Chapter 10

All of them could tell the sound of the wolf they’d heard was very far out, many miles away from them across the desert, so no one was very concerned and their reunion at the pool continued.

They ended up spending most of the evening out by the pool together in a strangely intimate welcome-back sort-of ceremony. Partly this was because Ridley had slept the day away and was only now beginning to wake up and enjoy herself. Caroline wasn’t thrilled at the thought of Ridley keeping an essentially nocturnal schedule but, given the weird hours they tended to keep underground all those years, she supposed it didn’t really matter. If they were lucky, Ridley could even catch some further low-level sun exposure when the sun rose before she had to be sequestered inside again.

This thought process also led Caroline back to the fact that it was essentially first thing in the morning in Ridley’s world, not just after sunset. But, because she’d come straight out to join their gathering, Hope promptly had a margarita pressed into the girl’s hands. Margaritas for breakfast? the maternal side of Caroline couldn’t help but fret. The friend side of Caroline wasn’t about to bum Ridley out on her first big trip though, not when she and Hope were apparently making such fast friends. Ridley was following the girl around in fascination as she set up her music equipment. Klaus had turned on some, but not all, of the lights on the strip as the sky darkened including the Luxor’s beam which kept their party extremely well lit even as night approached.

Hope’s breadth of knowledge about music over the centuries was impressive. Caroline could only pick out specific things she was DJing at first and frequently had to ask questions - a strange but wonderful combination of a Norwegian band from their time that Hope informed her was called Royksopp overlayed with some famous classical movie theme from a 2050’s horror flick plus a mashup of The Beatles’ I Will and some German electronica from the early part of the 22nd century before the Internet had dissolved.

Caroline had thought she’d caught Klaus looking at her meaningfully through The Beatles’ track but, then, she realized that he’d been pretty much looking at her that way the entire day. Not to mention, she was sufficiently tipsy off of Kol’s margaritas by now - as Hope had requested, he had not been lenient with the alcohol - so her perception and intuition were both undoubtedly a bit off right now.

“Let’s get back in the pool,” Hope suggested to Ridley after she’d sufficiently set up a selection of music that could play to her satisfaction for awhile without her attention. “Were you able to borrow something?”

“Um, well Kol took me to your room to borrow something-” the blush that crossed Ridley’s features at the memory was carefully cataloged by Caroline, “-But nothing really fit. You’re um…” Ridley awkwardly gestured to her new friend’s chest which was somewhat noticeably larger than her own, suggesting that nothing fit her.

Hope laughed before looking over to her aunts. “Freya? Can I take Ridley up to your room to grab something? I think you guys might be a closer size.”

“Sure thing, just don’t take any of the Bianchi’s from the 2060’s, you know which ones they are,” Freya instructed, waving them off as she name-dropped a famous designer from the past that Ridley had never even heard of.

“Aye!” Hope replied, saluting her aunt with a single finger. “We’ll be back!”

Klaus didn’t waste the opportunity; the second both of their daughters were out of sight, he began swimming over to her.

Honestly, the moment he and Kol had returned with margaritas earlier, he’d stripped down to dive into the water with her as soon as possible. But Caroline had been so terribly cautious so far. Every time she’d even so much caught a hint that he might be swimming toward her, she’d carefully paddled away from him, pretending to be nonchalant about it. She’d made sure to keep half the length of the pool between them.

It was almost funny but now he was getting fed up. He assumed she must be behaving so childishly about going near him simply because Ridley and Hope were present and it made her a bit uncomfortable. Sure enough, this time when he swam over to her where she was leaning against the wall of the pool with her arms draped over the outer ledge, she didn’t move. He took a place next to her, also pulling his arms out of the water to lean out of the pool a bit as they both looked out into the city. Well, she was looking out into the city. Klaus was making a study of the way each droplet of water pooled on the skin of her arms over her perfect alabaster skin. Every detail about her was exactly as he remembered her but… overall there was a more subtle and general difference about her.

Klaus expected her return to her old habit of rambling to fill awkward silence but she had apparently evened out and learned some patience over the years because she calmly waited for him to begin as they floated next to each other. He had no doubt that she still had her adorable rambling moments - he’d overheard many with Ridley last night - but it seemed she saved those for people she trusted these days.

Why was she so hesitant of him after all this time? Hadn’t he proven himself to her by keeping his word to never come after her after their day in the woods over two centuries ago? Did she consider his coming after Hope to be a breach of that covenant now?

“Our daughters seem to be hitting it off well,” Klaus commented amicably, instead of voicing any of the questions torturing him at the current moment.

Caroline beamed when she turned to look at him, floating a fraction of an inch closer to him in the water. Her sunglasses were resting atop her head now that the sun was setting and he could see the greenish blue hue of her eyes.

“They aren’t the only ones,” she replied. “Hope is a really wonderful girl. She’s funny and easy to talk to and, unsurprisingly extremely smart. But who would have guessed that Klaus Mikaelson’s daughter would have turned out to be so personable?”

Klaus grinned back at her. He’d noticed that they hit it off and it made him happier than he honestly thought anything could have. Caroline seemed to fit easily in with his entire family actually; she was only still reserved with him.

“Yes, well, she seems to adore you,” he answered honestly, ignoring her joking insinuation that he wasn’t personable. He remembered her finding him personable enough at least four or five times last time they’d been together.

Caroline genuinely liked Hope but, several questions burned at the forefront of her mind. How does she already know about me? Why is she so fascinated? Is she always this overt? But Caroline stayed silent in lieu of voicing any of them. She wasn’t going to go out of her way to have awkward conversations with Klaus.

“Ridley also seems quite fond of Kol and Elijah, although…” Caroline let the sentence dangle. She was willing to get into tough conversations for Ridley’s benefit, just not her own. The real problem was that the two Mikaelson brothers seemed overly fond of Ridley, rather than vice versa.

Elijah had been flitting in and out of their gathering ever since he’d helped Ridley out. Klaus was correct that Elijah wasn’t really a man to spend a day lounging out at the pool but, apparently, he was the kind of man to hover over his niece's DJing equipment to help explain things to her curious new friends. Kol, for that matter, was also always hovering nearby, quick to make a quippy comment about anything that Elijah had to say.

“You’re concerned that they are inappropriately interested in her?” Klaus finished the thought. He’d noticed their behavior around the Bennett witch as well. They hadn’t bothered being terribly subtle about it. He’d intended to talk with both of them later before Caroline had said anything anyway. He expected that type of behavior from Kol, who'd long held a fascination with the Bennett line but, Elijah?

It was very obvious that the two brothers were already starting to wear on each other’s nerves. Ridley, however, didn’t seem to be noticing either of them anymore, though she was still politely paying attention. There were plenty of young men back in Chiang Mai for Ridley to befriend and date, supernatural and humans her own age alike though the humans were fewer. The city had always suffered from a much higher male population than female though and Ridley’s chances to get to know other girls were more limited - she’s mostly stuck by Caroline and Ko over the years. Caroline suspected that she was far more interested in befriending Hope right now that bothering with the attentions of either of her uncles, and this was the one fact that consoled Caroline.

“I mean, Ridley is a grown woman and can make her own choices but…” Caroline let her thought dangle again.

“I’ll mention something,” Klaus assured her.

“Thank you,” she said with a sincere nod. And she reached across the few inches of water separating them to lay her hand over-top of his.

She had made the demonstrative move almost unconsciously and, the moment their skin made contact she was already pulling back from him. She turned away from him for a moment and he thought she was going to swim off again but, she only put a few extra inches of space between them but kept floating next to him at the wall. Feeling uncomfortable, Caroline picked up her margarita from the edge of the pool and downed about half of it in one go.

It took every ounce of his willpower in that moment not to snatch her delicate hand back into his own, dying to kiss her palm and each of her knuckles and her wrist but, he wasn’t planning to go out of his way to make her more skittish.

The track on Hope’s playlist changed and both of them listened silently for awhile, recognizing things here and there. Hope had always been particularly fascinated by music made during the years her mother, Hayley, had been alive. Caroline was struck because she recognized many of the songs as well, Hayley and she had been very close in age.

“You’ve changed Caroline,” Klaus said to her in a low tone, making her eyes snap back to his. His eyes were serious, unwilling to let her skirt around the edges of a meaningful conversation any longer.

“So have you,” she answered easily, still avoiding acknowledging any point about herself in favor of flipping the conversation back onto him. “You as a father… as Hope’s father, of all people. She’s so independent. I guess between you and Hayley-”

“You know she never meant anything to me,” Klaus interrupted harshly. He lowered his voice even further to avoid being overheard by his siblings who were all dutifully pretending to be caught up in talking to one another at the current moment.

Caroline narrowed her eyes, “As the mother of your daughter, I certainly hope that’s not true.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Klaus retracted - the word shit briefly flitting through his mind; he could never say anything right around Caroline. Not even after all this time. “I meant she never meant anything to me romantically… it was a one night stand, nothing more.”

The blonde’s eyes grew wide in an uncomfortable look and she set her glass down on the edge of the pool again so she could put her hands up in a defensive gesture.

“Please, Klaus, you don’t owe me any explanations! We’ve both lived entire lifetimes with other people and it’s none of my business what you did and none of your business what I did,” she demurred. “Besides… whatever happened between us was a long time ago. We don’t need to dredge that back up for no reason.”

“No reason?” Klaus asked, almost angry. Now he did cross the short distance between them to take her hand into his own, not missing how her eyes widened and her breath caught in her throat, “I want to talk to you about these things Caroline. Isn’t that reason enough?”

“I don’t understand why…” Caroline replied, not pushing him away. Klaus knew bullshit when he heard it - she knew damn well why - but if she wanted to be told in explicit terms, fine.

“Because your life and your history matter to me,” he said and Caroline could see that his expression held such genuine tenderness and promise that it almost hurt to look at him again. “And because I want to share those things about myself with you…”

Hope's temporary playlist began to come to a close and, as the music began to wind down, Klaus could feel Caroline slipping her hand out of his own and backing away from him in the water.

“What’s going on here?” Ridley’s amused voice woke Caroline from her trance and the blonde pushed herself up and out over the edge of the pool to get out in under a second, leaving Klaus alone in the water.

“Just be glad you were inside,” Rebekah piped up from her seat where she was finally standing from and finally making her way towards the stairs of the pool. “We all had to sit here pretending nothing was going while the two of them are behaving just as sickeningly as they always have.”

“Well, at least they haven’t started squabbling in a childish effort to flirt yet,” Kol considered, making Ridley laugh.

“Shut up,” Klaus growled at all of them, particularly to Hope.

“Shit, did I just miss out on some meaningful eye contact over-top of significant song lyrics?” Hope asked. She had caught sight of them gazing at each other as the song closed and began to fade into another just when Ridley had. “Ness did you put on something romantic while I was gone?”

Ness, who was recuperating from being fed on with a drink they contained some of Hope’s blood on a chaise lounge, held up her hands in innocence.

"Hope," Klaus growled out, warningly.

“Whatever, you know you love my bitting observational witticisms,” Hope said, making Ridley laugh again. “They are carefully crafted to contain up to a dozen layers of referential irony. You should feel honored so many are gifted specifically to you, Klaus.”

Promptly ending the uncomfortable discussion was Caroline, who had been studiously choosing to ignore the commentary from the peanut gallery up to this point. Ridley was now pulling off a pool dress to reveal the bikini she had borrowed from Freya.

“Ridley you look so cute!” Caroline shrieked at her friend, coming to inspect the beautiful swim suit.

Freya looked up from the book she was reading on one the last models of tablets that had ever been produced to see what they were talking about. A frown immediately graced her features.

“Hope! I said anything but the Bianchi’s!” Freya chastised.

Suddenly Ridley’s elaborate suit made more sense. Bianchi was one of the most famous Italian fashion designers in history; he’d risen to prominence in the last half of the 21st century. Ridley was wearing an exquisite white bandeau bikini that looked almost like it was made out of tulle but swept around her curves much more delicately and was encrusted with what very much appeared to be dozens of tiny real diamonds.

“Ridley has never worn a bikini before Freya!” Hope insisted. “Look at her! Are you telling me I was supposed to resist playing dress up?”

“You most certainly were not,” Kol answered salaciously for Freya, letting his eyes casually rake over the witch’s form.

Just as Klaus and Caroline both were about to chastise him, a deeper voice spoke up first from the back. “Kol,” Elijah barked out in a low warning. He’d followed the girls outside from the hotel.

Kol narrowed his eyes at Elijah but the elder vampire simply threw his younger brother a meaningful look suggesting that they’d be speaking to one another later.

“I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve ordered dinner to be prepared and it will be served in about an hour,” Elijah announced. “It would be preferable if all of you could join the meal in real clothing.”

“Of course Elijah, thank you very much,” Caroline answered him and he nodded at her before returning inside.

“Well excuse us that not everyone can manage the LV heat in a full suit all day every day,” Hope snapped once he was out of sight.

“Some of us should be required to wear only certain types of suits all day every day,” Kol commented, throwing a pointed look at Ridley again before grinning at his joke.

This time it was both Klaus and Caroline who snapped, with a simultaneous “Kol!”

Exactly an hour later, they were all seated in a private room of one of the hotel’s now abandoned steakhouses that the Mikaelsons’ staff were apparently still cooking out of. A mix of humans and hybrids working for the family had arrived at the table to serve them immediately when they sat down together. Placed on the table were bottles of wine, carafes of blood, and actual steak.

In Chiang Mai they were actually able to raise and breed a small family of cattle. But for survival reasons, they were primarily used for diary. Steak was only consumed when a cow or bull was old enough to stop breeding or milking. Ridley claimed a good filet was her favorite food, something she’d only had maybe a half dozen times in her life.

As if reading her mind, Kol, who had taken a seat to Ridley’s right, reached across the table to spear a filet from a serving tray and deposit it onto her plate before taking a large swig of blood from his glass.

“Go ahead, darling, you’re amongst friends who appreciate a girl who has a fondness for good meat,” he said to her, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “Especially me”

Caroline threw Klaus, who was sitting next to her, both of them across from Ridley and Kol, an exhausted look. As a low growl began to rumble in Klaus’s throat as he prepared to stand and yank Kol away from the table, Ridley finally took it upon herself to say something.

“Kol, don’t take this the wrong way cause I think you’re a nice guy but, you gotta tone down the flirting man. I’ve been sick all day, I’m finally well enough to eat, I’ve just left the only home I’ve ever known in my entire life to see the sun for the first time…” Ridley paused in her explanation before turning to Kol with earnest eyes. “I have a lot to get acclimated to. Just… I get it if this is your style, or whatever but, can you just operate under a less is more philosophy for a little while? Please?”

Kol looked genuinely a bit taken aback as he considered what Ridley had said to him. Caroline watched the interaction curiously, proud of Ridley’s maturity and grace in the situation. And, luckily, she was pleased to see Kol looked a bit impressed as well, and not put-out in the least.

“Well, how can I say no to that extremely reasonable request?” he asked her, almost tenderly. But in a split second, his tone was joking again, “Besides, it’s not like you’ve told me shove off for good so…

Ridley laughed at his response before returning to her steak which she greedily cut into before placing a piece in her mouth and letting out a long appreciative groan. Caroline could tell that it was taking every ounce of Kol’s control to stop himself from keeping up a running commentary. Glancing to the head of the table - where she was almost positive Klaus would normally be sitting if he hadn't chosen a seat next to her - Elijah was watching the whole scene unfold with interested eyes as well. His intense gaze barely ever left Ridley’s. It was as unwavering as Klaus’s was on herself.

Caroline had been more than tempted by their seemingly never-ending supply of extremely fresh blood but, even she was distracted by the prospect of steak. Using her senses to select a particularly rare one for herself, Caroline cut in and took a bite, having a difficult time not repeating Ridley’s exact noise of gratification.

Next to her, she could see Klaus watching her with amused eyes. He could see her savoring the way her fangs sunk into the barely cooked meat. He allowed the momentary image of her sinking her fangs into his own flesh that way flash through his mind before redirecting his thoughts.

Meanwhile, as Caroline was enjoying their hospitality, another dozen questions were flitting through her thoughts as usual. Why did he always have to play these games trying to impress her? They hadn’t working back in Mystic Falls, did he think they’d work 200 years later? Okay, so they had kind of worked back in Mystic Falls. Were they kind of working now?

“I can’t believe you all are able to live this way after everything that’s happened…” Caroline said. “Wasn’t it just a century ago that Mount Rainier erupted and set off that string of earthquakes and tsunamis down the west coast?”

“And then St. Helen’s went off right after that,” Freya nodded, confirming what Caroline was remembering. “Yes, we were living in Vegas back then already but we temporarily relocated to Chicago for a few years to wait out the worst of the natural disasters. We weren’t sure how much of the Midwest would make it. All of the Northwest was completely destroyed.”

“Chicago, no kidding?” Caroline asked. “I was in Saint Louis around then! I had just started my first job working on research for the cure.”

Klaus noticeably bristled at that news. Caroline turned to him, noticing the change in his posture immediately.

“What?” she asked, confused.

“You were in Saint Louis during the volcanic eruptions in 2120?” he asked her, almost grimacing when she nodded in confused confirmation.

They had been less than 300 miles apart from each other an entire century earlier and he missed her.

“Klaus, what?” she asked him again.

Hope smirked at the uncomfortable affair breaking out in front of her. She could see well what was going through Klaus’s mind. Two hundred years wasn’t something he let go of lightly.

“I think he’s just having a missed connections sort-of moment,” Hope explained. She smiled even wider when Caroline blushed.

“Well, all that matters is that you’re here now, Miss Forbes,” Elijah said pleasantly, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

“For six months, anyway,” Rebekah reminded them, giving a pointed look to Klaus. She wasn’t trying to be malicious. She was just trying to give her brother a reality check.

Klaus ignored it. Instead, he flashed Caroline a very determined ‘Yes, we’ll see about that’ look before taking a long draught from his glass of blood. A nervous feeling settled into the pit of Caroline’s stomach and, once again, she began to question her decision to come. As if he was ever going to let you off that plane once he had you on it, a small part of her couldn’t help but think, making her even more concerned.

Caroline reached out for her blood, hoping that consuming some fresh from the source might help her feel a little stronger and a little less like her knees were about to give out… while she was sitting, no less.

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