*It goes without saying that The Originals – the story and all related characters – belong to the writers, cast and crew of the show. I claim no ownership or association to the TV series titled The Originals. This was written by a fan solely for the enjoyment of other fans.*
"You know, it's funny how often a person's sharp tongue can end up cutting their own throat."
The Originals, S02E05
I was a stranger in a strange land.
Trapped in a waking dream. Adrift. A soul at sea, washing onto alien shores; left to manage as best I could before being drawn back out by the inexorable tide . . . only now starting to understand what was even happening to me.
I was alive.
And for the first time in too long, I felt I knew where I was.
Even from the water there was no mistaking it. New Orleans, Louisiana. The city a heady blend of modern architecture and old-style Southern influence. A jewel in the darkness.
I leaned on the rail of the ferry, letting the night wind blow through my hair. No one seemed to notice, or care, that I hadn't boarded with the other tourists. The ferry chugging laboriously across the width of the Mississippi river, the water, ink black, frothing at the stern.
A shiver lifted the hairs on my neck, and I looked quickly back over my shoulder. Scanning the parked cars, the handful of people milling about.
A stranger in a strange land . . .
New Orleans had been on the list of choices, for my school's senior class trip last year.
The vote had come back nearly unanimous for LA and the chance to meet a celebrity. Pity. There was history here, but more than that; a tangible magic. Nothing like what I carried with me now, but still – just the barest whisper of . . . maybe . . .
I didn't have to wonder.
I knew – and what I knew was hardly a fraction of what there was to know. Certainty. That's all I'd been allowed. To be sure, without question, without doubt, that there was more, so much more. Over the frothing black river, I watched the blaze of taillights heading east across the iconic Connection bridge and understood that even if I found my way . . .
There was no coming back.
The smell of the river, deck lights shining off the hoods of passenger cars. I could feel the weight of my own body leaning against the railing, fingers absently plucking at chips of white paint flaking off the steel.
This was real.
This place. Me.
The ferry's whistle sounded – high and breathy, as we neared the Canal Street terminal.
See the problem with having nowhere to be, is that you have nowhere to go . . .
Tempted by the scents of citrus, lemon and herbs, the steam of crawfish bakes and shrimp fresh from the harbor, slathered in sauces and marinades, I abandoned the river for the unfettered energy of the French Quarter.
The shine of beaded necklaces tossed from wrought iron balconies, while crowds heaved and surged. Not a festival. This was the festival.
Literally, Fat Tuesday. My school's senior class were bleepin' idiots. Like any of them were really going to be 'discovered' while on a Hollywood tour. New Orleans would have made for better memories.
All I remembered of our LA trip was the plastic-y smell of the tour pamphlet we were given and just how hot it was in the city. Heat broiling up through sun-bleached pavement. I spent six days drinking water like I thought I might never again.
Bought a hat at the hotel gift shop.
. . . I still had that hat.
Smoke wafted in my face, mouthwatering, savory, sharpened by the scent of charcoal. Kebabs glistened on a grill, bright red peppers and chicken, dusted with seasonings, and I wasn't ready for the ferocity of that instant clutch in my gut.
It had been nine days since that night at the Christmas Party.
Nine days alone. Lost. But not so long since I'd eaten; a week into whatever the hell this was, I found myself stranded on a barren shore watching glaciers move in a black ocean. I had no idea if those were actually muscles I found glued to the rocks just under the water.
I shivered. A thrill of disgust at the memory of what I'd done. I was starving.
Briny, sandy, raw mollusk.
Was it worth it? The sheer effort of splitting shells off the sharp side of a boulder while my hands burned with cold . . . however much fuel my body got out of what I ate, I burned through just getting those shells open.
The kebobs glistened in the neon glow of a bar sign and I jerked away, moving on before the man at the grill noticed. If I was going to shoplift something to eat . . . maybe not bare-handed straight off a sizzling barbeque.
Again, nowhere to be. Nowhere to go. I followed the sidewalk, jostled by the crowd but ignored. Faceless as a ghost. I stopped by a storefront, the inside dark, closed, and caught sight of my reflection in the dusty glass.
There were bruises on my knees. A leather strap slanted securely across my chest, with the bulge of its bag down by my hip. A satchel – that was new. Pale, lambskin leather. The pins and elastics I pulled from my hair gone . . . and so was the pretty, polished face of my parents' darling.
I looked cold.
Surprisingly not as haggard as I imagined, though the lovely, crushed-velvet dress I still wore hung like a dishrag off my shoulders. I started to smooth my hands down the front, straightening the limp skirt but stopped.
One ruined dress was literally the least of my concerns –
– and that's when I saw him.
Over my shoulder, reflected in the window glass . . . I turned around and of course, immediately lost him. Between the backward visual of his reflection, and the act of turning, my tired eyes weren't sure where to focus.
A float eased past. Tinsel and feathers and the garish faces of exaggerated masks leering down while music blasted over the roar of its own engine.
I caught only a glimpse of a face I thought I recognized; I couldn't be sure – I shoved through bodies, using my hands to wedge between people. Pulse pounding. I scanned the crowd across the street. Too many faces. A dizzying array of color, of light –
It was just like in the movies.
He appeared from behind the staccato bursts of firecrackers, wisps of smoke curling in his hair. The tall, lean body of a man standing by a lamppost, arms crossed over a tight chest.
Recognition struck like a match.
There was no mistaking it. None.
I experienced a token denial; impossible. Just . . . not even denial, really, so much as disbelief. I had to be wrong but no human could manifest the sheer magnetic presence of –
He hadn't noticed me yet. Blue eyes continued to pass over the crowd. Assessing. A little bored.
Our eyes met.
Because of course they did. In a crowd of thousands, amidst the chaos, I stood frozen staring right at him. A mistake. Shit. Passive interest sharpened; Klaus came off the lamppost with a fluid, powerful stride.
My heart skipped into a gallop and despite the spring-cool air, sweat slicked down the centre of my back. What now? I risked a quick glance and saw that lithe, dark form step up onto my side of the street.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
My hand landed on the soft leather of my satchel, the bag bumping my hip as I maneuvered through the gauntlet of the festival. The hard weight of the Cube within a hateful reminder of everything I'd lost . . . of what I couldn't afford to lose.
I shoved and shouldered through the press of bodies. The crush of people too tight, too close, hot air sawing in my throat. Panic rising. Could he hear it? That rapid-fire drum in my chest. I risked another quick look, ice threading through my veins at the sight of him there.
Long, dark vampire coming for me with the ground-eating lope of a wolf. He was fast in a way that didn't seem to rush, that didn't crowd; an apex predator secure in the kill.
The crowds were thinning. What had been music forced through speakers and the roar of engines replaced by lighter jazz crooning through open doorways. Wrought-iron balconies draped with greenery, the turn of distant traffic lights . . .
Escape. Bars, and some restaurants, were still open –
– it shouldn't have surprised me that I never saw it coming; a blur, not even that much, and I was propelled straight off the street. I felt the impact of shoulders, hips, against unforgiving brick and the air punched from my lungs.
I didn't scream.
Knew better than to call for help.
The man who held me pinned in a narrow alley, arm braced like an iron bar across my chest, was not Klaus.
I sucked in a trembling breath.
Holy shit. I recognized him. Sheer disbelief collided with unarguable reality and my god, the show really hadn't done them justice – there was no mistaking the raw, dark power that coiled beneath the sheen of modern civility.
A dragon straining at its chain, scarcely leashed.
Those penetrating dark eyes calmer than his brother's sharp expectation; no less deadly.
Klaus swept into the alley seconds behind us with all the flair of a prince; the arrogant swagger of youth, coupled with ageless savagery. Young gods, flitted through my mind and here, at least, the show nailed it.
"Do it," I managed, outrage, not fear, blurring my vision with unwanted tears, "but I hope m blood gives you anaphylaxis, asshole."
Humor lightened the crushing weight in Elijah's dark eyes. I could have sworn his grip loosened.
I didn't move.
"Oh, good form, luv," Klaus said. "Most start begging straight away, and where's the fun in that?" Each word delivered with silky menace.
Save your strength, we haven't even started yet.
What possessed me to antagonize the devil? Again, anger. Maybe first world apathy betrayed – this past week, and for the first time in my life, I'd been forced to make living a conscious decision. And now that I had, that I'd been forced to preserve this thing that I'd taken for granted . . .
I was going to die.
"Fun," I dragged my gaze from Elijah, so close I could smell his cologne, to Klaus, "If you're looking for a good time, I'm sure there's a number on a bathroom stall you can call."
Elijah turned his head, exchanging a look of raw incredulity with his brother. There was something powerful and affirming in the moment you recognize your own advantage. My hip stung with static. Cold. Familiar.
They were powerful. Undefeated – immortal.
But I was in possession of a power greater than theirs.
Klaus moved menacingly closer, that look of sharp amusement never quite slipping. Again, young gods. He wasn't worried. I was a bunny caught in a snare.
"Let me tell you what happens now," he drawled. "You have two choices, little bird. One, confess. Turning over whoever else had a part in what you intended to do tonight. Or two," and here, he let the light out of his eyes. Brilliant gold, I stared, enthralled, unsettled, while blood swelled the veins around them, "well, I don't think you'll like two very much."
And as far as threats go, that was fairly effective. My head spun. Breathe. Breathe –
"You think I'm here for you?" Klaus ticked a brow. I licked my lips, "Promise you won't kill me."
"Oh, you don't want me to do that. Because see, if I let you live, you'll dearly wish I hadn't."
Of course not. It was a fool's hope – and I asked it, knowing that. I sucked in another careful breath, fighting for calm. I had a plan and to my immeasurable relief the real Klaus, this one, liked to hear himself talk just as much as the one I saw on TV every week.
A grip that could pulverize the bones in my shoulder tightened warningly. I met Elijah's edged stare and doubled-down on what was essentially the truth.
"There is no one else. I'm alone."
A pause. Were they listening to the beat of my heart? Hearing the truth, there, or the rapid thrum of my own terror only just held in check.
It was Elijah who said, "A dangerous gamble to confess that no one would think to miss you."
Velvet-wrapped menace, in that soft-spoken threat.
Music drifted lazily in the night, the wind pushing currents of loose sand over sun-bleached asphalt. It tugged at the hem of my skirts, ominously chill.
Intelligent eyes darkened with suspicion as Elijah considered me, and I felt him weighing his decision; live or die. Morbidly, I wondered if I would feel it when my spine broke, the bones in neck splintering with a careless snap of his wrist.
My body electric with fear, I clutched at Elijah's cool hand. Like steel. Like stone. Immovable as a mountain and I knew that whatever was going to happen was outside my control.
Elijah released me – so suddenly that I pitched forward, right back into him.
He set me firmly back against the building and in a single deft move, slipped my satchel from my shoulder. I didn't dare protest – not now – but immediate denial zinged through me, reenergizing what was left of my courage.
My bag. My BAG!
Elijah tossed it to Klaus, who caught it and immediately peeled back the top flap. My satchel hung limply from his strong hands, it's pale, cream-colored leather butter soft. He didn't have to dig through it to find my treasure – the Cube. The Black Cube.
Klaus pulled out the Cube and my entire being seemed to sigh at the sight of it; blacker than the empty spaces between the stars. The color of void. To look into it you felt yourself falling forward – there was nothing for the eye to catch on, where to focus, you brought perspective by observing the world around it.
Gave it shape by the line it left against Klaus' navy sweater.
The painted plaster of the building behind him.
The pale – deathly pale, in comparison – curl of his fingers against its surface.
I licked dry lips. Elijah's hand had fallen away, I wasn't restrained anymore. He stared at the Cube, perplexed, icy static like an encroaching storm front lifting the hairs on my arms. Legs. Scalp. You didn't have to know anything to recognize power, and something pending.
The smarter choice would have been to say nothing.
Hard to keep the smartass quiet for long, though. "You were wrong," I ventured, edging off the wall. "I'm not trapped. There was always a third option."
I took a step –
– and pressed my hand to the Cube.
What happened next happened so fast that I would never remember it clearly. Rough hands closed around my wrist and we hurtled forward, drawn in the wake of an implosion like the universe collapsing into itself.
Not me. We.
A body. A presence. My head full of the scents of leather and denim, pine resin, brandy, wolf musk.