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Klaus, Caroline, and an Egg

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Mr. Tanner was not going to be happy that she was late, but he was going to have to accept her excuse and drop the subject. She was in no mood to explain the complicated, disgusting reason she was running down the empty halls towards the health room ten long minutes following the bell's loud clang. Breathing heavily through her nose, she came to a halt right outside the door and wiped her hands on her dress, straightening out the long skirt while also ridding her palms of sweat. She lifted her dry hands to her face and gathered the tears beneath her eyes. Hopefully her eye makeup wasn't smudged.

She could do this. Pretending everything was okay was easy for her. She did it all the time.

Through the crack in the door she heard Mr. Tanner finishing up his welcome. It was now or never—so, it was now. Never was not an option.

Caroline Forbes pushed open the door and stepped inside the packed classroom. All eyes turned towards her as the rusted hinges squeaked, but she refused to look at any of them. Her focus was on Mr. Tanner. She stepped towards where he stood by the ancient blackboard, a piece of chalk in his hand. He still wore his gym teacher getup. Maybe someone forgot to tell him they were starting health that day. He was also wearing a pretty deep frown.

"Miss Forbes," he said, "you're late."

Yes. Thank you. She knew that already.

Caroline tossed her blond locks over her shoulder and smiled as bright as she could, showing Mr. Tanner her pearly whites. Most teachers couldn't resist her guilty-as-charged smile, but Mr. Tanner was not most teachers. He was the hardened football coach with no time for any kid's bullshit.

"Please, Mr. Tanner," began Caroline, knowing her story was foolproof, "I would have made it on time, but I couldn't for the life of me get my locker to open. I needed Mr. Porter's help to get into it."

"Who's Mr. Porter?"

Even though she was lying through her perfect teeth, Mr. Tanner's question shocked Caroline. "The head janitor," she said accusatorially. "He's worked here for thirteen years. He's got two kids, one of whom goes to this school. He's a really nice man"—

Mr. Tanner cut her off by putting his hand up. "That's enough, Miss Forbes. I didn't ask for Mr. Porter's life story." He closed his hand and pointed at the blackboard with his thumb. Caroline looked at the drawing. An oval. An egg? "Since you missed my introduction, these next two months of health class will cover everything from the dangers of drinking and using drugs"—the stoners in the sea of students booed—"to the dangers of premarital sex, which oftentimes leads to unwanted pregnancy in teens. Our first week's assignment will be the Egg Project." Mr. Tanner's drawing suddenly made sense to Caroline. "Most of your classmates have already been partnered up, but luckily for you, there is one student still in need of a co-parent."

"I thought we agreed I would be doing this assignment on my own," came a tired, bored, wretched English accent from the back corner of the room. "You know, to represent the single parents in the nation."

Caroline had to suppress her groan. She looked over the sniggering faces of her classmates at the boy dressed in head-to-toe black, his head lifting from his crossed arms. His scruffy cheeks and dark circles told the story of a kid who didn't care much about what other people thought of him, and his watery blue eyes told Caroline he had literally just been asleep.

Literally.

She could not work with him. No, no, no, no.

No.

Turning back to Mr. Tanner, Caroline put on her sweetest smile again. "Um, Mr. Tanner. I can't work with him."

"Hm?" he asked, not looking up from the booklet he was holding about the egg experiment.

"I can't work with him," Caroline repeated, slightly more volume this time. Mr. Tanner didn't lift his head, but he stared unamused at Caroline through his thick eyelashes, waiting for more information. "Klaus," Caroline finally sighed. The whole room was staring at her, enraptured by her confession, but she didn't pay any attention. "I can't work with him."

Closing the booklet, Mr. Tanner tilted his head. Very unamused. "And why can't you work with him?"

"Why?" she practically laughed. Her cheeks reddened as she thought through the laundry list of reasons. "He is notorious for failing practically all of his classes; he never does any work, and you can bet damn well that includes group assignments; his attendance record is horrendous. . .Mr. Tanner, I could go on, and on, and on."

Though he let her go off on her small tangent, Mr. Tanner still wore that unchanging look of weariness. It was almost as if he didn't want to be there at all. "Don't you think that's a bit harsh, Miss Forbes?"

"Yeah!" piped the devil himself. Caroline shot him a dirty look. He was fully smirking at her—his trademark. "Don't you think that's a bit harsh?"

"It's the truth," she told him. "Deal with it."

"I'm sorry, Miss Forbes," said Mr. Tanner, and Caroline's hopes of either working by herself or magically finding a new partner for this stupid assignment were dashed, "my decision is final. Go take a seat next to Mr. Mikaelson. I'll be handing out the booklet for the Egg Project shortly."

Dejected and too exhausted from her morning to argue any longer, Caroline sagged her shoulders and walked to the empty seat next to Mr. Mikaelson.

Would he change his mind if she spilled the secret? Would that grant her any partner of her choosing?

Probably not. He was Mr. Tanner, and the secret she held would more likely get her detention than a gold star. It would get her other things too, worse things, but she refused to think about the repercussions right now. Not with a whole day to get through.

Klaus Mikaelson winked at Caroline as she sat down. She responded in the only way she knew how—by rolling her eyes at him, which only seemed to stretch his smirk all the way to his ear.

"Now, I have here a dozen eggs," Mr. Tanner said, and Caroline quickly put Klaus out of her mind. Their teacher held up a pack of eggs. "Each pair will get one egg. When I have handed you the egg, which becomes your child from the second it touches your desk, you will have the opportunity to name it and decorate it how you choose." He stared daggers at the stoner kids. "If anybody decides they are brave enough to put anything other than eyes, a nose, a mouth and some hair on their egg, they will instantly get a failing grade." The stoners laughed, but everybody knew they wouldn't dare break Mr. Tanner's rules. "After decorating, you will need to pierce a hole in the egg and drain its insides"—

—"Ew! Why would we do that?" piped Hayley Marshall, the most poisonous girl Caroline had ever met. Caroline stared daggers at the back of her head. Her partner, Elena Gilbert, nodded enthusiastically.

"Please don't interrupt," Mr. Tanner said. "I was just about to explain. There are two reasons you must get rid of the egg white and the yoke. One: the egg would rot, and I'm sure none of you want a rotten egg stinking up your bedrooms. Two: it makes the egg more susceptible to cracks if it doesn't have anything inside it."

Elena raised her hand, but spoke before being called on. "So you're setting us up to fail? That doesn't seem very fair."

It was at this point Mr. Tanner made it clear just how much he hated teaching. Coaching was the dream. He loved it. Standing in front of twenty-four juniors who were all pretty much sexually active already and being forced to give them this assignment was his nightmare.

Sliding his hands over his tired, old face, Mr. Tanner shook his head. "God forbid any of you ever has a child, but if that day arrives I can assure you that you will find out just how much more breakable an actual baby is than this egg."

The class went silent. Mr. Tanner was known for his outbursts, but such harsh words were, Caroline felt, uncalled for. But she had tried and lost with Tanner once already, and she was not about to fail again, so she remained silent with the rest of her classmates.

After a few moments, Mr. Tanner got back to business. He picked up a handful of booklets and the eggs and stepped out from behind his desk.

"You'll have until next Monday with the eggs," he announced, handing out a booklet and egg to each group. "You will have to meet with your partner for at least—at least," he emphasised, eyeing Caroline, "an hour every day. You will be required to write down what you do with your egg. The egg must alternate houses, meaning your partner will have it for one night, and you will have it the next. Somebody must be watching the egg at all times and there has to be a set bedtime. On Monday, everybody is required to fill out a sheet explaining how the week went. Does everyone understand?" He had reached Caroline and Klaus. He carefully plopped the egg into Caroline's hand and tossed Klaus the booklet.

"Yes," the class, minus Klaus, affirmed in unison.

Mr. Tanner went back to the front of the room. "Great. Art supplies are up here. Blow out the yoke and whites in the sink by Mr. Mikaelson. Get to work, everyone."

Klaus was the first to scrape his chair back. "Where do you think you're going?" Caroline asked, tugging on his t-shirt to stop him from moving.

He twisted, his eyes lingering on where her hand was clamped on his shirt. "The art stuff. I want our baby to have a face, don't you? You can come up with names while I'm up there, sweetheart."

Caroline released the fabric of his shirt in disgust. She pointed a finger at him. "You dare call me that again and I will throttle you. Do you hear me? Throttle."

"Loud and clear, love!" he called as he walked towards the table covered in cheap paints and brushes.

"That one is worse," Caroline muttered under her breath.

Picking up the egg, she twisted it around. There were sprinklings of freckles all over the shell. For an egg, it was kind of pretty. Unfortunately, she had no artistic talent, and she had absolutely zero faith in the boy examining the bottles of paint up front with an unsettling amount of scrutiny.

Why did she have to pick today to be late to class? And why couldn't someone else have been free? This was setting up to be the longest week of her life. First Tyler—

—No, no. She wasn't going to think about him. If she started crying in class, people would start asking why she was crying in class, and that was a question to which she was not willing to supply an answer.

Push Tyler out, she warned herself. Let Klaus in. Yeah, just. . .get mad about Klaus.

Listen, she didn't like not liking people. Her nature was to find something good in everything. Obviously, there were exceptions. The Nazis, for example. No good there; and there was no point in trying to find any. Death, as well. She stayed away from pointing out positives when someone passed away. But most people and things deserved chances. They deserved to not be defined by single choices and acts made or performed in their lives.

And it wasn't like Klaus Mikaelson had done one horrific thing to make her dislike him. Or even multiple horrific things. Sure, he was a bit weird. Sure, he kept mostly to himself. None of that was cause for concern. It was simply his aura—the energy he poured into the world. Caroline would walk by him in the halls and a shiver would run down her spine. She would randomly bump into him in town and freeze in her tracks until he disappeared from view, that telltale smirk that really didn't tell her anything at all pinning up the right side of his face.

She wasn't alone in her opposition to Klaus, which made her feel a little better. Lots of her classmates and teachers, lots of parents didn't much care for him. Caroline bet the majority of them would not be able to put a finger on why.

Maybe that smirk was all it boiled down to.

That smirk which he was still donning as he returned to his desk with an armful of paints.

"Do you really need that many colours? The egg is tiny." She held up their egg-baby, which fit neatly in the crook of her palm.

"Trust me," he said flippantly—everything with him was flippant. "I know what I'm doing."

"If you say so."

"Have you come up with a name?" he asked, squeezing dollops of paint onto a round palette.

Caroline stared at the egg. "Ginger," she settled. Klaus raised an eyebrow. "The freckles," she explained.

"Gotcha. Hand her over." Holding out his hand, Klaus wiggled his fingers in anticipation. Begrudgingly, hoping he would refrain from smashing Ginger right then and there, Caroline delicately dropped the egg into his hand. The tips of her fingers brushed the base of his, and she snatched her hand away promptly, a sharp jolt running through her. "Thanks, love."

"Don't call me that," she said. She had the strangest feeling she was going to be saying that a lot over the next seven days.

Klaus just widened his stupid half-smile and picked up a paintbrush. Ignoring him as best as she could, Caroline started working on their booklet. She filled out the egg's name, the time they received her, the planned bedtime, and what she and Klaus would use as the egg's carrier/bed. When that was finished, she looked over the rubric. The project was worth a whopping fifty points.

Damn this southern Virginian town and its abstinence-only approach to sex education.

Caroline enjoyed being from a small town. Her mother was the sheriff, a couple of her friends were descendants of the town's founders, and she was the most recent bearer of the Miss Mystic Falls crown. Small town life was fun, until it came to stuff like this that really showed off the ignorance of its officials.

"Done," Klaus announced fifteen minutes later.

Putting the math assignment she had been working on while she waited away, Caroline looked curiously over at the egg drying on a paper towel on Klaus's desk. She was taken aback. "Wow," she said. "That's. . .really good."

In twenty minutes, Klaus had managed to make their egg look like a piece that belonged in a museum. The swirling reds and oranges of the finely painted strands of hair didn't clash with the brown shell, the freckles had been finely exaggerated, the face looked like an actual face. And he had done it all with the shitty brushes and cheap paints.

Caroline looked between the egg and Klaus, her eyes then wandering to the frayed notebook hanging over the edge of his desk. There was no doubt in her mind it was filled with glorious drawings.

What else was this guy hiding?

"I've come up with a schedule," she said after a prolonged silence. She gave the booklet to Klaus. "I'll have her today. You need to sign here," Caroline pointed at the line requiring his signature, "and then we need to decide where we'll meet this afternoon."

Klaus finished scribbling his name, and for a moment Caroline was confused before she remembered his full name was Niklaus. "Mystic Grill," he said. "I've been craving one of their burgers all day."

The Mystic Grill housed just about every high school student every single day after the final bell rang. Caroline had never seen Klaus there. She was too tired to come up with anywhere else, though, and there were still three classes she had to get through before school let out, plus a gruelling hour of cheer practice, so she agreed to his choice.

His smirk turned triumphant.

Ginger's paint job dried with five minutes of health class to spare. Caroline carried her to the sink and pierced two holes in the egg's shell, stirring up the yoke. Placing a tiny plastic straw inside, she blew out the contents.

"4:30 at the Grill, then?" she said, sitting back down with Ginger. "I have cheer practice until 4:00."

Klaus had his notebook open, but Caroline couldn't see what he was doing. He covered the pages with his arm. "4:30 it is," he said without breaking his concentration.

The bell rang several seconds later. Caroline gathered her things, mindful of just how light the egg-baby now felt, and departed the classroom, Klaus on her heels.

She was about to tell him to stop breathing down her dress—all of the hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up—when she spotted Tyler down the hall heading in their direction. Her heart plummeted, rattling around in her stomach. Eyes wide and tongue heavy, she twirled and hid behind Klaus.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" he asked, and even though she couldn't see him, she could hear that fucking smirk.

"Just keep moving," she hissed.

Klaus started whistling as they moved down the hall. She rolled her eyes, but was not brave enough to come out of hiding until safety was guaranteed.

"Thanks," she muttered, her body flaming with embarrassment and guilt and anger directed both at herself and at the dark-haired asshole that was Tyler Lockwood.

There was another person she disliked. Another person with no redeeming qualities. But it was worse than Klaus because she had spent the last two years thinking he walked among the clouds like a god.

It was only this morning that she found out he actually swam with Hades in the Styx.

"No problem," Klaus said. He seemed to take no notice of her protective body language—not that she wanted him to. "Take care of Ginger now, love. She's very delicate." Klaus turned and started walking back the way they came.

"Stop calling me love," Caroline demanded, though she was more focused on the fact that it seemed Klaus had allowed her to steer him in the opposite direction of his next class without protesting.

Weird, she thought.

Brushing it off—Klaus was always doing weird things—Caroline strode through the swarm of teenagers buzzing around the hallway, her mind doing everything it could to keep Tyler's malicious face from that morning out of her head.

Chapter Text

 

The grass was cool underneath Caroline’s thighs as she sat down to stretch. Her legs spread wide, she bent forward, her arms going out. Always her least favourite stretch, she welcomed the burning pain in her lower back this afternoon. It distracted her, and she really needed distractions today. Following on from health, the rest of her classes had not gone nearly as smoothly as she had hoped. There was a pop quiz in math she was sure she had failed. She wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom in history and spent the whole period focused on how much it felt like her bladder was going to explode.

And creative writing took a turn for the worst when she had to read out her latest story in front of the whole class. Confidence lived and breathed in Caroline. One did not get to be on every school committee without it. But reading her own work aloud never ended well. She stuttered over her words and barely finished with her dignity intact.

Such a bad day as this had never afflicted Caroline before. Usually, everything—everything. No exaggeration—went her way. It had been like that since she was twelve, around the time her father finally left Mystic Falls. Middle school had recently started and without lifting a finger the tall blond was crowned Most Popular by the end of the year. In eighth grade, Caroline grew into her title and worked hard to keep it. She joined every club and committee she could, dipped her finger in every pie available until the whole school, teachers included, janitorial staff included, knew her name. Knew how willing she was to give up her time for the betterment of the student body.

When high school rolled around, she carried her crown with her. Her fellow students recognised her the day she stepped through the doors. She was their sun—they had no choice but to circle around her.

Of course, there were days when her personal life took a dive. She always bucked up enough to look presentable and happy at school, even when she was not feeling presentable and happy. See, it was all about image.

How had things managed to fall apart so quickly? Three years of sacrifice and determination and blood, sweat and tears, and it led her to this.

This—nothing.

Emptiness.

No, it was worse than emptiness. It was a fullness so heavy and uncomfortable she felt like she was going to vomit up all of the secrets, all of the shit inside of her if someone so much as touched her.

"Someone's deep in thought."

Caroline lifted her chest off of the field. She spotted her best friend and fellow cheerleader Bonnie setting her water bottle on the nearest bench. The darker-skinned girl came and sat down beside Caroline, her green, speckled eyes scanning Caroline's face intently.

Looking down at the grass to avoid Bonnie's stare, Caroline resumed stretching.

"How are you holding up?" Bonnie asked, the question dripping with unspoken concern.

Caroline pressed her cheek to the ground and stared up at the grey sky. October in southern Virginia wasn't so bad. She used to hate it, but the weather fit her mood quite well today. "I'm fine," she said casually, and she would have shrugged had she been brave enough to answer the question facing Bonnie.

"You don't look fine," Bonnie said.

She couldn't argue with that observation. Her sparkle had significantly faded. But Mr. Tanner had unknowingly provided her with the perfect excuse. "It isn't what you think," she said, sitting up and rolling her shoulders. "Tanner's making me partner with Klaus Mikaelson on this health assignment."

Bonnie's reaction was instantaneous. Her face scrunched in disgust. "Klaus? What the hell made him pair you two up?"

"I was late to class. Klaus is my punishment."

"You were late and he paired you with Klaus? Isn't that the sort of punishment fit for, I don't know, attempting to burn the school down?"

"Nobody has any evidence that was him," Caroline said with a heavy sigh, knowing Bonnie was referring to the day last year a fire started in a boys bathroom. She was all for blaming Klaus for the things he definitely did do, like squirt glue on the back of Mrs. Halpern to make it look like . . . well . . . But it was too cheap to say he committed every horrible act attributed to his name. "I already tried getting Tanner to change his mind, but he's sticking to his annoying guns. I actually have to meet up with Klaus when practice is over."

Bonnie slid into the splits and looked at Caroline with sympathy. "That really sucks, Care. Not what you needed today, huh?"

That knot in her stomach, that fullness, pressed on Caroline's gag reflex. "Yeah, not what I needed," she said, her eyes catching the boys locker room exit as the door swung open. A sea football players splashed on to the field, all dressed in their gear.

His black, angry eyes found her instantly. They always used to, and Caroline shouldn't be surprised they still did. Chest tight, she struggled to look away. He held her gaze for several seconds. It was only when he finally released her that she realised she had not been breathing.

Caroline, red-faced and itching with fear, stared blearily at the grass. The other girls on the squad joined her and Bonnie shortly. Their presence gave her a short reprieve from the turmoil wracking her body as they began their proper warm-up.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Bonnie asked midway through practice. They were on a break, and Caroline just couldn't stop herself from finding his large body on the field.

Caroline jumped, nearly choking her mouthful of water. "I'm sure," she said, coughing and wiping her mouth. "It's just Klaus, Bon."

Shrugging, Bonnie returned to formation. Caroline took another gulp of water, wondering just how long she was going to be able to stop the secret from finding its way to the public. She felt it pressing on her shoulders every time she moved, weighing her down. One wrong move and it would crush her completely. And everyone would see, and everyone would know, and it would be Tyler standing above her, his wolfish grin snapping the last shreds of her dignity into a thousand pieces.

She hardly paid attention throughout the latter half of practice, which proved detrimental to her and her teammates' safety when she almost dropped Dana Smith during a simple prep. Luckily, she had her handy dandy excuse all lined up and ready to go. Klaus became the name of the game whenever someone would call her out for not focusing or doing the wrong move.

Finally, what felt like ten hours after they had started, the final whistle blew, dismissing the girls to the locker room. Caroline checked the time. She had only twenty minutes to get to the Grill. Showering quickly and only applying the smallest amount of makeup, she left the locker room with barely ten minutes to spare.

Her hair was still soaking when she entered the restaurant several minutes late. Horrible traffic and slow drivers were to blame, but she knew no defence would spare her from Klaus's jeers.

Caroline glanced around the room, hoping Klaus had given up and gone home. Before she could complete her survey, Matt Donovan, a recent graduate of Mystic Falls high and her first boyfriend when the pair were in elementary school, came out from behind the bar, a bin of dirty plates and glasses in his hands. He smiled at her, his blue eyes filled with kindness. He stopped in front of her and readjusted the bin.

"Um, Klaus Mikaelson is claiming to be waiting for you at that table over there," he said, pointing to the right. It was the table most open to the invasive eyes of other customers. "Is he really?"

"Unfortunately," she bemoaned. Matt's expression turned quizzical. "We're doing this stupid health project together."

"The egg thing?"

"The egg thing," she affirmed, tapping her bag to make sure the container holding Ginger was still in there. She felt the plastic against her fingers. Reluctantly, Caroline looked over at Klaus. He stared at her in expectation. "I should get to him. Please come rescue me in exactly one hour."

"Good luck, Care," Matt said as she walked towards her certain doom.

Klaus was already smirking when she finished her approach. Ignoring him as best she could, she sat down and took out Ginger, her notebook, and the binder. She laid everything on the table after moving aside the menu and cutlery. Caroline opened her notebook and the binder, but left Ginger's lid shut. Clicking her pen a couple of times, Caroline looked at Klaus over the circle of condiments in the centre of the table.

His smirk had spread. He looked gleefully at the set-up and folded his hands together like some B-movie bad guy.

Caroline would walk right out of the restaurant if she didn't need an A on this ridiculous project to keep up her GPA. College applications were going out soon, and she knew there was a spot at the University of Virginia just waiting for her.

"You're late," Klaus commented. He reached out to touch her hair, but Caroline slapped his hand away before he could get his greasy fingers on it. "And you're all wet. What on earth kept you?"

"I told you," she said hotly, her cheeks reddening in vicious annoyance. "I had cheer practice until 4:00."

"Right, right. I forgot you were a cheerleader," he said in a way that made Caroline sure he one-hundred percent remembered she was a cheerleader. "How was the practice today?"

Caroline scoffed. "Like you care. Get out a notebook and pen. We need to get started. I am not staying here one second past our allotted one hour and I want to get as much done as possible."

"Touch-y," Klaus said, raising his unruly eyebrows. Damn her and her obsession with plucking her own eyebrows when she was in junior high. "What's got your pom-poms in a twist?"

Glaring at the smug bastard over the ketchup, Caroline surveyed his mocking features attentively. Did he know? Properly, truly know?

No. She would not do this to herself. Klaus knew nothing. He was simply an annoying ass who would say and/or do anything to press all of her buttons.

"I'm fine." Caroline smiled sickly sweet, deciding she would not allow this Criss Angel wannabe ruin the latter half of an already awful day. "Now, Tanner wants us to fill out these questionnaires in our booklet about what we think this next week will be like. I say we answer the questions in complete silence over the next fifteen minutes then discuss what we've said. Any objection?" She flipped open the booklet and handed Klaus the copies she made of the specific pages they were meant to fill in.

"None whatsoever," he said, taking the pages. Caroline found his eyes briefly locked on her face, but he looked away before she could tell him to do so herself.

They scribbled in silence for a bit. Caroline, surprisingly, was glad for the distraction of the assignment at the moment. It probably had something to do with the fact that she wasn't currently being forced to interact with Klaus Mikaelson, but she gladly took the reprieve from feeling like her skull was actively crushing her brain.

The questions were ridiculous as well. That aided in their ability to pull Caroline from her own mind. How do you think it will be raising your child?—the booklet never referred to their egg as an egg. It was always baby or child or offspring. What are your hopes for your baby's futureWhich part of raising yours and your partner's offspring do you expect to be the most difficult?

Each question provided Caroline an opportunity to utilise her creative writing skills. Most of her answers were made up. Pulled from some story or another she had written for the various writing classes she had taken in her time at Mystic Falls High.

Fully satisfied with her responses following fifteen minutes, Caroline put her pen down and checked on Klaus. She was slightly startled to find he had already covered the pages in dozens of neat sentences.

"What now, love?" he said, folding his hands behind his head and leaning back in his chair.

"I thought I asked you not to call me that," Caroline fumed, her jaw clenched. The time of relaxation was through. Back to the reality of having the school's arrogant, Lord Voldemort-in-the-making as her project partner.

"What am I supposed to call you then? You've already shot down sweetheart," he complained. He straightened and folded his arms over his chest.

Caroline frowned. "How about, I don't know, my actual name? Unless the two brain cells you've got left aren't capable of remembering it."

A spark of something sinister mixed with something enthralling flashed across Klaus's face. His smirk twitched. His pupils dilated. Caroline sat perfectly still, her heart thrumming in anticipation of what would happen next. He opened his mouth to deliver a comeback, but the sound of a horde of new customers entering the Grill distracted them both, and in less than one second Caroline Forbes went from having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day to wishing the ground would swallow her whole and allow her to live beneath the floorboards until the world burst into flame.

But the ground did not listen to her pleas, and she had to watch Tyler Lockwood, Hayley Marshall strapped to his arm, and the rest of the football jocks and their girlfriends enter the restaurant.

Her stomach dropped. Her tongue dried instantly, leaving her with an acrid taste in her mouth. It was almost funny—she had nearly forgotten about him, about the mess he had made, about the words he had breathed down her throat that morning, as she began battling wits with Klaus. Everything was coming back now.

Tyler's head shifted in her direction. He looked between her and Klaus, a menacing glare marring his stony face. She knew that look.

Don't tell.

It was a threat.

If only she had known the monster with whom she was getting into bed when they first met. None of this shit would be happening. She would be enjoying this project with someone who wasn't Klaus. She would be excited to watch a movie tonight after her homework was completed. She would be thinking about what to wear tomorrow to gain the attention of whatever boy had caught her eye.

Instead, she was staring blankly, her throat burning, her eyes searing, at her recent ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend, dreading what may happen should he think she might blab to the wrong person. Any person, even Klaus fucking Mikaelson.

"Trouble in paradise, love?"

Caroline was yanked harshly back to Klaus's smirk. A realisation dawned on Caroline. She scowled at her partner. "You asshole," she said. "You complete asshole."

"That's not a very nice word," he said innocently.

"FuckYou. Is that better?" she asked. "You brought me here because you knew he would be here too. Didn't you?" Klaus's stupid half-smile gave him away. He really was a villain. Caroline started gathering her things. She shoved everything except Ginger roughly into her bag. "I'm leaving. We can make-up whatever time we need to tomorrow, but right now, if I keep looking at you, I might accidentally stab you with a steak knife."

Caroline stood and picked Ginger up. She heard Klaus's chair go back, but she was already walking towards the exit. If he had wanted her to stick around, he shouldn't have been such a dickhead.

Throwing Matt a goodbye, Caroline exited the Grill with her heart in her throat. Klaus thought he was doing nothing more than rubbing her break-up in her face by choosing the spot as their meeting place. But it was worse than simple heartbreak. Heartbreak she could deal with. Ice cream, rom-coms with Bonnie, blasting A Fine Frenzy through the house. But this was all uncharted territory, and she would need a night before she could look at Klaus again.

Caroline drove home with her mind buzzing and crackling. Her mom had the nightshift at the station, so the house was empty when she got there. Good. She needed to cry without her mother asking any questions. Tomorrow she would work to be better. She would refuse to let her shitty circumstances ruin her days at school. But screw that tonight. Tonight, she would allow the heaviness to keep her chained to her bed. Tonight, Tyler won.

Chapter Text

 

Caroline parked her car the following morning in the student lot. In the early sunlight, her parking badge cast a white shadow over the dashboard. It looked pretty, and Caroline was desperate to find something even remotely joyful after how horridly yesterday ended. Switching off the engine, cruelly cutting The Beatles off in the process, Caroline leaned against the headrest and closed her eyes. She had a plan. Well, half of a plan. Knowing how stubborn Mr. Tanner was being about the whole partnering situation, she struggled to find the right complaint to use that would convince him she should not be working with Klaus.

In her hand, she had the only excuse of which she could think. And she really wasn't sure it would work. But she had to try. After yesterday's debacle at the Grill, she would do anything—not anything, but a lot—to get Tanner to change his mind. Even if it meant altering the truth a tiny bit.

With fifteen minutes to spare before the first warning bell rang, Caroline exited her battered Civic and headed for the main entrance. She deposited her books inside her locker, checking her reflection in the small mirror on the inside of the door. She hardly looked confident, but she had worn her lucky long-sleeved dress and she crossed her fingers the blue thing wouldn't let her down. It already had, of course. In a way. This was the dress she wore when Tyler first asked her out. But it wasn't the dress's fault that things ended so badly between them. Besides, she had not been wearing it when she. . .well, when it all fell to pieces.

Caroline grabbed the things she needed for first and second period and closed her locker, ready to face Mr. Tanner. She found him where she knew she would, hanging around outside gorgeous Mrs. Somers's classroom. The creep.

Approaching him from behind, Caroline cleared her throat loudly. He turned, eyes wide with shock.

"Caroline," he said. He was clearly startled to see her. "I didn't know you had chemistry first period."

"Oh, I don't," she said cheerfully. She didn't have chemistry at all. She offered Tanner a wide smile—the same one that did nothing for her yesterday. "I walk this way to get to French." Mr. Tanner opened his mouth, probably to ask why she was coming this way when the language block was in the other direction, but Caroline went on. "But look, now that I have you, I was hoping to talk to you about Klaus Mikaelson."

Tanner's transformation from clueless to understanding, from understanding to annoyance was quick. "Miss Forbes, I already told you"—

—"I know what you told me," she said, her smile not faltering. "It's just. . .can't you please make an exception? Klaus and I aren't working well together and I need to get a good grade on this project. You can understand that, right? I mean, college applications have to be in by May, and I can't have a bad health grade stopping me from getting into the university of my dreams."

"May?" Tanner said. "Applications aren't due until January of your senior year."

Not what she had wanted him to focus on. Caroline clenched her teeth for a moment before relaxing her jaw and answering. "Early admission applications are due in May. But that's besides the point."

"What is the point, Caroline?" Tanner asked tiredly. His eyes kept flicking to Mrs. Somers's backside.

Suppressing a look of disgust, Caroline put her measly plan into action. "My point," she said, "is I do not wish to be partnered with Klaus Mikaelson. We are not well-suited for this kind of intense partnership. Already, I am finding it difficult to get the work done. I would much rather us both thrive with other partners than fail together."

Mr. Tanner had always been one of Caroline's least favourite teachers at Mystic Falls High. All the guys loved him. They wanted to be him when they grew up. He was your classic gym teacher whose fragile masculinity and obsession with the kids he coached on the football team proved he peaked while he walked the very hallways Caroline did. Beneath the macho, i-hate-teaching exterior the male population at the school adored, though, there was a deeply misogynistic layer. She sensed it in every gym class, every time she and the girls were on the field practicing.

And she sensed it now, as Tanner's leer shifted from Mrs. Somers to Caroline's barely-exposed chest.

She knew the answer to her request before Tanner dealt her the bad news. "I'm sorry, Miss Forbes," he said, finally pulling his eyes up from her cleavage. "The answer is still no."

"Please," she begged—not a good look, but she was desperate; the secrets were creeping up her throat, making her gag. "He. . .he creeps me out, Mr. Tanner. I really don't feel comfortable around him."

"If I switched out every pairing for this assignment because one person found the other creepy, there would be no pairs left," Tanner said in a most uninspired voice. "You're just going to have to live with it."

She almost said it right then, out of nothing more than sheer aggravation and annoyance. The words were there, right on her tongue, burning through her flesh. She could have easily opened her mouth and poured them on the floor.

But she couldn't have. The consequences were too dire.

Resigning herself to failure once again, Caroline twisted away from Tanner and joined the crowded hallway. As she did her best to speed away from Tanner, a pair of black eyes caught her attention.

Tyler.

His dark glower made her sure he had been watching her interaction with Tanner. Beside him, Hayley's mouth was moving a mile a minute. She clung to Tyler, giggling, but he ignored her and kept his stare glued on Caroline as she weaved quickly through small gaps in the mob of students, fear turning over in her stomach.

One thing was certain—she was burning this dress when she got home.

In her two years at Mystic Falls High, Caroline had never stepped foot into the art hall. She had nothing against art. The only reason was her classes never took her through. But she was there now, staring at all of the pieces on the walls as she waited for the studio art class behind room 511 K to finish. The final bell had dismissed them five minutes ago, but there was no sign of movement from inside the classroom.

She could wait. She wanted to wait, actually, because the alternative was Klaus coming through the door and she was perfectly happy not having to deal with him just yet.

Directly in front of her hung the largest painting on the wall. London at night, she assumed—the glowing London Eye gave it away—but the lines were smudged. Vibrant blue leaked into the dark waters of the Thames as if the Eye and the Houses of Parliament were crying. It screamed of Monet, though she definitely detected a personality all its own.

"Found something you like?"

Caroline startled, her eyes shutting automatically as her heart thrashed around in her chest. She turned and found Klaus smirking at her. She hadn't heard the door open. "You've ruined it," she said.

"That's a shame," he said, shoving his hands inside the pockets of his dark, distressed jeans. The movement caused the unbuttoned portion of his shirt to sink low, revealing a pattern of reddish blond chest hair. "What are you doing here, then? Not looking for me, surely."

"Of course I'm looking for you," Caroline said, already exasperated. Reaching inside her bag, she carefully pulled out Ginger's container with Ginger still snuggled inside. "We've got work to do, remember?"

Klaus looked between her and Ginger for a moment, frowning. "But I thought after yesterday"—

—"That was yesterday. I'm over it now," she fibbed, having to physically stop herself from fleeing the scene once more. "Our baby is more important than a tiny spat, agreed?"

"Yeah, sure," Klaus said lazily.

Caroline returned Ginger to her bag. "Good. Ready, then?"

Klaus's eyebrows waggled. Waggled. Like he was some freaking lewd cartoon from the 50s. "Does the Mystic Grill tickle your fancy?"

"No way in hell am I ever going to that place with you ever again. The bleachers will do just fine. It's not a bad day and I could do with some fresh air."

His half-smile spreading, Klaus threw out his arm. "Lead the way, love."

Caroline closed her hand into a tight fist and began the trek to the football field. "Don't call me that."

"Anything you say, love."

Caroline bit the side of her tongue.

It was going to be a long afternoon.

The field was empty when the pairing walked up the steps to the top of the bleachers. She was used to being on the turf, waving her red pom-poms around, and it felt strange looking down like this. The space was so large, and they were so high up. For the first time since she was a kid, she wished she could fly.

Caroline placed Ginger very carefully on the bleacher. From inside her bag, she pulled out the booklet and her notes. Klaus sat beside her. Without prompting, he grabbed his own notebook and flipped to a fresh page. Where was the sloppy, uncaring Klaus Mikaelson she had been expecting? Was this his way of apologising for yesterday evening?

"Are we gonna go over the answers to the questions from yesterday?" he asked.

"Um," Caroline said, opening the booklet. Day Two, it read, Design a sleeping/feeding schedule for the baby, keeping in mind how frequent newborns must take from their mother's breast. Your second task will be to take the quiz on the next page. You and your partner will be able to confer with one another. Answers are on page 18. God, that was a lot of work. A lot of gross work. (Mother's breast?) Serves her right for storming out of the Grill. "Yeah. We can do that quickly, but then we've got to do all of this." She picked up the booklet and showed Klaus.

"Bloody hell, that's a lot."

"Got plans, do you?"

The smirk returned. "Wouldn't you like to know."

Caroline made an exaggerated noise of disgust. "Let's just get on with it. What did you put for the first question: How do you think it will be raising your child?"

"Provided we don't drop her," Klaus said, scanning his notebook, "fairly easy. What did you say?"

"That's all you wrote?" Caroline said, feeling suddenly even less secure about getting a passing grade on this project. "Are you taking any of this seriously?"

"This?" he said, pointing to Ginger, then to the pages Caroline had strewn about the bleacher. "This ridiculous assignment that's meant to deter us from having premarital sex by using a fucking yoke-less egg with a face? No, funnily enough, I am not taking this seriously."

It was almost humorous if she thought about it, because she too found the assignment ridiculous. The district was doing nothing to scare her and her classmates away from having sex. She too had come up with answers that were not meant to be taken seriously. But Klaus was stepping dangerously close to the edge, and she was not about to let him drag them both down.

"When you get home tonight," she said, swallowing down her desire to shout—the minute they were done, she planned on finding a deserted area in the woods and screaming until her throat gave out, "I want you—and by want, I really mean need; let's get that clear—to pull whatever bullshit you have to from your brain and write more. That is not a sufficient answer."

Until then, the time between her failed meeting with Mr. Tanner and getting surprised by Klaus's obnoxious voice had been fairly uneventful. Her classes had all gone swimmingly. She had given the correct answers, gotten As on the two essays returned to her. She had managed to avoid bumping into Tyler.

All in all, not a bad day at school.

But things were quickly falling apart. As they always did when Klaus Mikaelson was involved.

"Alright, alright, don't get your pom-poms in a twist."

"You've already used that one," Caroline snapped. "Come up with some better cheerleader insults while you're working on the questions."

Klaus basically shut up after that. He sat in almost morose silence while Caroline went over her answers and he barely piped in during the quiz. With just her doing the hard work, they got 98% on the New Mom Quiz that had wonderful gems such as How long can freshly expressed breast milk last in the fridge? By the time she was done calculating the score, she had practically forgotten he was there.

She looked over at him to find he wasn't paying attention to her happiness about the grade. Hunched over his notebook, he was scribbling in a deep black pencil. It didn't look like writing.

"What are you doing?"

Now it was his time to start. His hand broke away from the page and he lifted his head. "Pardon?"

He could be so English when he wasn't thinking. She had learned that tidbit this afternoon.

"I said, what are you doing? Adding more to those questions?" She stared keenly at the paper, but his arms were covering his work.

Klaus nodded. "Yeah. Have a look," he said. He handed her the notebook. Sure enough, there were lines upon lines beneath the questions.

Caroline returned his notebook, not entirely convinced he hadn't been doing something else. "Good." She checked her phone for the time. "We've got about twenty minutes before we're done here. Enough time to come up with a sleeping and feeding schedule."

"Sounds alright by me. What'll we do about tomorrow's meeting?"

"What do you mean?"

Klaus reached over her things and picked up Ginger's container. He stared at their egg—their baby as the booklet wanted them to call it—through the translucent plastic. "You've got cheerleading again and you've said you won't go back to the Grill with me. . .so what are our options."

The words came out of her before she could tell them to crawl in a hole and die. Maybe it was because he had been so quiet over the last hour. Maybe it was because she was still coming off the high of getting a 98% on that stupid quiz. Whatever the prompting, Caroline found herself saying, "You can just come by my place."

The smirk was on full display. "Excellent plan, love."

What an excellent plan indeed. Over the next forty minutes, through her and Klaus finishing the day's work and Caroline driving home, she kept going over the moment leading up to her blurting that offering. Bonnie would say it was her kind nature showing itself, but Caroline's kind nature had its limits, and Klaus Mikaelson was a limit if there ever was one.

She wondered if it was the altitude. The top of the bleachers was really high. During the quiz, when Klaus was being all quiet, she had started feeling a little funny every time she caught his steel blue eyes on her as he scratched at his notebook. Just a little funny—there was a fluttering in her stomach. A slight haze over the scene.

Caroline pulled the key from the ignition. She sat there, oddly missing her egg-baby, when she saw him out of the corner of her eye, sitting on the steps leading up to her front door.

Fear pricked her skin as she climbed out of her car.

"What do you want?" she asked, approaching the steps with her things in tow.

Tyler stood and walked down to join her on the sidewalk. The sun behind Caroline drenched him in gold. Once, she would have said he looked something like a movie star when the light hit him like that. But she knew who he was now. She knew the demon lurking behind his bronzed flesh.

His cold eyes bore into her. "I saw you talking to Coach Tanner earlier."

Shit.

Caroline's pulse hammered against the skin of her neck. She couldn't swallow, not that she had any saliva in her mouth in the first place.

"I didn't tell him anything, I swear."

She hated this. Hated it. Being the coward never suited her, but in Tyler's presence she transformed into a scared little girl.

And she tried to be brave. She tried so damn hard. But he had too much of her in his fist. One wrong move and he squashed her like a bug.

"You better not have," Tyler hissed. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out his phone. Tapping on the display, he turned it to face Caroline. There, on the screen, was her. Only she looked nothing like the Caroline standing in front of him now. The girl on his phone was naive and underage and naked. "Don't forget that I have this. You tell anyone, and it goes viral. You go viral."

Caroline's eyes seared. Bile slithered up her oesophagus, burning her throat. "I understand," she bit.

"Okay, then." Tyler pocketed his phone. He pushed past her. "See you around, Caroline. Oh, and careful not to pick up any fleas." Laughing sharply at her confused expression, Tyler explained, "Klaus Mikaelson. I hear he's a dog."

Caroline stood there watching Tyler get into his car and drive away, disgusted by his words. He disappeared around the bend. Finally Caroline could breathe again, although the breaths were staggered and shallow.

Inside her home, she collapsed on the sofa. She was too struck to cry tonight. She fixed her eyes on the ceiling instead, the image of her former self, the one on Tyler's cell phone, glaring down at her.

Chapter Text

She paused outside the classroom, ignoring the dramatic groans of her fellow students as they were forced to move around her, and contemplated whether or not she actually wanted to step through the doorway. Speaking as someone who really was not a fan of both her arrogant project partner and her sleazy teacher, the prospect of skiving off—just this class, of course—was somewhat appealing. But speaking as someone who had never, ever missed a class outside of an unavoidable emergency or scheduled appointment, the idea was terrifying. What sort of trouble did people who skipped suffer?

Caroline, evidently, was in no mood to find out.

Sucking up the dread polluting her body, willing away the disturbing, terrifying look that had taken over Tyler's face last night, she reminded herself how lovely she looked in her brand new vintage pink blouse, how perfectly her waves were falling over her shoulders, and pushed through the door.

Unlike on Monday, she was five minutes early. Nobody turned their head when the hinges warbled in protest—half of the seats were still empty. To her left, Tanner was on his knees in front of a television. In any other class, she would be happy to relax and watch a video, but this was health. Whatever film they were going to see could not be very enjoyable. She remembered in seventh grade health when her class was forced to watch a video on puberty. All boys and girls together learning about periods and wet dreams, and it was the most uncomfortable forty-five minutes of her life at the time.

Today's video could be no better based on the subject matter they were covering. She imagined a DVD filled with teen pregnancy horror stories that ended in bloody deaths. Or maybe Tanner would go the simpler route and just force them to watch 16 and Pregnant for the duration of the class period.

Written on the board was a message: Sit with your project partner. Annoyance, though debatably less annoyance than was typical, seeped inside Caroline. She scanned the room and found Klaus sitting where he had been on Monday. Right at the back, the hood of his navy blue jacket covering his eyes, his head crooked to imply he was napping. They were all tired, but who actually slept in class?

Caroline took the seat to Klaus's right and loudly dropped her books on the desk. Beside her, Klaus jerked awake. He sat rigid in his desk. Frantically scanning the room, his wide, smoky blue eyes caught Caroline off guard. He actually looked scared. But in a blink of her eyes his face had resumed its normal arrogant front.

"Are you always so noisy in the morning?" he asked, that damned smirk on full display. He folded his arms on top of the desk like a pillow just in case he couldn't bare to keep his eyes open for too much longer.

"Are you always so narcoleptic in the morning?" she countered.

Klaus sat up straighter. Unfolding his arms, he placed a hand on his chest. "I didn't know you had such foul words in your vocabulary, Miss Forbes."

"What?" Caroline frowned, an unwelcome smile beginning to tug up the corners of her mouth. "Do you even know what narcoleptic means?"

Klaus paused. His smirk fell away. "Is it not the weird and gross sexual attraction to dead bodies?"

"Nope. No, no, no. no," Caroline said, bunching her face in revulsion. "That's necrophilia. Completely different."

"Oh. Then what's it mean to be narcoleptic?" Klaus asked. He sounded somewhat disappointed, though she didn't detect any embarrassment.

Caroline smiled at his ignorance. She wasn't even upset that he had been asleep when she came into the room anymore. His look of pure huh? somehow managed to melt away her automatic emotional response to Klaus's irritating habits. "It's a medical condition. Basically, you can't help falling asleep whenever you're relaxed."

"And you think I've got that?" He was leaning closer to her, his chin resting in the palm of his hand.

Caroline stayed where she was, body turned towards Klaus. Her fingers fussed with the clicker on her pen. "No, I was joking. I was just pointing out that you always seem to be asleep when I get to first period. Even in gym class."

"Can't help noticing, can you, love? Your eyes automatically find me in a crowded room," he said in a low, satisfied hum.

She had not meant that at all. Her eyes did not automatically find him in any room. But that same excitement from the Grill took ahold of her, urging her to play along with his silly game. She found herself warming to this side of Klaus. The playfulness in his eyes was new to her. Matt's were always too kind. Tyler's too menacing.

Caroline's mind blanked on how to respond.

As if sensing her struggle, the final bell clanged. Mr. Tanner clapped his hands and the room instantly stilled. Relieved, Caroline twisted in her chair away from Klaus. A few seconds later, she felt his stare abandon her face; her body relaxed as he did so, which made her wonder why she had been so tense in the first place.

"Movie day, kids," Tanner said, waving the remote control for the television in the air. Caroline looked around the room and saw that the seats were now all filled. "Anyone care to guess what we're watching?"

Half of the room's hands shot up. Tanner picked on them one by one.

"Rosemary's Baby!"

"Three Men and a Baby!"

"A marathon of The Secret Life of the American Teenager?"

"No, no, and definitely not," Tanner said. He raised a DVD case in the air. Wait, it wasn't a DVD—it was a VHS tape. "My Labour and Delivery. You guys are going to get a front row seat to a teenager's painful and lengthy delivery." Several disgruntled students began to protest, but Tanner cut them all off. "No whining. The film's forty-five minutes long. When it's finished, you will all spend the remaining time writing out your own birthing plans. Okay—let's get started."

The movie was disgusting. The poor girl made noises Caroline had only ever heard on nature documentaries. At one point, when the baby began crowning, Caroline thought she might pass out. To see the vagina split like that, and to see a giant head pushing out, and to hear the mother's cries of agony. . .it was enough to make her never want children.

Everyone else was in the same boat. Several people had taken to simply covering their eyes. Others squinted through the gross bits. Tanner sat at his desk, flipping through a magazine.

Caroline's eyes wandered to Klaus whenever the television screen showed something too vile. She noticed he had his journal out again. Charcoal pencils of varying hardness littered his desk. His fingers were covered in black as he sketched wildly, his focus wholly on the page. She couldn't quite see what he was drawing, but she thought she caught a glimpse of a nose at one point.

The video finished with the girl exclaiming she would never have sex again. They cut away before she got to hold her baby, a moment Caroline believed would have made the excruciating labour worthwhile, but the school couldn't have them seeing the love between mother and child. It went against the message they were trying desperately to send.

Tanner switched the lights on and turned off the television. "Your blank birthing plan is in your booklet," he said, collapsing back in his chair. "Work with your partner to write one out based on the information shared in the video. You have forty minutes. Don't waste a single second."

Flipping through the booklet to find the pages covering the birthing plan, Caroline watched Klaus turn to a blank page in his journal. He put away his charcoal pencils in favour of a pen. Glancing up at her, he smirked.

"What did I say, love. You always find me," he said.

Caroline's eyes spun. "Right. It has nothing to do with the fact that we're partners and I sort of have to look at you." She gripped her pen and stared at the template. "Let's get this birthing plan over with."

Digging around in his backpack, Klaus lifted Ginger carefully out and placed her on his desk. "I thought we'd already given birth," he said. "What's the point of writing a birthing plan now? This all seems very out of order."

She tried not to, but she couldn't help herself—Caroline smiled and breathed through a strong urge to laugh. "I'm sure in some cultures it's normal to get your birthing plan written after giving birth," she said, taking the lid off of Ginger's container. Their egg—baby—looked perfectly fine. She had been concerned last night that Klaus would damage it. Returning to the booklet, she said, "Okay, the first things we need to do are fill out our information."

When she had found the birthing plan page, Caroline had not thought it would suck up the remaining half of class. But she had managed to forget that working with Klaus Mikaelson meant everything took longer. He was full of ridiculous questions, most of which had her suppressing the urge to smack him. Some of which, though, had her suppressing more laughter.

They argued over whether or not the delivery would be vaginal or planned caesarean section. She quickly got tired of hearing Klaus say the word vaginal and decided on a C-section just to shut him up about it. The choice of C-section meant Caroline had to check off the Pain Relievers Allowed box. She couldn't imagine someone slicing open her stomach without drugs running through her.

By the time the bell went off, signalling the end of another gruelling health class, Caroline and Klaus cleared their desks and departed the classroom side by side. It felt weird leaving with him next to her. Usually, when he would bump into her during dodgeball or volleyball, she would get this prickly flame up her back. She'd have to stop herself from tackling him. But each time his shoulder brushed hers on the way out the door, those hot pinpricks were a no-show.

In their place was a similar sensation, but much more pleasant. Warm tingles tapped her spine steadily, creeping up to her neck. She wiggled when they were out of the room in an attempt to rid herself of the feeling.

"Are you having some sort of fit?" Klaus asked, watching her shake.

She stopped immediately and straightened. "Nope. No, I'm fine. Just stretching out."

"Okay. . ." He didn't sound entirely sure, but he dropped the subject. "We're still on for your house this afternoon?"

Right. She had forgotten about that. "Of course," she said, starting to walk towards her next class. "4:30. Don't be late."

"You're the one who was late last time, love!" he cried, causing their fellow students to turn their heads and stare at them.

Their faces were alive with fascination. Why was Klaus Mikaelson calling Caroline Forbes love?

Caroline frowned at him across the hall. "Don't call me that," she hissed loudly.

They both turned around at the same time and headed in opposite directions. That warmth was gone, quickly replaced by a chilled resignation that Klaus was always going to be a bit of an ass even if they were getting on better now than on Monday. And practically every day before Monday since they met.

But Klaus Mikaelson in her home? She would have to skip a shower after practice and run home to clean. Prepare snacks.

She was almost excited about the prospect. Mostly she was terrified, but she would focus on the excitement instead. It was probably better for the health of her heart.

Caroline marvelled at the layout in the kitchen—hummus and warmed pita bread, water with lemon slices, two bowls of different types of crisps—and smiled. It looked alright. It looked better than alright actually, but she had been told from a young age to not be so self-satisfied. There was space on the island for them to sit and spread out their things without having to be too close. She had even set up a spot for Ginger in a little nest.

Damn good work for only twenty minutes.

"Are you even listening?"

Startling, Caroline remembered the phone pressed to her ear. "Um. . .yes?" she said. Bonnie hated it when people didn't pay attention during a call.

"I said, the grill is weird without you," Bonnie repeated.

"Are they there?" Caroline asked, knowing she shouldn't have. But curiosity was in her nature.

"Yes. And they're disgusting," Bonnie said. "We're refusing to sit with the footballers. We're on your side, Care."

"How many are actually not sitting with them?"

Bonnie took a moment to respond. "Three," she said quietly.

It didn't surprise Caroline. No one knew the story—even Bonnie knew only part of it—and it wasn't shocking that a football star like Tyler would bounce back from a breakup so soon.

She couldn't blame her fellow cheerleaders for not wanting to go on strike with Bonnie. Tyler wasn't the only player on the team after all. Lots of the girls either had crushes on the other guys or were dating them.

Caroline checked the clock hanging in the kitchen. It was almost 4:30. "Bon, I gotta go. Klaus is coming by soon."

"How's that going by the way?" Bonnie asked in a hushed voice, as if she was scared of the crowd hearing Klaus's name. "Someone said they saw you guys laughing in the hall this morning. Someone else said you guys were professing your love for each other."

Had she been laughing with Klaus in the hall that morning? She remembered leaving class with him. She remembered that eerie warmth. "That's ridiculous. Neither of us professed anything. It's going fine. We're getting along."

"Getting along?"

"Yeah. When he's not being a dick, he's actually kind of funny. And he's a good distraction from all of the Tyler stuff."

"Care, you don't. . .like him, do you?"

Caroline blanched. The pita bread she had just been about to eat fell out of her hand. "What? No," she said quickly. "No. He's. . .he's Klaus."

"Okay, okay. I only ask because you've got that—what's that word? Timbre?—in your voice. I recognise it from when you and Tyler first started hanging out."

"Well, there is no timbre to my voice. We're partners for this stupid project and the second it's over, we'll go back to pretending the other doesn't exist," Caroline said.

"Just be careful, Caroline," Bonnie whispered.

She had a good best friend. "I will be," she promised. "I gotta go, Bon. Enjoy the Grill."

The two hung up, and in the silence Caroline started going over what Bonnie had said.

Timbre? What did having a timbre in her voice even mean?

Apparently it meant that she was drooling over Klaus, which she wasn't. At all. No way in hell was that happening.

Klaus was. . .well, he was Klaus. The weird loner nobody quite understood, and whose aloofness led others to be afraid of him. And it was that fear that led to all of those rumours spreading about him, some of which had to be true. He was their very own John Bender.

But she was not Claire Standish.

Minutes into her internal meltdown over Bonnie's comments, the doorbell rang. Caroline pushed aside what her friend had said—she was so good at pushing things aside—and welcomed Klaus to her home.

"Very nice place," he said upon entering. "Very tidy."

"Thanks," she said, surprised by the compliment. "I love to clean."

He scoffed, but not unkindly. "Of course you do."

They stared at each other a moment, eyes locked, neither one moving. Caroline took in the grey-green shadows under his eyes. The frown lines between his eyebrows.

"We're, uh, we're in the kitchen," she said, catching herself before things got too awkward. Push, push, push, she reminded herself.

Klaus followed her into the kitchen and sat where she told him to. He immediately went for the salt and vinegar crisps. "They taste almost as good as back home," he said.

Sitting beside him with her books laid out in front of her, Caroline took some crisps for herself. "You've got better ones at home? Which ones are they? Salt and vinegar are my favourite."

Klaus turned his face towards her. "I meant England," he said. Then he frowned. "Caroline Forbes likes salt and vinegar crisps? I thought cheerleaders weren't allowed to eat this crap?"

"We are. Everything's okay in moderation," she said, swallowing the last of her handful. Caroline pointed to his bag. "Get your things out. I'd like to get this over with."

"Yes, sir." Klaus unzipped his backpack and retrieved his notebooks. Lastly, he pulled out Ginger and they placed her gently on the bed Caroline had made. "How long did you work on this?"

"Not too long. Five minutes," she said, avoiding Klaus's stare. Those tingles started returning and she wasn't happy. "Come on, we really do need to start. Today's stuff is all about birth complications and how to spot and/or avoid them."

Caroline took none of Klaus's antics that evening. He soon gave up trying to distract her. Somehow, they finished with fifteen minutes to spare.

"Do you miss England?" Caroline asked as she tidied up the crumbs on the island.

Klaus tilted his head, as if he was surprised she had asked such a personal question. "Yeah. A lot, actually. Out of all of us, I was the one most reluctant to move here."

Wait. "All of us?" Caroline said as she walked to the bin. She stared at him across the counter. "You have siblings?"

"Just one. A younger sister, Rebekah. She was only four when we left London, so she had no say in the matter anyway. She was just excited to get on an airplane."

Klaus Mikaelson had a younger sister ten years his junior. Caroline wondered if she was the only person at Mystic Falls High to learn this information.

"Do you like her?" she asked, returning to her seat. She had swivelled the stool around, as had Klaus. Their knees almost touched.

"Sometimes. When she isn't being a little brat."

"Learning from the best, is she?"

And then it happened. Klaus—hardened Klaus, the freak of the school—smiled. His lips stretched wide, revealing perfectly straight and white teeth. His head went down a fraction, like he was embarrassed to have such a reaction. She had seen the smirk a thousand and one times, but this was definitely something special.

God, he looked so different. Happiness suited him.

When he lifted his head, remnants of the smile were still there. His eyes were crinkled. His cheeks were slightly strained.

Checking the time on his phone, he began gathering his things. "I'd love to sit and chat more about my quirky family, but I actually have to pick up Rebekah from a friend's house." He hopped down from the stool.

Caroline followed his lead. She stepped ahead of him when he had zipped his bag and headed for the front door, swearing she could feel Klaus's eyes on the back of her head.

"You know, we can meet at my place tomorrow," Klaus said, stepping aside to allow Caroline to open the door.

The invitation shocked her. "Um, yeah. That sounds good," she said airily, the corners of her mouth lifting as Klaus exited her house. Timbre, said a voice in her head.

He bid her farewell, his mouth still poised for another smile, and Caroline waited, watching him climb inside his car and set up his music. He drove off into the lowering sun that set the turning leaves on fire.

Caroline remembered last night. Looking after Tyler as he sped away from her, her blood curdling. This felt so different to then. So much nicer.

Returning to her house, Caroline locked the door and pressed her back against the wood. She felt her cheeks. Warm.

Oh, Christ, what if Bonnie was right?

Chapter Text

Early bird that she was, Caroline rolled out of bed the next morning at 6:00, ready for a good day. Begging for a good day. Yesterday had gone smoothly, somehow, but that didn't mean anything. Based on how the week was going so far, she was more likely to suffer than not. And it was difficult to focus on the positives when her sleep was constantly disrupted by nightmares. The kind of nightmares that felt so real, she woke up in a sweat, swearing he was standing in her bedroom, his black eyes glowing and his sharp teeth bared.

Caroline shivered as she stared at herself in the mirror on her bathroom cupboard door. She was usually confident enough to believe she was stunning with and without makeup, but this morning her under-eyes were particularly dark and puffy, and they made her whole face look sunken. Near-constant nightmares would do that.

She switched on the shower and pulled at her cheeks, waiting for the water to heat up. "It will be a good day," she said to her reflection. "You will put on some makeup, you will put on a pretty top, and you will kick ass."

Steam poured through the shower curtain. Assured it was hot enough—Caroline needed melt-your-flesh-off hot—she stripped herself of her PJs and stepped inside. The water hit her like a boiling waterfall. Instantly, she felt the fierce heat purging her body of all of the toxic thoughts and feelings swarming around inside. Bit by bit, fragmented images of Tyler's wicked face faded until she was left with only the unsettling feelings his presence, phantom or otherwise, inspired.

As the remnants of her nightmares dimmed, Caroline found an almost equally troubling picture making itself a comfortable home in her mind.

Klaus. Sitting in her kitchen, his bronzed curls mussed and out of place, his mouth pulled up in a way Caroline had never before witnessed. His blue eyes turning to slits not because he was scowling at her, but because he was smiling at her.

The shower's temperature suddenly was too much for Caroline to bear. Satisfied her conditioner had washed out completely, she turned the knobs. She stood in the bathtub and stared at the white-tiled wall in front of her, watching drops of water swirl through the grout. Bonnie's voice was in her ear.

You don't like him, do you?

Damn itBonnie!

Caroline slapped the wall and ripped open the shower curtain. Running a fluffy towel over her body until she was relatively dry, she wiped at the fogged mirror and looked sternly at herself.

"You do not like Klaus," she said warningly. "One smile does not a nice guy make, and you are not mixing yourself up with him. Not now, not ever."

She carried on with the rest of her morning routine in an angry huff. Her face was red from how aggressively she applied her moisturiser, but she quickly covered it up with a layer of foundation. Underneath her eyes, she spread concealer and dabbed it out roughly with a sponge, pausing every few beats when she accidentally jabbed herself in the eye.

Standing in front of her closet, her towel still wrapped around her, Caroline thumbed through her wardrobe. It was a chillier morning. Signs that autumn was there to stay were all around, and she would have to dress accordingly. Her hand reached for a cream coloured lacy peplum top. A gift from her mom last Christmas. She knew it was expensive. Her eyes had caught the Anthropologie gift receipt when she unwrapped the present.

But she also knew she wouldn't be allowed to wear it. Tyler had this weird thing about her wearing shirts that weren't skintight. He liked to just reach out and grab her waist. He didn't want to have to deal with all of the extra fabric.

Resolutely, Caroline took the shirt off of its hanger and stood in front of her mirror, holding the shirt up to her body. Her mom had good taste—the top was beautiful.

Caroline paired it with some maroon jeans and inspected herself, satisfied that she looked alluring enough to catch the attention of her classmates, but elegant enough that if she suddenly had to meet the Queen, she wouldn't ask why Caroline was dressed so alarmingly bare.

Lazily, her hand stroking the lace, Caroline wondered if Klaus liked shirts that circled out like this one did. If he would like this shirt on her.

Then she paused and shook her head aggressively, mystified by the thought that just entered her head. Clearly, her pep talks were not working.

She stepped closer to the mirror and frowned at her tired face. "Stop it," she urged. "Don't make me do anything drastic. Klaus is off limits."

God, she was going insane. Talking to her reflection, seeing Tyler lurking where he most certainly wasn't, wondering if Klaus would like the shirt she was wearing.

She contemplated changing, but when she came out of her room for breakfast and her mom caught sight of her wearing the top, she knew she had to keep it on.

"You look beautiful," she said, pinning her Sheriff's badge on to her beige button-up. "I always wondered where that shirt ended up."

Caroline smiled guiltily. "I completely forgot I had it," she lied.

So many lies.

Wrapping her Batman belt around her waist, Elizabeth Forbes took her keys off of the counter and leaned back against the kitchen sink. "I've got five minutes," she said. "I feel like we haven't seen each other for weeks. Tell me how school's going."

"School's fine. Long," Caroline said.

"Any big assignments yet? It's junior year. I know they like to pile up on you guys."

"I've got one big project for health."

"The egg thing?"

An ounce of guilt slipped from Caroline's smile. "The egg thing."

"Who's your partner? Is Tyler in your class? I can't remember."

Caroline's breath faltered. She swallowed a hot gulp of air. "Um," she said, "Tyler and I actually broke up," she said tightly.

Her mother's face fell. "Oh, sweetheart," she said, and all Caroline could hear was Klaus's voice calling her that the first day of health, "I'm so sorry." She came around the island and gave Caroline a hug. Her gun dug into Caroline's hip bone. "Why didn't you tell me when it happened?"

Caroline broke free from her mom's arms, sure now that she wasn't going to cry. That she wasn't going to tell her mother the truth. Tanner knowing would be bad. Her mother, the sheriff, knowing would be the worst.

Caroline shrugged. "It's like you said, we haven't really been on the same schedule."

"Are you feeling okay?" Her mom touched her cheek affectionately.

"I'm fine, Mom, really. It was time for us to break up." It was way past time for them to split, but she couldn't say that out loud. She saw her mom's eyes move to the clock on the oven behind Caroline. "You've got to go. Don't worry about me. Worry about keeping Mystic Falls' streets safe."

Her mom left thirty minutes before Caroline had to, and she spent the remaining time of her morning forcing herself to eat a bowl of cereal and making sure she had all of her homework ready. By the time she pulled into the student parking lot, her blood poisoned with caffeine, she had stopped thinking about Klaus and health and her shirt.

In fact, she was doing her best to think about nothing. Nothing at all except getting through the day without a hitch. If she smiled enough and pretended enough, maybe her overworked brain would start believing things were perfectly fine. Normal, even.

And she got lucky for the majority of the day. She pushed, pushed, pushed. Onward and outward. She spoke up in class. She fluttered her hair behind her shoulder, smiling at her teachers when they applauded her responses. She thanked the couple of people in the halls who complemented her top, telling them where she got it and who she got it from.

Caroline was good at pushing.

Between third and fourth period, Caroline made a quick escape from the giant mass of students to the toilet. She had only seven minutes remaining when she flushed and exited the stall. Focused on the sink ahead of her, she didn't notice the figure standing, looming, by the door until she heard someone clear their throat. Her head whipped around.

Hayley. Gorgeous, tall, skinny Hayley with designer clothes and arched eyebrows that made her look like she was constantly judging you.

Which she was.

The sound she made to get Caroline's attention reminded her of how Harry Potter described Professor Umbridge. High-pitched and nasally and so, so shrill.

Caroline switched off the tap and snagged a paper towel. Hayley tapped her foot as she waited.

"So—" Caroline started, but Hayley clearly had other plans. Other very rehearsed plans.

She put up a long, bony hand and said, "Stop. I don't want to hear your annoying little voice."

"My annoying little voice?" Caroline said. "Are you one of those American Idol contestants who gets humiliated on national television because everyone they love has lied to them all of their lives about how horrible their voice is?"

Hayley's mouth dropped open a half-centimetre. She gathered herself and it snapped shut. "I see you've got a backbone then. It's only when you talk to my boyfriend that you turn into a spineless bitch, huh?"

A chill ran up Caroline's definitely-there spine. "If you're here to talk about Tyler, you're wasting your breath. I don't want to hear what you have to say."

Caroline made to leave. She chucked the sopping paper towel in the bin and moved closer to the door, but Hayley stood her annoyingly tall ground.

Glaring up at her, Caroline took a step back. "What could you possible want to say to me about Tyler? Are you worried I want him back? Because let me assure you, I. Do. Not."

"They all say that."

"All?"

Hayley rolled her elegant eyes. "All ex-girlfriends," she clarified. "They all say they don't want their boyfriends back, especially the ones who got dumped, but it's not true. You can't help but still want them."

This was how Caroline knew Tyler hadn't given Hayley the whole story. How she knew Tyler wasn't brave enough or trusting enough to let slip about the photograph. Because Hayley thought the reason Tyler and Caroline broke up was all down to her.

God, just thinking about that photo made Caroline's blood bubble and pop.

She had to keep a clear head. If she didn't, Hayley would win whatever battle they were fighting.

But it was hard. Each time she closed her eyes, all she could see was Tyler the night of her birthday standing in her bedroom with that photograph pulled up on his phone. All she could hear were the threats he made. The threats made using his voice, the voice that once brought her such calm and happiness. The voice that guided her through their first date, their first kiss. Their first time.

"He didn't break up with me," Caroline said, her jaw tight. It would hurt later, but she couldn't get it to relax. "Is that what you think, that he came over that night to dump me?"

Hayley stuck her upturned nose at her. "I know he did."

"Right," she huffed, "and you don't think dumped him the second I caught you two naked on his living room floor? You think he had to pull out of you, get dressed, drive all the way to my house, and end things with me?" She was on the verge of shouting, but her clamped jaw wouldn't let it happen. "You think that's what happened?"

"He said you begged him to take you back. He said that you told him you'd do better. You'd do more. But of course he already had more. He had me."

Caroline's throat burned. Her eyes stung.

The bastard. The evil, pathetic bastard.

"Get out of my way," Caroline said, pushing Hayley aside. Toothpick that she was, Hayley stumbled with the lightest touch. Caroline shoved the bathroom door open.

"It's over between you two. I just thought I should remind you," Hayley said as the door swung closed.

Caroline twisted her neck. "You're wasting your breath," she mumbled again, not paying attention to where she was going. The hallways were practically empty anyway.

Practically.

Caroline heard the door shut and tried returning her bleary focus to the surrounding area, but it was too late. She crashed into someone coming the other way. Had their hands not coiled around her arms, she would have collapsed backwards.

Panting, her eyes swelling with tears, Caroline looked up at her saviour.

"Klaus," she gasped. She knew she must look a right mess. Her face was probably blotchy. Her mascara was probably running. Her hair most definitely was not as sleek and perfectly waved as when she entered that cursed bathroom.

But Klaus's eyes didn't seem to take any of that in. He frowned, confused by her sudden appearance, and kept his gaze trained on hers. "Is everything alright?" he asked, and Caroline thought she heard genuine concern in his voice.

Timbre.

"I'm fine," she said. She concentrated on her breathing. It took a few shaky breaths, but eventually she was able to repeat herself without sounding crazed. "I'm fine."

Straightening, she pulled her arms from Klaus's grip. She heard the bathroom door open again and watched Klaus follow Hayley's swaying figure. With each click of her heels, Klaus's stare increasingly hardened until she was convinced he was trying to turn the future Victoria's Secret model into a statue.

When the clicks disappeared, Klaus went back to observing Caroline. "You don't look fine," he said gruffly.

"Well, I am."

"Well, I don't believe you," he argued.

"You don't have to, but it's the truth. I'm late for class." She moved around Klaus, her hand rubbing the reddening spot on her arm where his fingers dug into her.

"We're still on for today at mine, yeah?" Klaus said just before she turned a corner.

She paused and looked back at him. He smirked at her. "I'll be there by 4:00."

The house was larger than Caroline had anticipated. It wasn't huge. Not like Tyler's place. But it was a lot bigger than Caroline's two-bedroom. It was the lone house down a gravel road near the outskirts of town. Surrounded by sunset-coloured trees, the black shutters made the house look like it didn't belong in such a pretty place.

Caroline drove up the circular driveway, in the centre of which was a fountain that wasn't turned on. There were no other cars aside from Klaus's. She put her car in park and attempted to prepare herself for the next hour.

"You can do this," she said, killing the sputtering engine. Her whole pushing thing hadn't worked as well as she wanted it to. During her last period, she couldn't stop staring at Klaus's fingerprints on her arms. They had barely faded. It was as if he'd burned his mark into her skin. "It's just sixty minutes, then you can run home and watch bad rom-coms and forget he ever touched you."

Opening the door, she grabbed her things and walked towards the eerie house. She didn't have to wait long after she'd rung the doorbell. She heard light footsteps and a moment later a small blond child stuck her head through the door.

She surveyed Caroline reproachfully, scowling. "Who are you?"

"I'm, uh, Caroline. Is Klaus home?"

"What do you want with my brother?"

So this was Rebekah. Feisty Rebekah. "We've got a date—" Shit, no they don'tWrong fucking word choice, CarolineNice jobFucking Freudian slipDamn it, Bonnie. "—I mean, we've, uh. . .we're partners. For a project. And we have a scheduled meeting so we can work on that project." She winced as she finally managed to shut herself up.

Rebekah smiled at her. Grinned at her. Not in a teasing way, but a pure, seven-year-old way. Her blue eyes sparkled mischievously. "Come in." She reached for Caroline's free hand—the one not holding tight to Ginger's container—and pulled her inside. "Nik's just upstairs showering."

"Showering. . ." Caroline said, taking in the entryway.

Directly in front of her was a table decorated with a magnificent plant whose leaves shot upwards like spikes. Beyond the freaky plant was a spiralling staircase coated in a glossy black sheen. To the left, a gothic kitchen breathed out the scent of freshly baked bread—do all English people make their own bread?—and to the right, a glorious, high-ceilinged lounge area with plenty of black leather sofas and a black mantel encasing a black-wood gas fireplace.

"My mum loves the colour black," Rebekah said.

"Does she?" Caroline said, spotting a black door next to the kitchen's doorway. "I hadn't noticed."

"You're funny. Come with me."

Rebekah dragged her into the lounge. They sat side by side on the sofa nearest the fireplace. Caroline noticed there was no TV in the room. But there was a giant chandelier hanging right above her head made from black shards of glass.

Caroline swallowed, wondering if she had just entered the Addams Family home. Or the When A Stranger Calls home. Or a mixture of the two.

"So, are you Klaus's girlfriend?"

Caroline saw white. She blinked, gaping at the little girl sitting cross-legged next to her. "No," she said forcefully. Rebekah's hair rippled out as the word reached her. "Just his partner for a project."

Looking slightly disappointed, Rebekah said, "Are you the one he keeps complaining about? The cheerleader?"

Klaus talked about her to his family?

Not the point, CarolineSo not the point.

"Um, yeah, that's me. The cheerleader Klaus complains about."

Rebekah nodded sagely. She tapped her chin, that grin returning in full force. "He likes you," she said bluntly.

Caroline forced out a laugh. "What? You just said yourself that all he does is complain about me!"

"Yeah, but I can tell he likes you. He complains, but his heart's not really in it. And every time he mentions you, his eyes get a little brighter. I don't remember seeing them so bright."

"I think you're confused—"

"Do you like him?"

"No. . .I mean, he's fine. I don't hate him—"

"I think you like him too," Rebekah interrupted.

This was Caroline's hell. Her perfectly designed hell: A small child insisting she and Klaus Mikaelson liked each other.

"Rebekah, who are you talking to?"

Caroline's eyes nearly went to the back of her skull when she heard Klaus's voice coming from the foyer. She felt like she had just participated in and won a triathlon.

Squealing, Rebekah shot off of the sofa and charged into the entryway. Seconds later, she returned with Klaus in tow.

Remaining where she sat, Caroline watched Klaus laugh brightly as his sister clung to him like a monkey. His damp hair—shower—looked darker than usual. The curls were thicker.

And he'd trimmed his beard back to a fine stubble.

What would it feel like to run her fingers across his jaw. . .?

"Caroline."

Caroline startled at the sound of her name. Klaus stared at her, surprised, clearly, to see her sitting on a sofa in his house.

She stood up. Too fast. The blood rushed to her head. Stars danced around the room. "Hi," she said. "Love the house. Very. . .something."

"Very something?" Klaus asked, displacing Rebekah and walking towards her. She stood her ground. "You're usually much more eloquent than that."

"I don't think words can truly describe the layout of this house."

Klaus nodded. The giddy smile from earlier was gone. In its place was the flashing smirk she knew by heart. "My sister wasn't bothering you, was she?"

Act cool, Caroline, she chided inwardly. "Oh, you know, she was telling me about all of the times my name comes out of your mouth in conversation."

"Was she now?" he said, scowling at his sister. She hid behind Klaus, pawing at the back pockets of his jeans. "I only ever talk about you to say how horrid this partnership has been. Have no fear, love."

"Don't call me that," came her automatic reply.

His smirk widened. "Look, Bekah, I've got to take this annoying girl downstairs so we can work on our project. Think you can get started on your homework?" Rebekah nodded. "And do you think you can go the whole hour Caroline will be here without disrupting us?" She nodded again. Klaus turned to Caroline. His wet eyelashes made his eyes look extra like the ocean. "Good. Come on, then. We're in the basement."

Rebekah went upstairs, Caroline and Klaus went downstairs. She followed behind him as he led her down carpeted steps to an open room. Scattered about the floor were several pieces of unfinished paintings and drawings. Leaving her on the bottom step, he spent a few seconds gathering them up and depositing them on his desk.

She watched him move about, taking in what could be nothing else other than Klaus Mikaelson's bedroom. His blue walls surprised her. As did the forest green bedspread. She expected his room to match the main level.

But she could hardly focus on everything around her, because she, Caroline Forbes, was in Klaus Mikaelson's bedroom.

It was like she had crossed over enemy lines. Been seduced by the dark side.

"All done," Klaus said, wiping his hands on his jeans.

Caroline hopped down the final step. "Nice place. You must love the solitude."

"I was very lucky that Mum let me have the basement all to myself."

"Suits your vampire ways, does it?"

"My vampire ways?"

Caroline walked to the desk and put Ginger down. Buried in the stack of drawings, Caroline thought she caught a glimpse of what looked to be the skirt of her unlucky blue dress, but Klaus snatched the pile away and stuffed them inside a desk drawer before she could take a closer look.

He leaned against the desk, trying to look casual. And people trying to look casual never actually looked casual.

What was he hiding?

"Yeah," she said, playing along. "You strike me as the up-all-night, prey-on-innocent-girls, refuse-to-step-into-the-sun type. You know, like a vampire."

"You're not very innocent," he said.

Caroline's eyebrows went up. Then they dropped low. "Are you preying on me?"

Realising what he just said, Klaus backed away. "No, no, of course not. Let's just get this damned thing over with. What's the book got us doing today?"

Deciding it was better to ignore what Klaus insinuated than to poke the bear, Caroline unzipped her backpack and dug around for the project booklet, hoping her hair hid the flush of her cheeks.

"Okay," she said, flipping to the designated page. "Today is all about postpartum complications. Fun."

"What sort of complications?" Klaus came up behind her. He smelled like body wash. Or maybe shampoo. Probably both. Guys had that thing where they couldn't use more than one bottle for all of their showering needs, right? Otherwise their masculinity card was taken away? Either way, he smelled like spiced apples and citrus. "Dear, God, what the hell is that?"

Caroline almost dropped the booklet. Her eyes swerved over the page, trying to see what Klaus was pointing at. When she found the image, she did drop the booklet. "Oh, my God, that's gross. That's gross. Why would they put that in there?"

"Seriously, what was that?" Klaus said.

"A stitched-up perennial area," Caroline said, swallowing a gag. She dipped her head and refused to turn around.

"What is the perennial area?"

"Please don't make me say it."

"I'll look it up if you don't tell me."

"Don't do that," Caroline said, spinning to face Klaus. "They'll just show you more photos."

Klaus had his phone out. "Then you tell me."

"Fine," Caroline huffed. "It's the space between the vagina and the rectum that often splits during vaginal delivery. They have to sew it up. And that's what that photograph was depicting."

Klaus's face screwed. His nose crinkled. His eyebrows met above his nose. Cute. "Why the fuck are they showing us photographs of that?"

"I guess to show people what having a baby does to your body. I mean, what guy is gonna wanna nail the chick with the perennial stitches, right?"

"Right. I feel like we should complain to the school that this project is doing more harm than good," Klaus said, a hint of his smirk returning.

"They wouldn't listen."

"No, they wouldn't." The smirk was fully there now, and it even looked as though the other side of his mouth wanted in on the fun, but Klaus stubbornly refused its request. "Let's put a Post-it over that picture and start this again. I'll go up and grab another chair. Stay here," he said, retreating up the stairs. "And don't look through any of my things!"

"I wouldn't dare invade your privacy like that!" she responded.

When she heard Klaus's footsteps above her, she sat and smacked her head into the desk.

There was too much banter. Too much eye contact. Too much noticing how he smelled. And Rebekah's words from earlier wouldn't stop buzzing inside of her ear.

Had Tyler broken her so badly that she completely forgot how to distinguish between good and bad?

Not flirting with Klaus. Good.

Flirting with Klaus, wanting to run her fingers through his damp curls, wishing she could wrap herself up in his forest green sheets. Badbadbad.

What the fuck was wrong with her?

No.

Why was she so against liking Klaus? He'd already proven there was more to him than those horrible rumours said. More than scowls and smirks and black clothing.

He had been surprisingly nice to her.

He was even concerned about her this morning.

Fucking Breakfast Club.

One smile and she willingly gave herself the role of Claire Standish.

Voices from upstairs managed to pull Caroline from her internal meltdown. She frowned, not recognising the voice duelling Klaus's. Because that's what was clearly happening. A fight. A duel. Anger drifted down the stairs, heating up the room. Her natural curiosity taking over, Caroline snuck up the steps. The door was cracked. Peeking through, she got a view of the entryway.

She saw Klaus immediately.

Your eyes automatically find me in a crowded room.

Beside him, dressed in an untucked, unbuttoned shirt and slacks, was a man Caroline had never before seen. He held tight to a bottle of dark liquid. He swayed on the spot. His eyes bulged.

It must be Mr. Mikaelson. Unless this was a home invasion gone wrong.

"You're a waste," he said—slurred. "Should've left you in London."

Klaus didn't flinch. "Go back upstairs. And don't even think about going to Rebekah's room."

"You're useless," Mr. Mikaelson shouted, his closed hand knocking against Klaus's ribs.

Caroline shut her eyes, her heart pounding inside of her throat. She scrambled down to the basement. Back at Klaus's desk, she swung her head, trying to shake away the picture of Klaus's drunken father striking him. But it wouldn't go. It blended with Tyler's face, and by the time the door to the basement slammed shut, Caroline was struggling to stop herself from crying.

She never used to cry this much. She used to be strong. Unbreakable. Then Tyler had to do his best to prove that she was just like every other human being—fragile.

The flooring was carpet, so Caroline didn't hear Klaus when he reappeared. She felt him.

"Ready to get started?" he said, sounding oddly chipper.

Caroline rotated the swivel chair. She smiled tensely. "Yes. Let's talk some more about perennial stitches."

Placing the extra chair beside her, Klaus sat and grabbed his notebook from the same drawer he stuffed the drawings. And they got to work. There was no mention of the argument. No mention of Caroline's interaction with Hayley or Rebekah. No mention of her vampire comment, or of what followed her vampire comment. They worked for well over an hour filling out various quizzes and reading aloud the many, many issues that arose following birth.

When they were finished, Caroline was hoarse from speaking so much. And she was that much closer to deciding she never wanted to give birth. She packed her things while Klaus observed Ginger's paint job.

"I'll walk you out," he said, standing when she did.

"Thanks," she rasped.

He almost smiled at her. The sides of his mouth twitched. But instead he looked down and led her back up the stairs.

A dark sky met them as they exited the house. Klaus flipped on the porch light, but it didn't help much.

"Thanks," she said, "for inviting me to your lovely home."

"Oh, so it's lovely now? Not just something," he teased.

Bathed in the yellow artificial light, Klaus's face suddenly melted into weariness. Yesterday, when she woke him up in class. . .the terrified look in his eyes. It made sense to her now. All of the in-class naps. The biting anger. The cruel jokes thrown her way.

She couldn't keep looking at him. Caroline bid goodnight and walked to her car. Behind her, the door to Klaus's home closed.

She sat in her car for a minute and willed herself not to cry. If she started now, she wouldn't stop, and driving with tears blurring her vision was a bad idea. Eventually, the wave of sadness passed to the back of her mind. It would stay there with all of the other unexpressed emotions until she let it out.

"Good," she said, sticking the key in the ignition. "Now let's go home."

But the car didn't start. The engine screamed and she yanked the key out with shaking fingers.

"Don't do this to me," she threatened. "Don't."

It did it again.

Caroline groaned. She looked at the house. The porch light still shone.

It wasn't like she had much of a choice.

Climbing out, she went to the front door and knocked.

"Miss me already, love?" Klaus said upon opening the door. He must have seen her through the peephole.

"Car won't start," she explained.

Pressing his lips together and nodding, Klaus retreated from the doorway. He returned a moment later, pushing past Caroline and beckoning her to follow. "Come on, then."

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Home." He lifted his hand. His keys jingled. Pressing a button on the remote, the lights on his car flashed.

Caroline didn't argue. She got inside Klaus's car and buckled herself in. He started the engine, which purred as it came to life.

They drove in silence. Heat from the vents warmed Caroline's bare arms. She kept her eyes forward, directing Klaus when needed. She pretended not to notice when she felt his eyes on her. It was easier that way.

She didn't live far from Klaus. Nowhere in Mystic Falls was far away from anything other than actual civilisation. They pulled up to her house within ten minutes, and Caroline spent a moment making sure she had everything before she reached for the door handle.

"Thank—"

"Did you hear my dad?" Klaus said.

Caroline sat back against the seat. She turned her head and found Klaus glaring at her. "Only a little," she said.

"I'm sorry. He's not been himself lately. He just lost his job and he's not used to staying at home all day."

"Don't worry about it," she said, swallowing around the lump in her throat. She cracked a weak smile. "I get it. Tomorrow, we can work here instead. How's that?"

"I like your house," he said, his gaze softening the smallest amount. "I especially like the snacks you put out."

"I'll grab some more pita bread and hummus on the way home tomorrow," Caroline laughed, reaching again for the handle.

"Goodnight, Caroline," Klaus whispered.

It was the second time he'd used her real name that day. Caroline's smile grew a little stronger. "Goodnight, Klaus."