Something about another vampire in town," the woman drawled, taking a step towards Caroline, who finished drying her hands and crumpled the paper towels into a ball, and then pushing them into the garbage.
Caroline gathered her folded blazer in her arms, the hand covered by it reaching it and grasping the vervain-soaked stake in the jacket pocket. "He did say something about that to me, too, but I don't think it's that important."
"Isn't it?" the imposter asked, their eyes alit with intent.
"Not anymore," replied Caroline, just as the Elena lookalike darted forward.
Caroline brought the stake out and slammed it hard into the woman's upper left torso, missing her heart but painfully blistering the skin. The woman screamed, hissing as blood oozed from around the stake.
Not waiting to see what happened next, Caroline pushed past her and slammed the toilet door open, only making it a few feet before she slammed into something, hard. Two hands grasped her shoulders and hauled her upright. Caroline's eyes met Damon's, who was looking down at her in confusion.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
Caroline scoffed. "I think I found the vampire."
"Well," amended Caroline, glancing nervously over her shoulder. "She found me."
The girl's toilet door burst open, and the Elena lookalike flew out towards Damon and Caroline, black veins stretching from under her eyes and to her temples, with her eyes completely black. Her fangs were exposed and she hissed as she reached forward, only to pause when she spotted Damon.
"Damon," the woman said, the veins around her eyes and fangs receding.
Damon, who was already pale from being dead, seemed to pale further. "Katherine."
"It's been a long time," the woman continued, a smirk on her face. "How've you been? Did you miss me?"
"That night at Elena's... that was you," muttered Damon, letting go of Caroline. She immediately stood next to him, if not a little behind, trying to make herself as small as possible by turning sideways. Katherine – the woman Damon thought was in the tomb – had yanked the stake out and left it somewhere where Caroline could not use it again.
"Guilty," sang Katherine, stepping closer. Damon was watching her carefully.
"You were never in the tomb."
"No," admitted Katherine. "But it was fun watching you pine away for me."
A look broke across Damon's face, one that Caroline recognised: the look of not being good enough for someone, for being someone's second choice. Damon had realised, a little too late, if he age was any indication that Katherine wasn't interested in him, and probably never had been.
Shuttered, Damon tonelessly asked, "What are you doing here, Katherine?"
She pursed her lips and strutted forward, drawing a single finger across her lips as she fake contemplated her answer. "Mmmm, I was just passing through. Heard about my little Doppelganger, Elena. Thought I'd see what all the fuss was about myself – and there wasn't anything special about her. Then I saw Stefan stayed in town. I thought I might visit with my favourite Salvatore brother."
Caroline did her best to control her face as disgust washed through her. The stupid vampire played both brothers against each other and was trying to do so again! Caroline had no respect or time for people like that.
"As you can see, he's busy," she interrupted, speaking up for the first time and drawing Katherine's attention on her.
"Yes," groused Katherine, glancing back towards the gym down the hall. "With a girl who looks exactly like me."
Yeah, thought Caroline, that did kinda say something about Stefan Salvatore, didn't it?
She and Damon shared a look before turning back to Katherine, who was watching them with an unreadable expression.
"Had any local snacks lately, Katherine?" asked Damon nonchalantly, which was incredibly obvious.
Katherine gave a raspy chuckle. "You mean those 'animal attacks,' Damon? No, I didn't have anything to do with them. I'm here for a different purpose."
"Purpose? Like what?" asked Damon, furrowing his brow.
"Not yet, Damon," chided Katherine, wagging a finger at him. "Patience."
"The hell with patience!" he burst out, speeding towards Katherine and wrapping a hand around her neck, hauling her off the floor and against some lockers. "What are you doing here, Katherine?"
Caroline shifted uneasily, watching the unfolding drama with a sense of ill ease. "Damon, this isn't the time or place."
Katherine smiled. "Listen to the human, Damon."
"Not until you tell me why you're here," growled Damon, tightening his grip. Caroline watched as Katherine merely rolled her eyes.
The two vampires blurred for a moment, and then Katherine had Damon by the neck against the lockers. "You forget Damon, I'm nearly five hundred years old. I've got strength and age on you. Don't fight me."
"You always liked being a domineering bitch, Katherine," Damon choked out with a dirty smirk on his face. "I'll figure out what you want here."
"Good luck," she laughed. "But all I want is my freedom."
"Freedom?" Caroline murmured, all but forgotten until she spoke. Katherine turned from Damon to look at Caroline, her eyes sparkling as she decided on something that didn't bode well for Caroline, who gulped and backed up slowly, away from the two vampires.
"And you're going to help me," finished Katherine, bringing her other hand up to Damon's chin and with a quick flick, she twisted his head and snapped his neck.
With her only source of help indisposed, Caroline scrambled backwards and stumbled down the hall a few steps while Katherine stalked her at a human pace.
"Me?" stalled Caroline, bringing a hand to her chest to indicate. "What could I possibly do to help you?"
Katherine smirked. "You'll see."
The vampire then sped towards Caroline, slamming into her with her vampire sped and pushing. Caroline was sailing through the air, landing painfully hard on her back with the wind knocked out of her. She wheezed, struggling to gulp down air several meters away from where she previously stood. Her pretty Jackie O hat dislodged from her head and its clips, pulling hair free and coming to a stop several feet away from her. Caroline didn't know where her blazer or clutch was, either.
Katherine appeared before her, one of her heels coming down to push on Caroline's chest.
"I can collapse your chest cavity," she began quietly. "Push down and down, harder and harder, until something breaks and your struggles to breathe become desperate. They'll take you to the hospital, and you may survive. Or..."
She leaned down and wrapped a crushing hand around Caroline's throat, squeezing. "I can do it this way instead. Much quicker."
Caroline clawed at Katherine's arm and its steely, strong grip against her throat. Any marks she made on Katherine disappeared nearly as quickly as she made them appear, the vampire healing from the scratches immediately.
Her struggles to breathe were desperate; black spots dotted her vision and the sound of her blood rushing through her head was pounding and incredibly loud. It drowned out all other noise except for the rasping she made as she tried to suck in air and the tiny wheezes of pain as Katherine crushed her windpipe.
Caroline's free hand, the one that wasn't wrapped around Katherine's wrist, inched down her side and under her skirt, fumbling until she felt the riding crop. Tears leaked from Caroline's eyes as the darkness of her spots grew. She grasped the crop handle tightly, with what strength she had left, and swung her arm out so the crop whipped against Katherine's cheek.
The vampire howled with pain as the vervain-covered leather stuck to her cheek and she reeled back, letting go of Caroline's neck in the process. Immediately, Caroline rolled to her side and curled up, drawing in deep gasps of air. The spotty vision remained, and the rush of blood in her ears did as well – or she would have heard the approaching footsteps.
"You stupid human!" shouted Katherine, yanking the leather crop from her face and throwing it aside. "I can find someone else for my plan!"
The vampire lunged at her, fangs extended, but a blur intercepted her from attacking Caroline and tossed her away and into the lockers, denting them and breaking one of the locker doors off.
At first, Caroline thought Damon's broken neck had healed and he stood between her and Katherine, but then Caroline realised, through her slowly returning vision, that the hair colour was wrong, as was the height and clothing. While Damon was wearing a simple black suit and pink tie to match Caroline's outfit, this man wore a black jacket and jeans.
"Hello, Katarina," the man practically purred, oozing malevolence towards the female vampire.
Katherine slowly staggered to a standing position, one hand bracing herself against the broken lockers as she took in the man, her eyes growing wide. Without speaking, she dashed away, down the hall and through the swinging doors, leaving the school and leaving Caroline alone.
Caroline coughed, pushing herself up on her hands and drawing the man's attention. He quickly walked over to her and kneeled beside her. A hand cupped her cheek and slid into her hair, coming to rest at the back of her head intimately. The position made it possible for the man to turn Caroline's head to face him while checking her over for head injuries, one that soon became apparent as his hand slid over a growing bump at the base of her head by her neck.
"Ow," moaned Caroline.
"Sorry, sweetheart," the man murmured, his voice tinged with a British accent. "I should've come sooner."
The term of endearment, the accent, along with the man's clothing, connected the dots in Caroline's sluggish brain. "Nik?"
"Shh," he said, sliding an arm under her knees while the other slipped down from her head to her back. He then swept her up and into her arms, moving in a smooth motion to stand. "Shh, you're safe love, I've got you."
Caroline carefully wrapped an arm around his neck and blinked as the last of her black dots faded and she took in his face. He was frowning, the corners of his lips turned down and his eyebrows met. There was a dark look in his eyes that Caroline didn't recognise.
"I thought you were arriving by bus tomorrow," she found herself saying.
"I missed you," he replied, glancing down at her and quirking his lips into a small smile.
She smiled back. "I missed you too." She then glanced around the hallway and asked, "Where did Damon go?"
"The man with me in the hall?" she elaborated. "Katherine went after him, too."
At the name of the vampire, Nik's hands tightened against Caroline and he drew her closer, continuing to walk down the hallway and towards the same swinging doors Katherine disappeared through.
"I didn't see anyone, Caroline," answered Nik. As they pushed through the doors, and exited into the front entrance hallway of the school, Nik carefully set Caroline down but kept an arm around her. "Can you stand?"
"Yes," replied Caroline softly, although her knees felt wobbly and her head was pounding. She blinked tiredly. "I really hope I don't have a concussion."
"Let's get you home, to be sure," offered Nik quietly, reaching up with his free hand to smooth a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.
Caroline smiled at him shyly. "Sounds good. I should let my friends know that I'm leaving, though."
Nik shrugged and Caroline bit her lip. Maybe telling her friends could wait – she had her Parisian hookup with her now and he was staying at hers for his trip; being selfish for a night (or two) wouldn't hurt anyone.
"Never mind," she said impulsively, sliding her own arm behind him to clutch at. "You're here and that's what is important. They can call in the morning."
The smile that lit Nik's face was enough for Caroline to realise she made the right decision, and together, they left the school.
Klaus had rented a car, trying to keep up appearances by showing up a day earlier than he and Caroline had planned – he still thought it cute that she thought he was arriving by bus, how droll – and he guided her quickly towards the luxury Mercedes SUV in the school parking lot.
Although he was gentle and soft towards her, inside he was boiling with anger and fury. How dare Katarina show her face and dare hurt Caroline! His dead heart had nearly dropped from his chest when he turned the corner of the hallway and saw Katarina with her hand wrapped around Caroline's neck.
He helped Caroline into the passenger seat and walked at a human pace around to the driver's side. He wasn't sure how much Caroline had seen as she recovered, and he didn't want to tip his hand just yet.
Once they were buckled in and Caroline began directing him to her apartment, she timidly asked, "You called her Katarina. But Damon and I know her as Katherine. Why does she have two names?"
Klaus smoothly answered, "I knew her as Katarina Petrova. She stole something precious from me several years ago," try several hundred, "and I suppose she changed her name to hide herself." But now I know you're here, Katarina. You can't hide again.
"Huh," replied Caroline, frowning. "She was terrified of you."
"She was," he replied, smugly. He caught Caroline's glance at him. "What?"
Caroline laughed. "Feeling like the Big Bad Wolf, are you? Making her scared of you and showing her who is boss."
"Of course, love," chuckled Klaus, leering at Caroline playfully, "Can't you tell that I'm the Alpha male?"
"Clearly," she replied, rolling her eyes. The two settled into companionable silence, and Caroline finished directing him to her new apartment. He parked behind the back of the building, next to her bright yellow Prius.
Caroline went to open the front door of the building while he grabbed his suitcase – had to keep appearances up – and he met her at the top of the stairs of the old building. She had left the door open and was coming towards the stairs.
"I thought you may need help," she said, eyeing his dufflebag, which he had slung over his shoulder.
"No need, love," he said lightly. "I've got what I need in here."
She nodded silently, stepping back and standing aside so he could precede her into the apartment. Klaus minutely hesitated. She hadn't verbally acknowledged his entering of the apartment and without it, he couldn't enter.
"Ladies first," he offered.
"You're my guest," countered Caroline, a smile on her face although Klaus noticed her eyes shifted slightly. "Please."
She gestured and internally, Klaus sighed. He hadn't wanted to do this. He dropped his bag on the landing at the top of the stairs, turned to Caroline and drew her in for a kiss.
She was startled, he could tell; this wasn't the next move she was anticipating. He slanted his mouth over hers, swept his lips back and forth, deepening the kiss and running his tongue against her lips, making her sigh.
As soon as she did so, he drew back, his hands on her shoulders. Her eyes opened, pupils dilated and he caught her gaze with his.
"Caroline," he murmured, engaging his compulsion. "Let me in."
Her blue-green eyes widened and she blinked, the dazed, thoroughly kissed desire in them cooling as the compulsion failed to take. Caroline let her eyes close, a pained expression on her face.
"Caroline?" Klaus murmured, running a hand from her shoulder to cup her cheek. "Sweetheart?"
"I'm on vervain," she murmured lowly, her eyes still closed.
Klaus's heart stuttered.
He blinked, withdrawing his hand from her cheek and taking a step back. He licked his lips nervously – a habit he never rid himself of in a thousand years – and then took another step back.
How did his beautiful, full of light Caroline know about vampires? He wondered.
"Caroline," he began, an edge to his voice, "How long have you known about vampires?"
"A few months now," she replied, opening her eyes. He couldn't quite read what was going on behind them, something strange for someone like him. Maybe that was why he liked her – she kept him on his toes. "Since around September. After my birthday."
"Not when we were together," he reaffirmed, frowning.
"No," she agreed, her eyes still unreadable. "I didn't know then."
The two stood in silence on her landing. He could easily force her, push her into the wall and threaten her to let him in, could even snap her neck – but he didn't.
Instead, he watched silently as something flickered in her eyes – as she came to a decision. Her blank face changed, subtly at first. It was in her eyes, which went from shuttered to warm again; then, her lips stretched into a small smile.
She stretched her hand out towards him, and he stared at it. The palm was face up, invitingly.
"Nik," she said, stressing his name and bringing his eyes to hers. "Please, would you like to come in?"
The darkness that had begun to press into his chest at her knowledge and refusal receded and her bright smile, her light, drew him in. He met her small smile with one of his own.
"I'd like that very much, sweetheart," he murmured in reply, his hand reaching out and wrapping around hers.
And then, she led him over the barrier to her apartment, a smile on her the entire time.
Author's Note: A bit of a long time coming, this chapter, but I really needed to establish the Mystic Falls gang as young adults instead of teenagers. Hope her meeting with Klaus was different and exciting! Off to my first academic conference tomorrow in the States, so wish me luck as I present a paper Friday morning. Terribly nervous. Will still be online, and checking Tumblr (writing-as-tracey), even though I will not be watching Vampire Diaries or Originals on Thursday.