put down your sword and crown

i can bend and not break

Monday comes.

Caroline wakes up to rain pounding down on her window and a chill in the air. She showers languorously, drinks her breakfast distractedly, shifts from foot to foot in the hallways, eyes glued to the clock and hands wrapped uncertainly around the strap of her schoolbag.

The seconds tick away and suddenly it's 7:31. She knows she needs to make a move on, but she glances at her BlackBerry one more time anyway – no messages, no missed calls.

She scrolls through her inbox (maybe she'd accidentally clicked on it without noticing…?) and finds nothing but dissipating hope and a heavy feeling in her stomach. The only "we're coming in 10, bring coffee" message that Stefan's sent is from yesterday and the day before that.

Biting her lip, she glances at the clock again (7:42) and sighs, slipping her bag onto her shoulder and locking the door behind her. She lingers on her porch, waiting for her phone to beep, but it never does.

Monday goes.

Caroline closes her eyes, wondering if Rebekah's figured out how to put Ole Betsey in reverse yet, if Stefan's drawing up a another map of Mystic Falls and the things that can be crashed into, the people too important to even consider passing by, and the people he doesn't mind if she hit (Damon), if Bonnie's wondering why they've all been MIA lately, if Kol is still sore from letting Rebekah run him over, if Klaus has watered his daisies yet. Wondering if he's able to sleep the way she can't. Wondering if he's still bent over his book, drawing.

She falls into a fitful sleep, her hand wrapped around Klaus's picture, warm under her pillow the whole night.

Tuesday comes.

Caroline finds Stefan at the field during lunch break, just sitting at the bleachers, staring out at the remnant of last week's football match. He doesn't have his serious vampire face on like she thought he would, not even his worried vampire look (which she hasn't caught a glimpse of since before Klaus came along… but still). He's just staring.

She calls out his name but he doesn't hear. After a while, she shrugs her coat on tighter and treks up to where he's slouched, the hem of her sunshine-yellow dress just flitting about to be seen under the grey material of her coat. He doesn't look up when she goes right up to him, just hunches his shoulders further.

She considers feeling offended.

Instead, she drops her bag down onto the bleacher and slips beside it, her elbows lightly touching the tips of Stefan's shoes. The breeze picks up and she doesn't have any valid reason to shiver, but she does.

"Is there something you need?" Stefan asks eventually, sparing her a quick glance. (A step up from What do you want?, Caroline notes, and surreptitiously taps her knee with a triumphant finger.)

"Just to talk," she says, leaning back casually. "You know, I'd say you were thinking about how it's Tuesday, but that'd be way too obvious."

"Considering the fact that it is, in fact, Tuesday?" Stefan asks, amused. Caroline looks up at him, feels something like awe seep onto her face.

He shifts slightly in his seat and Caroline closes her mouth and looks down at her lap, chuckling slightly, but it's not a happy one.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing, it's just…" She tilts her head towards the pale sunlight, and Stefan appreciates the tilt of her neck. "Everything's not going like we'd hoped it would."

"Yes it is," Stefan says shortly. "It's going exactly as planned. They're still gonna die."

It's the way he says it, like it's a fact – which it is – that makes her shudder again. "But you didn't exactly plan on getting attached, did you?" she asks, silently daring him to look her in the eyes.

Stefan grunts, "Who said anything about getting attached?" He lets out a gust of breath.

"You didn't have to," Caroline says flatly. "You're having all these doubts all of a sudden and you hate it, don't you? You're wondering if this is how feeling is like, and you're thinking of flipping again." She hoists herself up so she's right next to him. "Aren't you?" Jostling his shoulder, she asks again (a little too forcefully), "Aren't you?"

There's nothing but the sound of wind around them. Caroline continues to look at him despairingly and he sighs.

"It doesn't matter." Hanging his head, he counts his fingers, counts them again, clutching and unclutching and repeats the process. "They're down to twenty-six days. We're not their friends; we never were. So it's no use pretending like everything's changed. No use, you hear me?" He grabs her shoulder to make her look at him, pushes some sense into her. Caroline looks a little uncertain (he doesn't want to admit that she looks a bit scared) and lets her go, but not without repeating (for good measure): "Absolutely no use." He looks ahead again, jaw set. "Not after everything they've done."

Caroline thins her lips. "Then what the hell are you doing, Stefan?"



"I have no idea. Do you have any clue what the hell I'm doing? What the hell you're doing?" He shrugs his jacket closer to his skin, wishing he could just suffocate from the cold his skin would never feel again.

For once, Caroline doesn't have an answer.

Tuesday goes.

Caroline wakes up with a vengeance, showering quickly and buttoning up her coat all the way to her neck. She sucks down on her breakfast furiously on the way to the Salvatore's and nearly knocks Damon down the staircase ("Watch it, blondie!") in her plight to find Stefan.

"Good morning!" she all but cheers as she crashes into his bedroom, parting the curtains and throwing the windows open to let in some much-needed light. She decides that the fact that she's in the room is sunshine enough, and surveys Stefan, who's glowering at her from the reflection of his mirror.

"Is there something you need?" he asks ( just like yesterday), doing up the buttons on his shirt.

"Yes," Caroline says firmly. "We're going driving today."

Stefan's hand falters on its way to grab his messenger bag. "We have school."

"And I, Student Body President of Mystic Falls High am declaring that school… can wait." She twirls around in the room, looking under books and into drawers until she finds the keys to Stefan's cherry-red convertible and scoops it up into her hands.

Stefan's staring at her suspiciously. "Have you thought about what I said yesterday?"

Huffing, Caroline crosses her arms over her chest. "Yes. Now are you coming or not?"

"I distinctly remember I had to threaten you to get into the car."

She points to herself. "I didn't get to be Student Body President by having tunnel-vision like you. I'm… entitled to changing my mind." Rolling her eyes at the incredulous look on Stefan's face, her hands move from her chest to her hip. "Is that a problem?" She hopes her voice is intimidating enough.

"Not at all," Stefan says, smirking (Caroline resents that all-knowing glint in his eyes). He reaches over to snatch back his keys. "But I'm driving."

They plough down the stairs together, two at a time—

"Hey!" Damon glares as he's shoved into the banister. At their retreating backs, he calls indignantly: "I know you're miss Goody Two Shoes and Stefan's a reformed badass, but isn't it too early to catch the worm?"

—and all but fling the front door open. The sun peeks out through the white haze of the sky and Stefan leaves his coat unbuttoned.

"Klaus." Stefan nods in greeting, shouldering past the hybrid and turning a corner to find Rebekah's room.

"Morning!" Caroline sings, dropping her bag and coat by the door and skipping inside.

Raising an eyebrow, Klaus raises a tired brow and grumbles, "Someone's chipper this morning."

"It's driving day, isn't it?" Caroline quips, poking her head into the closet to drag out Stefan's whiteboard streaked with her pink and purple markers. "Someone has to be, to keep you and Kol from killing each other."

She stiffens the moment the words leave her mouth, but is saved from Klaus's calculating reply when Kol leans down from the banister above them and says, "Are we planning on another day of mischief and mayhem? Painting the town? Spitting right in the face of Mayor Lockwood's meticulously-structured road rules?"

Caroline nods, eyes crinkling up to match her smile. "Yes."

"Well, in that case…" Kol hoists himself over the banister and manages to tumble down the fifteen feet separating him from the floor with grace (Caroline swallows her awe) and sidles up to her, grinning like he knows he's impressed her.

Glaring at the both of them, Klaus turns away to shut the front door. "Aren't you supposed to be in school?" he all but mutters.

"Oh, about that—"

"And breaking school rules as we speak!" Kol slings an arm around Caroline's, who beams. "I have decided that I like you, Caroline Forbes."

Rolling his eyes, Klaus breathes in the sharp smell of 6:51am and goes to pour himself a drink. The two of them fawning and gabbing and arguing over Stefan's Master Plan is giving him a migraine, but before he can lift the amber liquid to his lips Caroline's suddenly by his side, slapping the drink out of his hands. ("It's not even time for breakfast yet!" She looks scandalized.)

The drink hurls into the wall like a bullet and Klaus looks equally as scandalized. "That was Shackleton's hundred year old whiskey!" Caroline finds herself cornered into the bookcase, her wide eyes locked onto Klaus's furious ones. "There were only three bottles discovered under the thick arctic ice and I had to compel my way across Antarctica and break into a vault to get one."

Gulping, Caroline tries to shrug her should but find that Klaus's sinewy arms are trapping them. "Maybe you should start investing in things that aren't indispensible?" Her voice is two octaves higher than it usually is and she hates it.

"That would defeat the purpose of investment, wouldn't it love?" Klaus growls. He's leaning in closer, cold breath ghosting her lips tantalizingly, and finds that she's unable to turn away.

"Oh, lighten up, Nik." Kol rests on the arm of a wingchair, examining the whiskey. "Though your taste for alcohol is commendable, it's nothing to get your unmentionables in a twist over. All good things must come to an end," he finishes airily, taking a swig straight from the bottle.

Klaus is staring at Kol, his face torn between wanting to torture Kol against broken glass for tainting his drink and letting him have his way, under the circumstances. So tortured were his thoughts that he doesn't realize that he still has Caroline pinned to the wall.

(Caroline's all too aware of it, though, and tries not to notice how warm he is on such a cold morning.

She does anyway.)

"Nik," Rebekah admonishes with Stefan in tow (looking prepared to rip Klaus off of Caroline to hurl him out the open window), weaving a lock of her hair into an intricate braid. "What on earth are you doing to that poor girl?"

Klaus takes a step back (it finally occurs to Caroline that she'd stopped breathing some three minutes ago) and grudgingly mutters, "My apologies."

Wrapping a pattered silk scarf around her neck, Rebekah asks brightly if everyone's ready. Stefan takes a step back, marveling at the Monroe-esque air she's exuding (so Caroline's made him watch a few of those movies way back when, it's perfectly acceptable for a man to appreciate those movies these days, alright?). Kol claps his hands once and speeds out the front door yelling "Bags on the front seat!"

"But I'm teaching her how t—" Letting out a groan, Stefan races out after him.

Rebekah smoothes red lipstick over her smile and raises an eyebrow. "Shall we go, or should I give you two a minute?"

Caroline mumbles something incoherent and all but zooms out of the house. Grabbing his jacket, Klaus trudges outside after Rebekah and kicks the door closed.

Rebekah clutches at his arm and trills, "Oh, Stefan's teaching me how to reverse-park today!"

Klaus rubs a hand over his eyes, wishing he were drunk. "I need coffee for this."

"Ooh, there's a spot right there!" Caroline presses her faces against the window, tapping the back of Rebekah's seat urgently. "By the fire hydrant!"

"You're not allowed to park th—" Stefan starts to say, but the doomed sound of metal thudding against metal cuts him short.

"Too late." Kol says brightly and stretches out in his seat while Stefan, Caroline and Klaus glower at him enviably, knees knocked together.

Rebekah pushes her sunglasses up and says, "Today isn't going so bad. Parking is easy."

("Yeah, when you park in the middle of the road," Stefan mutters. Klaus slaps him a steely look to silence him.)

"Indeed it is, Bekah." Kol reaches out a hand to kill the engine. "I'm obviously a much better teacher than Stefan here." He scratches the back of his head. "Though why he wants to teach you how to park a car when you don't even know how to stop one escapes me."

"Let's just get our coffee and get a move on," Stefan snaps (before Rebekah can do the same to Kol's neck), kicking the door open. "I'm sick of having to compel people when they ask why we're not in school."

"Oh, let them," Caroline says, carefree (Stefan squints at her, suspicious of anyone this happy at obscene hours of the day). "It's not every day we get to drive down the street without taking out half the football team."

"Lovely town, this," Klaus notes sardonically, closing the door gingerly after Caroline, whose uncertain smile grows into a bigger one when she sees him hold the glass doors of the coffee shop for an elderly woman.

Before she can follow after him, Stefan catches her elbow, pulling her back. "Not growing attached, are you?"

Caroline glares. "Of course not."

In the fairly short time since her undaggering, Rebekah seems to have adapted well to contemporary fashion and casual coffee shops. Running a red-painted finger across the knot of her scarf, she skims down the length of Starbucks's pastry selection while Kol looks around him, frowning.

It's a slow morning, something Caroline is insanely glad of as she makes her way to the counter, because Kol is looking around thirstily – just not for a caffeine fix.

"Good morning," the redhead with the Hi, I'm Kelly nametag greets with a smile. "What'll it be?"

Tapping her fingers on the counter, Caroline tilts her head before saying, "Venti half white mocha, two shots espresso, blended with ice and two percent milk mocha." She smiles at Kelly and says, "Extra whipped cream, please."

Stefan saunters up beside her and says, "Grande house blend, dark roast. And can I also have—"

But Klaus shoulders him out of the way, drawling, "I'll have the same." He drops his eyes to the barista's neck and a smile twists onto his face – the scary kind. "You have a lovely neck, Kelly."

Kelly's hand flutters upwards, meeting his eyes. "Oh," she breathes. "Thanks." She averts her gaze and arranges the cups in front of her, red-cheeked and openly flustered.

"Oh stop it, Nik." Rolling her eyes, Rebekah leans into the counter and promptly says, "Grande coffee in a Venti cup. Two pumps vanilla, two pumps hazelnut, two pumps caramel. Two equals and four sweet and lows filled to the top with cream, extra cream on the side." As an afterthought, she adds: "And a stirrer."

"What about you, sir?" Kelly prompts Kol.

Tearing his frowning eyes away from the menu, he asks (a little bewilderedly), "I thought we were getting coffee?"

Wednesday comes.

Elena wakes slowly, clutching her teddy closer to her chest as she breathes in and out, in and out. She can feel pale sunshine on her face and nods approvingly at the weather, eyes still closed. A sharp breeze wafts in the room and she scrunches her nose.

There's something different about the room, like air has been pushed aside to make room, like the sound of two people breathing instead of one. She pulls her head out of her covers and opens her eyes to meet –

Elijah's. He blinks his own chocolate eyes back at her and they warm up the room. He's sitting in her paisley armchair, reading Animal Farm with a bemused expression on his face. Snapping the book shut, he says, "Good morning, Elena."

"Good morning," Elena replies, a little flustered. "What are you…?"

"You overslept—"

"I what?" Elena kicks the covers off of her and stumbles (or tries to) out of bed, but Elijah firmly pushes her back against her pillows.

(She gulps.)

"—and school started two hours ago. It's alright, I've compelled your friend Matt to take notes for you—"

"You didn't have to compel him—"

"—and I thought breakfast is in order, so I made blueberry pancakes—"


"—but it appears we're out of coffee and I considered going out to get some but you've woken up—"

"I'll text Damon, but why are you—?"

"—so get dressed," Elijah finishes, oblivious to Elena's splutters. He turns to leave the room, but Elena catches his hand.

"Elijah. Why'd you let me sleep in?"

Looking down at her, he traces a ghost of a touch under her eyes—

(Elena's breath catches in her throat.)

—and churns frenzies into her stomach with his gaze. He finally meets her eyes and says, "You look like you needed it."

"Oh," she says, at a loss for words. "Well… don't do it again; I fully expect to be woken up next time. Not everyone can compel their way to an excellent attendance."

Elijah pauses by the doorway, a strange look crossing his face. "Do you need me to do anything about that?"

"No!" Laughing, Elena jostles him out of her room.

"Really, this is too much." Elena pops a blueberry into her mouth and contemplates her morning. "You didn't have to do all of this."

"I wanted to." As usual, he's never eating when she is, listens intently when she talks; studies her face she chews. Sometimes guilt – that Elijah chooses to spend time with her after what she's done – thrashes her insides to bits; sometimes his smile – that Elijah wants to smile after what she's done – is compensation enough.

Elena pushes her breakfast around on her plate. "Why do you?"

Instantly, she regrets asking. That strange look is flitting across his face again—stupid stupid stupid, the man's dying and she's making it about herself; tells him about her parents and Jeremy when they were little on their midnight conversations when she should be talking about him, feeling nothing but uncontained joy when Elijah actually laughs at the things he says, liking his discreet gazes and faltering touches—

"It's strange." Elijah frowns and leans forward (Elena subconsciously moves closer), deep in thought. "It's like a void inside me is being filled when I'm with you—your heart beats while I have none, you breathe deeper when you smile. Being around you has reminded me what it's like to be human."

Elena's eyelashes are fluttering, and her mouth is parting slightly, but Elijah continues: "I feel less of a monster, and more of a man."

"But Elijah—" She makes the space between them disappear by grasping his hands. "You could—could never be a monster: Alaric looks up to you so much and you're the only vampire Damon actually listens to besides Stefan, and you've been so good to me…"

"What you feel and what I feel are two very different things," Elijah says (almost regretfully).

Elena looks at him determinedly, no hint of a smile on her lips. "Well then, we'll have to change that. Because when I'm around you, I feel…" Hands still wrapped around his, she wrenches his tightly wound hands from each other and drags his palm to her chest, directly over her stuttering heart.

Elijah's eyes meet hers.

"This," she finishes, voice like scratched silk. "I feel this."

Elijah raises his free hand from the table, as if to touch her face.

His gaze lingers, as if to pierce her soul.

Klaus storms into the Gilbert household, knocking Damon into a potted plant—

("Can we talk about your manhandling of me today?" Damon grouses, shaking dirt off of his jeans. "It is seriously getting old.")

—and slams Kol against the wall. "I've put up with you long enough."

"K-Klaus?" Elena appears, eyes a little dazed. She turns to Caroline, eyes flashing for an explanation. She's the only one who's actually trying to stop the impending brawl (Rebekah just looks exasperated; Stefan bored).

Caroline ducks as a vase goes flying, Kol following shortly. He twists in the air to upright himself before his back hits the wall, but before damage could be dealt on Kol's part, both brothers find themselves hurled in opposite directions as Elijah appears, blood and fire in his eyes.

"What is wrong with the two of you?" Dragging (a snarling) Kol upright with his left hand and (glowering) Klaus in the other, he gives a shove for good measure before ordering: "Explain yourselves."

Klaus says nothing and shoulders Kol on his way to the kitchen. Kol's steeling his shoulders, but one look from Elijah sends him to the kitchen as well. When it's clear no one wants to say anything, Caroline pipes up, "Someone got us kicked out of Starbucks."

("Who gets kicked out of Starbucks?" Damon rolls his eyes. "Aren't they licensed to serve unless you happen to be a cruel, volatile undead being?")

Elena's eyes flit between Kol and Klaus. "Can I venture a guess?"

"Sure, want a hint?" Stefan snaps, every second ticking by like a stake pounding against his skull with the lack of caffeine. "Starts with a K and ends with idiot."

Everyone looks at Klaus. He volleys with a scornful look and a sharp fang. "It wasn't me."

"Kol, then," Elijah remarks.

"Kol – the arse that he is – tried to compel the barista into sliding a knife into her arm because Klaus called him a heathen for not knowing what to order," Rebekah yawns, tugging her scarf loose. "Then Stefan broke a table trying to get Kol from jumping Klaus."

"When we got to the boarding house, they were out of coffee," Caroline finishes gloomily.

Damon raises a finger. "That would be my doing." He walks out of the kitchen and reappears a moment later, laden from waist to chin with coffee. "'Lena asked me to bring coffee."

"For two," Elena gawks. "Not an entire army."

("Two?" Stefan mouths to Caroline.)

"Hey, you want coffee or not?" Damon tosses the Nescafe at Stefan. "Especially you, brother. You look like Bambi's mom just came back to life only to be shot again."

"I could think of a few people I'd like to shoot," Kol says. "With a White Oak bullet."

"Coffee! Who wants coffee!" Caroline erratically pushes mugs into everyone's hands—

Rebekah grimaces at Jeremy's Me Gusta! mug but takes it without a sound.

—and the dangerously quiet vampires (and hybrid) take a gulp, eyes still set on each other but at least in no position to tear off limbs. Eventually the charged air dissipates and they start talking about other things (Kol still insist on the retelling of Klaus's daisy patch) Caroline eases into a chair, taking refuge in the still of the moment until they hear the front door crack open and an all-too-familiar voice.

"Elena?" There's the sound of a coat rustling open and harried footsteps into the house. "You will not believe what - or who - I just saw earlier, it's the craziest th—"

Bonnie's standing just outside the kitchen, looking in confusion at the intrigued (as in, "my what interesting topics we are discussing" and not "I wonder how many times I have to dagger you until you die") look on Damon's face as he talks to Kol, looking incredulously at how Klaus's hand is just a hair's breadth away from Caroline's, looking shocked at Stefan doing some sort of rooster-choking gesture to Rebekah (it doesn't occur to her that he's teaching her how to properly turn the steering wheel of a car)—but above all, Bonnie's looking furious.

Kol surveys her over the lip of his mug. "You look like you could use some coffee."

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