QueenofAllShips04 - It's more that Katherine is scared of having children, not that she doesn't want them. I think I might dig into that fear just a little deeper in a future chapter.

You guys are so adorable. I love your reviews. Such sweethearts I have! I'm so grateful for your continued patronage to my story!
I hope everyone is doing well in this quarantine and state of somewhat reopening in places. Please stay safe and be smart, guys! t

Full disclosure: No, the Virginia State Zoo does not exist. I figured an imaginary zoo would be a little easier to work with for fictional liberties, but I did kind of base it on the conjunction of other zoos. I tried to research as much as I could what type of animals would be in zoos on the east coast, particularly Virginia. I will admit the ones used in this chapter may not exactly be native to this part of the US, or even the country, but I'm hoping we can forgive me for the leniency? :)


PART 17

Mystic Falls Elementary, School Bus – Thursday, May 7th 7:42 a.m.

Weeks passed and Spring had fully begun to flourish. Miss Caroline's class had surpassed Easter eggs and bunny ears, and was gearing up for a field trip to the Virginia State Zoo, an hour outside of Mystic Falls. The weather was sunny and cool, brown bagged lunches were packed, and safari themed name tags were designed a week before in anticipation. It would be a welcome relief to the impending doom that was on the horizon.

Finding the minimum three chaperones for the trip, however, was a doom all its own. Caroline managed to convince Bonnie, her best friend and recently turned single mother, to close up her holistic health practice for one day to join them. The other two spots were tougher to fill. In the end, she had to put her differences aside concerning her former friend's affair between two brothers and enlist Elena. The only other option was Hayley, and Elena was definitely the lesser of two evils.

The Mikaelson family was the most difficult to recruit, due to current circumstances. With the trial 24 hours away, they needed all the time they could get to prepare, and while he was her optimal choice, Finn and Elijah refused to let Klaus skip anything more since he'd bailed on the mediation and landed them in a courtroom in the first place. They'd offered up Katherine in his stead, but it turned out Katherine didn't "do animals" so she was left with the only other legal option of the family.

"Oh! Miss Caroline! Over here!" Kol was waving his hand frantically from his seat in the front of the school bus, putting on such a show that she couldn't help but laugh.

She walked up the aisle and sat beside him. "Happy?"

"More than you could ever know."

She rolled her eyes but grinned, uttering as she raised her travel coffee mug to her lips, "You are way too chipper this early in the morning."

"Morning person," he happily informed her.

To her left, across the aisle, it was no surprise to see Henrik seated beside his classmate, and new friend, Bryce Donovan. It made sense that he would gravitate towards Bryce. The blue-eyed blonde was a miniature clone of his father, but had his mother's patience and sweet demeanor. He wasn't the brightest kid in her class, but he was the kindest, and her own personal enforcer of the zero-tolerance rule when it came to bullying.

"Are you excited?" she asked them.

They both nodded. "Nik said there's monkeys at the zoo," Henrik told her.

"There are. You might even get to see a gorilla."

Bryce frowned meekly. "What's a grilla?"

Kol leaned over her, ignoring her protest. "Have you ever seen King Kong?"

Bryce shook his head while Henrik tapped his chin. "The movie with the 'pire state building?"

"King Kong was that big monster that climbed on top of it."

Bryce's eyes widened comically. "There's a monster at the zoo?!"

The bus suddenly sprang to life with the panicked chatter of children - "A monster?"; "I hate monsters!"; "There's no such things as monsters, right Miss Caroline?"; "We're gonna see monsters?!"; "Monster zoo!"

Caroline sighed, shooting Kol an annoyed glare. "Thank you." She turned around in her seat to lean over it. "Guys, please calm down! There are no monsters at the zoo. It was just a misunderstanding."

"Nik said we weren't s'posed to watch that movie," Henrik mumbled.

"I wonder why." Caroline's eyes slid to Kol who tried feigning an innocent smile.

"Miss Caroline? What is at the zoo?"

She smiled at the little girl asking. "We talked about this in class, remember? A zoo is a big home for lots of animals so that we can see and study them. Some are brought there to keep them safe or if they've lost their homes."

"Are there lions?" One student asked.

"Snakes and lizards!" cheered another.

"And zebras?"

"Monkeys!" Henrik jumped up from his seat, turned backwards like Caroline was.

She giggled, mildly surprised to see him react. "Yes. All of those animals will be at the zoo, but first we have to get there. I need everyone to sit in their seats, seatbelts on. Okay?" They agreed in unison and the sound of off beat clicking filled the air. "You too, Henrik."

He slid back down in his seat and fastened his belt in one try. She looked around the bus to make sure they were settled, then signaled the driver and their bumpy ride began. The children instantly started to get loud again, laughter filling the air as they all bumped around in their seats, their excitement getting the better of them.

"Hey guys?" Caroline called out again, leaning over her seat once more. "I need you all to listen okay? Listening ears please. We're going to be on the bus a little while. Let's try to stay in our seats and not get too loud so the driver can get us there safely. When we get to the zoo, we all need to stay together. Do we all have our field trip buddies?"

"Yes," they all answered.

"Good. Make sure you always have your buddy with you. We also have our chaperones who are some of your classmates' parents. Sophia's mom Miss Bennett, right back there. And Zach's mom, Mrs. Salvatore. We also have Henrik's brother here to help out, Mr. Mikaelson. You are to listen to them the same way you listen to me. We'll break into groups and they'll be the group leaders which means they're in charge. Everyone got it?"

The bus rang out with a unified, "Yes, Miss Caroline."

She turned and sat back normally, glancing to Kol, catching him staring in ridicule. "What?"

"Mr. Mikaelson?" He tutted and then, before she could respond, he leaned up over the seat and called out, "Kiddies! Your attention please! I'd like you to ignore your teacher and only refer to me as Kol. None of this mister anything. I mean, look at this face. Do I look like a mister?"

Some of them giggled and one brave soul called out, "Yes."

"What?! Who said that?"

The bus erupted in laughter. Even Caroline was amused.

"All right." He nodded. "I see how it is. Tell you what. Whoever said that doesn't get to be in my zoo group."

"So?"

"So? So I'm only the coolest chaperone ever."

"No, you're not," Henrik teased.

Kol pointed at him, arching a brow. "I'll get you later."

Caroline pulled him back down. "You know you don't get your own group, right?"

"What? Why not?"

"You seriously think you can handle six kids running around a zoo all by yourself?"

"Then why am I even here?"

"Because I needed to fulfill the chaperone requirement." She smiled sweetly.

He stared at her, eyes twinkling. "Devious. I like it." She rolled her eyes with a laugh. "So I suppose I'll be tagging along with you all day?"

"I know you are more than excited to get to spend a day with me."

"Even if I am, it's incredibly narcissistic of you to think so."

"Takes one to know one," she shot back, grinning. He did too. "Besides. It gives us the opportunity to get to know one another better."

"Sure. What do you want to know? Oh," he held up a finger. "I'm a boxers man. Although I do like to go commando from time to time."

"Ew! Kol!" She shoved his arm and he rocked slightly, grinning. "That is not what I meant."

"It's quite airy."

"You are so gross."

He folded his hands behind his head and leaned back with a smirk, watching her shake her head. "You're wondering now, aren't you?"

She scoffed. "No. I'm not."

"You could just ask. I have no problem telling you if I'm wearing underwear right now."

"Kol. This is a kindergarten field trip. Can you at least pretend to be an adult, just once, just for today? For me?"

He groaned, sitting up so he could pull his iPod out. "You're not half as fun as Nik makes it seem."

Her head whipped around. "What did you say?"

He put his headphones in and waggled his brows with a snarky grin as he sat back.

"What did he tell you?" But Kol closed his eyes and began bobbing his head, ignoring her. She slumped back in her seat, crossing her arms in petulance. "I am so killing him after this trip."


Virginia State Zoo – 11:42 a.m.

The morning was gone in a blink. They had seen lions, and tigers, and bears, and oh my god was it tiring. Kol turned out to be as entertaining as he was a handful, delighting the kids with animal impressions while Caroline tried to get them to listen to the tour guide. Henrik stayed close to him, and it was a shock to see how giggly and childlike he became with Kol around.

At 11:30 it was time for a lunch break – a gratifying grace period where all three groups met up to eat and the chaperones could take a load off. While the kids enjoyed sharing their experiences so far with each other, Caroline was just grateful to have a moment to sit and converse with adults who weren't Kol.

"How's it going?" she asked Bonnie as she sat down at the wooden picnic table beside her.

"Oh, you know. Kids at a zoo." She nodded her head towards Caroline's group. "How are your kids treating you?"

Caroline looked over too. "Like kids at a zoo."

"Looks like you have one big kid to look after, too."

Caroline nodded with a smile as they watched Kol making animal noises and gestures with the kids at his table.

"Sorry I couldn't keep him away from you at the elephant sanctuary."

"It's okay." Bonnie shrugged. "He's kinda cute."

Caroline turned her head sharply with a scowl. "And kinda young."

Bonnie was watching him with a twinkle in her eye. "How young?"

Caroline laughed, raising a brow. "Seriously?"

"What? I'm newly single and I'll mingle if I want to."

"Wait a minute. You said he was beyond annoying at Henrik's party."

"I had just ended my engagement. I didn't want to mingle with anyone."

"And now you do?" Bonnie shrugged, a tiny smile tugging at her lips. Caroline rolled her eyes. "Trust me. He is not your type."

"And Kai was?"

"You guys were together for five years. That has to count for something."

Bonnie rolled her eyes, expression dulling. "He only asked me to marry him when he found out I was pregnant. We never set a date because he never actually wanted to marry me. So no, I think it's safe to say he was not my type."

"Okay, good point."

"Who knows. Maybe a younger man is just what I need." She grinned as she picked up her salad bowl and walked with it over to join Kol at his table. He was utterly delighted and Caroline was utterly dismayed.

She spent the remainder of lunch time stealing careful glances over at them, not sure if she should be concerned. Judging by Bonnie's smile, her friend was pleased so she'd tuck her worry in a safe place for now. Knowing that Kol was probably not the long-term commitment type, nothing serious would come from it, but if it gave Bonnie a little happiness, she wouldn't judge.

A little tug on her shirt reminded her where they were and she found Henrik at the other end of it.

"Miss Caroline, are we going to see the monkeys soon?"

"Let me see." She pulled out her map and unfolded it, laying it out so she could gauge their path. Henrik climbed up to sit beside her on his knees, looking with her. "We are here...looks like we have to go through the reptile house first, and then we get to the primates." He sank down with a small nod, shoulders slumping. "Hey...what's wrong?"

"I wish Nik could see the monkeys."

She smiled gently. "I wish he could too."

"Can we come back one day? With Nik?"

"I'm sure he'd love that. And I would too."

Henrik smiled, a real smile, and she treasured it.

"There's my little hellion." They turned their heads to see Kol behind approaching. "Are you giving her a hard time like I taught you?" Henrik giggled. He crouched down to Henrik's level, mussing his little mop of hair. "You having a good time bud?"

Henrik ducked his head away, but nodded. "Yes."

"I know I'm no Nik, but I know something that could make up for it."

"What?"

"You see that little gift shop over there?" Henrik looked over at the bamboo store front with an animal print sign hanging over head. The plethora of colors inside were enticing. "What do you say we go find something to bring home? Maybe a monkey of your very own?"

Henrik smiled and nodded, climbing out of his seat. "Can we get one for Nik?"

"Don't see why not. It's going on his credit card." Kol winked at Caroline then lifted his brother up to sit on his shoulders. "We'll be back."

She smiled at their backs as they walked to the shop, endeared and grateful. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe there was more to Kol than she assumed.


By the time they finally reached the primates habitat, Henrik had grown completely silent, but his eyes were shining with pure excitement. The monkey house was cooler than the air outside, with wall to wall windows showcasing the manufactured jungle inside. The trees had curved branches, upon which several monkeys of differing types were climbing and perched. In some places there were rope nets hanging between, and a little hammock off to one side, tied between two larger branches. Down the line were other environments; one blander with sand and stone; another with a much greener view that housed apes.

Henrik held his new stuffed capuchin closely, Kol in tow wearing a neon green monkey with abnormally long limbs around his neck, its hands clasped with velcro.

"Look at that monkey's butt!" one of the kids ahead shouted out.

"That's a baboon," another corrected him.

"You're a baboon."

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

"Miss Caroline!"

"Tattle tale! Tattle tale!"

"Look!" Henrik's shout surprised them all. He was pointing at one of the mangabey monkeys coming towards them.

The kids flocked to the window into the "jungle" and began waving, shouting at the monkey. The monkey stopped on a nearby branch and sat, scratching its armpit, looking at them with big unsure brown eyes. A series of sounds erupted, "ooh"s and "aah"s and a combination creating a school of Miss Caroline's very own monkeys. The mangabey suddenly stuck his tongue out at them and the room filled with laughter, and soon they all began sticking their tongues out back at him. Kol was making more of a show of it. Caroline laughed and took her phone out to document the moment.

As she panned the camera she noticed Henrik standing at the end of the line, watching the monkey thoughtfully. Surprisingly, one of the other monkeys was looking back at him and heading his way. The little boy tensed up as the monkey swung its way to the window and stopped in front of him. He put his tiny furry hand on the window. Henrik smiled and put his hand up too and the class hushed, watching them communicate. Caroline seized the moment and sent it in a text to Klaus.

Caroline to Klaus:
[PICTURE]
Someone made a friend.

Klaus to Caroline:
I'm glad he's having a good time.

Caroline to Klaus:
He's not the only one.

She sent him the video of Kol she'd captured, snickering to herself.

Caroline to Klaus:
[VIDEO CLIP]

Klaus to Caroline:
They share an eerie likeness.

Caroline to Klaus:
Right?
Caroline to Klaus:
How's everything going?

Klaus to Caroline:
Going.

Caroline to Klaus:
Wish you were here. [HEART EMOJI]

Klaus to Caroline:
Me too. [2 HEART EMOJIS]

With a lamenting sigh, Caroline tucked her phone away and ushered the group toward their next stop. They made their way to the safari stage where they watched an overly enthused zookeeper introduce them to smaller exotic animals, some of them even venturing to pet the tiny lizards and birds. After the show, they spent some time between the gift shops and petting zoo where the frenzy for animal feed created mass chaos in the pens. Kol was nearly trampled by the baby goats, and Elena had gotten spit on by one of the baby alpacas. Caroline tried to hide her delight at that, but Bonnie caught her which led to a minor scold that only resulted in their shared laughter. As the day was winding down, the class reunited as a whole and a brief vote was taken to visit one last exhibit before returning to the bus.

"They walk funny." Henrik's voice echoed through the dim tunnel as he watched the waddling black and white birds nearly bumping into each other at every turn.

"I think they're littler than us," Bryce commented beside him.

"Smaller," Henrik corrected him. "Littler's not a word."

Bryce half frowned and went to join the other kids. Henrik frowned harder, watching his friend leave, but before he could understand why, his brother appeared.

"Funny little things, aren't they?" Kol leaned his hand against the glass. "They remind me of Elijah."

Henrik looked up with a funny look. "Why?"

"Well they look like they're wearing little party suits, don't they?"

He gestured and Henrik tilted his head, studying the penguins. The rest of the group was huddled around in a mass watching the penguins slide down their slide and into the water below, their giggling voices filling the air as they scrambled to follow them along their swim. Henrik remained off to the side, fixated on a smaller group of penguins swimming and waddling on the island above in formation. Caroline watched him thoughtfully for a moment until deciding she should check on him, but someone else beat her to it.

"I love penguins."

Henrik turned at the timid voice beside him. It was his classmate Sophia. Her hands were clasped in front of her as she watched them through the glass with a contented smile. Caroline leaned in with them.

"Me too," she confessed in a whisper, winking at Sophia who smiled wider.

"Why?" Henrik's little brows creased, his question lingering between the two of them.

Caroline shrugged, glancing over at the flock. "They're cute, don't you think?"

"And smart," Sophia nodded, pressing her hands to the glass. "My mommy told me they always find their way home because they always remember where they left it."

Henrik frowned. "So do dogs and cats."

She shook her head and her black curls swung in her side-ponytail. "Dogs and cats don't remember. They use their noses and smell their way home. Penguins just remember."

Henrik seemed surprised by the new information and turned to look at the penguins again. "Does it take forever 'cause they walk so slow?"

Sophia giggled. "They don't walk, they waddle!" And she proceeded to demonstrate, waddling around in a circle.

Henrik smiled, watching his new friend with a fascination and amusement as she flapped her arms. Soon, he found himself joining her. Caroline was smitten as she watched the pair, unable to resist snapping a little recording on her phone once all of the students started following suit.

"Okay, my little penguins. It's just about time to head back to the bus," she announced.

"Come on!" Sophia grabbed Henrik's hand and he gasped, pulling back instantaneously. To his shock, her hand came with him, still very much attached to his. Caroline paused, on alert and hesitant. Sophia slowly turned and walked the space back to Henrik. "What's wrong?"

He was looking down at their linked hands with wide eyes. Caroline frowned, stepping forward.

"Henrik?"

He looked up, but not at either of them, thinking. When he met Sophia's eyes again, he said "Let's walk."

She smiled, kind and patient. "Okay."

She started to step forward and he squeezed her hand. "Don't let go."

Caroline's lips parted in shock as the pair walked through the tunnel ahead and it was Kol's hand on her shoulder that snapped her out of it. When she turned to look, he was frowning deeply.

"That's new."


Caroline's apartment - 7:39pm

After a long day at the zoo with the kids, it was a great relief to be home, in comfy pajamas, with a glass of wine in one hand and the TV remote in the other. Just as she had snuggled onto the couch to enjoy some HGTV, someone knocked on the door. She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing whoever it was away, but ultimately caved and padded to the door to open it.

Klaus was standing outside and, really, she should have guessed that. Still, she paused, briefly startled by his appearance. Had they made plans to see each other and she forgot? Duh, the case was tomorrow so he was no doubt out of his mind with dread and needing a shoulder to lean on. She meant to ask him to come in, but what came out was –

"You shaved."

His brows shot up and he licked his lips with a half shrug. "Have to appear before a court of law tomorrow. Can't go looking unkempt."

She crossed her arms with a lopsided grin. "Elijah made you shave."

"You don't like it." He made it a question.

"I didn't say that." She walked forward and stroked his cheek. "It's...different."

He nodded. "You don't like it."

Caroline laughed and pecked his lips. "I like you. Stubble or no stubble."

She gestured him in and they convened in the living room.

"How was the zoo?" he asked as he sat on the couch.

"Eventful."

"It was all Henrik could talk about since he got home." He shook his head. "I don't think he'll ever let go of that stuffed monkey."

"You're lucky he's not asking you to buy him a real one."

He laughed silently, sitting on the couch. "He'd be able to persuade me."

"But how could you ever persuade Elijah and Finn?"

His eyes slid to hers with a smirk. "You're catching on quickly, I see."

She shrugged. "Just a hunch. They don't come off like the wild animal harboring types."

"And yet we tolerate Kol."

"Be nice." But she laughed.

"Did he give you any trouble?"

Her face scrunched. "Has he always been infatuated with older women?"

He face tightened. "What did he do?"

"Nothing to me. He knows better." She repressed a laugh as she watched him ease. "I mean, he's nineteen. He should be running around chasing all the young hotties on TikTok or Instagram. ...Never mind," she shook her head when she realized his confusion. "He was flirting with one of the chaperones. Who also happens to be my best friend."

"I'll have a talk with him."

"No! Don't. I don't want to embarrass him. And she's kind of...into him? I mean, she also just ended a long engagement and is probably not the most emotionally stable person right now." She glanced at Klaus who was rubbing his chin with a deeply furrowed brow. "What's that look for?"

Klaus raised a brow. "My sister's degenerate boyfriend turns out to be your college mate. Kol is now after your friend. I'm just wondering if there's anyone else you'd like to unleash on my family? Perhaps a sister you want to fix up with Finn?"

"Only child." She grinned, leaning into him. "And I've already got you, so..." She traced his collar. "Nope." He smiled and kissed her forehead. "Although..." He rolled his eyes dramatically and she laughed. "Henrik had a little moment with one of his classmates today."

"Oh?"

"She took his hand."

"I imagine that went well."

"Actually...it did. He froze up for a second, and then...he was fine." She smiled reverently. "He even told her not to let go." Klaus' expression changed slowly, his eyes growing in size. She nodded. "Yeah."

He swallowed, blinking in realization. "He's learning to trust."

She laid her hand over his. "This is a good thing."

"In moderation, perhaps. Trust can be easily broken if given too freely."

She drew her hand back, frowning. "You think being closed off is better?"

"It's safer."

"For him or for you?" She stood up and walked a few paces away, her heart pounding with adrenaline.

He opened his mouth and closed it, realizing his misstep. "That's not what I – "

She whipped around, eyes narrowed. "Is that where it went wrong with you and Tatia?"

Klaus' entire body stilled with his rigid silence. "Do not go there."

In truth, she hadn't meant to. It just slipped out. But now that it had... "Why not? Do you not trust me enough to know?"

He looked away, swallowing hard. His voice was tighter than his muscles. "I'm not ready."

"Klaus, you might never be ready, but if you want this to work you're going to have to talk about it."

He looked up at her with pleading eyes. "Not tonight."

With everything else going on, she couldn't fault him that. She nodded wordlessly, sitting down again. They both stared at the floor, muted. She reverted her thoughts back to Henrik and a small smile pressed at her lips.

"There is another explanation." Klaus looked up at her, bemused. "He has a crush."

His lips parted and his laugh was part scoff. "At six years old, that's hardly plausible."

"Oh come on! It's adorable. You should have seen them in the penguin exhibit." She raised a finger. "In fact! I'll show you." She pulled her phone out, and a few swipes later she was leaning into him, showing him the video she'd taken of Henrik and Sophia mimicking the penguins.

"I'm glad he had a good day today." His smile was weak.

"Yeah." It was quiet again as she locked her phone and held it in her lap. "What time is the hearing?"

"Nine o'clock."

"You think you're ready?"

He sighed heavily. "As ready as we can be."

"How do your brothers feel? I mean, do they think you'll win?"

"They've made a good case, but we won't know what kind of judge we'll have. Or what kind of defense Esther has concocted. No doubt she'll have enlisted the best of the best."

"The best of the best can't change what she let happen to you." He leaned forward and she obligingly moved off of him. He hung his head and began wringing his hands. "Klaus?"

"I told them I thought it best I didn't testify."

She gaped. "But you're like, the nail in her totally deserved coffin!"

He turned to face her again. "I don't want to stoop to her level of slandering to win."

"But it's not slander, it's – "

"This is, and always was, about what's best for Henrik." She frowned and he held her shoulders comfortingly. "Believe me, love. It's better for everyone if I just stay out of it. Let Elijah and Finn do their jobs. They're good at it."

"I guess..." His thumb stroked her shoulder and she shimmied out of his hold. "Promise me you'll keep me posted throughout the day. As much as you can."

"I'll do my best."

She held his face between her hands, thumbs stroking the now smooth skin. "I love you."

His eyes softened and he turned his head to kiss her palm. He leaned his head down against hers. "I love you."

She closed her eyes, breathing him in and savoring the moment. She felt him lean back and his fingers combed her hair back behind her ear.

"There is one small favor I need to ask you."

Her eyes opened and she smiled gently. "Of course."

He hesitated, his eyes searching hers with lament. "Keep him in good spirits tomorrow. By the end of the day, his life could be changed drastically."

She swallowed, her stomach starting to turn. She smiled it away, ever the optimist. "Or it could stay the same."

He smiled feebly and pulled her into him in an embrace. She hugged him tightly, nestling her head against his chest. His heart was rampant and she was sure if she focused on hers she'd feel the same anxiety pounding in her chest. It was nauseating, being on the cusp of the unknown, and it had them clinging to each other for dear life. She just wished they could cling to Henrik, too.