Chapter 3

As it turned out, the base in Chiang Mai wasn’t the only location to have air traffic control equipment. Klaus Mikaelson had been running his own on a solar powered generator ever since they’d settled in Vegas. Nothing ever picked up on it, of course. No one was around to fly anymore. His own, extremely infrequent trips out of the city, were the only reasons he even needed it. But, that evening, it had picked up something.

Klaus was usually well aware of when Hope was sneaking out. She was good at it but, not as good as she thought. Her fatal flaw was that she underestimated how much she thought like him. Klaus had a knack for predicting her because she made similar decisions to his own.

So, when she’d clearly snuck off after excusing herself from their early dinner the previous day, Klaus hadn’t really thought much of it. Hope was a brilliant fighter and she knew Vegas better than anyone; he genuinely trusted her to handle herself. Not to mention, no one in the city would ever be daft enough to try to harm her. He also knew that she was running around with some boy, which irked him to no end. Freya and Rebekah, though, had ultimately convinced him that he’d be stirring up far more trouble if he forbade her from seeing the boy.

But then, his air control equipment had picked up that signal. A plane was leaving Las Vegas and Klaus could just guess who was on it.

He’d known they’d been working on the plane for months; Klaus had good spies out in The Waste. He mostly kept his distance from the ragtag group of vampires out in the desert, as they were focused on finding a cure while his only concern was survival. Nevertheless, no one in the area would challenge his authority and, though he’d been content to let them have their little project, now he needed to insist upon a favor.

Freya had accompanied him to The Waste, lending her extraordinary witch powers to quickly subdue the remaining covens that were part of the community and leave the vampires clutching their skulls in agony as Klaus demanded to know where his daughter had been taken and who she was with.

Shortly after, he’d begun loading up his own private jet to Chiang Mai, accompanied this time by Rebekah. Rebekah always had a way of playing the cool aunt and getting Hope on her side, so Klaus felt like she could be an asset for the trip. Besides the two of them, half a dozen armed guards joined them, all hybrids and all fiercely sired to him. Klaus — and Hope for that matter, who had been the one to offer up her blood to turn them — had not only saved them from their wolf curse, they had saved them from ever needing to worry about catching the disease.

As far as they knew, even Original Hybrid blood couldn’t do anything to save a wolf who’d already been infected. They’d tried — time after fruitless time. But, if they were turned to Hybrids while still healthy, their new vampirism would prevent them from ever catching it in the future. Over the years they’d offered the option to several dozen worthy wolves from packs around the world. Today, those same hybrids would be willing give their lives for either Klaus or Hope… sire bound or not.

Klaus never would have guessed that he'd be willing to use Hope's blood to create hybrids and, for a very long time, he wasn't entirely comfortable with the practice. But, it turned out that Hope had inherited a great number of his traits — a wise eye for good planning among them. Hope realized early on, through the death and destruction of the apocalypse, how valuable an army of hybrids would be to her and her family's survival. She'd wanted to use her blood to secure their safety without a second thought. But, beneath her level head and survival instinct, compassion played a role in her decision to help create hybrids too. After watching her mother's pack be ravaged and dissolved by C-Flu, finding worthy wolves to save from the affliction had become a sort of passion project for Klaus's daughter.

Thus, the hybrids accompanying them were as genuinely concerned about Hope's well-being as Klaus could hope for from his army. They didn’t know what kind of situation they’d be walking into when they got to Chiang Mai. Klaus got brief and occasional cursory updates about the condition of the rest of the world every few years or so. As far as he’d heard, all of Asia was in continuous flames — a never-ending burning season and a literal hell. This couldn’t still be true, though, if Hope and her friends were heading to Chiang Mai now. They must have had some reason for the risky trip… likely new people. If he was going to be heading out to face off against people he’d never met before, he was going to need back-up.

"I know you want me to keep the cool head on this trip, Klaus, but I'm just not sure I can," Rebekah lamented while pacing up and down the aisle of their jet. "I'm furious with Hope as well! How on Earth could she even consider doing something as dangerous as this?"

"While I appreciate the fact that you can commiserate with me, dear sister, I believe you've stolen my side of the conversation," Klaus replied from the co-pilot seat. He was keeping an eye on the hybrid he'd put in charge of the flight. "I'm supposed to be the one ranting and raving and now is the part where you tell me to relax because she's just going through her rebellious teenage phase."

Rebekah plopped down into a chair in the rows behind him with a sigh.

"She is just going through a phase," she answered. "Gods, Nik, can you imagine if we'd been kept pent up the way she has during our first few centuries? We wouldn't have been able to handle it. The patience to stay put and stay safe is a maturity you have to learn as a vampire. No one is born with it."

"Nevertheless, intelligence should have prevailed in this situation and she should have heeded my word," he said. "I've told her a thousand times that all that's left of Asia are the fires. And it appears I was right."

For the last half hour or more, the same black smoke that Hope and her friends had flown into just a few hours earlier was now assaulting Klaus and Rebekah’s plane. The inky black air around Klaus's jet was making him worry even more. Their equipment hadn't picked up the presence of any other aircraft yet. Klaus had no idea how well-trained in flight Hope's friends were, either. What if they had crashed? She could be down there right now, lost and alone in the fire...

"Sir, we're picking up signals from below," his pilot told him. "Coordinates are marking us as immediately over top of the city and radar is picking up the presence of electronic equipment below. Whoever, or whatever, is down there, they have electricity."

"Turn on the radio," Klaus ordered.

The pilot flipped the switch on their radio and the sound of broken static filled the cabin. Then, the noise began to clear and a distinct signal began to come through. A voice rang out.

"This is the Chiang Mai base requesting information from your unidentified aircraft. Chiang Mai to an unidentified aircraft. Please identify yourself, I repeat, please identify yourself, over," a female voice called out in fluent Thai. The message was repeated two more times, first in Chinese and then in English.

"Request permission to land," Klaus told the pilot.

"Chiang Mai base, requesting permission to land. We request permission to land, over,” his pilot responded in English.

“We cannot grant permission to land without identification, over,” the female replied.

His pilot looked at him in confusion, asking what to do next. Klaus suppressed a growl and rolled his eyes before motioning for the headset attached to the radio. He snatched it out of the pilot’s hands and quickly appropriated it for himself.

“Look, you fool,” he spat out. “You all have my daughter down there. If you don’t guide me in right now, I will land wherever I can and walk through the fire to find you and kill you. Do you understand?”

He didn’t get a response right away. But, in under two minutes, two blindingly bright search beams appeared in the black smoke surrounding them. He wasn’t surprised. Doubtless, as soon as Hope had arrived they’d realized he’d be quick to follow. The Mikaelson name was still famous everywhere, after all these years. And, further, it was still famous for its legacy of fierce familial protection.

They followed their signals to a landing pad in the middle of an old, abandoned sports arena.

“Dad…?” Hope’s voice began to question from the other end of his radio. “Look, I’m perfectly fine so don’t hurt anyone, okay? I’m coming out now.”

Klaus was ready to growl out his first threat of punishment to his more than careless daughter but then, suddenly, above them, a massive roof closed. As it did, the smoke that had been clogging their visibility in the jet was quite suddenly swept from the area. They were finally able to take in their surroundings — derelict seats in a long-abandoned sports arena, maybe an old football field.

His pilot pressed a button that lowered a hatch in the bottom half of the plane so they could all walk out to the concrete arena they’d landed in. The radio had shut off after Hope’s message so Klaus hadn’t had time to respond — or begin to reprimand — her. Instead, he grabbed his gun full of wooden bullets and walked out. Two of his hybrids sped out to walk ahead of him, just in case, and Rebekah was close on his heels.

Stepping out onto the old arena, they could see the old field’s AstroTurf had been replaced with straight concrete. Klaus looked ahead of him where several people were speeding down from the air traffic control box the radio signal had come from to where he stood. From the bleachers in the arena, he could tell that Hope was one of the people speeding towards him.

She arrived in front of him first, with a few people behind her. She was breathless and anxious as she faced him.

“Dad, look, let me explain. I-” she began but he promptly cut her off.

“Hope, no arguments, you are going to get on my plane now and we will return home,” Klaus immediately spat at his daughter upon seeing her approach with wide eyes. “You are grounded for the next century.”

“We actually need to refuel—” his pilot began but Klaus immediately interrupted him.

“Then Hope can very well sit in that plane until we are fully ready to leave. And you can be damn sure that you won’t leave my sight for a split second,” he growled.

Hope didn’t look the least fazed; she just looked exasperated. Granted, she was quite used to Klaus’s attempts to discipline her by now and she wasn’t easily put in place. Especially not when she was secure in the knowledge that she possessed the upper-hand.

“Dad, wait, there’s someone you should-”

“Hello, Klaus.”

The voice that came from behind Hope made Klaus’s heart lurch into his throat. He hadn’t thought anything could distract him in this moment but, immediately, his angry eyes left Hope to look behind her in bewilderment. Walking up behind Hope was none other than Caroline Forbes.

“Caroline…” was all he honestly could get out. He had never been taken so by surprise before in his life. He even heard Rebekah gasp behind him.

Hope had to immediately suppress a smile. Oh, this was good. She'd never seen her father wear such an expression before: surprised and self-conscious and hopeful all at once. Klaus was never self-conscious but, here before this blonde vampire that no one had seen for two hundred years, he looked like a boy about to ask a girl to prom.

"Caroline," Rebekah chimed in from next to Klaus, whose jaw was still planted firmly on the floor. "Well, we certainly didn't expect to run into you on this trip. Am I to understand I have you to thank for convincing my precious niece to abscond to Asia?"

"Hardly. We've been planning to host Ezra and Vale for months now. I didn't hear a word about Hope joining them until she arrived earlier this afternoon," Caroline responded immediately and firmly. “I honestly didn’t even know your family was in control of the Vegas base.”

“We’re not!” Hope interjected, “I mean… they’re not.” She looked towards her family, helplessly, where Klaus’s eyes finally left Caroline’s to flash dangerously at his daughter. “We’re not,” she corrected a final time. “My family runs Las Vegas but that’s it. The only people who have ever made any concerted effort to keep in touch with the other bases are Ezra and Vale and their team. It’s their neighborhood in the city, called The Waste. They’re in charge of the Vegas base.”

“While that’s certainly an interesting description you’ve chosen to employ, Hope,” Rebekah interceded for her brother, who was clearly too overcome with feelings, both of rage towards Hope and shock at seeing Caroline, to articulate much of anything, “Perhaps if you took more care not to do or say the first thing that crosses your mind, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now.”

“I understand that having your child leave you is an unbearably stressful ordeal,” Caroline spoke up, again. “Trust me, I have experienced it that torment myself, with a far less relieving outcome. Let me assure you that as long as Hope was simply bound for Chiang Mai, we would never have let her come to any harm. We take care of our own here.”

Klaus simply balked in quiet response to that revelation. Had Caroline had children? Surely she didn’t mean…? Vampires had never been capable of reproduction. He’d heard she’d been married, of course — and to bloody Salvatore no less — that bit of news back in 2023 had been a particularly hard punch in the gut to bear. Honestly, when he'd first heard about it, it was more than part of the reason he'd made his own decision to wed less than a year later.

There were abundant rumors that her marriage to Salvatore had ended some time ago, though. And there had certainly never been mention of an adoption.

“Of course you wouldn't have harmed Hope,” Rebekah replied pragmatically, in lieu of her still speechless brother. “You’re well aware of the kind of hell my family can bring when you cross us.”

Ignore that,” Hope pleaded. “It’s all bluster, I swear. They’re just making a point.”

“Try me!” Rebekah hissed, making an aggravated step towards Caroline.

“You’ll have to get through me, buddy,” Ridley said, stepping up from behind Caroline and Hope to emerge fully for the first time. “The fact that you’re an Original doesn’t scare me, you won’t touch Caroline.”

“Oh, you think I’ve never handled a witch before, huh?” Rebekah spat at her new confronter. “Wrong bet, honey, I used to be one.”

This time, Klaus stepped in. He halted his sister with an abrupt hand in front of her torso, sending her stumbling back a few steps. Klaus was eyeing the new Bennett witch stepping up to them suspiciously but Ridley was unperturbed and addressed him this time.

“Besides, regardless of the fact that Caroline has a proud history of respecting and looking out for any other survivors on the planet — pack, coven, or human history aside — no one here is in nearly as much danger as you’re suggesting, Klaus,” Ridley said, confronting him next. “Caroline has been building our base here from the ground up for over 60 years. We’re well established and we’re extremely safe.”

If any part of what she had just told him reassured him even in the slightest, it didn’t show. In fact, it hadn’t entirely registered on his features that he’d even been listening to Ridley. He was still just staring at her suspiciously, as if he was trying to figure something out.

“Bonnie…?” he breathed out in a quiet question. Then he cocked his head with a smirk and let out a low growl. “It can’t be? A doppelganger?

Caroline rolled her eyes and didn’t even bother to strike a protective stance though, the smirk on the Original’s face alone was enough to get her guard up.

“Hardly,” Caroline replied, easily. “I’ll admit she does look a lot like Bonnie but you just don’t remember. They’re not identical. This isn’t an Elena and Katherine situation.”

Klaus locked his eyes with hers again, before giving her yet another searing once-over that was half-laced with almost uncomfortably obvious lust and half disbelieving.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Trust me,” Caroline replied, her tone stoically masking the hurt she still felt after all these years. “She was my best friend.”

Caroline still carried the loss of each member of Bonnie’s line as a heavy burden. Bonnie had led a tough life and, after helping her friend weather great loss, she had vowed to take care of the family as long as they needed her. She often masked the pain of her losses in her work, building the base and helping the community — and now searching for a cure — but beneath the non-stop work it was plain to those close to her that she was unhappy.

In truth, Klaus was already getting some sense of this. Caroline technically looked exactly the same as when he’d last seen her — beautiful, lithe, and light… in the woods — but there were telling differences about her. He could see that she wasn’t a baby vampire any longer, she held herself with more maturity and innate confidence than she had when she was younger… which was saying something considering how confident she’d been back then.

She also looked exhausted. Not many would have been able to tell how weary she was but, Klaus had known Caroline when she had the boundless youthful energy of a new vampire. Back when she’d had her team of friends beside her in Virginia, Caroline had always looked like nothing could beat her down. This Caroline looked like she had been beaten. Many times.

But, she had clearly perfected resilience as a near art form — here in this moment — Caroline looked as jaw-droppingly stunning as he had ever seen her. And he suspected that was because, for once, he was meeting her when she was entirely in command of things. There was no answering to Elena Gilbert here.

Rebekah had backed off a few paces behind him and, after a “let me handle this” sort-of look from Caroline, Ridley stepped back as well. Content that the drama was well contained once again, he turned to keep his gaze level with his daughter’s and Caroline’s. The two blondes were standing side by side in almost identical postures, facing him with confident eyes. It was a bewildering sight, one he previously couldn't have even imagined.

“Hope, regardless of the apparent safety that awaited you here, your actions were unacceptable and you have in no way escaped punishment,” Klaus growled. “But, Caroline, I do thank you for keeping her safe until I arrived. Please excuse my sister for her hostility, she was merely concerned for my daughter’s well being. Of course… I trust you with Hope. And I am not displeased that you have met.”

Everyone felt the weight of that short speech in the air around them. The resonance of Klaus’s almost vulnerable admission was palpable.

Caroline was almost shaken by her own reaction to it; no one had been that honest with her in a long time. Many people had that much faith in her — the whole of Chiang Mai did, really — but a lover never truly had. Lack of faith had ultimately been one of the reasons behind her ages old decision to divorce...

And, now, Klaus was also looking at her with the kind of ardor she hadn’t seen in decades. She had been too busy, too focused, and too hurt for a long time now to even think about physical intimacy or dating. As a result, it had been… a while. And Klaus, unsurprisingly, looked as rugged and undeniably dashing as he always had. To see him here, now, with every ounce of his attention focused wholly unto herself — well, it was enough to make something very noticeable warm and quiver within her.

“Neither am I,” Caroline deflected quickly, with a noncommittal smile. “Hope and her friends are all welcome guests here. We’re excited to learn more about how you’ve been operating back in the States. We’ll be happy to help you refuel but you’re welcome to stay for awhile if you’d like. It’s not often these days that any of us get to interact with new people—”

“—Not to mention old friends,” Klaus interrupted, finally seeming to have shaken his initial shock. He was now regarding her much more confidently, laying on his signature thickest charm just as she used to remember him doing in Mystic Falls. What would he do if he knew exactly how often she’d thought of those times over the years.

“Right,” Caroline replied easily, with a congenial smile that didn’t betray everything that was fluttering madly inside of her. “We’d be happy to host you.”

“Well, now that I’m aware we’re in the company of friends,” he said, stepping up towards her with open arms. “We’ll be happy to stay.”

He pulled her into him for a full embrace without hesitation. Out of surprise, her immediate response was to go rigid but, the moment she realized how squarely she was pressed into his firm chest, she allowed herself to acquiesce. God she remembered his scent. It was only brief. For the sake of at least appearing decent, they parted almost immediately.

“Just a few days,” Rebekah asked. “Right?”

“Of course,” Klaus responded. He didn’t even bother to look at her. His eyes were still locked with Caroline’s.

“Well then, allow me to show you to the city,” Caroline replied and began to lead them away from the hanger.

“Why are we going further into the arena?” Rebekah asked, looking back towards where she thought the exit out of the stadium had been.

“Did you not see the smoke and fire outside when you flew here?” Ridley asked with a cocked eyebrow. “You don’t really think anyone still lives out there, do you?”

“So… where do you live?” Rebekah pressed as they continued to walk.

Caroline, Ridley, and Ko exchanged bemused glances.

“You’ll see in just a second,” Ko said, inserting herself into the discussion for the first time. “In the meantime, allow me to introduce myself!”

And, of course, they were awed by the twinkling underground city of caves that awaited them. Caroline was well-aware of the almost utopian refuge she’d created for her base here in the caves. She had no idea what it was like in Vegas. She hadn’t seen the city since the 21st century so, in her mind, it was still preserved as Sin City — party heaven, or hell. So, she had no idea how bad the dust had become. Or what the heat was like. She had no idea what the cool and dim caves felt like to these visitors. It was almost like finding heaven.

But despite her ignorance of the kind of desolation the Mikaelsons had left behind in Vegas, Caroline was proud of what she’d created. She always would be. So, when she faced Klaus at the entrance of the cave’s, it was with an almost daring tone.

"This is Chiang Mai today, we've relocated the entire city underground-" Caroline cut herself off when she saw someone speeding towards them from the front of the city.

Two of their Parameter Guards promptly arrived in front of them at the main bridge to the city. They were out of breath and looked concerned.

“What’s going on?” Caroline asked immediately, pulling one of them to the side so she could address them privately. Judging by the worry on their faces, they had a report that Klaus would doubtless try to exert his own influence on. Klaus had a tendency to maintain authority over any situation he even minutely considered to be a threat. But she be damned if she’d let that be the case in her own city.

“The rabid wolves,” the Parameter Guard told her immediately. “They’re coming up from the lower caves. They must have caught the scent from the new tests you’re running in the labs. We’re going to need call in the Stand-By Militia.”

“Alright, Ridley and I will follow you back,” she said. She gestured over to Ridley who was at her side in an instant. “Ridley, they’ll carry you back and I’ll meet you back in a moment. There’s a problem with the wolves.”

Ridley nodded, apparently used to the routine by now, and promptly hopped up on the back of one of the Parameter Guards. As one of the few witches in the city, she frequently got fed up being the only one incapable of vamp speed. At this point in her life, she was completely used to the Chiang Mai vamps speeding her around whenever she and Caroline needed to be somewhere quickly. Without further instruction the guards sped off with Ridley towards the city and left Caroline to address her new guests.

“I’m sorry but something in our labs is going to require my attention for the next couple of hours or so. Ko will show you to where you can stay while you’re here,” Caroline told them, most specifically addressing Klaus. “You’ll meet her brother Hayato, too. I’ll meet you all later for dinner. I’m sorry that I can’t give you a tour myself right now...”

“Anything we can help with, love?” Klaus asked in a congenial tone that didn’t do anything to hide the sharp eyes he’d been watching her with since the guards had arrived with their news. Knowing Klaus, he’d doubtless been able to hear their conversation and was now just waiting to see how she’d handle the situation.

“We’ll be fine but thank you for the offer,” she said with a firm smile, indicating that no one should push her on the matter any further. “We’ll be as quick as we can. Ko? You’ll be alright?”

Ko eyed the famous Mikaelsons warily but ultimately nodded. “Of course, you go,” she said.

And with that, Caroline sped across the bridge into the city and down to the lower system of caves — the rabid wolves’ den…

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