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A Throne of Bone and Iron

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“The dawn is not distant, nor is the night starless; love is eternal.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

-

Caroline met the human realm with bloody skirts and aching bones. For a single moment, the taste of her magic lingered on her tongue, the scent of her mother heavy in her lungs, and then the wind pushed it all away. She smelled man and iron, felt the cage of religion and belief press down on her bones. Staggering, she wrapped her arms around her middle and bit through her lip as she wrestled with the agony of being unmade.

Heat seared along the ring on her thumb, and she sank to her knees when she found she could suddenly breathe. Blinking her tear blurred vision into focus, she hiccuped a gasp, pressed her hand to her thundering heart. Tried to make sense of the last hour, tried to breathe through the shock of being disowned.

"You're a Princess of the Summer Court," Tyler said in disbelief. "You've betrayed your people for an Unseelie."

"You know nothing," Caroline replied, staring down her Queen's Knight. She couldn't look at the case caught tightly in his fist, refused to acknowledge the ring made of bone and carved specifically for her hand on a chain under her bodice. "I have given the Winter Court nothing."

Just her heart.

Klaus might have been a bastard Prince, but he was still his mother's favorite. Power bled through the Matriarchal line, and Klaus' human heritage had only sharpened his ambition. Elijah may have carried the title of Heir, but he still had years to go before ascending the throne. Rebekah was a dangerous player in the game of power; she eyed the Black Crown with covetous eyes.

Klaus played a different game.

"This is marked by Unseelie," Tyler bit out, staring at her from nearly frantic eyes. "You could be banished should even a hint of this magic be sensed. Be smart, Caroline. Go to our Queen, beg forgiveness."

Repudiate Klaus to her people.

That was the unspoken demand between them.

Tyler had been suspicious for months, but she doubted even he suspected who and what had tempted her. Oh, Klaus didn't offer her the darkness of his mother's court. He didn't try to sway her with pretty lies and flashy magic. He didn't have to. She'd thrown those things in his face early on, had scorned his heritage, the darkness that sat in his bones and along his tongue.

But Klaus tempted all the same.

Caroline knew the dangers, had tried to avoid the lure he so craftily offered. That first meeting had been disastrous, and she'd burned him with her sunshine magic. And yet he persisted, stroked her endless curiosity.

"The human world is far different from anything you could imagine, pretty Caroline."

Her hands tightened on the book she was reading, and her head snapped up in irritation. She refused to let him alarm her, did not allow the spike of adrenaline to be more than that. Prince Niklaus, third child to the Dark Queen of the Winter Court stood in the shade of an oak tree and smiled. He'd been her stalking shadow for weeks now, but this was the first they'd spoken since that original encounter.

He dressed in the all black attire of his mother's court, but he'd shorn his tempting curls short. Caroline wondered how any guard had missed him, as his magic sat in the air between them tinged with blood. The sharpness to his gaze, the length of his incisors marked him as Unseelie even as the human-curve of his ears, the light scruff along his jaw identified him as mixed blood.

"I'll enjoy watching the guards rip you apart," Caroline told him coldly. "I believe I made myself perfectly clear the last time you approached me."

He'd introduced himself as Klaus, let his appearance speak for who and what he was with that charming smile. She'd been stunned into silence, staring at this strange and beautiful unseelie. The burn had been for that knowing smirk as much as his impudence.

Klaus slid his hand over his heart and bowed, blue eyes glittering. "It's a pity the burn healed, sweetheart. I did so enjoy carrying your mark on my skin."

"Leave."

"I just arrived."

"That's hardly my concern," Caroline retorted, not quite daring to return to her book. "But you're interrupting my time, and I want you gone."

"So demanding," Klaus murmured as he straightened, taking her in with covetous eyes; lingering on the thick length of her braided curls, the delicate points of her ears. "Yet, you sit here and read the archaic words of dead scholars regarding a people whose realm changes as quickly as the life of a single firefly. They burn out so quickly, humans."

Deliberately dismissive, she flicked open the next page and lowered her gaze. Curiosity burned in her chest, but she would not be baited. Even he could not hide his magic from the land for much longer. Caroline was surprised when he laughed, the sound surprisingly sweet.

"Such a stubborn princess; perhaps next time, you'll ask me the questions that burn on your tongue."

For years, they'd played his game.

Until it was no longer a game.

"Caroline," Tyler said, voice sharp with warning. "You must go to the Queen. You don't know what magic was used on you - whoever this Unseelie, he works to damage you, and your house."

Oh, Tyler.

She already carried him in her bones.

A shadow she'd welcomed.

"I'm sorry," Caroline told him softly. "I'm sorry."

Tyler's fist clenched around the black bones, cracked the casing as golden light ground the pieces into dust. Caroline watched his gaze go hard and flat, her friend tucked away behind the shield of the Knight. "Princess, it is with regret that I must report your involvement with the Winter Court to our Queen."

She never blinked. "Do what you must."

Now, she sat in the realm of humans as her magic betrayed her. The price to live here, to move within this realm was high. It was why The Dark Queen had taken a human lover, had hoped for a daughter and birthed a son as dark as she. Malady allowed him to survive in this world of iron; the blood-price mitigated by his mixed heritage. She curled her hand close to her chest, felt the magic that pulsed from Klaus' gift. But this was only a safety catch, a way for her to survive a few short hours until Klaus reached her.

But she'd rejected him, had repudiated him so thoroughly that the careful link that had built between them in her bed, with each cautious interaction had shattered. Because Klaus was carving a nightmare army from the mortal humans, gifting them with the malady that ran through his blood. Vampires.

She would not give the Dark Court access to her family through her blood, but she wouldn't betray Klaus. So she'd broken both their hearts, accepted the punishment that was given to her. She hadn't expected her mother's sacrifice, that beloved face looking at her with so much pain, but the glimmers of understanding.

"You can only give your light away, my darling. I've seen its absence from your eyes, and I hurt for you. You can love a monster, but a monster it remains. Remember that I love you."

But she was too weak to survive. The days of confinement, the magic ripped from her at the crossover. She'd need blood to stay, and she would not kill to live; to defend, to protect, yes, but not for this. She stroked the smooth ruby the bone encircled and pushed to her feet.

The world was too big, too wild of a place for her to find one man. Not in the days, hours she had to explore. But maybe she could see a little bit of the world that Klaus had told her about. She glanced down at her finery and let herself smile.

She'd need to find a change of clothes.

Then she'd make the most of the time she had left. Rubbing her thumb over the intricate design, she twisted it until only the band showed. It still looked like bone, but the Summer Court carried their trophies close to the skin too.

One last bracing breath, and Caroline headed into the sprawling humanity with a smile.

-

Klaus stared at the painting in front him and set his teeth, glaring at the image he could not shake. Spinning away from the canvas, he poured himself a drink and looked out across the rooftops of the city he called home this month.

She'd have loved the vividness of it.

With a snarl, Klaus flung the tumbler against the wall. He would be rid of her. His terrible nightmare, with her cruel and beautiful eyes as she ripped apart each delicate connection they'd formed. His body still burned from those invisible lines being ripped away from his skin; the sudden cauterizing of his bloody heart.

Goddamn her.

"Temper, temper big brother," Rebekah chastised as she stepped through the mirror to his left. "Why don't you share some of that blood of yours, I've got gossip."

Klaus eyed his golden haired sister, considered refusing but sighed and cut his wrist above the remaining tumbler, handed it to her once there was enough. "What has our delightful family done now?"

Rebekah licked her lips as she set the glass down, smile sharply fanged. "Oh, the usual family infighting. Elijah grows suspicious, works to cut my ties to the political families around me. As if they would support a King, but he'll learn that lesson soon enough. Finn's death taught him nothing, and he still cavorts with that useless Siren."

Amused, Klaus watched her pace. "The usual then. That's hardly a reason to rile you."

Rebekah turned, faced him with narrowed eyes. "If I thought you'd betray me, I'd destroy you."

Klaus gave her a lazy smile. "My kingdom is here, and we both know you'd have such a difficult time setting foot in this realm without my blood. And make no mistake, Bekah. You're my favorite, but I'll destroy you should I see the need."

"As long as we're both clear," Rebekah said with a shrug. "I’ll rule the Dark Court, and Elijah and our dear mother will learn that soon enough."

"I don't have the patience for your prattle today," Klaus warned as he walked to the window. “Spit out your real reason for your visit, or leave.”

"Elijah visited the Summer Court."

Klaus dismissed her words with an irritated flick of his fingers. "Impossible."

She shrugged, tossed her hair. Her eyes were wary now, and something cold gathered in his gut. "The visit was three weeks ago, Nik. I'm only now catching the faintest hint of it. Mother looked quite pleased with herself this morning."

"Mother is always pleased with herself."

"She's gone."

Klaus shoulders tightened, spine iron-straight. There was only one 'she' between them, Rebekah having come across the slaughter he'd ripped through his people shortly after his return. Had witnessed his magic bleeding from the wounds Caroline had inflicted with her words and rejection.

"Of course she is Rebekah, she made her stance very clear." There hadn’t been a flicker of doubt, not a crack in her defenses for him to breach. Just a cold, ruthless repudiation that had torn through both of them with a brutality he had not thought her capable of.

"Princess Caroline was scheduled to be executed today."

Klaus spun, stared at her from wild eyes. Then he squeezed them shut, hissed out a long breath. "What reason could the Summer Queen have for killing her cousin's daughter? Any magical ties were destroyed by Caroline. I imagine she was quite forthcoming about our activities, since all the loopholes in their defenses have closed."

Rebekah shook her head, finished the last of the blood with a shrug. She walked to the mirror, hesitated. Glancing back at him, she sighed.

"Look, I hope she's dead. She's a distraction, and mother will never tolerate you bedding a seelie, even if she's been repudiated by her family, by her Queen. But there is chaos in the Summer Court today, because when they went to collect your Princess Caroline for her execution, she was gone. The only clue was her mother, who was dead in that dank cell they'd been holding her in. Would she come here?"

Klaus laughed, the stark bitterness of it hair raising. "No, whatever she's running from, she'd never come here. Caroline is too smart for that sort of death wish. Without my blood, she'll barely last two days after time in the prison."

Rebekah smiled. "Well, then neither of us have anything to worry about."

"I suppose we don't," Klaus agreed with a shrug, but he stared at his reflection in the windows as Rebekah slipped back to their realm. He stood in his studio for a long time, unseeing as he the sun begin to set.

-

Caroline liked this bar.

She was dressed in stolen clothing, the jeans unusual after a lifetime of heavy dresses. Her top was positively scandalous, but the light fabric with its cutouts helped her fever flushed skin breathe. And the shoes.

She adored the shoes.

Tilting her head, she considered the shot of whiskey that had been set in front of her. It didn't seem like the right color, but she took it with a quick toss and considered the burn. She opened her eyes and sighed at the bartender. "Nope."

He looked as perturbed as she felt. "Your friend must have expensive taste."

Caroline laughed at him, smiling through the ache in her bones, the unexpected burn of tears. "That's far more accurate than you know."

"What's a little summer fae doing at a bar?"

She turned her head, blinked at the dark haired man glowering at her. She'd braided her hair to hide her ears, but the grave-magic clinging to him was magic she knew. "You're a vampire."

A curious tilt of the vampire's head. "I don't usually get that sort of reaction, gorgeous. Usually your kind start scrabbling for a knife or start crying."

"Are you planning on killing me in the next," she squinted at the clock near the bar. "Hour? Two hours?"

"I just ate. It'll take me at least that long to digest." He crossed his arms, watched her with open curiosity. "Not big on summer fae though, your blood is too champagne-y."

"Is that an insult?" Caroline asked, blinking. "I like champagne."

"I'm not surprised, but that's not what you have in that shot glass."

"Me and my new friend Matt are trying to find a certain whiskey," Caroline said with a cajoling smile. "Do you drink whiskey?"

"Whiskey, Bourbon and Scotch," the vampire said as he sat on the stool next to her. He brushed against her arm, swung around so he was facing her. "I'm Enzo."

"I'll keep my name, if that's alright with you," Caroline questioned, shoving a curl out of her face. "In a few hours you should be safe."

"Going home?"

She laughed. "I saw your eyes, Enzo-the-Vampire, you know the feel of iron fever. That's why you offered me your name."

Enzo looked at her with a curious expression. "Why is a smart, pretty girl like you dying inside a bar drinking whiskey? I thought your kind usually avoided this realm?"

Caroline lost her smile, couldn't stop the way her thumb ran over the band of her ring. How did you explain without explaining a burning need to have that last kiss, the lingering flavor of someone on your tongue? She felt something more than a fever flush crawl into her cheeks.

"Your bed is surprisingly comfortable. Here I thought indulgence was beneath you, sweetheart."

Caroline nearly dropped her books. Blinking at the dark fae on her bed, she struggled to catch her breath. Klaus was sitting cross legged on her comforter, dressed in richly comfortable clothing, having forgone the many court layers. Instead he wore just a long sleeved shirt and soft pants, his bare feet surprisingly stark against the color of her bed.

"What are you doing?" She hissed, dropping her things into hers i desk and shutting her door. "Are you insane?"

"The grounds are what gives me away, keeps you safe from pretense, Caroline. Your bed is an easy way around that little warning system."

She compressed her lips, glared at him and that sinner's smile. It was so much more difficult to deny him and all his temptations when she'd felt that smile against her lips. Knew just how talented he was with his tongue.

"You shouldn't be here," Caroline tried again.

He vanished his sketchbook and in its place was a glass bottle and two tumblers. Temptation watched her from beneath stupid lashes and flirted with dimples. "I'll behave, and you mentioned last time we spoke that you wanted to try something a bit more... adventurous than wine."

Caroline crossed her arms. "Seriously?"

"Alright," Klaus drawled out, smile widening. "My behavior will probably remain suspect, but I promise to leave your virtue intact."

She heaved out a sigh and crawled onto the bed. She'd never really been able to turn down a dare. And if he thought her a shy virgin, well, that's was his fault and not something she needed to correct or justify. "My virtue is none of your business."

"Yet," Klaus said as he poured her a finger of the liquid. "As always, love, it's a 'yet.'"

She took the tumbler, rolled her eyes as he clinked the crystal glasses. "And as I've told you, you're not worth treason."

Which was how she ended up underneath him, exchanging whiskey flavored kisses; bodice unbuttoned as an offering to his lips and tongue. She'd thrown him out before his hands could slip further beneath her clothing. But she'd been tempted, oh so tempted.

"Gorgeous?"

"Punishment," Caroline finally murmured, breaking herself out of her memory. "But he liked whiskey, and if I can't die with him, I'd like to have something to remind me as I go. Silly, right?"

"Nah," Enzo murmured. "There are worse fates than going out with a good whiskey on your tongue. Let's see what we can do about finding the correct one. Matt, what have you offered the lady?"

She let the hot burn of whiskey cloud her head, ease the bite in her bones. Enzo was good company, for all that his sharp eyes saw too much as he joined her in tasting a wide selection of alcohols she never would have known to ask for. Humming a little, she smiled brightly. Cradled her shot glass between her palms.

"It's this one."

"Matt's right, Prince Charming has expensive taste. Although I wouldn't have thought this something one of your kind would have gone for in their limited time." Enzo watched her tip a little heavier into the counter. "Summer fae are more interested in wine."

"I like wine," Caroline agreed with a hum. "His tongue didn't taste like wine. Too sharp."

Enzo snorted out a laugh; hissed as he helped her straighten, her skin nearly scalding. "You haven't been here long enough to be so close to burning out, gorgeous."

"Prison food sucks," she hiccuped. She looked hard at her half-empty shot, blinked the world carefully into focus. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"

"I don't know you well enough," Enzo said with a shrug. "But why don't you track him down him if he means this much to you? I know your magic is different, but it's still strong."

She gave him a wobbly smile. "He doesn't know I'm here; there are no lingering ties between us. Not anymore.”

"Why not? A girl doesn't drink herself stupid looking for her lover's favorite whiskey if she doesn't care."

"Have you ever loved someone enough you'd be willing to do whatever it took to keep them safe? Even if it meant they'd hate you?" Caroline whispered.

"Yes."

She nodded. "We reached the hate part three weeks ago. My family would've forgiven me if I'd just confessed my sins, begged forgiveness. But I chose those sins, the same as I choose to let him go. I don't regret it."

Enzo looked at her with something new behind his eyes. "You loved an Unseelie, a sunshine-girl like you?"

Caroline lifted her shot glass and smiled. "Love, dear Enzo. He's not dead. Just me."

"I didn't realize you were collecting little fae pets." The new voice was rough, low with something Caroline didn't know.

"Ah, the Salvatores," Enzo said with a sigh. "Move along, as you can see, I'm busy."

"Now why would we do that?"

Caroline turned and studied the two vampires behind her. The grave-magic attached to them was weak; where Enzo felt nearly Unseelie, these vampires felt odd. She wondered what the difference was as she studied them. They were handsome men, but there was something about their eyes she didn't like.

"Gorgeous, Damon and Stefan Salvatore," Enzo gave a lazy smile and motioned to each as he introduced them. There was something dangerous in his smile and what little magic she had left coiled near her skin. "They're bitter idiots. See we don't take well to rebellion among the ranks. And our esteemed ruler took the price of their failure out of the little changeling they'd been courting."

Caroline blinked away some of her haze. She peered at the brothers curiously. "She was a real changeling? Interesting."

Stefan eyed her. "Why?"

"The Summer Court disbanded the practice years ago. Your iron is too strong for the children to live," Caroline shrugged. "Unseelie changeling usually find their way home."

There they were trained as weapons, since they were partially immunized to this realm. The Winter Court made use of all its weapons. But once, changeling were ambassadors for fae, able to walk freely. That had changed long before Caroline's birth - she'd once heard a rumor that all changelings shared a face, a byproduct of the magic used create them. The few changeling who still lived in the Summer Court were very profitable traders.

"She's dead," Damon murmured, eyes glittering. "I heard you signed the execution order."

"You heard wrong," Enzo clucked, smile curling a little wider. "I carried out the execution, those orders came from the top."

Klaus. He meant Klaus. Before she could even begin to try to assuage the sudden, burning need to know if Klaus was alright - how badly had she hurt him? - the brother closest to her lunged. Her palm came up and she shoved with sunshine; her free hand flung the shot glass straight at his face.

He went down with a scream just as the world spun sideways on her. She tumbled off the stool with gasp. She felt Unseelie magic fill the air around her but all she could try to do was breath. Strong hands suddenly cradled her face and she blinked open her eyes to see Enzo. She tried to focus, but the fever and booze were taking a toll.

"Hey, gorgeous, I need you to look at me."

She reached up and caught his wrist with her left hand, wheezed as her lungs burned. Enzo's blurry face shifted in front of her, and she felt him lift her limp fingers off his wrist.

"You fight dirty, you wear a ring with unseelie magic, and you're so fucking bright." Enzo murmured as he carefully steadied her; he turned her hand with quick fingers. "What are you really wearing, doll?"

Caroline struggled to stay conscious. The ring's magic was fading, too much exertion and no blood. A sudden string of swear words had her eyes opening. Enzo's bone-white face was pressed nearly against hers.

"You're Caroline? That Caroline?"

Her brows tucked together. "I didn't tell you my name. Do you know Klaus?"

Enzo cursed again, pulled her against his chest and stood. The world spun badly as he lifted her, and the sudden coolness of outside air felt heavenly. She could feel her bones creaking, magic bleeding from wounds that she couldn't seal.

"You need to hang on gorgeous, because if you die, my life won't be worth living."

-

The Black Castle was beautiful.

Starker, its bones darker than the Summer Residency's, it was still beautiful. The Queen admired beautiful things, and was known to collect both inanimate and living prizes. Many of her most prized possessions had been collected from the ruins of her enemies.

The castle was a monument and a warning.

Klaus paused, glanced at the Crow Courtyard - called that for the bodies hung for the ravens to feast upon; bleached bones scattered in patterns across the ground. Beauty came in many forms, after all.

"They don't peck you."

Klaus turned from his seat, the chain around his ankle clanking on the hard stone. Rebekah looked at him, her dress filthy with mud, her small pointed face curious. She held a large stick in her hand for protection, and there was a cut beneath her eye.

"You're not supposed to be out here," Klaus murmured, studying the seven year old's stubborn chin. The only girl, a few years older than the baby Henrik, Rebekah was still too young to be unsupervised. Beating and then chaining those who'd fallen out of favor to the courtyard to let the raven's feast on their bodies was Mikael's preferred punishment for a reason. That Klaus wasn't pecked to death was a slight Mikael would not forgive.

But the tiny Princess was her father's favorite.

Those large eyes turned scornful, lips curling as she looked at the dozens of raven's that watched her with beady eyes. "I don't fear them."

"The stick?"

She smiled, sharp teeth gleaming. "I'm not stupid. But Father chained you to the courtyard and you're bleeding. Why haven't they swarmed you?"

Klaus eyed his little sister. "Death is their companion, not their meal. They don't like the taste of me."

"Because you're human?"

"Because my blood will kill them," Klaus said with a shrug. He let himself smile at the calculation on her face. "Not scared of me either?"

"Why? You're just a boy." Rebekah pointed her stick at him. "Even if you are my brother, I'm going to be Queen. A Queen fears nothing."

"Darling, I didn't expect you," Esther said as she strode into the room. Klaus turned, pulled out of his childhood memory. His mother's golden hair was crowned, youthful face the same as his childhood.

"Mother, you're glowing, been off murdering?" Klaus queried, following her as she motioned him to follow.

"Just a little torture," Esther dismissed. "Kol has been bringing me presents. Will you be staying long?"

"Just a quick visit. I heard the most interesting rumor," Klaus said with a curling smile. "Elijah visited the Summer Court?"

"I was not aware that was common knowledge."

Klaus laughed. "All rumors eventually reach my ears, which is why you insisted I do something productive besides blackmail, if I recall correctly."

"You could rule, if you wished," Esther murmured, blue eyes calculating. "Yet, you spend your time associating with those humans, those... vampires of yours."

"You know I find fae politics boring," Klaus dismissed. "Let the ambitions of my less fortunate siblings play out as they will."

In the end, it would come down to Rebekah and Elijah. Kol was a hunter. The only one of Esther's children to inherit her shapeshifting ability, he ran the Queen's spy network and was less interested in ruling than Klaus. Kol was brilliant, magically gifted beyond even Rebekah and lived his life to create as much chaos for the Summer Court as possible. Rumor had it that he'd once bedded the Summer Queen's favorite daughter.

Klaus didn't doubt that the rumor was true.

"It was important for Elijah to grasp the politics of the the court," Esther sighed. "I live under no false hope that any of my children would spare my life should I give them the opportunity. Even you."

Klaus kept his expression carefully neutral. To suggest that Elijah was incapable of gathering intel on the Summer Queen without a direct visit was absurd. It was also a thinly veiled insult against her current heir. Klaus had shown Rebekah pathways before she'd fully come of age. The ice that had sat in his veins since Rebekah's visit turned molten, and he held his temper by a thread.

"Pity that it went so poorly, as a great number of the weaknesses in their defenses have been closed." Klaus said instead, watching Esther's expression.

"Part of the deal we struck," Esther said with a dismissive shrug. "Others will open. Eventually, we will have to accept a similar visit and allow the princess to leave unharmed. I may send Kol to you, as it appears he's attracted to chaos."

Klaus ignored her probe, that edged request. Rebekah's mirrors were her secret, and they were her responsibility to keep hidden. The gates that were the usual means of transportation were much more difficult to move through. Klaus had little doubt that his mother expected him to maintain contact with his siblings - Kol and Rebekah in particular - but he'd no doubt she'd kill all of them if she was aware of exactly how their loyalty ran.

Klaus had broken the familial bonds long before adulthood. It had been the ravens that had shown him how. Esther had watched his magic closely as he grew, and once he understood that, he'd tucked bits and pieces of himself away, hidden the full extent of what his humanity had unlocked. If she knew what his blood truly passed to the humans he changed directly, she'd work to banish him fully from her kingdom.

Rebekah was not wrong, that she'd sit on the throne. Even now, Kol fed her information and laughingly danced to Elijah and Esther's tune. But all things ended.

“I’m sure that Elijah can maintain some sort of control over Kol,” Klaus said with a shrug. “Rebekah can be trusted to not cause a scene if it is for the benefit of the kingdom.”

"Perhaps,” Esther said coolly, her eyes going hard. “And yet, I cannot trust any of my children to avoid inappropriate relationships. I did not raise my children to dally with summer fae, Niklaus."

Klaus faced her then, studied the hard eyes of the woman who'd birthed him.

"I do not understand how this is difficult for either you or Kol to grasp."

“Come now, mother, you know how much fun it is to despoil the summer fae of their morals and those precious societal norms,” Kol remarked as he strolled in, smile wide. “They can be so dirty between the sheets. Klaus - come to complain about those vampires of yours?”

“No,” Klaus replied. “It is not difficult to remake any vampires whose stupidity excludes them from living, brother.”

“Pity,” Kol opened his palms and shrugged. “My apologies then, as the reports are in. I believe you requested Elijah join you when that occurred. I’d be happy to go help organize instead?”

“Escort your brother back to the gate,” Esther ordered, catching Klaus’ gaze with her own. “What’s done is done.”

Klaus stood motionless as Esther walked away.

“Not now,” Kol murmured, voice nearly sub vocal. Klaus held his tongue, contained his magic and seethed. Rage was a knot in his chest, the caustic ball wrenching at his lungs as he walked. Caroline had repudiated him. In one sentence, Esther had all but admitted that she’d helped facilitate whatever leak had led to Caroline’s execution orders. Her death was nothing more than a power play, a chance for the Queen to remind him that she ruled.

Esther had made him her enemy.

One day, she'd regret that.

His temper was a living thing as he stepped from his mirror. Savagely, Klaus closed down the portal between the mirrors. Reaching for the lamp closest to him, he threw it viciously against a wall. Esther had finally betrayed him, but Caroline's death would cost her. It would cost all of them.

The sound of footsteps thundering up the stairs and Enzo's frantic voice had him smiling with vicious satisfaction. The first of his vampires could take the beating he needed to dish out. It really was amazing, how fae magic bonded to human blood. Enzo, like Kol, had the ability to shapeshift; although so far of the few he'd directly turned, only Enzo had developed that gift.

He managed one step forward before Enzo slammed through the door. The biting, challenging words died in his throat. Klaus froze, magic coiled around his fists and stared.

Caroline was dangling from Enzo's arms.

Her face was bone-white beneath the bright flush of iron-fever. Each broken, gasping breath sounded like a death rattle. Klaus blinked twice, uncertain the nightmare mirage was real.

"Klaus," Enzo's voice cut through his stupor. "She's dying."

Caroline, who was dressed in jeans and a ridiculous, bright top. Caroline, who was here. Caroline... who wore his ring on her left hand.

Klaus crossed the room in three desperate strides, incisors cutting into his wrist before he shoved the iron and sickness of his blood against her lips. Caroline choked on it, lashes fluttering as her magic pushed against the taint she needed to live.

"Oh no, sweetheart," Klaus growled as he tilted her head and pressed his bloody wrist harder against her lips. "There's no escaping this time."

She fought him, instinct and sunshine power denying his claim. There were no carefully woven bonds to blunt her magic; she'd cauterize the worst of her magical wounds, but it hardly mattered. Each drop of his blood that slid down her throat weakened her defenses, until his magic sank greedily into her bones.

Caroline would never step foot in the court of her childhood again. The very grounds would now repudiate her. But as he pulled his wrist away to wipe his blood from her chin and her lips, he found he couldn't care. As the rattling of her lungs eased and her flesh lost the burning heat of fever, he drank her in with his eyes.

She was here.

Caroline was alive.

She was on earth.

Klaus lifted her from Enzo's hold, moved her to the couch he'd imagined her on for months and settled her carefully. Grabbing a dark throw, he made sure she was comfortable before turning to bare his teeth at Enzo. "I'd start explaining, if I were you."

-

"Is the thought of earth so abhorrent to you?"

Caroline cracked open her eyes, glared at the man sprawled naked next to her. She was a little surprised he was still there. Their time was limited, regardless of the protections in place. Klaus seemed unconcerned. He was dragging the pads of his fingers along the dips of her spine, seemingly fascinated by the feel of her skin. It'd been a long time since she'd taken a lover, but Klaus didn't treat her body like a conquest.

He drank her in like a man dying of thirst.

"Earth?" She murmured, words lazy. "Of course not. But what you are asking is impossible. I cannot live aboveground."

He kissed her shoulder, looked at her from beneath gold tipped lashes. "There is a way."

Caroline rolled to her side, and ignored the way he watched her breasts, his hand sliding to stroke her hip. "Iron-poison is deadly, Klaus. I do not carry the blood of humans to shelter me from their religion and their iron."

"But you can drink mine."

She sat up, stared down at him. Those covetous eyes. "What?"

Klaus dragged his fingers across her abdomen. "You can drink my blood."

"You're tainted."

He smiled, incisors sharp. "I am what I am, Caroline. You don't seem to mind so much when my tongue is pressed against your clit."

"It's the best possible use of your mouth," she replied irritably, shoving her hair impatiently from her face. "But my point - as you well know - is that accepting a taint means I cannot come home."

"Would it be so bad?" Klaus questioned, gaze hunting sharp.

"To give up my home, my life, and for what?" She demanded.

He pulled a box out of midair and set it between them. She stared at the blackened box that cradled a ring carved from bleached bone and rubies. Her stunned eyes jumped to his and he gave her his sinner's smile, pulled himself up to kiss her parted lips.

"Think about it," he murmured against her wet mouth, their panting breaths mingling. Then he was gone, leaving her with nothing but an unspoken promise etched in Unseelie Magic.

Caroline was pulled from the memory by arguing voices. For a moment she was confused; the soft material under her cheek was not her bed. She blinked away the lingering memory of Klaus. His ring was on her finger, not hidden away from herself and her family.

She should've been dead.

"A girl doesn't plan on dying with your favorite whiskey on her lips because of guilt. Trust me. Whatever she said, it was a lie."

Caroline knew that voice. Enzo. The vampire.

"You'll tell me exactly what she said, word for word," Klaus said with a voice like iron.

Oh gods. She blinked her eyes open and whimpered at the bright lights; desperate, Caroline rolled to her side with a moan. Maybe it was better if she just died after all. The pounding in her skull was blinding, and she groaned into the surface she was pressed against, stomach rolling.

Fingertips pressed against her scalp and tangled in the length of her braid. For a moment she let her greedy heart have that touch before she swatted blindly with her hand. As soon as her stomach settled, she was going to wring someone's neck.

"Alcohol was perhaps not the best choice before blood, gorgeous." Enzo's voice cut into her throbbing headache.

"Stop talking," Caroline mumbled into the couch. The hands in her hair tugged gently and she very carefully turned her head and cracked open one eye. Klaus crouched next to her, gaze blazing. His cheekbones were vivid, face flushed with temper and his voice was hard when he spoke.

"You have a lot of explaining to do, Caroline."

She stared at him, the lines of the face she thought she'd lost. For a moment, she nearly reached for him; but as she oriented, she became aware of exactly how she could feel him. This wasn't the cautious binding of his magic, she felt him down to her bones.

Caroline sat up with a jerk, nearly tumbled off the couch. Klaus caught her, gripped her arms with firm hands. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, tried not to vomit. "What did you do?"

"What was necessary," Klaus said flatly. "Your stomach will settle in a moment."

"Well excuse me," Caroline ground out from clenched teeth as her eyes cracked open. "But generally blood doesn't settle so well."

"It would if you'd stop trying to reject my magic, love. A bit late for that."

"You're such an unbelievable ass," she hissed as she pressed a hand to her stomach. "I'm aiming for you if I puke."

"I think I'm going to head out," Enzo broke into their staring match. Caroline twisted her head to look at the vampire who'd saved her life. Enzo looked amused, grinning at her. "Be careful. She fights dirty."

She felt the razor fury of Klaus attention shift and he stood. The moment his hands left her skin she wobbled, and barely caught herself. Caroline ignored his snarled demand for details regarding exactly why she'd been fighting at all, and squeezed her eyes shut to look at her magic.

Klaus had fed her his blood, and the blood link was strong between them. Unseelie Magic pressed into her bones, ran through her veins and she considered her options. She could let the link settle, stop her magic from fighting Klaus' claim. She could vomit whatever was still in her stomach, try to push him out. It'd be difficult, for all that she'd cauterize the worst of those magical connections she'd let form, helpless to the feel and devotion of him.

Klaus might've thought he'd been careful, but Caroline had chosen to let him start to tie them together. And that acceptance, that willingness would now work against her. She didn't know why he'd saved her, didn't know what Klaus thought regarding his ring on her finger and tears burned behind her eyes.

Life was all about choices.

Caroline stopped fighting him.

Her stomach settled, the pounding in her head eased into a throb. She opened her eyes when she realized the room had gone silent; Klaus watched her with unreadable eyes that glittered. She lifted her chin, met his gaze with her own. She stood carefully, unwilling to sit for this.

She didn't know how to break this silence. The last time they'd spoken she'd broken them both. How did you bridge that kind of betrayal?

"Nothing to say, love?"

"Why did you save me?" The words filled the space between them before she could stop herself. Thankfully, her voice didn't reflect the painful vulnerability in her chest.

"I've spent the last few hours expecting to hear confirmation of your death, Caroline," Klaus said lowly, voice deadly soft. "Let's call this curiosity - how exactly did your mother end up dead?"

She flinched back at the mention of her mother and her chin shook as she stubbornly held her tears. Glaring at him, she swallowed hard. "Leave my mother out of this."

Something unreadable flickered behind his eyes, but he didn't soften. "Execution orders were signed, Caroline. Care to explain that to me?"

"No," Her voice sharpened. "No, I do not."

Klaus lashes lowered, eyes glittering. "That's too bad, love."

She crossed her arms. "Oh?"

His smile was predatory as his gaze lowered to her left hand. "You're wearing my ring."

Her stomach lurched but she held her composure. "Would you like it back, then?"

Klaus laughed lowly, stalked forward until they were nearly touching. She kept her spine straight, dug her fingers into her arms to stop herself for reaching for him. "My point, Caroline, is that I recall with perfect clarity your assurance that you'd destroyed my ring right before you ripped any ties from both of us. I remember every word. So I wonder, Caroline, if you lied to me about your ring, what else did you lie to me about?"

Caroline shook her head.

"Your people have forsaken you, your only family died to send you to me and I want to know why, Caroline."

"My mother did not..." Her words died as his fingers pressed against her lips.

"You were tried for treason," Klaus said softly, but his words were filled with iron. "Which means that whatever you told your Queen wasn't enough to pardon you. I'm most interested in how that conversation went, but what I really want to is how your mother knew this ring was spelled to bring you to the city I inhabited. A little insurance, should you be forced to use a gate unexpectedly; we're nowhere near Ireland, love. Which I'm sure you're fully aware of, being the smart girl you are."

Caroline stared up at him, heart hammering in her chest. Slowly, she let her hands fall to her sides. "Why does it matter?"

"Answer the question."

The horrible, tangled knot of emotions around her heart loosened. Staring up at his face, she reached for him, but he stepped deftly away from her hands, turning to face the wide window. Tears clogged in her throat as the realization that he didn't hate her throbbed through her veins.

Klaus didn't hate her.

He was furious, and she'd hurt him perhaps irreparably, but scorn and fury were not hate. She might have ruined them to save him, but she could offer him closure.

"She knew about you."

Caroline watched his shoulder go rigid, his hands white-knuckled at his sides. Licking dry lips, she ran her fingers over the now-cold stone of her ring. She could do this.

"Do you think I would betray her in that way? She might not have known the specifics, but Mother knew. I went to her with your ring. I don't know what I was looking for - forgiveness, damnation, understanding? But your brother was already there. And I knew what I carried against my skin wasn't a secret. It was only a matter of time before they came searching."

"So you chose your people."

Her silence made him pause, to turn to look at her exhausted face. Eyes narrowed, Klaus stalked forward and bared his teeth. "Caroline..."

"Do you know how it would have looked, if she'd known?" Caroline whispered. "So I said nothing."

"What did you tell your court?" Klaus demanded. "What information was your downfall? You'd torn yourself free of my magic, there was nothing linking you to me."

"Nothing," Caroline whispered. "I told them nothing."

He stared at her, jaw tight. "Impossible."

"You were safe. She was safe," her lips trembled, and Caroline stubbornly blinked back tears. "Why didn't she let me die?"'

Magic crawled into his gaze, changed the blue of his eyes to gold. Cheekbones stark against the scruff of his beard, Klaus cupped her face. "Caroline, tell me you didn't offer yourself as a sacrifice to protect your mother and me."

A tear slipped down her cheek. "She wouldn't come here, to earth. Wouldn't forsake her duty to her cousin. I asked."

Klaus didn't move, body unnaturally still.

Terrified to move lest he realize he was touching her, Caroline tried to read his face. "Tyler found the box, but I don't know how he knew to look for it. I had your ring hidden."

Klaus dipped his head, so close their breaths mingled, his nose nearly touching hers. When he spoke, each word was harshly bitten off. "Caroline, did you repudiate me to protect me?"

Careful, her fingertips trembling as she touched the very edge of his jaw, Caroline took a steadying breath. "I am neither bait nor a weapon against my family. I wouldn't let them force you to hurt those you care about either."

Klaus' hands left her skin and he turned away, harsh words she didn't understand spat into the air. She stared at him in shock as he cleared a desk with a swipe of his arm; jars and brushes shattering on the floor. She gaped as he turned, fury flushed across his cheeks, jaw so tightly clenched she could see white and red striations along his jaw.

"You little idiot."

Caroline's spine snapped ruler straight.

"I will burn my mother's kingdom to the ground, rip apart anyone who so much as contemplates your death," Klaus prowled towards her startled face. "Do you think my devotion so lightly given? I have lived with your repudiation for weeks, have suffered the burns of our broken ties and I still dream of you. Nothing I have done has excised you from my veins. You’ve claimed me down to my marrow, Caroline."

"But," Caroline stammered. "They're your family."

"They are vipers in a pit, each waiting for a single weakness to destroy the other," Klaus bit out. "Do you think I didn't know the risk these years I've courted you? It was only a matter of time before I turned against my mother, but I foolishly thought she'd see you as a weakness to manipulate should she discover us.”

"I don't understand," Caroline breathed. "What are you saying?"

Klaus was suddenly pressed against her, hands tangled possessively in her braids. Forehead lingering against hers, he took a long breath. "Enzo said you wanted to die with whiskey on your tongue; our whiskey."

"Enzo talks too much."

His lips curled into that smirk she couldn't resist, and Klaus eased far enough back to take her in. "I want you."

The world blurred. She blinked, watched those near feral eyes soften as he wiped her cheeks. "I repudiated you with words and magic. You have scars; I can feel them. You should hate me."

"You and I will discuss that, in great detail. Elijah and Esther's fates will be shaped by how it goes." He stroked his thumb along the curve of her ear, lingered at the sensitive points. "Never again, Caroline. You will never again sacrifice yourself for me. Do you understand?"

She opened eyes that had slide shut as the unexpected pleasure of his touch, body humming with each caress of his thumb. Her pupils were wide and eyes dark with arousal, but she stared at him with iron in her gaze. "I'll always fight for what I love."

The tangle of emotions in his gaze was unreadable - shock, fury, adoration - it was a wild mixture that turned his gaze feral. Klaus did not hate her, for breaking him. He still wanted her.

He still wanted her.

Lips parting, Caroline lunged up onto her toes, and pressed her mouth wildly against his. Her fingers fisted in his strange clothing, and she kissed him with the desperation of his missed touch. What little of her magic hadn't been depleted by her crossing shoved against her skin and reached for him in hungry starbursts.

Klaus' hand curved along the nape of her neck, the other stroking down the line of her spine to pull her close. A low, hungry noise rumbled in his chest and Caroline curled an arm around his neck, fingers threading through his wild curls.

She pulled back when her lungs started to burn, breathing heavily through parted lips as Klaus kissed across her cheek and down to her jawline. "I thought you'd hate me."

Klaus lifted his head and looked at her with narrowed eyes. "I'm furious. Make no mistake, sweetheart, we're going to have that discussion and neither of us will enjoy it. But right now, I'm much more interested in the ways you can make it up to me."

Her lips curled upwards, nails dragging down his scalp. She needed his hands on her skin, needed to relearn the planes of him. "I'm not going to apologize."

He laughed lowly, hands gliding down her back and lower, until he leaned forward to grip the back of her thighs. Caroline gasped as he lifted her in one smooth motion, encouraging her legs to curl around his waist. "Modern clothing has many benefits, love; the first being you in these jeans."

His mouth caught hers, tongue a velvet stroke as she rubbed against him, moaning at the how good he felt against her. He was so close, without skirts and underskirts between them; she ground down with a greedy gasp. Nipping at her lower lip, Klaus slipped a hand underneath her shirt, and stroked a searing path along her spine as he walked.

"I don't expect an apology Caroline," Klaus said roughly. He cupped her cheek with his free hand, paused in an open hallway. "Just as I won't apologize for what I deem necessary to protect you. But there will be no more secrets, no more hiding. It's all in, Caroline.”

Her gaze softened, and she lowered her hands to stroked his face, fingertips greedy for the roughness of his scruff. "If you think you're going to dictate this relationship, I'm going to get mean."

A wild smile, incisors sharp in the low light. He teased her mouth with feather-light kisses. Brushed her lips softly with his until Caroline hummed in pleasure and leaned in for more. Pulling back, he dimpled. "I'm sure we'll argue. But right now, I'm more intrigued by what you're wearing under these clothes; have you considered yet, little love, that we are free of listening spells and a need for secrecy? I once promised to sate your endless curiosity, and I am most interested in what will leave you begging."

She bit her lip at the heat in his gaze, the way she could feel his magic tugging at her - the way her magic reached for him. Heat nearly vibrated between them, and she let her hands roam across his shoulders. Humming a little, she leaned in and bit the cords of his throat, licked the red marks that she hoped bruised. "Promises, Klaus."

She jerked against him as his hand palmed her ass, fingers massaging firmly. She moaned, eyes sliding shut. They flew open as her body unexpectedly dropped onto a mattress and she blinked in surprise as she adjusted to perfection at her back. For a moment, she ignored Klaus and pushed up on her elbows, sinking her weight down with a delighted curve of her lips.

Her eyes flickered across the wide, open space of his chamber, the glass windows that showcased hundreds of the lights from the city. Delighted, curiosity open on her face, she laughed as Klaus' hands curled around her ankles and tugged her closer. "Later, I'll let you explore. But I want you out of these pants."

She willingly fumbled with the buttons, wiggling as he tugged the rough fabric down her legs. Klaus scattered kisses along her thighs as they were bared, tongue a soft counterpoint to the pressure of his teeth. Her pants hit the floor with a soft thump as he glanced from beneath his lashes, and the devilment their caught her breath.

His hands hooked behind her knees and then the hot suction of his mouth pressed against the wet lace of her panties. Her hands went to his hair even as her spine melted. Gasping his name, Caroline arched against the fleeting strokes of his tongue.

"Take off your shirt,” Klaus said roughly.

Chest heaving, she fumbled for the edges of her stolen shirt as he watched with covetous eyes. He licked along his upper lip as she tossed her shirt; eyes following the movement of her breasts. She trembled a little under that gaze, knowing just how he could touch her. Eyes catching and holding his, she reached up and tugged her braids free. Then, hair wild around her shoulders, she unhooked the last of her undergarments and threw it at him.

"Klaus," Caroline said, voice softer than she'd intended. "Touch me. Please."

His gaze dragged her body, a slow near-touch that left her nerves hyper aware. His left hand traced the crease of her thigh, lingered on the edges of her underwear. "I'm going to enjoy watching you shop; cajole you into trying a myriad of colors of silk and lace against your skin.”

Deliberately she dragged a hand along her abdomen, fingertips skimming across her skin before gliding back up between her breasts. "Some things are a surprise."

He kissed her thigh, dragged sharply with his teeth. Caroline jerked, and moaned when he sucked the hurt. "Touch your nipples, love."

"Put your mouth somewhere useful," she countered, arching her spine and circling one pink tip, not quite giving him what he wanted. Klaus responded by stroking a line down her center with his knuckles, a pleased noise against her skin as she trembled.

"Caroline."

She lifted heavy lidded eyes back to his.

"I want to watch you play with your breasts. Cup them for me, tug your nipples," His mouth curved in a smile of pure temptation. "I'll make it worth your while."

Her hands curved underneath her breasts, the soft weight warm beneath her fingers as she squeezed. Head tilting back, she shivered as her thumbs grazed her nipples, the aroused flesh flushing pink. Klaus groaned, eyes intent even as two fingers hooked under the band of her panties. She heard the fabric snap, couldn't care as she tugged on each aching nipple, thighs shifting restlessly against him.

"Don't stop touching your breasts love," His mouth pressed beneath her belly button, tongue flickering hotly.

Caroline let her shoulders press against the mattress. “Why? You’re mouth isn’t where I need it.”

A scrape of teeth, his breath hot against her skin. "I'll make it up to you."

His tongue was so, so soft as it glided between wet folds. Hitching her knees higher, he licked in long, leisurely strokes that teased and aroused; never quite enough or where she needed the velvet pressure most. Her fingers shaped and squeezed her breasts in near painful caresses, hips rolling desperately.

"Klaus," Caroline whined, jerking as his nose nearly grazed her clit. "Put your tongue on my clit."

A hot exhale, nearly a laugh and he stroked it inside her instead. She shuddered, his shoulders blocking her thighs from squeezing his head. "I didn't hear a please."

Caroline tried to focus around the lazy, thrusting patterns of his tongue. Head twisting on the sheets, she moaned in complaint as his head tilted, scruff rough on her thighs. "Klaus!"

"Say please, Caroline."

She thought about holding out, sliding her practiced fingers down her abdomen to stroke herself. Hazy eyes glanced at Klaus, the way the blue and yellow of his gaze watched her. The motion of his lips and tongue as they moved in tantalizing patterns.

"Please," Caroline panted. "Pretty, pretty please."

She felt his lips curve, would have snarled if he hadn't sucked her clit between his lips; his tongue madness as it moved against her in languorous strokes. One hand anchored her hips to the bed, the other slipped down to push two fingers inside her. Her hands fell away from her breasts to clutch the bedclothes, upper body writhing helplessly. Pleasure was a slow, sweeping crawl; she came with a short scream - toes curling as her spine arched through the rush of it.

Klaus eased away from her body, and shed his clothing as she panted with glazed eyes. Caroline watched as he crawled up her body, the scruff of his beard against her abdomen an unexpected pleasure. She’d pulled in a breath to say his name, when he paused to suck strongly on one breast; Caroline choked, hands tangling in his wild hair. Her eyes slid shut, nerves still hyper sensitive, and she bit off a curse as he dragged the head of his cock across her clit before slowly pushing inside her clenching center.

He made a low, rumbling noise and switched to her other breast, hips pushing until he was seated firmly inside her. Caroline let him guide, her legs back around his waist before his hands slid back up body to tangle with hers.

Hot, sucking kisses against her breasts and throat as he teased her, until she whined and clenched down on the length of him. “Did you forget how to move?”

His head lifted, blue eyes nearly black except for those bursts of gold. “Such a grumpy lover.”

Her lips parted, eyes narrowed, but he arched his hips and stroked back in. She forgot her irritation, didn’t care that he pressed the weight of his body along the full length of hers, limiting her ability to move. Each thrust was perfect, and she dug her nails into the back of his hands as she rode the edge of orgasm, legs a vise around his hips as she came. Klaus pressed against her neck, lips parted against her skin as he shuddered against her, body finally stilling.

Sated, content for the first time since she’d seen him lingering in the hallways of the palace all those years ago, Caroline wiggled her hands free to stroke through his damp curls. “So what does this ‘all in’ entail, exactly? I seem to be without a home or people, and am looking for a place to call my own.”

Klaus lifted his head, and her breath hitched at the tenderness there. But there was steel and iron as well, a need that echoed in her own chest. “I am war, Caroline. The disease in my blood, the bargain my mother made to conceive me was always meant for war.”

“My understanding is that I have some of that war and disease in me now,” Caroline said bluntly. “And if I plan on staying here, I’ll be getting a bit more liquid to my diet than I am happy with.”

His thumb stroked across the curve of her mouth, sweeping back and forth in slow strokes. “It will change you. I don’t know how.”

“You’ll find I’m too stubborn for much change,” Caroline murmured. “My power is not so weak against yours, that it will carve me into something new. I will alter. But so will you.”

He laughed low in this throat as he kissed her chin and rolled away from her body. She arched both brows as he stood and offered her his hand. “So you are, love. So you are. Come, I want to see your face as you explore the bathroom and then we’ll make plans.”

“You’ll show me the city,” she demanded as her fingers curled into his. Standing, Caroline grinned up at him. “We’ll buy champagne, because that whiskey really is terrible and then we’ll have that argument of yours. After, its my turn to dictate in bed.”

“I can’t possibly imagine what you’re talking about, Caroline.”

She tossed her hair and moved in the direction he indicated. “And I don’t recall you doing as I suggested, either. You can negotiate how merciful I should be in this bathroom of yours.”