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Does forever work for you?

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Caroline doesn’t stay by the graveside after the funeral, like they do in the movies. Nor does she lead a procession of townsfolk made up of her friends, her mom’s colleagues, town officials and elders back to her now empty house for cucumber sandwiches and awkward silences. She shrugs off the suffocating weight of Stefan’s hand on her shoulders, Elena’s sorrowful, knowledgeable eyes and even Enzo’s clenched jaw slips away not really paying attention to where she’s wandering until she finds herself ambling through the Forest.

Once upon a time, this would have been unthinkable, taking this route to the Falls, the tales of childhood haunting her thoughts but now she finds it comforting.

She’s scarier than anything else in these woods.

If you go down to the woods today….

By the time Caroline reaches the Falls, she feels like she should be scared by her lack of response to the whole ordeal when hear she is, finally alone without needing a mask for anyone – with no need to bright, bubbly, persevering Caroline, the opportunity to scream, to literally knock down as many trees as she needs to let the rage out and she just feels…calm. As if she’d turned off her humanity without knowing it. Except, that’s a lie because the ache and the rage and the sheer sweltering grief that she is the last Forbes in Mystic Falls, the last one there ever will be, is still there. But here, she can pretend she’s the only person in the world. The thundering of the water, tearing into the rock face is the only company she needs.

Well, almost all.

She hears him, of course, before she sees him, or even catches the traitorously familiar scent of him. Klaus walks calmly to where she’s sitting, now bare feet dangling over the side of the cliff, ruining her best mourning dress. And why is it normal for her to have a best mourning dress, in this tiny town in Virginia? Why is now normal that she is dead and her best friends are dead, or witches or dopplegangers or wolves? And that’s another thing, how can her mother be dead permanently? Death isn’t permanent, as Caroline, and Elena and Bonnie and nearly everyone else they know is living proof?

Why can’t she stumble across Liz, in the wideness of this world, or the other side or any other dimension there must be?

The questions choke her, blind her, but still, of course, of course, Caroline feels Klaus sit next to her, wordless dirtying whatever designer suit he’s wearing. His forefinger grazes against her skin, and maybe it’s a mistake, or maybe it’s a request, Caroline doesn’t know and finds she doesn’t care as she seizes his hand and clings to it, entwining their fingers together in a way she couldn’t stand with the others, in a way she would never normally allow.

And Klaus, insensible, evil, needling, worldly, perfect, understanding Klaus just lets her.

“I’m sorry I missed the funeral Caroline” and of course, his tone is achingly sincere, God damn him, because for reasons she’s never been able to understand, he actually cares what she thinks. Worse still Klaus already knows what she thinks and adjusts his behaviour accordingly. Why is it that out of everyone, the person who loves her best is a 1,000 year old murderous monster?

Ah, but there’s a question Caroline does know the answer to.

Because she’s a murderous monster too. She just doesn’t have the mileage yet.

“I killed her. I killed my Mom” Caroline tells the water, rather than him. She’d rather see the judgement reflected back in her own face, than his. Klaus didn’t lie under the guise of friendship, that a mistake once made meant atonement was the lesson, rather than the mistake being a lesson in itself.

Klaus opens his mouth to object “I thought-“ and there’s an aftertaste of annoyance in his tone, that his information is wrong, that his informants or Stefan or whoever told him Liz was dead had gotten it wrong.

“I gave her my blood to cure the cancer” Caroline currently, the words tripping over themselves in her effort to confess. Although why she’s guilty of confessing her actions to Klaus Mikaelson of all people, whose name is drenched in blood, is anyone’s guess. “I was wrong, ergo –“ and God, she’s actually going to cry after all. She’d been doing so well. Holding it together in front of Enzo and everything.

“Ergo,” and this time it’s Klaus’ turn to interrupt, turning bodily to face her, those stormy eyes burning into the side of her face as he tries to catch her eye “You tried to save her”. Caroline just keeps staring out at the water, glad that they both ignore the way her nails are becoming wet with his blood from where they’re digging into the back of his hand.

“Love, I know something about matricide. I killed my mother. On purpose. Three times. When I was as young as you, I ripped her heart from her chest in this very place.” He reaches out with his spare hand and gently cups Caroline’s chin, tilting it towards him so that she has to look at him. She’d forgotten that he had done that.

“You utilised what is traditionally a resource for healing in a noble attempt to save your family. No-one can fault you for that.”

Caroline feels the last bit of reserve, the sharp assurances she’s been saving up for when she inevitably gets ambushed on her doorstep, going out of her. Klaus arm comes up to wrap around her cold shoulder and she nestles into his embrace. It’s not awkward, or stilted, like she thought it should be, when she’d pictured this in her mind, in those quiet moments she’s found herself in, wishing she could forget all the terrible things that he’s done. It wasn’t like she’d thought the Original Hybrid would cuddle.

She’s so fucking tired of thinking.

They sit there till the morning, only moving when Klaus shrugs out his jacket to wrap it around Caroline’s shoulders, or pass her his handkerchief, and then finally to bury her face in his shirt as he soothes her through ruining the expensive fabric as they both pretend she isn’t crying.

“Thank you for coming” she finally manages, as they walk back to the car he’s borrowed for the occasion, a sleek black Maserati and it feels horribly like another goodbye.

“I got here as fast as I could” he returns, half gesturing towards the car shyly in a way that actually makes her smile, just a little. It grows when to stop the loose hold they have on each other breaking, his bloodied hand in hers, Klaus steps back to her.

“How long are you in town for?” she asks, another formal question, trying to rebuilt her walls at the foundation, starting at the point it’s supposed to be easiest: Klaus.

“As long as you want me to”

Thank Christ he didn’t say need. Everyone’s all about what she needs today. Klaus, because he refuses to ruin his winning streak, has let her do what she wants all day.

But then he’s always managed to coax her, so that she walked out from behind those same walls on her own.

Caroline’s smile saddens at that word, as much as her heart soars. “How’s forever?” she laughs bitterly, “Does forever work for you?”

She’d rather fight with Klaus forever, or love him, or at least be distracted by him, then feel like this. This searing, empty confusion. Even as she says it, Caroline doesn’t expect him to say yes. Mystic Falls has no hold on Klaus, the smallness of it and the ability of her friends to stumble into supernatural mishaps and then try to claw their way out, frustrating if nothing else, she knows.

“Might be a problem love. This place does things to people. Gets in the way. But, you could come to my town, if that’s okay?”

“A change of scene? That’s what you’re going with?”

“Same faces, mostly. Different problems”

“I do love a problem”

“I know”

And that’s as close as she’s going to get as a confession of her feelings today.

“Something about a small town life?” Caroline quotes back to him, from so, so long ago now. Familiar faces, different problems sounds…good somehow. Busy. Art, culture, music even if she’s up to it, according to that voicemail buried in her phone.

Klaus smiles and it’s a wistful, tired thing, happy to be thinking of happier times but still, knowledgeable, about more grief than Caroline can yet imagine. It’s another icy stab in the gut. She’s immortal, and Caroline thought she’d made peace with that already. But then, she thought she’d have years with Liz yet. Klaus’ age is just another reminder that she has an eternity of losses ahead of her.

Maybe she should switch it off, the way Elena had when Jeremy died.

“More like getting away from having your friends hang over you as they try to get you through your grief. Every loss is different. Just because they’ve had this grief before doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone. If New Orleans isn’t to your liking, I’ll buy you a ticket to anywhere you want in the world Caroline, no questions asked. I just wanted to give you the option if you wanted.”

“With you?” An open ticket to anywhere had always seemed to be something she would do with Klaus.

Klaus smiles again, tender and shy and the ache in her heart lessens just a fraction. “If you like” he shrugs quietly, “But I will understand if not.”

Caroline takes a deep breath. Klaus, of all people, is great at giving her options. “Okay. New Orleans. Yes. Please.”

Klaus’ smile is answer enough of how, regardless of circumstances, pleased he is. They slide into the Maserati without another word and it isn’t until Klaus turns onto Caroline’s street that she realises he was automatically taking her home to pack. Glancing over, Klaus seems to realise his mistake and instantly begins apologising. “Shit, I’m sorry love. We can buy whatever you need on the road, put the house into storage. I have people for exactly this and –“

“No, no, it’s okay” Caroline reassures, her hand coming to cover his knuckles on the gearstick, even as she stares up at the Forbes house, which is lit up like a Christmas tree, the curtains drawn but every window shining with light.

Klaus clicks his tongue, probably assuming that her friends are waiting anxiously inside, ready to smother her with concern.

But Caroline knows better.

“Enzo” She smiles as she says it, the idea of the older vampire remembering what she had said about hating coming home to an empty house, that she had taken to putting on all the lights, to save herself from being alone in the dark. There’s another tiny part of herself, that’s she’s kind of glad is still there buried under her grief, that is pleased when she hears Klaus’ teeth snap shut.

Caroline slips from the car, with a promise to be as quick as she can. She has no intention to linger. She’s not even sure what she’s going to grab, going inside if only to say goodbye to her childhood, properly and forever and turn out the lights.

But as Caroline steps into the hallway, she realises she’s got no such luck.

Turns out Elena and the others are waiting for her after all.

Fuck’s sake.

They’re clustered in the living room, Elena stood immediately in front of her, before the sofa, Stefan by the fireplace, Damon and Enzo lounging in alternate armchairs, Bonnie curled up on the sofa with Matt.

“Caroline! We were so worried!” Elena immediately starts spouting and God Almighty, why was she ever jealous of this girl, Caroline thinks, antipathy surging through her like blood from the vein.

“No need. I’m fine” she smiles tightly in return at everyone, eyes skipping over Enzo, determined to play nice. If she can get them out of the house, she might be able to catch him alone before she goes.

“Whose car is that Blondie?” Damon cuts in, eyes lingering protectively on Elena.

Caroline sighs. That didn’t even last two seconds. “It’s Klaus’. He came for –“ she swallows hard, unable even to say ‘the funeral’ but the way Elena’s big eyes fill with sympathy at her struggle has the opposite effect. “We’re headed to New Orleans. Together. I can’t be here right now”

“It’ll get better Caroline. We’ll-“ Stefan starts but Caroline cuts him off, holding up her hand impatiently.

“Probably. But I don’t want to be here right now. I need a different set of problems to the ones here” Damon snarls low in his chest at the way Caroline’s eyes flicker to Elena but she can’t find it in herself to care. Klaus could snap him like a twig.

Bolstered by Damon’s reaction, Elena picks up where Stefan left off. “You can’t leave town with Klaus” she spits, arms folding over the black fabric of her dress.

“So I should what? Turn it off and burn my house down instead?” Caroline shoots back, not caring how harsh her words are, or the way Elena winces. Instead, and she doesn’t give a fuck how callous it is but instead, she focuses on the way Enzo smiles. “You said you were here for me. Whatever I need. Well, this is what I need right now, okay?”

“I believe what the lady is trying to say is, don’t call us, we’ll call you” Klaus speaks up from the doorway, at Caroline’s back and she feels all the tension stored between her shoulder blades evaporating at his exaggerated politeness.

Elena turns, one last desperate appeal to the scared baby vampire Caroline used to be, but Caroline simply opens the door for all of them. “I’ll send you a postcard” she promises, trying to sound genuine and most likely failing.

Klaus stands guard as they all file past, only stepping forward when Damon opens his mouth to say something. The younger vampire scowls before stepping aside to make sure Elena goes through first. As if Klaus had any interest in the Petrova doppelgänger anymore. And then beloved, faithful, hellraising Enzo who demands that she call him when they land which elicits a wink from Caroline before she watches him speed off into the night, away from the others.

Once upon a time, Caroline would have felt guilty for being calm alone in her house with Klaus. Now, she just feels relieved. Waiting until the last grumbles of her friends have faded away, Klaus smiles softly, “So, what do you want to take, love? I can have someone here tomorrow morning to put the rest into storage and secure the house if you wish?”

Caroline nods, his naturally genteel turn of phrase making her smile, “Please,” she manages, remembering her manners. Klaus fetches suitcases from the loft and leaves them open for her before retreating to take a seat in the living room. As it turns out, what Caroline wants to take doesn’t amount to a whole lot. There’s clothes of course, but only her absolute favourites;  some jewellery, a couple of sundresses, her trusty boots and then her curling iron. Her treasure box, filled with precious things, photographs of her Mom and Dad. If Klaus notices the dark brown dress box containing a certain blue ball gown he doesn’t say anything.

What’s even more surprising is that everything fits in the Maserati’s trunk. He’s waiting by the door as she vamps round the house, as quickly as possible to switch off all the lights.

After locking the door and fighting the urge to scream, wordless and loud, push all her tightly leashed pain into the void of the night sky, Caroline turns to find another surprise waiting for her;  Klaus has taken hold of her hand.

It’s should be such a tiny thing, this reaching out, this touch. It’s no more than the comfort he had offered by the Falls after all. But as his fingers interlock with her own, Caroline feels like she’s just witnessed the turn of the Earth. It comes to her when they settle into the car, ready for the drive to the airport as he turns an open palm up over where his arm rests across the console that separates them. That she is not just choosing Klaus. This is choosing her back. Equally.

That they’re no longer bound by the human conventions he had once called trivial. And as Caroline looks out over the glow of the dashboard, she knows in her heart that her Mom would support this decision.

And now Caroline’s choosing to be free.

One year later…

Caroline smiles peacefully as the wind tousles her hair, renewing the scents of New Orleans in full swing under her nose. Leaning on her elbows over the balcony of their bedroom, as she watches the people; human, witch, wolf, vampire partying down below.

Her brow does crinkle however, when Klaus comes to observe beside her, his frame stiff with formality rather than coming to wrap his arms around her waist, tuck his face over her shoulder.

Who’d have known the Original Hybrid really was a cuddler?

At the same time, she oughtn’t really have been surprised, he’d been a bit off since Enzo had turned up two weeks ago, but she’d just assumed that he was reasserting his position as the Alpha Male, or whatever, getting used to the new equilibrium of their household.

Oh. Oh maybe that’s it.

Caroline doesn’t look at him as she speaks. “He’s like my brother. He’s not come to tempt me away or anything. He came because he needed sanctuary from Mystic Falls, just like I did. And I’m not going anywhere just yet. But when I do, I want it to be with you”

Caroline turns towards him, if only because she can feel him burning a hole in the side of her cheek. “I seem to remember being promised Paris, Rome and Tokyo at least, as well as New Orleans. But we’ve got time yet?” she teases, pleased at the way his eyes are burning as she insinuates herself into his arms, confident in a way the newbie vampire of a year ago could never have believed.

Klaus growls, low in his chest and nuzzles at her neck for a moment, teeth scraping lightly at her skin, before he pulls back, curiosity too great.

“How long are you going to stay with me sweetheart?” but this time, he’s smiling, that rare, true smile she loves best and Caroline grins in response.

“Does forever work for you?”