Alaric has no idea how long they have been locked in the house. Nor how long it has been since they killed each other the last time. Maybe it's been two weeks, maybe more. Time kind of flies by when you don't have evil vampire plots to scheme. Or vampires to kill. Or a council full of supernatural relatives to infiltrate.

They stay away from each other; Alaric barely sees more of Klaus than a shadow or a movement upstairs. They seem to have reached a truce of some kind, and the conditions are easy: Stay away from me and I won't kill you.

It all goes to hell on a sunny afternoon.

There are footsteps outside the house. Footsteps that are coming closer.

For a moment Alaric thinks he must be imagining things, but when the odd scraping sound from upstairs suddenly stops and Klaus goes silent, he knows that the hybrid has heard it as well. A moment later, silent footsteps descend the stairs, barely audible, even for Alaric's enhanced hearing.

And then there are two heartbeats where there had only been one before, Klaus's—slightly accelerated—excited—and someone else's. And the second heartbeat is getting closer and closer to the house.

Alaric gets to his feet and sneaks up the stairs, avoiding the squeaky wooden planks with practiced ease. Outside, it's bright daylight and when he arrives at the stop of the stairs he finds Klaus standing next to the front door. The hybrid's eyes are closed in concentration, his head cocked to the side, his whole body tense, as if he is about to jump.

Then there's the smell: Human. Female.

Alive.

Blood.

Alaric freezes where he is, eyes drawn to the front door. Klaus senses his presence and his back tenses even more, but, other than that, he doesn't move a muscle. Still as a statue.

It all happens so fast, too fast for even Alaric's vampire senses to make out more details than the front door opening, sunlight streaming in and a girl crying out in a panic. He never sees Klaus move, but the next second the hybrid sinks his fangs into someone's throat and starts drinking.

Alaric gets dizzy at the smell of blood so close and feels his own fangs descend. His stomach twists in anticipation; any second now, just one more moment and he will lose it, get lost behind a curtain of blood and red and rip into a human being like the monster that he is—

Nothing happens.

There is blood, and it's close and he's a vampire—and he doesn't move a muscle.

Klaus, on the other hand, doesn't stop drinking. The girl finally stops whimpering and sags heavily into Klaus's arms, and still he doesn't stop and Alaric realizes he is going to drain her.

Alaric snaps.

Suddenly he is holding the terrified girl upright, Klaus is lying in the far corner of the room, missing one arm and snarling like a wild thing. Wide, dazed eyes stare at Alaric, begging for mercy when the girl's torn throat can no longer make a sound. She tries to get away from him and this close her blood smells…

Like blood. Like ordinary blood, nothing that makes his mouth water or causes him to sink his fangs into her.

Alaric doesn't know what else to do with her, so he compels her to leave—leave and never come back—and the girl has barely stumbled outside when Klaus barrels into Alaric's back, crushing him against the wall.

"What the hell are you doing?"

One-armed, Klaus is not a very skilled fighter and even though he gets some well-placed kicks in, Alaric overpowers him in the end, leaving the hybrid broken and bleeding in the hallway.

It's the last fight he ever wins against Klaus.

Later the same night, with his arm grown back and a shout of rage that could wake the dead, Klaus rushes into the basement like a whirlwind, so fast, so deadly Alaric doesn't see him coming. The last time Klaus had tortured him pales in comparison to what he does to him this time. There are no words in the English language—or any other language Alaric knows to describe the agony the hybrid puts him through, over and over again.

Alaric never fully recovers from it. His wounds close, his limbs grow back, but he barely has enough strength left to drag himself into a corner. Since Klaus has had blood and did not have to spend the last of his energy on putting himself back together again, Alaric knows he won't get a shot at getting another dose of vampire blood anymore. Not even if he falls into a blood frenzy.

It takes him a few days to realize that he is going to die in the basement; he's going to desiccate until he is nothing but a shriveled shell, surrounded by worm-eaten furniture and his own blood. He is too exhausted to be scared; all he can think of is that he will finally leave this wretched place and the stinking hybrid behind.

And die he does, a slow, agonizing death. His body goes crazy, he's hot, he's cold, he's in pain, writhing on the bloody floor, crying out in agony until his voice gives up and he can't get a single croak out. Pain becomes his existence, every breath he manages to drag in grates in his lungs and even though he no longer needs to breathe—he can't stop. It's a reflex; something his body gives into whenever he is conscious enough to be aware of it.

At one point he begins to hallucinate. He sees people, some he knows, others he doesn't. Damon laughing with him, toasting him with a drink, joking about Elijah's hair and killing rogue vampires together. Jenna glaring at him after he got home from being possessed by the very man who is now responsible for his death...

In the end, he doesn't die. He's barely conscious, no longer breathing, when there's a low growl next to him.

And then there's blood running down his throat, warm blood. Vampire blood. And he wants more and more, but he can't fucking move and then it's gone and everything goes black.

Alaric spends the next days trying to understand what has happened.

Klaus saved his life.

He's given him blood—and Alaric doesn't know what to make of it. They've been trying to kill each other from the very first day they were forced into this situation. Why would Klaus save him? Why would he share what little blood he had left with Alaric? It doesn't make any sense.

The logical thing would be to ask him—and of course that's exactly what Alaric doesn't do. Because pretending it didn't happen is easier. And doesn't require a thank you. Not that he'd consider that. Ever.

One day Alaric wakes up to sounds he has never heard before. A low keening that rises in volume and pitch until it ends in a shrieking sound—and then stops.

And starts again.

Sometimes there are breathless groans and moans. A choked-off gasp for breath.

And then the keening again.

It sounds awful, making the hair at the back of Alaric's neck stand up and his stomach twist. Whatever this is, it sounds like something is dying, slowly, painfully.

It takes him way too long to realize it's Klaus's voice.

Alaric frowns and starts the long process of getting to his feet. His limbs are stiff and hurt when he moves them, making him feel like a person four times his age. He's moving slowly, has to lean on the wall a lot to keep upright. By the time he has reached the top of his stairs he's sweating and a little shaky, feels disturbingly human and weak. He listens into the silence that fell across the house when he was half-way up the stairs, trying to figure out what to do now.

Maybe it's a trap, maybe Klaus is feeling bored and has decided to draw him out and then attack him as soon as Alaric enters his 'property'. They haven't had a fight ever since Klaus tortured him for letting the girl go, maybe the hybrid thinks it's time to start a new.

The sound starts again, a miserable, hoarse whimper.

Alaric has to maneuver through the shadows to avoid crossing the patches where sunlight is streaming in through the windows, but he gets up the stairs to the first floor eventually. One of the doors is open; it's the room where the cries are coming from. Alaric approaches it slowly, ready to defend himself—

He needn't have worried, Klaus is in no position to harm him. The hybrid is lying on the floor, on his side, his arms wrapped around his head. His whole body is tense, shaking so hard the floor is vibrating beneath Alaric's feet. Klaus's back is to the door so Alaric can't see his face, but he doesn't have to, the sounds he is making are enough to tell him that Klaus is hurting.

It's the witches, they are all over him, Alaric can hear them hissing on the wind.

Alaric is used to hearing Klaus roar in pain, he is used to the groans Klaus issues when bones break beneath Alaric's hands, he's heard every variation of every sound Klaus has made whenever Alaric is strong or fast enough to get a good kick or punch in.

This is different. There is nothing of the anger, of the rage that usually accompanies their fights left in the hoarse voice. No hissing, no growling, no threats directed at Alaric, nothing of that.

What he sees is no longer a sentient being but a terrified creature, desperate to get away from whatever is hurting it, twisting in agony so severe it makes Alaric sick to his stomach to watch it.

He should go downstairs, get his stakes and finish it, even if Klaus's death would only be temporary. Or find a way to keep him down and incapacitated so Alaric can drink from him and get his own strength up, to even out their balance again, give him a fighting chance.

In the end he does neither. He tells himself he doesn't know what the witches will do to him if he interferes; so far they have completely ignored his presence and he would very much like to keep it that way. It goes on for hours, and when Klaus's voice finally gives out and all there is left is the sound of him twisting weakly against the floor it's almost a relief.

Alaric takes advantage of the state Klaus is in, he takes a look at the rooms Klaus calls his and is surprised to find them almost… homelike. Well, by their slightly sunken standards. The furniture that is still there is still functioning. Worm-eaten, of course, but whole.

What surprises him most are the walls. They are covered in pictures, some of them more detailed than others. Animals, all kinds and sizes, people, some Alaric knows—Klaus's family—others he doesn't know. Abstract art. A wall he first thinks is just dirty but turns out to be covered in various colors of different materials. The rooms almost have a museum kind of flair, even though most of the paint seems to be dried mud.

Alaric is pulled out of his tour by a sudden silence. From one second to the next, Klaus goes completely still, there's nothing. No heartbeat, no breathing, no more sounds of pain. Alaric finds him curled on his side, unmoving. Klaus's arms have fallen away from his head, his face a mess, still pulled into a grimace of pain, blood running down his cheeks from his eyes, his nose, his mouth. Eyes open and blood-shot, no longer seeing.

He's dead. Or as 'dead' as either of them ever is.

Alaric spends a long time staring down at Klaus. Prods him with a shoe to watch the limp body shudder and then still again. Debates kicking Klaus to make it more difficult for him to heal, so that it takes longer for him to come back. Thinks back to all the fantasies he's had about mutilating and punishing Klaus if he ever got the chance for it… and puts them aside.

And even though his stomach is growling at the smell of fresh vampire blood so close to him and his mind keeps insisting that he needs to take advantage of the situation to survive—he turns and leaves. Goes down the stairs and back into his basement.

It takes a long time—too long—for Klaus to wake up.

Long enough for Alaric to realize that, if by some miracle the witches have managed to kill-kill Klaus… that he will be alone. Trapped in this house, dying a never-ending death—well and truly alone. No one to talk to, no one to fight with, no presence at the edge of his senses to remind him that he is still alive—kind of—and kicking.

Forever alone.

Not cool. Not cool at all.

The first breath Klaus takes when his heart finally starts to beat again is echoed by a sigh of relief that Alaric will forever deny has left his body.

Life goes on after that.

One night, Alaric can't sleep. He's wandering through his rooms, restless, unable to lay down and sleep. Not that he needs the rest like he did when he was still human, but his body is getting weaker with every day he spends without food. And still he can't bear the idea of staying still for too long.

It's a night like countless nights before, nothing out of the ordinary.

Alaric stops in his tracks when he hears footsteps descend the stairs, slow, uncharacteristically hesitant. They stop—and Klaus starts to turn. Alaric is used to the sounds of this by now, his hearing picking up every break, every shift, every snap of bones—until there are paws scraping across the floor, disappearing into the living-room.

The house falls silent.

Klaus prefers to hunt in his wolf-form. Whenever some animal gets close enough to the house, he can lure it inside and then catch it. Alaric knows that Damon is capable of manipulating crows, but Klaus doesn't seem to be limited to a certain species. And he will—has to—eat anything to survive, wild cats, birds, rabbits—whatever furry or feathery creature shows up. Alaric expects to hear the snap of small bones, but it never comes.

Instead there is silence. Complete and utter silence.

Klaus is still there, Alaric can hear his heartbeat clearly, but the wolf isn't moving.

Intrigued, Alaric sneaks upstairs. He stops at the foot of the stairs, looking at the wolf he can see standing motionless in the middle of the living-room. It's an ugly, shaggy, dirty dark beast, bigger and with broader shoulders than any dog Alaric has ever seen. Yellow eyes glow softly in the shadows, their gaze fixed steadily on something outside of Alaric's line of sight. Outside of the house.

It's a weird sight. Alaric doesn't know anything about wolves, can't read their body language at all, can't figure out how they tick. But this—

The animal is standing in front of one of the broken big windows. Its tail low between its legs, its gaze is fixed on the full moon in the sky, furry ears perked and listening. Once or twice, the big head rises and the wolf takes a step back, opens its mouth—as if it is about to howl—but there is no sound. Then the wolf tenses, eyes following something furry running through the shadows. A heavy paw lifts—and the wolf freezes, puts it back down. And starts pacing, silent steps, barely audible, back and forth in front of the window. Its whole body tense, ready to hunt, to kill, to follow its nature—until it remembers that it can't get out and goes back to its restless pacing.

The beast is trapped, they both are. Miserable, wanting to get out, to run. See something other than the same rooms day after day, smell something different than old blood and dust and rotting wood.

At one point, the wolf turns and looks at Alaric, looks him straight into the eyes. They stare at each other, unmoving. No threats are issued, no growl leaves their throats, for once there is no desire to kill the other.

And then the wolf goes back to its silent vigil and Alaric disappears into the basement and resumes his pacing.

Two nights later Alaric is pulled out of a light doze by something warm being dropped onto his chest. It's a dead rabbit. Klaus is nowhere to be seen.

Alaric has never tried animal blood before, but he forces himself to drain the body.

It's disgusting. And it tastes even worse coming back up. He can't keep it down, no way. Alaric spends the rest of the night choking up bits of rabbit blood, feeling sick and miserable instead of powerful or invincible. It sucks, it sucks so much he finds himself wishing he had never accepted the deal Esther had made him.

Three nights later he is pulled out of a state of half-unconsciousness when he is grabbed and pulled against something warm and breathing. Half out of his mind and totally confused, Alaric tries to fight his attacker off, but he is too weak. At one point there is an arm in front of his mouth and the delicious scent of vampire blood fills his senses. His fangs descend and he rips into the flesh—and everything disappears behind a blood-red curtain.