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death cannot stop true love

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Somehow, Caroline arrived safely in Mystic Falls, though she had no memory of the return journey.

She knew she should go to the school, to check in with Alaric and see her daughters, but she couldn't make herself set foot in that house. The house where Stefan had lived, where Klaus had sought her help just yesterday, or the day before, she wasn't sure—the minutes and hours and days were all running into each other into a haze through which she could barely see, until all she knew was one thought that her broken heart cried: Klaus had broken his promise.

A part of her wanted to see the world, to honor the promise that Klaus had made her: that one day, she would show up at his door, and he would show her all that the world had to offer. That he would be her last love.

Now he couldn't do either of those things, and Caroline found that she didn't want to see the world alone, with every passport stamp reminding her that she should be doing this with someone who loved her, who thought that she deserved to see all of the greatness that the world had to offer, who would smile indulgently at the joy and wonder on her face as she took in the monuments and tourist destinations he had already seen a dozen times.

She'd traveled for work, to recruit students for the school, but she'd never gone anywhere for fun. She'd even traveled to France, made a quick stop in Paris for an afternoon at Rebekah's request, to try to talk some sense into Klaus, but she'd never seen the Eiffel Tower, never spent a day studying all of the art hanging in the Louvre, never left a lock at the Pont des Arts.

Caroline maintained, and she was certain that Klaus would agree, that a few hours spent in an abandoned building, with only Klaus and some dead bodies for company, trying to convince Klaus to establish whatever contact was possible with his daughter, did not count as a trip to Paris. It seemed morbidly fitting, now that she knew that that trip had been the beginning of the end rather than the beginning of the rest of their lives, that she had been in Paris with Klaus, but he had not taken her out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, or bought her jewelry, or showed her any of the 'genuine beauty' that he had promised was waiting for her.

Now, instead of pictures taken by strangers on every continent, ticket stubs, and stolen hotel soaps, the only souvenirs of Klaus she had were a letter he wrote eight years ago, a voicemail he left sixteen years ago, and a bejeweled blue dress still hanging in the back of her closet in her mother's house, the accompanying invitation still tucked into the pocket of the garment bag.

Of course, there were also less tangible examples. The fact that she'd lived past her eighteenth birthday. Her acceptance of her vampirism and the possibilities that came with immortality. Her resignation to the fact that a vampire's moral compass couldn't always point due North. Her decision to take on the role of Lizzie and Josie's mother. Confidence. Compassion. Wanderlust.

And now, overwhelmingly, regret that she hadn't realized that she loved him until it was too late.

I will never forget you, she'd told him, and she'd meant it. Perhaps that was her punishment for acting like she had all the time in the world to be with Klaus, like she could seek him out in a week or in a century, and he would be there, waiting for her and loving her all the same. Klaus had promised to be her last love, whenever she was ready for him to be, and Caroline had never imagined a possibility in which that promise would be the one goal that Klaus wouldn't achieve.

In a fit of drama, Caroline nearly promised herself that she would keep his promise for him, that she would make sure that he was her last love by never loving anyone else for the rest of her life.

But the rest of her life was a very long time, and Klaus had already proven that as much as he wanted her to love him, he wanted her to be happy more.

{ }

On Friday, Caroline received her first gift from the dead.

She'd been mechanically going through the mail, and had opened the large mailing envelope without even checking the return address.

Inside, she found a black velvet jewelry box which contained three things: the diamond bracelet that Klaus had given Caroline years ago; a check for $10 million, made out to Caroline Forbes and signed by Klaus Mikaelson on the day he died; and a rolled-up note.

Caroline carefully unrolled the piece of paper.

"Dearest Caroline," the note read. "I have often imagined the paths your life might take, but I could have never fathomed that I would be watching your future from wherever I go afterwards. I would say that I look forward to seeing you again, but I want you to live a long life full of love and happiness, wonder and adventure. You're strong, and you have a beautiful future ahead of you. So until it's your time, just know that I'll never forget you, and I'll be waiting for you. However long it takes. Yours, Klaus."

Caroline almost smiled at the repetition of the sentiments Klaus had told her previously: in his letter eight years ago, when he'd said goodbye to her while in Tyler's body, her high school graduation where he'd promised to be her last love, and even the words she had said to him before she'd walked away from him for the last time.

Caroline clasped the bracelet around her wrist, then picked up the letter again and whispered, "However long it takes."

But she wouldn't have to wait long for another gift to arrive.

The next day, a large box was delivered to her office. This time, Caroline did check to confirm that the return address was Klaus's house in New Orleans.

Then she opened the rectangular package, finding a painting inside.

She recognized the painting instantly was the one that she and Klaus had stopped to watch the artist work on during their tour of New Orleans. When she pulled the painting out of its shipping material, a piece of paper fluttered to the floor.

"Dearest Caroline," this note read. "I knew that you were lying about not understanding art, that you were once again taking advantage of my obvious affection for you to distract me. I would never underestimate or insult your considerable intelligence by believing such a self-deprecating excuse. But if I could never bring myself to be annoyed by the practice when you were using my distraction to plot against me, how could I summon anything but gratitude when you sought to take my mind off of my impending demise? Our discussion made me think, about art, and about you. This piece symbolizes time, and reminds me that even after a thousand years of watching it drag on or rush by as it pleases, I have no control over time. I could spend a thousand years apologizing to you for not keeping the promises I made you, for all the pain I've caused you, both directly and from some degree of distance. I wish that I could have spent more time with you, with Hope. But I cannot turn back time. All I can do is advise you not to make my mistakes; to not take time for granted as I did. Yours, Klaus."

Caroline wiped her tears and hung the painting on the wall closest to her desk.

The next day, a box identical to the one that had arrived the day before was delivered.

Caroline instantly recognized the painting in this box as well: the snowflake that Klaus had painted for the charity auction.

Between Tyler's plan to defeat Klaus, Hayley snapping her neck, and Klaus murdering his hybrids, Caroline had never found out who had purchased Klaus's painting, and had been too preoccupied with other things to ask.

But it didn't surprised her that the painting had made its way back into Klaus's possession, especially once she saw what he'd written on the accompanying note:

" Dearest Caroline, I'm sure it must have occurred to you then that I only participated in this asinine town event because I thought that doing so would make you happy. And for a brief time, I thought it had: you complimented my work, you allowed me to offer you champagne, you gifted me with your beautiful smile. You told me that this painting was lonely, and as you so often did, you struck right to the heart of my carefully crafted illusions of invincibility. I always feared being left alone, which is why I wanted to create hybrids, and why I kept my siblings in coffins—they couldn't abandon me if they had daggers in their hearts, now could they? I went so far as to steal love letters from my victims, to force myself to remember that they were real people, with lives and people who loved them. I believed myself to be both incapable of love and unworthy of it, until you proved me wrong on both accounts. Yours, Klaus."

The pattern continued for several days. In each day's mail, Caroline would find a package sent from New Orleans. They contained jewelry, clothing, books, airline tickets, keys to various properties Klaus owned all over the world, keys to a red Maserati convertible that showed up in the driveway about two weeks after Klaus's death, a vial of Klaus's blood to save her life in the event of a werewolf bite.

The inventory was impressive, and surely worth millions: necklaces, earrings, and bracelets made with diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires, and both of her birthstones: opal and pink tourmaline; designer dresses and shoes that she knew would fit perfectly; everything from travel guides to every country she might want to visit to rare first editions of literary classics; high-quality luggage that cost more than any vacation she'd ever been on; a dozen first-class plane tickets; house keys labelled with addresses in Los Angeles, Monte Carlo, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Cairo.

Each had come with notes explaining when and where they were purchased, why they had made Klaus think of Caroline, and why he wanted her to have them now. The tickets and keys came with recommendations: when to go, who to take with her, what she needed to see while she was there. Caroline also learned that though most of Klaus's properties were now owned by Hope, his sister Freya had performed a spell that would allow Caroline and Rebekah to enter any of them without dragging Hope all over the world with them to invite them in.

Caroline knew from experience that such a spell would have required her blood, and wasn't sure she wanted to know how and when Klaus had acquired it.

But she decided that as generous as Klaus was being, she wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth by questioning it.

The next gift wasn't even for Caroline.

The first thing she saw when she opened the large box was an envelope with her name written on it in Klaus's handwriting. The envelope wasn't sealed, but it was still unique that he'd put the note in an envelope at all, rather than leaving it loose in the box like he had with every other delivery.

"Dearest Caroline," the note opened just like all the others before it. "Please give this to Hope when she returns to school. She won't need it now, with Freya and Rebekah fussing over her, but she will when she's trying to get back to her normal routine even though her entire life has irreversibly changed. On the subject of Hope, I know I have no right to ask you for anything, but please look after her. She will be angry and lost and wracked with guilt, and the volatile power of a Mikaelson witch combined with the temper of a werewolf could prove dangerous to Hope herself and the rest of your students if not closely supervised and given an outlet. I trust you with her, which, at times, has been more than I can say for myself, her aunts and uncles, and even her own mother. I know that I am leaving my daughter in good hands with you. Yours, Klaus."

Caroline decided that she needed to inspect the contents of the box for security reasons—if Klaus had sent Hope some sort of magical artifact or ingredient that was forbidden by school rules, then she couldn't let her keep it—but it was mostly because she was curious: what did you give the person you loved enough to die for, when you were forced to actually die for them?

Apparently, if you were Klaus Mikaelson, you gave them your old annotated copies of The Art of War and The Prince, a vial of blood, a carved wooden figure of a knight, a silver chain bracelet, a necklace with a block letter H made of emerald baguettes set in gunmetal and hanging from a matching chain, and a framed painting of three wolves—a large tawny-colored wolf on the left, a smaller one with cool coffee brown fur on the right, and the smallest wolf with its white fur in the middle—prowling through a dark forest together under the light of a full moon.

Caroline knew that between Klaus and Elijah, Hope would inherit houses, and cars, and clothes, and jewelry, and books, and artwork, and millions if not billions of dollars, but that these items were the sentimental and personally significant ones that Klaus wanted to make sure his daughter kept to remember him by.

In the bottom of the box was a letter, in an envelope labelled with Hope's name, which Caroline did not read.

When the last gift arrived, Caroline almost missed it.

She had searched that day's mail for something from Louisiana, but there had been nothing. Disappointed, Caroline sorted through the letters and bills until she reached an envelope from her bank.

But it didn't contain the monthly bank statement she'd been expecting.

Inside was documentation informing her of the creation of a trust fund, containing $20 million, listing her as its beneficiary. The next two stacks of papers established similar accounts, with half as much as was in hers, for each of her daughters. Finally, there was a series of deeds, to what was surely a magnificent house in Rome, penthouse apartments in New York City and London, a chateau in Versailles, two addresses in Paris that she didn't recognize and one that she did recognize as the Mikaelsons' mansion in Mystic Falls. The name of the owner of all seven properties wasn't Caroline, but her daughter Lizzie.

As with the other gifts, there was a message from Klaus enclosed.

"Dearest Caroline," it said. "I know that you must be thinking that even now, I am still trying to buy your affection. That was never my intention. My only goal was to do something to ensure that you and your daughters are taken care of, that you have the security and freedom to travel, to further your educations, to invest in your futures—whatever you choose. My home in Mystic Falls is yours, as is that historical building in Paris that you were so determined to keep in good condition, and my flat in the city, as well as my homes in other cities that I predict you will be especially fond of. Your beauty and light will outshine even the City of Light, and it is my eternal regret that I cannot see it for myself. The deeds to these properties are in the name of your daughter Elizabeth, for your safety and your children's. There's a whole world out there waiting for you, and I want you to have all of it. Yours, Klaus."

Caroline had managed to keep her composure while she'd opened every other gift.

But after she finished reading the letter, she curled up in her office chair, hid her face in her hands, and cried.

{ }

It was weeks before Hope returned to the school, and weeks following that before Caroline could even look at her.

She didn't exactly blame Hope for Klaus's death, but she couldn't help but wonder if Hope had made different (better, more informed, less impulsive) decisions, Klaus might still be alive.

She and her friends used to plot ways to kill Klaus. She never would have guessed that what would ultimately spell the end for the most powerful creature on the planet would be the rash, thoughtless decisions of a reckless, determined teenage girl—who happened to be one of the few people Klaus would consider sacrificing himself for.

{ }

"Ms. Forbes?" Caroline looked up to see Hope Mikaelson standing in the doorway of her office, holding a black leather folder in one hand and the other curled into a fist, poised to knock on the open door.

Caroline waved her in with a tight smile.

Hope sat down slowly in the chair on the other side of Caroline's desk. She set the folder down in her lap and reached out, absently running her index finger over the nameplate on Caroline's desk.

The same nameplate that her father had played with the last time, and the only time, he had ever been in this office.

"Don't touch that," Caroline ordered, yanking the piece of metal out of Hope's reach.

Suddenly she wanted to just get rid of the thing that now served as a reminder of two men that had claimed to love her, but not enough to stay. Forbes hyphen Salvatore, what a joke. She hadn't even had time to change her name before Stefan had sacrificed himself to save Damon and Elena, giving them their happy ending at the expense of her own.

"Sorry," Hope apologized.

As Caroline looked at Hope, her eyes searching the girl's face for some trace of her father, it was clearly evident that Hope looked far more like Hayley than she did like Klaus, and Caroline wasn't sure if she considered that a disappointment, or if it was her saving grace. It already hurt to look at Hope and be reminded of what had happened, of the devastating chain of events that the girl had set in motion when she consumed the Hollow's power herself, or when she kidnapped her mother to incite her father's return, or even when she was born. If she had to look at a little carbon copy of Klaus in her school all day, she might never be able to forgive Hope, and she didn't want to be angry at a child in a situation she knew from personal experience: grieving the loss of her parents.

But aside from the inquisitive blue eyes, Hope looked very little like Klaus. The highly arched eyebrows, the prominent cheekbones, the large almond shape of her eyes, the oval shape of her face, were all Hayley. Even the tumble of gently curling hair resembled Hope's mother's style, though the color was too light to match Hayley's, but a shade darker and with a hint of red that set the color apart from Klaus's.

"How can I help you, Hope?" Caroline asked.

"My Aunt Freya and I were cleaning out my dad's and Uncle Elijah's things, deciding what to keep, what to give away, you know. They had each acquired a thousand years' worth of stuff, and while we wanted to keep some things to remember them by, or that could be useful, it was hurting too much to keep their rooms exactly was they were, as if they might come home any day now, and we don't need a Bible that Dad stole from a church in the fourteenth century as a prank, or a cloak that Elijah hadn't worn since the 1600s. Neither of them had a will or anything, but, needless to say, I am now very, very rich," Hope chuckled dryly.

Caroline wasn't sure what to say to that. Yes, she had anticipated that Hope would inherit her father's and uncle's fortunes, and she didn't resent her for it. What really annoyed her, she realized, was the cavalier way in which Hope and Freya had discarded Klaus and Elijah's possessions. And her annoyance wasn't only selfish. She hadn't mentioned any involvement from Rebekah or Kol either. What if Klaus had stolen that Bible on a dare from Kol, or Elijah's cloak had been a gift from Rebekah? They might want to keep those things, or at least be able to see them and reminisce one last time before they threw them away.

But Caroline was fairly sure that that meant that Hope didn't know what Klaus had bequeathed to Caroline herself. She'd never volunteered the particulars of her relationship with Klaus to his daughter, and Hope had never asked. Caroline had decided when Hope arrived at the school that she wouldn't mention it, that she would treat Hope just like any other student whose fathers she didn't have a history with, but that she would answer any questions Hope asked her about Klaus honestly. Even now, Hope hadn't brought it up, so either she knew and wasn't concerned or curious at all (which Caroline found unlikely), or the millions of dollars now in Caroline's, Lizzie's, and Josie's accounts were such a small fraction of the Mikaelsons' wealth that no one had noticed they were unaccounted for.

"Anyway, we didn't have the heart to get rid of much, so most of their stuff got packed in boxes and put away in the attic. My Aunt Rebekah was there part of the time, and she found this in my dad's room, and she asked me to give it to you when I came back to school," Hope continued, holding out the folder. "I didn't look through it, but Aunt Rebekah seemed to think that my dad would have wanted you to have it."

Caroline took the folder from Hope.

When she opened it, she discovered that it wasn't a folder like she'd thought, but a sketchbook.

And every single drawing was of her.

It was like he'd drawn their entire history, starting with the day they had met in that chemistry lab on Senior Prank Night, while Tyler was in transition; to the homecoming dance they'd both attended, even though they hadn't spoken; to her eighteenth birthday, when he'd saved her life; to the ball his family had thrown; the first time she was sent to distract him; the Decade Dance… every time that he'd saved her life or put it in danger, every time she'd distracted him or tried to reach out to him, was carefully catalogued in charcoal.

On the last page, there was a note, and Caroline almost smiled at the thought that Klaus must have known that someone—Hope or Freya or Rebekah—would find this sketchbook full of drawings of Caroline and deliver it to her.

"Dearest Caroline," The note read. "I like to think that I know you well—certainly well enough to know that you appreciate a sentimental gift more than a material one, which is why I saved this one for last. I want you to see how beautiful you are to me, and how much time I have spent trying to replicate your beauty on paper. I need you to know that I cherish every moment I was fortunate enough to spend with you. And because I should have told you yesterday, a decade ago, and every day since I first realized it was true: I love you, Caroline. Always yours, Klaus."

"Thank you, Hope," Caroline said, her voice a little unsteady with emotion. Needing to change the subject before she broke down crying in front of a student (which would have been quite awkward and difficult to explain), she pulled out the box that Klaus had sent her to give to Hope. "This arrived for you a few weeks ago. Your dad asked me to give it to you when you came back to school."

Hope took the box from Caroline.

"This is from my dad?" Hope asked.

Caroline nodded.

Hope smiled ruefully as she pulled out the books.

"Only my dad would want his kid to have instruction manuals for how to take over the world," she remarked.

The vial of blood was next.

"Is this his blood?" Hope questioned, scrunching up her nose.

Caroline nodded. "You might want to turn one day."

"I already have vampire blood in my system, running through my veins, I'll automatically turn if I die," Hope insisted.

"I'm guessing that your dad didn't want to take any chances, in case that isn't exactly how it works," Caroline told Hope. "And with this, he's making sure that you get to choose. He and his siblings were turned against their will, your mom was turned against her will, I was turned against my will. I think he just wants you to be able to become a vampire because you want to, not because someone else forces you to."

Hope seemed to accept that answer and moved on to the wood carving of the knight.

"This looks like my favorite toy when I was really little," Hope smiled. "Dad carved this for my Aunt Rebekah when they were kids. He destroyed it because it was made of white oak, but I didn't know he'd made me a new one."

Hope looked confused as she took the bracelet out of the box.

"My magic suppression bracelet," she said. "I haven't needed this in years, my dad gave it back to me when the Hollow was taking over me."

She looked up at Caroline as if waiting for an explanation, but Caroline didn't have one.

Then she pulled out the necklace.

"Wow," Hope seemed pleased as she opened the box and picked up the pendant, running her thumb over the emeralds that formed her initial. "Ms. Forbes, would you mind?"

"I'd be happy to," Caroline agreed, taking the necklace from Hope and walking around to the other side of her desk. Hope lifted her auburn hair up off of her neck to get it out of Caroline's way as she fastened the necklace.

"I like the symbolism you've got going on there," Caroline pointed out when she'd sat back down.

"What do you mean?" Hope asked, playing with her new necklace, which was slightly shorter than the other two, so the H hung just above the crescent moon and the Mikaelson family crest.

"Well, you've got your necklace representing the Mikaelson family, and it's shaped like a shield, reminding you that your family will always protect you," Caroline explained. "Then you have your necklace representing the Crescent Wolf Pack, in honor of your mom and your heritage on her side of the family. And now you have your new necklace, with your initial and your birthstone and your favorite color, which stands out the most because it's made of a different metal and is a different length than your other necklaces, and represents you as an individual. You're half Mikaelson witch and half Crescent wolf, which gives you very important legacies to live up to on both sides, but most importantly, you're Hope: a unique, strong, brave, stubborn person, and you'll make your parents proud just by being yourself."

"Thank you, Ms. Forbes," Hope said quietly, a few tears escaping from her wide blue eyes.

"Have a little faith in yourself, Hope, I don't think I told you anything you didn't already know," Caroline responded.

Hope seemed to suddenly remember that there was still something left in the box, and immediately turned her attention to the painting.

"This is amazing!" Hope gasped. "I can't believe he did this!"

"Your dad is quite a talented artist," Caroline agreed.

"I've never seen him in his wolf form," Hope told Caroline. "My mom loved being a wolf, she turned all the time. And I've only turned once, so he must have painted this the day he died. I don't know how he did it, but this is incredible. Dad used to call my mom 'Little Wolf,' and he called me 'My Littlest Wolf,' and obviously he was the Big Bad Wolf, and here we all are, our little family of wolves. This is the greatest gift he's ever given me, I love it."

"I'm glad you like it," Caroline replied. "But before you rush off to hang that in your room, you should know that there's a letter for you in there."

Hope reached into the box and pulled out the envelope with her name on it.

"You don't have to read it now, I just wanted you to know that it was there," Caroline continued.

"Thanks," Hope said. "I'm just going to go…" she trailed off, holding up the painting.

"Of course," Caroline nodded.

After Hope left the office, Caroline sat flipping through Klaus's sketchbook for several minutes before coming to a conclusion.

Picking up her cell phone, Caroline scrolled through her contacts, selecting one she hadn't used in years.

After several rings, a surprised female voice answered the phone.

"Hi, Rebekah, it's Caroline. This is probably going to sound crazy, but Hope was just in my office and it made me think… I want to try to bring him back."

{ }

Meanwhile, Hope walked to her dorm room, depositing her new books on her bed, then hanging her new family portrait on the wall next to her bed and above her desk, so that she could see it easily from anywhere in the room.

Then instead of reading the letter her father had written her, she gathered her phone, keys, and wallet, throwing them all into her purse before leaving the room again.

A minute later, she was knocking on the door of another dorm room.

"It's open!" someone called out from inside.

Hope pushed open the door, causing both inhabitants of the room to look up in surprise when they saw her.

"I've really missed the milkshakes at the Grill, do you two want to come with me? My treat."

{ }

Even though Hope wouldn't turn sixteen for another month, and therefore didn't yet have her driver's license, between her father and her uncle, she had inherited over a dozen cars—from American-made SUVs to Italian sports cars—that were completely at her disposal.

When her aunts had told her to take her pick, Hope had selected Elijah's Bentley, the car he'd let her drive in an attempt to inspire her to fight for her life instead of passively allowing the Hollow to destroy her. He'd made it sound as if driving this particular car was a rite of passage, a privilege she'd had to earn, and as much as she'd hated him for his part in what had happened to her mom, Hope wanted the reminder that he had thought she was worthy—of driving his expensive car, of living even when so many people she loved had died.

(It would probably break his heart to know that she'd personalized it with one of those car air fresheners in the shape of a tree, a light blue-green one that promised to smell like 'Bayside Breeze,' whatever that meant. And he would surely think the green crystal hanging from the rear view mirror, which promised to bring her growth and good luck, was silly.)

Hope's current passengers, sitting in the backseat of the car she'd claimed for her own, had—considering their small-town upbringing—surely never seen, let alone been in, a car as expensive as hers, and were too curious and confused about why Hope had requested their company to call attention to the fact that it was illegal for her to be driving them anywhere.

As Hope glanced in her rearview mirror, she saw them exchange a look, using their twin telepathy to have an entire conversation without saying a word.

They reached the Mystic Grill within five minutes, as was the case with any destination in Mystic Falls, and once they'd sat down in a corner booth away from any other customers and ordered their milkshakes, Hope finally addressed her companions.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I brought you here," she started.

Lizzie and Josie Saltzman responded with matching raised eyebrows.

"Well, we didn't think that you suddenly wanted to be best friends," Lizzie responded.

"I need your help, and I need it to stay between the three of us. You can't tell anyone, not even your parents," Hope continued.

"What do you need our help with?" Josie asked.

"I want to bring my father back to life," Hope declared solemnly. "It's my fault that he died to save my life, and I need to make it right. I can't live with this anger and this guilt. Everything that's happened these last few months—the war between the factions in New Orleans, my mother's death, the dark magic, my father's death—it's all because of me, and I have to fix everything that I can."

"So this isn't because you love your dad and want to see him again, this is because you need to make amends so that you can stop feeling guilty?" Lizzie questioned.

"Of course I love my dad, and I miss him, so much, but it's complicated," Hope tried to explain, playing with her new necklace. "For most of my life, my dad has been this almost mythical figure. I only lived with him for less than two years when I was little, and then a few weeks when I was seven, then these past few weeks this year. Whenever my family has had to separate, my mom took me with her and my dad kept his distance, often without contacting me at all. My mom raised me almost entirely by herself, and I'm so grateful for everything she's done for me, and I want more than anything to be as strong and brave as she was, but even though I love her and miss her more than you could possibly understand, she's at peace now with my stepdad and her parents and my Grandma Mary and the rest of her werewolf pack and she's happy there, and even if I could magically resurrect someone who is at peace, I can't take that away from her just because I don't know how I'm going to live without her."

"And you don't think that your dad is at peace?" Josie asked.

"I don't think one noble sacrifice is enough to cancel out a thousand years of murder and mayhem," Hope answered. "My aunts say that he died with love in his heart, and that that should count for something, but I don't think that would be enough."

"Love for who?" Lizzie interjected. Seeing Hope's insulted expression, she quickly elaborated. "I'm not saying that your dad didn't love you, it's just that if there are other people that your dad loved, they might be willing to help with the spell."

"I won't ask anyone else for their help with this," Hope insisted. "I can't keep letting my family clean up my messes. I have to fix this without them."

"So you only asked for our help because we're not related to you?" Lizzie accused.

"Partly," Hope admitted. "But mostly it's because you have unique magical abilities and are powerful in a different way from me, and I think that together we can bring my dad back to life, plus because of your involvement in the chain of events that caused my father's death, you're already informed of the situation, so I don't need to waste time explaining everything. And before you ask what's in it for you if you help me, after the spell is complete you can name your price. Anything you want, no matter the cost, no questions asked."

"Well, we don't know everything," Josie pointed out.

"I can fill you in on the details as they become relevant," Hope promised.

Lizzie and Josie exchanged a look, having another one of their silent conversations.

Then, after a moment, Josie said, "Okay."

"Okay, you'll help me?" Hope confirmed.

"This mission sounds exciting and dangerous, count us in," Lizzie replied.

"Good," Hope smiled. "Here's everything that I know…"

{ }

Rebekah agreed to support Caroline's efforts to resurrect Klaus as soon as Caroline finished voicing her intentions.

"I wouldn't even know where to begin trying," Caroline informed the older vampire.

"Let me call Freya so we can all talk," Rebekah suggested. "She's a thousand-year-old, immensely powerful witch, in possession of the Original Witch's grimoires. If anyone knows what to do, it's her."

"Okay, but I don't want Hope finding out about this," Caroline stipulated. "I don't want to get her…" Caroline cut herself off with a halfhearted laugh that turned into a sigh. "I don't want her to get excited and then be disappointed if we can't make it happen."

"Of course," Rebekah agreed.

Within minutes, Freya was agreeing to do anything she could to help while she and her wife Keelin searched through Freya's extensive collection of grimoires on the other end of the phone.

"I've got it!" Freya exclaimed victoriously after about twenty minutes. "There is a resurrection spell in one of my mother's grimoires!"

"What do we need to do?" Caroline asked.

"It's actually not as complicated as I would have thought it would be," Freya commented. "We just need the blood of a witch, werewolf, and vampire each related by blood to the person we want to bring back to life—"

"We can use mine for the vampire," Rebekah volunteered.

"And mine for the witch," Freya added. "But there's only one werewolf related by blood to Klaus."

"Hope," Caroline stated.

"I drew some of Hope's blood for a spell that Klaus interrupted before I could finish, and he took the bowl of Hope's blood so that I couldn't continue after he'd left," Freya told them. "He used it to make hybrids to spite Greta and her cronies, but I'll try to see if he stored any of it to use later. That way we don't have to take any blood from Hope."

"That would be great, thanks Freya," Caroline responded. "What else do we need?"

"We need Klaus's blood, and things that belonged to him to help anchor his essence," Freya read from the grimoire. "The closer to him the better. Things like his clothes, his art…"

"I have Klaus's blood," Caroline interjected.

"You have my brother's blood?" Freya questioned.

"Yeah, he sent me a vial of it in case I got bitten by a werewolf," Caroline explained, deciding not to mention that she'd only received it after Klaus's death.

"Okay, then between that and maybe a jacket and a painting, we should have more than enough," Freya said.

"What else?" Rebekah asked.

"The spell needs to be performed when the full moon is at its zenith, by two witches who are related to the person we want to resurrect by blood—so that's me and Hope— at the places of his birth and his death—so Mystic Falls and New Orleans," Freya informed them.

"That's it, no sacrifices, no waiting until the winter solstice on Saturn, just blood?" Rebekah questioned.

"The only potential challenge is that we need to do the spell at the exact locations of his birth and death, and I don't know where that is or what is now located where Klaus was born. You're the only person alive who knows both of those places, Rebekah," Freya pointed out.

"Our house was built in what now is the woods surrounding Mystic Falls," Rebekah announced. "I'll come to Mystic Falls next week under the guise of checking on my niece and point it out to you, Caroline."

"Thank you, Rebekah."

"And I'll come to New Orleans right after that to help as much as I can from your end," Rebekah told Freya.

"When is the next full moon?" Caroline asked.

"Three weeks from Sunday," Freya answered. "We missed the last one by four days, but this means that we have the maximum amount of time to prepare."

"And the maximum amount of time to have to keep this a secret from Hope," Caroline lamented.

"She'll understand," Rebekah insisted. "We'll tell her the day of the spell, once everything is in place, and all we need her to do is recite the spell and maybe donate some blood. That way, if something goes wrong between now and then, she won't be disappointed."

"Right," Caroline agreed.

"All right, then, I'll talk to you soon," Freya hung up.

"I'll see you next week, and I expect we'll speak sooner than that," Rebekah ended the call.

Caroline put her cell phone down on her desk and began making a list of everything they needed and whose responsibility it was to acquire it. The list was color-coded of course; Rebekah was red, Freya was black, Hope's name written in green.

Though Caroline didn't bother adding herself to the list, she knew that she had the hardest job: keeping their plan a secret from Hope.

{ }

Hope, Josie, and Lizzie were in Hope's room searching through the grimoires that Hope had brought with her from home on Friday after class when Hope received a rather harried phone call from Vincent.

Apparently, following Hayley's death and Marcel's order that all vampires leave New Orleans, a rogue werewolf from the Crescent Wolf Pack had staged something of a coup. He'd demanded a place on the council representing the werewolf faction, which Vincent and Declan had granted, not knowing that he hadn't been elected to serve as Hope's regent of sorts until she graduated. Now he'd taken over the pack, starting a civil war between those who he'd convinced to accept him as their leader and those who remained loyal to Hope, Hayley, and their Labonair ancestors.

Vincent was reluctant to step in himself, worrying about the precedent it would set. He didn't want to get involved in the intricacies of pack politics, nor did he want any faction to fear another faction's representative interfering when they didn't like a decision another community had made. They'd made such great improvements as a city since the days of Marcel forcing the wolves out and forbidding witches from doing magic, Vincent told Hope, and he didn't want to return to those dark times.

Vincent insisted that the only person who could save the Crescent Wolves from this usurper was Hope, who, as the only child of their recently deceased Alpha, had inherited her mother's throne. He believed that Hope's absence before formally taking her place as the new Alpha had left a power vacuum, and that this imposter had taken advantage of the situation to seize power for himself.

Hope had hedged warily until Vincent said, "I'm not saying you need to drop out of school and move out to the Bayou full-time, but you do need to come down here, show your face, and remind these wolves that you're Andrea Labonair's daughter, and that you're their Alpha now."

There was no way Hope could resist when he put it like that. She couldn't dishonor her mother's memory or squander her legacy.

Hope told Vincent that she would be there as soon as she could and was pulling clothes out of her closet and stuffing them in her duffle bag before she'd even hung up the phone.

"I have to go home to New Orleans," Hope quickly explained the situation to the twins. "But while I'm there restoring order to the wolf pack, I can look through all of my aunt's grimoires for a spell we can use."

"If you find anything, let us know," Josie requested.

"And take a picture of the spell and send it to us, so that if there's anything we can do without you we can get started right away," Lizzie added.

"Will do," Hope agreed.

Hope was able to keep her word less than thirty-six hours later.

It had taken her mere minutes to reclaim her mother's throne for herself when she'd arrived at the Bayou at nightfall on Friday. She hadn't had to say more than her full name and remind them that her mother had been their Alpha and that both of them were Crescent Wolf royalty, part of the royal bloodline that dated all the way back to the origins of the pack, before the werewolves were kneeling before her and pledging their loyalty to their true Alpha.

Hope, trying to establish her reputation as a reasonable leader who welcomed the contributions of her community, let them offer their opinions on whether the usurper's punishment should be banishment or death.

Even after taking their considerations into account, Hope was still a Mikaelson, and there was nothing a Mikaelson took more seriously than vengeance. So Hope thought about what her father would do in this situation, and quickly came to the conclusion that he would make an example out of the traitor, so that no one else would ever be tempted to repeat his crimes.

Hope forced the imposter to kneel before her, then used a spell to immobilize him.

"My name is Hope Andrea Mikaelson," she told him conversationally, as if they were old friends catching up over coffee. "I'm a Mikaelson witch, and Crescent Wolf royalty. I'm the one and only tribrid, and the greatest witch to ever live. I am stronger and more powerful than you could ever dream of being. And my pack agrees with me, that everyone who crosses me, must pay with their lives."

Hope raised her hand in a slashing motion that allowed her to use her magic to slit his throat without having to touch him. It seemed fitting to her that he should die the same way her mother had when she'd become a hybrid. Those witches had also tried to profit off of her mother's death to serve their own agenda, and now he would suffer the fate they'd inflicted on her, without knowing that Hayley, and Hope, would always emerge victorious over the cowards who plotted against them.

With that whole matter easily dispensed with, Freya and Keelin had convinced Hope to stay in New Orleans for the weekend and fly back to Virginia on Sunday evening.

They'd devoted most of Saturday to family bonding time, but when they finally left to pick up dinner, Hope saw her chance.

As soon as they'd turned the corner, Hope ran to her aunt's room and started frantically flipping through the closest grimoire.

As luck would have it, the spell she needed was there.

Hope quickly snapped a picture of the page, put the grimoire back exactly as she had found it, and rushed upstairs to her own room to send the spell to the twins along with a message that she would call them after she ate dinner.

While Hope enjoyed her time with Freya and Keelin, she found herself counting down the minutes until she'd eaten her food and could excuse herself to her room for the night.

Once upstairs, Hope murmured a spell to light the sage that she kept on her dresser so that Freya and Keelin wouldn't hear her conversation, then flopped down on her bed and hit the call icon next to Josie's name in her phone's contacts.

"Hi!" both twins' voices chorused.

"Hey, did you get the picture of the spell?" Hope responded.

"Yeah, we're looking at it right now," Lizzie answered.

"Wait, is it okay to be talking about this? Aren't your aunts there?" Josie asked.

"They're downstairs, but I'm burning sage, and I told them that going to the Bayou for the first time since my mother's funeral made me miss her and that I wanted to be alone," Hope answered.

"Do you think we'll be able to get all of the things we need?" Josie asked.

"Absolutely," Hope replied. "We just need my dad's blood, the blood of a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire related to my dad, and some of my dad's possessions to help anchor his essence. I have a vial of his blood, plus some of his clothes and artwork that he created, that should be personal enough."

"You say that like this will be so easy," Lizzie remarked.

"Well, for the vampire we can use either my Aunt Rebekah or my Uncle Kol, and the witch has to be my aunt Freya, but the werewolf might be a problem, actually," Hope listed.

"Isn't that you?" Josie asked. "You've triggered your werewolf gene."

"I'm a tribrid; I'm not a werewolf, or a witch, or a vampire. And I'm the only one of my kind, so it's not like there are rules, or How to be a Tribrid for Dummies," Hope responded.

"But if you're a tribrid then you're all of the above," Lizzie argued. "We should be able to use your blood for any of the three species that we need."

"And if you think about it, you're more werewolf than anything else," Josie continued. "Sure, you've been a witch longer, but if you look at your family tree, your mom was werewolf royalty, which means that everyone in her family was probably a werewolf since the beginning of your pack. And your dad was born a werewolf before he was turned into a vampire. So if you take away all of the magic and loopholes, you're really just the daughter of two werewolves."

As Hope considered Josie's words, she had to admit that she had a point.

"All right, I'll be the werewolf," Hope conceded. "It's not like we have any other options. There might be some distant relative from my dad's biological father's side of the family out there somewhere, but it would probably take more time than we have to find them, and they may not want to help or even know anything about my dad or the supernatural at all, plus since we need blood relatives, the more closely related, the better, I assume."

"Then is there anything we can do, or should we just wait until you get back?" Lizzie asked.

"Well, since I don't think anything my dad owns would be in the school—"

"The clothes!" Lizzie interrupted.

"What clothes?" Hope asked.

"Our dad shot your dad with his crossbow, and then when we saw him again he was wearing different clothes," Josie explained.

"Okay… I'm sure any of my dad's clothes will work," Hope said.

"Our mom got him some of Uncle Stefan's clothes to change into so that he didn't have to wear a shirt that had a hole in it and bloodstains on it," Lizzie continued.

"Having one of his possessions with his blood on it would have to be a powerful connection to him, right, Hope?" Josie asked.

"His blood is already a requirement for the spell, I'm not sure it would add anything," Hope considered.

"Even if the blood doesn't matter, shouldn't we be looking for things that he touched recently, rather than you finding a powdered wig he wore in the seventeenth century in your attic?" Lizzie pressed. "The clothes he was wearing the day before he died have to be closer to him than something he wore years or decades or centuries ago."

"That's actually a good point," Hope replied. "You two look for those clothes, but it isn't a big deal if you can't find them, I can bring some of his things with me when I come back tomorrow night. If you could also try to find out where exactly my dad was born, that would be great too, since I have to do the spell there, and then I'll tell Aunt Freya on the day of the full moon to do the spell here in New Orleans where he died. And if you could get your hands on the Original Witch's talisman, that might be additionally helpful."

"The what now?" Lizzie asked.

"It's a silver necklace with a red stone and an ancient symbol meaning 'witch' on it; it used to belong to my grandmother, who practically invented dark magic, and she gave it to my Aunt Rebekah, and then it was stolen from her and apparently your mom's friend Elena ended up with it. Since it was her magic that turned my dad into a vampire, being able to access that magic might be able to help us bring him back, and make sure that he's still a vampire when we do."

"Oh, I know what you're talking about," Lizzie answered.

"It's in the library, we can go get it tonight," Josie offered.

"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow," Hope bid them farewell.

{ }

"No luck, Klaus must have used all of Hope's blood when he was making hybrids," Freya announced over the phone to Caroline and Rebekah, who were standing together in Caroline's office.

As promised, Rebekah had arrived in Mystic Falls on Monday morning, less than twelve hours after Hope had returned from quelling a werewolf rebellion in New Orleans. Freya had told them that Hope had been quiet and withdrawn after visiting the Bayou for the first time since her mother's funeral, hiding away in her room for much of the weekend, which gave Rebekah a solid excuse for coming to check on her.

Before she'd even unpacked her bags, Rebekah had raced over to the school to take Hope out for breakfast, and when she'd dropped Hope back off before classes started, she'd stopped by Caroline's office, where they called Freya to check in with their progress with the spell.

"So we'll need to take blood from Hope in order to complete the spell," Caroline confirmed. Caroline wasn't exactly surprised by this turn of events, and she knew that Freya and Rebekah weren't either—it wasn't like Klaus to have left his daughter's blood, blood that was capable of making hybrids, just lying around when he could have used it for that purpose—but she'd still wished that they'd been able to minimize Hope's involvement as much as possible.

"It isn't like she'll be unwilling to donate to the cause," Rebekah pointed out.

"Fine, but we're only telling her the day of the spell," Caroline insisted.

"I agree with both of you," Freya spoke up. "I know Hope will gladly do whatever needs to be done for this spell to work, but I don't want her to be disappointed if we can't make it happen for some other reason. We just need Hope to give her blood for the werewolf requirement of the spell, and for her to do the spell in Mystic Falls at Klaus's birthplace, neither of which will require much advance notice. But Caroline, if you could keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn't overexert herself in the days leading up to the spell, just to make sure she's strong enough, that would help."

"Yeah, no problem," Caroline agreed.

Then something occurred to her.

"But how are we supposed to get her blood to you in New Orleans if we don't tell her about the spell until the very last minute?" Caroline questioned. "And how are you both supposed to do the spell at the same time, when the full moon is at its zenith when that won't be at the same time since you're in different time zones?"

"Breathe, Caroline," Rebekah instructed.

"We will have to tell Hope the day before and overnight her blood to me. She still won't know about the spell until the last minute, the last minute is just about thirty-six hours earlier now," Freya answered. "And the spell would have pre-dated the idea of time zones, so there wouldn't be anything in the spell to answer that question. What makes the most sense to me, what I think we should do, is for Hope and I to do the spell, together in unison, when the full moon reaches its zenith in Mystic Falls, and if that works, then great, we'll have accomplished our mission, but if it doesn't work, then we both do the spell again when the full moon reaches its zenith in New Orleans, so that we did the spell at the right time, whatever the circumstances the spell needs."

"Okay," Caroline agreed. "You're the magic expert. I'm sorry for the freak out, I've never organized such a monumental scheme before."

"It's true, in the Salvatore brothers' schemes she was always relegated to keeping Nik distracted while someone else tried to kill him," Rebekah echoed.

"Right, so is there anything else we still need to do to get ready? We have two weeks and six days until the full moon, and this honestly seems like it's too easy, like there has to be something more to it," Caroline said.

"That occurred to me too, but I've read the spell over and over, and it seems like it really is that simple. There's nothing there that looks like a trap or a riddle, and I don't want to borrow trouble worrying when all evidence suggests that this spell really is as straightforward as we think it is," Freya replied. "And don't sell yourself short, Caroline. We're so grateful to you for orchestrating this whole thing, and it's my fault that we need this plan at all."

"What? How is it your fault?" Caroline questioned.

"When Hope, Klaus, and Elijah got home after your daughters put the Hollow into Klaus, Hope wanted to repeat the spell we did eight years ago, when Vincent and I pulled the Hollow out of Hope and divided it amongst Klaus, Elijah, Kol, and Rebekah, but I talked her out of it. I told her that that would mean we would be right back where we started, and I thought at the time that I was trying to do what was best for her, since I knew that she had so much anger and frustration and bitterness built up inside her during the time that Klaus couldn't come near her without hurting her, and I don't know, I guess I thought that it would be better for her to have a father who died to save her life than a father, two uncles, and an aunt who she would never be able to see in person ever again. But I made the wrong decision, and I lost two brothers because of it," Freya explained.

"Freya, we had no idea ahead of time what Elijah was going to do—if he had, we could have moved the Hollow into him instead of Nik—and he asked us to respect his decision. He asked for our blessing to move on to whatever might be waiting for him after this life, and we gave it to him. And you know as well as I do that once Nik makes up his mind, there's virtually nothing that can get him to change it. We were dealing with incredibly powerful, ancient magic, and very little time before a member of our family succumbed to it. You spent eight years searching for a way to defeat the Hollow and bring us together again, there was no way we would be able to find the solution that had eluded you in less than twenty-four hours," Rebekah insisted.

"I didn't have to find a permanent solution, I just needed to find a way to buy us some more time until I could!" Freya countered. "Hope's idea wasn't a bad one, and returning to the status quo we were familiar with while we continued to work on finding a solution wouldn't have been the end of the world. I'm sure that after seeing the consequences of cutting off contact, Klaus would have kept in touch with Hope if they were separated again. And maybe they wouldn't have had to be separated at all. When we did the spell the first time, we weren't sure if Kol was going to come, but we needed four vampires related by blood to Hope, so I was about to become a vampire myself in order to take Kol's place so that Hayley wouldn't have to and Hope wouldn't have to live without her mother. I was willing to make that sacrifice for Hayley—I'd already drunk the blood, and Keelin was about to give me the lethal injection when Kol walked through the door—so why wasn't I willing to make that sacrifice for Klaus, so that Hope wouldn't lose her only living parent? I should have done it, I should have been the one bring up the idea of doing the spell. Hayley was brave enough to sacrifice her own life to make sure that Greta couldn't hurt Hope, and Hope was brave enough to try to bind her werewolf side when she was told doing so would save her mother's life, and I couldn't even trade my magic for immortality to save my brother's life and stop my niece from becoming an orphan at fifteen!"

"I'm sure no one blames you, Freya, but you can still let this spell redeem yourself in your own eyes," Caroline chimed in. "If we can pull this off, Klaus will be alive, the Hollow will be gone, your living family can be together, and you'll still be a witch. I would think that's preferable to all of your family being separated and you losing your magic."

"Thanks, Caroline," Freya replied. "Well, I should get going. Hope's trip to the Bayou this weekend reminded me that I haven't been out there since the funeral either, and I wanted to visit Hayley today since I was thinking about her."

"Okay, we'll talk to you soon," Rebekah acknowledged before ending the call.

"Are you okay with just bringing back Klaus?" Caroline asked. "I know that you and Freya are still understandably very upset over Elijah's death, and the very complimentary way Freya just talked about Hayley leads me to believe you were quite fond of her as well."

"We have to try to bring Nik back," Rebekah insisted. "He has a daughter who needs him, and he never wanted to die. Elijah made a choice, and as much as I wish he was still here, after every time he supported my choices over the centuries, I have to do the same for him. And we couldn't bring Hayley back even if we wanted to: Hope is her only living blood relative. According to Hope, Hayley is at peace in some place that looks like the Bayou, with her late husband Jackson, her grandmother-in-law Mary, her parents, and every other member of the Crescent Wolf Pack that predeceased her; and even if we could resurrect someone who is at peace, it seems cruel to pull Hayley away from everything she's ever wanted: a home, a family, a pack. And maybe this is just me, but I know that Hayley agreed to let Greta bind her werewolf side in a desperate effort to save Hope's life, even though being a wolf meant everything to Hayley, and I think that Hayley always knew that she wasn't going to make it out of that house alive, because I know she would have hated to live without being a werewolf. But she died a warrior's death, brave until the end, and I think the most respectful thing that we can do for her is to let that be her legacy."

Caroline looked away while Rebekah wiped stray tears from her eyes.

"That's a most unusual painting," Rebekah commented, pointing to the painting that Klaus had sent.

"Yeah, it was painted by an artist in New Orleans that we saw…" Caroline trailed off.

"And he bought it for you to remember him by," Rebekah stated.

Caroline had never been more grateful for Rebekah's perceptiveness and intuition.

"Yeah," Caroline confirmed. "He told me that it was about the passage of time. He thought his time was unlimited, and then all of a sudden it wasn't. What if we can't fix this, Rebekah?"

"I thought you were supposed to be the optimistic one," Rebekah raised her eyebrows. "Well, here's some pessimism for you: we have nothing to lose, even if the spell doesn't work. Nothing we do can make Nik any more dead, or Hope any more an orphan. If anything, the spell failing might speed up her mourning process, snap her out of the denial and bargaining stages and get her to acceptance faster than if she was still searching for a loophole."

"That was really pessimistic," Caroline replied. She shook her head. "I still can't believe that Klaus Mikaelson loved someone enough to die for them."

"And you were hoping it would be you?"

"What? No!"

"You know, Freya and I told Hope that Nik died with love in his heart," Rebekah told Caroline. "It was the only thing that we could think of that would give her any measure of comfort, to know that even though her father died because of her, he died loving her. But he died loving you, too."

"Rebekah…"

"I'm serious," Rebekah continued. "I don't think it would surprise you to learn that Nik wasn't exactly celibate while he waited for you to come to your senses and leave Mystic Falls, but he never loved anyone like he loved you, even the only one who he told that he loved her."

"The blonde? Klaus mentioned her," Caroline inquired.

"Her name was Camille and she was a psychologist, though my family was surely above her pay grade," Rebekah scoffed. "He only told her he loved her because she was dying, Caroline, I wouldn't worry too much about her."

Caroline's heart sank. Klaus had only told her that he loved her when he was dying. Rebekah seemed to think that deathbed confessions of love didn't count; did that mean that Klaus didn't really love her?

"I'm not as insecure as I used to be," Caroline forced a self-deprecating laugh.

"You've grown up a lot since we left Mystic Falls," Rebekah acknowledged. "The Caroline I knew seventeen years ago would have thrown a party if she heard Klaus was dead. Now you're doing everything you can to bring him back for the sake of the daughter he shares with a woman you hated."

"That's not why—"

"I know," Rebekah interrupted with an indulgent smile. "I'm just saying, maybe you've matured enough now to realize that he isn't all bad like you used to think he was."

"I never thought Klaus was all bad, Rebekah," Caroline said. "That was the problem."

"Only in Mystic Falls is compassion and empathy considered a problem," Rebekah shook her head. "Look, I sent you after him because I thought that if anyone could talk sense into Nik, it was you. Hope was acting out, Hayley was demanding someone track him down because he was ignoring her calls, and I knew that he wouldn't send you away, and you wouldn't give up into you'd gotten through to him. I know about the sketches, and the dresses, and the check he sent you. He never stopped caring about you."

"Right, because going for years without speaking to me, dating a girl who looks sort of like me but is smarter and more educated than me, and impregnating a werewolf with the worst case of 'I'm-not-like-the-other-girls' syndrome I've ever seen is a brilliant indicator of undying love and devotion," Caroline rolled her eyes.

"First of all, you asked him to leave you alone while you built a life for yourself. He wasn't happy about it, but he respected your wishes," Rebekah countered. "Second of all, Nik and Camille never dated, it was this weird, messy, mostly one-sided thing that never really got off the ground because Nik didn't care enough. And while Camille may have had more post-graduate education than you do, you have far better street smarts and survival skills than she did. Third of all, Nik had no way of knowing that Hayley would get pregnant, and if he'd abandoned her and his child you would have hated him for that too. And what is this 'not like other girls' thing?"

"Oh, you know, when some girls, like Hayley, take an inordinate amount of pride in not liking traditionally feminine things, and think that they're superior to girls that do. So, Hayley thought that she was better than me and wrote me off as some ditzy shallow Barbie Doll because I liked wearing dresses, and spending time doing my hair and makeup, and planning parties and school dances. She saw herself as so much tougher and more mature than 'girly-girls' like me, because she apparently had actual, serious problems to deal with so she didn't have time for superficial, trivial things like putting together outfits or participating in pageants."

"I see," Rebekah nodded. "I suppose I would be more like you than like her then. Right after Hayley died, I told my sister that I'd been jealous of Hayley, for having a daughter, for having a husband, even for being at peace when I thought that would never be a possibility for me. Sometimes it felt like Hayley had everything, like whatever cosmic force was writing her story was bending over backwards to make sure that everything always went perfectly for her. She's orphaned as a baby, never knows her birth parents, but is adopted by a good, loving family, who, rather understandably, freak out and kick her out after she randomly turns into a wolf in their living room when she's a teenager, then, after years of fighting to survive on her own, she meets the Original Hybrid, becomes pregnant with his magical miracle loophole tribrid child, and discovers that she's actually the long lost queen of a very special New Orleans wolf pack, in the process meeting the king of the wolf pack, to whom she'd been betrothed at birth, who adores her and her daughter. Talk about a Cinderella story. But I was wrong, I shouldn't have said I was jealous of her."

"I assume you mean for another reason besides just the fact that what you said was incorrect, that you meant that you were envious, not jealous," Caroline pointed out.

"That's true," Rebekah nodded. "I said some very strange things while we were in that chambre de chasse; I still cringe when I remember that I said them. But I wasn't jealous of Hayley, or even envious of Hayley, as it would have been have been correct to say. I was frustrated that Hayley always seemed to so easily attain whatever it was that I desperately wanted and that I was certain would bring me that happiness that I have been searching for for so long. I've wanted a child of my own to love for a thousand years; she has a quick, drunken, angry dalliance with my brother and becomes the mother to the most special person in the supernatural world: the one and only tribrid, an immensely powerful first-born Mikaelson witch and a Crescent wolf princess. I've wanted a husband to love me for a thousand years; she was engaged since infancy to a werewolf who watched over her like a guardian in his wolf form and worshipped the ground she and her daughter walked on while he was a human. I've lived for a thousand years, a never-ending cycle of following Nik to the ends of the earth only to be daggered for my trouble; she had everything I wanted within thirty years, then dies tragically young after sacrificing her own life to save her daughter."

Caroline understood the other vampire's plight better than most.

"I know how you feel. I spent most of my life feeling the same way about Elena," Caroline replied. "Everyone loved Elena, Elena was everyone's first choice, and I was just everyone's backup when Elena wasn't available. Everything was always all about Elena, and anyone else was supposed to protect Elena or sacrifice themselves to save Elena. Elena was the special one in our group, even before we all knew that she was the doppelganger, which only made her even more special, and put all of us in danger time and time again. Every guy she's ever wanted to be with fell head over heels for her, every time her life was in danger someone found a way to save her without turning her into a vampire because she didn't want to be one, she wanted to be human again and everyone dedicated their lives to finding the cure for her. I hated feeling envious and frustrated with her because she was my friend, but I also hated feeling like she was important and I wasn't."

"Well, Nik didn't fall in love with her, he fell in love with you, so I guess she isn't that special after all," Rebekah smirked.

"I guess we'll see what happens if we're able to bring him back," Caroline responded diplomatically.

"When we bring him back," Rebekah emphasized. "We didn't do nearly enough to even try to keep Nik from dying in the first place. We can't give up until we bring him back."

{ }

"Did you get everything?" Hope demanded as soon as she closed the door of the twins' room behind her.

"We got the necklace," Lizzie replied, pulling the chain out from under her shirt. "We did a duplication spell so no one will notice that it's missing, and we decided that we wanted it easily available at a moment's notice, plus even if someone was able to figure out that the one on display in the library is a copy, they won't be able to find it if one of us is wearing it. So that's why I'm wearing it."

Lizzie consulted a very detailed and color-coded chart on a clipboard resting on her lap. The word's 'OW necklace' with a check mark at the end were written in purple, with 'at the ready' written in pink next to it.

"You wrote out a color-coded to-do list?" Hope questioned.

"I'm Caroline Forbes's daughter," was the explanation Lizzie offered. "You're green, Josie is blue, I'm pink, Josie and I together are purple, your Aunt Freya is black, and your Aunt Rebekah is red."

'Werewolf' had been written in green, 'Vampire' in red, and 'Witch' in black. 'Perform spell' was written in alternating green and black letters. 'Find location' had been written in alternating pink, blue, and green letters.

"And what about the clothes you were going to try to find?" Hope questioned.

"They're not here," Lizzie replied. "We searched everywhere we could think of and then we did a locator spell, which told us that they were in a dump in Delaware. We used one of his shirts that you keep in your dresser for the spell, we assumed you wouldn't mind."

Hope shook her head to let the twins know that she didn't mind. When she and Freya had packed up Klaus's clothing to donate or to put away in the attic, Hope had set aside a jacket and three henleys—one hunter green, one navy blue, and one black—to keep with her at school. She'd kept a lot of her mother's clothing as well: the simple, solid-colored shirts, many of which were also green, blue, or black; her dark-colored, structured jackets that made her feel tough and powerful; a few pairs of her combat boots, since despite their difference in height, they wore the same shoe size.

"Were you two able to find my father's exact birthplace?" Hope asked.

"Not yet, but we have a lead," Josie answered. "We read through Dad's notes on Mystic Falls, and he wrote about these cave drawings that your family did before they were turned into the Original vampires. So they must have lived close to those caves."

"That's it?" Hope said. "That's all you came up with?"

"We aren't your sired hybrids or hired help, Hope," Lizzie retorted. "We're trying to help you. But we also have homework, and extracurriculars, and friends that we want to hang out with, and parents that we have to make sure do not find out about what we're doing. We can't exactly go up to our dad and ask him to please point us in the direction of the caves he mentioned, and if he can tell us where exactly the Original vampires who made the drawings inside the cave lived a thousand years ago, that would be fantastic, and why do we want to know this information? Well, we were just curious, I guess. Dad would hate us if he found out we were helping you bring your dad back to life. We have to be really careful to make sure he doesn't find out."

"You're right, sorry," Hope acknowledged.

She thought for a moment.

"I'll tell him that I've read all of his notes on my family, and ask if there's anything else he knows that he forgot to write down, or didn't think was important, or didn't learn until later. Then I'll ask if he knows where in Mystic Falls my family used to live, because I… want to make a memorial for my dad there, since when an Original Vampire dies their body bursts into flames, so we couldn't have a proper funeral for him," Hope decided.

"Is that going to be a problem?" Josie asked.

"That Dad's body burned when he died?" Hope clarified. "I hadn't thought about it, but it might be. We don't know exactly what the spell does, since no one's ever tried it before. Ideally, it would bring him back exactly as he was when he died, but it's also possible that the spell just recalls his spirit from wherever it is now back to our world. We need the pendant."

"The pendant?" Lizzie repeated.

"My Aunt Freya has this necklace where she preserved my uncle's spirit when I was seven," Hope explained. "He died, but Aunt Freya was able to save him by putting his spirit inside the pendant. We can do the same thing if the spell brings my dad back spiritually but not corporally."

"So when can you go home to get it?" Lizzie asked.

"I'm not going to," Hope replied. "I have a better idea."

Hope pulled her phone out of her pocket.

"Who are you calling?" Lizzie asked.

"One of my sired hybrids," Hope answered.

"I need you to go to my house and get a necklace that belongs to my aunt for me," Hope ordered into the phone. "It looks like a blue glass acorn, except it's rectangular instead of round. Don't let anyone see you, and don't let anyone know what you're doing. I need you to do it as quickly as you can and bring it to me in Mystic Falls as soon as possible."

"Must be nice to have your own little servant army," Lizzie scoffed scornfully after Hope hung up the phone.

"I barely ask them for anything, but I can't go to New Orleans again so soon without everyone getting suspicious. This is the only way," Hope defended herself.

"So, what's next?" Josie tried to keep the peace by changing the subject.

"I'm going to go talk to your dad to see if I can find out my dad's birthplace," Hope said. "My Aunt Rebekah is here, checking on me, since Aunt Freya tattled to her about how I was so distraught over my mother's death after going to the Bayou this weekend, which means that this this best chance that we're going to have to get her blood. So if you two could try to think of a plan to do that while I'm talking to him, before he can tell anyone that I was asking questions, which might make people suspicious. If, for instance, Aunt Rebekah mysteriously has her neck snapped while I'm in the headmaster's office, his prime suspect has an airtight alibi, and his sham of an 'investigation,' because let's be honest, he hates my family and won't really care that much to begin with, will completely fall apart, because what reason would he have to suspect his darling daughters who have never even met Rebekah Mikaelson?"

"We're on it," Josie agreed.

Lizzie offered mischievous smile as all three girls left the room, splitting up when they reached the hallway.

By the time they went to bed that night, a vial of Rebekah's blood was hidden in Hope's closet, Freya's pendant was hanging around Josie's neck, and a copy of Alaric's map of Mystic Falls circa 990 A.D. was stuffed in Lizzie's copy of A Tale of Two Cities.

"'…think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you,'" Lizzie had quoted to Hope from the page where she'd hidden the map.

"Family is always and forever, even when it demands sacrifice," Hope had replied.

{ }

Caroline was growing concerned.

Rebekah was supposed to meet her in her office that afternoon so that she could show Caroline where her and her family's home had been a millennium ago.

Caroline anticipated Rebekah being fashionably late, but after hours of waiting, Rebekah's tardiness had long ago passed rude and landed in worrisome.

It was late that night, after Caroline had said goodnight to her daughters and headed home, that Rebekah barged through the front door of her house, shouting, "That devious barbarian mutant demon child!"

"What happened, are you okay?" Caroline asked, jumping up off the couch.

Rebekah didn't appear to be injured in any way, with no traces of blood on her skin or clothing, but Caroline knew that something serious must have happened for Rebekah to be so upset.

"She snapped my neck!" Rebekah exclaimed. "Isn't it your job to make sure that that little wolf pup was house-trained?"

"No," Caroline responded with raised eyebrows. She'd already had more than enough of various Mikaelsons holding her accountable for Hope's misbehavior, as if a boarding school headmistress was an acceptable replacement for a student's absent parents. "Hope's parents, or whatever guardians Hope's parents chose to assume responsibility for her in the event that they were unable to do so themselves, are responsible for parenting Hope. I am responsible for the safety and welfare of my students while they are at school, but I am only responsible for parenting my own children."

"Oh, don't give me that rubbish," Rebekah said with a toss of her hair. "You might as well be Hope's parent and you know it. Her father spent nearly fourteen years out of the almost sixteen she's been alive unable to be in the same room as her, and her mother sent her here then went back home to the Bayou to be the queen of the wolves that are cursed almost as often as they're not rather than live in the same state as her only child. She's spent the last eight years living here, with you, rather than with Nik or Hayley. And you're the closest thing to a stepmother that Hope is ever going to have. You can't hide from this family because you think you don't belong, Caroline. You're already inextricably entrenched in it."

Caroline shoved the subject aside, not having time to think about what Rebekah had said and how she felt about it. It would keep her awake late into the night, weighing on her mind as she tossed and turned, but right now she had to do her job.

"So you're sure that it was Hope who snapped your neck?"

"Yes, I'm sure," Rebekah sighed exasperatedly. "I know for certain that it was a witch, because I never saw or heard or felt anyone approach me, so it must have been a spell. And what other witch at your school has both the nerve and the motive to do it? Most of your students don't know who I am. Even if they knew me as Hope's aunt, Hope's been using her mother's last name at school to protect her identity, so they wouldn't know that I'm an Original. And even if they did, what teenage witch who's just learning how to light candles would want to take on a thousand-year-old vampire?"

"Okay, I'm going to call Ric so that we can set up a disciplinary hearing for tomorrow morning," Caroline told her.

"What's going to happen?" Rebekah asked while Caroline retrieved her phone.

"Probably nothing," Caroline admitted. "Ric and I already agreed to give Hope some leeway when it comes to her behavior over the next few weeks, since we kind of assumed that between her recently activated werewolf nature and her Mikaelson temper, she would get angry and lash out, but we have to at least sit her down and tell her that what she did isn't okay."

"Well, I appreciate that, but I'm not sure I want her getting special treatment, and I think that Freya would agree with me," Rebekah said. "She's unique, yes, but she has to learn how to control her anger and her magic just like everyone else."

"I understand, I really do, but I'm not sure in this situation that punishing her is the right thing to do," Caroline countered. "I don't think that this is an issue of loss of control, I think that she knew exactly what she was doing and acted deliberately. And this incident isn't inconsistent behavior for her: she's already been known to get angry or frustrated with a situation, and act rashly to try to fix it, without thinking through the consequences. She already has a suspension on her record this year, from when she sold a werewolf her blood so that he could turn into a hybrid—and we both know how well that particular plan of hers went. This school is full of angry teenagers with potentially dangerous supernatural abilities who have lost someone they care about. I just think that right now, with all of the anger and guilt and grief that Hope must be feeling, she needs compassion more than she needs discipline."

Rebekah smiled softly and nodded.

"She's a lot like her father, isn't she?" Rebekah asked. "Easily angered, quick-tempered, impulsive, prone to acting without thinking. He could have used some of your compassion. I'm sure he'd have been a better person for it."

"We agreed that she was too smart for her own good like him, too."

"That's certainly true," Rebekah agreed with a chuckle.

Caroline called Alaric and quickly explained the situation.

"Well, normally I would agree with you that it must have been Hope, but Hope was with me this afternoon," Alaric responded. "She had some questions about her family, wanted to know where they lived when they were human so that she could organize some sort of memorial for her dad there."

"And what did you tell her?" Caroline asked.

"Look, Care, I might not have liked the guy, but I'm not going to begrudge his child's attempt to get whatever closure she can after his death, and I'm not going to deny a student information when they come asking me for it. I made her a copy of the map I've compiled of medieval Mystic Falls. It isn't as detailed as she'd probably like, I mean, there isn't a mailbox outside one of the huts labelled 'Mikaelson,' but I wouldn't think she would need the exact location where Klaus was born, just a general idea. Mourning isn't an exact science, it's the thought that counts."

Caroline froze as Alaric's words sunk in.

"Ric, I have to go, I'll talk to you in the morning," Caroline managed to grind out before hanging up on a very confused Alaric.

"We need to call Freya, right now," Caroline told Rebekah. "Hope knows about the spell."

{ }

"Are you sure that she knows about the spell?" Freya asked.

Caroline's cell phone was on speaker, sitting on her coffee table as Rebekah sat on the couch and Caroline paced the length of the living room.

"She has to," Caroline answered. "That's the only explanation for why she would be interrogating Ric about Klaus's birthplace, at the same time that Rebekah's neck was snapped. Now we know why she did it: she needs your blood to perform the spell, and she decided that while you were here was the best opportunity to take it."

"I'm looking around, and nothing is missing from my magic room," Freya informed them. "The grimoire containing the spell is still here, exactly where I left it."

"Hope must have taken a picture of it when she was there last weekend," Caroline concluded.

"She was hiding in her room the whole weekend," Freya countered.

"Except she clearly wasn't hiding because she was so upset over her mother's death, she was working on the spell," Rebekah interjected.

"She's clearly taking every precaution to make sure that no one knows what she's doing," Caroline noted.

"Well, she's stubborn, fiercely independent, and she thinks that she's to blame for her father's death," Rebekah responded. "From her perspective, this is her battle to fight alone; she made the mess and it's her responsibility to clean it up without any of us stepping in to do it for her or to shield her from the consequences of her actions."

"Okay, update, I stand corrected, something is missing," Freya said. "My pendant."

"Freya has this necklace where she can store the spirits of my siblings when they would be dead otherwise," Rebekah explained to Caroline. "She's done it with both Finn and Elijah."

"But do we need it for this spell?" Caroline asked.

"That's the weird thing, we actually don't," Freya replied. "The spell is designed to return whoever it's used on exactly as they were when they died. Klaus is going to come back to life as the same thousand-year-old Original Vampire-werewolf hybrid that he died as, we don't need to worry about him needing to transition again, or trigger his curse again."

"Minus the Hollow, I hope, otherwise we're right back where we were the day he died," Rebekah pointed out.

"Right," Freya answered. "The Hollow died when Klaus did. Without a source of magical energy to draw from, it would have disintegrated into nothingness."

"So why did Hope take the necklace?" Caroline asked.

"I guess she thought she might need it," Freya inferred. "I can't blame her for wanting to be prepared for any outcome when she isn't sure what's going to happen."

Rebekah sighed loudly.

"Because that's exactly what we need: an angry, guilty, grieving teenage witch attempting a spell of epic proportions, alone, with no idea what she's doing!"

"I hate to pile on to our already extensive list of worries, but Hope most likely isn't doing this spell alone," Freya chimed in.

"Hope is her father's daughter, she trusts no one. There's no way she asked anyone for help with this, let alone anyone who wouldn't immediately tell you or Alaric what she was planning," Rebekah disagreed.

"I'm with Freya on this one," Caroline offered. "Alaric may only have human senses, but he's been around magic long enough to be able to tell when a witch is casting a spell. He'd know if Hope was the one to snap Rebekah's neck while she was in his office, and he swore Hope couldn't have done it. And Rebekah has a point: it's out of character for Hope, who's always taken pride in being independent and strong enough to handle everything on her own, to ask for anyone's help. Which means no one would suspect that she had. It's actual borderline genius in a devious, Mikaelson-style kind of way: Hope gives herself an alibi by going to talk to Ric while her sidekick snaps Rebekah's neck, ensuring that we hit a dead end when we try to figure out who did it because no one else even knows Rebekah, and giving her two pieces of the puzzle—the location she needs to perform the spell and the vampire blood—at the same time."

"There has to be a way to use Hope's involvement to our advantage," Rebekah mused.

"Well, we don't have to keep it a secret from her if she knows," Caroline pointed out.

"True, but you were the only one really concerned with that," Rebekah acknowledged.

"If we can figure out who Hope's partner-in-crime is, they'll probably be willing to help us when we all join forces," Freya suggested.

"It must be some of the hybrids that Nik created using her blood," Rebekah insisted. "They have to do what she says, so if she tells them not to tell anyone what she asks them to do, they won't. And even if she doesn't trust them personally, she trusts the sire bond, which means that they can't betray her."

"Because really, why not take advantage of the servant army that your father made for you. 'Happy Sweet Sixteen, sweetie, here are some immortal creatures that have no choice but to obey your every command!'" Caroline mocked.

"Even if she is using the hybrids to help her, you said that whoever snapped your neck was a witch," Freya pointed out. "She recruited someone else to help her with this spell."

"But why would Hope need another witch?" Rebekah questioned. "She's a first-born Mikaelson witch. Except for maybe you, she's the most powerful witch on the planet. She doesn't need any help with magic."

"Except in a situation like today, when she needed to be in two places at once," Freya mentioned. "A spell to snap a vampire's neck isn't exceptionally difficult. She wouldn't need an exceptionally powerful witch to do it."

"So it isn't you, Vincent would have told you if Hope had asked him for help, we can ask Davina, but she and Hope aren't really all that close…" Rebekah listed.

"Davina says she hasn't spoken to Hope since she called to offer her condolences after Klaus's death," Freya reported a moment later.

"Then I don't know who else it could be," Rebekah sighed. "There are no witches at the school who Hope would consider to be powerful enough to be worthwhile sidekicks, and who would be crazy enough to play along with her scheme. If they knew what was good for them, everyone would go running for cover when a Mikaelson asks for help, not negotiate payment and terms of employment."

"Oh no," Caroline groaned as Rebekah's last sentence made her realize that there wasn't just one witch at the Salvatore School who fit the necessary requirements to be Hope's partner-in-crime as she worked to bring her father back to life.

There were two.

"What is it?" Rebekah and Freya demanded in unison.

"I know exactly who Hope's sidekicks are."

{ }

The next morning, Hope, Josie, and Lizzie snuck out of breakfast early to try to find Klaus's birthplace for the spell without anyone noticing their absence.

"So, according to your dad's map, we need to start out going east," Hope announced.

Lizzie looked truly baffled.

"That way," Hope pointed, leading them in the right direction.

"So I don't know which way east is, that doesn't make me stupid," Lizzie insisted. "Sue me for not having werewolf tracking abilities."

"No one said you were," Josie soothed her sister.

"Yeah, well, I know she was thinking it," Lizzie shot back.

"I was actually thinking that I just want to get this over with before anyone notices that we're gone, and that this will go a lot faster if you don't complain every ten seconds," Hope snapped.

"If we really wanted to go incognito, we might have been better off changing out of our uniforms?" Josie suggested, gesturing to their matching plaid skirts and white collared button-down shirts, Hope's navy blue blazer, Lizzie's maroon cardigan, and her own grey pullover sweater, all emblazoned with the school crest.

"No one else is going to be traipsing through the woods at seven in the morning," Lizzie insisted.

"Well, in case there are, will you be quiet?" Hope hissed.

They walked in silence for a few more minutes, until Hope announced that they needed to turn and head north.

"Can you please just tell us to turn left or right?" Lizzie requested irritably. "You're just showing off that you know the real directions."

"Fine," Hope acquiesced.

The three girls lapsed back into silence until they approached a familiar landmark.

"You know, while we're out here being supernatural Sherlock Holmeses, we should try to figure out what happened to make the Fallen Tree fall," Lizzie proposed.

The Fallen Tree was a popular rendezvous point for students of the Salvatore School and Mystic Falls High alike. No one knew what had made it fall, only that it had happened less than twenty years earlier, and that something had collided with it at a high speed and with tremendous force to knock it down. Physics classes at both schools studied it with the goal of ascertaining the force and velocity of whatever had pushed the tree to the ground.

"That really isn't important," Hope said.

"Aren't you curious, though?" Josie chimed in. "All we know is that it happened a few years before we were born, and that Mom always looks a little uncomfortable whenever anyone speculates about it. We think that she knows more than she's letting on."

Hope smirked mischievously.

"Well, a vampire colliding with the tree at vampire speed would probably have enough force to knock it down," Hope offered.

"Yeah, but that vampire would have to be stupid enough to run into a tree," Lizzie responded.

Hope laughed at Lizzie's naïveté.

"Wait, are you saying that…?" Josie questioned. "But that can't possibly be comfortable."

Hope shrugged.

"When the urge overcomes you, I guess. I wasn't exactly made on a bed of rose petals."

"Okay, no one wants to know as much about their own conception as you happily tell people. There is such a thing as too much information, and you going around announcing that you exist because of some weird magical loophole that allowed your dad's werewolf half to take over and impregnate your mom because she's also a werewolf when they got really drunk and had angry hate sex is far too much information," Lizzie blurted out. "Hold on, are you seriously saying that our mother…?!"

"Okay, considering how long it took you to figure that out, now I'm thinking that you're stupid," Hope responded.

"And I'm thinking that I can't even name all of the reasons why you have no friends, so we're even," Lizzie smiled with false sweetness. "And you're wrong, by the way. Our mother still wears her wedding rings from her husband who died on her wedding day, a decade after he died. There's no way she would have ever done… that, outside."

Hope shrugged again.

"You're the one who wanted to solve the mystery of the Fallen Tree," she said.

"I have officially changed my mind, I have no interest in finding out what happened to that stupid tree," Lizzie replied.

"Then let's just focus on finding my dad's birthplace," Hope proposed.

"Fine with me."

Several minutes of twists and turns—plus more bickering between Hope and Lizzie—later, they arrived at what Hope told them was the original village of what would eventually become Mystic Falls.

That was when Hope informed them that the map wasn't specific enough to offer them much help at that point.

"What do you mean the map can't help us?" Lizzie demanded.

"I mean, your dad doesn't know exactly where in the village my family lived, so it isn't labelled on the map," Hope answered. "He told me that he thinks that it was on the east side of the village because that was the closest to the caves, but he can't be sure because most of the village would have hidden there during full moons."

"Um, guys?" Josie tried to get Hope and Lizzie's attention.

"I thought you knew where we were going! You're the one who knows real directions and has werewolf tracking skills!" Lizzie accused.

"If your dad's map wasn't useless, I would have found it ages ago!" Hope shot back.

"Hope, Lizzie?" Josie spoke up again.

"You knew what was on the map before we left! You didn't think to mention that it could only get us part of the way?!" Lizzie continued.

"What would you have done if I had, Lizzie? You don't even know which way north is!" Hope yelled.

"Hey!" Josie shouted over them.

Hope and Lizzie looked over at her.

"This is just a guess, but I think that what we're looking for is right over there where Mom and your Aunt Rebekah are standing," Josie pointed.

The other two turned around, and sure enough, the two blonde women were standing together between two trees about twenty feet away. Knowing that they must have seen the three of them, and had probably heard them coming, Hope, Josie, and Lizzie had no choice but to face them.

"We were wondering when you three were going to get here," Caroline greeted them with a smile.

{ }

When Caroline saw Hope and the twins slip out the cafeteria only a few minutes into breakfast, she sent a quick text to Rebekah, who was waiting outside.

After giving them just enough of a head start that they wouldn't notice her, Caroline followed the girls out of the cafeteria to meet Rebekah.

"Okay, follow me," Rebekah said, before flashing off into the woods at vampire speed, Caroline on her heels.

"Here it is," Rebekah announced as she stopped a minute later at a nondescript location, in between two trees that looked just like every other trees in the woods. "Here's where the home that Mikael built for us stood. Here's where my siblings and I were born."

Rebekah took a few steps forward and turned back around to face Caroline.

"And here is where I took Nik's and Elijah's hands and made them promise me that we would stick together as one, always and forever," she managed to choke out through the tears threatening to spill over. "And now I'm the only one left."

"Not for long," Caroline promised. "We're going to bring Klaus back."

"Right," Rebekah nodded, wiping her eyes and moving back towards Caroline. "And now we wait for our little delinquents to arrive."

Caroline used her vampire hearing to listen in on them. They'd only just reached the edge of the woods, and Lizzie was complaining about Hope thinking that she was stupid because she was unsure of which way east was.

"I quite like them," Rebekah told Caroline. "The blonde one is almost exactly what I imagined your daughter would be like."

"Thanks," Caroline replied. "But when and why did you imagine what my children would be like?"

"Well, Stefan mentioned them to Nik, and Nik later mentioned them to me," Rebekah explained. "I was quite annoyed and envious at first, that you got to have children of your own even though you're a vampire. We didn't know their names or what they looked like, or anything about them, but years later, I called Hope to ask her how school was going, and she complained about the headmaster's bossy, dramatic, controlling daughter Lizzie, and I realized that she must be one of your girls."

Caroline turned away from Rebekah as she heard the girls start to discuss that stupid tree.

She refused to be ashamed of that day, especially now. She didn't regret finally being honest about wanting Klaus, or the aftermath of that confession.

But did the physics classes really need to try to calculate the speed and force with which Klaus had eagerly pushed her against that tree?

From behind her, Rebekah laughed.

"Did the tree fall for the reason I think it did?"

Caroline had forgotten that Rebekah had been in Mystic Falls that day.

"Yes," Caroline confessed with a resigned sigh. "But I'll never admit that to them."

"Why would you?" Rebekah questioned. "They're going to have enough trouble coming to terms with the idea that Hope's dad is in love with their mum. Knowing any details is only going to make it worse."

Caroline's first impulse was to refute Rebekah's claim that Klaus was in love with her, but she knew that it was more important to focus on her daughters' feelings regarding any future relationship she had with him.

"I'm not sure what they'll think of him, or what he'll think of them," Caroline said.

"Caroline, I think you're underestimating my brother's love for you," Rebekah told her. "Your children could be manner-less brats who demand that he change into his wolf form to give them pony rides for their own entertainment and he would still adore them because they're yours. And as for your girls, I think the fact that Alaric has surely filled their heads with all sorts of stories of how awful the Mikaelsons are, yet they still agreed to help Hope bring Nik back makes me think that they'll react better than you worry they will."

"Ric isn't going to be pleased. Do you think we should have told him that we were doing this?" Caroline wondered.

"I wouldn't tell him until the spell is finished and Nik is back," Rebekah answered. "At least then we'll be spared the indignant, self-righteous lectures about how horrible we all apparently are from a very biased human who doesn't seem to realize that no one cares what he thinks just because he appointed himself the morality police of the supernatural community."

Caroline had to stifle a laugh.

"I'm serious! You're trying to help young supernatural creatures adjust to their new abilities and challenges, and he's trying to indoctrinate them all into believing that the only way to be a quote-unquote good supernatural is to act human, wish you were still human, and view everything about yourself that isn't human as the root of all evil! All that teaches kids is to be ashamed of something that they can't control. I hate to think of what the school would be like if you weren't here," Rebekah continued.

"Okay, seriously, why are you being so nice to me? Ever since you got here, you've been acting like we're best friends, and so supportive of me being with Klaus in the future, when you never liked me, or Klaus's interest in me, before," Caroline asked.

"I told you, you've grown up a lot since then," Rebekah answered. "You've practically raised my niece for most of the last decade, you got Nik to come home, you let your daughters help him save Hope's life, you made my brother happy on his last day on Earth. And now you're working with Freya and me to bring him back, even though you must know the negative impact your involvement is going to have on most of your friendships."

Caroline had been trying not to think about that. She'd already considered that Alaric would hate her for being a part of the mission to resurrect Klaus, and for Lizzie and Josie being a part of it as well, but she hadn't even allowed herself to consider how Bonnie, Matt, Elena, and Damon would react, though she was certain that they wouldn't be happy.

"There has to be more to it than that," Caroline insisted.

"I spent centuries being the only one who never left Nik," Rebekah said quietly. "I was either right at his side or daggered. But since we moved back to New Orleans, he replaced me with Elijah, and while it hurt at first, eventually I realized that for the first time I was free, and I could live my life independent of Nik's schemes and insistence that no one I ever loved was good enough. I'm happy, and I don't want to give that up because Elijah is gone and Nik is terrified of being alone. Maybe if you're there he won't mind that I'm not. You make him happier than I ever could, and that's all I want for him. We all deserve to be happy."

"There's the selfish reason I was looking for," Caroline teased. "But even though you have your own self-interest, you're a good sister, Rebekah."

"You know, I can't remember the last time one of my siblings told me that. Knowing them, it was probably Henrik who said it," Rebekah smiled wistfully.

"Did your mother ever use this spell to try to bring him back?" Caroline asked.

Rebekah shook her head.

"She couldn't have," she stated. "Vampires didn't even exist until after he died, and she couldn't admit that there was a werewolf who was related to him. I wouldn't be surprised if she hadn't created this spell until one of the times she came back to life herself."

Before Caroline could offer a response, Hope, Josie, and Lizzie came into view.

Hope and Lizzie were bickering over the map, but Josie spotted them and tried to get their attention.

"They're so funny," Rebekah chuckled. "The two strong personalities and the peacemaker. Poor Josie."

Josie eventually succeeded in getting Lizzie and Hope to listen to her, and all three girls looked over towards Caroline and Rebekah, and reluctantly walking over to them, Hope looking defiant, Lizzie guilty, and Josie apologetic.

"We were wondering when you three were going to get here," Caroline greeted them with a smile when they approached.

The girls stood side by side, Josie between Lizzie and Hope, all of them looking so young in their school uniforms. Much too young to be keeping secrets and planning for spells of the magnitude that they were.

"Hi, Mom," Lizzie replied cheerfully, the start of her usual routine to try to sweet-talk her way out of trouble.

"Hi, sweetie," Caroline played along. "Girls, you know Hope's Aunt Rebekah?"

"Hi!" the twins chorused.

"Good morning," Rebekah greeted. "It's a bit early for a stroll through the woods, isn't it? You didn't want to have breakfast before school starts?"

"Look, we know we've been busted, can you just punish us so that we can all get on with our lives?" Hope inquired bluntly.

"I'm not going to punish you," Caroline told her. "But you are correct when you say that you are busted. We know exactly what you three have been conspiring on."

"How did you know?" Josie asked.

"Given our familiarity with the spell you're preparing, we knew what we were looking for," Caroline answered. "By the way, you two need to apologize to Rebekah for snapping her neck."

"I'm sorry," the twins echoed obediently.

"I accept your apology," Rebekah proclaimed grandly. "If only because I would have willingly given you my blood for your half of the spell if you'd just asked for it."

Hope's face lit up.

"You mean you'll help with the spell? You'll help me bring Dad back?"

"No, I mean that we've been working on the spell for days, just as you have, and we can all continue to work on the spell, with full knowledge of what everyone else is doing, which should cut down on you stealing things you don't actually need from your aunt," Rebekah countered. "The spell will bring your father back to life exactly as he was when he died. You don't need the necklace."

"Aunt Freya knows too? She'll give her blood, and do the spell in New Orleans?" Hope asked.

"Yes, she knows. Now that I know that you aren't hiding away because you're distraught over your mother's death, I'm leaving for New Orleans tomorrow to show Freya the exact location of your father's death. I'm going to bring a vial of your blood, which will fulfill the werewolf blood requirement of the spell, and Caroline's vial of Nik's blood, since we also need the blood of the person we're trying to resurrect in order for the spell to work, with me. Freya and I can give our blood at any time since we'll be there together, so I'll leave the vial of my blood that Thing One and Thing Two stole from me here, and I'll send one of your hybrids with Freya's blood for your part of the spell, plus you can use the vial of blood your father left you."

"And these three are going to give you her necklace so that you can return it to her," Caroline stated authoritatively.

The girls exchanged guilty looks, then Josie pulled the blue pendant out from under her shirt and over her head, handing it to Rebekah.

Caroline had to admit, that was smart of them to hide the necklace by having Josie wear it. No one would guess that it would be in her possession, much less on her person.

"Wait," Lizzie said, reaching up to unclasp a chain around her own neck. Caroline was surprised to see the necklace that Stefan had given to Elena all those years ago. "Rebekah, did you want this back?"

"Why do you have this?" Rebekah asked.

"Hope thought it might help with the spell, so we took it from where it was on display in the library and did a duplication spell so that no one would notice that it was missing. But you said we didn't need it, and since Hope said that it was yours and that Uncle Stefan stole it from you, I thought that you might want it back," Lizzie elaborated.

Rebekah looked from the silver necklace Lizzie was extending towards her to the girl's face, then took the necklace from her hand.

"Thank you," Rebekah told her.

"So we have everything?" Hope questioned.

"Nineteen days from now, when the full moon reaches its zenith, you are going to perform that spell, right where we're standing, and you are going to bring your father back," Rebekah told her.

Hope looked at the ground for a moment before raising her head confidently.

"I won't let you down," she vowed.

{ }

The next two-and-a-half weeks were a waiting game.

Hope's hybrid arrived with the vial of Freya's blood on Thursday.

Caroline and Lizzie had checked off everything on their nearly identical color-coded to-do lists, and Lizzie had used the colors they'd each used to label each vial of blood: a green paw print on Hope's, a red teardrop shape on Rebekah's, a black cartoon witch's hat on Freya's.

The blood was being stored in a box that had originally held pens in the mini-fridge in Caroline's office.

With all of the ingredients they needed at the ready, there was nothing left for them to do but wait.

The only thing that Caroline and the girls had to worry about was keeping their plans a secret from Alaric, the rest of the faculty, and the rest of the student body, which became more and more challenging as the four of them became increasingly anxious as they got closer to the approaching full moon.

The twins weren't as effected as Caroline and Hope, who resorted to stress-cleaning and frequent sessions in the gym with the punching bag, respectively.

Caroline still spoke to Rebekah and Freya over the phone almost daily, though now she allowed the twins and Hope to sit in on those conversations so that they could stay apprised of their progress as well.

While Rebekah and Freya didn't have much more to do than Caroline and the girls did, they did have an additional challenge to their half of the spell: Klaus and Elijah had died in an area of the French Quarter that was popular with tourists—and New Orleans wasn't exactly a city that shut down after dark.

Besides ensuring that no one interrupted or interfered with Freya's spell, there was also the issue of their entourage.

Marcel, who despite his complicated history with Klaus still loved the man who had raised him, wanted to be present while Freya worked to resurrect him. But Marcel had made a show of leaving town and forcing the rest of the New Orleans vampire population to do the same, so his coming back, even for this monumental occasion, might cause some problems.

Caroline naturally cared more about the first problem than the second, though she did say that Marcel, and Rebekah, if she chose to accompany her fiancé, were more than welcome to come to Mystic Falls to observe Hope's half of the spell instead of Freya's.

Rebekah had declined the invitation, saying that she couldn't leave Freya with just Keelin, especially since Hope would have Caroline and the twins for support.

Then Caroline asked about Kol.

She'd extended the same offer to come to Mystic Falls to Kol and his wife Davina, and suggesting that maybe if Kol and Davina took their place in New Orleans, maybe Rebekah and Marcel could come to Mystic Falls, if they chose to split up that way instead.

This had sent Rebekah into a rant about how Kol was selfish and horrible.

Through the insults and tears, Caroline was eventually able to gather that Kol had been informed of their efforts to bring Klaus back, along with the times and locations that they would do so, and had refused to have any part in it.

It took Caroline several more minutes to figure out that he apparently didn't want to waste his time (which Caroline had interpreted as 'get his hopes up') on a spell that may or may not work, and that he wasn't going to neglect or sacrifice the life that he and his wife had built for themselves in exchange for once again playing second fiddle to Klaus's plans and desires.

His attitude reminded Caroline of Rebekah's reasoning for supporting her relationship with Klaus. And as bizarre as it seemed her as an only child, Caroline realized that for the codependent siblings, time spend together in close proximity didn't equal love, and Kol and Rebekah had both fought hard to learn that lesson and find happiness and independence. They did both still love Klaus, of course (though convincing Klaus of that surely wouldn't be easy) but they now realized that they could love Klaus without never leaving his side and always letting their own dreams and goals and relationships take a backseat to Klaus's schemes and plots to rule the world.

Caroline reminded Rebekah that Kol had insisted that he wasn't coming to Klaus's 'funeral' either, and he had changed his mind at the last minute, so he might do the same with the spell. Then she suggested that they use Hope's hybrids to secure the area and keep tourists away while Freya was working, and that if there were no other vampires in New Orleans, they would never know that Marcel had returned to the city for a night, and even if they did know, Marcel hadn't forbidden the vampires from returning on occasion to visit loved ones who still lived in New Orleans, which was essentially what he was doing.

Rebekah seemed to calm down a little after agreeing with Caroline's suggestions.

"Since when are you the calm one while I panic?" Rebekah asked.

"I'm a mom," Caroline replied. "I've had a lot of practice acting calm while other people are freaking out. Plus, I don't care as much as you do whether or not Marcel or Kol are present when Freya does the spell. What matters is that Freya and Hope have everything they need and do the spell at the right time. I can't let myself get overwhelmed with extraneous details and forget the big picture."

"You're right," Rebekah agreed. "Marcel deserves, and wants, to be there, so he and I will be with Freya when she does the spell, and if anyone has a problem with that, then that's their problem. And as much as I would like him to be there, I can't make Kol join us."

"I really think that everything is going to turn out the way that it's supposed to, Rebekah."

{ }

Hope dressed carefully in preparation for the spell. A black military-style jacket that had belonged to her father over a forest green blouse that had been her mother's, along with dark blue skinny jeans that Rebekah had bought her and black combat boots that had also originally been Hayley's. She pulled her auburn hair into a ponytail, tying a bow around it with a hunter green tie of Elijah's that she remembered him wearing when she was little, the only time she could remember seeing her mother and her uncle together, and she remembered that he'd been wearing that green tie to match the green dress her mom had been wearing when she'd kissed her good night and left her in her father's care for the evening. But mostly she remembered that for that short time, her family had been together and as happy as the Mikaelsons were allowed to be, which was why she'd kept the tie and her mother's dress, even though she would never be tall enough to wear it.

Then she sat down on her bed and pulled out the letter that her father had written her.

She hadn't read it yet because she didn't want to know what her father had had to say before he died when she was trying to bring him back to life, and reading what had been her father's last words to her while she was endeavoring to make sure that they weren't his last words seemed like admitting defeat. But now that the moment when she had to actually perform the spell that would resurrect him was rapidly approaching, she needed to know what he'd written, just in case she failed.

"My dearest Hope," the letter opened. "When I conjure an image of you in my mind, it is not of the strong and beautiful young woman you grew up to be in my absence, or of the screaming newborn determinedly fighting your way into the world that you were when I first laid eyes on you, but of the bright-eyed little girl who stopped to fix a butterfly's broken wing—and then asked me not to tell her mother that she'd used her magic. For years I believed that there was nothing good or human left in me, and though others did try to convince me otherwise, I couldn't accept their words as truth until I saw what good there was in me replicated in you. I was asked why I wasn't spending my final moments with you giving you all the life advice I could, sharing every detail I thought you might find useful, and the reason is this: there is no advice that I can give you that will make this easier, or that will make up for all the pain I've caused you and the years I couldn't be with you, but I know that you are brave enough and strong enough to survive anything. I know that you will be angry with me for doing this, and I suppose I'll deserve your wrath, but I do not regret the decision I've made. My only regret—what has always been my only regret—is missing so much of your life. You are the best of me, the best of us; the legacy of a family born from magic and bathed in blood, bound by the promise of always and forever.

I love you."

Hope wiped her eyes on the sleeves of her father's jacket and slipped the letter into the breast pocket, then focused her gaze on the painting of the wolves hanging above her bed, trying to draw strength from the image as she waited for her tears to dry and her breathing to return to normal.

Once she was ready, she walked down the hall and knocked once on the door of the twins' room.

Lizzie and Josie quickly slipped out the door, both wearing warm peacoats—Josie's navy, Lizzie's burgundy—jeans, and boots. Josie had left her dark, wavy hair free to bounce on her shoulders, while Lizzie's was restrained in two long braids.

The three girls crept along the corridors to Caroline's office.

The moon wasn't scheduled to reach its zenith for another hour, but it was already past curfew, and they needed to make sure that no one saw them wandering the halls until they were with the headmistress, whom no one would question.

Caroline was sitting at her desk, on the phone, when they arrived.

"I have to go, Bekah, the girls are here," she said into the phone, before hanging up and getting to her feet.

Caroline was dressed almost entirely in black, from her long coat to her skinny jeans tucked into tall boots, with the exception of the grey sweater that was visible because her coat was unbuttoned.

"Are you ready?" Caroline asked them, directing the question primarily to Hope.

All three girls nodded.

"This is your last chance to go back to bed and pretend you know nothing about this," Caroline told the twins. "I'll cover for you with your dad. He won't have to know you were involved at all if you've changed your minds and you don't want to go through with it."

"We're staying," Josie declared.

"We aren't going to do all the work and then give up before we get to the good part, come on Mom," Lizzie added.

"Okay," Caroline agreed, gathering up their supplies and ushering them out the door.

Hope offered the younger girls a small, grateful smile, which they both returned.

It took them longer than it had before to reach Klaus's birthplace, since it was dark outside and only Caroline had enhanced vampire senses. Every dark, shadowy tree looked the same, which Lizzie complained gave her the creeps. She also complained about being cold, though she insisted that she was fine and she wanted to be there whenever her mother asked her if she wanted to go back to the school.

Aside from Lizzie's complaining and Caroline's checking on her, the four of them trekked through the woods in silence, too anxious to contribute to a conversation.

Eventually, they made it to where they needed to be.

"We're in position," Caroline announced into her cell phone to Rebekah, who was sticking to Freya like glue until the spell was over. With Hope and Freya preoccupied performing the spell, they had all agreed that Caroline and Rebekah would keep each other informed of what was going on at their location so they could each pass that information along to the rest of their groups.

"They're ready," Caroline told Hope and the twins after hanging up. "Let's get all of our supplies ready so that as soon as the moon is in position you can start the spell."

Caroline had packed everything in an inconspicuous box that had once held two pairs of boots that she'd ordered online, so that no one would see anything suspicious.

Between Caroline and Hope, they'd collected an impressive inventory of Klaus's belongings that had to be enough to anchor his essence. Hope had offered up a sketch he'd done of her as a young girl, sitting on her father's lap and eating beignets; a black henley; one of the books he'd bequeathed to her; and the letter that had been enclosed in that package; while Caroline had contributed the snowflake painting; the accompanying note; and a leather necklace that was suspiciously torn. Fortunately, the spell didn't demand that these things needed to be destroyed, just present during the spell.

"Okay," Caroline studied the items, trying to determine the best way to arrange them.

She put down the painting first, then stacked the letters and the sketch on top of it. In the center, she placed the small bowl that would hold the blood they needed on top of the pile of papers, then wrapped the shirt around it to help stabilize it, doing the same with the necklace.

"The only thing left to do is add the blood," Hope said.

"Can we do that ahead of time, too, or do we need to wait?" Josie asked.

"We have to wait. Combining the blood is what starts the spell," Caroline explained.

"We'll have to move fast, then, if we have to pour all of the blood in the bowl and do the spell before the moon moves past its zenith," Hope concluded

"Right, Rebekah and I talked about this. Freya has a plan," Caroline recalled as she pulled out the box containing the four vials of blood. "The blood has to go in in order: the person we're trying to bring back, the witch, the werewolf, and the vampire. In our case, it's Klaus, Freya, Hope, and Rebekah. Freya was going to divide it up, so that each of the four people, including her, would have one vial and could start pouring theirs in as soon as the person before them finished, so one person didn't have to juggle all four vials themselves. She told me that Marcel would have Klaus's, Freya and Rebekah would each have their own, and Keelin would have Hope's. We can do the same thing since there are also four of us."

The girls nodded.

Caroline handed Hope the vial of her own blood, the vial of Freya's blood to Josie, and the vial of Rebekah's blood to Lizzie, keeping the vial of Klaus's blood for herself.

"Okay, as soon as that alarm rings, I'm going to pour Klaus's blood into the bowl. Josie, be ready to do the same with yours as soon as I'm finished. Then Hope after Josie, and Lizzie after Hope," Caroline instructed.

"Ten more minutes," Hope announced as she pulled out her phone to check the picture she'd taken of the spell.

"Remember, if it doesn't work this time, we're still going to do the spell again when the full moon reaches its zenith in New Orleans," Caroline reminded them.

Hope nodded.

Lizzie shivered and shifted her weight from side to side.

Josie kept a death grip on the vial of Freya's blood, as if she was afraid it would disappear if she didn't hold it tightly enough.

Hope adjusted the tie around her ponytail.

Caroline offered them all reassuring smiles.

"So, anyone know any good knock-knock jokes?" Lizzie asked.

"Lizzie," Josie and Hope groaned in unison.

"I was just trying to break the tension," Lizzie defended.

Hope let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes at Lizzie, who shrugged, looking rather pleased with herself, as her silly comment had, in fact, broken the tension.

Then the alarm went off.

Caroline quickly crouched down and filled the bowl with Klaus's blood. In seconds, she was finished, and then Josie, Hope, and Lizzie in turn were upending their vials into the bowl, and Hope started chanting the spell as the full moon shown down on them from directly overhead.

Nothing happened.

Hope kept chanting, her voice getting louder, her eyes closed tightly, her fists clenched, and still, nothing happened.

"Hope! Hope, stop, it isn't working!" Caroline exclaimed.

"It has to work, we did everything right!" Hope cried.

"I know, and we'll do it again in an hour when the full moon reaches its zenith in New Orleans. It will work then, I promise," Caroline told her.

Caroline knew that it was dangerous to promise Hope that the spell would work the second time when she had no way of knowing for sure if that was true, but it seemed like the only way to get her to calm down.

"Right," Hope nodded, as Caroline had predicted, returning to her usual demeanor of stubborn determination at the reminder of a plan.

When Caroline's phone rang, they all knew that it was Rebekah.

"No, nothing here either," Caroline told her. "We'll try again in an hour."

"I'm going back to the school to get you girls some water and snacks, do you want anything else?" Caroline asked once she'd finished her conversation with Rebekah.

All three of them shook their heads.

Caroline sped away and returned moments later with four bottles of water and an assortment of candy bars.

Hope rushed to grab the York Peppermint Patty, Lizzie claimed the Milky Way, and Josie took the 3 Musketeers.

They all seemed marginally more content after the influx of sugar—at least until Lizzie and Hope started squabbling over the lone Twix, prompting Caroline to step in like when the girls were years younger, breaking the candy bar in half and giving the left side to Hope and the right side to Lizzie.

"So if combining the blood is what starts the spell, how are we going to do the spell again in… forty-three minutes?" Hope asked.

"I'm not completely certain about this," Caroline admitted. "But from the way Freya explained it, we aren't entirely starting over, just repeating the spell at both time zones, so it's almost like the spell is at least partly ongoing, even without you saying the words the whole time."

"Magic is complicated," Lizzie sighed from where she was lying on the ground. "Chocolate isn't complicated. Chocolate just tastes good, and that's all there is to it."

"Is she okay?" Hope asked Caroline.

"Lizzie's fine, she just doesn't handle being up past her bedtime as well as she'd like to," Caroline answered.

"Now I wish I had Skittles," Lizzie continued dreamily. "Except the green ones and the purple ones, those aren't yummy."

"The green ones are the best kind," Hope argued.

"Lizzie, honey, are you sure you don't want to go to bed?" Caroline asked.

"No, I'm not sleepy," Lizzie insisted, clumsily getting to her feet.

They passed the rest of the time until the second alarm went off in silence, each of them caught up in their own thoughts.

"Ready?" Caroline asked Hope.

"I'm ready," Hope answered.

And then once again, she started chanting the spell.

This time, as soon as she started the spell, the blood in the bowl immediately caught fire.

Lizzie and Josie screamed, clutching each other's hands, and Caroline wrapped an arm around each of their shoulders to pull them further away from the flames.

Then Caroline's phone rang again.

"Did that just happen to you too?!" Rebekah screamed loud enough for all of them to hear.

"Yes!" Caroline replied.

"Do you think that means it's working? I can't ask Freya, obviously," Rebekah continued.

"I think it's a good sign," Caroline hedged. "That didn't happen last time."

"Mom!" Josie shouted, pointing towards the bowl. Thick, dark clouds of smoke were gathering around the bowl. But what seemed odd was that the smoke appeared to be completely unconnected to the flames, instead originating from the blood underneath them.

"What is whichever one that was yelling about, nothing's changed!" Rebekah demanded.

"You mean there isn't smoke surrounding the bowl you filled with blood?" Caroline asked.

"No, there's no smoke," Rebekah confirmed. "I don't understand, why would there be smoke there but not here?"

Hope continued chanting as the smoke continued to grow, getting nearer and nearer to her as she worked. Caroline wanted to pull her away from the smoke as she had with the twins, but she couldn't risk breaking Hope's concentration when she was so close to fulfilling her goal.

So Caroline, Lizzie, and Josie could only watch over Hope's shoulder from where they stood, slightly to her right and a few paces behind her, as the smoke changed.

It grew even denser than before, and moved to one side of the bowl instead of surrounding it. It moved upward until it reached a height of a few inches taller than Caroline, and several inches taller than any of the girls, and then stopped.

And arranged itself into the unmistakable shape of a human head.

Caroline gasped, and Lizzie screamed again.

"Caroline, what happened?" Rebekah asked.

No one spoke, watching transfixed as the smoke figure grew a neck, and shoulders, and arms, and a torso.

"Caroline?" Rebekah repeated.

Then the smoke figure had hands, and legs, and feet.

"Mom, is that—?" Lizzie asked timidly.

"Yeah," Caroline answered.

"Is that what? Caroline, answer me!" Rebekah demanded.

Suddenly, the fire went out. Accustomed to its light, Caroline and the twins blinked rapidly and waited for their eyes to adjust to the darkness.

With Caroline's vampire senses, she was the first to recover.

And by the time that she did, a solid, breathing, miraculously alive Original Hybrid Klaus Mikaelson was standing less than a foot from a still-chanting Hope, whose eyes were still closed.

"Caroline?" Rebekah called out. "Care? What's going on? Are you still there?"

Caroline took a deep breath before replying.

"Bekah, it worked."

{ }

Caroline was only vaguely aware of Rebekah telling her that they were on their way to Mystic Falls and that she would call Kol to let him know that the spell had been a success, as Hope fell silent and opened her eyes.

"Daddy?" she whispered, flinging herself forward into his arms.

Klaus wrapped his arms around her securely, his eyes glowing with pride.

"Oh, my strong girl," Klaus murmured into her hair. "You've been so brave, my littlest wolf."

That was when everyone broke down in tears: Klaus was crying, Hope was crying, Caroline was crying, Lizzie was crying, Josie was crying.

It was only then that Klaus seemed to notice that Caroline and her daughters were present. Caroline wasn't offended; she knew that if she returned from the dead after several weeks, she would only have eyes for her children as well.

But Klaus met her eyes and gently relinquished his grip on Hope, stepping around her to approach Caroline.

"Caroline," Klaus stated quietly, her name sounding just as lyrical as it always had when he said it.

Caroline let go of her own daughters and took a quick step to her left, around Josie, so that there was nothing separating them.

"Klaus," Caroline returned quietly, just before he swept her into his arms.

One of his hands tangled in her hair while the other rested on her back, as Caroline wrapped her arms around Klaus's neck, burying her face in his shoulder.

"Look at you," Klaus said, leaning back a little and gently pushing Caroline away from him slightly to look at her more closely. "If I wasn't so certain of where I was, I would think you were an angel sent to greet me."

Caroline blushed.

"Welcome back," she replied.

"Thank you, love," Klaus responded. "This is quite the welcoming committee. Thank you for making sure she didn't have to do this alone."

"Of course," Caroline nodded. "Though Hope never actually asked for my help. Tweedledee and Tweedledum over there were her trusty sidekicks. Once we figured out what they were up to, we decided to all work together."

Klaus glanced over Caroline's shoulder at Lizzie and Josie, who were still holding hands and shivering in the cold, early morning air. Hope stood stiffly off to the side, her arms crossed over her chest, her ponytail balancing on her left shoulder.

"Who exactly is 'we?'" Klaus wanted to know.

"All of your favorite blondes," Caroline answered with a smile. "Me, Rebekah, Freya. They're on their way with Marcel and Keelin, by the way. Rebekah said that she was going to call Kol, so he might come too."

Klaus didn't say anything in response, but Caroline could tell that he was pleased that his family was coming to see him. She moved to pull away from him, knowing that the girls must be growing suspicious that Klaus seemed almost happier to see her than he had been to see Hope, but paused when she saw Klaus smile as she loosened her grip.

"The bracelet I gave you, what's your excuse for wearing that?" he asked cheekily.

Only Klaus would come back to life and immediately focus his attention on what Caroline was wearing, turning smug once he realized she wore a gift he had given her.

"You're alive," Caroline replied earnestly, half crying and half laughing.

Klaus leaned in closer so that he could whisper in her ear, "We're fugitives on the run, all signs lead to—"

Caroline placed her index finger on his lips to cut him off, rolling her eyes when Klaus kissed her finger.

"Our children are standing right there, do not finish that sentence," Caroline ordered. "And have you ever thought about how creepy it is that you've memorized every word I've ever said to you?"

"I prefer to think of it as constant attentiveness to prove my devotion to you, sweetheart," Klaus countered.

"Of course you do," Caroline rolled her eyes, pleasantly surprised at how easily she and Klaus were falling back into their old patterns of easy banter.

Klaus did reluctantly let Caroline go when they heard one of the twins yawn quietly from behind them.

"Your girls look like they might fall asleep any second now, and though I confess I don't know what time or even what day it is, it must be late, and well past time they should be in bed," Klaus said.

"It's Sunday—well, no, I guess it's Monday now. April 26th," Caroline informed him. "And it must be after 1 a.m. by now."

"April?" Klaus echoed.

"We had to wait for the full moon," Hope piped up. "We've been preparing for the spell for weeks."

"What's all this?" Klaus asked, gesturing to the pile of his belongings still on the ground.

"We needed things that belonged to you to help anchor your essence, as part of the spell," Caroline answered. "And the bowl was for the blood we needed to complete the spell."

"Whose blood did you need?" Klaus asked.

"Yours, Hope's, Freya's, and Rebekah's," Caroline replied. "The blood of the person we wanted to bring back, plus the blood of a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire related by blood to that person. And the spell had to be performed when the full moon reached its zenith by two witches related to you by blood, one at the exact location of your birth—which is here, and one at the exact location of your death—which is why Freya and Rebekah were in New Orleans rather than here with us."

"That is almost disconcertingly uncomplicated," Klaus noted.

"It's your mother's spell, blame her," Caroline shrugged.

"I blame her for far more than just that," Klaus said.

Caroline leaned down to collect all of the things that she'd brought, putting the empty vials and the girls' empty water bottles and candy wrappers in the bowl before putting it all back in the box.

"Okay girls, let's go," Caroline called to the twins. "You three need to get some sleep, you have school in the morning."

All three of them immediately began to protest.

"I never told you that I would be excusing you from class," Caroline reminded them.

"I literally just brought my father back from the dead, I deserve the day off!" Hope argued.

"We helped! We should get the day off, too!" Lizzie insisted.

Caroline heard Klaus chuckle from behind her and turned to glare at him, not wanting his amusement with the situation to encourage the girls to keep arguing with her.

"I'm not giving any of you the day off!" Caroline repeated.

"But Ms. Forbes—"

"I've told you that you can call me Caroline, Hope."

"Caroline—"

"Hope, I understand, but I can't excuse you. That would set a dangerous precedent and I can't have your fellow students thinking that they'll be rewarded for using advanced magic, without permission, for personal reasons. However, as with any student, if a parent or guardian were to check you out of school for the day for whatever reason, I can't stop them."

Hope immediately turned to Klaus.

"We'll discuss it in the morning, after you've gotten some sleep," Klaus told her.

Hope seemed satisfied with his response.

"Mom, that isn't fair," Lizzie whined.

"I'm not arguing with you, Elizabeth, especially not at two in the morning," Caroline said.

The five of them made their way through the woods as quickly as they could, exhausted but eager to go to bed.

They all let out a sigh of relief when they finally arrived back at the school.

"Go brush your teeth and change into your pajamas, I'll be there in a few minutes to check on you," Caroline told the twins, who tiredly shuffled off in the direction of their room.

Klaus turned and smiled over his shoulder at her as Hope led him towards her own room.

Caroline smiled back, the magnitude of what had just happened finally hitting her now that they were all safe and sound in the warmth and comfort of the school:

They had done it. They'd brought Klaus back. Klaus was alive.

{ }

Caroline returned to her office after she'd checked on the twins, who had been out like lights the moment their heads had hit their pillows, wearing the sweaters they'd had on under their coats with their pajama bottoms.

She was putting everything she'd brought for the spell back in its proper place, leaving Hope's in a pile for her to retrieve later that day, when Klaus walked in.

"Hope is fast asleep," Klaus informed her. "And I hope this won't cause you any trouble with your daughters, but I would like to spend the day with her tomorrow, if you don't mind."

"That's fine," Caroline replied. "You're her parent, you get to decide if she can miss school. And personally, I think that you two spending the day working on getting your relationship back on track is a better use of her time than whatever she'd be learning in class."

"Hayley was always the better parent between the two of us," Klaus said.

Caroline had been anticipating having this conversation, in which Klaus insisted that he would be a horrible father and that Hope would be better off without him, but she hadn't expected to have it in the middle of night, mere hours after they brought Klaus back to life.

As she scrambled to come up with a thorough and articulate response that would be honest, thoughtful, constructive, Caroline wondered why Klaus had started by comparing himself to Hayley, when she didn't view parenting as a competition, especially between two parents co-parenting their child.

"Hayley had more experience being a parent than you did," Caroline countered. "When you sacrificed yourself to keep your siblings alive and were imprisoned for five years, Hayley was with Hope all of that time. And when you were forced to consume a part of the dark magic that threatened to destroy Hope, your family ensured that Hayley wouldn't have to make that sacrifice and could stay with Hope for all of those years that you couldn't go near her without risking hurting her."

"It isn't just that," Klaus insisted. "I look at Hope, and everything good in her came from her mother: her strength, her grace, her determination, her fighting spirit. All I seem to have given her is a quick temper, anger, and an interest in art. Hayley was the best of us, too good to be a Mikaelson, really."

Caroline knew from her other conversations with Klaus about Hope in recent months that he still had some lingering fears about being a good father, but she also knew that being so self-deprecating while canonizing Hayley wasn't going to help him get over them.

"That isn't how genetics works; a child doesn't only inherit good traits from one parent and only bad traits from the other. I actually think that Hope is more like you than you realize. But if that's your attitude, then fine," Caroline threw her hands in the air. "If you're convinced that there's no way you could ever possibly measure up to Saint Hayley, Queen of the Wolves, Mother of the Millennium, the Best of the Mikaelsons—while also being too good to be a Mikaelson, as if that makes any sense—then fine. But Hayley is gone, and you're the only parent Hope has, and considering how much time and effort she invested into bringing you back to life. I think she wants you around. You don't have to be perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. No one makes the right decision 100% of the time, or never makes mistakes. And for the record, I don't think that Hayley was the picture of perfect motherhood that you think she was. She willingly lived in a different state and even a different time zone from her child, even though there was no reason for her to. She could have easily moved into your mansion here and seen Hope after class every day, but she didn't. She had a choice between proximity to her werewolf pack and proximity to her daughter, and she chose the wolves. Which meant that even though she called and texted and FaceTimed all the time, she still missed a lot of the day-in and day-out of Hope's life just like you did."

Caroline was pleased to Klaus look slightly relieved, at least for a moment before appearing worried again.

"I don't know how to do that," Klaus confessed, taking a small step closer to Caroline, then changing his mind and retreating. "To be a parent who's there every day."

"You've never had to do it before," Caroline pointed out. "And I think that was easier, wasn't it? It was easier for you to be a 'good father' who nobly sacrificed his own relationship with his daughter in order to save her life, rather than actually be a good father who shows up and comforts her when she gets a bad grade on a test, or teaches her how to ride a bike, or asks her about what she learned in school that day."

The almost wounded look on Klaus's face told Caroline that she'd seen right through Klaus's excuses and straight to his worst fear: that, like his own father, he would be incapable of being a good father and would hurt Hope more with his presence than he had with his absence.

But Klaus didn't have the option of being Hope's rich absentee father who paid for everything she and her mother needed from a distance anymore. Now he was Hope's only living parent, and he needed to be present in her life.

"You know better than nearly anyone that I didn't have a good father," Klaus said.

"If I were you, that would make me all the more determined to be a good one just to prove that you're better than him. That he has no hold on you. That you refuse to inflict the same pain on your child that he inflicted on you," Caroline encouraged, taking a step towards Klaus. "You already know how not to be a good father from your own experience. You just have to make an effort to do things differently, to treat Hope better than your father treated you."

"I just don't want her to be ashamed of me," Klaus admitted. "When Hayley would introduce me as Hope's father, I could tell that she was ashamed."

"I'm sure that after living for a thousand years you're familiar with the concept of slut-shaming," Caroline said.

"No one ever said anything like that to Hayley," Klaus waved off Caroline's explanation. "It was me she was ashamed of, not the situation. But she wrote me letters, telling me about how Hope was doing, and they were all returned to her when they couldn't be delivered—"

"Why didn't she just asked Freya to send them to you?" Caroline interrupted. "Mail using magic doesn't require an address."

Caroline had done that herself, when she'd asked the twins to send Klaus the condolence letter she'd written after Hayley's death. She'd simply told the girls who the letter was for, and they'd done the spell, which ensured that the letter simply appeared in front of its intended recipient.

Klaus shrugged.

"My point is, in one of the letters, Hayley wrote that even considering all of the incredibly unlikely circumstances, and all of the 'petty crap,' as she called it, that led to Hope's existence, she wouldn't change anything, because Hope was the only thing in her life that made her feel like she was lucky."

Caroline was shocked that anyone could refer to the deaths of twelve innocent people so callously, especially when their deaths came as a result of their own deliberate actions; and that Klaus seemed to feel so pleased at having earned this person's approval—if the admission that she didn't regret the drunken one-night-stand she'd had with him, not because of him, but because the child they had created during that night was so powerful and special and apparently the best thing to ever happen to her, counted as approval.

"'Petty crap,' a phrase which here means, 'the cold-blooded and heartless betrayal of twelve hybrids that she manipulated into believing she was their friend who was only trying to help them, then manipulated you into killing them for a sacrifice as part of her own selfish agenda,'" Caroline rolled her eyes. "It seems grossly unfair to me that you killed Tyler's mother in retaliation for his part in that plan, while you gave Hayley the only thing that's ever made her feel like she was lucky, even though she was the evil mastermind, not him. Hope didn't only inherit her deviousness from you."

"I'm going to need your help, with her," Klaus said.

"In my official capacity as headmistress of the Salvatore School, I will do everything I can to help you and Hope adjust to your new family situation," Caroline offered. "But I'm not Hope's mother, and from what you've said, it seems like no one could possibly compare to Hope's mother in your eyes. I understand that a lot of it was influenced by you feeling sorry for yourself, so you threw yourself a solo pity party, but idolizing Hayley and demonizing yourself isn't helping anyone, and neither is trying to convince me to take on your responsibilities as Hope's parent."

"All right, if you say that I need an attitude adjustment, then I will adjust my attitude," Klaus nodded emphatically in agreement. "Hayley did her best to be a good mother to Hope and a good Alpha to the Crescent Wolves, and while she wasn't perfect, because no one is, and she made some mistakes, she was loved, admired, and respected by both her daughter and her wolf pack, which I suppose it the best any of us can strive for."

"That's the spirit!" Caroline cheered, pleased with herself for having gotten through to him. "That is exactly how you should think of her. No more of this totally bizarre and very out of character hero worship of Hayley, it was freaking me out. We're all just doing our best; parenting is not a competition."

Klaus smiled.

"I've missed you," he told her. "Where would I be without you?"

"You'd probably be—" Caroline started to joke but cut herself off.

"Dead," Klaus finished for her. "I would be dead, if not for you. And I don't know how Rebekah convinced you to help her and Freya bring me back, but I'm very grateful to you."

It broke Caroline's heart that Klaus thought that she'd had to be persuaded to help bring him back, and she wanted to tell him that the whole thing had been her idea, but she knew that he wouldn't believe her, that he would insist that she was just trying to make him feel better.

"Well, maybe I missed you, too," Caroline opted to play coy to take some of the emotional weight from her statement.

"Is that so?" Klaus smirked.

"Only a little, though," Caroline continued.

"I'll take what I can get," Klaus responded.

They fell into a silence that was… Caroline couldn't exactly put her finger on it. Nervous, perhaps; or possibly even shy? There was tension in it, with unspoken words simmering under the surface.

"As much as I appreciate your parenting advice, love, I would much rather talk about you than me," Klaus eventually broke the silence.

"Do you have any parenting advice you'd like to offer me?" Caroline asked.

Klaus shook his head.

"That isn't what I meant and you know it," he told her.

"Then what did you mean? What do you want to know about me, about what I've been doing since the last time I saw you? Do you really want to hear about how I cried so much on the drive back to Mystic Falls that if I weren't a vampire I would have crashed my car and died a dozen times over? Or about how I couldn't even look at Hope for weeks after she came back to school, because if it weren't for her, you would be alive? Or about how I refused to speak to Alaric because he kept offering these phony sympathetic platitudes? You were gone for eight weeks, and I spent the first four grieving over you and the last four spending every waking moment working on this spell that promised to bring you back!" Caroline exclaimed, not entirely certain at what point in her rant that she'd started crying.

Klaus had maintained a respectful distance between them throughout their conversation, but as soon as Caroline finished speaking, he rushed forward and gently pulled her into his arms.

Caroline gratefully collapsed against him, the comfortable feeling of his solid body supporting the weight of her own reminding her that he was real, he was alive, he was here.

"I never wanted that for you," Klaus offered apologetically. "You said that you would never forget me, and even that seemed more generous than I deserved. All I could have asked for was for you to think of me every once in a while, maybe if you took your girls to an art museum, or if Rebekah invited you to her wedding, or if you ever travelled to Rome. I hate to be the cause of your sadness."

"And what do you want, now that you've gotten a second chance at life?" Caroline asked.

"You," Klaus answered with a smile that somehow managed to be sincere, mischievous, and smug, all at the same time. "All I want is you, even if you do make me chase you around for a few more centuries, because I meant it when I promised you that I would wait for you however long it takes, and I mean it when I tell you now that I still will wait, if that's what you want."

Caroline had to admit that the way he'd taken the opening she'd unintentionally given him was smooth, and she loved his romantic promises just as much now as she had when he'd first made them, but something about his answer still nagged at her as being wrong somehow.

"I honestly don't know," Caroline confessed, feeling like they should have more physical space between them during this conversation but unwilling to separate from him. "I admire that you want to keep the promises that you made me, but both our circumstances have dramatically changed since then. We both have children now, and we need to figure out how we all fit into each other's lives and families, and I'm honestly not sure that we're prepared for that."

"Caroline…"

"No, it's true," Caroline insisted. "When you promised to take me anywhere I wanted to go and show me everything the world has to offer, did you anticipate three teenage girls accompanying us on these travels? When you promised to be my last love, did you ever imagine that that would mean being stepfather to the pair of siphoner witch twins that were magically implanted in my womb without my knowledge or consent? It isn't just about me and what I want anymore, I have to think about what's best for my children. And even without considering them, I'm not sure either of us are ready for last loves."

"I am," Klaus proclaimed. "And I wouldn't have given you the money and the gifts and the letters if I wasn't."

"But have you ever thought about what that meant?" Caroline inquired. "Rebekah told me about Camille, that you told her you loved her when she was dying, which meant you didn't have to act on it, you didn't have to prove it… you didn't have to meant it. And then you tell me you love me when you're dying, so you can see how I might make the comparison between the situations. Can you at least try to see this from my point of view? You promise to be my last love, however long it takes, and then you have a baby with someone else and allegedly fall in love with another blonde, and it seems like you built a life for yourself that had no place for me in it. Were you just hoping that Camille would die before I came to collect so that you wouldn't have to choose?"

The thought had been nagging at Caroline ever since Rebekah had brought up Camille. No, she hadn't expected Klaus to wait chastely until she decided she wanted to be with him, but what if he had been with someone else when she did? She'd never been the one that anyone chose, and the possibility of Klaus not choosing her after all of the promises he'd made her was devastating.

"I would always choose you, Caroline," Klaus vowed solemnly. "There are only two people in the world that I would sacrifice my life for, and I've already died for one of them. Now that you, and our daughters, and my sisters have brought me back to life, I don't want to waste any more time. I wish to spend every day of the rest of my immortal life with you, loving you as you deserve to be loved, and I'll do whatever it takes to prove my sincerity to you. I love you, Caroline, and I'm not saying it because I'm dying, or because you're dying, or because I think saying it will get me what I want, I'm saying it because it's true. I love you."

Caroline already knew, had known for years, that Klaus loved her, but still, hearing him saying out loud for the first time made her heart skip a beat.

"And I love you, too, but I've learned that relationships, especially relationships involving vampires, are more complicated than just two people loving each other," Caroline replied. "As soon as I left New Orleans I regretted not realizing it and telling you sooner. I want you to be my last love like you promised, and I want to be with you for the rest of our lives, but that's a really long time and if our relationship didn't work out, I don't know if I'd ever recover from that. And relationships are the one thing in my life that I've never been able to hold together through sheer force of will. The power of positive thinking won't be enough to keep you with me if Hope doesn't like me, or one of your siblings doesn't like me, or if in a decade you decide that you changed your mind and you don't want to commit to one person for the rest of your life. If you and I are together, then we're a family—you and me and our daughters—and I can't put my girls through their family breaking up, not again, and not after what my parents' divorce did to me. I know that nothing is ever completely certain, but I can't start this unless I know for certain that it's never going to end."

Klaus looked stunned, and it took Caroline a second to realize that he looked so shocked because she'd just casually blurted out that she loved him, which she'd never said to him before. She'd spent so long denying and ignoring her feelings for him, but now that they'd managed to bring Klaus back to life, she didn't want to waste any more time either, and telling Klaus that she loved him in response to him telling her that he loved her felt not only natural but necessary, as if she didn't even want to consider the possibility of not telling him that she loved him.

"What do you need to be sure that your heart and your family is safe with me?" Klaus asked. "What can I say, what can I do, to reassure you that I've never been as certain about anything as I am that I will love you until the end of time. I will answer any questions you ask me, completely and truthfully. If you want the passwords to my bank accounts or the daggers I use on my siblings, you can have them. If you want to get married, I will go compel a judge to marry us right now."

"Wow," Caroline giggled.

"Do you like the sound of that, then?" Klaus asked, smiling. "My beautiful bride. Mrs. Caroline Mikaelson."

Then he leaned in and kissed her, and Caroline hadn't even known how much she'd wanted him to, how much she'd needed to feel his lips on hers, until the moment that their lips met.

Klaus was the one to pull away from their passionate embrace a moment later.

"I would invite you to my home to continue this, but I didn't think to add myself to the spell that allows you and Rebekah to enter any of my properties without an invitation, since I didn't think it would be necessary at the time, so I can't actually go inside my house here unless we wake up Elizabeth and ask her to invite me in, and I don't think either of us want to explain to Elizabeth why we need to wake her up and ask her to invite me in at the moment," he said.

"When you say 'continue this,' do you mean our discussion, or the kissing?" Caroline asked.

"Both," Klaus answered.

"Well, you've already been invited inside my house…" Caroline invited.

"Wonderful," Klaus replied.

{ }

"Caroline Elizabeth Forbes!" Alaric shouted as he barged through the doors of her office several hours later.

"Oh, no. You're going to turn around and try that again," Caroline insisted.

Alaric looked confused.

"I am your partner in running this school, and in parenting our girls, Ric," Caroline continued. "If there's a problem, we can have a calm and rational discussion about it and agree to a solution. You do not burst into my office and scold me like I'm a misbehaving child who needs to be disciplined."

Alaric looked thoroughly chastised, so Caroline decided to let the subject drop for now.

"Hope wasn't in my European history class this morning," Alaric told her.

Caroline already knew this, of course, having been present when Klaus had checked Hope out of school an hour-and-a-half earlier.

"I sent a student to her dorm to see if she was sick, but she wasn't there," Alaric continued. "So I called the office, and the attendance secretary told me that Hope's father had checked her out for the day."

"And who was supervising the other thirty students in the class while you were searching for this one?" Caroline asked.

Caroline had no problem with Alaric giving Hope, the only tribrid not just at the school but in existence, a little extra attention and specialized instruction, but this blatant favoritism at the expense of a classroom full of kids wasn't okay.

"This is what I was afraid of," Alaric shook his head. "You don't seem surprised. And you may have had a misguided crush on Klaus when you were a teenager, but I didn't think you were delusional. Klaus Mikaelson is dead, Caroline. So we need to figure out what's actually going on, because Hope might be in trouble."

"Hope isn't in trouble, she's with her father," Caroline replied. "As of about one o'clock last night, Klaus is alive. If you don't believe me, you can ask Klaus himself, or Hope, or Rebekah and Freya Mikaelson, or Lizzie and Josie, all of whom were involved in the spell to bring him back."

"You dragged our daughters into this?!" Alaric was outraged. "I thought I made it very clear that I didn't want him anywhere near my children, Caroline!"

"They're my children, too, Ric," Caroline retorted coldly. "And I didn't drag them into anything. They willingly offered their help when Hope asked them for it. Maybe they saw how hypocritical it was of you to do everything you could think of to express your sympathy and concern when her mother died, but do nothing when her father died. No one asked you to like Klaus, but if you were really that concerned about Hope, you could have at least acknowledged that she lost both of her parents in a matter of weeks. And now you're running around trying to organize a search party for Hope when she's perfectly safe, reconnecting with her dad, and ignoring the classroom full of students that you're supposed to be teaching right now because you thought an imposter had kidnapped Hope, or, what scared you more because you always knew it was the more likely option, Klaus was alive, and much to your shock and dismay, no one bothered to ask your permission before resurrecting him. So if there's anyone in this room right now who's letting their feelings for Klaus Mikaelson cloud their judgment, it's you."

Alaric's face was now a startling combination of furious and stunned.

"How am I supposed to protect these kids when I don't know what's happening under this roof?" he challenged. "If students figure out that we're not on the same page, they'll find a way to take advantage of that. This won't work if I have to be the disciplinarian and you get to be the fun headmistress who will help all the students magically resurrect their dead parents. I don't know what's gotten into you—and I know we're both thinking that if Damon were here, he would make some innuendo about Klaus getting into you, but if that's true I would really rather not know about it—but I will not allow you to undermine my authority as headmaster of this school and as Josie and Lizzie's father ever again."

Caroline blushed at Alaric's suggestive remark, willing herself not to think about the multiple times Klaus had 'gotten into her' in the early hours of that morning, about the sweet and gentle way he held her and kissed his way across her skin, about his voice as he murmured that he loved her and that she was beautiful in between kisses—for the sake of her self-control and of Alaric's apparently delicate sensibilities.

"I can't promise you that," Caroline responded. "I can't walk on eggshells around you and ask your permission every time I want to do anything. This won't work if you try to force me to be subservient to you when it comes to the girls, or the school. Students would find a way to take advantage of that, too. Newsflash: teenagers test boundaries and try to get away with breaking the rules. They don't need my help with that, nor will they ask for it. Look, I love Klaus, and Klaus loves me, and he's going to be an important part of my life, which means he's going to be a part of the girls' lives, too. I'm not asking for your permission, and I'm not going to deny my feelings for him just because they make you uncomfortable, or because for some reason you think that you get a say in my love life just because your late wife's crazy witch coven saw me as the best available option to keep the twins alive and magically transferred them from her to me without my consent. Don't get me wrong, I love being Lizzie and Josie's mom more than anything in the world, but this part of my life is not yours to dictate."

Alaric started to pace the width of Caroline's office.

"I don't like this," he stated. "I don't like Klaus, and I don't like the idea of him spending a lot of time around the girls. I don't want them thinking that all of the murder and maiming and manipulation he does is okay."

Caroline rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"First of all, I can't control him, and even if I could, I don't want to, so no, I'm not going to force him to adhere to a prescribed list of acceptable behavior as determined by you, in exchange for what, your permission for us to be together? And second of all, I won't let him hurt anyone in front of the girls, and even if I did, he wouldn't, both for the sake of their safety and psychological health, and for the sake of efficiency. He isn't going to volunteer to babysit two teenagers and then go tear out the heart of someone who threatened to kill his family. I'm not asking you to like him, because I know that that's futile. I'm just asking you to trust me, which you have, consistently, until now," Caroline said.

Alaric finally stopped his pacing and looked at Caroline.

"I'm not going to interfere, because I don't want to have anything to do with him, but if you could actually love and want to be with someone that evil, then you aren't the person I thought you were, and I think we should end this conversation now before either of us says anything hurtful that we'll regret later," Alaric decided, walking out of the office and closing the door behind him.

{ }

After what felt like no time at all had passed since her argument with Alaric, someone else barreled through Caroline's office door.

"Where are they?" Rebekah demanded eagerly. Freya, Keelin, and Marcel followed closely on her heels.

"I don't know, Klaus checked Hope out of school a couple of hours ago and I haven't heard from either of them since," Caroline answered.

"I texted him to let him know that we were here but he didn't answer," Rebekah complained. "Maybe he'll respond if you're the one to text him?"

"Does he even have a phone?" Caroline asked.

"I suspect out of habit more than anything, it was in his pocket when he died," Rebekah explained. "And he'd enrolled in one of those online automatic payment programs, so his service should still be active."

Caroline agreed to try, sending Klaus a short message letting him know that Rebekah, Freya, Marcel, and Keelin were in her office and eager to see him and Hope.

Klaus didn't answer her either.

"He hasn't answered yet, but I'll let you know when he does," Caroline told Rebekah. "And since Rebekah has forgotten her manners, hello everyone I haven't met in person before now, I'm Caroline Forbes, it's lovely to meet you!"

"Have you dropped the Salvatore then?" Marcel asked pointing at her nameplate on her desk.

"Well, I guess," Caroline answered. "Technically, I never legally changed my name since my husband died on our wedding day, but I've stopped using the name recently. I still wear my wedding and engagement rings on a necklace, though."

"Not right now, you're not," Rebekah raised her eyebrows. "We can do introductions once you explain why you made this monumental decision to move on from Stefan while I wasn't here."

Caroline reached up to her collarbone, surprised to not feel the familiar chain that had been around her neck for the last decade.

Then she remembered what had happened to it.

" Beautiful," Klaus murmured as he placed kisses along her jaw and down the line of her neck. "So breathtakingly beautiful."

He pushed her jacket off of her shoulders and threw in over a chair, and Caroline followed suit with the jacket Klaus was wearing.

" Would you mind if I…?" Klaus trailed off, reaching towards the neckline of her shirt.

She was taken aback by the sweetness of his request, not wanting to make her uncomfortable by removing it without permission or by leaving it, which she might have felt was disrespectful considering what they were about to do.

" Please, take it off," Caroline replied. "Nothing in the past matters; all that matters is that I love you and you love me."

Klaus reached behind her neck to undo the clasp of the necklace.

" I love you," Klaus echoed. "I love you more than I can put into words, or even a painting, but I will spend forever trying to make sure you know just how much I love you."

" You don't have to sweet-talk me, mister, you were already getting lucky," Caroline smiled and leaned up to kiss him again.

" You just told me you love me, I must be the luckiest person in the history of the world," Klaus replied.

Caroline sighed and pushed Klaus onto the bed. He pulled her on top of him, her legs falling on either side of his as she leaned in to continue kissing him. Klaus tossed Caroline's necklace onto the bedside table before tangling his hand in Caroline's hair and focusing his attention completely on her…

"I took it off last night," Caroline finally responded.

"Was that before or after you went to bed with my brother?" Rebekah challenged. "Don't play the innocent act with me, it isn't going to work."

"Before," Caroline sighed reluctantly. "How did you know?"

"I can smell him on you," Rebekah told her. Marcel and Keelin nodded as if to corroborate Rebekah's explanation. "I imagine that you took a shower this morning to try to wash away the smell, but then Nik joined you in the shower, thus limiting the shower's effectiveness."

"If we could stop talking about this, that would be fantastic," Caroline attempted.

"There's no need to be ashamed Care Bear, I for one am proud of you for taking this important step towards removing the burden of your husband who sacrificed himself to save his worthless brother and his ex-girlfriend who he always loved more than you less than twelve hours after he married you, from your life," Rebekah offered.

"Um, thanks," Caroline replied. "You aren't going to do a 'break his heart, I'll break your kneecaps' sort of thing?"

"No, I think you already know what kind of mayhem I'm capable of causing," Rebekah said casually. "Plus, Nik can take care of himself, not that he'd ever hurt you no matter what you did to him. So as long as you're aware that you are the love of his life, and he will love you far past the point of reason until the end of time, and that you cannot run or hide from that even if you wanted to, I don't feel the need to threaten you."

"Okay, well on that note, Marcel Gerard, at your service, ma'am," Marcel introduced himself.

"I do love a man with good old-fashioned Southern manners," Caroline smiled.

"Who wants to be the one to tell her?" Marcel joked.

"You know what I meant," Caroline laughed.

"I'm Freya," the witch stepped forward and shook Caroline's hand. "It feels really weird to introduce myself to you, since I feel like we've already known each other for a long time and been through a lot together, but somehow we've never actually met face-to-face-before. And this is my wife Keelin."

Keelin smiled and greeted Caroline.

"Have you heard from Kol?" Caroline asked.

"Nothing yet," Freya answered. "Of course, we didn't want to let him know that Klaus was alive on his voicemail, so we just left a message saying that we had important news and that he needed to call us right away, so he might not think what we have to say is actually important."

"And where are your girls, we have gifts for them," Rebekah inquired.

"They're in class, since today is a school day," Caroline answered. "And please tell me that you aren't planning to give them the necklaces they stole. I try not to reward them when they commit felonies."

"No!" Rebekah insisted.

"No, I'm afraid with the frequency with which my siblings die, I need to keep my pendant," Freya added.

"Okay, well, since the people we came here to see aren't here, we're going to let you get back to work while I take these three on the tour of Mystic Falls, followed by burgers, fries, and milkshakes at the Grill," Rebekah announced. "If Nik and Hope come back before we get back, please let us know, and if we run into them while we're out, we'll let you know."

"Will do," Caroline agreed.

{ }

Late that night, Caroline was once again waiting for Klaus to return to the school, this time with Rebekah and the twins.

Klaus and Hope had returned not long before school ended for the day. Klaus told Caroline that they had talked extensively about everything that had happened over the past several weeks, painted together, gone for a long run through the woods in their wolf forms (which explained why Klaus hadn't answered his phone), and then gone to the Grill for burgers, fries, and milkshakes—just missing Rebekah, Freya, Marcel, and Keelin.

Then, after school, Klaus had told Caroline that he needed to borrow Lizzie and Josie for an errand. Caroline had given the twins permission to go with Klaus—and Rebekah, who was tagging along for some reason—since she assumed that he needed Lizzie to invite him into his house and wanted to explain to both twins at the same time why his house was in Lizzie's name.

But that had been over six hours earlier, and they still hadn't returned.

Caroline trusted Klaus with her life, and with her children's lives, but she was getting worried, and a little annoyed that he'd taken the twins on a lengthy outing without telling her anything about what he was planning or how long he expected it to take.

At nearly 10:00, Caroline heard running footsteps approaching her office door.

She stood and opened the door, seeing her daughters as she'd expected, with Klaus and Rebekah trailing after them, on the other side.

All four of them were laden with shopping bags, their arms covered from wrist to elbow in multicolored plastic handles.

"Mom! Look at all the stuff Klaus bought us!" Lizzie squealed.

"I can see it," Caroline replied. "You did make sure that Klaus knows that you can each only wear one outfit at a time, right?"

The girls giggled.

"It isn't all clothes," Lizzie corrected. "He got us the new phones we wanted too!"

Lizzie and Josie each held up the newest iPhone, both rose gold and wearing a personalized case—Josie's light blue with a few white clouds and a yellow sunflower with her name written in white script across the center, Lizzie's lavender with gold foil hearts over which a larger red glitter heart with her name written in black script across it was printed.

"And look what Rebekah and Freya got us!" Josie exclaimed.

She and Lizzie each held out the necklaces they were wearing.

Josie's necklace had a gold pendant in the shape of an outline of an upside-down triangle surrounding a small triangular-cut sapphire hanging from a simple gold chain. The triangle was encrusted with small, square-cut light blue stones that Caroline recognized as aquamarine—the twins' birthstone—set so close together that it was hard to tell where one gem ended and the next began, making the entire triangle look like one continuous, sparkling jewel.

Lizzie's necklace featured a small round ruby, surrounded by two concentric circles made of gold that were almost imperceptibly interlocking at the bottom. In the same style as on Josie's necklace, the gold circles were encrusted with small, square-cut diamonds set so close together that it was hard to tell where one gem ended and the next began, making the each circle look like one continuous, sparkling jewel.

Caroline was touched that Rebekah and Freya had given the twins souvenirs to commemorate their involvement in Klaus's resurrection, and that they had given such careful consideration to the gift they gave each girl—both gifts similar to the necklaces that they had each worn when they had thought they might need them for the spell, but different enough to feel unique and created especially for them, and more like pretty jewelry than like a witch's tools.

"You have to see everything else we got," Lizzie insisted enthusiastically.

The girls spent the next forty-five minutes unpacking their many shopping bags and showing off the clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, and makeup that they'd picked out to their mother, who obligingly complimented each item as the twins held them up. Klaus and Rebekah, who had been present when they'd chosen the items, looked increasingly bored with each bag.

"Girls," Caroline interrupted the twins' story of how they'd selected the dresses they wanted to wear to an upcoming dance. "Maybe we can go through the rest of your purchases another time? It's getting late, and I'm sure you have some homework that's due tomorrow that you have to do before you get ready for bed."

Lizzie and Josie pouted and started protesting.

"Leave everything with me, I will sort it all and do laundry so that you can start wearing your new clothes after school tomorrow," Caroline offered.

The twins reluctantly agreed, knowing that they weren't going to get a better offer, thanking Klaus and Rebekah again for the shopping trip before leaving the room.

"Well, the idea of sorting massive amounts of girls' clothing into two piles does not sound like fun to me, so I'm leaving too," Rebekah announced. "But I had fun today."

"That's good, I'm glad," Caroline replied. "Lizzie and Josie seemed to have had fun as well, so thank you for their necklaces and the shopping trip."

"We were happy to! We adore your daughters, Caroline, and I love having extra honorary nieces to spoil," Rebekah responded.

Caroline blushed and nervously glanced over to Klaus to see his reaction to Rebekah calling Lizzie and Josie her nieces, but he hadn't visibly reacted at all.

"Okay, I'll see you both soon. Bye," Rebekah said as she walked out the door.

"Bye!" Caroline called after her.

Caroline turned to Klaus, who had been silent since he, Rebekah, and the twins had returned, as she pulled a full shopping bag towards her and began to look through it.

"There's something I wanted to talk to you about," Klaus started.

"Me, too," Caroline said.

Klaus nodded and gestured for Caroline to speak first.

"I trust you with Lizzie and Josie, and I know that you would never let any harm come to them, but even though I know that they're safe with you, it still made me very nervous to not know where they were or when they would be back, so in the future could you please just let me know where you're going and an estimate of what time you'll be back?" Caroline requested.

"Of course, love. My apologies, I didn't mean to make you worry," Klaus apologized.

"So what was it that you wanted to talk about?" Caroline asked.

"It's Hope's sixteenth birthday on Sunday, and I wanted to know if you would help me plan a party for her," Klaus answered. "Just something small: my family, you and your daughters. Hope says she doesn't have any other friends she would want to invite. The girls helped pick out some gifts for her while we were shopping this afternoon, but she already has a car she's chosen among dozens Elijah and I owned, and houses in her name on every continent, so I wouldn't know what to get her for her birthday that could top everything she inherited when I died."

"You could let her keep all of it," Caroline joked. "I'm sure she understands that she has to give you back everything you left her, and I'm sure she'll be more than happy to relinquish anything of Elijah's that you'd like to keep for yourself. And I'll sign whatever you need me to sign to transfer your houses you put in Lizzie's name back to you."

Klaus shook his head.

"It's safer for you and our daughters if they remain in her name. I asked Freya to repeat the spell that allows you and Rebekah to enter without an invitation so that I can do the same," Klaus told her. "You know, I checked my accounts today, and I almost found this hard to believe, but Hope didn't spend any of the money, or even change any of the passwords. She took Elijah's car, some artwork and books, some clothes, and that's it."

"She got her father, alive, for her birthday, she won't ask for anything else," Caroline insisted. "I think time spent with family means more to Hope than any material gift ever could. I think having a party for her is a great idea, and I would love to help you with it."

"Thank you."

"So, how was shopping with the twins?" Caroline asked, pulling out a navy blue button-down shirtdress and putting it in Josie's pile.

"They're delightful children, Caroline," Klaus replied.

"Now if you'd said that they were clever, or polite, or adept at spotting bargains, I might have believed you," Caroline responded with a wry smile. "But delightful? I think you're laying it on a little thick. No one on this planet loves those children more than I do, but I'm not so blinded by love for them that I'm unaware of what they're capable of. They snapped your sister's neck and stole a vial of her blood while she was unconscious, and they can be demanding little monsters on shopping trips."

"Taking down an Original is quite an accomplishment for two thirteen-year-old witches," Klaus noted.

"Fourteen," Caroline corrected. "Their fourteenth birthday was a couple of weeks, after…"

"I see," Klaus stated. "Well, I stand by what I said, I think they're delightful. They are also clever and polite and adept at spotting bargains."

Caroline laughed, adding a blush pink cold-shoulder top with ruffles to Lizzie's pile.

"I'm sure they were on their best behavior for you and Rebekah. That will end very quickly once they figure out that you aren't just a temporary guest in our lives," Caroline warned.

Klaus smiled.

"That was sort of the point of this," he explained. "I wanted to get to know them, what they like, what they're interested in."

"And what did you learn?" Caroline questioned, draping Lizzie's necklaces over her right arm and Josie's over her left.

"Lizzie is like you and Josie isn't," Klaus said. "Lizzie's favorite color is pink and Josie's favorite color is blue. Josie is the most practical and methodical teenager I've ever met. Lizzie can start a conversation with anyone, from a bored toddler waiting for his mother in a fitting room to a grandfather trying to choose a birthday gift for his granddaughter, and leave them smiling at the end of it. Lizzie has to be talked out of buying things she doesn't need, and Josie has to be talked in to buying things she does need. They're almost opposites, but not quite; they're more like the two sides of a coin: a different face on the outside but on the inside they're the same. They can have entire conversations without saying a word. They're best friends, and as someone who used to keep his siblings in coffins because he was terrified they would leave him if he allowed them do as they pleased, it's inspiring and heartwarming to see the unconditional love they have for each other."

Caroline felt herself tearing up at Klaus's observations. Some of them were things that anyone who spend a few days with the twins would know, but others were things that even people who had known them their entire lives wouldn't have reported as confidently as Klaus had.

"So you like them, then?" Caroline guessed.

"I knew I would like them because they're yours, but now I like them because they're them," Klaus answered.

"So, you should know that Alaric knows that you're back, and he isn't happy about it," Caroline said. "He told me that he doesn't want you anywhere near the girls, and this little shopping spree isn't going to make him feel any better. He's going to think that you're trying to buy their affection, and he'll worry that they'll like you more than him because you can and will buy things for them that he can't afford to or won't allow them to have."

The look on Klaus's face was one that Caroline that seen on rare occasions before: the one he wore when one of his plans didn't go as he'd intended it to.

"I thought that…" Klaus paused. "I thought that this would prove that they're important to you, so they're important to me; that I want to have a relationship with them; that I'm able and willing to provide for them. You wanted to know that I could fit into your family, so that's what I'm trying to do. You already have the advantage, since Hope already knows you, trusts you, respects you, and Rebekah and Freya adore you, but I'd only seen your daughters once before yesterday, and I know that Alaric is always going to dislike me and think me unworthy of them, and I can't say that he's wrong."

Caroline felt a tearful smile spread across her face as she finished sorting the twins' new clothes and focused her attention completely on Klaus.

"I really appreciate how seriously you're taking this and how hard you're working to try to make our relationship work and make us and our girls a family, and I love you for it," Caroline told him. "I told Ric off when he stormed into my office this morning freaking out because he thought that someone pretending to be Hope's father had kidnapped her, and when he yelled at me for dragging his children into your mess and called me delusional."

"He had no right to speak to you that way," Klaus snapped through gritted teeth.

"I know," Caroline agreed.

She walked over to one of the cupboards and pulled out a box of large white trash bags.

Caroline picked up Josie's pile of clothes and other purchases, identifiable as hers because it was mostly blue, yellow, and white, and managed to fit all of it in three bags, which she labelled with a 'J' in black marker. Then she repeated the process with the other pile, which was primarily pink, red, purple, and black, and managed to fit all of it in four overstuffed bags, which were then labelled with an 'L' in black marker.

"I'm done here," Caroline announced. "Let's go home. Everything else will keep until morning."

{ }

So if she could just stop sleeping with Klaus, that would be fantastic, Caroline thought to herself. She supposed the argument could be made that they were making up for lost time, but it had never been the physical aspect of their relationship that needed work, and the parts that did could only be improved through honest conversations about their feelings, plans, goals… not hours spent together in bed (though to be honest, they weren't actually that discerning when it came to location).

And they really did need to have those conversations, because Caroline still wasn't entirely sure that they were in a relationship. They had told each other that they loved each other, and they'd spent an overwhelming amount of the forty-eight hours since Klaus had been revived having amazing sex, but they hadn't actually talked about being in a relationship right now, just that they wanted to be once they figured out if that was possible after how much their lives had changed since they met.

Caroline also knew that both of their insecurities were an obstacle: both of them convinced that there was no way anyone could actually love them forever, because they'd never had that sort of enduring love before.

Klaus had sent Caroline a text message asking her to meet him in an empty conference room. She couldn't be absolutely certain of why he wanted to see her in the middle of the day, but she had her suspicions.

So her resolve to stop sleeping together and start having serious conversations about the state of their relationship wasn't exactly iron-clad. She'd set herself the deadline of needing to make sure that it happened before Hope's birthday party on Sunday, and they still had two whole days before then.

As she approached the room, she could hear his steady heartbeat from inside.

But before she could turn the corner, her daughter Lizzie stormed into the room from a different direction, knowing, as Klaus and Caroline had, that it would be empty.

Caroline heard her lean back against the door and scream.

Caroline was ready to burst into the room to comfort her, or to turn back around and stand guard in front of the door to make sure everyone left her alone, if that was what she needed.

"What's wrong, Elizabeth? Are you hurt?" Klaus asked.

Caroline paused outside. Perhaps this was one of those times when it was easier to talk to someone you didn't know well than someone you did. If Klaus could get Lizzie to talk to him and calm down, then she wasn't going to interfere.

"I'm Lizzie. No one calls me Elizabeth except my parents when I'm in trouble. I must have told you that like, four times on Monday," Lizzie complained.

"My apologies. Lizzie, then, if you prefer," Klaus said. "The question remains, are you hurt?"

"You don't have to pretend you care about me just because you have a crush on my mom, or whatever," Lizzie snapped. "You have total heart-eyes whenever you look at her. So if you want to ask her out, go for it. You don't need my approval. No one cares what I think anyway."

Caroline pushed aside the little flair of happiness that sparked when her daughter mentioned Klaus's obvious affection for her to focus on her self-deprecating comments and her insistence that Klaus didn't actually care about her.

"I'm not pretending to care about you, and I do care what you think," Klaus told Lizzie.

Lizzie sighed.

"Fine," she said. "Allison Bartlet said that it was a good thing that my real mother is dead, otherwise she would die from the shame of having a crazy freak like me for a daughter. Happy now?"

Caroline made a mental note to call Allison Bartlet's mother and arrange for a parent-teacher conference, because she couldn't believe that any student at her school would ever say anything so cruel to a fellow student.

"I don't understand, what does she mean, 'your real mother?'" Klaus questioned uncertainly.

Lizzie sighed again.

Caroline had to stifle a smile. That was her little drama queen.

"My mom isn't my biological mother," Lizzie explained. "My biological mother was a witch who was part of a special bloodline of witches called the Gemini Coven. When her twin brother killed her while she was pregnant with us, the rest of the coven did a spell to move my sister and me from our dying biological mother to our not-dying mom. Josie's named after our biological mother. Her name was Josette."

"I never met her," Klaus admitted. "I did know your namesake, though."

"You knew my grandma?" Lizzie perked up. "What was she like?"

Caroline found her own interest piqued, eager to know how Klaus would describe her mother.

"Your grandmother was wholeheartedly devoted to the people and causes she cared about, principled, hardworking, persistent," Klaus listed.

That was fair, Caroline thought. He was complimentary without embellishing for Lizzie's sake, while leaving out some of her mother's flaws, like rejecting her own daughter when she became a vampire.

It was what Lizzie said in reply that made Caroline start to cry.

"So like Mom," Lizzie concluded.

When Caroline was Lizzie's age, all she had wanted was to be like her mom, but she had been written off by everyone she knew—including herself—as too shallow, too uptight, too weak.

"Very much like your mother," Klaus agreed.

"I'm not like Mom, though," Lizzie lamented. "I wish I was, but Allison's right, I am a freak."

Klaus let out a chuckle, and Caroline worried that she'd have to intervene, since Lizzie was unlikely to take that well.

"What's so funny?" Lizzie demanded.

"You are actually very much like your mother," Klaus said. "The two of you with your color-coded to-do lists and your dramatic sighs. Both of you are happiest when you're in control of a situation, almost obsessively seek perfection in yourselves and in everything you do, are happy to take on leadership roles even though it means more work because it also means you'll get to do things your way, would do anything for a loved one in need. You're both social, communicative, fiercely loyal, easily emotionally invested, charming, ambitious, hardworking, persistent, principled, wholeheartedly devoted to the people and causes you care about. You both have quick wits and big hearts and a light in you that shines so brightly that it allows you to find the good in even the darkest creatures who had given up on ever seeing any good within themselves."

Lizzie didn't respond, and Caroline could hear her quiet sniffling as she cried.

"You mean you," Lizzie inferred. "Dad says that you're the epitome of all evil, or whatever, but Mom sees the good in you."

"And so must you, or you wouldn't have agreed to help Hope with the spell to bring me back to life," Klaus returned.

"I agreed because it sounded exciting and Hope said that we could have anything we wanted if we helped her," Lizzie countered.

"An offer upon which you've yet to collect," Klaus pointed out.

"Well, I have to give serious consideration to what I want," Lizzie insisted. "I don't want to choose the Ferrari and then in a month regret it and wish I'd gone for the Jaguar instead."

Caroline had to struggle not to laugh. She was pleased, though not altogether surprised, to hear her daughter hold her own in an exchange of witty banter with Klaus.

"Might I suggest something you can start using sooner than two years from now?" Klaus offered.

"Yeah, I should probably leave choosing my car to you, considering the fact that I only know rich person car brands from the Britney Spears song," Lizzie conceded. "Now I'm thinking summer vacation in Paris."

"Now, I'm glad that our conversation seems to have distracted you from the reason you were so upset before, but are you sure you're all right?" Klaus asked.

"I'm fine," Lizzie replied. "I just get…" she paused as if searching for the right word. "…emotional. I seem to feel things more intensely than normal people. Like, Josie just glared at Allison and then ignored her, but I couldn't even be in the room with her after she said that."

"Why do you assume that there's something wrong with you?" Klaus questioned. "I think that not wanting to be around someone who says unkind things about you is a perfectly normal reaction. Just because your sister is calmer and more easygoing than you are doesn't mean that she's right and you're wrong."

"Josie doesn't lose control of her emotions like I do," Lizzie explained.

"Again, that doesn't make her better than you," Klaus reiterated.

"But I don't want to feel like this, like there's this… tornado spinning around inside of me," Lizzie insisted.

"Sweetheart, I'm going to let you in a little secret," Caroline heard Klaus crouch down to Lizzie's height as he spoke. "I've felt that way my entire life. Everyone feels like there's a storm brewing inside them, and some people feel that way more frequently or more intensely than others. Some people describe it differently. For example, Hope is definitely more like a wildfire: she can be ferocious in the pursuit of something she wants, and sometimes destructive, burning everything in her path. Maybe Josie is an earthquake: solid and stable, until the moment she isn't. That's why storms are named after people, because we all have the potential to turn into natural disasters under the right circumstances. Your tornado is just two masses of air that collide and start spinning. But you don't blame the air for that, do you? Never blame yourself for whatever it is you feel."

"Did people call you a freak too?" Lizzie asked quietly.

"We wouldn't have used that word when I was your age, but essentially, yes," Klaus answered. "But their inability to understand anyone that's different from them is a deficiency on their part, not ours. In time, you'll learn that everything that makes us different is a gift, not a curse, and I know that sounds trite, but it's true. I know that sometimes it feels like you're broken when you don't fit in with everyone else, but you're not. You are gifted, and special, and so very loved, Lizzie."

"Thank you, Klaus," Lizzie whispered, her tears obvious in her voice.

"And if you would like me to pull Allison Bartlet's spine out of her body and feed it to her, I can do that," Klaus offered.

"Mom said that if you offer to kill anyone for me, I have to say no thank you," Lizzie told him, almost sounding a little regretful.

Klaus let out a laugh.

"Well, we wouldn't want to get in trouble with your mother, so I suppose Allison will have to be allowed to live for now," he responded.

"I guess I'm going to go back to the library, since I left all of my stuff there when I ran out," Lizzie said. "I'll see you later."

"All right," Klaus replied.

Caroline watched as Lizzie left the room and walked away, waiting until she'd turned a corner before going into the conference room herself.

"Thank you," Caroline said to Klaus. "You were really good with her."

"I didn't say anything that wasn't true," Klaus replied. "I think she just needed to talk to someone who understood, and as hard as you might try to help, I don't think you can relate to feeling like you're fundamentally different from your peers. And I'm sure Alaric just blames magic and thinks the solution would be for her to pretend she's just an ordinary human and not a witch."

"Pretty much," Caroline confirmed. "I hate seeing her upset like that. I just want her to be happy."

"So do I," Klaus agreed. "Because if she's happy, then you're happy; and if you're happy, I'm happy. Which reminds me of why I wanted to see you in the first place…"

{ }

Between work, and Klaus, and the twins, and planning Hope's sixteenth birthday party, Caroline missed her self-imposed deadline to talk to Klaus about their relationship.

Caroline had really already made up her mind that she wanted to be with Klaus, and over the past five days she'd started to see the beginnings of what their blended family would look like.

But she still hadn't asked the girls what they thought, and she was pretty sure Klaus hadn't talked to Hope yet either.

Klaus had said that they could get married if she wanted to, but did he want to? Did he want to move back to New Orleans, or was he content to stay in Mystic Falls while the girls were in school? What would they do once the girls were grown up and living on their own?

Caroline liked lists, and plans, and if she was going to do something as life-changing as commit to being in a relationship with Klaus for the rest of her life, she was going to do it knowing as many details as possible, not just deciding to be together and they'll figure the rest out as they go along.

So with a million questions and considerably fewer answers, Caroline trekked over to the Mikaelson mansion on Sunday to set up for Hope's birthday party that evening.

She was familiar with the house, having spent an increasing amount of time there with Klaus after Freya had completed the spell to allow him inside, and easily made her way to the dining room to start decorating.

Klaus had ultimately decided on a formal dinner together before moving the party into the ballroom for dancing, games, and opening presents. He'd also installed a projector and screen in that room so that they could watch a movie if Hope wanted to.

Caroline hung one of the two happy birthday banners—metallic silver backgrounds with 'Happy Birthday, Hope!' written in large metallic green letters—that she'd had to rush order against the far wall of the dining room, feeling no shame about leaving holes from push pins in the wall.

Rebekah was supposed to be helping with this, but she'd decided that it was of utmost important that they had fresh flowers in the house and had disappeared to go procure some. Klaus said that he was on his way, but had offered no further information. The twins had been tasked with keeping Hope distracted while they were setting up for the party—not because it was a surprise, per se, because Lizzie and Josie were going to help her get ready and explain what they were getting ready for, but so that she wasn't sitting in her room alone on her birthday because everyone was busy—so they had persuaded Alaric to take the three of them roller-skating.

A few minutes later, Caroline heard the front door open and close, and footsteps approach.

"I'm in the dining room!" she called out, knowing that it could only be Klaus or Rebekah who had joined her in the house.

"Good afternoon, sweetheart," Klaus greeted as he wrapped his arms around her from behind and scooped her into a hug.

"Hi," Caroline replied, turning her head and leaning in to kiss him.

"Did you end up choosing a theme for the party?" Klaus asked.

Caroline shook her head.

"Klaus, sixth birthday parties have themes, like Barbie or Disney Princesses. Sixteenth birthday parties do not have themes," Caroline responded.

"If you say so," Klaus shrugged. "What would you like me to do to help?"

"Um, you can set the table while I put out the name cards," Caroline suggested.

Caroline had made the place cards herself, using black cardstock and a silver pen.

"So, who do you think that Hope is going to want to sit next to?" Caroline asked when Klaus finished arranging a place setting at the head of the long, rectangular table, setting Hope's card next to her bread plate.

"Well, I would like to sit next to her," Klaus said.

"I know that," Caroline said, holding up Klaus's place card. "But what about on her other side?"

"Freya, probably?" Klaus guessed. "Maybe Josie? But if Rebekah is too far, she'll throw a tantrum, and I'd rather not deal with that."

It ended up working out so that Klaus, Caroline, Lizzie, and Josie were on one side of the table, and Freya, Keelin, Rebekah, and Marcel were on the other.

"Well, if this doesn't project the image of a family, then I don't know what does," Caroline said as she looked at the seating arrangements.

"I thought that's what you wanted," Klaus replied. "I thought you wanted the five of us to be a family. When you brought me back, the first thing I saw was you standing with our girls, and the four of you together looked like a family. My family. I've seen us that way from the beginning. You had reservations about how we would fit into each other's families, well, look, Caroline, this is how. All three girls are with Alaric right now, and tonight we'll sit together around this table."

"We haven't even talked to the girls about us," Caroline pointed out. "And I do want us to be a family, and after seeing you with the twins together, all of the girls spending time together, I'm starting to see what our family would look like, and I love it."

"But?" Klaus prompted.

"But you know that I love my lists and my plans, and you know that there's no way that I'm going to make this life-changing commitment, not just for myself but for my daughters, and feel content to just go with the flow and figure everything else out later. I know that I can't plan everything, but I just want to feel like I've planned for as much as I can."

"What else do you need?" Klaus asked, sounding sincere and patient despite how frustrated that sentence could have sounded. "I told you before, I will do whatever it takes to prove to you that I love you, and that I will always love you."

"And that's about where we got distracted the last time we tried to have this conversation," Caroline said.

"You were overcome with joy at the prospect of being my wife," Klaus smirked.

"That's not exactly how I remember it," Caroline retorted. "But that's the second time you've brought up getting married. Before you said that we could get married if that's what I wanted but is that what you want?"

"I want you to be happy, and that overrides any feelings I have on the subject," Klaus answered. At Caroline's raised eyebrows, he elaborated. "There is a large part of me that believes that vampires have no use for the human convention of marriage, that a piece of paper certifying that we promised to love each other until death do us part is meaningless when you can live forever. The werewolf in me wants to claim you as mine in every way possible, even the human ways. But the remains of my humanity feels that it is my responsibility to marry the woman I love, and protect and provide for my family, just as it was back then. But I'm curious as to your thoughts on the matter, which you have cleverly avoided sharing, especially since I've noticed that these last few days you've stopped wearing your rings, and it's been long enough that it isn't an oversight or moment of forgetfulness on your part."

"It didn't feel right to keep wearing them," Caroline confessed. "And this just felt like the natural time to stop holding on to that symbol of my very brief marriage—because the groom decided that it would be brief. It would be unfair and unreasonable and grossly sexist for anyone to think that I had to mourn my husband for the rest of my immortal life, and never move on and never be happy with anyone else. I've spent ten years mourning someone who couldn't even stay married to me for ten hours, and who decided instead to sacrifice himself to save his ex-girlfriend and his brother. I want to move on and be happy again."

"Is your short-lived marriage to Stefan part of reason why you're anxious about starting a relationship with me?" Klaus asked, sitting down in his seat at the table.

"Maybe a little," Caroline replied, sitting across from him. "He promised to love and honor and cherish me until death do us part, and then almost immediately died. It almost felt like he went looking for death to part us because he changed his mind. But he probably didn't actually think about me at all. I was always just a side character in the eternal love triangle of Stefan, Elena, and Damon. When I was with Stefan, I'd reverted back to who I'd always been: Elena's backup, the person someone was with because Elena wasn't available. He always prioritized her over me, he always loved her more than he loved me. Elena was in a magical coma, and still I couldn't compete with her."

Klaus reached across the table and took Caroline's hand.

"The question remains, love, do you want to marry me?" Klaus asked.

"I hope that wasn't your proposal because that was not at all romantic," Caroline deflected. "Okay, fine, I'll be serious. I agree that it isn't necessary, but I think I disagree that that means we shouldn't do it. I mean, birthday cake isn't technically strictly necessary, but that doesn't mean I didn't buy it. I think it's just another thing that says that we promise to love each other forever, and as insecure as both of us are, I can't think of a good reason to oppose that. But at the same time, being someone's wife didn't exactly work out well for me the first time. Or for my parents, and my dad was much happier with his partner, who he never married."

"I have an idea," Klaus proposed. "I know you love your plans, but that doesn't mean we have to execute all of them right away. Especially since this is something that we can always choose to do later on, but we can't just undo it if we change our minds. Why don't we think about this, and once we tell our daughters about us, we can give them some time to get used to the idea and then ask their opinions on the subject. I'm not saying that they'll get an equal say, but if they have strong feelings one way or the other, we should hear them out. You will still make the final decision, and whether we actually have a ceremony or not, I still promise to love you for as long as we both shall live."

"Okay, waiting and thinking about it is a good idea," Caroline agreed. "And I do want to know what the girls think. Lizzie and Josie may be morally opposed to stepfathers after what happened with Stefan, or they may think that us being married makes our relationship and your role in their lives more stable."

"So what's next on your list?" Klaus smiled indulgently.

"Where do you want to live?" Caroline asked. "Do you want to move back to New Orleans, or do you want to stay in Mystic Falls?"

"At the risk of repeating myself again, I want to be wherever you are," Klaus answered. "I imagine that you would like to stay here in Mystic Falls with your daughters and your school, and I am happy to live here as well, at least while the girls are in school here. If they all decide to enroll in Tulane, perhaps we can move to New Orleans. In the meantime, we can all live here, in this house. Freya and Keelin will be returning to New Orleans, Rebekah and Marcel will be returning to New York, so no one but the five of us will be here. The girls can each decorate their rooms however they want, you can redecorate and reorganize however you want. We can make this house our family's home."

"Well, that takes care of that item on the list," Caroline said, wiping her eyes. "The next one is more of a statement than a discussion topic, but I want you to know that I'm making a list of all of the places that I want you to take me to once the girls are all grown up and living on their own. Some of these trips I will want to be family vacations, and some of them I will just want to be the two of us. You promised you would take me anywhere I want, and I've come to collect."

"I intend to keep all of the promises I've made you, love," Klaus replied. "Now I have a question of my own to ask you."

"What is it?"

"When I asked Rebekah how she convinced you to help her bring me back, she looked at me like I'd grown a second head and told me that you were the one who had the idea and asked her for her help," Klaus said. "So I'd like to know why you didn't tell me that yourself."

"You'd just assumed that it wasn't, and you seemed so certain that I wasn't sure you would believe me if I told you that it was my idea," Caroline explained. "I thought that you might think that I was saying that to try to make you feel better or that I regretted not being the one to have the idea so I was taking credit for Rebekah's idea. But it was my idea to try to bring you back. Hope was in my office, and I was giving her the box that you'd sent me to pass along to her, and she gave me your sketchbook, and after she left, I just thought to myself that it wasn't fair that you were dead when you'd wanted so badly to live, and when you had a daughter who loved and needed you so much, when I loved and needed you so much. And so I called Rebekah, and Rebekah called Freya, and Freya found the spell. I'm pretty sure it was the same day that Hope decided to try to bring you back too, and recruited Lizzie and Josie to help her do it."

"Thank you, Caroline," Klaus responded, his voice tight with emotion. "I will never be worthy of the love that you give me, of the light and goodness that radiates from you. I cannot promise you that I ever will be. All I can promise you is that I will love you with every beat of my heart, which you claimed for your own, until the end of this world and whatever comes after it. All the greatest love stories of history and literature will pale in comparison to how much I will love you for every second of the rest of my life."

"It makes me very happy to hear you say that, because it was very lovely and romantic, and now I can't help but think that if you can give me such a lovely and romantic speech just off the cuff like that, imagine how lovely and romantic your proposal will be," Caroline grinned, standing up and walking over to Klaus's side of the table and sitting on his lap. "But it also makes me very happy because it reminds me of another very lovely and romantic speech you gave me, the one where you promised to be my last love, no matter how long you had to wait, and I can't think of anything that would make me happier than for you than for you to keep that promise, starting right now."

Klaus's face lit up, though he still tried to keep his expression impassive.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "No more questions, no more plans, no more detailed lists?"

"We've planned all we can," Caroline replied. "We have our road map, so to speak, and now it's time to start our journey together. The most important thing, more important than any plan I could make, is that I love you and I have faith in us. I know in my heart that this is right, that in ten years, in a hundred years, in a thousand years, we'll still be just as all-consumingly in love as we are right now."

The smile that unfurled like a flag across Klaus's face as he processed Caroline's words was devastatingly beautiful.

"Caroline, my love," Klaus said.

Was there anything more perfect than Klaus calling her his love? Caroline didn't think so.

She waited for him to continue whatever it was that he wanted to say, but she quickly learned that he was just giving her a word of warning before he scooped her up in his arms and carried her upstairs.

Even with vampire speed, they still barely made it inside Klaus's bedroom before they succumbed to the overwhelming lust and love they felt for each other.

{ }

Mardi Gras 2029

French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

"Mom!"

Caroline Mikaelson had never been so grateful for her vampire senses. In the crowd of thousands of people gathered on Royal Street, she still managed to hear her daughter's voice calling her. Now if only she could see her…

Coming to Mardi Gras this year had been Hope's idea. She'd made the argument that at the same time last year, her father and uncle had died, not long after the death of her mother, and this year, now that her father was back and the Mikaelsons were finally settled, content, and as happy as they could be without their missing members, they deserved to celebrate this holiday that was so important to her hometown to make new, happy Mardi Gras memories to replace the grief that had accompanied the occasion the year before.

Klaus had immediately shown his support for the idea, and then Lizzie and Josie had seemed so excited at the prospect of attending an authentic New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration, and it had become increasingly difficult for Caroline to adhere to her counterargument that the girls should not miss multiple days of school to essentially go to a party.

Hope had then tried to sell the trip as a family reunion, having convinced Rebekah and Marcel, and Kol and Davina to come as well, and made the argument that they had all been in the same place at the same time only once since Hope's birthday the previous May.

Caroline couldn't deny that she missed Rebekah and Freya, even though she talked to them on the phone at least once a week and texted them several times a day, and she'd seen how happy Hope and Klaus had been when Kol had unexpectedly turned up at Hope's birthday party.

They had just been sitting down to dinner when the doorbell had rung, and when Rebekah had gotten up to answer the door, much to her delight, her brother and sister-in-law had been standing on the other side, a wrapped gift in Kol's hands.

"We heard there was a party," Kol had offered nonchalantly.

It had been a strange experience to say the least for Caroline to see Kol, who she'd last seen as a horrific burnt corpse on the floor of the Gilberts' kitchen, sitting next to his wife on the other side of the table, laughing and talking with his siblings, their significant others, and his niece.

But in no time at all, Kol seemed perfectly at home, and everyone else seemed completely comfortable with him there, even the twins, who found him funny, and who had captured his interest with their rare variety of magic.

They'd only seen Kol in person a couple of times since then, but according to Klaus, that was actually what Kol making an effort to keep in touch looked like.

After weeks of Klaus, Hope, Josie, Lizzie, and eventually Freya, Rebekah, and Marcel as well, arguing in favor of what they were affectionately calling 'The Mikaelson Family Therapy Mardi Gras Field Trip,' Caroline eventually relented and agreed that in the grand scheme of things, Hope's recovery from the trauma of losing her parents in quick succession was more important than a few lectures that their teachers would happily give them ahead of time.

Of course, convincing Caroline wasn't their final obstacle.

Once Caroline agreed—under the condition that they keep up with their homework while they were away, the girls all cheered—until they heard the catch.

They couldn't go unless all of them could go, and the twins couldn't go unless Alaric gave them permission to go.

Caroline and Alaric hadn't been on good terms since Klaus had come back to life, but even the very pettiest part of her that wanted to show him that he couldn't control her felt that it was wrong for one of them to take their children out of the state without the other's consent.

Needless to say, Alaric had not been thrilled by the idea. His list of reasons for opposing the trip had been long: he didn't want the twins going on vacation with Klaus and Caroline, he didn't want them missing school to go on vacation with Klaus and Caroline, he didn't want them going to New Orleans, and he didn't want them going to New Orleans when it was full of drunken revelers for Mardi Gras.

Then, playing what he clearly thought was the ace up his sleeve, Alaric said that Caroline, Lizzie, and Josie weren't Mikaelsons, and therefore had no reason to accompany Hope and Klaus on a Mikaelson family trip, but that the four of them should do something fun together as a family during the school's spring break a few weeks after the planned trip.

Lizzie and Josie had fixed their father with disbelieving stares.

"Yeah, I can't imagine what would be more fun: a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras with the person who literally built the city, or a trip to the Grill for milkshakes with our parents, who aren't even speaking to each other," Lizzie had responded sarcastically.

While Alaric tried to convince the twins that their parents were getting along just as well as they always had (which didn't work), Caroline did acknowledge the uncomfortable situation that he was in. He dreaded the possibility of Lizzie and Josie choosing Klaus over him for anything, so he definitely didn't want them going to the city he'd ruled and getting to enjoy all of the trappings of his wealth and status, but he also knew that he would only upset them and push them closer to Klaus if he didn't let them go.

Alaric had tried to save face by telling the girls that he needed some time to think about it, but they all knew that he'd caved as soon as he'd heard how excited the girls were about this trip—and how not excited they were at the prospect of spending that time with him instead.

He'd assigned them some additional work—essays and PowerPoint presentations on the supernatural history of New Orleans, essays and PowerPoint presentations on the current relations between supernatural species in New Orleans, and essays on how the supernatural community had influenced a local historical event of their choice—in an attempt to make the trip more educational and to make himself feel more in control of the situation, but he had relented in plenty of time for Lizzie to make all three girls color-coded packing lists and corresponding packing diagrams to best utilize luggage space.

"Mom!" Lizzie shouted again.

Caroline rapidly searched the crowd for a petite blonde girl wearing a purple dress, but Lizzie was far from being the only person fitting that description.

Klaus and Rebekah had bought the three girls identical long-sleeved, knee-length sweater dresses in the Mardi Gras colors of emerald, orchid, and goldenrod to wear that day, but with the girls' very different styles, the outfits they'd each put together were so different it wasn't immediately evident that their dresses were the same.

Hope was wearing black motorcycle-style jacket, black tights that had faded with wear to a dark, greyish shade of midnight blue, and black combat boots with dark green laces with her green dress, which she'd claimed immediately from the selection since green was her favorite color and the color of her birthstone.

Lizzie was wearing a long, open, black cardigan held in place with a wide, shiny black belt over her purple dress, which she'd chosen because she refused to wear yellow because of her blonde hair, along with black over-the-knee boots that disappeared under the hem of the dress, though considering how cold Lizzie often was, Caroline was fairly certain she had a thermal long-sleeved shirt and a pair of her trusty fleece-lined tights on underneath her dress as well.

Process of elimination had left Josie with the yellow dress, which she'd paired with white tights, black ballet flats, and a trendy, menswear-inspired blazer that was black with a subtle white pinstripe pattern.

Rebekah had also given them each a pile of Mardi Gras beads in the same color as their dress, and while in the party supply store, she'd found and purchased another silly souvenir for each of the girls: gold plastic tiaras decorated with small plastic jewels in each of the Mardi Gras colors molded into the shape of a fleur-de-lis. As she had with the beads, she gave the tiara with the green jewels to Hope, the purple one to Lizzie, and the yellow one to Josie.

It was that obnoxious crown that Caroline was looking for as she tried to find her daughter in the large crowd of people primarily wearing purple, yellow, green, or black.

Unfortunately, the street was full of people wearing bright and ridiculous accessories on their heads, and Lizzie had never quite grasped the importance of staying where she was when she was lost so that Caroline could locate her.

Someone approached her from behind, but Caroline knew that it was Klaus even before he wrapped his arms around her waist and leaned in to give her a kiss on the cheek.

"What's the matter, my love?" Klaus asked.

"Lizzie is calling me but I can't see her in this crowd, with so many people that are taller than she is, and a lot of them also wearing purple," Caroline explained.

Klaus nodded.

"Elizabeth!" he shouted in the same loud voice she'd heard him use when yelling Rebekah's name to get her attention.

At the sound of Klaus's voice, almost the entire block immediately fell silent, not wanting to cross the Original Hybrid.

Then:

"It's Lizzie," she heard Lizzie gripe.

"Found her," Klaus announced, then whooshed into the crowd, returning seconds later carrying Lizzie, who he immediately deposited in front of her mother.

Caroline let out a sigh of relief upon seeing her daughter standing in front of her. The entire ordeal had taken no more than a minute, but had felt like hours when she didn't know where Lizzie was.

"What happened? I thought you girls were going to stick together," Caroline demanded.

"Hope had to go deal with something on werewolves' float, and Kol and Davina were going to take us to see witches' float, but then someone bumped into me and I lost them," Lizzie explained.

Caroline looked around, spotting Hope standing on top of the werewolves' float, which appeared to be some sort of tribute to the Bayou, complete with fake trees. Caroline often forgot that Hope was the Alpha of her wolf pack since she'd never seen the girl in that role before, but Hope seemed to be easily handling whatever the situation was and giving instructions that even werewolves decades older than her readily obeyed.

As for Josie, Caroline had already known that she and Davina had become fast friends since Hope's birthday party, seeing each other as kindred spirits with their usually quiet but fiercely loyal and dangerous-when-provoked dispositions. They talked and texted often, with Josie seeing Davina as a mentor on the subject of magic.

"Why don't you stick with us for a little while, at least until Hope and Josie come back," Klaus suggested.

"Okay," Lizzie easily agreed. "I don't have to hold your hands, though, do I?"

"I don't know why you wouldn't want to, but you don't have to," Caroline joked.

"Come on, Mom," Lizzie sighed.

"How's the homework coming?" Caroline asked sympathetically.

"He is punishing us," Lizzie immediately insisted. "He is trying to punish us for wanting to come on this trip, and punish you for allowing us to come on this trip, but guess what? It isn't working, because we're all just mad at him for making us do all this work. And the reason I know that it's all just busy work to punish us is because he isn't making Hope do it. No, Hope doesn't have any homework, she's just out there being the queen of the wolves without a care in the world. She told me that her Pack Relations class is actually giving her extra credit for this trip, since it's a 'practical application of everything they've learned so far this semester.' But Josie and I have history homework because our dad is mad that Klaus is cooler than him. But don't let that go to your head," Lizzie directed at Klaus.

"I wouldn't dream of it," Klaus replied.

Caroline chuckled at their interaction. She knew that Klaus loved each of the twins equally, but he and Lizzie had a unique connection—understanding each other in a way that no one else understood the two emotional, misunderstood, complicated supernatural rarities—that he and Josie just didn't have.

And she wasn't surprised about Alaric's intentions with his attempt to assert some control over their trip (nor was she surprised that Lizzie had figured it out—she was surprisingly intuitive). But she did agree with Lizzie that it wasn't fair to use extra homework as a punishment for the girls, or to punish them at all when it was her that he was angry with.

"Anyway, I tried to get most of it done this weekend, and I did some last night, and I'll finish up the rest on the plane, I guess," Lizzie continued.

Since they needed to be in New Orleans on Tuesday, meaning that the girls were going to miss school on Monday too, no matter what, they had decided to leave after school on Friday and stay for the weekend as well, and planned to leave Wednesday afternoon.

Klaus bought beignets for Lizzie as they passed a bakery. When they paused for her to eat, Klaus pulled Caroline into his embrace, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist and periodically kissing the top of her head after she wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head on his shoulder.

"Look, I get that you two are married and in love, or whatever, but please don't embarrass me," Lizzie demanded, powdered sugar flying onto the street as she gesticulated dramatically while she spoke. "We've been preemptively burning sage in our room every night since we've been here."

Caroline and Klaus definitely fit the stereotype of newlyweds who couldn't get enough of each other. Over the past few days, they'd eagerly taken advantage of having the house to themselves when various other Mikaelsons had insisted on taking the girls to see something.

"I asked you for your permission before I asked your mother to marry me, if you had an objection to us being married, you should have said something then. Instead, you said, and I'm quoting, 'Seriously?! Yay! That's so great!'" Klaus said, making Caroline and Lizzie laugh with his impression of Lizzie.

Caroline had been very touched when she'd learned that not only had Lizzie and Josie helped Klaus choose her engagement ring, but that Klaus had asked for their blessing before he proposed.

Klaus had asked Caroline to marry him on Thanksgiving, which Caroline had always enjoyed celebrating with loved ones. That year it had just been Klaus, Caroline, and their daughters, since Rebekah and Marcel were travelling, Keelin had to work so she and Freya were staying in New Orleans, and Kol had insisted that Thanksgiving was a ridiculous American invention and that every time the Mikaelsons attempted to celebrate it something went wrong, so he and Davina were staying far away from both turkey and all of his relatives for the sake of their health. Once all the food was served, they'd all gone around the table saying what they were grateful for that year. When it was Klaus's turn, he launched into a lovely, romantic speech about how grateful he was for Caroline and for their family, and how much he loved them, before getting down on one knee and asking Caroline to be his wife. Caroline had said yes before he'd even finished asking the question.

It had been the next day when Klaus had told her that she could choose any date she wanted and generally have free reign over the wedding that Caroline had had the idea of getting married at Christmas. She reasoned that the girls would be on winter break from school, and the Mikaelsons would all be gathered for the holiday, so they might as well have the wedding when all of their loved ones would be present anyway. Plus it was about as far as possible from the June wedding that a naïve teenage Caroline had fantasized about. When Klaus had questioned whether or not she wanted to plan her wedding in such a short period of time, Caroline had answered that she'd had far less notice when she'd planned her first wedding, plus last time she hadn't the Mikaelsons' wealth and compulsion abilities at her disposal.

Rebekah, in particular, had been a force to be reckoned with. Caroline still didn't know exactly how she'd managed to arrange for catering, music, and décor on Christmas Eve, but after a few minutes of threats and offering exorbitant amounts of money, she'd done it—and unless Originals could compel people over the phone, without compulsion.

But considering Rebekah had been the one to insist on the date, it seemed only fair that she be the one to make it work. The only days that everyone would be together at the Mikaelson mansion in Mystic Falls were Christmas, the day before, and the day after, and she'd been vehemently opposed to Klaus and Caroline getting married on 'the day dedicated to cleaning up wrapping paper and writing thank you notes,' and once she'd voiced her objections, the twins chimed in with their agreement, and Caroline admitted that, though it would surely be a logistical nightmare, she did like the idea of getting married on Christmas Eve.

Yet despite the challenges, they had managed to pull off the most beautiful wedding that Caroline had ever seen. The Mikaelsons' ballroom had been decorated flawlessly but uncharacteristically subtly for the Mikaelsons in their colors of cream, champagne, and garnet, with oversized bows tied around each guest's chair and the floral arrangements of deep red and white roses as a nod to the Christmas season, plus warm white Christmas lights hung throughout the room and deep red rose petals scattered down the aisle. Caroline's wedding dress, an ivory strapless ball gown made of chiffon and lace that had been carefully fitted to flatter her figure, had also been elegant in its simplicity. It was warm and luxurious and elegant, and Caroline couldn't imagine a more perfect wedding.

Instead of a traditional wedding party, Klaus and Caroline had each opted to just have their children stand up with them during the ceremony. Lizzie and Josie had been excited to pick out and wear their new dresses, and Hope had been thrilled by the similarity of her role to the episode of Gilmore Girls in which Rory had served as her grandfather's 'best man' when Richard and Emily had renewed their vows. So while the twins got to wear floor-length garnet red silk evening gowns, Hope wore a black suit with a white dress shirt and a matching garnet red tie. Though Rebekah had admitted that she was a little disappointed that she didn't get to be a bridesmaid, she'd also acknowledged that it was fitting for the two of them to be joined by their children as the five of them officially became a family, and as if to prove that she'd meant it, she'd taken numerous pictures of the five of them during the ceremony,

To be polite, Caroline had sent wedding invitations to all of her old friends, but only Matt and a very uneasy Bonnie showed up, with Alaric, Damon, and Elena not only refusing to come, but refusing to speak to Caroline after receiving the invitations.

But Caroline and Klaus were now happily married and didn't really care what anyone else thought. Everyone who they had wanted to be there to share their special day had been there, and no one else mattered. What mattered was Rebekah and Freya accompanying Caroline to the bathroom so that they could help fix her makeup and hugging her as they welcomed her to the family. What mattered was when Rebekah had selected the song they danced to at the ball Esther had hosted in that same room for their first dance. What mattered was Kol's sincere congratulations, and Rebekah snatching Caroline's bouquet out of her hands because she refused to let anyone else get married before she did. What mattered was Klaus dancing with each of the girls in turn, and the proud smile he gave each of them as they made their toasts.

The only thing that mattered was their family.

"Well if I'd known how hazardous this marriage was going to be to my digestive system, I would have objected," Lizzie shot back at Klaus. "If you two are going to continue to be this disgustingly affectionate, can I have Freya as my chaperone instead? Or Rebekah and Marcel?"

"Freya is still with Vincent and the rest of the witches, and I believe Rebekah and Marcel are taking advantage of the house being empty," Klaus told her.

"Seriously?" Lizzie groaned.

"What's serious?" Kol announced his presence, accompanied by Davina and Josie.

"Not you, as always," Klaus replied.

"Well, I knew that," Kol responded. "I'm just dropping off the child; I've done my part, it's someone else's turn to be responsible for her. We'll see you later."

Kol barely waited for a goodbye before disappearing into the crowd with Davina.

"Did you have fun with Kol and Davina?" Caroline asked Josie.

"Yeah!" Josie answered. "They're nice, and funny, and they know a lot about magic. I got to meet some of the other witches, too. They acted like they had heard of us, Lizzie. Kol said, 'This is Josie,' and this lady told all of the others, 'She's one of Klaus Mikaelson's wife's daughters, the last of the Gemini Coven witches.' It's like we're famous here."

"Cool," Lizzie grinned.

"What's cool?" Hope asked as she joined them.

"Me," Lizzie answered. "And Josie."

"Is the situation with the wolves resolved?" Klaus asked Hope.

"Yes, finally," Hope answered. "I would be concerned about their apparent ability to fight over anything if I didn't know that they'd fight for each other against anyone."

Before Hope could launch into the details of the conflict among the wolf pack, Caroline interrupted to tell the girls to pose together for a picture.

They complained a little, but soon obligingly put their arms around each other's shoulders and smiled for Caroline's phone camera while she snapped a few quick photos.

A tourist offered to take a picture for them so that Caroline and Klaus could be in it, and, figuring that they could easily chase her down if she decided to steal Caroline's phone, they gratefully accepted her offer, and Caroline moved to stand next to Lizzie and Klaus stood next to Hope.

A moment later, the woman was returning Caroline's phone, now with several photos of the five of them in her camera roll.

As Caroline looked at the pictures of her happy and whole family, she couldn't help but think of how different all of their lives had been just a year ago. She had spent weeks being Klaus's closest confidante, the only person who could get through to him as he struggled to figure out how to be a good parent, after years of not speaking to him at all. Klaus had sacrificed his own life to save his daughter's after a series of devastating events that reunited the father and daughter for the first time in years. Hope was angry, bitter, and guilty after losing both of her parents within weeks and feeling responsible for their deaths, plus dealing with the life-altering consequences of triggering her werewolf curse. Lizzie felt lost, alone, and misunderstood, even among her own family. Josie saw herself as one half of a pair rather than her own person.

They were all so much happier now.

Last Mardi Gras had seemed like the end of Klaus Mikaelson's life story, and the end of a chapter in the lives of everyone who knew and loved him. But Caroline had refused to allow that to be Klaus's ending, and in turn had given her own story a much happier ending.

And as Caroline looked up to watch as Lizzie, Josie, and Hope laughed with Klaus about something, the sound somehow rising over the music and the noise of the crowd, she thought to herself that the way her story had turned out—even with all of the loss and grief and fear and loneliness she'd felt along the way—was better than anything she read in books as a child, or anything she could have imagined for herself when she was younger: because while humans in fairy tales only get their happy ending for the final page, vampires get to live out their happy endings forever.