Disclaimer: Don't own anything, title inspired by Eric Clapton's song of the same name.
Spoiler: 4.24 (TVD), None (TO)
A/N: It figures that the couple that would pull me out of the woodwork will likely not even share screen time in the near future. After the finale aired, I made my peace but this idea wouldn't leave me. Ergo this one shot is now actually a six-parter! I love these two characters separately and together though, which is rare and exciting so I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Also thank you to my wonderful beta, Cathy. You are simply the best!
"Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles with the cold."
-Andre Maurois (French Author)
The crib is beautiful. It stands on four elegant legs of rich mahogany that fan into an equally elegant body. If she inhales deeply enough, she can detect the faint traces of varnish paint that linger in the air.
It stands at an angle, close enough to the window but just out of reach of the sunlight, a necessary precaution that chips at her heart a little. It's a stark reminder of why she's here and what she'd learned only a mere few hours ago.
But she's not going to think about that now, especially how much it hurts to be kept in the dark like this. When she finally lets herself look at him, fully take him in, her heart clenches for an entirely different reason.
It's been nearly a year since she has last seen him, since he planted the softest of kisses on her cheek, professed his love to her, and walked her home as if it were nothing.
Yet it feels like no time has passed at all.
So much has happened since then, so much loss, so much change. At first, getting Elijah's call felt like a blessing in disguise, a reprieve granted by the universe to let her escape Mystic Falls and all the pain she had endured over the last eight months. Yet looking at the obviously broken man in front of her, body hunched over a crib that will never be used, she knows the pain he has suffered is incomparable.
And somehow it lessens the feeling of betrayal, because he's already paying his penance a thousand fold.
She also knows she will eventually forgive him, because that's what you do for the people in your inner circle, which despite her better judgment, includes him.
"You came," his murmur reverberates through the room, cutting through her thoughts, and she takes a step towards him.
Sensing his need for space, she perches herself on the bench beside him as close to the edge as possible.
"It's beautiful work." She comments for lack of anything to say, insecurity seeping in at her inability to help him.
He leans away from the crib at that moment, as if sensing her thoughts; and then he's finally looking at her. As usual she can't help herself, eyes flickering to his as if on cue, breath now involuntarily hitching, because even now, where her feelings and desires have no place, he still manages to stir something within her.
Except, unlike every other time before, he just stares at her as if he sees right through her, dark eyes somehow darker but also duller, missing their usual mischievous glint, their depth…their magnetic pull that has always somehow managed to reel her in.
Her heart clenches painfully at the sight of him so disheveled, so exposed and so nonchalant about it. Even when he was under Silas' control, he still used rage and violence as a shield, now he just doesn't seem to care about anything and the realization chills her bones.
So she does the only thing that makes sense and closes the proximity between them, pulling him into a hug.
It's not a long emotional embrace but it's enough for her to feel a hint of relief, to gather her wits about her, and fully assess the state he's in.
She pulls back and she's determined again, channeling the inner resolve she thinks will someday be legendary (if she lives to even a decade, let alone a century).
"I'm sorry about what happened."
The first signs of some emotion appear on his face but it leaves her feeling more unsettled than anything; his lips curve into a smile but it doesn't reach his eyes at all.
"I appreciate that, love but that's what I get for trusting a witch."
His mood swings are legendary but this 180 leaves her with a bad case of whiplash; his earlier vulnerability is now masked by a cold indifference that's just teetering on the edge of rage. As much as it unnerves her, at least this is confirmation that he hasn't turned off his humanity; she can't even comprehend what that Klaus would look like.
The relief is short lived as she realizes that he's staring more intently at her now, likely using his study of her as a distraction for the turmoil he feels inside. She doesn't mind it, not really, but heavy silences remind her that less than six hours ago she had absolutely no clue that Klaus was going to be a father, a father to a child he would share with her.
Caroline wills herself not to think about it, because regardless of her personal feelings toward Hayley, immortal or not, one should not envy or hate the dead.
"It's not your fault." She refocuses on him instead.
"Don't." He warns quietly but effectively. She is aware that any empty words of comfort will likely send him over the edge, and he desperately doesn't want to go there, especially not with her present.
This revelation gives her a sense of comfort. Knowledge that he still wants to protect her, even if it's from himself, prompts her to a retreat. Caroline nods silently, peering down at the sliver of space between them, realizing for the first time just how close they're sitting next to each other.
Klaus must realize this too as he glances more intently at her, a wan smile exposing his dimples, but just barely. Another stretch of silence follows and she's lulled into a false sense of content when he speaks, jolting her yet again with his soft inquiry.
"How's university treating you?"
She makes eye contact, blinks, a war of emotions stirring inside her as she tries to gauge whether he's fooling her again or whether he truly doesn't know, doesn't know that Bonnie is dead, that Stefan is missing and that Tyler never came back home.
Looking closer, it's apparent that he in fact does not to know anything, which means he hasn't been keeping tabs on her.
Somehow that stings.
"I deferred Cambridge for a year." She replies somewhat coolly, revels in the surprise that flickers in his eyes.
He hadn't thought she'd have it in her to leave Mystic Falls…well she did or at least she'd had the intention until everything went to hell.
"Still can't leave that little town behind, can you?" His mocking reply, though familiar, signals that he truly doesn't know her reasons for staying so she doesn't take the bait.
"Not exactly," she mutters back, bitterness lacing her voice irrespective of her attempt at nonchalance.
Caroline looks away from him, not wanting to confront either the pity or guilt he might feel if he figures out that something happened. Either emotion would feel awful coming from him. What she doesn't anticipate however is the warmth of his hand as it settles unexpectedly on top of hers.
"Don't," she hisses, throwing his own words at him as she meets his eyes sharply, letting him know that he has no right to give her comfort yet.
He gets it and doesn't fight her. Instead he quickly removes himself from the bench they're sitting on in favor of the liquor cabinet, taking the warmth of his touch with him.
"Well then it appears as though we have reached an impasse, sweetheart." He speaks slowly, deliberately as he pours blood from a crystal decanter into two identical glasses. The smell is intoxicating, reminding her that she hasn't fed in far too long and she begrudgingly accepts the glass as he comes back to hand it to her.
"Neither one of us wants to discuss the happenings of the last eight months, so whatever shall we do to pass the time?"
His voice is borderline wicked, flirtatious and paired with his smirk, it's almost easy to forget why she's here and what has happened. Perhaps that is his aim and she can't really blame him.
"If I recall correctly, this is one of your favorite cities, full of art, music, and culture," she takes a tentative step towards him, hoping he won't take negatively to her reference of his voicemail all those months ago (it's perfectly acceptable that she has it memorized, really it is).
"So maybe you can finally show me." She doesn't realize she whispers the last part until it's too late already and she holds an unnecessary breath waiting for his unreadable expression to change, to at least hint at how he's feeling.
And as he smiles, no grins at her over the rim of his glass, her heart finally cracks.
"As the lady wishes."
Much later, curled up in front of the fireplace with a glass of bourbon in her hand and Klaus next to her, Caroline allows herself to briefly reflect on the day.
New Orleans is indeed a beautiful city and even with this uncertainty wedged between them, today was one of those rare instances when they have been able to truly enjoy each other's company without the outside world infringing.
"I had a great time today," she says softly, feeling the need to convey her gratitude, "thank you for playing tour guide."
The smile he gives her is genuine, if a bit sad.
"You're welcome, love." He murmurs back, not looking away even though she expects him to.
"It's all I really ever wanted to do," he adds knowingly, holding her gaze for a beat too long.
Caroline has to look away, because his words sound almost like an apology (almost) and she can't forgive him just yet; the wound is still too fresh, the betrayal still stings.
And now it's back in full force.
From the corner of her eye, she sees his expression harden at her lack of a reply but she doesn't say anything, wants to neither placate nor fight him. A sense of urgency cuts through her and she drains the rest of her glass.
It's time for her to leave. After all, when Elijah called her, he had asked her for a simple favor.
"If you could get him to say at least a few words, Caroline. Please, my brother has barely left his room in weeks."
And she accomplished that task; hell she even got him to spend the day outside. If he hasn't turned his humanity off now, he will probably not do it any time in the future.
He will be just fine, he somehow always is.
"We are the same, you and I."
She doesn't want to believe it but he was right. They are the same and they're both survivors; and now it's time for her to go home and learn to survive again.
"I should go." She announces, pushing herself off the couch to stand in front of him, but it doesn't seem like he has noticed.
"What is it?" He questions softly instead, and the knot beneath her ribs tightens at the sight of tears in his eyes, "what is it about me that makes me so unworthy of family?"
In any other circumstance, any other, she would suggest that if he wants to have a family, he shouldn't try to dagger his siblings whenever he disagrees with them. However, when Klaus looks at her, all Caroline wants to do is reassure him that he is, in fact, worthy of family…and so much more.
"Look, I know what happened is awful," he tries to turn away, but she squeezes herself in between him and the arm of the couch, "and I know you blame yourself and that you think this was your last chance at having a real family, but that's just not true."
He audibly scoffs at her, but she doesn't let it deter her, instead Caroline forcibly tugs on his forearm to get him to look at her, "you have Elijah and Rebekah, they are your family and I'm-…"
She freezes, fully aware that her impulsivity has gotten the best of her yet again. However, this time, she doesn't hide, figuring that in this case, she can be vulnerable with him, especially if it helps her get her point across.
"I am around." She admits, but doesn't wait for him to counter her thoughts or argue, "so you have to promise me something."
He still hasn't looked at her, just stares blankly into the fire, body so motionless, he reminds her of the statues they saw in one of the art galleries they visited today.
Another tug on his arm doesn't work, so Caroline leans forward, gently cradling his cheek in her palm. It forces him to look at her and she runs her thumb delicately across his stubbled jaw.
The effect this has on her is dizzying but she shoves it aside.
"Promise me you will not turn it off."
She searches his face, for any sign that she's gotten through to him, even a little bit. Seconds seem to stretch like hours between them and the fire crackling in the background only further underscores her determination.
Minutes go by without him saying anything but Caroline doesn't waver, not when so much is at stake. Then, unexpectedly, she feels his fingers wrap around her wrist, giving it a gentle squeeze before withdrawing.
"I promise." Klaus acquiesces a moment later and the smile spreads on her lips unconsciously. He looks at her with such adoration, she can't help the heat rising to her cheeks and for a moment, it all feels so normal, so them, tears rush to her eyes.
Whether from grief or from relief, she does not know but Klaus doesn't give her a chance to find out.
"Now go," He urges her unexpectedly, "go fix whatever you need to in that supernaturally crippled town of yours and then for heaven's sake, go out and see the world."
The way he says this so passionately, almost as if he's imploring her, fills her with a strength Caroline didn't know she needed. It also serves as a reminder that regardless of what has happened, she still deserves to experience all the trappings of immortality, travel included.
"You owe it to yourself." He adds gently and she realizes just how much he truly wants this for her …even if it's not with him.
"I'll send you postcards." She suggests with a small smile, trying to infuse the moment with much needed levity.
"No need, sweetheart. I am certain I can paint any city you visit from memory." He teases right back, smile wider than she's seen it all day.
"Not fair." She shoots back, "you have like a thousand years on me."
"Better catch up then, love." He winks at her and she doesn't even realize how relaxed she is or how much she has missed their banter until this very moment.
And that's probably why she should leave…leave before it's too hard. She hesitates for a moment, suspended in indecision and Klaus seems to sense this as his smile is replaced with a frown.
"You need to go now. It's not safe for you here." He declares and a part of her wonders if this is just his way of making it easier for her to leave. She knows there is a grain of truth in his warning. There is a war brewing and with her history, she's likely to get caught in the crossfire if she stays.
"I already took a risk showing you around the city today. If Marcel catches wind of you being here…"
She can't help the chill that settles in the pit of her stomach, so she nods and stands without a fight. A part of her, however, can't leave without warning him all the same.
"Be careful, Klaus."
He fixes her with an artificial smile.
"Don't worry about me, love. I cannot be killed, remember?"
Somehow that doesn't make her feel any better. She takes her leave and she's almost at the doorway, when she hears him.
"Thank you, Caroline."
At that she has to turn around, catching his searching gaze as he fixes it on her from his place by the fireplace. He looks so lonely standing there illuminated by the red and orange flames that she can't help but worry for him. A feeling of foreboding settles within her and she bites the inside of her cheek to stop herself from voicing her concerns.
She's done all that she can. The rest is up to him.
"You're welcome. Now look out for my postcards and try not to get jealous, okay?"
"I'll try, love."
And when he raises his glass at her, matching her smile with one of his own, Caroline instinctively knows that this won't be the last time she will see him.