disclaimer: fight me.
warning: now i'm just repeating myself.
Only when the goal is unattainable do I start to feel like I'm losing myself,
and this deep secret that hasn't come out yet is buried down deep with the rest.
I can't coerce you into this one, jealousy lay all your spells to bed.
I'll choose unloved instead
Before being considered to attend a court ball a woman must have proved her worth in a prior introduction to the Empress.
A lady of noble birth could only be considered friend of the court if they had passed this threshold, otherwise she would not be able to attend court affairs and she would be considered nothing of note, and would be unable to learn anything of import.
The Empress was that final stage before a woman could be recognized as of Petersburg. For Caroline Forbes she would get nowhere with the city's society if she did not make this journey, take this examination (for an examination - to test manners, fashion, and temperament - in all essence it was) and gain the favor of the Empress, or at least her acknowledgment. If successful enough to make a positive impression at the introductions Caroline would be able to secure the Empress's fondness and regard, which came with its own favors the least of which would be regarding speeding along her husband's climb up the ranks, and should she fail or offend to the Empress she would secure the whole of Petersburg's scorn, derision, and see risk having Tyler pinned in the same station forever as mere second lieutenant.
It would also not do to pretend to move about in Petersburg society without having first received its ruler's blessing, it would have been as in bad taste, and unacceptable as moving about a party without knowing, or greeting the host.
Her husband was a military man, her father was a military man, it further doubled for her this sense of debt towards the Empress. This woman the men of Russia would so readily die for, this woman Caroline had so admired in portraits, had read so much about – a woman who had received the love of all Russia, who exchanged letters with Voltaire and was an intellectual who esteemed the arts, fashion as hardily as she was esteemed in politics. She was a woman unlike any other woman of their time, she was an Empress.
Caroline felt more nervous about the impending visit to the palace than she had about her own wedding day, more fretful about what she wore (unassuming, but beautiful white, as all ladies at court must) than she had been when she'd been led into church only a few days ago. She had received all the noble education allowed to her in the far reaches of the countryside, had learnt the Polonaise, contredance, quadrille, round dance, the trapal, kamarinskaya, all the major ceremonial dances – Since childhood she had been learning everything of social importance, even in her father's estate on the edge of nowhere in preparation for one day being introduced to the Empress after she was wed to whichever noble husband suggested to her. Caroline had observed all norms of court etiquette, memorized how many steps she was supposed to make to approach the Empress properly, how to hold her head, her eyes, her hands. All the grace of movement, and the perfect polite diffidence and respect to relay in her manners in regards to this titan of a royal. A queen like no other.
And now, under her mother-in-law she was to observe these norms again, and quickly relearn what she already knew just so Carol Lockwood would be better confident of her abilities.
"You have a lovely way of curtsying, all sweetness," Carol remarked after her daughter-in-law had dipped lightly in presentation, she then breezed past her and Caroline, startled, rose and followed as quick as she could. Lady Lockwood's raised shoes clicked smartly across the peach tile of her hallways and Caroline felt like a scurrying mouse behind her, "There is that triumph, all that's left is for us to be received by my tailor, we're to shop for your white wardrobe as well as some other pieces more suited to the fashion."
Caroline stopped behind Lady Lockwood, letting one of the family's maids help her with her coat and slipped her bear fur muff over her hands. Frowning by how brisque and quick Lady Lockwood was, as if constantly intent to leave her floundering in the dust – she was a very business-like woman under her laughter and drink, but Caroline frowned. "I thought what I had was already in fashion."
"Oh dear, don't you know that in Peters it is always changing?"
"My wardrobe is...inadequate?" Caroline asked, hoping that she had not embarrassed herself already. She was rushing as lady-like as she could after Lady Lockwood into the cold daylight, with frost crunching on the marble steps. "I prepared before I came, I saw a haberdashers before the wedding and he assured me that – "
"Yes, yes," Lady Lockwood waved at the air, then slapped her palm into the footman's so she could be lifted into the tram. Caroline refrained from interrupting the Lady, not when she looked thoughtful, like it was fretful trying to come up with the correct words to properly relay exactly what she was trying to mean. Caroline stopped a moment, halted by her own indignation, the cold prickled at her skin even as she colored. Of course, Lady Lockwood was not being spiteful, it was after all her loss too if Caroline failed them, she inhaled, taking in the frozen air, it was sharp enough to clear her head and make her more sensible. It was easier to think reasonably when all she could smell was frost, clean and cold.
Caroline had herself composed by the time Lady Lockwood was seated. She let herself be assisted into the tram and pulled her skirts away from the door so it could be shut. Lady Lockwood spoke again, her face rosy and her eyes seemed a warm brown in the more subdued quiet of the tram, now that the wind wasn't whipping about their ears, but she found her words. "Your clothes are correct, they follow the fashions but…they are so modest, and so…unassuming!"
"My lady, I would not want to seem like I assume anything. They're tasteful."
"Well, they are – tasteful. Tasteful like furniture can be tasteful, informed by taste." Carol lay her head back, with a delicate huff, slipping her the fur-lined collar of her coat more levelly around her neck, and then she settled herself, prim and regal. "But they lack flair, they need more color – more daring."
"But I thought it is the custom to wear meek white when I meet the Empress and at all court balls?"
"You're to wear meek white when you meet the Empress, this once, it's a special introduction, is it not? But you cannot be meek in other affairs. You're not going to hold the interest of your husband, or your friends long if you are intent on making yourself as unobtrusive as possible. Be a little more risqué with the cut of your dresses, lower, more…flattering. Do not hide your prettiness away because you are afraid of 'assuming' or offending. St. Petersburg is a parade of finery, and you must adjust your plumage to it if you've any hope of being noted."
"You're…" Caroline open her mouth, shut it. Began diplomatically again, even though she had no care to be noted in such an exaggerated fashion (for she was no prancing doll meant to snatch attention and hold it selfishly with her own vanity) but it was important that she shine in her own right. Carol Lockwood had taken little time in pointing out to her that she was not merely wed to a soldier, but a noted member of society, as his wife she was an extension of his worth. What she did must not only always reflect his standing but further it. It was important that she be a success. She may not have liked the flippant way her mother-in-law was putting it, but she was correct. "I admit when you say it, it seems sensible –"
"It is sensible. You're married, newly-wed, you're no longer expected to pretend to be a virginal nun. You are a woman, no longer a girl, and you must dress accordingly, otherwise you will never be seen as an equal and never be taken seriously, and how awful would that be?" The Duchess Lockwood caught Caroline's eye, very emphatic and very firm in their conviction. She motioned up with her hand, perfecting her refined posture with a little exaggeration, directing from the pit of her abdomen to the core of her chest in one cool motion. It remidned Caroline of a regal bird of the exotic drawing itself up regal, colorful plumage splayed out, neck long, gaze impenetrable. "You," Lady Lockwood was matter-of-fact, "Are a creature of grace, and desire – none of this sensible puritan cut, you have married a noble man, and you needs must look the part!"
Which of course implied that Caroline to some extent did not, which would have been offensive in and of itself if it did not come from a place of constructive criticism, it was not a point of making conflict, but a point of deciding a change in both physical aspect and in her own outlook.
White? Wasn't she now too old to pretend to be such a child and too young to wear such modest tones? She was not widowed, had not discarded by society or abandoned by her beauty or youth. It would be wasteful and poorly calculated for of her to continue dressing and behaving so restrained and expect to be treated, as Carol Lockwood had pointed out, like an equal. She was no longer a girl, but a woman. A true lady. It was a point of pride, it was not only for her husband that she must pass under the Empress's eyes gracefully, but for her own family name.
"Come on," Carol Lockwood surprised her utterly by smiling impishly and leaning forward to playfully grasp her hand, as if they were sisters almost, rather than mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The suddenness of this touch implied an eagerness to become closer, and it was shocking, solicited a small burst of astonished affection in Caroline's own chest. Nervous, hopeful. Lady Lockwood had very warm eyes and was more beautiful than a woman her age was expected to be, all prim and proper, and yes, cold (as indicated by their first meeting) sometimes, but she did seem (dare Caroline hope?) to be trying at the very least to be as welcoming as she could be. Scraps though it might have been, Caroline was willing to take what little was offered in hopes of greater gains in future. She wanted to earn and learn this woman's confidence, and as a daughter-in-law earn her approval and a weapon of her own. "It will be so much fun! How dreadfully boring would it be to let you wither at home and be so dull at parties? It is my duty to make you take this city by storm. You are a good deal too attractive to be so careful and so tentative!"
Careful seemed to describe weakness, hesitation, a failing in her character, but Caroline did not consider herself tentative or any of those things. She was careful. Someone as meticulous with everything as she was needed to be, not only in matters of manner, or composure, but in all affairs. Everything Caroline did was thought-out extensively for she was a perfectionist, and though her precise expectations had sometimes grated on her peers back home, she could always be counted on to arrange everything to perfection.
She had taken this same strategy when it came to her clothes, knowing that she was meant to meet a society so different of her own, and knowing she needed to gain the approval of those around her she had endeavored to make herself as unassuming as possible, not small per se, but lesser, less...intimidating. Not to say she made herself cowed, but she did endeavor not to make herself a point of conflict. The less loud she made herself the more friends she would make, she had thought, for that would indicate a sweetness of manner. Lady Lockwood would not appreciate a bull-headed foreigner she could not mold, it was important that Caroline make herself as agreeable as possible. And her 'unassuming' wardrobe had been part of that, hadn't it? Knowing now, however, that society would expect more than that from her forced her to revise her strategy – she would wear their colors, dance their dances. Though she did so like the clothes she had brought with her…she would change them. No more light summer colors, or light cotton pinafores, she would have to be trussed up in bold fabrics like an over-embroidered cushion. It was necessary, lamentable, but necessary.
However, she would change as far as she could allow and still be true to herself, she did not care how low the cut Carol Lockwood might want her to wear her dresses if Caroline herself was not comfortable with them. She would dress like a fine lady, colorful, simple, regal. She was no painted whore – she was, after all, a Forbes. Not a harlot who'd picked up her skirts in a barn at the first fancy uniform to cross the estate.
"I will make adjustments to the clothes I've already brought with me," She acceded, gracefully making a little concessions while still maintaining her pride. "And I will take some advice in the new wardrobe we'll be planning for today."
Carol Lockwood noted the emphasis, and she shook her daughter-in-law's hand in hers before she sat back with a knowing smile. "You're proud, but diplomatic, Caroline. Those are important qualities, I can see how you might manage him, unruly as he is."
Caroline's face felt hot, with embarrassment, but also with pleasure. She only nodded once and turned to the window, pressing her fingers against the freezing glass, hiding just how much Lady Lockwood's approval meant to her, it was a colossal feat to keep the heat from her face as memories sprung uninvited in her mind thinking of another pair of hands, much larger and much warmer.
He stood under the overhang of a french cafe's roof, the corner of the park, watching the door of the house opposite like a fool. Damon's breaths hissed into the air in front of him and he stomped his boots, dislodging the frost collecting around his soles - he hated the weather, this perpetual teetering between freezing autumn, with rain that fell wet and streets that would churn in icy sludge. It had yet to snow, all there was was freezing wet and ice that would not thaw.
He felt ridiculous, clutching the brim of his hat down from the women who passed him, bitterness making the action forceful. A jealous paramour, one of those subjects of ridicule, cutting a figure to be mocked in literature. They giggled at him though, young girls with nothing but air behind their eyes. Now those were the little pastries he should be entertaining, using and discarding as he always had, but in all his life this was the first of times he found that he could not be tempted by them. Damon Salvatore had gone ill, and it was a sickness that cripple him senseless, a mutation of desire and the foolishness of that desire driving him further to desire that which he could not be allowed to possess. Damon Salvatore had fallen disastrously in love with a woman who thought little of his abilities outside of how successfully he could pleasure her.
Heat flushed his face, furious he stood in the cold. Barely contained by the gale that would occasionally whip about him, he felt the same useless anger of his youth, and the irony was not lost on him, would she be another one of his failures? She had made it very clear that he could not touch her further than her skin, and her heart was as shut from him as it was shut from everyone else, he had been put in his place by her, a place forever in the darkness only to come forward should she haughtily call for him. And willingly, furiously, he would come, because it was one thing to loath the darkness of being ignored by her, and one thing to loathe how easily he could be summoned, and how quickly he would arrive, and how nothing he did could punish her. He loved her madly, he was a fool.
Damon Salvatore hated Katerina as much as he loved her, and he could not hurt her, even if he knew how. He had tried flirting with other women, taking them to bed, but she would only observe him later and smirk, toss her haughty little head and the full extent of her amusement would be in her eyes as loud as if she had shaken the whole room with her derisive laughter. Other times she only raised a brow, as if to ask him what he was hoping to achieve, and other times she did not notice him for weeks on end, because she could not be bothered to remember him or remember his silly attempts at grabbing her attention.
He tugged at the fingers of his hand, then made a fist, closing and opening constantly as if to ward off the cold, getting his blood going, heated as it was in his cold body. He had stood hear for any hour waiting for Katerina, the man selling cheroots watched him, sat on a little box behind his stall, when Damon cast a look at him the pesky little Russian's brows rose, wiggled, knowingly - as if he knew exactly what this man was doing and had seen many of his like before, waiting foolishly before a woman's house, passionate cowards, waiting for the husband to leave the house, cautious before they could safely cuckold them.
The old man turned away with a scoff, and exchanged money with a customer.
A muscle in Damon's jaw tensed, Katerina had not returned in hours since her flight from here so early in the morning. Yesterday she had hurled his clothes at his back and screamed him out of her rooms, it was as wild as he had ever seen her, face red and twisting with the sort of visceral emotion that no man in the world could inspire from her, so full of feeling and rage and fear.
No man in the world, of course, except her husband.
The clatter of hooves on slick brick made Damon duck his head deeper behind his collar, he turned his body towards the little stall, bringing the brim of his hat lower. He kept the house in his peripheral, and felt the cold seer him to the bone, ice in the very pits of his stomach when he saw the great bay horse rear at Katerina's door.
Elijah Mikkelsen cut a figure that would forever separate him for a mediocre crowd, his proud height, his dignified stature. He dismounted from his horse with a gracefulness that was infuriating, nothing it seemed, could ever make Elijah Mikkelsen anything other than perfectly poised, and perfectly elegant, and perfectly composed in everything he did. That most noble of noble men.
Any man who stood next to him would feel a ruffian, and a man who dared think himself victor over Elijah in any manner or form, would be a fool.
The man now stood speaking to his horse, and speaking with the servant that came out to take the horse into the stables. Damon observed him from the corner of his eye, saw Elijah speaking unhurriedly, talking kindly from his great height to the filthy peasant - his brown hair perfectly groomed, his blue uniform spotless, and like Elijah without a wrinkle.
And then Elijah turned, the reigns having passed to the servants hands and looked directly across to him, exactly where the cafe was and where Damon, the fool, had stood.
Damon stiffened abruptly, the very idea of being spotted was like the slash of a sword against his spine. His face reddened, ice shot through his body, and he cursed everything that had brought him here, and cursed everything that had deigned to make this cool Russian nobleman an obstacle to his own happiness once again.
Elijah, though, made no move to cross the road, and Damon did not dare to look at his face to confirm it, for Elijah proceeded within the house. Perhaps he had not seen him?
Humiliation coursed through him, he was sure that Elijah could spot a man miles away. He had been seen, Damon was too certain of his own bad luck to doubt that.
Damon had only met the man once and been left with chills ever since, he curled his coat around him, the memory still daunted him. Katerina's husband was a mild manner man, polite and precisely aware of everything under that mute unoffended facade, his eyes were always that cool unflappable grey, the first they met those eyes were fixed on him, maybe with the hint of a smile so cold and so quiet it could not be pinned, but those eyes had given Damon the impression that Elijah knew exactly his relationship with his wife.
Elijah expressed no anger, only patient amusement. For it seemed that if Katerina was a hurricane then Elijah was the eye of it, and Damon's part in their opera was nothing but mere, an inconsequential, a rung in their story, an prop rather than the heart of any conflict.
It was unnerving. All men regarded Damon with some form of venom, jealousy, bitterness, but Elijah only observed Damon like he was as consequential as last years newspaper.
Elijah in his military regalia, tumbler in hand, following the conversation and Damon blustering like a fool because this man was not at all threatened by his wife's lover. And Katerina following Elijah's every movement with her eyes, and her breath caught in her throat, and her lips pressed sharply together, Damon thought that she maybe feared him, but Katerina was always so fearless wasn't she?
And cruel too, cruel as Damon had been when he was young and just starting to pluck at every woman who smiled at him.
He looked up, anger still fresh in his eyes. The shrill cry came from a boy with rags twisted around his boots, one of the urchins, young with skin so white it seemed there was not enough blood in his body. Hunger did that to children, but it was hunger, Damon knew, that made one hone their wits more sharply. However, this was an interruption, to be addressed by one so low in broad daylight, and his pride still stung from seeing Elijah Mikkelsen arrive in all his glory to wait for his wife, a woman who did not even belong to Damon.
"What is it, boy?" Damon seethed.
"Are you Lord Salvatore, the Whore of St. Petersburg?"
Damon stilled, staring, mouth hanging in shock, but indignation reared its head, rising so sharply in him he felt ready to strike the boy. "Shall I cut out your impertinent tongue, brat?"
"It is this letter, sir," The boy said, his face screwed up with affront, which seemed to trump whatever fear he might have had it, "the sir told me to address you so to confirm it."
Indeed, there was a letter clutched between his fingers, a white envelope whose pristine skin seemed marred by the dirty prints the boy had left when Damon scornfully took it from his outstretched hand. It lacked a wax seal or any token that might identify its writer, but Damon doubted, if the boy's style of address was any indication, that this was a letter from anyone of his many admirers.
He tore the letter open with jerking, agitated motions and would have begun to read it except that the boy was standing there by him patiently.
Damon nearly snarled, dug in his coat for petty change and flung it at the boy's head, but the little mud scrubber caught the coin with all the alacrity of an acrobat. He spat at Damon's feet and ducked into the street before Damon could snatch him by his shoulders and clobber him truly. The only foreigners Russia enjoyed having were the French, and Damon was far from French and far from Russian, and it seemed that everyone in St. Petersburg constantly remind him of this failing.
He glared at the alleyway the boy had disappeared to, ignored the stall owner's knowing looks once more and returned to his letter and felt all the blood drain from his face.
Be so kind, dear Salvatore as to meet us on the banks of the Neva, behind that cafe you always stand on the corner of so forlornly.
Find a second as soon as you must for I'm afraid duels often require one of those. You are a pitiful scoundrel and I would slit your throat as you sleep but I am told that no matter how much you deserve a dog's death, that such directness would be in bad taste. Bad taste! Anyway, you will be expected at the meeting place at some time within the next ten days on a day of your choosing, giving you ample time to find a second - an endeavour in which your ghastly company has made scarce those candidates who might love you enough to be willing.
You may then correspond with Captain Niklaus Mikaelson on when this is to take place when you have your second and once your affairs in order so that we might arrive upon making such an appointment for your death. Am I not considerate? Though Captain Niklaus Mikaelson is fearsome, impatient and rather a terrible trial even to his friends he is necessary as a go-between, otherwise truly, am I not considerate? Merciful? Mindful of the needs of the disloyal and the friendless, and giving to dogs the opportunities in which they might die like men?
Niklaus truly is a terror (I advise you not to tell him so for his ego needs no more inflating) and has no qualms about dispensing with the foolishness and foppishness of form and chivalry if you prove yourself rude enough as to ignore the formalities surrounding what is essentially murder in fanciful frills. Do rise to the occasion.
Otherwise, I would advise you to spend your nights with an eye open.
"Won't your wife miss you?"
Tyler Lockwood shook his head, his smile was ridiculously wide, his eyelids fluttering fighting off sleep. Seultzman's home was awash in that dank lighting so common before winter struck, the daylight broke in pieces over them, blue scatters of it across the table and the floor. Niklaus Mikkelsen observed his second lieutenant, and hated his drunken stupor of happiness, how utterly relaxed that young man looked sprawled back in his chair. A bottle of murky alcohol sat on the table between them, the room cluttered in empty glasses and overturned chairs, there was a man dead asleep on beneath the curtains.
Kaus hated how lively and conversational Tyler was, for the boy was likable. Klaus had liked Tyler the moment they had met, had found in the boy the promise of excellence, had seen the ambition, and sometimes, in moments like these, it could fool Klaus - he who was meant to know better, after everything - as well as it had done all those years ago.
Tyler was too drunk it seemed, to open his eyes and notice the light reproach as what it was, amusement warped with venom.
It was half past ten, the party had ended in the small hours of the morning, everyone had sprawled themselves around the house exhausted, too drunk to walk back to their beds and their wives at home. The house was silent in the aftermath of that wild party, that chaotic music of the soldier singers, now it was only Klaus and this traitorous youngling in the distilled silence of this place, where the cold ebbed around them where someone had negligently left the window behind them open.
Alcohol that had raged so pleasantly in him the night before had left nothing but a cold buzz, and would no doubt soon build into a head ache from hell behind his eyes, but in the cold morning that still felt like colder dawn, Klaus sat, in this strange floating room, in a ludicrous, liquid sense of clarity, swimming in him. It was too quiet a time for him to think of his more violent emotions, and it was sobering, and without his anchor of rage and bitterness he was left floating a little, ungrounded. He remembered he disliked Tyler, he remembered it as easily as he remembered to breath, but could not seem to find the force to energize that feeling, nor the force to want to. The room was too cold, and he was still too drunk.
"I've sent her a letter," Tyler said, eyes closed, mouth slack and tired. His voice reminded Klaus that the boy was speaking. "not to expect me until late."
"Did your letter mention any of the night's gypsys?" Klaus taunted, darker.
"None of whom I touched, if you remember, Captain," Tyler squinted at him, and laughed. He had, after all, kept his hands to himself. "But no sir, my note expressed only love and admiration, I begged her forgiveness and understanding."
The words made him angry, all those times Tyler should have kept his hands to himself and did not listen, what had changed him? Klaus's wrath, or this woman? If Tyler had kept his hands to himself earlier then perhaps Klaus wouldn't have become angry with him, and his sister wouldn't look such a fool. Did Tyler think that this show of fidelity would last, and even more ridiculous, that it would erase his previous trespasses?
Klaus laughed, it rumbled deep in his throat, and burst behind his chest, Tyler blinked blearily at him, the drink had rendered him far from lucid. His face twisted as he observed his Captain rise only a little unsteadily to his feet, "Captain?"
"I've errands," Klaus explained, brusque. He run a hand through his air and tugged at the front of his shirt in an effort to look more presentable, "Have you seen Salvatore?"
Tyler yawned loudly and Klaus raised a hand to stop him from rising, Tyler settled back in his chair gratefully. He didn't think he could execute a salute when he was this inebriated. "I saw him and Yvgeny duck into the cupboard underneath the stairs."
Ah, that man was a deviant. "Very well," Klaus nodded, and made to leave.
He rolled his eyes, and turned back to Tyler slouched in his chair. He looked smaller, like he had when he came into Seultzman's study the night before, unsure, waiting for something he could not dare ask for.
"I hope that..." He grimaced, "I only wish that things might be as they were...before."
The hand tucked behind his back clenched, and Klaus's expression was controlled, despite the gale twisting within him. He wanted to crush the boy, he wanted to crush him and that stir of sentiment Tyler so skillfully made rise in everyone, even in hearts as closed off as Klaus's own. Forgiveness could not be had, and Klaus could tolerate the boy just barely, after everything. But it was satisfying to have the little fool squirm, and Klaus wanted nothing more than to destroy him or see him gone, but the regiment would suffer for it, and vengeance was sweet and slow in the reaping. He saw Tyler's hopeful face, underneath all his pretend at contrition, and Klaus knew exactly how to control him, to dangle that prospect of forgiveness in front of the boy until the moment Klaus could exact upon him his full wrath, when the time was ready, when the boy would least expect it.
He bit the inside of his cheek, as if pride fought with him as he considered and instead remarked. "I make no promises."
Tyler's face flooded with that hope and Klaus turned away shortly, leaving before he could tolerate another of the boy's insipid words. The calmness of before was already ebbing away from him like the tide returning offshore, slowly and deeply, if he spent even another moment in that room he'd be forced to finally shoot the boy. Leaving was only prudent.
It was, after all, too late into the year to be making widows.
If only songs were sung to guide the doubtful ones beyond the rough,
where not as much is good enough. Oh, if you find yourself among the lonely ones,
I'll be waiting here with open arms.
I can't coerce you into this one, jealousy lay all your spells to bed.
I'll choose unloved instead