Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries is the property of the CW. No copyright infringement is intended.

~ X ~

The fine hairs lining the inside of Stefan's nostrils did their job. They captured the tiny molecules wafting on the air as he unnecessarily drew in a breath and dutifully sent messages to his brain cells – decay and rot. Smells emanating from Jeremy's body signaling the first signs of decomposition.

His greatest vampire strength and weakness was his empathy. It forced him to feel Elena's grief, her fruitless denials, and the sharp pain that threatened to pierce her heart. He had embraced Jeremy as friend and little brother. He felt the pain of his passing not just for Elena, but for himself.

But deep down in that private place we all have, the place we share with no one else, the place in our mind where we are totally honest, he was ashamed. Ashamed because overriding all other emotions was fear; the fear of losing his brother. Stronger than his compassion for Elena, his sorrow for Jeremy, was the stone cold fact; it could have been HIS brother.

His slightly widened eyes and mildly stricken look attracted no attention in this house of shattered, stunned people. He heard himself, as if from a distance, calmly dispensing words of wisdom. He coolly issued directions as if he were in complete control. All the while his mind ran like a crazy hamster on a treadmill.

What if that was Damon lying there? What if that was his brother? What if instead of lightly gray shaded skin there was dark gray? What if there were black veins coloring the skin like a piece of marble? What if Damon's eyes were no longer blue, but the gray of death? What if that was Damon lying there? What would he do? How could he go on living without his brother?

All the ugly scenes between them, the accusations, the words uttered with the intent to hurt, the fist fights, tumbled through his mind in a crazy kaleidoscope of pictures, dizzying, disjointed, with no discernible time sequence. It made him sick to his stomach.

Unable to calm his tortured mind, he had to seek his brother out. He needed reassurance that his brother was alive and well. He had to set things right.

Elena's melt down quickly diverted his attention from his inner anxieties back to her. The overwhelming need to help her dominated. He half protested, but Damon overrode him and turned off Elena's feelings.

He followed his brother outside to walk the broad old fashioned Gilbert porch and rehash what just happened. They argued over the decision to turn off Elena's feelings, and then Damon uttered the words that undid him. "She lost her brother, Stefan. I'm not enough." His expression was rueful as he added, "Not this time."

The fear hit him again with the force of a kick to his stomach. He hung his head and groped for words. "Listen Damon . . ah .. " He flailed one arm helplessly, stopping.

He shifted his weight uncomfortably from foot to foot and tried again. "I know you and I . . we've been through bad spots lately especially when it came to her." He stopped not sure how to say what he needed to express.

Damon's facial expression acknowledged the truth of what he said. He spoke thoughtfully, "Yeah, well I guess none of that matters anymore."

Stefan looked down again. "Well I just . . em .."

He tried to finish his thought, but he knew that tears would come with the words and he would not, could not, be unmanned before his brother. He couldn't say why it was so important to him that his brother thought well of him, but it was.

Damon, eyes trained on his brother, waited patiently for him to finish.

Stefan tried again. "I want you to know that . . uh." He swallowed convulsively as he fought to keep his eyes dry and his voice steady.

Damon knew when his brother needed help, and he gently offered it to him. "I know, Stefan." He placed his right hand on his younger brother's shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly.

Stefan swallowed several times, glad the shadows hid his eyes.

But Damon saw or maybe just knew because he gently shook his brother's shoulder. They stood that way for a moment simply enjoying the comfort of each other's presence.

They heard Elena move and they turned as one to return to the house and give her whatever support they could.


~ FIN ~