Chapter 4

“Well, follow me then,” Ko said gesturing her head back towards the bridge into the city that Caroline had just sped over herself. “We’re in no rush so we’ll just walk. It’s the best way to take in the sights.”

Ah and what a sight it is, Klaus thought to himself as they all began to follow behind Ko. If Caroline had really built this place from scratch over 60 years ago she’d done a stunning job. The magnificent Chiang Mai underground almost looked like a real-life bustling city from the old days. Structures as high as skyscrapers were built far into the highest points of the underground cavern. And within the rocky walls of the caves themselves intricate pathways, staircases, and bridges between buildings and other caves had been painstakingly carved.

She must have employed city planners or even architects, Klaus supposed as he began to survey everything from the bridge they were traversing. Many of the large apartment complexes were beautifully designed and intricate carvings were abundant on most of the buildings. Graffiti was frequent too, Klaus discovered, as they walked closer still to the city. But the graffiti didn’t appear to be a vandalism problem; it looked like it was encouraged. It wasn’t even really graffiti, Klaus decided after pausing a moment to really look at some of the work. The art lining the outsides of people’s homes and the walls of the caves were really more like murals than graffiti.

“This place really is amazing,” Erza spoke up from behind them. They were now approaching the main gates of the city which, though heavily guarded, swung open without prompting the moment they caught site of Ko.

Since Klaus’s arrival both Ezra and Vale had maintained steadfast post by Hope just in case she needed their support but, both had been easily intimidated into staying silent upon first catching sight of the enraged Original Hybrid leaving his jet. Now that his mood had apparently made a turn for the better, though, Ezra was content to get back to the main reasons behind the trip — meeting new people, exchanging information, maintaining new lasting connections between cities, and working on researching the cure.

“We love it here already,” Hope echoed. “I know we haven’t even spent the night yet but… your base is just so different. You all have lives here! Real lives with culture and community. Back in Vegas we’re all still so focused on survival that we haven’t had a chance to settle in and start building a real home again. The burrough out in The Waste is little more than a…”

Hope looked to Ezra and Vale for guidance on the right word. She didn’t want to insult them, particularly given the fact that, as long as she lived under her father’s roof, she had easy access to art and culture and luxury whenever she liked. The Mikaelson’s just had no plans to share the rest of that wealth with the remaining vampire community in Vegas. ‘He’s not a King, he’s a dictator,’ Vale would often say of her father. ‘At least good Kings would rule to help their people. Dictators only rule to help themselves.’

Luckily her internal struggle only showed enough to prompt Ezra to quickly supply a term for her.

“A shantytown,” Eza said, finishing the sentence. “What we have set up back in The Waste is little more than a shantytown. It’s not an insult, it’s just true. Frankly we may never be able to set up more than what’s out there now… the windstorms just get worse every year.”

Vale had a knack for picking up on even the most subtle of Hope’s emotions and, right now, she was experiencing guilt. Klaus could have made a much more concerted effort to clear the colonies of infected packs and humans from the remaining buildings along the former Vegas Strip. Most of the buildings were derelict now but, they managed to keep the Luxor in near pristine condition. The Mikaelson’s had more than enough resources to turn Vegas into a thriving Research Base and move everyone out of The Waste entirely.

The problem was, Klaus’s main concern always had been and likely always would be protecting himself and his family. His rule over Vegas was only leadership in the most loose sense — mostly everyone just knew better than to mess with the Mikaelsons. Other than doing what they were told when they were told, the vampires of The Waste made every effort to stay off the main strip and stay out of Klaus’s way.

Hope may have felt guilt over the whole scenario but Vale felt rage. Vale could not empathize with Klaus’s position; he was unwilling to understand Klaus’s need to protect above all else. Some part of Klaus must have cared about rebuilding the world again… Hope did, after all and what father didn’t want to help his beloved daughter achieve her dreams? But perhaps those were traits she’d inherited from her mother, whom Vale would never get the chance to meet.

With a glance to her side, she found Vale glaring daggers into her father’s back. Hope was grateful for the fact that, at this moment, her father and aunt’s backs were to them as they followed the city paths further ahead. She put her hand to Vale’s forearm, giving him a pleading look. Not here, not now, she thought to herself. This would be the first time Vale and her father met. If she could just convince both of them to get along for her sake…

“Well, if things ever get too bad out there, I know Caroline would be open to negotiating a potential relocation effort,” Ko explained as she began leading them in and out of alleyways between buildings, some of them leading them back into narrow cave passages. Hope had no idea how anyone could live here without getting lost. “We find new networks of caves down here almost every day. Expanding the city is one of the next steps we’d like to take to improve the base here. It’s just a matter of securing the new caves, getting them easily connected back to the main cavern, and then diligently mapping them out.”

“Sounds like a lot of work,” Rebekah commented as they continued to push their way through a narrow crawl space within the cave walls. “Is expanding really that necessary?”

“Saving as many people we can — witches, vampires, or any of the few remaining uninfected humans and wolves still left — it’s critical to both our survival and our research effort on finding the cure to C-Flu,” Ko said. “And expanding the network of caves systems we can use isn’t really that difficult. You guys have only seen the main cavern of Chiang Mai. That’s just the entrance to the city. Granted it’s also the largest cave system we’ve found yet but we have a lot more down here. We’ve connected and mapped out so many different systems that, at this point, we’ve got it down to a routine. Connecting more systems to the main city is maybe just a two month project at this point.”

“And Caroline is leading all of this? Building the city, expanding the cave systems, researching the cure, maintaining contacts with other bases throughout the world… that’s all Caroline?” Klaus asked but, he almost didn’t have to. He already knew the answer. He had only ever known one genuinely humanitarian-minded vampire in his life that also had the planning and leadership skills to accomplish something of this magnitude and it was Caroline.

“It’s all her. She’s really saved us all, we wouldn’t be here without her,” Ko confirmed. “And you’ve really only listed maybe a fourth of her job description there. She’s our unofficial Mayor and our unofficial Commanding Officer. And it’s only unofficial because she gives herself far less credit than she deserves and finds the titles of Mayor and Commanding Officer to be pretentious.”

“Commanding Officer?” Klaus asked. He had to take care to hide the note of awe that was pressing at his tone. “She’s established a military?”

“Uh, well, more like an extremely small but very effective volunteer militia. The guards who met us at the bridge because they needed her attention on something, they were Parameter Guards. They patrol the areas of the cave systems that we haven’t completely secured or mapped out yet. We also have a Stand-By Militia in case the city parameter is ever breached,” Ko explained.

“Breached?” Rebekah asked. “It’s nothing but miles of fire above us, who could possibly even try to get in without your help guiding a plane?”

“There’s no one outside, of course,” Ko said. “No one can live in the fires. And it’s true that it would be difficult to land in the arena without our guidance through the smoke but… there are threats from below too.”

With that Ko cast a nervous glance out over one of the deep caverns a few hundred feet away from them. They’d emerged through the cave tunnel back into another alley leading them back to the main stretch of the city.

“Sorry we had to squeeze through the caves back there,” Ko said. “I wanted to take a shortcut.”

“Wait one second now,” Rebekah pressed. “Threats from below? You’ll have to be a bit more specific.”

Ko smiled in an almost patronizing way. Newbies, her expression seemed to project her thoughts about the Mikaelsons.

“I wanted to take a shortcut so I could get you back to where you’ll be staying while you’re here,” she continued, addressing Rebekah kindly. “I thought you’d like to get settled in. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have but you did just arrive.”

“Thank you, you’re quite right,” Klaus said, answering for his sister. Ko was obviously a trusted friend of Caroline’s and he wasn’t about to go out of his way to make a bad impression quite yet. “We would like to get settled in and I’d quite like a few minutes to speak with my daughter. After that, we should all sit down at talk. Perhaps Caroline will be able to join us by then.”

He’d said that in the most laissez faire tone he could muster but Ko wasn’t buying it. She was openly smirking at him because she knew damn well how much he would want to see Caroline again. Caroline had only ever told anyone a very little bit about the nature of her relationship with Klaus; other than that, she was notoriously tight-lipped about the subject. But everyone else knew just from the legendary rumors that surrounded their relationship. It was said that he’d flown into a rage when he’d first learned of her marriage. He’d become secluded after that and no one had heard much of him since the apocalypse other than he now ruled what remained of the Midwestern portion of the former States.

“Alright, well, follow me up these back stairs,” Ko said, dropping her smirk to get back to business, “I’ll show you to your rooms and come fetch you in a few minutes to keep touring the city.”

She led them up a several stories high climb up wooden and rope ladders to the same cave bungalows where Ezra, Hope, and Vale had deposited their things earlier. Before they’d even arrived to the apartments, Klaus had requested rooms below Hope’s to ensure that she would not be able to sneak back down the towering cave walls past him later that night.

But, when they’d arrived, Klaus immediately decided that they would not be staying in these particular accommodations. The apartments within the caves were, in his opinion, the epitome of squalor. In fact, the rooms were much more inviting, protecting, private, and livable than the conditions in The Waste outside of Vegas. Klaus had simply made a point of only residing within the luxury of the Luxor so long that he had no clue how bad conditions had really become.

Currently, though, he didn’t plan to address the issue. Right now, he simply needed to speak with his daughter.

“Thank you for your help,” Klaus said, abruptly turning to Ko. “I trust you’ll show the rest of my party to their rooms and we’ll see you soon. I just need a few minutes with my daughter.”

“Of course,” she replied and Hope saw that she looked hesitant to leave her alone with Klaus. The thought almost made her laugh aloud. Sure, Klaus was intimidating to the rest of the world but she had always had the upper hand with her father. She was well aware that she was the one thing he loved unconditionally.

The hybrids that had accompanied him as guards filed out of the apartment behind Ko to find their lodgings. Klaus was left alone with his sister and daughter as well as her two traveling companions. He didn’t waste anymore time before laying into her.

“Hope, not only have I forbade you from leaving the city without my consent, you chose to visit one of the most dangerous parts of the remaining world,” Klaus raged. “And all because of that boyfriend!

Hope flushed and her eyes widened in surprise. “You know about Vale?” she asked, her voice quiet.

“Of course I bloody well know about Vale, Hope! I know everything! I even knew they were building the goddamn plane, I just never thought they’d be foolish enough to put you on it!” her father answered before turning to Ezra and Vale. “Which reminds me, I’ve been content to let you all play your little games in The Waste long enough now but, if you keep involving my daughter I might just be forced to intervene.”

“Your daughter is a grown woman, Klaus!” Vale responded, harshly. “She should be allowed to make her own decisions without fear of repercussion from her father.”

I should also be allowed to speak for myself, for that matter, Hope couldn't help but think to herself. But before she could voice an objection, Klaus had vamp sped over to the boy and had him pinned to the wall by his neck in a second.

“Don’t you ever dare to speak out of turn to me again, boy,” he spat. “Hope’s favor is the only thing keeping you alive right now but mark my words if you push me.”

“Stop!” Hope exclaimed. “Dad, let him go!”

With a growl, Klaus dropped the young vampire who was still glaring in return. Rebekah was rolling her eyes in the corner and pacing around the caves, looking at the sleeping mats set up on the hard floor with disdain.

“I think she gets the point, Nik,” Rebekah said. “For now, what are we going to do about staying here? I vote we don’t and we go home but, somehow, I doubt that’s an option…”

“When that girl returns I’ll demand to see Caroline,” Klaus assured her. “Surely the Commanding Officer of the last major city in Asia will have more suitable accommodations.”

Ezra and Vale exchanged another noticeably annoyed glance. They had both been enthralled by the homey living spaces people used here in Chiang Mai. They were certainly an upgrade from the tents and cabins built from spare scraps that barely held against the windstorms in Vegas they came from.

Klaus though, of course, was still too wrapped up in his own concerns to even notice their derisive glances. He whirled on Hope once again.

“And one more thing! Hope, who told you about Caroline Forbes?” Klaus demanded, “And what do you know?”

“I learned about Caroline myself, Klaus,” she began, loving the fact that her father would subtly wince every time she called him by his first name. It was only a joke, a test to see how long he’d put up with it before saying anything but, at this point she’d been doing it for years and he’d never addressed it. “You know, you don’t exactly keep whatever… thing you guys had hidden well. I’ve counted at least 30 portraits of her in your private studio. That’s one or two every decade since you’ve seen her.”

Internally, Klaus had to sigh in relief. At least Hope didn’t know he had a great many more than thirty.

Also internally, Hope had to keep from laughing again. She was well aware that Klaus had painted and sketched a lot more than 30.

“What do you know?” he asked.

“Everything,” she chanced immediately. It was a boldfaced lie but she had to take a chance. Unfortunately, he didn’t buy this one.

“We’ll discuss this later,” he told Hope, “When we’re truly in private. For now, lets just focus on finding a more suitable room.”

Disturbingly, the lower caves they'd been tracking the wolves back to the past several weeks were empty by the time Caroline and Ridley arrived with a good dozen militia members by their side.

Going into uncharted cave systems was always nerve wracking; particularly given the fact that they didn’t have electricity running out to these areas. Rabid wolves and the few infected colonies of humans that had managed to survive beneath the surface all these years — as well as the other dangers lurking, things no one had ever encountered until they’d started living underground — didn’t need electricity. But, even with heightened vampire sentences, the all-encompassing darkness of the underworld was even something foreign to Caroline and her team.

The caves they approached were especially creepy then, given that they were clearly a recently vacated ghost town. From the fresh remains scattered around the former den, it was obvious that the pack had just made their escape. Who knew where they were now? Why had they been spotted near the border of the main cavern of Chiang Mai anyway?

It was like the wolves had known they were coming after them. But wolves infected with the disease didn't think that way. The rabies-like symptoms prevented higher level cognition. Rabid wolves couldn't plan, they didn’t have critical reasoning...

Nevertheless there was nothing remaining and no one for them to find when they arrived. The caves had clearly been lived in and then hurriedly vacated but, that was about it. So Caroline ordered a few members of her team to survey the area and get a read on where the wolves had run to now. In the meantime, she and Ridley would catch some much needed downtime before they had to see Klaus again.

If Caroline said that she hadn't been surprised at her own reaction to seeing Klaus, she would have been lying. So, apparently, she was being dishonest with herself because she was steadfastly maintaining that she was wholly unaffected by his appearance.

The truth was that she'd lost her breath at the site of him. She'd forgotten how attractive he was, particularly when he was on the hunt for something he wanted — in this case, securing his daughter's safety. But seeing his reaction to herself had been most startling of all. Perhaps Klaus was simply used to Hope's rebellious nature these days but she never would have guessed that anything would distract Klaus Mikaelson from a mission to bring his daughter home — least of all herself.

But there was no denying it, the moment he’d heard her voice it was like a switch had flipped in him. He’d gone from infuriated to bewildered in seconds. And that alone, from the typically unflappable Klaus, was enough to remind her just how much of an effect she’d always had on him. After all these years, it hadn’t waned.

“They’re going to want someone to go back with them,” Ridley said when they finally were able to sink into the cushions lining the floor of their home. “You know they are. That’s the whole reason the first group of them came here anyway — to exchange our knowledge on curing the disease.”

“Let me guess,” Caroline said, taking a seat at their kitchen table, at least glad that her friend hadn’t immediately started in on Klaus. “You have a very definite opinion of who we should send?”

“You bet your ass I do!” Ridley replied, completely straight-faced. Caroline let out a short laugh at her friend’s vehemence but Ridley was not to be deterred from her speech. “It should obviously be us! Things here are more secure than they have ever been. Ko has had this ship sailing smoothly practically on her own the past 10 years, if we’re being honest. It’s time for us to pack up and save another part of the world.”

“I’d hardly call this part saved,” Caroline responded with a heavy sigh. "The infected wolves are missing again but constantly sniffing around our parameter when we do see them. It's not safe; we need to contain the situation. Not to mention we still have so much research we need to keep working on here."

“You knew we weren’t going to find a cure overnight,” Ridley replied. “And the only reason you’ve even been able to buckle down on research these past few years is because Ko’s got the city under such good control. If we want to do what’s best for our research next, we’ll collaborate with another base. You heard what Hope said about her father’s labs.”

It was true. Caroline's interest had been peaked by the promise of pristine and modernized working conditions. Nevertheless, it struck her as strange that Klaus Mikaelson had anything to do with the cure effort. Then again, maybe not, she considered. With the spread of the disease, his reliable food source had dried up along with every other vampire’s in the world. Perhaps he just wanted to rebuild the population so he could feed again.

Caroline was about to express her distaste at the idea of relocating to Las Vegas when Ridley interrupted her one final time.

“And don’t even pretend you’re hesitant because you’ve got some kind of problem with him anymore,” she chided Caroline with a knowing grin. “Whatever you had against him in the past is in the past. You know it. You’ve told me before that you never expected how time could erase things for vampires. But whatever you actually liked about the guy is very clearly still there.”

Caroline couldn’t help but blush furiously. She was caught. Either the Bennett witches had a special intuition about her or she was just extremely transparent. She suspected it was a bit of both.

“And what makes you say that?” Caroline asked in reply, tersely.

“Maybe that… one: I know you haven’t gotten laid in about four years,” Ridley started, wagging an unapologetic finger at her friend.

Caroline gasped in faux-outrage and narrowed her eyes at the girl.

“Excuse me?” she demanded. “And how do you know that exactly?”

“Please, honey, we’re roommates,” she deadpanned. “Two: Even that time four years ago, that was just one of many, many, many one night stands. You haven’t been serious about anyone since… the husband.

“Ugh, you know I don’t like that word! Alright,” Caroline held up her hands in concession. “I’ll admit to that one. I haven’t been serious with anyone since my last marriage. But you know very well that is for a lot of reasons. And that doesn't necessarily mean anything about Klaus either.”

“Sure it does,” Ridley said with a cheeky grin, “When Klaus is the only one since your ex that you’ve hurriedly slapped on some lipstick and mascara for! I present to you, point of evidence number three: you’re wearing make-up! And you hadn't been wearing it before you found out that Klaus was showing up.”

Caroline groaned internally. It was true. Back in Mystic Falls she had the time to enjoy being young and pretty. She’d loved getting dressed up and primping with her friends and going to dances. But then everything had changed and, suddenly, no one was ever thinking about things as trivial as make-up anymore, much less dances.

But, as soon as they’d all received the message that Klaus was incoming to find his daughter, Caroline had hung back a moment from the rest of the group. She’d ducked aside to pull some long unused make-up stashed into the bottom of the backpack she lugged around the caves with her. Only once she’d finished touching up, had she raced back up from the caves to wait with the others. She had sincerely hoped that none of her friends from the base here a Chiang Mai would notice. She’d only put on a little.

But of course everyone noticed, she thought almost bitterly, Nothing I do around here goes unnoticed. That's the price of founding a city and then running it for over half a century, I guess.

“Hey, there is nothing wrong with wanting to doll yourself up for an old flame,” Caroline said. “Everyone does that!”

“Except for you for another, aforementioned, old flame,” Ridley countered.

Caroline groaned again and let her head bang against the kitchen table where she sat, melodramatically. It was true that whenever her ex husband visited she didn't make too much of an effort to dress up; the feelings between them were long buried now, what would have been the point? What did Ridley want her to say?

Fortunately, Ridley broke her embarrassed silence with some much needed levity.

“Hey, Care, I can’t say I blame you,” she told her friend. “You’ve only told me a little about Klaus but, in all this time, you never thought it was pertinent to mention what a hottie he is?! I mean, I know it’s been four years for you but it’s been less than two weeks for me and even I was feeling a little weak-kneed at the sight of him!”

Caroline was about to look up and laugh loudly at that declaration when a sudden cough from their cave’s entryway broke up their very private conversation. Ridley looked mortified. She and Ridley exchanged wide, nervous glances before Caroline finally called out.

“Who’s there?” she asked.

“It’s, um, me, Ko and… your new guests…” the girl answered timidly from behind the threadbare curtain that sealed off their doorway. Caroline would have smacked a palm to her forehead in frustration if she hadn’t been sure everyone outside would hear it.

Instead, she called out “Oh! Come in!”

Ko pushed aside the curtain and entered with Ezra, Vale, Hope, and finally Rebekah and Klaus behind her. Almost everyone looked awkward to be caught in this situation, particularly Ridley who was flushing a brighter red than Caroline had ever seen on her deep complexion. The only people whose expressions differed were Rebekah, Hope, and Klaus’s. Rebekah looked smugly superior after hearing the conversation they’d just walked in on. Hope was openly smirking, looking like the goddamn cat that had caught the canary. But Klaus was actually just looking around her apartment with sharp and critical eyes.

“I’m really sorry to interrupt, Caroline,” Ko explained, “I was going to take them to meet Hayato and keep touring the city. But Klaus insisted that I show him to, quote, our ‘best rooms’.”

After catching the tail end of Ridley’s little speech about how attractive he was, Klaus had been prepared to enter Caroline’s home wearing his signature smirk. But, upon entering the very humble dwelling, he was only met by almost identical accommodations to the ones they’d just rejected. So, as he surveyed the rooms, his expression morphed into a frown.

“I told him all the apartments are the same,” Ko explained. “But he was very persistent.”

“Our best rooms?” Caroline asked quizzically, genuinely confused. She raised an unimpressed eyebrow at Klaus, “I’m sorry, are you mistakenly under the impression that this is some sort of hotel?”

Klaus opened his mouth to reply, shocked at how quickly and easily she could still put him in his place without batting an eye. But before he could answer, Ko had steamrolled him in a fit of nervous anxiety.

“I can take him back,” Ko said quickly, “They did want to bring all of their things though—”

Caroline held up a patient hand to slow the girl’s already long-winded explanation. Ko had a habit of going a mile a minute when she was nervous. And Klaus’s effortlessly domineering attitude was making Ko more of a wreck than Caroline had ever seen her.

“Ko, it’s fine. I understand what Klaus can be like when he needs to have his way,” Caroline said, choosing to ignore Hope’s very obvious snicker in response. “Unfortunately, Klaus, I’m not holding out on you. Everyone here has access to the same conditions, no one is privileged. I’m sorry if this isn’t up to your standards but, frankly, we’re all very proud of the home we’ve built here.”

Hope had to stop herself from visibly wincing. Her father wasn’t easily made to feel guilt but Caroline had clearly accomplished just that. Everyone was on edge watching to see how he’d respond. Rebekah, leaning against one of Caroline’s walls, just had to thank god that Elijah wasn’t with them. Elijah could handle almost anything in the world… except to witness his family behave without grace and decorum.

Not many people dared to face Klaus head on in such an openly confrontational way but, even Klaus couldn’t deny that Caroline was handling this situation with class. He felt like an ass. Of course he’d offended her. He hadn’t even thought about it because he’d been so sure that Caroline would have better apartments as the mayor of the city. But then, Ko had warned them that Caroline didn’t think of herself that way.

“Of course,” he replied. “I apologize, I did not mean to offend you.”

Caroline had to admit that she was surprised with the sincerity of the apology. He offered no qualifiers or explanations. Klaus always had been straightforward with her. And very open. It was one of the things she’d most admired about him.

She practically had to shake her head to rid herself of the thought. Klaus was not to be trusted. After all these years, she had to remember that one of the most important things she had learned was to remember what people were capable of. Klaus had been the catalyst to a lot of destruction in his lifetime.

Caroline stood up. She didn’t need to be thinking about any of this now.

“It’s fine,” she told him. Honestly, she was glad he didn’t like it. That meant there was no chance of him staying, right? “Come on, we were about to sit down to dinner when you arrived so none of us have had a chance to eat yet. Let’s meet Hayato to eat and then we’ll take you to the labs.”

If the room could have let out a collective sigh of relief, it would have. Within minutes of meeting again, Caroline and Klaus had already had their first spat. Hope truly had no idea what to expect when she’d first reintroduced them. Rebekah could have told her better. Caroline had always shown her affection for Klaus by bickering with him and apparently that hadn’t changed after all these centuries. While Hope was worried that her father may have single-handedly offended Caroline enough to prevent her from sending anyone back with them to Vegas, Rebekah was more optimistic.

Rebekah wasn’t sure if she should trust this older, wiser Caroline Forbes just yet but, she knew she’d have to make up her mind sooner rather than later. Klaus had always said he’d finally win Caroline over. Though he hadn’t even dared to mention her name in over a century… it looked like their time might have finally arrived.

The intensity of Caroline and Klaus’s interaction still palpable in the air around them, everyone followed Ridley and Caroline out of the bungalow and down to dinner.

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