Better Late Than Never
Insert Obligatory Disclaimer Here - I do not own TVD or its characters. (Phew!)
Things to know:- This is an AH/All Human drabble series turned fic.
- For the sake of the prompt, Henrik is aged down, but the rest of the OGs will stay their - relatively - respective ages.
Tap, tap, tap went Caroline's foot. It was 3:09 p.m., rendering her beyond impatient. And with just cause. It had been a long day, filled with ABCs, 123s, spills, stains, and ultimately, really sore feet. She should have learned by now that pumps were an inappropriate choice for Kindergarten, but she'd be damned if she gave up her dignity for a bunch of five-year-olds.
The last few straggling parents convened in their usual circle by the playground their children had scampered toward the second the bell rang at 2:50 p.m. They were the elite – the in-crowd socialites of the parenting world who had nothing but time to stand around gossiping about their mommy blogging, their latest trendy diets, dating scandals in the community, or the secretive newcomers to Mystic Falls – the Mikaelsons.
The construction on their mansion had taken a few short months and had the town abuzz with speculation. Who were they? What did they do? How much money did they have and why take up residency in their small town? They were seen in glimpses but never all together. The youngest was a five year old and the eldest was in his thirties. There were a handful of them, at least one teen aged female, and one male who didn't resemble the others but there was no certainty as to whom was family and who was not. When there didn't appear to be a mother figure, the rumors started. They were gays who liked to adopt; they were orphans; they were gypsies; they had been abducted by aliens! The less they saw of the Mikaelsons, the more the town talked.
Caroline ignored it all. She was one of the first to meet the head of the household, eldest brother Finn. He had been looking to enroll his youngest brother and wanted to personally meet the woman he would be entrusting him to on a daily basis. She gave him her usual spiel about the curriculum and the daily class schedule, let him tour the classroom and answered all questions expertly. Her own questions burned something fierce. He offered minimal information. He and two of his brothers shared legal guardianship over the rest. There were six of them, total. Their parents were never mentioned and she desperately wanted to know the backstory but her instincts told her to keep her mouth shut, for once.
That was the only time she saw Finn. Henrik joined her class the following week.
She'd managed to connect with most of her students on some level, but little Henrik had been a mystery. He wasn't as vocal or as boisterous as the others and didn't interact with many of his classmates. At first, she assumed he just needed an adjustment period and gave him the benefit of the doubt, but as time went on, she learned his timid nature was who he was. It wasn't a lack of interest as he excelled in all academic areas. It was socialization that he shied away from. Play time was often spent in the miniature library where he would study the characters of Dr. Seuss, trace the lines that Harold's purple crayon drew, and watch the mouse cause chaos every time you gave it a cookie. In fact, story time was when she saw him the most animated. Since he couldn't read, he loved to listen. His eyes lit up and he sat just a little straighter, leaning a little forward, eager to hear the story behind his favorite images unfold. Yes, the nervous little boy who was currently standing beside her bowing his head and kicking at the pavement beneath his feet was an anomaly. As far as five-year-olds went.
"It's not like your brother to be this late," she mused aloud.
Henrik nodded, sparing only a tiny glance out of the corner of his eye before blood rushed to his face again in an embarrassed blush. Caroline sighed, looking down at her watch again – 3:14.
"Tell you what. Why don't we go wait for him inside? It has to be more fun than this, right?"
He shrugged and nodded, letting out a little huff of disappointment before he turned, ready to follow her. She smiled and held out her hand and he looked at it with wide eyes, as if she'd just insulted him gravely. It made her wonder if a lack of affection at home was a reason why he was so reserved. She let her hand lower to the back of his shoulder instead, and he half-flinched when she did, seemingly in surprise rather than pain, but he made no objection and so she led him back into the school.
She'd seated him at his table with a coloring book and basket of crayons and he seemed placated enough that she could sit at her own desk while she waited. It was unusual for his brother to run this far behind. Elijah had always been impeccably punctual, early even, greeting her with a pleasant smile that almost matched Henrik's before the boy would clasp his hand and they would retreat to their own lives, just like the rest. When they first met, she was shocked to learn he wasn't Henrik's father, but rather another one of his brothers. Despite the age difference, the resemblance was uncanny. Brown hair, brown eyes, same angular jaw structure, and matching noses. Never had she seen siblings so alike. It was…unnerving. And adorable.
She glanced at him again and he was frowning at the crayon in his hand. "What's wrong, Henrik?"
He looked over like he'd forgotten she was there. "I went outside the lines," he mumbled, his face filled with shame.
Her brows twitched and she smiled empathetically. "That's okay, sweetie. It doesn't have to be perfect."
He looked down at his picture with a tiny, scrunched up frown. "Kol's gonna laugh at me."
"Is that one of your brothers?" He nodded. She smiled slyly as she plucked one of her books from the aligned collection on the corner of her desk and got up, smoothing her skirt as she walked over to sit with him. "You know, some of the most famous artists don't stay in the lines. They don't even use the right colors. They make the sky green and the grass blue."
"Mmhmm." To emphasize her point, she opened up the art book she'd picked out, flipping pages. "And some of them don't even paint faces the right way." She turned the book so he could see, showing him a distorted portrait. "See?" He turned his head sideways, face screwing up in confusion. "This lady has a nose for a chin." He smiled, a tiny giggle miraculously stuttering out. He quickly covered his mouth to stifle it. Caroline beamed. "Do you know who made this?" He shook his head. "An artist named Pablo Picasso."
"Oh I know him!"
Her brows raised, pleasantly surprised. "You do?"
He nodded emphatically. "One of my brothers does paints and he told me…um…he told me about Ki-passo and No-mey."
It was Caroline's turn to giggle. "I think you mean Monet." She turned a page to where Water Lilies was depicted and pointed. "Monet's paintings are really fuzzy, but, sometimes, if you squint real hard, it gets a little clearer." He did and she became endeared by him. His head quirked to the right when he looked up at her again.
"What does it say?"
"Right there." He pointed to the caption beneath the picture.
"It says, 'Water Lilies, by Claude Monet. In 1893, Monet purchased land with a pond near his property in Giverny, intending to build something "for the pleasure of the eye and also for motifs to paint." The result was his water-lily garden.'."
"And that one?" He pointed to the adjacent page where one of Edgar Degas' Dancer paintings was printed.
"'Edgar Degas was a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is especially identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers.'" She smiled, running her hand over the photo. "He's one of my favorites."
"Mine too," a masculine voice said from behind her.
Both Henrik and Caroline turned in unison to find a man standing in the doorway. Her heart was aflutter with surprise and mild intrigue.
"Nik!" Henrik's chair thrust from behind him, falling over, and he darted across to hug him.
Caroline closed her book and stood, adjusting her shirt, very aware that the man's fierce blue eyes hadn't left her since they'd met. She held the book to her chest and put on her best smile, despite the slight agitation that this blonde mystery man was almost thirty minutes late.
"My apologies for the delay," he spoke with a distinctly British accent. "There was a bit of a mix up. Today was supposed to be my sister's turn to pick Henrik up but she fancied herself a trip to detention instead."
"No worries. These things happen."
Henrik was all smiles, hanging onto his brother's leg. "Miss Caroline knows A'casso."
"Pi-casso," he corrected. "And I'm very pleased to hear that your teacher is well-educated in the arts."
Caroline smiled wryly. "You must be the brother who paints."
"I am," he nodded, doing a quick once over, "but you can call me Klaus."
She nodded. She knew this game well. It wasn't the first time one of her kid's parents had shown interest. Mr. Salvatore had been particularly persistent, she remembered. Mrs. Salvatore wasn't too pleased when she got the call from Caroline about her husband's inappropriate behavior.
"Nice to meet you, Klaus. I'll see you tomorrow, Henrik." She turned to head back to her desk, unaware of the curious frown she'd left on his face.
"I really am sorry."
"I know you are." She shot him a knowing smirk as she returned her book to its brethren. "Have a nice day, Mr. Mikaelson."
Whenever it was raining, standard protocol for Kindergarten was to have parents enter the building and pick up their child on a one by one basis. For the most part, they were accommodating and prompt. Except for one.
"Do you know who's picking you up today, Henrik?"
He gave a little nonchalant shrug of his shoulders and went back to book he was looking at, clumsily pushing his hair out of his face. Caroline sighed, glancing up at the clock again. It was 3:11 p.m. She could've guessed who his ride was today, but she dreaded having to encounter another sloppy pick-up line and the awkward tension that followed it. She'd been fortunate enough all week but on this rainy Thursday, the odds were clearly against her.
Admittedly, he was an attractive man. His face had all the right angles in all the right places, and his eyes held a certain mystique. She wasn't normally one to get lost in blue eyes (she'd seen enough in the mirror) but his were that crystalline sapphire that no living being was immune to. Aesthetics were only half the battle, as their intensity and depth only created more intrigue. There was a certain anguish behind them, a bit of mystery and that was the real clincher. Mysterious guys were always insanely alluring, but she knew better than to trust them.
Lost in her daze, she failed to realize Henrik was standing in front of her desk waiting patiently for her to notice. She blinked and snapped out of it.
"Oh. I'm sorry, Henrik. Did you need something?"
He held up the book he'd been perusing, covering the better portion of his face with it. "Will you read this to me?"
She smiled a heartwarming smile and laid her pen down pushing herself back from the desk. "Of course."
She got up and immediately Henrik ran over to the carpet where the class held their "story time" circle. She couldn't help the little laugh that slipped out at his compulsory habits. Instead of dragging one of the chairs over, she joined him, sitting crisscrossed just as he was. He craned his neck to look over her arm when she opened the storybook to the first page:
"'The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind, and another, his mother called him "WILD THING!" And Max said "I'LL EAT YOU UP!" so he was sent to bed without eating anything." She turned a page and Henrik's eyes followed studiously. "That very night in Max's room a forest grew and grew and grew until his ceiling hung with vines, and the walls became the world all around, and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max, and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are."
She glanced up to check the time doing a double take when she saw Klaus standing in the doorway. He pressed his index finger to his lips and gestured for her to go on, his eyes slyly pointing toward Henrik. She looked down and saw the little boy looking up at her, waiting patiently but his eyes were enthralled.
"You wanna turn the next page?" He smiled and nodded and she turned the book so he could lift the page, turning it with pride and basking in having the special privilege to do what no other kindergartner was permitted. His eyes scanned the contents of the new pictures and words, as if he were absorbing every detail. "When he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars – " her voice roared as she read, " – and gnashed their terrible teeth – " she bared her teeth " – and rolled their terrible eyes – " her own eyes bulged " – and showed their terrible claws till Max said "BE STILL!" And tamed with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once, and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all, and made him king of all wild things."
Henrik beamed and threw his hands up. "Let the wild rumpus start!"
Caroline laughed. "Oh so you know this story." He bowed his head bashfully, grinning up at her with a guilty look. "Well then you won't mind if we finish it tomorrow. I think someone is here for you." She nodded at the doorway. Henrik turned and looked. This time, instead of running for his brother, he turned his back on him and sulked.
"Can we finish the story first?"
Klaus smiled knowingly and meandered over, hands clasped behind his back. "Now, Henrik, I'm sure Miss Caroline has more important things she'll need to be getting to."
Henrik looked down with the saddest eyes she'd ever seen. She couldn't keep her hand from going to her chest, especially when he stuck his lower lip out in a dejected little pout. Klaus sighed, seemingly familiar with this tactic, and crouched down to his brother's level. Suddenly his voice softened and lost all trace of irony.
"If you think about it, she's just said she can read more to you tomorrow. Which means the sooner we finish up today, the sooner it will be tomorrow." His brows raised in a pointed look as Henrik studied his expression.
"Okay," he reluctantly agreed. Klaus nodded and stood once again while Henrik pushed himself up with his palms and picked the open book up from her lap, looking wistfully down at the pages. "Can you teach me to read?"
"Hmm. I think maybe we should finish learning the alphabet, don't you?"
"I already learned," he objected.
Klaus crossed his arms with a challenging smile. "Let's hear it, then."
Henrik stood proudly, his voice contrastingly gentle. "A-B-C-D-E-F-G; H-I-J-K, M&Ms O P…" He mumbled the last, blushing at their direct attention on him.
Caroline laughed. "What about L and N?"
"Indeed," Klaus agreed, smiling too. "I think they'll be lonely without the rest of their mates." Henrik stared at him in confusion. "Never mind. Go on and put your book back and get your things. We've imposed on Miss Caroline enough for today."
"Oh, he hasn't imposed." She crossed her arms with a guarded smile. "Just you."
His lips pursed in a smirk. "My apologies."
"Let me guess. Another mix up?"
"Actually – "
She held a hand up. "It's okay. No need to explain or apologize. Not to me, anyway." She stalked away from him coolly to help Henrik gather his things. "I'll make you a deal," she told him, glancing sideways at Klaus. "Since your brother can't seem to pick you up on time, we can practice reading while we wait for him. Okay?"
Henrik's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Promise?"
"You have to say "you have my word." That's what Elijah and Nik always say."
Klaus' head dropped to his chest with a chuckle and even Caroline couldn't help her laugh. When he didn't budge, his little frown lines determined, she composed herself, pressing her lips thin with a nod.
"You have my word," she promised. The five-year-old's shoulders sagged in relief and he smiled satisfactorily. "Don't forget your coat in the closet." He nodded obligingly and ran to where his raincoat hung above his cubby.
"Thank you," Klaus' voice was at her neck, the rest of him suddenly beside her. She shivered but turned and gave him a resolute nod. "Truly. I appreciate you taking the time to facilitate his interests."
"It's my job." She folded her arms. "Besides, what else are we supposed to do while we wait for you?"
He tilted his head with a sly grin. "Well now that I know he's not the only one interested in my arrival…"
"That is not what I meant." But he only continued smirking. And oh God, the dimples. Why did he have to have dimples? She shook her head, her own lips betraying her in a smile. "You know I'm starting to think you do it on purpose."
"Show up only after all the other students and parents are gone."
"What purpose would that serve?"
"To get me alone. Have me all to yourself."
He pursed his lips in a deliberating pout. "That is an advantage, however you're forgetting one minor detail." He gestured to Henrik who was busy working diligently to get the buttons of his coat all snapped.
She laughed mockingly. "Right! Your little womanizing sidekick. Winning the hearts of girls everywhere by asking them to read to him until you can swoop in at the perfect moment. With the perfect thing to say." She narrowed her eyes, nodding with a finger directed at his chest. "I'm onto you, buddy."
He looked down at her finger then slyly back up to her face. "Now why would I reduce myself to such juvenile measures knowing a woman as clever as yourself wouldn't be susceptible to it?" He lifted a brow for added flair.
Her hands went to her hips and she continued nodding. "See? Perfect."
He laughed and she found it was a sound she was starting to favor. Lucky for her morals and dignity, Henrik rejoined them, his jacket buttons all snapped and completely off center. He had skipped one but his proud smile kept them from correcting his error.
"Got everything?" she asked and he nodded. "Good. So we'll pick up where we left off tomorrow, right?"
"Right. And don't forget, you gived me your word. It's in my pocket so I won't forget to bring it."
She giggled again, putting her hands up. "I am at your will."
He beamed up at Klaus excitedly, but Klaus had his own excited sights set on someone else. "Until tomorrow, then."
"Until tomorrow," she agreed.
He flashed her one last dimpled smile, completely smug, before taking the lead to exit. Henrik looked up with a curious frown as they walked out, his voice echoing in the hallway, "But I thought tomorrow's Elijah's turn…"
Caroline laughed to herself as she walked through the classroom, straightening up the chairs and stray supplies. So maybe he wasn't the worst Mikaelson. Despite her best efforts, he had charmed her. Not only was he sweetly devoted to Henrik and extremely easy on the eyes, but he was smart, and artistically inclined, and…smooth. Yes, damn him, he was slick as oil. The really warm kind that was used for pleasure.
A movement outside the window caught her attention and it was Klaus and Henrik walking down the front path of the school towards an SUV that was waiting by the curb. That was awfully bold of him, leaving such an expensive looking car with the keys in the ignition. And then it happened. The passenger side door opened and she caught a silhouette masked by a curtain of blonde. Henrik waved and the woman stepped out, leaning over to hug him as she did. She saw Klaus' hand go to her waist and he kissed her cheek. That was enough.
Caroline turned away from the window scoffing at herself for being so naive. How could she have let herself believe he might actually have been genuine? Here he was trying to sweet talk her when he had another bimbo in the car waiting for him! She should have trusted her instincts, realized he was just like all the other fathers that hit on her, but he played the game well, answering a question with a question to avoid a direct rebuttal, all the while ensnaring her with his wit and his too blue eyes and his stupid, obnoxious dimples! Well no way would she let him get away with it. No one made a fool out of Caroline Forbes.