A/N: Spoilers for 4x12, A View to a Kill. I'm writing this with the assumption that Caroline does not yet know that Klaus killed Carol Lockwood. Also, this is my very first Vampire Diaries fic; hopefully you can enjoy it anyway, and that it does not disappoint too terribly. Feel free to tell me if it does.
In 1916 he stood with the British.
In 1917 he fought alongside the Germans.
They died precisely the same, these little humans, in steel-jacketed rain or beneath hot metal stars, but how fascinating, the way each side was right, how neither cause was amiss.
This Great War of theirs was merely a drop in his existence, but he enjoyed it nevertheless, the sweat, the blood, the tears, the men who fell like wheat to the reaper's scythe, dying in their rabbit-hole trenches, their comrades' fountaining stump arms; to live precisely balanced, on that fine razor edge between life and death-
He had not quite lied and he had not quite told the truth when he had spoken to Caroline of that hummingbird and its tiny pattering heart.
The mortars burst into rocket powder above his head and whistled their tiny wasp shrapnel into the throats, the eyes, the frail beating hearts of the men all around him, and for this one eternal charge he lived- he breathed this rocket powder and he dodged this wasp bombardment and he let himself be picked up on this tide and swept away out to sea where a man might flounder or flourish, and how intoxicating, to measure each breath, to count each thundering rabbit beat of your heart-
He had not thought of being human then, not when all around him humanity fell to bullets and bayonets and the endless septic stink of dysentery, but the fire in these men, the animal flailing, the wailing- how they tore into one another-
And the silence that came after, this stillness that settles down like a dust across the doll-glass eyes of men who have not made it through, who took a wrong step, who breathed the gas, who fell snarling upon one another as dogs throw themselves roaring after a communal rawhide- a man can think in this kind of silence.
There is a moment, as your rifle lies cooling across your arm, down in your rabbit-hole trench with the rocket powder in a thin winter dust all around you and these silent marionette men who lie with strings cut, in which there is only the tidal roar of blood in your own ears and the soft tick tick ticking of your heart, and for once this world that is perpetually humming, clashing, crashing-
It leaves you alone.
It fades away into the fog, the soft October morning, the tobacco wind that strums its hot cinder fingers through your blood-gelled hair.
The Gilberts' home is imbued with this same silence.
He has broken the clocks, with their endless infernal click tick ticking, and the television, and the fragile matchstick chairs and the brittle kindling couch and he has kicked a hole in the wall that stretched like putty to shape itself to his boot, and now there is nothing.
There is Kol's hot ember body, still holding its shape.
There is his ragged sandpaper breath and the boulder grinding of his nails chewed to shrapnel in his mouth and the lukewarm autumn wind sighing in the cinnamon-leafed trees outside.
He throws himself from invisible wall to wall, hammering, roaring, and he will break through; he will close his brother's lashless charcoal eyes and tear this house to tiny twig shards in his hands and see how they like it when everything precious is gone- his family is all that he has don't they see-
An eye for an eye, mate: Elena's pretty swan neck will shred itself into ribbons beneath his fingers as the hunter stumps his cauterized dwarf limbs across the floor and the Gilbert bitch- how she's going to scream as he makes it last- how she will beg and cry and plead for her poor cripple brother to make it stop-
He smells her half a block away, and he shuts his eyes.
There was a girl once, back in the time when they were known as 'dames', who smelled like this. Merely a trifle, that one. Oh, she was pretty enough- lovely blue eyes, exquisite cherry-glossed lips, but she didn't have the same fire as this one.
This smell she brings with her- coconut lime; by Evodia, if he's not mistaken. An Australian import, not that cloying teenybopper trash sold by the likes of Claire's. Horrible store; the tattoo chatter of the piercing gun and the insectile whine of the daughters with their mothers, wanting this one and that one and that one now; he once fed on an entire Portland mall just to stop the incessant buzzing of those little flies with their gaudy $8 earrings and their candy-heart necklaces.
He hears her little machine gun heels on the sidewalk.
He burned his pictures and then she warmed him with her laughter and she nodded like she was actually listening when he told her about the Andes, and the hummingbird, and he took to his sketchbooks again and he filled them up with her.
Rendered in charcoal, the world is so stark. A man like him- you never believe in black and white. Your existence is far too fraught with the gray, with the end justifying the means- push your pawns round the board and collect your prize, mate, and don't forget to smile- no one likes a pouty winner.
Carol Lockwood was a pawn; nothing personal, the woman wasn't terrible to look at and she loved her son and she was significantly less annoying than many of these humans, but she was a means- just part of the gray, you see.
And so he shoved her head beneath the water and he held her there until her feet stopped kicking, and then he sat down beside her and he watched his pale cumulus breath paint the sky.
Black sky, white breath.
No gray, you see, between the two of them.
And that black sky- how sharp it was when he breathed it in. And his white breath- it dragged, it burned, it hurt, coming back out.
Caroline would see the black sky and the white breath and there would be no gray for her either, and isn't it terrible, the way fear makes a sieve of your heart and pours its winter fingers out this sieve and down into your gut, how it collects there, and turns solid.
Damon Salvatore has been forgiven a thousand thousand times, and why not him; his father was not right; he deserves more he wants another chance-
Tyler Lockwood had to pay and Kol lies smoldering before him and why should he sit here against this ghost wall with his leaden gut and his rime heart, terrified of how she will look at him-
She click click clicks down the sidewalk toward him.
Caroline does not understand about the gray. Tyler Lockwood is good and he is evil, and she will never see the way they betrayed them, how they had to be taught a lesson, how he had to put them down before they rose up to overthrow him.
She will never see.
He swung his sword with numb wooden arms and watched them die from the doll-glass eyes of the trench men, the marionette men, and he is always alone.
He created them just for him and how they hated him; how they raged and strained against their bonds and waited impatiently frothing at the bit for the day Tyler Lockwood, holy messiah, pried them from his hold.
She reaches the porch, hesitates before the door.
If he had his sketchbook in hand, he would sweep his charcoal broadly, color her in hurriedly, crosshatch her messily. The creases between her forehead, the tight white line of her mouth and the way she leans herself away from this formidable door on this autumn-carpeted porch- they burn their way down into his fingers and how he wishes these vulgar Gilbert plebeians with their tacky plastic picture frames and their hideous watercolor décor had just one little stick of charcoal, even a bit of pastel.
If he could just vanish into something else.
She opens the door.
They stand looking at one another.
She is beautiful, of course. She is never not beautiful.
She clicks the door softly shut behind her. "Elena said you were here with…him."
"And you thought you'd just pop 'round and pave the way, soften me up. 'Vampire Barbie', I believe Damon calls you? Here to woo her homicidal Ken away from murder and mayhem."
"They didn't have a choice, Klaus. Kol was going to kill both of them."
"He was my brother, Caroline. My family."
"I know." She takes a step forward, edges carefully around Kol, does not look away from him. "I'm not here because of them. I came because- because I know you cared about him."
He makes his hands into fists at his sides and looks away; how deep her voice can go, when she isn't even trying.
"Stop." His cinderblock voice rasps across his throat and between his lips and doesn't she know what he's done; why must she look so soft; how does she cut him down and leave him limbless with just this one word -him- the most powerful creature in a thousand years, ten thousand, a millennium-
"No." She takes another step.
"You don't want to do that, love," he whispers.
"I didn't know they were going to kill him."
"And would you have stopped them, if you knew?"
She says nothing. She takes another step forward.
"I said stop, Caroline. When I tear this spell down with my bare hands I will go straight through anything that's in my path- do you understand me? Elena dies. I don't fancy the Hunter's Curse, so Jeremy will simply lose his arms, perhaps his legs; he can spend the rest of his miserable lonely existence in a bed, thinking of his lovely sister Elena and the way she bled out at his feet, how she begged him to help her, how helpless poor little Jeremy was, lying there, watching me tear his sister to pieces."
She steps through the ward.
"I said stop."
"I'm not a hybrid, Klaus. You can't order me around."
A blink brings him within an inch of her, half an inch, and he sees the way she flinches, how she steels herself and throws back her shoulders and bravely faces the hands that snap manacle fingers down over her arms and his simmering furnace heart blows, and how can she stand here so calmly with her flimsy tissue throat and her thundering jackhammer heart and hasn't she seen the splintered matchstick chairs strewn within such easy distance of him- doesn't she remember how so very much faster he is than all of them-
"Let go, Klaus."
"I told you to stop, Caroline; I warned you-"
"You're hurting me," she snaps, and his fingers with their minds of their own spring open and he steps away and stands breathing hard as his supercritical heart boils within him, sends him raging off the walls once more, kicking, tearing, pounding-
"I'm sorry, ok? That's what I came here to say. I've lost people too. I know how it feels. I just wanted to say that."
He presses his forehead to the ward, and just beyond him is Kol, who raced him from the woods to the house when they were still human, when running for the sake of running still held joy for them, when he with his creeping human pace could still feel the wind and the marshmallow moss beneath his feet. Kol, who liked the smell of sage, who played for hours in the dust of the village, scuffing pictures with his feet, who took the fall once when mother asked who had stolen the lavender she left drying on the sill.
Inside a coffin, a brother cannot stop loving you.
He pinned Kol to his white-silk bed and left him to rot and he is not sorry; he would never have died in that coffin; he would never have left.
He would never have left.
He keeps his forehead pressed to the ward and listens to her soft breathing behind him, and what would she know about this- she has only ever lost people who loved her; she has never wept and raged and grieved over a brother who would gladly slip his hand down deep inside her chest and pull her heart still-beating into the light.
"He was my brother," he says dully. It tastes like sawdust, this confession he hides behind this one simple numbly-uttered phrase.
He was my brother and I loved him.
He was my brother and I loved him but he did not love me.
And that silly little slut Rebekah- she has forgiven him too many times, and she is all out of mercy. She has stopped trying.
And his father, his own mother-
"He was my brother, Caroline."
"I know," she whispers.
The ward has blurred itself into fog.
He wipes his face.
He keeps his forehead where it is, pressed to this phantom barrier.
She click click clicks across the living room toward him.
Evodia's coconut lime. Peppermint gum.
He will live another thousand years, two thousand, and he will never forget these two distinct scents, the way they mingle with her lemon balm shampoo, how they make him feel so many things, when he has already lived and felt and survived everything there is to endure.
"Please don't hurt them," she whispers, and she presses her soft, soft cheek to his back and she stands there like this, for so long, and what is this but one more drop in his eternal life, but he feels each second poised trembling on the brink, and he feels them roll over the edge, and fall, and go on falling, and never hit bottom, that is how long this moment exists for him.
In the trenches there was a man named James who wrote letters to his wife every day, and he has never forgotten these neatly-penned missives, and how much of himself this man named James poured into these tiny little chicken-scratch words, and the way just one passing mention of this woman's name transformed him.
Fascinating creatures at times, humans.
He liked this man, and he didn't kill him. In the trenches a fellow in the same uniform was as good as a brother, and so this man told him things: he'd met his wife right before the war, they married when he came home on his first leave, he wanted two children, a boy and girl, but most of all, oh, how he wanted to go home.
He was fighting for this woman, to carve out a better place for her. He wrote her letters so she wouldn't worry, so she would believe, as he once had, in the rightness of handing him over to death for months at a time, so she would know that one day soon, he promised, he would pack up his rifle and lace his boots down tight and start his way on back to her.
Love, love, love, he mused with the man called James sitting dead beside him. How unnecessary. A man gets himself killed for it, when he could have lived on half a century more.
Wasteful. Careless; they were all so careless with themselves, these humans, without exception.
In the 20's he fled the hunter Mikael, who was supposed to be his father, and how many times do you think he stopped to consider someone else; how do you think he survived, always just a step beyond this man; love is something to trap a man, to hold him down, stick him fast: so tragically stupid, these humans and their thing called love.
And she stands with her cheek pressed to his back, just between the shoulder blades, and he burns for it.
He smells Evodia coconut lime and peppermint gum and her soft lemon balm hair and how does a man capture something like this- how does he preserve it; it cannot be shut away without light or it will die; it cannot be sealed up tight without air or it will starve; he cannot strangle it into submission between his hands or compel it into perfect lockstep obedience, so, please, tell him what to say, what can he do-
He would just like to know how to keep her.
He only wants…
He wants what the man called James had, someone who cares if he comes back, who asks about his day and tells him of their hopes and listens to his own and how did this one stupid small-town jock enthrall her, this stunning, captivating woman; how did he cast his net, weave his spell-
He shuts his eyes, and she is gone.
This is how fast a moment passes through your fingers.
A fluttering of the lashes, a clearing of the throat, a flexing of the fingers.
He smells her half a block away.
She reaches the corner, hesitates before the intersection.
She steps off the curb.
In 1924, his father outpaced him, for just a moment, and he fell in a wooden rain with Rebekah screaming from the car.
He lay blinking up at the sky, trying to catch his breath, feeling his warm slippery chest and his jackhammer pulse, such a little thing, this tiny beat, this pushing of his skin against his fingers. How utterly mortal, the way he groped for it, prayed for it.
He had not had such a close brush with death in centuries.
He climbed the Andes shortly afterward, and watched that tiny inquisitive hummingbird wing its way right up to him, so fearless, its delicate heart going, going, trying so hard, and what a sight those mountains had been, and the air in his lungs, how good it felt, sharp as knives, how alive he felt breathing these arctic razor wisps the color of smoke-
To be truly alive, just for a moment, just long enough to remember- how much would he give?
But humanity of course had nothing to offer him and off the little creature went, over the rock and the snow and into the gray winter sky, and until she pulled it from him with a smile, he never thought of the moment again.
For two days, he has watched his brother burn. For two days he has bent and broken and torn until there is nothing left for him to destroy, and she wants him to let them go, to watch them walk away after what they have done-
Carol Lockwood's death- perhaps he might one day claw his way back from this, into this reluctant tolerance she is slowly beginning to extend to him.
From Elena Gilbert's death, he will find no quarter; he will never again watch her melt slowly vertebrae by vertebrae into a sort of wary relaxation, set her pretty gloved hand in his to be swept out across the dance floor in his arms.
And she's stirred so many things inside of him, this small-town cheerleader who is filled with so much light, whose jaw line looks so exquisite put down to paper.
He slides down the ward.
He puts his face in his hands.
This silence that comes after, that settles down like a dust across doll-glass eyes-
A man can think in this kind of silence.