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Watching the crowd while walking on a runway is impossible, which is probably for the best. All eyes on her, but the lights are too bright to make out any individual faces. As it is, Caroline knows that she’ll feel almost anonymous when she moves onto the stage. All that Caroline focuses on during her walk is putting one foot in front of the other without falling on her ass. 

Simple enough, right?

This runway show is the first to kick off fashion week in Paris this year, and she’s going to open the show. She’s going to open the whole week, and if someone told her that when she was sixteen and posing for southern boutiques who monogrammed everything like it was going out a style, she’d have pinched herself.

Most of her work is in print. Her eyes, everyone says, are her best feature, and so she poses in jewelry ads with gems framing her face, or sunglasses perched on the edge of her nose as a “depth of unending blue” stares back, as one photographer called her gaze.

Haunting is another feeling they say she gives off well.

The worst is when people call her broken and mean it as a compliment.

Runway work is different. No photographer explaining what they want, no magazine editors in the background hemming and hawing over every detail. Just Caroline and the clothes. Sometimes the designer points out what they want her to emphasize. Her job is to draw the eye, but the outfit is why she’ll keep the audience’s attention instead of letting it drift off after a moment or two.

Because of the runway's attention-grabbing nature, the clothes are ridiculous.

Apparently Alaric’s been inspired by the concept of nature and hunting. Again.

When she did his fall show, Caroline wore a feathered jumpsuit with a leather sash across the front, sleeves purposefully long so that they bunched along her arms before cinching at the wrists. There was so much fabric that it was a miracle she hadn’t sweated through it by the time she walked.

At least the boots were comfortable, though, she thinks with a grimace down at the platforms that pair with fall’s opening look.

Next to her, Elena squeezes her arm before scurrying off, the sheer panels of her jacket flaring out behind her as she turns. An eye-catching piece to be sure, but not nearly as much as the final look that Rebekah Mikaelson will wear, a ball gown with a fifteen foot train of feathers to trail behind her. Caroline is just relieved that her bodysuit and overall combination, while itchy and hot and ridiculous, doesn’t have a train to contend with.

Alaric is standing at the edge of the runway in the back, calling up models even though he has assistants to ensure the timing is hit as planned. Some designers are all about control – most of them, Caroline has found. She always leaves photoshoots with a new piece of clothing given in “thanks.”

They want her to wear their brand in her free time, to be seen, to give them credit for their sense of style. 

She wonders if she’ll leave tonight with another piece she’ll stuff into the back of a closet and never wear. Some pieces get worn, depending on what she thinks of them. Caroline would rather burn the jumpsuit than have feathers itching at her throat again.

The music that Caroline has memorized for her walk comes on, and Alaric takes a steadying breath as he waves her over.

They stand together for a second, waiting for the exact cue.

“You’ve got this, Forbes,” Alaric says, one hand coming to rest at the small of her back as Caroline steps forward. Elena, getting a last-minute adjustment to the hem of her pants, shoots her an encouraging look from over the assistant’s shoulder.

Caroline doesn’t protest, makes sure that her face is entirely neutral as she steps out onto the runway and into the blinding lights.

By some miracle, she makes it, and she stands in the back helping girls get their hair bobby-pinned correctly before they head down as well. Their final walk, she reaches out for Elena’s hand just to have someone else to hold onto to help feel her way along.

“You were so good,” Elena whispers as they go backstage.

Squeezing her hand gratefully, Caroline offers her a weak smile. She’s shaking a little, wobbly on the platforms, and eager to get into the block heels she packed for the afterparty. The room feels warmer than it did before, and she’s sweating under the polyester bodysuit that clings to her skin.

“Care?” Elena asks, her voice a little further away even though her hand is still clasped in Caroline’s. “I’m going to get you something to drink, okay?”

Caroline nods, or she thinks she does, and she rests her back against the wall before her hand is empty.

Models are milling about, the sound of their whispers and high heels echoing on the tiled floor twisting together into the background as Caroline’s vision tunnels in and out. She lets her eyes slip shut to keep from getting dizzy, tilting her head down and wondering if she should sit down.

The leather of the overalls probably wouldn’t let her stretch that far, and she doesn’t want to deal with Alaric if she rips the inseam of the pants.

With that in mind, she exhales shakily and glances around to see if she can find Elena, but her vision is spotty, and she plants her hands against the wall to something to ground herself with.

Panic attack, she thinks to herself hazily. She hasn’t had one in years, but she got them a few times when she first started in the big leagues. Meditation helped, and she kept it up for the first year, but she let the habit fall to the wayside when she got to the point of being able to get through a shoot without incident. Maybe she should have seen this coming.

Or, she reasons, maybe it’s the fact that she hasn’t had anything to eat today other than a rice cake with peanut butter for breakfast.

A hand comes to rest on her shoulder, and she keeps her eyes closed while reaching up to sink into the touch, expecting Elena.

“Excuse me, can I get–?” an accented voice asks, closer than she’d expected.

Caroline squints and sees very blue eyes before her vision goes spotty again and she stumbles, her ankle bending on the already-unstable platforms. She leans into the man unintentionally, his arm wrapping around her waist and pulling her solidly against him before she can fall and completely twist her ankle.

There’s a scraping sound, along with some words that she can’t quite make out in a soothing tone, and then she’s being lowered into a seat position on a chair. Without meaning to, her grip tightens where it’s found purchase on the man’s jacket.

Her head still feels like it’s spinning, although sitting down helps. With no weight on them, her knees no longer feel like they’re going to slip out from under her.

A hand wraps around her ankle, plucking at the shoe’s strap before managing to slip it through the buckle as the platforms get tugged off, one after the other.

After a long moment, she opens her eyes, although she makes sure she’s looking at the floor; there’s no telling what seeing the lights overhead would do to her at this point. Her feet are bare, the pearlescent pink nail polish she got from yesterday’s pedicure shines up at her. Her hand that isn’t still clinging to the man’s jacket comes to rest on her chest as she tries to focus on her breathing. The rushing sounds that surrounded her previously, models getting changed and making plans for the afterparty, have changed. Now, people are whispering, their words all blending together in a blur of concern.

“Are you alright, sweetheart?” the man she’s still holding onto asks.

She latches onto the sound, and finally tilts her head up to look at him.

He’s very beautiful, but Caroline is used to meeting beautiful men. The tumble of curls, the short stubble dotting his cheeks and chin, those ocean blue eyes. The features make for a face that’s effortlessly striking. Even so, she doesn’t think he’s a model; she’d know him if he was, although he does look familiar in a way she can’t place. He’s crouching in front of her, leaning in to allow her to keep her hold on his jacket without having to pull at the fabric.

Taking in a deep breath through her mouth, Caroline nods and forces herself to let go of his jacket. Clothes are important in her line of work.

Her hand curls into a fist, and she rests it on her stomach. The room is still too hot, but her vision isn’t tunneling in and out anymore. As long as she stays seated, she thinks she’ll be fine, but there are people gathering around them after the scene she’s surely caused.

“Oh my gosh, Care,” Elena says, slipping through the crowd and coming to her side. She holds out a paper cup filled halfway with orange juice, forcing it into Caroline’s hand. “Are you okay?”

“She almost passed out,” the man in front of her informs Elena, who gasps.

“I’m fine,” Caroline answers belatedly, the words barely above a whisper. Her hand doesn’t shake as she lifts the cup to her mouth.

The orange juice is lukewarm. Caroline forces herself to drink it all anyway. She lets her eyes slip closed and focuses on the sweetness that lingers on her tongue instead of how Elena is grilling the guy on what happened.

Elena’s hand comes to rest on Caroline’s forehead somewhere during her line of questioning. Caroline doesn’t have to open her eyes to recognize her friend’s gentle touch, swaying briefly into her before leaning once more against the back of the chair.

“Nik!” a woman yells over the continued whispered concerns of the group surrounding them.

There are so many people around them. Caroline tries to stand, only for Elena to push her down firmly. She doesn’t need this kind of reputation, that she’s a drama queen who can’t even walk right. Alaric took a chance on her, and now her first time opening for a runway show is going to be her last.

“Maybe take it easy tonight,” the man suggests, placing a hand on her knee and squeezing gently.

Her head isn’t spinning anymore. “No champagne,” Caroline agrees, opening her eyes a sliver to see his rueful smile.

His eyes meet hers, and she wonders what there is to say to a stranger who stopped her from dropping onto the tiled floor. Nothing comes to mind, but she wants to say something, to thank him. Her mouth is dry even after the orange juice.

“Nik!” the woman from across the room shouts again.

The man winces, and turns to Elena. “I think that’s my cue,” he says, casting a look over his shoulder.

“I’ve got her,” Elena asserts, and the guy gives Caroline another kind of half-smile and a nod before he stands and walks away.

Caroline watches him go as Elena moves her hand from her forehead to her hand.

“You’re clammy, and you need to eat this,” Elena says, all business as she reaches into her bag and pulls out a granola bar. It’s times like these that Caroline remembers how set Elena once was on being a doctor. She’s always been the mom-friend of the group.

Deciding that Elena would only cause more of a scene if Caroline was to insist on getting up and acting like nothing happened, Caroline accepts the bar and peels the wrapper off. She’s just taken the first bite, savoring the peanut butter and chocolate flavors, when Elena tells her with the hint of a smile on her lips, “Only you would get rescued by Klaus Mikaelson.”

Swallowing, Caroline glances back to the crowd, where the man has long since disappeared. “Who?”

-x-

At the afterparty, Caroline stays true to her word and shakes her head at every glass of champagne that’s offered to her. She even eats a few of the canapes, mini quiches topped with microgreens and crackers that carry some kind of weird, savory foam that’s the height of culinary adventure. The quiches are incredible, the filling creamy and the pastry cooked to perfection. The crackers aren’t worth the calories.

Her phone buzzes in her clutch with Wikipedia articles that Elena keeps sending her about her rescuer.

Klaus Mikaelson is one of Rebekah Mikaelson’s older brothers, which explains why he was at the show. He was also apparently the star of some supernatural teen drama that Caroline has heard of before, and he’s gotten into movies since then, which explains why he looked familiar.

The Hybrid Chronicles premiered the year after she graduated high school and decided to try out the modeling world full-time, so she mostly managed to miss the latest craze among her peers.

She doesn’t use what free time she has for Netflix binges, although she and Elena have been known to camp out watching rom coms in a hotel room on the rare occasion they book a job together. Even so, she Googles the show on the ride to the hotel to find where it’s streaming.

In the seat next to her, tipsy from the drinks, Elena giggles when she sees the search.

“It’s nothing,” Caroline says, locking her phone and setting it back in her clutch before Elena can reach over to look through the page history.

Elena hums, smirking, but she seems to let it go. For a moment, that is, until she mentions, her voice pitched in a way that it’s intended to seem offhand, “The show isn’t half-bad.” At Caroline’s arched eyebrow, she sputters, “Stefan guest starred on an arc.”

Keeping quiet, Caroline decides that now probably isn’t the time to ask what the current status is with Elena’s long-term on-again, off-again boyfriend. She slouches a little bit in the seat and looks out the window to watch the streetlights of New York pass her by.

After a moment, she asks, “Did I make a total idiot of myself?”

She keeps thinking about how light-headed she felt coming back from the runway, how she might have actually fainted and hit her head on something if Klaus hadn’t caught her. She’s known for her print work, and no one is going to want to have her walk again if she can’t manage to stay upright. At least she didn’t fall on her ass on the runway.

All through the afterparty, people kept coming over to inquire about her health and told her with upturned noses that she should take better care of herself. The first two supposed well-wishes were annoying but most likely well-intentioned, and after that it got old fast.

“You looked good,” Elena tells her, reaching over to stroke a hand through Caroline’s hair. “Alaric thought you did fine.”

“That was before I nearly collapsed backstage,” Caroline complains. Nevertheless, she twists in her seat and moves so that her head is in Elena’s lap. They came onto the scene at the same time and have been friends for years, along with Katherine and Bonnie. They gave up dreams in order to build their careers, and they’ve always had each other. Caroline knows their world can be a lonely one, but her girls are never more than a phone call away.

The canapes helped, and she’s feeling entirely like herself again, but she’s exhausted all the same and looking forward to a good night’s sleep. 

Elena hums absentmindedly, a small smile on her face, and Caroline finds herself echoing it without meaning to.

-x-

Her next few weeks are filled with photoshoots, but she fills her time during plane rides watching downloaded episodes of The Hybrid Chronicles and feeling like someone is about to call her out even though she hasn’t done anything wrong. 

The show is overdramatic and kind of corny, and the dialogue is utterly predictable. Caroline finds herself pulled in regardless. 

She watches the first season in one night. 

The morning after, her makeup artist for the shoot clicks her tongue at her disapprovingly as she dabs concealer under her eyes to cover the dark circles that her binging has caused. Caroline stays perfectly still even when the brush tickles.

Modeling wasn’t always the plan. She started doing a few catalogs as a teenager in high school because she wanted the extra cash of a part time job but didn’t want the time commitment that would take up in her social calendar. A few of the smaller boutiques used her for their online sales, and then she went a little bigger. 

Her mom hadn’t been impressed until she’d seen the sizes of the checks her daughter was padding her college savings with.

That’s what the whole purpose was, at first. Save a little money for college, be able to make it through with as minimal student debt as possible, because Caroline knew that a sheriff’s salary wasn’t enough for her mom to be unconcerned about her secondary education. So she was going to need to make her own money and get some scholarships to be able to attend any of the colleges that would give her an acceptance letter.

By the time she’d graduated, she’d started doing more commercial work and she’d booked a few print ads. Nothing huge, nothing life changing, but enough to where Caroline decided to take a chance and pursue modeling full-time over a gap year. 

She figured she’d grab the cash while she could, and then she’d leave it all behind while pursuing a degree in broadcast journalism. 

At the time, it all seemed so simple.

One year of deferment turned into two, turned into tucking her chin onto Elena’s shoulder while they decided together to put off college for a bit. Their industry is brutal, and Caroline started enjoying the jetsetting routine she’d built that changed too often to get comfortable in. College is always going to be there, she reasoned, but she’ll only have so many years to model.

She’s twenty-six, and she doesn’t have any coworkers who have stayed in the industry in their thirties.

Liz has mostly gotten over her disapproval, although Caroline has learned to not tell her about any lingerie ads. Or the jewelry prints that have consisted of her lying basically naked on a pile of diamonds. There are some things that mothers don’t need to know about their daughters.

This ad, the one she needs the extra concealer for, is for perfume. It’s a commercial, not just a print ad, so Caroline gets laced into a ballgown with a corsetted back and throws coy looks over her shoulder as she wanders through a pair of flowering hedges. It’s supposed to be whimsical and modeled after Alice in Wonderland , but her dress is too royal blue to pass for a grown-up version of Alice’s pale blue frock.

“You look great,” the photographer, Jesse, tells her. 

They’ve worked together a few times, and Caroline likes him. He knows what he wants, and he knows how to ask for it. No screaming involved, and no yanking her limbs until they’re in the proper placement. 

Her hand curls around a flower she plucks from the hedge. The pink bloom contrasts nicely with the dress without washing her out like the bright yellow one would have done, and she casts her gaze downward as she tucks it behind her ear.

Jesse whistles when he gets the shot he wants, and they wrap for an outfit change.

Caroline feels her face relax when he calls, “Got it!”

-x-

Bonnie rushes out of her house in just her slippers when the car comes up the drive, paying no mind to the paparazzi lingering outside her gated home.

“Care!” she shouts, practically diving in to wrap her arms around Caroline’s frame, and Caroline finds her smile to be absolutely infectious. “I missed you.”

“Missed you too, Bon-Bon,” Caroline tells her, and Bonnie lets go of her for just long enough for her to grab her bag and wave to Elena, who’s standing on the porch in her robe with a cup of coffee.

Cameras are everywhere since Bonnie always has paparazzi hounding her now, so Caroline keeps her face tilted to the light for the right angle. 

Her floral blazer and pink shorts with buttons on the front were picked out with pictures in mind, even though they weren’t the most comfortable on the flight in from the east coast. She’s always cold on planes.

Ever since Bonnie quit modeling and dropped her debut album, Caroline is always seeing her trend on Twitter. She’s happy for her friend, and Bonnie deserves the praise she gets after spending five years hating every moment she spent in front of a camera as a model.

“Come on, I’ll show you your new room. I redid the guest bedrooms last month, so yours has a garden theme,” Bonnie says as Caroline follows her up the steps before they duck inside to leave the cameras behind.

“And what’s Elena’s theme?” she can’t help but ask.

Bonnie cuts Elena off, announcing, “When she isn’t staying at the casa del Salvatores and decides to grace me with her presence, she stays in the room I modeled after the ‘20s.”

Blushing furiously, Elena glares at each of them while Caroline drops her bag and accepts a cup of coffee.

Well, at least that saves Caroline the awkwardness of asking Elena what’s going on with her and Stefan at the moment. 

Bonnie’s Los Angeles home is a thing of beauty that she’s made all her own over the past year. The renovations she’s done so far have a touch that just seems so her , and Caroline hopes the housewarming party doesn’t get out of control tonight. Even so, she bounces on her toes as her body welcomes its first mouthful of caffeine. 

She looks around the kitchen, the gold accents Bonnie added in over FaceTime calls throughout the past year, the cabinets that were originally a varnished maple and have since been painted a navy blue. It’s beautiful. More than that, though, it’s all of Bonnie’s tastes accumulated in one place, and she knows how proud her friend is getting to show everything off.

With that in mind, Caroline takes another sip of coffee and starts to plan out their day. “What do we need to do before people show up?” she asks with a grin. 

She used to love planning high school dances, and Katherine tells her that she’s a little too hands-on with coordinating her schedule, but Caroline can’t help that her type A personality is domineering. She gets things done, and she gets them done the way that she needs. 

“Caterers are coming at 6 to set up, but I think the balloon arch is being delivered at 5. DJ gets in at 7 to set up before people get in at 8, so right now we’re good to just hang in the meantime.” Bonnie checks her phone and then nods decisively. “But, we do need to be ready early so I can drop some cute shots on Instagram.”

That is something Caroline can totally handle.

In the meantime, though, Elena opens the fridge and lifts up a bottle of champagne with a grin. “Sounds like we have time for mimosas then?” she asks, and Bonnie heads towards the bar cart with a laugh. 

Even though Bonnie left her modeling career behind two years ago, it feels like no time at all has passed when she starts up a playlist and Caroline kicks off her heels and sinks into a seat at the retro-mod kitchen table. They did this at every afterparty they went to together, or when Bonnie would drag them to an album release party.

Lifting her glass, Caroline lets Elena top her orange juice off with champagne, and then she tilts her head back when the bubbles hit her tongue.

-x-

Caroline’s dress is sticking to her skin from sweat, but for the first time in ages she doesn’t really care about what she looks like. Bonnie collected phones after the first hour of the party, once everyone put up their Instagram posts, and now the house is filled with people who kiss each other on the cheeks as introductions are made. The place is so packed Caroline had to press herself to the wall just to get down the hallway to get some fresh air.

Standing on the back patio near a couple sharing a cigarette as they lean against the railing, Caroline sighs with contentment before taking a sip from her drink. The concoction is something that a bartender handed her, and she was too distracted by Elena grabbing her arm to dance to ask what was in it.

It smells syrupy sweet, and she can’t help but purse her lips as the taste as she wonders if Bonnie designed the backyard with the same care and precision that went into her interior decorating.

Surely alcohol wouldn’t cause all the flowers beneath her to wilt if she was to pour it out.

“Can I offer you something else?” a voice asks from behind her, and Caroline is about to say that she’s perfectly happy being alone when she turns around to see Klaus Mikaelson watching her, a glass in each hand.

Her reply dies on her lips.

It feels a little surreal for him to be standing in front of her when she’s been watching him on a screen for the past few weeks. Not that the party isn’t filled with young celebrities, because Bonnie apparently rubs elbows with everyone in Hollywood. Caroline almost swallowed her tongue when she saw some of the celebrities coming out of the bathroom.

“Sure,” she says, thankful that her voice doesn’t break on the syllable.

She reaches out to take the glass he holds out to her, leaving her own abandoned on the railing. Bonnie is having a cleaning service brought in for the morning, so she doesn’t even feel too bad about it.

“Just happened to have an extra drink on you?”

Klaus looks down and then admits, “I saw you out here and got it. I didn’t know you had one; I just wanted an excuse to talk to you again.”

The admission might be more than he’d intended to give away, but Caroline finds herself looking down and flushing. “Good thing I needed one,” she says before taking a sip. The bourbon is rich on her tongue. Not her favorite, but she savors the first sip anyway. His eyes are darker here than how she remembers them, but the porch lights are duller than the fluorescents she first saw him under. 

“Caroline,” she says at last, putting one hand forward. “Since we didn’t really get a chance to introduce ourselves last time.”

“I know.” His smile is almost private, the hint of dimples coming in to dent his cheeks, and his hand is warm in hers in spite of the night air. “Klaus.” He lifts her hand tilting his head forward to kiss the back of it, and if it were anyone else, Caroline would just roll her eyes.

As it is, she feels a touch overheated, and not just from the alcohol and dancing. 

Another sip buys her a moment to recover, and Klaus has released her hand by the time she says, “I didn’t get a chance to tell you thank you, by the way.”

Klaus leans on the railing. His body is angled towards her, not exactly blocking her in, but he’s closer than he needs to be to hear her. The music isn’t nearly as loud as it is inside, so she thinks they could get away with being a few feet apart without a problem.

She’s grateful for the proximity for reasons that have nothing to do with practicality.

“Are you okay?”

Biting her lip, Caroline tilts her head a little as she considers it. “Nerves. It hasn’t happened for a long time, but… Paris fashion week is as good of a time for them to reappear as any,” she says with a bit of a grimace.

He nods like he understands. “It took me a long time to feel comfortable in front of a camera,” he says, and then looks down briefly before glancing up at her once more, his eyelashes fluttering when he blinks before revealing as though the only reason Caroline hasn’t finished The Hybrid Chronicles is because she hasn’t canceled her shoots, “I’m an actor, by the way.”

“I know,” Caroline interjects, grinning a little at how bashful he seems. “I’ve been watching your show.”

Instead of looking pleased, Klaus winces.

“Not, like, in a creepy, stalkerish way,” she says quickly. “Elena mentioned who you were, so I Googled you and have gotten weirdly obsessed. I’ve only got the last season left, so no spoilers.”

He probably meets fans all the time, and Caroline flushes as she thinks about what an idiot she must have sounded like. 

“No spoilers,” Klaus echoes, his features softening once more as he leans in. “Six seasons in already?” he asks, arching an eyebrow. If Caroline’s not mistaken, he looks a bit smug at the idea, but since she’s feeling good and he already admitted he wanted to talk to her.

“I’m just so curious about whether Eliot avenges his father,” she says with a wink.

At this, he sighs, but he doesn’t seem as bothered as when she first mentioned the show. “The writers were as ready for the show to be over as I was, I think. The plots got a bit out of hand there at the end. While I’m grateful for the recognition it got me, I’ve enjoyed the freedom with my career since.”

Her ears perk up. “Oh?” She’d tried to find out what newer projects he was working on, but there was nothing other than a few articles in gossip blogs on the subject. Caroline knows just how untrustworthy those can be, so she didn’t bother to click. 

He shrugs, quieter now, not as at ease as before, so Caroline looks around before changing the subject. “How do you know Bonnie?”

“I don’t. My brother does, he dragged me along,” Klaus admits, moving in a little closer and resting a hand on her hip. “I was resistant, but I’m glad I came.”

“Me too,” Caroline admits before she can stop herself.

“I take it you know our host, then?”

Grinning, Caroline nods. If she had her phone, she’d show him the first photo that she took with Bonnie and Elena. They were eighteen, had wound up cast in a perfume commercial together with a slew of other models, but somehow they’d clung to each other and never let go. It’s been almost a decade since that shoot, but they’re Caroline’s best friends, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I met Bonnie when she was still modeling. Now I just make myself at home at her place whenever I’m in LA, and she takes over my guest room whenever she has events in New York. She’s my best friend, along with Elena.” 

Klaus nods. “I saw some photos of you two together,” he says and then looks like he regrets it.

So Caroline wasn’t the only one doing some serious internet sleuthing after they’d first met. She can live with an even playing field.

“It’s always fun to work with the people you like.” She bites her lip and then takes another sip of her drink as she moves forward another inch. “And it’s okay. Like I said, I looked you up, too.”

If the lighting wasn’t so poor, she thinks that she might even be able to detect a hint of a flush on his cheeks.

“Bekah has been telling me all sorts of things about models like she isn’t talking about her own career,” he says with a rueful grin. “I take it you aren’t the friendliest with my sister?”

Without meaning to, Caroline rolls her eyes. A moment later, she responds, “I booked a show that she didn’t, and she’s never forgiven me for it.” 

“Well, she holds a mean grudge. Still hasn’t forgiven our younger brother for breaking the head off her favorite Barbie when she was five, so I think you’re out of luck if you’re looking for a peace offering anytime soon.”

Pressing her lips together in amusement as she laughs silently, Caroline looks over the railing. 

A few more people have migrated outside from the sweltering heat of the indoors, and she can hear the music a little more clearly when the door opens to let another few partygoers out. She drains her glass before setting it firmly on the railing and using her free hand to touch the one that Klaus is resting on her hip.

“We should dance,” she decides, biting her lip and watching the intrigue that colors Klaus’s face.

The couple sharing a cigarette is glancing over at them. Caroline recognizes one of them as a newer artist, one who’s made it onto the charts a few times. 

“Should we?” Klaus asks, moving in a little closer.

Caroline wonders if there’s an invitation in that, the suggestion of something else that they could get up to. There is the guest room that she’s using - or, more likely, Klaus has his own apartment in LA. Even so, right now she’s feeling pleasantly tipsy and ready to go back in. Plus, she can tell from the notes filtering in through the door left part way open, one of her favorite songs is playing.

Tugging on his hand as she turns away, she announces over her shoulder, “Dancing first.”

-x-

Her trip to LA is business mixed with pleasure, but she’s cherry-picked the jobs well enough to make it more of a vacation. The day after Bonnie’s party, she has a shoot for one of her favorite designers.

Enzo St. John launched Augustine only a few years ago, but he’s become known as one of the best in the business already. Caroline knows that she’s lucky to have worked with him in his first show; they’ve stayed familiar, and she considers Enzo more of a friend than a colleague. Other than Katherine and Elena, he’s the only person she works with that she feels that way about.

“Gorgeous as always, Gorgeous,” Enzo greets her when the elevator chimes open, and Caroline grins at the kiss he brushes against her cheek. “Want me to show you what you’re wearing?”

Biting her lip, she pauses and then gives into temptation with a nod. Caroline knows that she’s lucky to still like her job, and especially lucky that her tastes usually align with Enzo’s for all of his looks.

The dress that Enzo pulls out is silvery to the point of being almost iridescent. Every stitch catches in the light, reflecting back a rainbow of fluorescents that shifts with each shiver of movement. Caroline can’t help but reach forward to touch it, skimming her hand across the fabric with a little sigh at how it flows through her fingers. 

“You’ve outdone yourself,” she admits, grinning at him as he puts it back on a rack. There are a couple of other outfits she can see that pique her interest, but right now she’s content with walking over to makeup while Enzo explains the overall feel that he’s going for.

“A bit otherworldly,” he says as Caroline feels the cool touch of a makeup wipe against her face.

She doesn’t wear any when she’s not working unless it’s for a special occasion, but it helps clean her up if she’s been sweating.

“Alien?” she asks, taking care to stay still.

Enzo grins at her languidly and gives a nod. “Exactly. You’ll be perfect.”

Caroline finds herself drawn in by his excitement as she remembers the dress. Her phone buzzes in her purse with an incoming text. Her hand twitches before she can stop herself, and Enzo arches an eyebrow in curiosity, his look turning smug when she flushes.

“Who’s the lucky guy?”

“There’s no guy,” Caroline denies, making an effort to not tense up when the artist starts layering primer onto her skin. 

Drumming his fingers on his thigh, Enzo tilts his head at her and then shakes his head. “I don’t buy it.”

“There’s nothing to buy.”

Enzo rolls his eyes and then leans over to the makeup artist to give a few instructions on how he wants Caroline’s eyes done up before making his way back to the rack with his pieces, shouting out to the photographer to make sure that everything is ready.

Relaxing a little into the chair, Caroline chances a look at her phone when the artist turns around.

As much as I enjoyed our chance encounter last night, I’m reluctant to let fate arrange our next meeting. Are you free tonight?

Caroline bites her lip and runs her thumb along the words thoughtfully. She’s only in LA for three days. Most of her schedule is booked with shoots or business meetings, plus she and Elena and Bonnie have carved as much time out together as they possibly can in celebration of the rare occasion where they’re all in the same zone.

Even so, Elena was muttering something over breakfast about maybe canceling on dinner. She probably wants to see Stefan since he didn’t swing by Bonnie’s last night, and Bonnie was saying that she might stay late at the studio if that was the case.

Dinner would be great.

Tapping out a text to cancel on the girls, she knows it means that she’s going to get grilled when she gets back to the house. If Elena stays at Stefan’s, though, she can handle Bonnie fine on her own. 

“Sorry,” her makeup artist apologizes, looking a little pained, “but this will be easier if you’re not smiling.”

Caroline regretfully drops her phone back into her bag and resettles into the chair with a nod. She lets her eyes drift shut, relaxing into the familiar feeling of a pad of liquid foundation being smoothed across her cheekbones.

The shoot goes well, as all her shoots for Enzo have. His Augustine line is always innovative, and Enzo is never so married to his vision that he won’t let her improvise a little.

Rubbing the last makeup wipe over her face to tackle the shimmering green eyeshadow, Caroline looks into the mirror and decides that’ll have to do. She can touch up her eyeliner in the taxi on her way to the restaurant that Klaus sent her the address to. Her purse has a seldom used eyeliner pen and bottle of liquid lipstick for the rare occasion that she isn’t having her makeup done professionally.

Before she can get changed, though, Enzo pushes the iridescent dress from today’s shoot into her arms. 

“It looks like it was made for you,” he tells her before she can protest. “Why should I let anyone else wear it when they’ll only disappoint?”

He’s the only designer whose pieces she wears with any regularity. The rest of her closet is things that she’s picked out herself, although Caroline loves nothing more than getting a chance to dress down and relax at home in leggings and a tank top. Tonight, though, is not the kind of night for leggings and a tank top.

She pinches the top layer of fabric and glances down at what she’s wearing. The outfit is fine for traveling around, but she wants to make an impression.

“I’ll wear it out,” she decides, slipping the straps off the hanger and leaving her purse on the chair.

When she’s behind the partition and shimmying it over her hips, Enzo calls out, “And just where are you wearing it to?”

“Maybe you’ll find out tomorrow,” Caroline suggests, hoping that will keep him quiet for now.

Because Enzo has never been quiet about anything in his life, he asks, “If you’re going out with the friend I met at your birthday party last year, I think I deserve an invitation to join. As a thank you for the dress.”

Caroline has to stifle a laugh. Enzo met Bonnie as Bonnie was leaving the party and on her way to catch a flight. They’d said maybe three sentences to each other, but he hasn’t let it go and makes a point to bring her up whenever he’s seen Caroline since. 

“Hm,” she hums, adjusting the straps. “I am staying over hers while I’m here. Maybe we can host a dinner party one night.”

The idea is a bit of a gamble, but Bonnie’s been single for long enough since her truly uncomfortable split from Jeremy Gilbert a few years ago. Elena still shudders whenever anyone mentions it. Maybe it’s time to invite some fresh life in, see if the spark Enzo is convinced of actually exists. Caroline doesn’t play matchmaker, but she figures she can make a one-time exception. 

Enzo is grinning at her when she comes out from the partition and turns around for him to zip her up. “That would be appreciated. And just where are you taking my dress tonight?”

My dress,” Caroline corrects him with a wink, “and I are going out to dinner.”

He rolls his eyes but doesn’t ask any more questions, so she’s counting that as a win. Enzo just pulls the zipper upand comments almost wistfully, “She’ll look good with a flash on the cover of a tabloid.”

Caroline giggles and blows him a kiss as she makes her way to the elevator. “I’m hoping to save the tabloids for another day.”

For the most part, that’s achievable when she’s just living her personal life. People sometimes recognize her but aren’t sure from where, and Caroline is usually able to get away with telling them she just has one of those faces . The only time she’s around cameras are when she’s hanging out with Bonnie or when there’s a group going out after a shoot or a runway show. Outside of fashion week, she’s mostly free to live her life.

Although, she thinks to herself, her Google search on Klaus after she first met him showed there was no lack of public interest in him. So maybe tabloids aren’t out of the question.

-x-

Klaus gets to the restaurant at the same time she does, handing off his keys to the valet when Caroline climbs out of her cab. The once-over he gives her when he runs his eyes along the length of leg she’s showing is gratifying, but not more than the smile he gives her that showcases his dimples.

A part of her wondered whether some of the magic would be gone in the light of day. They’ve only met twice, and Caroline’s memory of their introduction is stained by the fact that she could barely see straight and was concentrating on not slumping over in the chair he’d gotten for her.

Last night, on the porch and then, later, dancing in Bonnie’s living room, sweating from the heat of the bodies that surrounded them. The hint of a connection she’d initially felt weeks ago was revealed to be anything but a figment of her imagination. All of those episodes of a teen drama with a plot too filled with tropes to be genuinely good, she’d nevertheless kept watching out of some curiosity that she couldn’t quite name.

Klaus is in front of her now, no longer on the screen of her laptop or the flat screen of hotel rooms that feel more like home than her apartment in New York. He shuts the cab door behind her, his gaze a weighty thing that settles against her skin with a prickle of awareness. She manages not to fidget until it, but then his hand on the small of her back sends a shiver down her spine. The quirk of his lips would indicate the motion didn’t go missed, but he doesn’t comment.

“You look lovely,” he says, closing the cab door behind her.

Even though that was the whole point of wearing the dress out, Caroline nevertheless blushes. She’s used to compliments. Often, though, people in her industry get hung up on the clothes, comment on the specific piece rather than the outfit as a whole. Or they’ll say they love her eyes or her waist or the slant of her mouth. The generality is nice.

“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself.” 

There’s nothing about his outfit, the pressed dark jeans and Henley, that would indicate he’s dressed up for her. Caroline wonders whether he’s dressed down intentionally, whether it’s just what he was already wearing and didn't bother to impress. She wonders if she should care.

She lets him guide her to the restaurant, where the host abandons the patrons at his stand to grab two menus and wave for them to follow him into the back. Klaus greets the host by name and nods when he’s asked if they’re alright.

When they’re seated at a table in a private room, Caroline can’t help but lean forward to ask, “Do you come here often, then?”

Surprisingly, Klaus tips his chin down as though to hide some embarrassment. Caroline wonders if she’d be able to spot a touch of red at the tips of his ears if the room wasn’t dimly lit from the candles on the table. 

She’s been out with guys who were aware of her - too aware, in a way. Tyler never dressed up for her, like the fact that he put effort into looking like he wasn’t trying meant that he was too good for it. The one time she’d brought it up, he said something like she was enough set dressing for both of them. In hindsight, no wonder that had been their last date. Matt was better, but Caroline hadn’t made much of a name for herself by the time he became an NFL player and they both started getting some attention. In hindsight, that highschool romance overstayed its welcome, but it was nice while it lasted.

Klaus is an actor with a fairly good acclaim, and neither of them was truly aware of the other before he helped out to save her from cracking her head on the tiled floor backstage at Alaric’s fall line. Caroline feels a little out of her depth when she thinks about it.

“The owner is a good friend of mine; I pulled some strings once you said you were free tonight. Figured it was better with the privacy the room provides, rather than…” He trails off, spreading a napkin across his lap.

Most of Caroline’s noterietary, what little she has of it, is built in specific circles. She gets noticed around fashion week, or when a new ad campaign launches, but for the most part she can duck out of conversations after convincing the person they must be thinking of someone else. As an actor, Klaus doesn’t have that luxury.

“Probably better without the interruptions,” she agrees, resting one hand on the table.

Klaus looks a little relieved that she understands but stays quiet otherwise.

Caroline flounders. She isn’t a quiet person, but she feels out of her depth with him for some unknown reason. Well, maybe it’s not exactly unknown, since this is basically their second conversation. Last night, after the porch, it had gotten too loud inside to continue their talk.

Not that they’d needed to. The chemistry was palpable.

For a moment, she wishes they were sitting on the same side of the table before thinking about how strange that would look. She hates couples who do that, and they’re not a couple. They’re just on a date. She’s just on a date with Klaus Mikaelson. Everything is totally fine.

Still, though, the idea of physical contact isn’t bad. She’s not going to switch to his side of the table, but she does move her foot forward until she’s brushed it against Klaus’s leg in a touch so gentle as to seem almost accidental.

Once again, she thinks the candlelight is nice but is possibly preventing her from seeing just how easily affected he is by the simplest thing. Klaus tilts his chin forward, but she can spot the shadow of a dimple when he turns his head slightly. 

He’s bashful. It’s not something she expected from him, but she finds that she doesn’t mind. People always tell Caroline they expect her to be more exuberant, so she can’t begrudge someone who doesn’t match their public persona. She’s lucky enough that she doesn’t have to have much of a public persona other than appearing in advertisements and the occasional runway show. Models don’t need to do many interviews, although she answered a few questions about Enzo’s latest line once he’d made her the face of it.

“I like you,” Caroline says, aware that she’s being somewhat abrupt. She’s never been the best with social cues or situations, and she often feels like she misses things that her peers pick up on. Embarking on her career so early on was the best choice for her at the time, but that decision has its own consequences.

Klaus looks up at her and grins, his shoulders lowering as he loses some of the tension he’s apparently been carrying. 

He relaxes with that, and they work through the rest of the dinner in stops and starts, awkwardly interrupting the other and apologizing furiously. Caroline hasn’t been on a first date in a long time, and it’s nice in a way that she hadn’t remembered. Getting to know another person - actually getting to know them, and not just the impressions she’s gathered through the magazine articles that Elena keeps forwarding her and laughing about. 

At the end, she lets him drive her back to Bonnie’s and pauses when the car comes to a stop. Klaus doesn’t, though, getting out and crossing over to open her door, and his eyes follow her legs as she takes his hand. They stand in front of each other, his nerves from earlier in the night having their way to Caroline, and she’s about to thank him for dinner when he says, “I’m shooting a movie in Rome. I leave next week.”

Automatically, she thinks about her upcoming schedule, the show she’s walking in Milan and the week she’ll be spending in London. Something like disappointment rests in her stomach. 

Klaus pushes on when she stays silent. “But if you’re free tomorrow, do you want to get breakfast?”

Her smile comes naturally. She thinks that she’d clear her schedule even if she wasn’t.

-x-

Her trip to Los Angeles gets stretched out by another week, and Caroline spends the last few days of it in Klaus’s penthouse apartment, opening all of the curtains because it’s too moody to be believed with them closed and teasing him about being a method actor. He laughs when she declares such a thing, announcing that his younger brother is the brooding artist in the family.

“Is it strange, how you’re all famous in some way or another?” Caroline asks, pushing back the last one to let the light in.

Standing in the kitchen, a mug of tea steaming in his hands, Klaus shrugs. “Kol tried acting before getting into music. Rebekah has always done her own thing, although she tries to take as many modeling jobs in LA as she can get. Elijah…” He trails off with a grin that’s fond and almost secretive. “I don’t think any of us thought Elijah would end up in the public eye, least of all him. He likes directing, though. A bit strange, I suppose, but we’re used to it.”

That makes a certain kind of sense, but Caroline is glad she doesn’t have any relatives in the industry. The idea of never being out of the public eye doesn’t sit well with her, and she likes being able to go home without there needing to be a big fuss. She nods anyway, sinking into one of the cushy armchairs sitting in his living room, so untouched as to appear just for show.

Her flight leaves in the morning for New York. She’s pushed back her departure as far as she could, and Katherine moved a few things around to make it work. This flight is really a last resort, and Katherine has typed up numerous threats that rest in Caroline text message inbox, unread, as to what kind of trouble she might find herself in if she misses whatever she’s booked for next. Even so, she’s tempted to stick around a bit longer in the bubble she and Klaus have found themselves in. 

Stillness is a rarity for her, and for Klaus, too, from what he’s said. It’s nice to enjoy it. 

Caroline shakes herself out of her melancholy state when she feels a hand on her shoulder, looking up to find Klaus standing next to her. She grins, reaching up to twine her fingers through his, biting her lip at the realization that she’ll have to go through Klaus’s room later and gather her things to pack. 

“I’ll miss you.”

Suddenly, she finds she’s too choked up to contemplate a response, but she thinks her glassy eyes manage to get the message across. 

-x-

When she checks into her hotel room in Milan, she finds it overflowing with daisies. It’s so full she has to move a vase to get her suitcase onto an ottoman so that she can unpack. The bed is scattered with petals, and there’s a particularly large arrangement sitting at the center of the dresser with a blue envelope sticking out from where it sits among the pale blooms. 

Caroline,

I wish I could be here to see the surprise in your eyes when you opened the door. I asked the florist to use the most beautiful blooms she could find, but I know they’ll pale in comparison to you.

Fondly,

 Klaus

It’s altogether too much, but she just lifts out her phone to take a photo of the absolutely over the top gesture. Opening a draft message to Klaus, she attaches the pictures and then stares at the message box for a moment. He’s asleep right now, or he should be if his schedule is half-decent, but still she hesitates.

Roses are red, daisies are white,

My room has been infested by a florist’s daydream

Thank you

In the end, she settles on something with a little humor. 

I miss you, but it’s probably a good thing you’re not here. There are so many flowers in my hotel room I don’t think your ego would be able to fit as well.

The next text gets sent to her groupchat with Elena and Bonnie, a flower emoji and a string of exclamation points serving as the only context she gives. While they’re building up momentum to Facetime her and beg for details, she unpacks her toiletries, setting her skincare routine up in the bathroom for ease of access. Tomorrow’s early morning shoot combined with the jet lag means she needs to be careful to put her jade roller in the fridge in case of bags under the eyes.

Sure enough, Bonnie calls her not even a minute after the text has gone through. She’s been known to pull some seriously long nights in the studio before, so Caroline is unsurprised to see a pair of oversized headphones hanging around her neck when she answers.

“Caroline Forbes,” Bonnie chastises her, gasping when she sees even more flowers in the background. “You have been keeping secrets.”

“Can’t we at least wait for Elena?” Caroline begs cheerfully, turning back to the door to obscure as many of the vases as possible. “You’re both going to read me the riot act, so let’s save some time and only go through it once. How about that?”

Bonnie huffs and rolls her eyes, her grin widening when Elena picks up the call, her hair mussed like she’s only just gotten out of bed. Her audio takes a minute to sync up, but Caroline isn’t taken aback by the inquiries that are being asked of her rapid fire when it comes online. She really does love her friends, as annoying as they can be sometimes.

“And when did this happen? Is this why you didn’t meet me for brunch last week?” Elena accuses, turning on a light and then setting her phone by the sink to use both hands to tame her hair.

Ducking her face a little, Caroline settles onto a chair and wonders how loud they’re going to get when she tells them. “I didn’t meet you for brunch because I wasn’t in New York,” she says at last, squeezing her eyes closed in anticipation of the questions they’re sure to ask. “I was still in LA.”

Still ?” Elena gasps, dropping her hair out of the ponytail she was pulling it up into.

Bonnie looks more impressed than shocked and then says, “But you told us you were flying out. You know you could have stayed longer and I wouldn’t mind.”

“I had somewhere to stay,” Caroline hedges and then figures in for a penny, in for a pound. The day before she left, when they talked about trying to see what long distance would look like for them, Klaus said he wasn’t going to say anything to the media but probably would mention her to at least Elijah. Caroline agreed, deciding then that she’d wait before telling the girl.

The wait is over, as it would seem.

Elena’s flurry of questions is cut short when Caroline decides to put them both out of their misery. “Remember how I said I ran into Klaus Mikaelson at your party?” she asks Bonnie, biting her lip.

Eyebrows draw together for a second, and then Bonnie’s expression clears when Elena lets out a shriek so high pitched that Caroline drops her phone in surprise. By the time she picks it back up, Elena is pressed up against the bathroom door, hissing, “Oh my gosh, not right now! I’m busy!”

“Say hi to Stefan for us,” Caroline teases while Bonnie cackles.

By the time they get settled once more, it only takes a moment’s pause before Elena remembers what made her so ecstatic. “Are you serious, Care? This is something out of a fairytale. He helped you out after this show, and now he’s sending you so many flowers that the room will smell like them for like a week once you pack up!”

“It is Klaus sending you them, right? You’re not about to twist the story on us?” Bonnie checks.

“I told him I hated roses because they were too cliche,” she says, grinning softly at the memory. Tipping back against the headrest of the couch, Caroline holds her phone up and turns it so the camera can take in every arrangement squeezed onto every possible surface. She reaches for the notes and bites her lip before reading, “I asked the florist to use the most beautiful blooms she could find, but I know they’ll pale in comparison to you. Fondly, Klaus.”

Elena shrieks again, “Oh my gosh!” followed by another round of banging on the door.

“Fondly,” Bonnie echoes, a smile twisting on her lips. “Sounds like a bit of an understatement to me.”

Privately, Caroline agrees. She tells them about the extra week she’d managed to squeeze out in LA, how she’d made use of Klaus’s private gym and the faces he made at the green smoothies she drinks for breakfast. By the time she’s winding down, they’re all yawning, although Elena and Bonnie are both grinning at her like fools. 

“Go back to bed,” Caroline says at last, lying on bed surrounded by flower petals. She keeps smiling, running her hands across the petals to feel their softness as she toys with the idea of drawing a bath and throwing them in just to be dramatic.

Instead, she ends up falling asleep because of the jet lag, kicking her flats on the floor and drawing the blankets around her. When she wakes up from a dream about a garden, her phone is filled with further notifications from her friends. Among them is the only one she pays any attention to, blinking the sleep from her eyes to open a text message from Klaus.

You’ll have to make due without me and my sizable ego. I miss you too, sweetheart.

-x-

The flower-filled room in Milan turns into Klaus ordering room service to her hotel in London when she gets back from a launch party that ran later in the night than expected. Caroline tries to hold her own, happy to know she’s trumped him when she finally manages to get a redeye to Rome after wrapping up her events in the UK.

She’s so excited she can’t sleep on the plane, and the redeye turns into a taxi from the airport where she can’t stop tipping her head back and letting her eyes rest for longer and longer periods.

Klaus’s startled face when he opens his hotel room is worth it, but they only manage a few minutes of making out on his bed before Caroline yawns tellingly.

“No,” she complains, more to herself than to him, fisting her hands in his collar out of determination. It’s been nearly three weeks since they’ve seen each other. They’re both busy people, something she knew but hadn’t really considered, and now she’s fighting to stay awake as she presses her lips to his almost forcefully once more.

Klaus chuckles, the sound deep in his throat that would spur her on more if she was even the slightest bit more awake. “Sweetheart,” he tells her, the pet name one that Caroline has learned to like in spite of her resistance at the start, “as thrilled as I am to see you, why don’t you let me show my gratitude in the morning?”

Pulling away, she blinks at him until he comes into focus. The mattress is heavenly soft under her, something that speaks either to the kind of swanky treatment Klaus gets on travel or else to how little she’s slept recently. Either could be true.

“I’m grumpy in the morning,” she reminds him, pouting and unapologetic.

With the surety of someone who has already won the argument at hand, Klaus kisses her forehead. “There will be espresso when you wake, and you can try to enumerate as many complaints as you want. I doubt you’ll be successful, considering I plan to keep you in bed as long as you’ll let me.”

Her ears perk up, and she props herself onto her elbows. “Late call time?” she asks after a moment, trying to remember the screenshot of his Google calendar he’d sent over a few days before.

“Shooting is canceled tomorrow; there was an issue. I had already started to look into flights to England when you showed up at my door,” he whispers, combing his fingers through her hair. Caroline relaxes into the touch, sinking deeper in the mattress and finally letting herself yawn without protest. Klaus looks at her with an expression she’d fight with him about if she had the energy. It’s the intersection between smugness and exasperation, with a touch of fondness twisted in.

Privately, Caroline thinks of the note he’d sent with the flowers, and how Bonnie said it seemed like an understatement. She wonders what kind of term would be better applied, but every word that comes to mind seems like too much, too soon.

Even so, drifting off, she can’t bring herself to mind.

Klaus keeps his promise of espresso and the morning spent in bed. Caroline is the one to drag him out, loose-limbed and well-rested as she changes into jeans and her favorite blouse from Enzo’s latest collection. Walking around the old and broken streets, ruins and beauty surrounding them at every turn, Caroline reaches back to tangle her fingers in Klaus when they stand in front of the Trevi fountain while a few people nearby whisper and point.

When they’re approached, Caroline is more than prepared to accept the proffered phone and snap a photo of the fan with Klaus if he’s okay with it. Instead, though, the phone the woman is holding out to her has a shot of her opening Alaric’s spring show from earlier in the year and asks her in halting English to sign her tote bag.

Walking away, Klaus says, “I suppose I should get used to that.”

“I’m sure I’ll have to get accustomed to the same,” she says, thankful they haven’t yet been swarmed by paparazzi. They’ve decided they won’t go out of their way to make the reveal and let it happen when it does, but it’s nice to be just the two of them for now.

She can only stay another day before she has to fly back to New York, but for now she occupies herself with soaking up as much of the Italian sun as she can in the early winter, Klaus’s hand clasped firmly within her own.

-x-

The photos come out while she’s on a plane back to New York for a magazine shoot.

The shots are kind of nice, actually, them smiling over the gelato Caroline insisted on in spite of the cooling temperature, plus a few of them walking down the road together. They even get one that Caroline thinks is kind of nice, Klaus holding the door open for her with one hand, the other lifting an umbrella up as she clamors out of a car.

Katherine sends her the link to the article they go along with, and they have an impromptu call in the cab from the airport to her shoot, agent versus client until Kat relaxes into the role of converned friend once she’s decided there are no business issues to work out. 

“I knew I should have come with you to Bonnie’s party,” Katherine sulks.

“Don’t pout. Just because I have a boyfriend doesn’t mean I’m going to start slacking off on my jobs.” Caroline rolls her eyes. “If you want the perfect face for Dior perfume, you do it.”

Katherine scoffs derisively. “I dropped out of modeling for a reason, Care-Bear. You and Elena are the only clients I have associated with the industry, and every day I’m tempted to cut those ties.”

“You love us too much,” Caroline counters, and she grins triumphantly at the dial tone that proves her right.

Stefan calls while she’s suspended from wires in midair, a ballgown floating around her. Caroline’s back is contorted in a way that will ache in the morning, but the photographer shouted with excitement when she twisted. Her makeup is running from when her eyes watered after getting poked so many times while the harness was set up, but they decided it made her look more broken and went with the overall feel of the shoot.

He’s in New York and comes over for lunch the next day, carrying a to-go bag from her favorite deli in the city, and Caroline can’t help but arch her eyebrows even as she smiles.

“What are you buttering me up for?” she asks. 

The contents of the bag are revealed to be a Rueben for her with extra thousand island dressing on the side, and Stefan gets a French dip. They sit at her coffee table since she doesn’t feel like unloading her suitcase currently open in the dining room, Caroline’s feet tucked under her thighs as she takes her first bite. They fight over who gets the extra napkins until Caroline elbows him in the ribs and grabs the pack while he’s curled into himself in pain.

It’s only after they’ve finished, Caroline’s latest sitcom obsession playing mindlessly in the background, that Stefan reveals his ulterior motives.

“It’s about Klaus,” he says at last, pointedly ignoring the cutting look she shoots him.

Caroline isn’t surprised. Pulling a blanket off the couch, she moves the coffee table over and spreads it over herself, watching as Monica and Rachel fight to keep their apartment.

“What about Klaus?” she asks after a moment.

Pausing, Stefan runs a hand through his hair, mussing the gel and then refluffing it unconsciously. “Elena said you guys have been seeing each other, and I…”

He trails off for long enough that Caroline stretches out her legs until her cold toes make contact with his calf and he winces before pulling away.

“Klaus is a friend,” he decides at last. “Of sorts.”

“Of sorts,” she echoes skeptically. Her voice is dry as she thinks about one of Stefan’s and Elena’s breakups, the only one she thought they might not recover from. Rebekah Mikaelson might not have been the reason for that initial split, but like hell if Caroline is ever going to forget Elena trying to burn photographs and putting them out in the toilet once they set off the apartment’s fire alarm.  

With a shrug, Stefan reaches into his pocket and pulls out a packet of cigarettes. He looks up at the ceiling when Caroline coughs pointedly, so they make their way to the balcony, Caroline still bundled in her blankets as Stefan leans over the railing and takes his first drag while looking out over the city. She waves the smoke away, shivering in the November air.

Embers drop from his cigarette and are snuffed out by the cold concrete. “I just don’t want you to get hurt,” he says with another sort of shrug, waffling between loyalties. He’s always been shit at expressing himself with any degree of finesse; Caroline feels a sudden pang of sympathy for Elena and the many cycles her friend’s relationship has gone through. 

She’s friends with Stefan, and he’s a good guy, for the most part. Truth be told, she’s more surprised by Stefan’s protectiveness than she is by the warning. 

Even so, she finds herself rolling her eyes. “You’re telling me half of Hollywood’s on and off again couple is giving out relationship advice now?”

His answering sigh is pointed. Caroline doesn’t acknowledge it as she pulls her door shut behind them.

Caroline read the articles before she met Klaus; she knows the sordid kind of rumors his relationships have caused from before. They spent that first week in his penthouse holed up and eating delivery while talking things over. He knows about Tyler and the frigid look that haunted Caroline for months, and in exchange Klaus talked about Aurora, his costar on The Hybrid Chronicles , and the string of brief flings that followed.

“Thanks,” she says, drawing her blankets closer around her and dipping towards him for a halfway kind of hug. Stefan looks surprised, so she elaborates, “for caring. I’ve got it handled, though.”

He doesn’t look like he believes her, but she doesn’t force him to.

“How’s the one hit wonder?” she finally asks, unable to stop herself from sneering.

Stefan’s nose wrinkles at the mention of his brother. “I’m guessing you’ve been too busy floating on cloud nine to read the tabloids. Rehab, again. Maybe the fifth time’s the charm.”

Not something Caroline had meant to drag up with the topic. She doesn’t point out that she never reads the tabloids, either. 

“Driving Damon to rehab is always the high point in our relationship. He’s desperate enough to get help that he’s willing to, and he’s hopeful about it. We always do the drive from LA to Arizona to the clinic he uses, and he buys so many snacks for the trip. He wasn’t… He kept saying it would stick this time, like he always does, but I don’t think he believed it. Not really.”

Tilting her head onto his shoulder, she loops her arm through his and gives it a comforting squeeze. 

Caroline doesn’t like Damon, not by a long shot, but she feels bad for Stefan who always has to put up with him. 

They linger outside until the awkwardness goes away and Stefan stubs his cigarette out. When Caroline pulls up season three of The Hybrid Chronicles , Stefan groans but doesn’t protest, although he does hide his face when he comes on as Sebastian, the foreign exchange student.

“I needed a job” is the only defense he’ll give for the accent, and Caroline knows that struggle all too well to make fun of him for it.

What starts as a petty ploy turns into an actual rewatch, since apparently got invested after his arc but never had the time to finish. Caroline scrounges through her fridge and pantry, empty after all the traveling she’s done recently, and comes up with granola bars and protein shakes for dinner. She’s going to need to spend a little more time at the gym tomorrow than she was originally planning on, but it’s hard to make herself regret the decision when Elena calls from Prague, unable to sleep, and ends up syncing her watch stream with theirs.

-x-

One of her shoots in LA coincides with the premiere of Klaus’s newest film. He’s a supporting role in it, the main character’s lawyer, but there’s buzz about his performance anyway.

Enzo insists on dressing her for it, glaring at her with pins held in his mouth while Caroline apologizes for not telling him that she wore his dress to her first date with Klaus. After she gets stuck once, she falls quiet, standing still and ignoring her phone buzzing with texts from Bonnie about meeting up at the afterparty.

“You look stunning as usual, Gorgeous,” he declares at last, tying the last of the bows along her arms. 

“Thanks to you,” she assures him, giving credit and simultaneously hoping it’ll stroke Enzo’s ego to the point where he won’t pout about her not getting photographed in the first dress. 

The gown is gorgeous, patina silk dripping down her figure. The bell sleeves are held on with a series of bows, and she’ll show off the backless feature with the updo she’s sporting. Her lipstick is matte and has been primed to the point where it won’t budge no matter how many cocktails she has at the afterparty. She’s going to go through quite a bit of makeup remover tonight before anything actually comes off.

Her phone buzzes again, this time Klaus instead of Bonnie. Caroline reaches over and reads it quickly, slipping the emergency tube of lipstick into her purse and then brushing a kiss against Enzo’s cheek after thanking him yet again for working his magic on such short notice.

When the elevator reaches the bottom floor, she’s replying to one of Bonnie’s series of texts about which dress she should wear later, too occupied to notice Klaus’s jaw drop when he sees her.

“Wow,” he says simply, taking a small step back to fully see her.

Caroline pauses. The only time he’s seen her in full makeup and dress would have been at Alaric’s show, and runway isn’t always glam. 

"Really," Klaus tries again, "you look ravishing."

She hopes that the flush of her skin doesn't contrast badly with the dyed silk. Hoping to not blush would just be fruitless at this point, and Caroline isn't in the habit of wasting her energy. Her answering grin is a tease as she runs a hand down the lapel of his suit, eyeing the Windsor knot of his tie with approval. "You're not so bad yourself, you know," she tells him, lashes fluttering at the scent of his cologne.

In the limousine, their hands linked in the center seat, Klaus turns to her and says, "I mean it. You look ravishing."

Her teeth sink into her lower lip as she leans forward to whisper, "Ravish me, then."

"Don't issue the kind of challenge you don't want me to take you up on." His eyes are a bit wild with want, an effect she always has on him that's compounded by their recent time apart. 

The partition is up, separating them from the driver, and Caroline feels a bit wild herself when she unhooks her seatbelt and then reaches over to settle her hand on Klaus's lap. "Don't mess up my dress" is the only condition she gives. Enzo would be livid if his latest design didn't appear to be pristine.

On the red carpet, Klaus's curls have sprung out of the style they were once gelled into even after their efforts to calm them. There isn't a wrinkle in Caroline's dress when he helps her out of the limo. 

-x-

Klaus’s town home in London is just as swanky and posh as his penthouse in LA, but there’s something homey about it regardless. Caroline enters the code she’s been given to disarm the alarm and then sets to finding out which door leads to the master bedroom so she can set down her luggage.

Being here alone is the perfect opportunity to snoop, but she doesn’t do much more than peek before closing the door to each as she advances down the hallway on the second floor. After a few tries, she walks into a room more lived-in than the others, although it’s just as empty. There are a few personal touches, a book on the nightstand and a guitar leaning against the corner. After getting her skincare products set up in the bathroom, she makes use of the personal gym she found on the first floor.

His treadmill leaves something to be desired, so she does weights instead and decides to go for a run through the neighborhood in the morning.

The protein powder Klaus has in his pantry is a different brand than the one she prefers, but she makes a shake anyway and then takes a few minutes to figure out how to work Klaus’s shower. The bathroom is well-steamed and smells like her travel face mask when she finishes, and the scent of Klaus’s laundry detergent on the pillow is what pulls her into sleep.

In the middle of the night, she jerks awake when her blankets shift, relaxing only when Klaus chuckles beside her as he gets in bed. 

“This is nice,” he whispers against her shoulder, “coming home to you.”

She hums her agreement back to him.

Still mostly asleep, Caroline reaches up to wrap a hand around his wrist as she pulls him closer until they’re spooning. Both of their schedules are about to get busier over the coming months, so for now she decides to enjoy the warmth of him pressed against her back, the splay of his fingers across her hip.

In the morning, she asks about the guitar over the cup of tea Klaus made her (he has an actual kettle, and he made a face when she suggested microwaving the water), and he shrugs. The bashful look he had about them from their first date has returned.

“I’m not particularly gifted, but I dabble,” he says simply. “I write, sometimes.”

“You should play them for me sometime,” Caroline says, but she lets the topic die when Klaus threatens to clam up at further conversation about his musical prowess. 

-x-

Since Klaus is shooting in New Zealand, Caroline flies out and picks up the hotel key he left at the front desk for her. There was a halfhearted invitation extended for her to come see the set, but her flight was delayed and Klaus knows that she prefers to take a shower after getting off a plane. 

She’s in the shower when she hears sounds filtering in from the room, and she squints at the fogged up shower door just in time to see Klaus come in, already tugging his shirt off as he calls out a greeting.

“You’re freezing,” Caroline squeals when he presses her against the wall, skin to skin, but she doesn’t protest. In fact, she laughs when Klaus kisses her, legs parting automatically as the steam continues to rise.

“I missed you,” he says unnecessarily, eyes fluttering shut when she strokes a hand down his chest. “Hello, sweetheart.”

She’s missed him as well. For as often as they make time to talk, it’s hard to get genuine quality time in, and Caroline is looking forward to the next few days of quiet they’ll be able to carve out with each other. She goes to say as much, but her voice cuts off when Klaus puts a hand at her waist and pulls one of her legs up to his hip. Tilting her face up into the spray from the rainfall showerhead above them, Caroline hums at his now-warm touch.

They cancel their dinner reservations, and Caroline gets tipsy on champagne-soaked strawberries after they’ve polished off the five star room service, a smorgasbord of oysters and olive pate with crackers and waffles soaked with too much syrup, just the way she likes them. 

Kissing the corner of her mouth to catch a stray drop of champagne, Klaus lingers before pressing their lips together. He tastes like strawberries. 

“I love you,” he tells her at last, his voice pitched like he’s revealed a secret.

Blushing, Caroline thinks of reading the word fondly and thinking it felt like an understatement. He is horrible at keeping secrets, but she decides she doesn’t mind. Pulling back, she puts her thumb on his chin to keep her from kissing her again before she’s had time to respond. “I know,” she whispers, her smile growing even as she tries to push it down. “I love you, too.”

The corners of Klaus’s eyes wrinkle when he smiles, and she tucks her answering one into his chest before pulling back to kiss him again.

When Klaus wraps his arm around her and rolls them, Caroline manages to flail out in just the right way to knock over the syrup. That results in a sheepish call to the front for a request for more linens, and then a subsequent shower once Caroline realizes how much of the sugary substance got stuck in her hair.

“Stay away,” she says in the doorway to the bathroom, her robe tied tightly around her waist as she holds out a hand to stop him when Klaus threatens to follow her.

He’s still wearing the same smile as when she told him she loved him too. “Is that a threat?” he asks idly as he hangs up the phone. His eyes dip to her collarbone, where the soft material clings before falling slightly open.

Her lips purse from the effort of trying to appear serious. “I need to shower to get clean, Klaus, not for… Other activities.”

“Who said we couldn’t multitask?” he asks, his hands sliding on her hips once he’s close enough.

As it turns out, his hands in her hair is magical, and Caroline feels like putty once she’s gotten a scalp massage out of him while he shampoos her thoroughly enough to where there’s no sign of syrup any longer. The mirror is fogged up once more by the time they get out, and the bed is made up with fresh sheets. Their empty plates have been taken away from the sitting area, and Caroline is too relaxed to be embarrassed that anyone came in while they were otherwise occupied.

Curled into his chest in bed, she turns off her alarm for the morning and then asks, “What are we doing tomorrow?”

“How does a hike sound?”

She twists around to glare at him, narrowing her eyes unless Klaus grins and shakes his head. “Kidding. Although we will be having a picnic outside.”

Resuming her previous position, Caroline fluffs her pillow and mutters, “Acceptable.”

-x-

She flies to Moscow from New Zealand, where a bouquet of daisies sits on the dresser of her hotel room with a now-familiar blue envelope poking out of the pristine white blooms.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I’m no poet,
I want you

Klaus  

She does a lingerie ad posed with a fur coat over the piece that’s a scrap of lace and mesh. The photoshoot feels very Russian, her legs splayed over the arm of a couch next to a fireplace as a tumbler of amber liquid dangles from her fingers. Caroline lets her eyes glaze over in a few of the shots, but she improvises a little with a few of them.

Grabbing a fire poker from the set piece, she runs it through the coals and looks at the camera dead-on. That’s the image they go with for the full page in Vogue, a tantalizing glimpse of her cleavage visible with the firelight casting transparent shadows in the mesh.

Enzo shows her the magazine spread in Paris while she tears a croissant into scraps before eating it piece by piece. Enzo sits across from her and shakes his head as he watches. “Models,” he says derisively, biting into a pastry stuffed with chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Her eyes linger on the shot where the strap of the bralette is threatening to slip off her shoulder. Caroline shrugs and places a sliver of croissant on her tongue to taste the almost overwhelming flavor of the butter.

“Have I shown you what you’re wearing for my next show?” he asks, pulling out his phone.

Enzo’s next show is in New York Fashion Week. Caroline looks up from the plate of her destroyed pastry, interest piqued.

The photo he shows her is worth the gasp she gives. Even on a mannequin, she feels like she can see movement in each layer of the tulle skirt. It'll swing out when she turns, and she thinks about tracing a finger over the marks of the pencil sketch he switches the screen to. There's something about fashion Caroline was drawn to when she first started to work in the industry, and Enzo's work reminds her of being a little kid and playing dress up in her mother's closet. 

"If that's what I'll be wearing, I can't wait to see the closer," she says with a grin.

He blinks at her in surprise. "You are the closer, Gorgeous," he says like it should have been obvious from the start. 

The shred of croissant she'd pinched between her fingers floats back down to the plate. Caroline freezes, trying to make sense of his words, and then she's scrambling to the other side of the table to hug him fiercely. "You're serious?" she checks as though she wouldn't be completely crushed if he were to take it back. "You mean it."

Enzo shoves her off because he's never learned to tolerate affection with any form of grace, and he asks when Caroline's seated once more, "Who else could be the face of Augustine?"

She grips her napkin in her lap and brings it to her face to muffle a short scream of excitement. 

Laughing, Enzo reaches over with a fork and stabs at the mountain of flaky pastry she's peeled apart. "Does this mean you'll put in a good word with your friend Bonnie, then?" he asks, overly casual.

She can only grin in response. "Pinky promise," Caroline decides before motioning to his phone. "Now show me the back." 

-x-

The concierge stares at the computer regretfully before confirming that they don’t have a record of a room being reserved for either a Katherine Pierce or a Caroline Forbes. Not only that, but they can’t give her a room, because they’re full. Every hotel in Las Vegas is likely fully booked, the man tells her, explaining about some kind of convention. She nods and gives her best unbothered smile before walking to a couch in the lobby.

Katherine doesn’t play things nearly as cool. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she snarls before cursing a blue streak. “Hang tight while I figure this out.”

Caroline nods and leans back, tilting her head up to look up at the chandelier above her. She takes a moment to be grateful that at least they have time to work this out before she has to be at her shoot in the morning, and then she calls Klaus on a whim.

Their schedules are hard to work out and change frequently without warning, so she’s not expecting him to actually pick up. Klaus is in New Zealand, and to be honest she isn’t even sure what kind of time difference they’re working with. Both of their circadian rhythms are fried from all the frequent flier miles they rack up, so the time change doesn’t guarantee anything.

“And what do I owe the pleasure to, sweetheart?”

The sound of his voice tugs at her heartstrings somewhat. They couldn’t make time to see each other over the holidays after her brief getaway to New Zealand, prior commitments with family coming up in their already-packed schedules, and she’s very much looking forward to the Valentine’s Day weekend that they somehow managed to block out immediately after New York Fashion Week. 

Her soft grin is an automatic response, even if she wishes that she was talking to him from the bed of a hotel room. “Just passing the time while Katherine figures out my hotel situation. Apparently there was a mixup with booking.”

He groans in sympathy. “I hope things get sorted without too much trouble. Where are you, again?”

“Viva Las Vegas,” Caroline tells him. The fact that there’s not a trace of irony in her voice is proof she should have tried getting into acting at some point.

“And you’re sure that you won’t be able to find another room?”

“Apparently there’s some convention in town? The guy at the front desk did not sound optimistic, and Katherine seemed to think it was going to be a problem.”

Klaus pauses and then says hesitantly, “I think I have a solution for you, but I don’t know how advisable it is.”

The couch is far more comfortable than it has any right to be. Caroline shifts and looks at the neck pillow that’s hooked on top of her suitcase. “I’m debating falling asleep in the hotel lobby,” she confesses. Inadvisable doesn’t really matter to her at this point, although she’s admittedly curious about what Klaus could mean.

“I’ll make a call. I’d only ask that you don’t judge me too harshly,” Klaus decides.

Caroline blinks as the line goes silent, and then she looks at the screen to see that the call has ended. A notification comes in from Katherine, who has CC’d her on an email that’s so aggressive it stops just short of threatening bodily harm to the person manning the front desk. She also has a few texts from Kat, as well as one from Elena containing a frowny-face emoji indicating her cousin let her know what was going on.

Scrolling through Instagram in the meantime, Caroline leaves a comment under Elena’s latest post and updates her story with a Spotify link to Bonnie’s latest single. 

The previews of Katherine’s texts that she can see in her notification bar indicate that not much progress is being made on the accommodations front, but then she sees a different name pop up before being promptly displaced by Katherine sending yet another string of curse words to the hospitality industry in general.

I called in a favor. He’s on strict instructions to be on his best behavior.

Klaus’s text answers none of her questions, but it does spawn quite a few more. Caroline wonders whether she should’ve asked what he meant by inadvisable . The dots indicating further responses from him are replaced by another message.

Should be there in 5.

Her phone buzzes with an incoming call, so Caroline pushes her curiosity down as she braces herself for Katherine’s breakdown of the situation.

“Who books a shoot in Las Vegas on the weekend of the adult entertainment awards?” Katherine snarls. “I’m sorry about this. I’m going to have a friendly chat with Mason Lockwood tonight about scheduling. I’ll keep calling places and let you know what turns up. Go get dinner. Hopefully by the time that’s done, I’ll have texted you an address.”

With that, Katherine ends the call as abruptly as it began. Caroline rolls her eyes and throws her bag over her shoulder, tugging her luggage behind her. The dinner suggestion doesn’t sound too bad.

As soon as she’s made it out of the lobby, though, a cherry red convertible pulls up to the hotel, tires squealing as it comes to a jerky stop. Caroline takes a step back, thankful that she wears comfortable shoes in the airport regardless of her end destination, and is searching for the nearest sushi place when a man calls out, “So you’re the delectable blonde that Nik is so tight-lipped about.”

She glances up and does a double take at the sight of Kol Mikaelson sitting behind the wheel. Klaus’s younger brother is showing off the same devil-may-care grin he’s famous for in the tabloids, putting the car into park and hopping over the driver’s side door as he makes his way around the front.

“Caroline,” Caroline introduces herself, wondering what Klaus would have been worried about.

Lifting her suitcase into the backseat, he opens the passenger-side door for her to get in. “Kol, of course, but you already knew that. I expect Nik has told you the usual horror stories.”

Clicking her seatbelt into place, she shakes her head. 

She’s heard stories from Klaus about what it was like growing up with so many siblings and how strange it is that several of them are in the public eye in various ways, plus his complaints about how they insist on the holidays being family-only, but she hasn’t heard much specifically about Kol other than Klaus has given him a few songs when he’s feeling particularly musical. Klaus met up with him when they were both in London a few months ago to get dinner and sounded a bit annoyed afterwards, but he never said why.

“Fascinating,” Kol comments. “I have to say, he tried scaring me into submission by threatening to tell Elijah on me if I made you uncomfortable. I am forbidden from doing any propositioning of any kind; he was very thorough about that.”

Caroline blinks at her drafted text to Katherine telling her manager she’s got a place to stay for the night, hesitating at the idea of what Klaus might have signed her up for. 

“Although, he didn’t say anything about how I was to behave should you proposition me . Nifty little loophole, that. Say the word, darling, and I won’t hesitate to sweep you off your feet.”

Her phone buzzes.

Apologies in advance.

She bites her lip in an attempt to tamp down her smile, tapping out a reply.

Not quite far enough in advance.

With that, she sends her message off to Katherine to call off the housing hunt, watching how Kol is glancing at her every few seconds to judge her reaction. Caroline sets her phone in her bag and slips on her sunglasses as she looks at the various casinos they’re passing by.

“Noted,” she acknowledges, and then asks “Why are you in town?”

From what Klaus has said, it sounds like Kol primarily lives in LA when he’s not in London, but she remembers hearing something about a tour he had coming up.

Kol smirks. “I’ve got a show tomorrow night, but I'm sticking around for the award show.”

The award show… Caroline blushes when she remembers what kind of award show that Katherine mentioned on the phone. Her poker face has always been shit, and the irony of realizing that in Las Vegas isn’t lost on her. Even so, she doesn’t otherwise respond to the obvious taunt. 

Either Kol is tactful enough to breeze past that without requiring a response from her, or he’s trying the ‘best behavior’ that Klaus asked him to be on, because he doesn’t linger on the comment. Shifting gears and ignoring the rev of the transmission, Kol asks blithely, “And what about you? What are you in the city of sin for?”

“A photoshoot.”

Her phone buzzes in her bag, either Katherine asking what she managed to work out, or else Klaus inquiring as to what her cryptically-worded text means. It buzzes again, insistent. Klaus, then. 

“If Nik hadn’t specifically told me not to, I’d ask if it’s a lingerie ad,” Kol tells her with a wink. “He’s also told me that I can’t ask to come with.”

Caroline laughs, a little startled to find herself charmed by him, the brashness that isn’t a ploy to attract attention but almost to put others at ease. 

Once again, her phone buzzes. Before she can grab her purse, Kol taps the steering wheel to answer a call and chirps, “Nik! I’ve met the lovely Caroline, and we’re driving into the sunset together. No propositioning required.”

Klaus groans through the speakers.

“I’m running away with your brother,” Caroline deadpans, finally fishing her phone out from the depths of her purse. “We’re thinking of moving to Polynesia.”

“Nonsense, darling,” Kol chortles, his grin only growing now that he can see she’s willing to play along with the joke, “A honeymoon in the Maldives first, and then to the antarctic. I can do the reclusive artist schtick and get a Grammy that way.”

Another groan from Klaus’s end, and then, “I really must apologize for him, but you sounded like you were out of options. Kol always insists on having the largest hotel suites known to man, so I knew there would be at least one bed available.”

“How do you know I’m not throwing an orgie tonight?” Kol asks, narrowing his eyes as a light turns yellow before stepping on the gas. “Perhaps I’m just including Caroline in my plans.”

Chuckling, Caroline reads through the few panicked texts Klaus sent before he got so worried as to call his brother. “Thank you for the save, both of you,” she emphasizes. “I appreciate not having to camp out in a hotel lobby.”

“At least someone appreciates my generosity. You just read me the riot act after I’d already agreed. You could learn a great deal from Caroline, it would seem,” Kol chides his brother with a roll of his eyes. “Anyways, we’ve got to go. I have a public to scandalize, as you well know.”

“I do know, which is why I won’t hesitate to tell Elijah about how you were the source of pranks he was subject to throughout undergrad, and they weren’t caused by the fraternity next door. Kol, I’m serious,” Klaus tries, a note of pleading in his voice.

“We’ll be fine,” Caroline reassures him. The only things she wants to do tonight is to eat dinner, maybe room service, or find a sushi restaurant nearby, and then fall asleep on a video call with Bonnie and Elena.

Klaus sighs. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“You can read about our wild night in the gossip blogs. Until then, live in suspense,” Kol announces, tapping the steering wheel decisively to end the call. He grins at Caroline, seemingly realizing that he was only treating her as an accessory of the conversation previously and not a direct participant. He looks at the road and pauses.

“Want to get sushi and tell me embarrassing stories about Klaus?” she asks, locking her phone and setting it aside once more.

The grin that passes over Kol’s features reminds her of the one she can sometimes get out of Klaus, when he’s a little bashful. “I’d love nothing more,” he decides, and the engine revs when he lays his foot on the gas.

-x-

The last Valentine’s day Caroline celebrated was with Tyler, and it consisted of dinner at the kind of restaurant where the prices were astronomical and the portion sizes were miniscule. He bought her two dozen roses, full bloomed and lavish, and then he told her he thought Valentine’s was a ridiculous holiday, as though she’d made him celebrate it at gunpoint.

When he said he wouldn’t be able to stay after dessert because of having to fly out for some stakeholder meeting, the only thing she felt was relief.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have found the fact they broke up only a month later as surprising as she did.

This year, Valentine's falls the day after New York Fashion Week. Klaus made reservations for them to have dinner at a place that will serve more than just scraps of food in a seven-course meal that still leaves them starving. He gets in a few days early, promising on the phone that he has no expectations for her to make herself available. 

"I'll try to get back early," Caroline promises anyway, her hair set in curlers as Klaus waits at his gate at the airport. His sunglasses and hat combo is ridiculous, but she's seen him dodge fans before. Better to look a little odd and avoid having to sign countless things while being mobbed. 

"Don't trouble yourself. I am perfectly capable of navigating to your apartment, and you already cleared me with the doorman. You're in rehearsal; I'll grab drinks with Stefan," Klaus decides. 

She's tempted to make up some kind of excuse and get out of rehearsal early, but only the fear of Katherine somehow finding out keeps her there until the end. Plus, Enzo would totally know and would tease her endlessly about being too in love to focus on her job. Caroline is a consummate professional, though, so she stays still until they've gotten the dress off, and from there she doesn't bother to grab a makeup wipe before heading out. 

The bar is a bit fancier than she normally bothers with, but it’s apparently one of Klaus’s favorites in the city. He and Stefan are at a booth when she arrives, and Caroline only spares Stefan a quick wave before tucking herself into Klaus’s arms and sighing at the touch. Stefan coughs after a prolonged moment, just long enough to where Caroline has forgotten they aren’t quite alone.

She pulls back and rubs her lipstick off of Klaus’s mouth before pulling out a compact mirror from her purse and checking herself over.

“Good to see you too, Care,” Stefan teases her with a fond grin.

Klaus scoots further in to make room for her. The weight of his arm around her shoulders is welcoming after the scheduling conflicts they’ve been having. And it’s not that she minds getting drinks with Stefan, per say. She likes Stefan; they’re friends. She’s just very much looking forward to getting to spend some quality time with Klaus later, and he is too, judging by the hand he places on her thigh.

A drink on the table catches her eye, something pale pink in a coupe glass that’s a far cry from either of the rocks glasses the guys are nursing. Caroline looks up from the menu and pauses. “Did you order me something?” she asks.

Klaus grimaces. “Bekah’s on her way. Sorry I didn’t warn you, and I know I said she’s terrible at holding grudges, but she’s going to have to get over whatever job she missed out on. One drink and then we can be on our way. I promise.”

The words are meant to be comforting, but Caroline only feels vague annoyance that blossoms into anger when Stefan looks at the table, refusing to meet her eyes.

“So,” Caroline begins, tightening her lips into a line as she prepares to admit the truth. “I lied. I did get a job your sister didn’t and she was annoyed about it, but that’s not why she hates me. I may have called her a homewrecking bitch. The homewrecking part might not have been entirely accurate.”

The wrinkle between Klaus’s brow takes a moment to smooth out as he makes the connection. Caroline does her best to not glare at Stefan as she says the words. Bygones are bygones, and if Elena’s over it then Caroline isn’t going to hold that grudge for her. After a few weeks of girl’s nights and rewatching Friends until Elena could see the “we were on a break” scenes without crying, she’d moved on. And Caroline isn’t trying to rehash anything that’s said and done, but she does arch an eyebrow at Stefan meaningfully.

“Ah,” Klaus manages. “I can see why Bekah might have tried to dissuade me from seeing you, then.”

Caroline looks down at the table, studying the tablecloth and then turning her attention to her nails as she tries to occupy herself. The memory isn’t one of her prouder moments.

“I should head out,” Stefan starts, setting his empty glass on the table and reaching for his jacket. 

Caroline isn’t about to let him off that easy. She tilts her head inquisitively and widens her eyes before shoving her nose where it doesn’t belong and asking, “How come?”

Klaus nearly snorts into his bourbon, and Stefan just scowls at her. “Don’t be a bitch, Care.”

“Alright, mate, I’d lay off,” Klaus starts, his drink set to the side as he leans over the table. His arm, still around her shoulders, tightens briefly.

Rolling his eyes, Stefan checks his phone and then sighs before turning back to Caroline and sighing yet again. “I’m going to get dinner with Elena.”

“Always a pleasure,” Caroline says with the kind of smile she usually reserves for the cameras. “He was right, though,” she admits when Klaus shoots her a questioning look, “I was being a bitch.”

It’s nothing she prides herself on being. Caroline knows herself, that she only sharpens in defense of a friend, that she’ll take the heat when needed. She shrugs, as though it doesn’t matter, as though she isn’t still half-stuck in memories of Elena midway through a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, diet plan gone out the window while she shredded the tabloids she can never bring herself to ignore. Stefan’s groveling was enough for Elena to let him back into her good graces and they’ve moved past it since, and even Caroline is over it most of the time.

Klaus pauses, unsure of how to proceed, and then there’s a flash of blonde hair as a manicured hand with scarlet red tips wraps around the stem of the coupe glass.

Rebekah Mikaelson flashes a smile that’s sharper than any stiletto as she lies through her teeth, “Good to see you, Caroline.” She turns softer, more genuine, when she tells Klaus, “I can’t believe you thought you could just sneak over to New York fashion week without seeing your own sister.”

“How is asking you for tickets to your show hiding my presence?” Klaus inquires with a roll of his eyes. 

Though she spent an unexpected weekend with Kol, Caroline hasn’t seen Klaus around his siblings. Kol gave her a piece of the puzzle, telling stories of the four of them before their mother relocated to the US, before any of them were marked for stardom. It’s interesting, the juxtaposition of the Klaus from Kol’s stories versus the Klaus she’s gotten to know over these past few months, and now seeing Klaus relax as he trades barbs with his sister. 

Caroline likes it, likes finding these pieces of him that he doesn’t even know he’s giving away. 

She feels as though she’s discovered a secret he doesn’t realize he’s letting her in on. Among them are the flowers he keeps giving her, the daisies she finds in hotel rooms across the globe with notes tucked inside. 

The bouquet Klaus hands her when she sees him after her show are lilies, this time, pink and white and yellow. The arrangement is huge and spectacular, and her heart is still pounding from getting off the runway.  The flowing tulle skirt, emblematic of the big silhouettes Enzo went for with Austine’s spring line, flares as she approaches and accepts the gorgeous set of blooms. She breathes in so deeply that a few specks of pollen come off on her nose. 

“Wow,” Caroline whispers, suddenly thrown back to how overwhelmed she was by the hotel room filled with daisies.

“Phenomenal,” Klaus pronounces her with a proud smile. 

“Wasn’t she just?” Enzo asks, beaming as he comes through the doors behind her. He’s still riding high off the standing ovation they’ve only just given him. One hand clutches a bottle of water and the other holds the two dozen roses Caroline organized for the models to get for him. “I knew you’d be perfect.”

A few more compliments are exchanged before someone shoves a flute of champagne into Enzo’s hands, and from there it’s promises of setting aside time at the afterparty to work through the best things about the show.

Caroline grins and leans into Klaus’s side as she looks away from the bouquet at last. “It went better than the last time you saw me walk,” she teases him, their first meeting the best possible thing that could have come from the panic attack she suffered at Alaric’s show.

His eyes turn serious, and he lowers his voice. “You were alright?”

“I knew you’d be here when I was done.” She gives his hand a reassuring squeeze. Klaus had been so worried that she told him she’d get security to drag him out if he used his backstage pass unnecessarily, and from there they’d settled on a series of text messages throughout the getting ready process as well as one when the show was over to assure him she’d made it through okay.

Her runway walks are nerve wracking, yes, but the panic attack at Alaric’s show was a far cry from the norm of how Caroline handles high profile events. Klaus is new to her slice of the world, though, and his protectiveness that borders on overbearing is a reaction from having glimpsed the worst possible result. She’s trying to remind herself that he’s only so worried because he cares. The scent of the lilies drift up to her from the bouquet, and then she gasps when she sees what’s wrapped around the ribbon tying them together.

“Klaus,” Caroline breathes, reaching tentatively for the tennis bracelet intertwined with the ribbon.

The diamonds are laid out into interlocking infinity symbols in white gold, shining under the fluorescent lighting. Her fingers shake when she touches it, and then her hand goes still when Klaus deftly unlatches the clasp and holds it out to her.

“I saw this and thought it deserved to be worn by a woman as beautiful as you,” he says while slipping it on. The metal is cool against her skin, and she shivers but doesn’t know if the reaction is brought upon by the momentary feeling or cold or the brush of his thumb against the inside of her wrist. “Congratulations, sweetheart. You were incredible.”

Whatever response she tries to come up with is cut off as she suddenly finds herself enveloped by two brunettes, her flowers only barely avoiding bruising.

“Look at you, closing the whole damn show!” Elena shouts, clinging tightly before pulling away. Her smile is as bright as ever, and her shared excitement is palpable. “You were so good!”

“The best ,” Bonnie agrees. “Clearly the designer has good taste, since he picked you. Also, that dress was beyond gorgeous.”

“Remind me to introduce you later,” Caroline decides as she thinks about all of the times Enzo has attempted to blackmail her into getting him and Bonnie in the same place at the same time. “I can’t believe you guys came out.”

“Well of course I’m here; I have a show tomorrow,” Elena protests as she passes over another bouquet, this one composed solely of orange tulips.

Bonnie grins at her teasingly and says, “I was going to come anyway, but someone might have suggested you’d appreciate the extra support.”

Klaus ducks his head, and Caroline takes a quick step over to kiss him on the cheek. She wonders if he’s ever going to stop surprising her, if there will come a point where she knows him so well that it becomes impossible. She hopes not.

“Are you going to the afterparty?” Elena asks, looking up from her phone. 

Initially, she’d planned to sneak away after the show with Klaus and just hope no one noticed her disappearance. That won’t be possible with Elena and Bonnie here, as grateful for them as she is. Running the options through her mind, Caroline is saved from having to answer when Klaus takes the question for her and says, “Full disclosure, I plan to steal her away after an hour.”

Bonnie rolls her eyes, but Elena sighs a little wistfully as she puts her phone away. “Don’t bother,” she decides and waves away Bonnie’s protests. “Stefan can drive us, and this way I won’t have to pretend to not notice how messed up your hair is going to be when you get out of the car.”

Caroline glares at her while Bonnie cackles, and she pulls them in for another hug with the promise of meeting in LA for lunch when she has a shoot next month before pulling Klaus out the back door like they’re getting away with something.

-x-

The next month, Caroline’s lunch date with the girls consists of her and Elena perusing their menu as they make guesses as to why Bonnie might be late.

“Has anyone eaten a cobb salad since the 90s?” Elena asks, trailing a manicured fingernail down the cardstock. “I bet she lost track of time in the studio.”

Caroline wrinkles her nose. She avoids boiled egg, and she doesn’t think she’s ever eaten a cobb salad before nor does she plan to. “Surprise album drop,” she hedges, and then asks, “Have you been here before? Why didn’t we go to the place down the street, the farm to table one Bonnie is always raving about? I like their steaks.”

“Stefan suggested this place. He was going to be here today, but…” Elena trails off and shrugs. The set of her lips is the only thing that tips Caroline off.

“What did he do?” she asks, already thinking about the near-miss Stefan and Rebekah had at the bar.

Lifting her eyebrows, Elena shrugs again. “Not so much him,” she admits after a moment. “He thinks Damon went on another bender. Stefan to the rescue, as per usual.”

The last Caroline heard about the elder Salvatore, he’d moved to Montana in a John Mayer-esque move in an attempt to do some clean living. An unsuccessful move, apparently. She makes the connection quickly enough, nudging Elena’s foot under the table with her own. “Part of why you love Stefan is the hero hair,” she reminds her.

“Not just the hero hair,” Elena counters, but she’s grinning a little in spite of herself.

“Part of having the hero hair means acting the hero every now and then. Sorry his brother’s a jackass, though,” Caroline tacks on. She’s only had the misfortune of meeting Damon once when she and Elena were new to the industry, a thankfully short but memorable enough introduction to where Stefan knows she’ll rescind any and all invitations made to events where his brother’s presence is expected. Elena has had to put up with him a few more times, but Stefan tries to make those occasions few and far between, and Damon being locked up in rehab a few months out of the year only seems to help his cause.

Elena bites her lip and then looks up before grinning at the front door, where Bonnie is stepping past the hostess stand. Her smile is wide, and she looks phenomenal, more relaxed than she usually is. 

A possible reason as to why is made clear when Enzo steps to the side and follows her in. Caroline can already tell by his smug face that she’s never going to hear the end of it. 

“You’re here,” Bonnie gushes, wrapping one arm around Elena’s chair and the other around Caroline’s as she gives them a squeeze. “I just saw you guys, but it feels like forever. Care, what skincare are you using? You’re glowing.”

“New facialist,” Caroline says with a wave of her hand. The woman came at the recommendation of Rebekah, and Caroline has to admit it’s worked out well so far. She and Klaus met up with his sister one more time before fashion week was over, and she thinks they’re going to try to be civil to one another. Klaus said that was probably the most he could hope for, anyway.

Enzo pulls out Bonnie’s chair before taking his own seat and then smiles while folding his hands on the table. “Anything to say for yourself, gorgeous?” he prompts her.

Rolling her eyes, Caroline sighs. “I didn’t want to combine two areas of my life and have it turn out to be a disaster,” she defends herself. “Although, I am admittedly relieved you two are happy together. You’re welcome, by the way.”

“You’re welcome?” Bonnie repeats incredulously. Across from her, Elena is laughing into her napkin.

Caroline waves a hand between them, indicating whatever kind of relationship they have in case they’ve been unwilling to give it a label thus far. “You know, I have excellent taste in people. So you’re welcome.”

Bonnie grows visibly annoyed, and they’re saved from whatever diatribe she might have started down on by Enzo grabbing the menu and asking about the first thing he sees. “Why don’t we split an order of fried cauliflower mac and cheese bites? Oh good Lord, why are we eating here?”

“Stefan recommended it,” Elena supplies, defensive. “And I really don’t want to run an extra three miles tomorrow morning, so no thank you.”

“Thank God,” Caroline says, “I’ve been having issues with dairy.”

“I stay away, too. Bad for the vocal cords,” Bonnie explains before launching into the latest LA diet craze, a new kind of milk made from something that sounds like it was never meant to be a liquid, much less a milk. Apparently it’s what everyone’s been doing nowadays, but Caroline isn’t about to start getting most of her nutrients from supplemental vitamins while going on a juice cleanse. She tried that ill-advised plan at nineteen and is still a little convinced her intestines have never been the same. 

The waiter comes up after they’ve been through the menu twice to no avail, so Caroline makes the executive decision that she’s too hungry to bother going to a different place to eat and order the brussel sprout salad with almonds and cranberries. Enzo’s nose wrinkles, but that’s no different than anytime he goes out to eat with her. 

When they’ve finally ordered, Caroline leans back into her chair as she watches Bonnie and Enzo act like they aren’t holding hands under the table. It’s cute and a little juvenile, and it makes something in her chest ache when she thinks about Klaus staying in London for the next few weeks.

“Are you alright, Care?” Bonnie asks, sipping from her cocktail. It’s decorated with a flower on top, intended to look tropical but it just seems strange in this restaurant that can’t decide on a theme. “You should get one, these are good.”

“I’m good, but thank you,” Caroline decides. She needs to go for a run later and definitely won’t have the motivation if she starts drinking. After, she’ll check the time change and make the time to call Klaus later, even if that means twisting her sleep schedule around to make it work. “I haven’t seen you guys in weeks, and clearly there’s a lot to update me on, so spill.”

Needing no further prompting, Enzo launches into the tale of how he spotted Bonnie at the afterparty of his show and vowed he wouldn’t let her get away, regardless of whether Caroline was there to give him an introduction. Caroline laughs along with the story, wondering when her life will slow down enough to where she’s able to plan a night with her boyfriend that wouldn’t involve time changes or flight plans.

-x-

When they can manage being together, date nights consist of going out to a restaurant and possibly doing something lavish like going to a film premiere or seeing a concert. Sometimes they luxuriate in staying home and eating take out on Caroline's couch while watching shitty cult classics, or else Klaus attempts to grill on his patio and burns the steak so badly they order curry from his favorite place in London. Occasionally it involves getting together with friends, doing a double date with Stefan and Elena, and now Caroline supposes Bonnie and Enzo might make it a triple date. When they can, they do what they want to.

More often, though, date nights aren't at night at all. Time differences separate them in a way that makes the distance difficult, to the point where Caroline will often tell Klaus about her schedule for the day ahead while he gets ready for bed. They make it work.

When they can swing it, date nights are sitting in front of a laptop screen and synching up their streaming of the latest box office bomb because Klaus jokes he wants to know what he's up against. Caroline prefers indie flicks or else gives in and suggests they watch whatever action movie Elena has been pushing her to see. They've seen a couple documentaries directed by Klaus's eldest brother Elijah, a blending of critically-acclaimed film and award-winning journalism. She doesn't mind them, but she's decided to never eat fish again.

Disappointing, considering sushi is her favorite food.

Their lives take them in different directions. Not the opposite, necessarily, but it takes time and commitment to figure out a schedule that works for them.

"Did I tell you I asked Katherine to book me more in Europe?" Caroline asks, reaching for a jar of moisturizer and spinning the top off. “I just figured since you’ll be filming there for a bit, it might make things easier.”

“Only for the next two months, and hopefully after that I will have earned some well-deserved relaxation time in LA or New York if you feel up to hosting me.”

“Hosting?” she counters while dabbing the cream under her eyes, “If you’re just coming over to my place while I’m out working, you’d better be helping out.”

Klaus scoffs and shakes his head, but his lips have curled into the private smile that only she sees. “I can prepare dinner. Just think, returning from a long day of work, dripping feathers or glitter onto the carpet as you return to the scent of charred steak cooling in the bin and the Thai takeout I plated for you.”

The image makes her duck her head as she laughs, pulling her hair back into a loose ponytail. “That sounds nice,” she decides. Unrealistic and impractical and a whole boatload of other impossibilities, but nice. Nice enough to make her wistful for something that will probably never come to pass. “You do know where all of my favorites are in the city by now, after all.”

“Ah, but there are new restaurants opening every day. Think of the delivery options, love. And who knows? Perhaps with enough practice I might manage to not burn something one day.”

When Klaus grins at her, Caroline has to let her eyes slip closed. “Something to look forward to,” she agrees.

She has a life that people would kill for. Aspiring models every day talk about how jealous they are of Caroline Forbes’ rising star. Every ad she does or shoot she models for get talked about in terms of where is she going, what will she do next. Caroline knows how lucky she is; she does. It’s just that sometimes she thinks she’d give it all up to come home at the end of the day to Klaus. Even if it were to a shitty apartment with cracks in the drywall and peeling linoleum rather than the marble she recently had her kitchen outfitted with.

“Sweetheart?” Klaus asks after a moment.

Caroline blinks and stares at herself in the mirror. “Sometimes I think about retiring,” she admits. 

That wasn’t what she was going to say, but it’s true. She loves her career, but sometimes she wonders if it’s worth it. The answer isn’t as obvious as it used to be.

Retirement is a fantasy for now. She’s going to let Katherine keep booking her for the next few years until the offers dry up and she can curl up in bed on a day off without wondering if she’s missing something. 

On the other end of the line, Klaus goes quiet. He’s in a hotel room in Venice, or maybe Verona. Caroline has a hard time keeping up when he’s shooting on location. He keeps better tabs on her - there’s always a bouquet of daisies waiting in whatever hotel room she ends up at. Katherine once scoffed at how sappy the sentiment was, but Caroline knows she thinks it’s sweet. When she got in yesterday, the vase was on the nightstand with an envelope tucked inside.

Your smile lights up your face, every room you enter, my life. 

Her alarm goes off, the warning that she needs to get moving.

“I love you, sweetheart,” Klaus says with a heavy sigh. “I wish I was there.”

Caroline hangs up and then blinks, her lashes sticky with unshed tears. “Me, too,” she whispers as she tilts her face up to keep them from falling.

-x-

Everything about Rebekah’s house in Paris is intimidating, from the towers on the side down to the door knocker designed to look like a lion’s head. Intimidating, yes, but also a little gaudy, and Caroline pulls the metal knocker down hard like she’s trying to startle the nerves from her system.

“There’s no need to be so bloody loud about it,” Rebekah says when she opens the door.

She looks perfect, like she just walked off the cover of a magazine into her home. And it’s not that Caroline doesn’t think highly of herself, but she just got off a plane and her hair is frizzy from leaning against the seat, and she probably has bags under her eyes because she had to catch a red eye after finishing a shoot in Toronto. Not her best look, all in all.

“Thanks,” Caroline mutters as she grabs her bag and walks into the entryway. It’s decorated lavishly, which she finds unsurprising. “Nice place.”

An understatement, she knows, and Rebekah is all too aware of it if the answering sneer she gives is anything to go by. 

It's not like she and Rebekah have a history or anything. Really, the only reason Caroline has to dislike the other model is the Stefan of it all, which is rather hypocritical since Stefan and Elena weren't even together at that point. Animosity is only going to sow seeds of discontent, and Caroline is growing to realize that she doesn't think that can happen for too much longer. If she wants things with Klaus to work, that means playing nice with his family.

Which might mean an apology is in order.

As the only child of divorced parents, Caroline never had to apologize for much. Little things here and there the same way as anyone else, but her flaws were always excused away by parents who didn't want to be seen as the bad guys. 

The words feel clumsy on her tongue when she says, "I'm sorry, by the way. For what I said to you about Stefan."

Rebekah blinks in surprise. She holds out her hand for Caroline's jacket and then announces, "I thought you were a bitch at the time. I still do, I suppose, but Elena is your family. I can understand being defensive about family."

Then, as she shuts the door to the coat closet, she adds cheerfully, "and that's why I'll make your life a living hell if you hurt Nik."

This time, it's Caroline's turn to be surprised, although she guesses she probably shouldn't be. 

They fall into silence until Caroline swallows her pride once more and says, "Thanks for letting me stay, by the way."

"Nik asked, and I was going to be around anyway. It's no trouble. Besides, my gym is far superior to whatever equipment they'd have at the hovel you'd be staying at otherwise."

Caroline wouldn't exactly call the Ritz a hovel , but she bites her tongue. Rebekah's gym is surely better suited to her needs after all, so she just smiles gratefully and makes a mental note to ask Klaus if his sister is always so abrasive. Probably, as she and Rebekah were never exactly buddy-buddy even before Stefan got mixed into things.

With a nod, Rebekah turns around and leads her into the kitchen, pointing out the coffee machine and cups before her phone rings. She wrinkles her nose and says simply, “Excuse me,” before answering as she walks into the other room with the greeting, “Hello, least favorite brother.”

“Liar,” Kol accuses loudly, but he sounds almost pleased.

The interruption is a great excuse to explore the rest of the house. The gym is down the hall, with a luxury elliptical and a steady weight set. There’s a flat screen mounted on the wall with Youtube already opened, the recent searches including different toning exercise examples. Caroline is only staying for a few days, but she knows she’ll be spending more time in here than at her favorite cafes. She’s gotten too relaxed recently, and she’s terrified it’s starting to show.

She can make out bits and pieces of the conversation as Rebekah comes over, something about planning to meet up when Kol comes over on tour in a week. Caroline can visit her mom whenever she wants, provided she can find the time. It doesn’t depend on Liz’s schedule.

“How’s Kol?” she asks when Rebekah enters.

“An ass, as usual.” A pause, a moment where they realize they have very little to say to each other despite having so much in common. Maybe it'll get better, Caroline thinks, although that feels like it would be a long way off.

Figuring that she might as well get used to breaking silences, Caroline says, "Thank you, again."

When Rebekah wrinkles her nose, it reminds Caroline of Klaus. "Don't mention it. If it doesn't end up in the tabloids, it'll be like it never even happened." She spins on her heel and then calls out, “I’ll show you to your room.”

-x-

When the zipper stops an inch below where it’s supposed to, Caroline can’t pull her gaze up from the ground, staring at the stilettos with their individually-placed rhinestones. “Sorry,” she mumbles, “I had a burrito for lunch.”

It’s the kind of amatuer mistake she hasn’t made in years.

The stylist makes a derisive noise from the back of her throat before stepping in to see what can be done, running her fingers down the bodice of the gown to get a feel for how much fabric can be taken out. 

The dress is meant to be tight, yes, but not tight like this. It’s a red leather garment with a collared neckline and angles so sharp as to be almost masculine. There are bits of metal arranged at the waist to make her seem untouchable. Caroline was almost looking forward to wearing it, at least before her meal at Chipotle made the zipper stop in its tracks.

There’s a seamstress on site, of course, and it only takes a few rearranged stitches before Caroline gets into position, but she can feel everyone staring at her.

To make up for the incident with the fitting, she makes sure to give her all with her poses and through her facial expressions. Wide eyes when needed, a directness she usually doesn’t go for, occasionally playing demure as she tilts her head innocently with a faraway look in her eyes. The next outfit actually, you know, fits which is a relief Caroline didn’t know she needed. By the end of the shoot, things feel almost back to normal, although she’s already planned to add a few extra miles onto tonight’s cardio. 

“Don’t worry about the first look,” the designer, Sybil, says with a flash of teeth arranged into something probably intended as a smile but that really resembles more of a grimace. “We were going to have to edit you down anyway.”

The bottom drops out of Caroline’s stomach, and she gives a stiff nod in return.

It’s all she can do to keep a straight face as she leaves the building. She’ll have to tell Katherine, of course, and they’ll need to give updated measurements. It probably was just the burrito she had for lunch, because it has to be, but there’s a pit in her stomach about the idea it could be anything more. 

And to think, the day had started off so well.

She flew into LA for the shoot, and Klaus is getting in tonight, which will be the first time they’ve seen each other in nearly two months. When she was getting her makeup done, the artist had to tell her twice to stop smiling so she could fix her lipstick.

Sybil is well-known in the fashion world for being a bitch. Caroline thought her reputation was overblown, just men upset that a woman was staking her claim in the industry, but now she has to admit it’s somewhat earned. Her designs are impeccable, of course, and she gets more acclaim every day. And now Caroline will probably never work for her again because of the kind of mistake she hasn’t been so stupid to make in years.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” Katherine tells her over the speaker, her nails hitting a keyboard aggressively as she probably types out some kind of threatening email for a different client.

“It wasn’t fine,” Caroline returns. “The dress didn’t zip.”

“By like an inch, and that’s nothing. I heard Sybil sometimes does it on purpose to knock models off their game. I should have warned you.” A few more clacking noises and then Katherine asks curiously, “Do you want me to blacklist her?”

The idea is baffling, but mostly because Caroline doesn’t have that kind of power.

In the Uber, Caroline watches as the driver comes into Klaus’s neighborhood, the collection of high rises overtop fancy gyms or grocery stores that specialize in organic produce. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she says. “But she’s done this before?"

“Rumors, of course, but it wouldn’t be unheard of as a powerplay. And it clearly works.”

“Well of course it works, my body is how I make my living,” Caroline hisses and then feels herself blush when the driver glances back in the mirror. “But don’t try to blackball her.”

Katherine gives an audible sigh. “Please, cupcake?” she wheedles.

“No,” Caroline insists, but she can feel herself starting to smile again, which was probably what Katherine was going for. “But I’ll retake my measurements tonight and send them over to you just to be sure.”

“Don’t bother. Sybil’s a bitch, and she got in your head. Throw some extra miles on the routine if you really feel you need to, but I assure you that you don’t. You’re always drinking those gross smoothies anyway; I think your body has been punished enough.”

“It’s important to eat a variety of greens,” Caroline insists, the argument a bit tired though after having to defend her breakfast to Klaus every time he sees it and wrinkles his nose.

Still, though, the conversation helped put her mind at ease, and she tips the driver extra for whatever he heard. Klaus’s building is over one of the organic stores that LA prides itself on supplying in spades, so she makes a quick stop to grab the ingredients for tomorrow’s breakfast. She could eat waffles, but Klaus looks cute when he’s pretending to be offended. 

An hour later and she’s washing spinach in the sink with a sample from Bonnie’s album playing in the background. The windows have been opened both to air the place out and let the light in, the biggest change from when Klaus keeps it almost like a cave. His apartment isn’t home, but it’s closer than anything else on this side of the country. 

She knows where the spoons are, how to set up the stereo for movie night, and she has a favored side of the bed. It’s better than any hotel room could be, even without the bouquet of daisies and with Klaus having been gone long enough for his scent to fade from the pillow. There's a kind of romance in this domesticity that she's never been afforded with anyone else. Not personal, in some ways, but there's an intimacy that comes with being in someone's space and being able to navigate without needing guidance. 

When the song gets to the chorus, Caroline lifts up her bunch of celery like a microphone to sing along, spritzing water on the counter when she spins around and then slipping on the spray.

She tries to grab the counter as she falls, but that only knocks over the vase. Before the checkout at the grocery, there was a display of flowers, and Caroline thought the daisies sitting at the front would be the perfect way to help her feel better after such a shit day. But now, sitting on the floor surrounded by water, broken glass, and torn petals, she wishes she'd left them behind.

"Sweetheart?" Klaus calls from the entryway, and that's apparently all the incentive she needs for the first sob to wretch its way from her throat.

Curling her hands into fists uselessly at her side, she tries to swallow the next down so she can push this shit day to the side. She's unsuccessful, and her next breath is a gasp as Klaus comes in to see the disaster she's made of his kitchen. 

"Sweetheart," he breathes, taking the scene in.

Caroline blinks until she can see him properly, and then she hiccoughs and holds up a hand when he goes to take a step forward.

Not bothering to listen to her protests, he just says, "It's fine, it's fine," before taking care to not step on any obvious shards of glass with his shoes. Each crunching step brings him closer until Caroline is leaning into his chest. The fabric is damp with her tears by the time she pulls away, but Klaus doesn't let her do what she would under any other circumstances and launch into getting everything cleaned up. He just gets down on the floor with her, ignoring the water that soaks into his jeans.

Her lower lip wobbles, but she manages the semblance of a smile. "You're home early."

Klaus gives a laugh that's almost hollow. He’s solid and real against her, so much better than even their best efforts at conquering distance. "Thought I might surprise you."

"Surprise," Caroline mumbles as she tucks her chin onto his shoulder.

"Surprise."

His hand runs down her back in a steadying rhythm until her chest doesn't shake with every breath. Caroline finally lets herself look up at him, rubbing her thumb into the indent of his dimple on his cheek. "Sorry," she whispers.

"That kind of day, huh?" Klaus asks, looking around at the stems of the daisies that are scattered around the tiled floor. Shards of glass wink up at them under the kitchen lighting, shifting when Caroline tilts her head. 

She thinks about the set to Sybil's mouth when the designer had mentioned the editing, the meaningful pause the seamstress left in between describing how the dress should have fit before she let out the seam. Caroline sighs and leans a little more of her weight on him. "You have no idea," she decides, even though she knows Klaus would come closer than most. 

He squeezes her shoulder and then asks, "Ready?" 

Caroline doesn't even get a chance to ask for what before he's lifting her up, one arm under her knees and the other at her waist in a bridal carry. She gasps and automatically clings to his shoulders even as she straightens her legs to keep her feet off the ground, a bit shriller than normal when she asks, “What are you doing?”

“You’re going to take a shower; I’m going to clean the kitchen,” he asserts while toeing his shoes off before carrying her down the hall and towards his bedroom. His luggage is still by the door, abandoned from when he heard her crying, along with something that has her twisting around in his arms to get a better view even as Klaus laughs while she fights him. 

“No, stop it,” Caroline says, smacking at his arms as she tries to stretch out of his grip.

“You stop it! You’re going to get glass everywhere, and I’m going to have to clean up.”

“You’re just going to have your cleaning service come in anyway,” she protests, still trying to crane her neck over his shoulder as they turn into the bedroom. “Did you buy me flowers?” Her smile only grows when he all but drops her on the bed.

Klaus rolls his eyes while she rolls onto her front to keep from the water spilled onto her skirt from soaking into the comforter. “I always buy you flowers,” he points out when she ducks her face into the pillows, “because I will never tire of how embarrassed you get from the simplest of gestures.”

Sure, it’s a simple gesture, but it’s also not . It’s emblematic of the effort he always puts into their relationship. 

“I love you,” Caroline says because sometimes it feels like she doesn’t have the words to tell him what he means to her. 

His lips against hers are gentle but searching. Winding a hand around his neck and slipping her fingers through the hair that’s beginning to curl at his nape, she holds him there until she has to pull away to catch her breath. Leaning forward, his lips brush against her forehead. “I’m sorry you had a shit day, love.”

This time, her laugh isn’t forced. It was a shit day, but it’s almost over now. She reclines on the pillows for a moment and then sighs as the first bit of stress from the day is drawn out of her body. “It’s getting better,” she admits and reaches over to squeeze his hand. “Thanks.”

His eyes are serious when he tells her, “No thanks necessary.”

That bath is starting to sound tempting, and she props herself onto her elbows to stare at him, figuring that she’ll give one more token protest before letting herself be taken care of. “Are you sure I can’t help you clean up my mess?”

Klaus is deeply unimpressed with her if his answering look is anything to go by. “I’m certain. I am perfectly capable of sweeping some glass away, wiping the floor, and ordering a pizza. How does that sound?”

Heavenly, except for the twinge of guilt about eating pizza after she wasn’t able to fit into one of today’s looks properly.

“With salad,” Klaus bargains, “but I’m getting mozzarella sticks, and I’m going to share.”

The set of his mouth tells her how serious he is, so Caroline sighs as though put upon. “Deal,” she decides, “but tomorrow we’re going for a run together.”

He evaluates for a moment before announcing, “I’m ordering Hawaiian.”

Caroline doesn’t bother to muffle her groan into the pillow before she goes to start the bath.

-x-

Wearing sunglasses indoors is ridiculous, and Caroline will always make fun of Klaus for being so extra about it even if it’s a necessary measure. She still keeps her head down when she gets to the counter, her hood pulled up and her sunglasses obscuring even more of her face. She’s being ridiculous, yes, but it’s better than the alternative of someone noticing her while she’s going through the checkout.

Elena is standing outside the shop with glassy eyes when she comes out with her purchase in hand, double-bagged to ensure it’s not transparent.

“Well,” Caroline decides, injecting enough cheer in her voice to cover her nerves, “let’s do this thing.”

They sit in silence in the cab to Caroline’s apartment, gripping each other’s hands on the middle seat. Elena’s nails leave crescent marks when she pulls back, and it isn’t until they’re standing in Caroline’s bathroom with the bag on the counter that she says anything.

“What if it’s nothing?” Elena asks. “Probably just bad sushi. Right?”

Caroline stays silent while she works through it, but she wraps her arms around Elena when she starts to shake. “It’s going to be okay. No matter what, it’s going to be okay. We’re going to get through this.”

Taking in a shaky breath, Elena nods but doesn’t look entirely convinced. “You’re sure?”

Truth be told, Caroline is nervous for her friend, but she puts on a brave face and takes one of the pregnancy tests to hold out. “Totally,” she lies. “No matter if it’s bad sushi or… We’ll figure it out. You and Stefan will figure something out.”

Probably not the wisest thing for her to say. Elena bites her lip and takes a small step back. “I’m so fucking scared, Care,” she whispers. “We’re not ready for this.”

Caroline, too, would be scared in her situation. She doesn’t bother with platitudes or further assurances. Instead, she does the only thing she can think of to help out and grabs a second test in a show of solidarity. She’d panicked in the store and just grabbed a handful at first, and then a second with the realization that she had no idea how accurate they could be. There’s more than enough for her to humor Elena and still have plenty of spares to validate the results. “Then we’ll do it together, okay?”

With a deep breath, Elena nods and sets her shoulders. “Alright. We’ll do it together.”

They open one of the boxes and pull out the instructions at Caroline’s insistence, even though Elena says it really can’t be that hard to pee on a stick. She lets up when Caroline points out that fucking it up could lead to a bad result, and then they take turns in the bathroom until they’re looking at two pregnancy tests sitting on the counter, waiting.

“How long does it take?” Elena asks, running a hand through her hair.

Caroline checks the instructions again. “A few minutes,” she mumbles, and then, “We probably shouldn't watch.”

“A watched pregnancy test never gives results?” Elena jokes hallowly.

A quick search turns up disposable cups they place over each, and Caroline sets up a timer. Elena’s hand is clammy in her own, and she keeps taking out her phone and opening up her text thread with Stefan before closing out the app again.

“Should I tell him?” she asks, thumb hovering over his picture.

At some point, she’ll have to, Caroline thinks, but that’s only if it’s positive. She shrugs. “Maybe wait until we get the result back? And I bought extra, you know, just for peace of mind.”

The seven extra pregnancy tests scattered on the counter, boxes unopened as of yet, seem a little ridiculous in hindsight. Nine is way too many. Caroline just hopes her sunglasses, while ridiculous, kept anyone from realizing it was her buying nine pregnancy tests and then a pack of gum when she panicked in the checkout lane, like including Juicy Fruit in the purchase was going to throw anyone off.

Elena nods and then leans over to see the countdown on Caroline’s phone. Less than a minute to go, now. 

“I don’t want to look,” she confesses, biting her lip.

Caroline squeezes her hand. “We can look at each other’s?” she suggests after a moment. Her stomach twists at the idea of having to tell her friend the result, whatever it is, but Elena is a good friend. She can do this for Elena.

Even though they’re expecting it, the beep catches them by surprise. Caroline fumbles with her phone to shut the timer down, and then they both take a breath. “Together,” she decides, reaching across for the cup with Elena’s test.

“Two lines is positive?” Elena asks with a tremor in her voice.

Caroline nods. She wonders if they should have called Bonnie, if Bonnie would have handled this better than her. Too late, now, she supposes, and then says, “One, two… Three.”

The relieved sigh she lets out when she sees the negative symbol on Elena’s test takes a weight off her shoulders she didn’t know she was carrying. “Congratulations!” she shouts, and then, seeing Elena’s stricken face, adds on, “on not having a baby!”

Elena shouts in joy and tips her head back, laughing at how terrified she’d been only minutes before. Almost as an afterthought, she grabs Caroline’s and then stares at the markings for a long moment. “Congratulations,” she whispers, turning it over to show more clearly. “You’re pregnant.”

The relief Caroline felt slips away from her before she’s aware. “What?”

There are two lines staring at her. Her hand shakes when she reaches for it.

“You said these aren’t always accurate, though, right? That’s why you bought so many,” Elena points out, already reaching for another of the boxes. “We’ll take another, and it’ll be fine. I’ll do it with you. It’s better to be sure, right?”

“Right,” Caroline echoes unconsciously. She blinks at the two lines which don’t shift. The top one, the positive one, isn’t blurry or faded. 

Elena gets them glasses of water and two tests ready, and then Caroline is sitting on her bed while they wait for Elena’s phone to tell them it’s time. Her stomach is twisting. She has a text from Klaus that she doesn’t think she can open without having a panic attack. Elena keeps running her hand down her back, but Caroline can’t make out what she’s saying. The only noise that actually gets through to her is when the timer goes off.

Two tests. One negative, one positive, and Caroline sinks down to the floor as she clutches both of her positive tests in shaking hands.

All of Elena’s fear from earlier has faded away, and she’s taken on the look of a woman who’s only concerned with crisis management. She comes back into the bathroom with another glass of water and a plan.

Ten minutes later, staring at the additional five positive tests, Caroline whispers, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Elena says something that she doesn’t hear in response. Probably something reassuring, because that’s Elena’s M-O, and she’s a good friend. She’s always been a great friend. She keeps talking as Caroline gets tunnel vision at the tests, the proof she’s been confronted with. The original one, the backup, and then the other five. Seven in all. That’s probably not a statistical anomaly or user error. That seems to be a fact. Blood tests are more accurate, though. That seems like a good solution, Caroline thinks to herself in a rush of terror.

Her phone buzzes, and she jolts when she sees Klaus’s name on the screen again. She has to tell him. What is there to tell? She has to make a doctor’s appointment. Bile rises in her throat while her ears buzz, and Elena grabs her hair when she scrambles for the toilet, white-knuckled while she holds herself up over the porcelain. 

“I feel like this is usually the kind of thing to where I’d open a bottle of wine for us to deal with it. Not that… Not that it has to be dealt with,” Elena stutters after Caroline has showered and the washer is humming as it does a load of her clothes. 

Impulsively, Caroline sets a hand on her stomach and then pulls it back. The motion felt instinctive but still strange, still surprising. There’s nothing to deal with except for the reality that she’s going to have a baby. More precisely, she and Klaus are going to have a baby. Her ears are still buzzing a little.

“Are you still okay with me staying over?” Elena asks, running a brush through Caroline’s hair as she sits at her vanity and stares blankly in the mirror.

Without actually thinking, Caroline nods and then decides afterward that she’s made the right choice. She doesn’t want to be alone right now.

Looking down at her stomach, she thinks that she might not actually be alone, and then she feels herself start to laugh at the idea of it all. Pregnant. The bits of clues start to pile on, things she won’t know for certain until she figures out how far along she is, but she can suddenly look back on the last few weeks with a startling bit of clarity.

The exhaustion she’s been carrying with her that makes it so hard to exercise, the fact that Sybil’s dress didn’t zip the way it should have, the fact that some days feel like an emotional roller coaster for no reason. Plus, what she’d thought was a developing intolerance to dairy didn’t get better when she stopped eating cheese and switched over to almond milk.

“Are you okay?” Elena asks. “Do you need anything?”

Caroline takes a deep breath. “I want ice cream,” she decides, “and then I’m going to call Klaus.”

Mom-friend mode activated, Elena nods and pulls up a menu from down the block, reading out flavor names and watching Caroline’s reaction to everyone. Black cherry with chocolate chunks is the decision, and Elena pulls on her jacket and grabs her purse before giving Caroline a hug so tight it feels bruising.

Caroline stands in the doorway for a moment before closing it and then taking a seat at her kitchen table. Her stomach flips when she reaches for her phone.

She does want ice cream, especially after she’s deprived herself or tried to stomach the vegan stuff made with coconut cream for the past… Two, almost three months. Almost three months. And she could be wrong, of course, but… Deep breath, she tells herself before checking her texts.

Klaus sent a photo of the daisies she ordered to his house with a promise to get her back another time. He’s in London for now, flying back to New York over the weekend. Caroline guesses the break has come at a good time. She doesn’t bother to check the time difference before she calls him, knowing that it doesn’t matter. This is something he’d want to be woken up for.

“Hello, love,” Klaus says, looking vaguely rumpled in bed but not like she woke him up. A good sign. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Caroline finds herself smiling before she can truly think about it. She hasn’t had time to process any of this. All she knows is that she wants him here with her, now. She coughs when she starts and then realizes she’s choked on a cry, and then manages, “I’m fine,” when she realizes how panicked he looks. How panicked she must look.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” he asks, turning on the lamp on his nightstand.

His sheets always smell like the balsa wood of his body wash and the laundry detergent that makes them so clean to where Caroline burrows into them even when he’s away. Her lip wobbles at the thought, and she forces a smile almost as an act of bravery. “Nothing,” she says, although she doesn’t know if that’s true. They’ve never talked about… “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says, immediate and sure and exactly what she needs.

Time to bite the bullet, then, Caroline supposes. “I’m pregnant.”

The light from the nightstand casts shadows across his face and makes it a little hard to see, but Klaus’s jolt of surprise is impossible to miss. He sits up further, running a hand through his hair, and just when she’s about to ask him to say something, he announces, “I’ll fly out tomorrow.”

“What?” she asks, pulling up his calendar. “You already have a flight out on Friday. I was going to pick you up from the airport with one of those disgusting corn dogs you apparently enjoy.”

“I’ll cancel my lunch with Elijah,” he says, and then, “Are you alright?”

She pauses, the question unexpected. Her stomach flips, more out of nerves than from nausea. “I’m scared. We’re going to have a baby,” she answers after a long delay. The words feel strange to say out loud. “Do you want...?” The question trails off as she realizes that they’ve never talked about this, and a baby isn’t the kind of thing they can’t talk about, and what if he doesn’t? The room blurs.

Klaus’s face softens, the sheer amount of sympathy making her want to burrow into his sheets with him, and then she feels a pang at the realization she can’t. “I want a family with you, Caroline,” he tells her.

That apparently triggers the waterworks she’d barely been keeping at bay, and she looks up and blinks at the overhead light to keep from crying too much. “Really?” she manages.

“I’ll be home before you know it.”

Home.

Caroline leans her phone against her glass of water and exhales, feeling some of the tension release from her shoulders. “Okay,” she decides, “I’ll make a doctor’s appointment, I guess.”

Klaus smiles at her, tired and sleepy and fond and honest enough to make her heart hurt. “Do you know how… How far along?”

A laugh bubbles up as she shakes her head. “Nope,” she answers with a shrug. “I took a test out of solidarity because Elena had a pregnancy scare. She’s not, by the way, but… Surprise.” She gives jazz hands to show off, giggling at the memory of how shocked Elena was when she first saw the test.

“Surprise,” he echoes, his grin growing, and she thinks of sitting on his kitchen floor in LA with a shattered vase around them. “We’re going to have a baby.”

A baby. The word feels surreal, even though the seven positive tests indicate that she should get used to the idea.

“I’ll be back before you know it.”

It’s not a platitude, not something for her to cling to uselessly. Caroline nods at the reassurance and then reads Elena’s text before buzzing her up. 

“Elena’s back. She got ice cream,” Caroline explains, feeling a bit bereft at the idea of ending the call even though she’ll see him sooner than expected. “She’s staying over tonight.”

“Good,” Klaus whispers. He’s still wearing that smile, only it’s grown. “I love you, sweetheart.”

Caroline thinks she doesn’t have the words to tell him how much he means to her. She wants to fling herself back onto her bed like a teenage girl and kick her legs against the mattress to get out the feelings she can’t express in any other way. Instead of that, though, she sighs at the sound of her door opening and says the thing that comes closest. “I love you, too.”

-x-

It’s dark by the time Klaus’s plane gets in. Caroline fidgets with the buttons on her coat as she pulls up to the arrivals side of JFK, a paper bag sitting inside a plastic bag on her passenger seat to protect the upholstery from the grease. As promised, one of the corn dogs that Klaus insists on enjoying even after the horrifying documentary they saw on the meat industry.

Klaus looks up from his phone, slipping it in his pocket and then setting his suitcase into her popped trunk before going for the door. 

“Hey,” Caroline says, suddenly terrified for no reason at all, “I got you one of those-”

He cuts her off by learning over the center console and pulling her in for a kiss that’s absolutely searing. Unthinking, she reaches up to hold him there until the car behind them lays on the horn, and then they’re both sputtering with laughter as Caroline smooths down Klaus’s curls that she released from their gelled state. Klaus shakes his head when the car honks again, lifting a hand to flip them off before cupping her jaw and rubbing his thumb over her lips. 

“Hello, sweetheart,” he tells her, and she doesn’t give a single fuck about the hoard of angry drivers with road rage in the city and their horns. She grabs him by the lapel of his peacoat and pulls him in again, relishing the taste of his laughter against her mouth.

Another car joins in on the honking this time, and Klaus is the first to end the kiss, moving his lips to her cheek and then her temple as she puts her car back into drive and gets moving. His hand is grasped tightly in her own when they get on the road, Klaus talking about his flight over and some fan who had to be escorted back to their seat even after he’d signed a few things.

“Well, did you miss the states?” she teases him when he takes a bite of the corn dog and makes the kind of moan that has her thinking of different ways to evoke the same sound from him. 

“I missed you,” he tells her unabashedly.

It’s the kind of statement that Klaus makes without thinking around her, and Caroline wonders if she’s blushing. Probably. He’s always so direct that it catches her off-guard. She doesn’t mind.

Biting her lip, Caroline admits, “I missed you, too.” She squeezes his hand for good measure, and then says, “We have an appointment on Monday morning, bright and early.”

The look she sneaks at him when they pull up to a red light is worth it, that same smile he wore on the call coming back on his features.

“Alright,” he says. There’s a pause, a weight to his words. “Let’s do this, then.”

And, yeah, Caroline guesses they’re going to.

She’s done some thinking since that first terrified moment of standing across from Elena with two lines staring up at them. There aren’t too many options for the timeline since their schedules only overlap when they force them too, and the tests apparently don’t catch much of anything before six weeks, which means the bun was already in the oven last time she was in LA. Given all of that, Caroline is betting on a Valentine’s baby from New York Fashion Week.

The calendar method is really the only thing she can use with any accuracy. She hasn’t gotten a period since she was a teenager, so that seems a little pointless.

“Well,” the technician says after spreading a chilled gel to her stomach and holding a wand to the skin, “I think your guess would be right, Ms. Forbes. Your baby looks to be about thirteen weeks along. They’ve got a strong heartbeat.”

The screen in front of them is black and white, mostly a blur, but there’s the shape of a small baby floating in what is apparently an amniotic sac. A steady kind of whooshing noise comes through over the speakers. Caroline swallows around the lump in her throat as she stares before turning to Klaus.

His eyes are watering. She’s never seen him cry before. 

Coming into her apartment, Caroline doesn’t even have a chance to set her handbag down before Klaus is backing her into the door and sinking to his knees. Her throat feels dry, and there’s an aching kind of tenderness to his touch when he lifts up the hem of her blouse and places one hand on her stomach.

“Sweetheart,” he breathes, his voice gravelly.

“I won’t even be able to feel it kick for a while, so I think you’re out of luck,” she tries.

Unwilling to be deterred, Klaus presses his lips to the expanse of exposed skin. “Caroline.” Her name is a reverent whisper. “I need you.”

Caroline wonders how it’s possible that she’s fully dressed and he can make her feel so vulnerable as to be naked with just his gaze. She lets out a shaky exhale when he rubs his thumb along the waistband of her skirt, nodding as she drops her purse and reaches for the zipper at the side. When she tips her head against the back of the door, her heart feels like it’s racing in her chest, like it’s trying to escape.

His clever fingers make quick work of the skirt once she’s gotten the zipper started, and her underwear follows in short order. The first touch of his tongue is an electric shock as her thighs part instinctively to make room, her eyes flying open at the sensation. 

One of Klaus’s hands pulls her thigh up to balance on his shoulder, spreading her wider and sending her a look that goes straight to her core when she gasps and grabs his other shoulder to balance herself on. The press of her nails only serves to make him groan and shift closer, working her up quickly with clockwise strokes of his tongue around her clit and then refusing to bring her over the edge, repeating the motion until she’s clutching the doorframe and practically sobbing. The scrape of his stubble against the inside of her thighs is just enough of a rasp to drive her to madness. 

“I need,” Caroline starts, tipping her head back once more when she tries to move her hips down to give herself anything more. Klaus pulls back just in time, the hand on her thigh tightening briefly before he moves in once again. “I need, I need.”

She knows she’s babbling because the right words won’t come and she can’t make herself expend the energy to search for them. Her chest is heaving, the straps of her bra having slipped from her shoulders, and she wants to come so badly it hurts. Her skin feels like it’s overheating.

A whine tears itself from her throat when he pulls away, automatically reaching to touch herself only to find her hand twined in his.

“I know; let me,” Klaus insists. His other hand moves from the outside of her thigh to the inside, reaching higher until she’s moaning above him. Her muscles are quivering from the weight she’s putting on her leg, and it only takes two fingers breaching her entrance and his thumb pressed harshly against her clit before she comes undone, chest heaving as tears slip down her cheeks and Klaus rests his cheek against her stomach.

Caroline sinks down to the ground with his help, Klaus’s hands steadying the way until she’s kneeling in front of him and fumbling at his belt with a kind of desperation. She still needs him in a way she can’t articulate, needs to be as close as possible. 

He pulls her top off while she works at that, and then gets his own before he’s crawling over her and captures her mouth with his own. There’s no finesse in the act, no gentleness, just tongue and teeth and need. It’s a counterpoint to how slowly he enters her, her back arching to help ease the way even as she registers the discomfort of the hardwood floor. 

“Caroline,” Klaus groans. The word is torn from his throat and he presses it into her cheeks, her temple, her forehead. “You feel incredible.”

Her spine tingles and her muscles clench, telltale signs of her body winding up for its second orgasm. Caroline digs her nails into his shoulder when he hits an angle that works best for her. Her mouth works soundlessly, too swept away to adequately respond even as she shifts onto her elbows to kiss him again.

She’s almost dizzy. Her heart feels too big for her chest, like it’s all too much happening at once, and when Klaus hisses through clenched teeth, “I’m not going to last,” she only thinks that she wouldn’t be able to handle it if he did.

When his pace picks up, she takes the telltale sign for what it is and gets to work. One hand goes to her breast, rolling and pinching a nipple until she's whimpering at each scrape of the edge of her nail against the sensitive nub of flesh. The other reaches between their bodies to get her index finger on her clit, rubbing in rhythmic circles until Klaus shudders above her and then shifts his weight to one arm to help. He keeps going when she cries out, keeps going until she’s panting and only pulls away when she shifts back from the overstimulation. There are stars in her eyes, blurry spots that take time to go away.

Naked and curled onto the floor of the entryway of her apartment, Caroline reaches over to pull his arm across her body, Klaus’s hand settling at her stomach.

“We’re going to have a baby,” she breathes. Her head is spinning. The idea of it is still so new. She imagines the steady whooshing noise they heard during the ultrasound, a tiny heart pumping blood through their body. Their body, the baby's and hers. A foreign concept, but not unwelcome. 

Klaus curls around her, pulling her in until she can feel his softening length against his thigh. He kisses her temple and repeats after her almost longingly, “We’re going to have a baby.”

-x-

Telling people feels strange. Caroline is past the first trimester and healthy, so her doctor tells her they don’t have anything to worry about. And she isn’t worried exactly, but it’s new like so much of this. 

Elena already knows, which is helpful. A care package arrives one day of books about what to expect, a nutritional plan along with a few bags of her favorite snack foods, and giftcards to some of Caroline’s favorite clothing stores. The clothing part surprises her, until she thanks Elena over the phone and her friend says, “They’re for when you need maternity clothes!”

Maternity clothes. Caroline stands in front of her closet, the closet she’s built up from a combination of her own tastes and pieces that have been gifted to her after shoots and walks, and then she looks in the mirror. Her stomach is flat, still. Mostly. 

Pushing it out, she rests her hand on the bottom of a gentle curve. 

“Care?” Elena asks hesitantly.

“Thanks,” Caroline says, looking away from the mirror and shutting the door to her closet behind her. Everything still fits, although she’s been gravitating to the pieces that have a looser fit. “That’s super sweet of you.”

“Can I tell Stefan? Have you told Bonnie yet?”

Yes, to both. Caroline called Bonnie a few days after the first doctor’s appointment, and her friend had screamed so loud that she accidentally summoned Enzo from the other end of her house. They’re doing well, and they were both happy for her. 

Caroline pauses before answering. “I think Klaus might want to tell Stefan, but I don’t know. I can ask him? You don’t have to keep it to yourself if he brings it up.”

Scoffing, Elena blows a strand of hair away from her face. “Like Stefan is about to come in and ask if you’re having a baby. I think I’ll be able to keep things under wraps for now.”

Fair enough. Caroline goes back to her closet not long after they’ve hung up, running her fingers through fabrics as she thinks about the history of each. Midway through, she finds the iridescent dress from Augustine that she wore on her first date with Klaus, and holds it in front of herself. The top part is loose, allowing for a hint of cleavage when the cowl neckline sways in the right way. It’s tighter after that, and she wonders whether she would have a baby bump in it.

Elena and Bonnie and Enzo know, and soon she guesses Stefan will join the crowd too. Her mom cried on the phone when she told her and is flying up in a week both to go shopping for the nursery and to meet Klaus, who will be back from Spain by then and has spent their last several calls inquiring as to what he can do avoid being despised by a sheriff after getting Caroline well and truly knocked up.

When Klaus calls that night, he looks exhausted. 

“Rough day on set?” Caroline asks sympathetically, stabbing at her salad with beets and sweet potatoes and all the root vegetables Elena’s nutritional guide recommended. It’s a good thing she’s used to her green smoothies.

Klaus rubs his hand over his face and shakes his head. “I just got off the phone with my siblings.”

“Oh?” 

“Bekah would like me to inform you that she’d prefer a niece instead of a nephew, if you wouldn’t mind passing that along to the baby,” Klaus says with a long-suffering grin.

Caroline rolls her eyes. “You’d better have passed that along to your sperm, because that’s not my job.”

He snorts a little when he laughs. After having him here for a week, it’s strange to be in her apartment alone again. Her bed feels bigger than it used, the halls quieter. She’s started looking at paint colors to get an idea of how repainting the second bedroom and turning it into a nursery might look.

“How are you?” he asks after a moment, the corners of his eyes crinkling.

Tilting her head side to side, she shrugs. “Food doesn’t smell awful anymore,” she decides, because she didn’t even have to run to the bathroom while the vegetables were roasting. An improvement from the day before, that’s sure. “I’ve been able to keep everything down today, so I’m calling it a win. My mom said she was going to send me the recipe for something that would supposedly help.”

“Another disgusting smoothie? So you’re telling me it runs in the family, then.”

“I dare you to criticize my mother when she gets here,” Caroline says, pointing her fork at her camera as she arches an eyebrow.

Klaus looks appropriately abashed. “Any further advice on how to win her over, then?”

“Do you want to take her to a shooting range?” she asks, mostly joking as she laughs at the stricken expression that crosses his face. “I’m kidding.”

“I’ve never shot live ammo and I’m not overly interested in starting. I suppose that leaves my only option as impressing her with how well I’m taking care of you.”

Her cheeks heat. Caroline glances down to her mostly-finished plate and feels herself smile. “I think she’d like that,” she decides, because lately she had to remind Liz that she wasn’t some sixteen year old prom queen who’d cross the stage at graduation just before giving birth. She’s twenty-seven, a grown woman, and sometimes she appreciates the level of protectiveness her mom has. Sometimes, yes, but not now.

When Liz arrives, she’s a flurry of activity from the moment she gets out of the cab and sets her bags at the door. Caroline finds herself pressed into her mother’s shoulder and then subjected to a barrage of questions about her sleeping habits, her sleeping schedule, and her doctor until she asks, “Can we sit down, Mom? I’m really tired.”

“Of course, sweetie,” Liz says immediately before following Caroline into the living room. “You’ve remodeled since I was last here.”

Teasing, Caroline tells her, “Maybe if you visited me more often you’d have seen it before.” It’s just the kitchen she’s changed around, although truth be told she doesn’t know if it was worth the effort. Well, probably, since she’s basically been camped out in New York since finding out about the baby.

“Well, I hope you’re ready for me to be here all the time once my grandchild arrives. When do you guys find out the gender?”

The technician asked them if they wanted to be told last time, and after some debate just handed them a sealed envelope. Klaus wanted to find out, but she’s still on the fence.

“I think I want to be surprised. It’s old fashioned, I know,” she says shyly.

“It’s nice,” Liz corrects her, smiling almost indulgently. “No preference then?”

“Happy and healthy,” Caroline responds immediately, and thankfully the baby is. Her initial concerns about not knowing earlier have thankfully proved unnecessary this far in. After a moment, though, she admits, “I think a boy would be kind of cute.”

It’s not a preference, not exactly, because she would love a girl just as much. But she’s started to catch herself daydreaming about a miniature version of Klaus toddling around, something that catches her off guard. Kol sent her a bunch of baby pictures with the intent to embarrass his brother, something that might have been achieved, but Caroline is still stuck on how cute the gap between his teeth was.

Liz sighs and leans forward, reaching a hand out before hesitating. “Can I?”

Scooting over on the couch, Caroline moves her hand onto her belly, the firm bit of swell that’s started to take shape. “It’s kind of bizarre,” she says.

“I thought so, too,” Liz laughs, her eyes crinkling. “Once I first felt you kick, it seemed like you never stopped. You kept me up at night, you know.”

That is definitely not something Caroline is looking forward to, although it’ll happen soon. She grimaces at the idea. “I wasn’t so bad, though, right?” she checks, nudging their shoulders together. “Worth the hassle?”

Liz sighs and removes her hand. It’s been too long since they’ve been able to see each other, and Caroline feels a brief pang of guilt at the fact she hasn’t made the trip down to Mystic Falls in months. 

“More than,” she assures her, and then asks, “Now where is your baby’s father?”

Rolling her eyes, Caroline checks her phone. “He’s picking up furniture for the nursery and trying to delay meeting you. Klaus is convinced you’re going to hate him, you know, so if you want to go easy on him it would be appreciated.” She smiles sweetly, even though she knows the attempt is hopeless judging by the set of Liz’s mouth.

“Go easy on the playboy who knocked up my daughter and hasn’t even tried to make things right?” Liz presses with a raised eyebrow.

Caroline squints as she thinks about it and then informs her, “Mom, we’re not going to get married just because I’m pregnant. I want to actually fit into a wedding dress when I wear one, for one thing. For another, marriage isn’t always the solution to an unplanned pregnancy.” She purses her lips meaningfully. “How’d that one work out for you and Dad, again?”

Liz opens her mouth only to be cut off.

“Also, playboy? Really? Tabloids are monsters and publish old photos when things are running slow and they don’t have enough dirt. Klaus and I barely had enough time to see each other before this; I promise you he didn’t have enough time to have another relationship. Plus, I think Katherine might murder him,” Caroline starts up, because her friend and manager has made threats in the past that Caroline doesn’t think she’d hesitate to make into reality if the need arose.

“Alright, sweetie, you’ve made your point.”

Caroline stands up and crosses her arms. “Really?” she checks a bit disbelievingly, eyes narrowed. “You’ll be on your best behavior.”

Holding up three fingers, Liz rolls her eyes. “Scout’s honor.”

Perfect timing. The door opens, and Klaus calls out, “Sweetheart?”

“In here!” Caroline responds, and then mouths to Liz, “Best behavior.”

Klaus rounds the corner almost sheepishly, and Caroline wonders if anyone will believe that the man who’s been called the best actor of their generation is terrified of her mother. “Hello, Sheriff,” he says after a moment, “it’s so nice to meet you.”

Turning back to her mom, Caroline narrows her eyes again until she says, “Liz, please. It’s nice to meet you, too, Klaus.”

They both shoo Caroline away when it comes to helping carry in the boxes of furniture, and she only goes because Liz looks a little pleased that Klaus is so adamant about her not even coming close to the nursery.

“It was painted ages ago,” Caroline complains. They’ve had box fans going in the room ever since, plus the windows open, and Klaus still only let her see the color through pictures on his phone when the room is literally right down the hall. “At this point I’ll see it for the first time when we bring them home.”

“I wouldn’t be opposed to that, love,” Klaus says while carrying a box with pieces of the crib inside.

“I would be!” Caroline shouts as they walk past her. She glances at the remaining boxes, which contain the best jogging stroller on the market, a toddler’s wardrobe said to enhance independence early even though Klaus thought the newborn stage might be a little too early, and a rocking chair. 

As soon as she reaches for one of them, though, Liz says, “Stop that right now.”

“I’m pregnant, not an invalid,” Caroline insists. If they won’t let her help, though, that’s fine. She gathers dinner orders from the Thai place she loves, plus a rain jacket when she glances out the window, and leaves them to get to work on furniture assembly. Getting ready for a baby is a lot more work than Caroline ever thought it would be, not that she’d ever given it much thought before she needed to. There is furniture and baby-proofing, and every storefront she passes seems to have a pair of baby boots that call to her.

It’s probably a good thing they don’t know the gender yet, considering that she’d have bought an entire wardrobe by now. 

By the time she gets to the lobby, the rain is coming down harder, so Caroline heads back up to grab her rain boots from the closet and passes by the second bedroom, hearing as she does so, “When are you going to make an honest woman of my daughter?”

“Mom!” Caroline shouts shrilly.

The room goes quiet, and then Liz calls, only just loud enough to be heard, “Sorry, sweetie.”

-x-

A baby shower seemed like a nice idea, at the time. Now, though, standing in the living room of Rebekah’s brownstone and in the midst of a swarm of Mikaelson siblings and her own friends, Caroline wonders if they should have thought this through.

“We can still make a break for it, you know,” Klaus whispers mischievously at her side. He looks between her and the kitchen’s backdoor meaningfully.

She wishes it didn’t sound so good. Caroline glares at him and eats another carrot out of spite. There are a collection of cupcakes on the dining room table that haven’t yet been touched, because apparently Rebekah wants to get the perfect collection of photos for Instagram. “Pregnant women should be allowed to eat cupcakes at their own shower,” she hisses, smiling when Rebekah glances over from where she’s talking with Bonnie.

“Quite right, love.” And with that, Klaus is gone, leaving her abandoned and vulnerable to their guests. She glares at his retreating form, and then just decides to take the opportunity to appreciate the view.

“You’re already quite knocked up, please stop ogling my brother like he’s about to put another baby in there,” Kol says cheerfully. To add injury to insult, he steals one of her carrot sticks and takes a generous swipe of her ranch. “How are you and little Kol, Jr.?”

She rolls her eyes at the baby name that will never get used, regardless of whether they have a son or a daughter. She and Klaus could have a dozen kids and it still wouldn’t happen. “Okay,” she says begrudgingly. It hasn’t been a bad day, it’s just that all she wants to do is take a nap and take advantage of the fact that Klaus is back from some film premier in Australia.

“You’re very round now, you know.”

“You’re very tactless,” Caroline returns. She changes the position of her plate to prevent him from grabbing anything more.

Kol shrugs. “Yes, but I’ve been tactless. This is new for you.”

Seething, Caroline  takes a deep breath and looks up at the ceiling. She instantly hates herself when she’s jealous of Rebekah’s impeccable crown molding. The truly annoying thing is that Kol is right. At thirty two weeks along, she’s started to look like she has a balloon shoved under her dress, and nothing in her normal closet fits now or seems like it ever will again. Her ankles have started to swell and it’s awful and she cries all the time.

Her doctors are pleased with the weight gain, and Klaus has been thrilled with the increase in her sex drive, but seeing a baby’s foot press against the outside of her stomach might be the weirdest thing Caroline has ever seen. 

“I’m going to make a law,” Caroline decides, “that any pregnant woman should be allowed to murder a man who calls her fat.”

“I didn’t call you fat!” Kol protests, louder than he should have.

Rebekah whirls around on a heel and points her selfie stick out like a sword, shouting, “Kol!” as she does so. Next to her, Klaus looks quietly murderous. He’s holding a cupcake, though, topped with the design of the baby booties Caroline can’t stop cooing over. Caroline is almost instantly cheered, although she is vindictive enough to say, “I’m not getting you out of this one.”

“You are a terrible addition to this family, I’ll have you know,” Kol mutters.

“You’re jealous because I refused to proposition you the first time we met.”

“What?” Klaus demands, cupcake in hand.

“Fucking hell, don’t be so dramatic, Nik,” Kol curses before reaching over to steal another carrot and then hopping off the couch. He groans when Klaus’s hand makes contact with the back of his head, but he doesn’t slow down.

Accepting the cupcake before Rebekah can notice and snatch it back for photos, Caroline takes a bite and hums at the taste of buttercream. “Fuck, this is good,” she sighs.

“Should I go after him?” Klaus asks, glaring at the door Kol left through.

“My mom is in the sitting room grilling Elijah about OSHA regulations,” Caroline says before going in for another bite. Rebekah does have great taste in bakeries, and she puts on an admittedly nice party. “I think Kol joining them is punishment enough.”

The shower is exhausting but also fun. Seeing everyone all together is nice, and Elena obsesses over the ultrasound photos until Stefan uncomfortably declares they should get going once they’d handed over the leather baby bag. Rebekah gives over an assortment of elaborate crocheted baby costumes along with little props to use for photoshoots for each month of growth. Caroline cries when Liz passes over her own baby book, along with a few of her favorite books as a child, but the absolutely best gift is when Bonnie gives her lullabies she’s recorded for their kid, and then Enzo somehow manages to top her with Augustine’s first maternity collection.

“They’ll fit me,” Caroline exclaims, holding up a pair of pants that she doesn’t automatically hate. They aren’t made of the polyester she’s grown to detest with the chunky and awful elastic waistbands.

“Nothing but the best for you, Gorgeous,” Enzo assures her with a swift kiss on the cheek.

That night, she tries on every piece, holding a fashion show while Klaus lounges on the best and laughs at the ridiculous combinations she chooses in an attempt to go back to the editorial shoots that she almost misses.

Almost.

It’s been strange, but Caroline has enjoyed the break her pregnancy has allowed her. She’s come to realize she was starting to burn out. It’s been ages since she’s been in New York for a long enough period to truly think of it as home, but she’s beginning to remember how she fell in love with the city in the shitty studio she shared with Elena and Bonnie. That was less than ten years ago, but it feels like lifetimes away with how far they’ve come. 

One morning, staring down at the oatmeal she woke up starving for but now isn’t sure she can stomach, she tells him, “I don’t know if I’ll go back to modeling. You know, after.”

Klaus looks away from the stove, a few pieces of oatmeal stuck in the beard he’s begun to let grow out. It’s not a bad look on him; she kind of wants to bite his jaw and see if he’ll let breakfast burn. She thinks this is how he’ll look in a month or so as a father, along with a baby bouncing on his hip. “Don’t do it if you don’t want to,” he says, stabbing a wooden spoon into the pot and then wincing. “We should just go out for breakfast.”

Thank God.

“Brunch,” Caroline declares, pushing her chair out and keeping a hand on the back to help her balance. “What am I going to do, though? If I stop.”

Turning off the burner and putting the lid on to keep the offending smell away, Klaus looks up at her curiously. “Anything you like. You told me you put off college for modeling,” he suggests. 

She tries to picture flipping through textbooks while a baby naps in the next room. College was a dream once, but that was more because it felt like the right next step rather than something she needed to move forward. Maybe. “What if I wanted to design children’s clothes?” she asks, a swooping sensation in her stomach she’s learned is unrelated to the summersaults their child is sometimes fond of. 

The look of surprise on Klaus's face is faint but still there, and he asks, “Would you want to move to LA, then? I figure you’d want Enzo’s expertise if you want to start a line of your own.”

A line of her own. Caroline hadn’t thought about it that way.

She grabs a jacket and her purse, tucking her arm through his as he locks the apartment door. “Maybe,” she decides hesitantly. “Can I think about it?”

Klaus places a hand on the underside of her jaw, and tilts her chin up until they’re kissing. His grown-out stubble tickles when it brushes against her skin. She keeps him there until her feet from arching onto her toes, and then he answers, “As long as you want.”

-x-

“Who goes ice skating at thirty-nine weeks pregnant?” Caroline gasps, one hand clutching the side of the rink as the other clenches down on Klaus’s. “What the hell were we thinking?”

Klaus is still looking down, at what looks like a small puddle on the rink. “I didn’t,” he stutters, taking a deep breath and then pulling out his phone. “We’ll get you out of those skates, and then we’ll go to the hospital. Unless you need your hospital bag.” Each word comes with a measured amount of hesitance, a myriad of emotions playing out on his face.

“Yes,” Caroline answers, trying not to hiss. “I would like my hospital bag at the hospital.”

He nods. “That makes sense,” he admits, and then crowds against her as though to help until she swats him off.

“I’m still a better skater than you; stop helping,” she snaps and then winces. “Sorry, I’m just. I’m nervous, or terrified, or something. I thought we’d have more time.”

Klaus gets her skates unlaced since she’s way too big to lean over her stomach to manage it, and Caroline shoves her feet into boots while he panics about whether they can take an Uber to the hospital or need to call an ambulance. “There are all of those stories about women giving birth in taxi cabs,” he says while getting his own skates off.

“I am not ,” Caroline practically snarls, “giving birth in a taxi. And we have to go home first, to get my hospital bag and my birth plan. Does that sound good?”

“Of course,” he agrees quickly. “Alright, then. I guess we’re doing this.”

They walk the three blocks back to the apartment, and Caroline only has to stop once to lean on a wall and breathe through a contraction. Klaus runs to their bedroom and comes back with the pre-packed duffle, the folder they’ve arranged with all of their medical details, and then grabs her car keys while Caroline calls ahead to give a bit of warning.

In the car, she digs her nails into the fabric of her passenger seat and says, “They say that women forget how bad labor is once they see the baby. Do you think that’s true?”

“I don’t know,” Klaus answers with a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. “I suppose it makes sense, the endorphins helping to remove the painful experience. Do you think it is?”

“It better be,” she hisses, and then, “I wonder if I’ll understand why my parents only had the one kid. Other than my dad’s hidden sexuality, you know. It can’t be so bad. Your mom had a bunch of them, so  it can’t be that bad. Right?”

Wisely, Klaus keeps silent, although he does give her hand a squeeze when they pull up to the hospital. “I’ll go out and get a wheelchair?” he asks before nodding decisively when Caroline just stares at him with wild eyes. More sure than before he repeats, “I’ll go and get a wheelchair.”

Her hand clenches down on his, hard enough to where he bites his lip to keep from making a pained noise. “Klaus,” she whispers with tears in her eyes, “what I’m a terrible mother? I’ve never even had a pet.”

“Of all the worries to have,” he muses, leaning across the center console to tip his forehead against hers. “Sweetheart, I have every confidence that you will be an incredible mother.”

Caroline sniffles, and then her lower lip wobbles for a brief moment. “Okay,” she whispers. “Let’s go have a baby then.”

Four hours later, they do.

Panting with exhaustion on her hospital bed and damp with sweat, Caroline reaches out with tired arms when their doctor announces, “Congratulations! You have a healthy baby girl.”

The word takes a moment for her to truly register, and then she blinks down at the wriggling baby they hand her. She is so tiny, almost impossibly small. Her little hand probably wouldn’t be capable of fully wrapping around one of Caroline’s own fingers. Caroline thought that all babies secretly looked the same and that people lied about them looking like their parents until their features came, but she looks into those blue eyes and it’s all Klaus.

“This is going to sound silly,” Caroline whispers almost reverently, “but I never thought I’d be able to love anything as much as you.”

Klaus exhales shakily. “I know what you mean.” He reaches out to trail a careful finger along the shell of their daughter’s ear. “But she’s…”

“Perfect,” Caroline sighs. “Do you want to hold her?”

He blinks in surprise and then asks, “How do I…?”

And she isn’t totally sure, to be honest, but they manage the transfer of the baby well enough as they support her head until Klaus has their daughter securely in his arms. His face reminds Caroline of when they saw the first ultrasound, the sheer amazement at what they’ve managed to create together. He keeps blinking at her like he’s trying to make sure that she’s real.

“She has your nose,” Klaus says with a tremor in his voice. “She wrinkles it in the same way you do.”

Caroline bites her lip but the laugh she was trying to hold back still escapes her, making her nose wrinkle in the exact way he mentioned. She’s pleased by the observation, the idea they have a child who is a blend of each of them. They’re going to get to watch her grow up and see all the different parts of themselves in her personality. It’s impossible to tear her eyes away from the two of them and how absorbed Klaus is, the extent of his devotion obvious even though their daughter has only been in the world for a few short minutes.

“What does she look like to you?” she asks, laying back against the pillows again.

“Her mother.”

Pleased, she hums and stares at their daughter intently. “Name-wise,” she persists.

They’d talked about names a few times, but not too often, and they didn’t have a name set for either gender. For the most part, it was ridiculous suggestions only given for the other to shoot down, a sort of game they played as though daring to find the most awful things they could.

Klaus carefully lowers himself to sit on the edge of the hospital bed. “Anastaisa,” he says tentatively.

The word rolls around in Caroline’s mind. “Anastasia,” she echoes. It’s a big name for such a little girl, but there’s something oddly fitting about it. Caroline used to want to be a princess as a kid, and there was none more alluring than the legend of a lost princess. A story, but all names are. Thoughtfully, she says to herself, “Anastasia Mikaelson. We can call her Ana.”

She likes it.

“What about Freya as a middle name?” she asks, biting her lip. They’d gone over family trees at one point to see what stuck, and she’s had Klaus’s older sister’s name in her head ever since. 

Still staring at the little girl, Klaus tries it out for himself and says, “Anastasia Freya Mikaelson. It sounds right.”

He passes their daughter back to her, and Caroline settles her on her chest, lowering her head to smell her. In a way, she’s sad that her mom isn’t able to fly up for another day, but she thinks right now it’s for the best. She doesn’t know that she wants anyone else here with them right now. 

“Sweetheart,” Klaus says, reaching for the jacket he’d worn to the hospital. “Rebekah informed me it’s somewhat traditional to give a gift after a baby is born. She called it a push present.”

Blinking as she turns away from their daughter, Caroline rolls her eyes. “You didn’t have to,” she tells him, although she casts a curious glance around the room for a jewelry box. Just because she didn’t ask for anything doesn’t mean she isn’t interested in what Klaus picked out.

“I know, love, but please believe me when I say I want to.” He strokes her hand with his thumb, holding up a small velvet box he’d plucked from his jacket pocket. “I have a confession to make, though. This present is conditional.”

“Strings are attached to my gift after I just had a baby?” She arches an eyebrow at him skeptically. “Not cool, Klaus.”

Grinning in spite of himself, he shakes his head. “It’s nothing so awful; you just have to answer a question.”

Pursing her lips, Caroline sighs as though deeply inconvenienced and then smiles when she can’t help but look down at their now-sleeping daughter. “Okay, then,” she whispers, “just one.”

She’s so preoccupied with staring at their daughter, Anastasia, that Klaus is kneeling when she looks back over to him at last. A shaky gasp slides past her lips when he reaches for her hand and asks, “Caroline, will you marry me?”

“Yes,” she tells him without thinking, because there’s no need to think about it. “Yes, of course.”

Klaus’s grin is huge, almost as big as when she told him she was first pregnant, and he opens the box to reveal a ring bedecked with a cluster of diamonds and pale sapphires. “I was going to ask you after we finished ice skating,” he explains, “It took longer to make than expected.”

Caroline lifts one hand away from Anastasia and holds her hand out. Her breath catches when it slides on, a perfect fit. 

“How long did it take?” she asks after a moment, tearing her gaze away to see him smiling at her indulgently. 

Looking at the ground, his expression is a touch sheepish when he raises his eyes. “Do you remember the lunch I canceled with Elijah to fly back to the States early?”

It takes a moment, the memory not as recent as she might have expected. Her hand squeezes his lightly when she recalls. “I told you about… About Ana,” she whispers, the name so new that it almost doesn’t feel real even though the proof is cradled against her skin.

“It wasn’t lunch with Elijah. I was meeting with a jeweler to design it,” Klaus tells her, rubbing his thumb across her knuckles. “I love you, sweetheart.”

Caroline chooses to think it’s the hormones that haven’t quite left her body when she tears up before informing him, her voice pitched like the revelation is a secret even though he already knows, “I love you, too.”