Chapter 8

Klaus was too self aware not to know what he was doing with Caroline. He was Great Gatsby-ing her. Though, that wasn’t the particular term he would’ve chosen to describe his technique; no, Kol had come up with that turn of phrase when Klaus had radioed him on the plane ride home with instructions on setting up the celebration.

“Really, Klaus?” Kol had asked from the other end of the radio line, about three hours before they’d arrived home. “Are you seriously trying to ‘Great Gatsby’ Caroline Forbes?”

“Shut up and get it done,” was all he’d had the patience to respond with.

Kol merely snickered at him over the radio. “Well alright but, let me remind you… that story ended tragically!”

Things were already going considerably better for himself and Caroline than the lead characters from the Fitzgerald novel, though, if he did say so himself. Not only had he managed to survive the roaring 20’s, he’d lasted through the 21st century… the apocalypse. And Caroline certainly wasn’t sitting around playing anyone’s perfect little depressed housewife.

Klaus had been surprised how easy it had been to convince her to return to Vegas with him and, he suspected, most of his success had to do with Ridley Bennett. Caroline clearly thought of the young witch like her daughter and, since the witch was so anxious to leave Chiang Mai, it hadn’t be too difficult to convince her to join them.

Caroline had also obviously spent almost too many decades in the dark. Klaus could tell that from the moment Caroline’s had lit up in awe at seeing the Vegas Strip alight in its former glory. She may have had every right to be extremely proud of the community she’d built there but, it also seemed clear to Klaus that she’d stopped truly taken care of herself. Then again, from everything he remembered about Caroline from when they’d first met, that was kind of her modus operandi… looking out for the people she cared about always above herself, to a fault.

When they’d arrived at XS with a party in full swing (Klaus not caring a fig about whatever persuasion techniques his siblings had had to use to get everyone from The Waste here), he’d abruptly begun to worry. He’d saw a shadow of doubt pass over Caroline’s features as she gazed out upon the crowd in front of them and he knew she felt under-dressed. He briefly wondered if he should have had Rebekah or Freya bring something extra with them… something she’d look stunning in, like the blue gown he’d given her all those years ago. Did she still have it? But before he could think about any of that any further, the doubt had disappeared from Caroline’s face and she was back to taking in Ridley’s enthusiasm.

Ridley’s unbridled grin was making Caroline smile which was, in turn, making it very difficult for Klaus not to light up. It was something they had in common as parents; he’d taken great joy in watching Hope take similar delight in various surprises over the years. But, here, in front of all these guests who he didn’t entirely trust, Klaus still was loathe to show any new weaknesses.

When he’d taken her up to show her the rest of his clan was alive and well, he’d been almost proud to see how easily she acclimated to their presence, not even behaving outright guarded like the old Caroline would have. But then, unfortunately, when left alone with them she’d had a change of heart and turned tail to run.

He gave her over an hour; not even discreetly watching her dance and enjoy herself with Ridley on the floor. His sharp hearing was able to pick up most of her conversations. Mostly she and Ridley stuck tightly together: dancing, laughing, drinking, and talking. Ridley had questions about everything from the liquor they were consuming to the music they were listening to. He wasn’t sure how music had escaped the witch’s upbringing but apparently she’d never really heard anything like this… and at this point the DJ was just playing some fairly typical classic rock that he happened to know Caroline used to be partial to.

Then, soon enough, that daughter of his was back to her sneaking and, for once, he was grateful for it. He could hear her inviting Caroline and Ridley to take a break with them from dancing and he promptly used it as an excuse to join them. At this point in the evening, he was so desperate to talk to Caroline again that he honestly didn’t care what the vampires around them thought. They were little more than props for the party at this point anyway… even if they were whispering theories at every turn. Nevertheless he flagged Elijah and Kol down to join him at least under the guise of it looking like a less personal talk.

That plan had quickly dissolved as well, though, when it turned out they’d all gathered round to exchange stories of their adventure in Chiang Mai. Klaus couldn’t help but pick up a new thread of the story when he heard Caroline pause.

Kol, being Kol, had to insert his own dramatics into the story. When Klaus reached the part where their second boat had been snapped up in the monster’s jaws, leaving them abandoned on a rocky island in the middle of the lake, Kol had responded to throwing his drink into Vale’s face.

“What the bloody hell was that for?” Vale demanded in his lilting Irish accent while Hope dissolved into fits of giggles and Ezra, Ridley, and Caroline were soon to follow.

“I was shocked and appalled at the turn of the events in the story!” Kol insisted. “I would have thrown my drink at Nik but he might have daggered me for the rest of the evening and then I wouldn’t have gotten to hear the end! So, Nik? How did you get back?”

And it was good to see Caroline so clearly relaxed and enjoying spending time around himself and his family that he started to accept the fact that maybe his plan to sweep her off her feet the first night might actually be succeeding.

But then their conversation had taken an awkward turn towards Caroline’s marriage… admittedly a topic that Klaus was more than curious about. It also happened to be a topic of conversation that invariably would infuriate him, though, and he was working hard to maintain his control now.

“I didn’t know you’d been married,” Hope said next, still pressing the subject.

“I wasn’t even aware that you knew about me at all until close to a day ago!” Caroline replied, her tone holding a hint of a warning.

Hope picked up the beer she was drinking, holding the bottle to Caroline in a fake toasting motion before taking a sip and returning, “Touche but, you were married, so what? It’s not like a big secret or anything, right?”

Caroline narrowed her eyes, “No…” Ridley was still onlooking the scene bemusedly.

"Why don't we talk about this in private?" Klaus asked, gesturing towards their abandoned VIP gallery on the balcony. Rebekah and Freya had long since relocated to dance together.

"That implies that there's something to talk about. There isn't," Caroline replied with an eye roll. "I was married. I got divorced. That's pretty much the entire story."

Ridley audibly scoffed, snorting into her cocktail. The sound elicited yet another sharp look from Caroline but Ridley just smiled benignly in return, her eyes flicking around the group innocently.

"Were you happy?" Klaus asked her.

Caroline scoffed, "It doesn't matter. It’s in the past!"

"It matters to me."

The tension in the group spiked noticeably at that statement. Elijah subtly glanced around to make sure no one was listening into their conversation but, at this point, he supposed it was somewhat inevitable and Klaus clearly cared more about getting answers.

Caroline gave an exasperated sigh, wanting to throw her hands up in the air in frustration. While some part of her couldn’t help but feel a distinct tug of emotion at the fact that Klaus still cared about her happiness after all these years, she was far more concerned with the fact that he was pressing this issue in public.

“Obviously I was happy enough to marry him,” she said first, “And obviously I was unhappy enough to divorce him.” As far as she was concerned, that was to be the end of the discussion.

And for a moment, it was. They all took a second to awkwardly look away from each other and studiously assess their drinks as Klaus mulled over her answer. But, much like his daughter, he was not going to be easily deterred.

“It is funny though,” Klaus mused, disguising his jealousy as best he could, “Out of all the people I was worried about capturing your heart… Damon Salvatore certainly never was one of them.”

“I could say the same thing about you and a human,” she replied without blinking.

He smirked up at her. So she’d heard… “You were worried about someone capturing my heart? Love, I’m touched but, come on now, don’t change the subject. We’re talking about you right now. You profess to have completely moved on from your divorce but to also maintain a steadfast and deep friendship with your ex-husband so, surely, the story of how you two finally hit it off shouldn’t be off limits?”

Ridley could hear the demand in Klaus’s voice. This was something the guy had clearly hung onto for a long time and he wanted answers. She wondered when he’d even learned of Caroline’s marriage and made a mental note to ask Hope later.

Caroline rolled her eyes, still not sensing Klaus’s jealousy simply because she was too caught up in her own paranoia. She’d always had an irrational sense that she needed to justify her divorce from Damon — mostly because she really hadn’t dated anyone since him. It had nothing to do with a pining for Damon; it was more that marriage had been a rougher road than she thought and, once she finally found herself independent again, she was loath to give her autonomy up.

Klaus clearly wasn’t going to let the issue drop and, well, better that he hear her version of the story than someone else’s, right? Doubtless, he already knows several dozen different versions of this story already though, she couldn’t help but think. She knew Klaus had always gone out of his way to learn everything he could about her.

The honest truth was, though, that Klaus had made a point of keeping Caroline’s marriage out of his head. Once he’d heard the news, he’d flown into a rage that had resulted in the loss of many an innocent life and then… he’d just fallen into a depression. Klaus had had many low moments in his life but, none so bad that he truly lost his will… until Caroline’s marriage. And strangely enough, ultimately the only thing he could think of to do to move on afterwards was entering into his own hasty sham of a marriage.

Well, sham was a harsh word. He had been genuinely fond of his wife when he married her and had felt a duty to be at least a decent and faithful husband for the length of their marriage… particularly after Hope had so quickly bonded with her stepmother. But before he could keep reminiscing on the past, Caroline abruptly surprised him by acquiescing to his request and beginning her story.

“You might have heard… that shortly after Elena and my mother died, I actually first started dating Stefan,” she began.

Of course he’d heard that. Rebekah had been as enraged about it as he had at the time.

“That didn’t last long,” she continued, not waiting for him to reply. “Stefan and I quickly discovered that we were much better suited to being best friends. But, you know how it is… two immortal friends of the opposite sex-”

“-Both attractive…” Kol interrupted, raising his eyebrows at her suggestively. “You always at least give it a try!”

“Right,” Caroline acknowledged. Kol’s tone may have been obnoxious but his assessment of the situation was pretty much on the money. “Anyway… about ten years later was when things first started getting really bad with climate change. We had the first global rain season sometime around then… and it started becoming a way more pressing political issue than it ever had before.”

“Yes, of course,” Elijah spoke up next, “War was threatening to break out because of it.”

Hope was listening in rapt attention. She didn’t know what this had to do with Caroline’s marriage yet but, she’d only been about eight or so when she first remembered the rains starting.

“Well, it was an issue I was very passionate about, as you can imagine,” Caroline explained, “And, as it turned out, quite surprisingly, Damon was too. Turned out that, as a vampire, Damon was not at all thrilled with the prospect of his world being destroyed by people who wouldn’t even be around over a century to live on it… Anyway, he and I both became fairly prominent members of this environmental activist organization-”

“-Activism?!” Ridley barked out with an unbelieving laugh. “That’s one word for it, Care.”

“What’s another word for it?” Klaus asked.

“Hmm, maybe… terrorism?” Ridley asked with a pointed look at Caroline. Caroline had always been honest with Ridley about her past and there would always be some stories that would be hard for Ridley to stomach. That simply came with the territory of being raised by a vampire.

“Whoa, Ridley!” Caroline immediately admonished. “Terrorism is a really strong word to be throwing around like that!”

Ridley shrugged because she honestly didn’t know what else to call it.

“Caroline?” Klaus questioned, even more curious now. He didn’t think there was anything in this story that would be more interesting than her falling for Damon Salvatore but… this certainly was an interesting turn of events. “What activist organization were you and Damon a part of exactly?”

“So… you might all be familiar with this group active for most of the 21st century… it was called the Return to Eden Project?” she asked, her features already tensing at the inevitable reactions facing her.

Kol was the first to respond, letting lose a peal of intense and unbelieving laughter while everyone else looked at her with shocked eyes.

“Caroline!” Kol exclaimed as if he was extremely pleased with her, “They were a fundamentalist Christian terrorist organization! Everyone knew that!”

Hope caught her father’s eye and could see something else in his expression besides just surprise though… maybe he looked at bit impressed? It certainly would bring the two of them closer to the same level. If Caroline had been working with Return to Eden… who knew what she had been capable of in her past.

“Okay first of all, not everyone in that group was fundamentalist or Christian or even religious,” Caroline defended. “The main qualifier for joining was that everyone had a passion for saving the planet-”

“-Yeah, like Greenpeace on steroids-” Kol heckled, but Caroline ignored him.

“-And obviously Damon and I weren’t really tied up with the religious aspects of it!” Caroline finished her defense.

“So… you were more tied up with what?” Hope asked, “Like the bombing aspects of it?”

Hope had been young when all this was happening but, in the centuries since then, she’d developed a keen interest in history. She supposed it was a longing for the life she’d almost had. She’d made every effort to learn everything she could about the world now forever behind them… and that included major organizations like Return to Eden.

Caroline’s deer-caught-in-the-headlights response was all Hope needed to see for Hope to know she’d hit the mark with that guess.

“You say it like we were targeting innocent civilians!” Caroline shot back. “We would never have done that. We were going after oil rigs in the arctic… fracking lines on the American coasts…”

Hope was about to lay into her with another question when Klaus held his hand up to stop her.

“Alright, that’s enough,” he said. “We started this conversation to catch up on personal matters, not political. And, Return to Eden has been a firmly dissolved organization for many years now so I hardly see the need to keep pressing the subject.”

Caroline looked over to him gratefully, “Thank you, Klaus.”

“Of course,” he replied simply before directing a harsh look to everyone surrounding him.

But. Elijah, who had been silent for most of her explanation, put his support far more eloquently.

“I think that most of you would well know, after all these years,” Elijah finally added to the conversation, “That both immortality and the apparent apocalypse have caused all of us to do things we never would have expected… or even regret.”

“Cheers to that Elijah,” Caroline told him before raising her glass to him and quickly downing what was left of her Manhattan. “Now, I know I’ve started a story only to leave it unfinished but, you’ll excuse me. After the decidedly interrogatory turn this conversation took, I’m a bit worn out. Now you know that Damon and I bonded over mutual political philosophies… I’ll save the story of our divorce for another day! Maybe never, because that one really is none of your business.”

With that, she promptly stood up from the group all by herself and began to wander back over to the bar for another drink.

“Are you always so hard on her about her past?” Klaus asked Ridley. His tone was without malice; he was just trying to better understand the dynamics of their relationship.

“Are you always so demanding when you want to know her personal business?” Ridley returned with complete confidence. Either it was just the alcohol fueling her newfound bravery or the few hours she’d spent celebrating with the Mikaelsons had lulled her into a false sense of security. Either way, Klaus wasn’t in the mood to make an issue out of her insolence when Caroline was already out of sorts.

“Yes,” he answered her question simply.

“Yes,” she answered his in turn.

Well, she said it with such a note of finality that, that was apparently the end of that discussion. Hope couldn’t help but look over at the girl fondly. She could appreciate anyone who could hold their own with her father. Even Vale couldn’t say that.

Though the party was likely still raging long after they departed, Klaus and his family and their new guests not long after their talk. Since Hope and her friends had initially arrived in Chiang Mai, Caroline and Ridley had been awake for nearly 24 hours. This normally would be fine with Caroline, who had learned to go weeks without sleeping over the years when she needed to but, Ridley was still mortal and she was clearly reaching her limit by the time they began to head out.

Initially, Caroline was carrying the clearly drunk and exhausted girl out the doors herself but Kol quickly swept her into his own arms.

“Now, now, Caroline,” he said. “You’re our guest! If we throw a rager that gets your daughter drunk… then by all means, it’s on us to get her home safely.”

“We’ve been over the fact that she’s a Bennett… you know she’s not really my daughter, right?” Caroline asked. Sure she had raised Ridley but, in the past five or more years, Ridley had grown up enough to start referring to her as Caroline instead of Mom. Caroline was used to the pattern by now; all of Bonnie’s descendants began thinking of her as more of a peer than a mother sooner or later.

But, when she asked him that, Kol just turned around to give her a yeah-sure sort-of look. She gathered that he somehow understood that she’s always think of Ridley as her daughter, no matter how much Ridley grew up.

“She’s really been up for too long,” Caroline explained on Ridley’s behalf, “Not to mention, we don’t nearly have the same kind of alcohol choices accessible in Chiang Mai.”

“Good god, what do you do for fun?” Hope asked, in complete seriousness.

Caroline laughed as they all began to slide their way into the limo they had arrived in, “Well, Hayato still has a pretty large stockpile of Sake from when he and Ko were still living in Japan-”

“-When Japan still existed, you mean?” Rebekah asked, interrupting. She and Freya had re-joined their group now that they were headed home. Only Ezra and Vale were not with them. They would be returning to their neighborhood instead of being invited back to the Luxor.

“Yes, when Japan still existed,” she rectified. “Anyway, she seemed to be a little enamored with vodka… kept saying over and over again, completely amazed, ‘It doesn’t taste like anything!’

Kol snickered at that before quickly agreeing, “She’s right. It doesn’t taste like anything. Still one of the most amazing inventions to date, I’d say!”

“Well, then I’m sure you two will become fast friends,” she said, immediately regretting the words as soon as they came out of her mouth.

She knew Kol had a thing for witches and, more specifically, the Bennett witches. He didn’t need any encouragement. But, if he’d taken it that way, he luckily didn’t acknowledge it.

Caroline was too focused on the world passing by them outside their limo again to notice but, Klaus’s attention was wholly focused onto herself for the entirety of the quiet ride back to their home. His attention remained focused on her as they approached the Luxor (still lit up, of course, even as the impending daylight hours encroached), desperately wanting to see what she made of his new home.

Unfortunately, she was so tired herself after the day’s trials, that even once she was inside the magnificent space of the Luxor, she couldn’t stop looking after Ridley.

“I hope you don’t mind if we just go to bed…” she began, turning to Klaus.

He waved off her concerns immediately, “Of course, we already have a suite set up for you.”

They took a long elevator up to the top of the pyramid, rising at a slight and almost indiscernible angle. Kol accompanied them, still insisting on carrying Ridley. And Caroline, as tired as she was, could have sworn she saw Kol looking down at the witch with confusion several times. She wasn’t sure if he was more surprised at how much she looked like Bonnie or just that the Bennetts were still around period.

When they arrived to the room, Klaus opened the already unlocked door to usher them into one of the most enormous and luxurious hotel suites Caroline had ever been in. She could see upon entering that there were multiple rooms. The first room the doors opened unto was a small living room and private bar area that opened onto a large balcony overlooking the city.

Any chance she had to get a good look around, though, was abruptly ruined by Kol who assuredly making his way through the suite and kicking open a door to the large bedroom. Inside lay what looking to be maybe a California King sized bed, which Kol promptly lay Ridley on top of.

“Well, there you are!” Kol said presently, “Now, I’ve spent far too much time around a human tonight without feeding so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take care of that!”

Without further explanation, he sped from the room. Caroline was left alone with Klaus and her passed out friend.

“Do your accommodations look suitable?” he asked her, looking noticeably smug. Clearly he understood that the rooms he was offering her were far more sumptuous than anything they’d had available back in Chiang Mai.

Currently, though, she was too tired to make an issue out of this.

“It all looks wonderful,” she said. “Thank you and we’ll see you all in the morning.”

Klaus wasn’t used to being excused before he was ready but, because this was Caroline and also because he knew very well everything she’d weathered in the past hours, he let it slide.

“Goodnight,” he told her, as he exited out of the bedroom of the suite, pulling the doors to the room shut behind him.

“Goodnight,” she replied to his retreating form before taking a look at the passed out girl on her bed.

After quickly assessing that Ridley was indeed just asleep and still breathing normally, Caroline crawled into bed beside her and passed out.

Ridley woke very early the next morning. The thing about living underground as a human was that it completely changed your sleep cycles. So Ridley woke up just a few hours after she’d been taken back to the Luxor before waking up again. At first, she just assumed that she was in the throes of a bad hangover. But, the moment she opened her eyes, she knew something much more severe was wrong. Waking from her restless and drunken slumber, Ridley opened her eyes to see the true intensity of the sunlight for the first time in her life and… immediately she screamed out in pain.

Caroline, still well under the protection of the daylight ring she’d never taken off even during her decades underground, bolted up instantly at the sound. Neither of them were still on the bed. After having slept on their firm pallets and pillows on the floor of the Chiang Mai caves for so long, neither one of them was used to the overwhelming softness of a mattress anymore. Even in her drunken stupor, Ridley had woken up to request that Caroline rectify the situation.

Unable to fall asleep herself, Caroline had immediately agreed to Ridley’s request and moved the mountains of pillows on their bed into a nest on their floor where they could both sleep.

And, just a few hours later was where Klaus found them when he came storming into the room to decipher the source of the commotion. Ridley was writing around in pain in the midst of the pillows while Caroline was dashing up from their spot to pull the drapes shut. Despite closing the curtains, the harsh sunlight still filtered in enough to keep Ridley whimpering.

“What the bloody hell is going on?!” Klaus demanded, gesturing to both the pillows on the floor and Ridley’s trembling body.

“I’m so stupid,” Caroline responded as she raced back over to Ridley to cradle the girl in her arms, talking more to herself than she was to Klaus. “Ridley was born in Chiang Mai, underground. She’s only ever been exposed to fake UV lights… and the actual sun a handful of times. She’s sick from the exposure!”

The drapes were already closed, thanks to Caroline but, Klaus was immediately tearing open his wrist and offering it to Ridley. Hybrid blood could cure almost any sickness, minus anything that was related to cancer, including C-Flu. Ridley’s mouth instinctively leaned up to capture the cure for her pain but Caroline pushed him back from the girl in a clean and fluid motion.

“NO!” she all but roared at Klaus. “Ridley will not ever have vampire blood in her system until she requests it. I’m not putting that choice on her!”

“Well then, what do you suggest we do?” Klaus asked the simultaneously concerned and enraged Caroline.

“Do you have a basement?” she asked frantically and he nodded his affirmation, “Get her there now. Get her sunglasses, suntan lotion, whatever you can think of…”

Klaus didn’t even take the time to say ‘Done.’ Ridley was in his arms and they were out of the room in the next second.

Hope approached Caroline a few hours later outside. Caroline was standing outside at the Luxor’s pool looking up at the sky with sunglasses on. Hope had honestly expected Caroline to get to work right away when she arrived in Vegas but, apparently, the sunlight and outdoors were simply too much of a novelty after all this time to be ignored.

“Glad to see you’re feeling better,” Hope said, stepping up behind her. “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you out in the daylight again for a few days. I heard from my Dad that the initial wake-up didn’t go too well?”

Caroline turned around with a grimace, “Ridley is still hiding. Growing up in the caves is all she’s ever really known. I think she’s also just a little overwhelmed… the world is turning out to be a lot bigger than I ever could have described to her.”

The thought made Caroline’s throat tighten painfully. She hadn’t wanted to keep Ridley, or any of Bonnie’s children for that matter, from living full lives. But what other alternative was there while most of the world was still in flames and Ridley would always be at risk of catching the disease?

“She’ll be used to it in no time, you’ll see,” Hope assured her. “I like Ridley. She’s smart and she’s excited to be here. She’s tough too.” She also has more power than she’s even somewhat aware of, Hope thought to herself, not quite sure if that observation would be interpreted as threatening or not. Caroline was clearly fiercely protective of Ridley.

“I think you’re right about that,” Caroline said with a smile. “I think this will be good for her.”

She turned again to keep looking out over Vegas. Currently she was facing the now decrepit looking Sphinx, which hadn’t weathered the decades of sandstorms well.

“Well, what do you think?” Hope asked her after a few minutes.

Caroline sighed, putting a hand to her forehead to further shield her eyes from the glare of the light. With her other hand propped on her hip, she gave Hope’s question some thought.

“I think… that I never thought I’d see this again,” Caroline admitted.

“The vistas of Tatooine?” Hope asked jokingly with a grand sweeping gesture towards the abandoned city in front of them.

Caroline looked at her with an unimpressed look. “Really?”

Hope shrugged. “When Klaus Mikaelson decides to keep you under lock and key in a giant glass pyramid for a hundred something years… you have a lot of free time to indulge in pop culture from the past,” she said before her expression suddenly turned more serious. “It’s one of the only ways I can even feel like I know what it was like… to have lived in the world before.”

“Yeah, I get that,” Caroline said, nodding. “You know what? We couldn’t really play music in Chiang Mai. The sound would echo too loudly in the caves and attract the rabid wolves. Last night at that party was one of the first times I’ve heard rock music in nearly 60 years.”

Hope swallowed a shocked expletive at this revelation. She couldn’t imagine going that long without music. Perhaps Chiang Mai wasn’t as idyllic as they had initially assumed.

“They played the Rolling Stones last night,” Caroline continued. “It’s been stuck in my head ever since and I’ve just been out here looking at the sun and hearing that song in my head and… I just really didn’t know if I’d ever be doing something like this again.” She ended the speech with a half-hearted shrug.

Hope was about to reply, about to tell Caroline that she was glad she decided to come back with them when, a third voice interrupted their conversation.

“I do believe I knew you were a Stones fan, love,” Klaus supplied next, arriving behind them completely silently as always.
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