This is wildly AU as of the season premiere, mostly because I didn’t finish it ‘til yesterday. I’d like to think it still holds up.

In which Damon needs to get out of town, and Alaric really needs to stop letting strange vampires into his apartment. [6,556 words]

try the brittle
By gale

SUMMARY: “The third time I ever talked to you, you murdered me.” ”Wow, you are just not gonna let that go, are you?” [goes AU immediately after 1.22] [6,556 words]


The morning after Founders’ Day, Alaric woke up and realized he was going to be okay.

It was strange; he shouldn’t have been that okay, mostly because he’d slept a grand total of two-and-a-half hours when everything was said and done. Staking rogue vampires wasn’t as hard as avoiding the guys herding said vampires off the streets, and he’d stopped at the hospital afterwards to check on Caroline and try to see what anyone else had heard. He’d heard from Matt that Tyler’s dad had been killed, that they’d found his body, but that was it. Presumably Tyler was home with his mom; no one had seen him since he’d stormed out of the hospital. Sheriff Forbes was there whenever she wasn’t on duty.

Alaric had staked half a dozen vampires by himself, between dodging the council’s goon squads. And yeah, he couldn’t be killed – or even really harmed, because all things considered he should have felt a hell of a lot worse than he did – but he could be exhausted, and wrung out, and fall into bed without dreaming. Other than that, though, he was fine.

It’d be strange, if he’d bothered to think about it for more than a few seconds at a time. But it didn’t seem that important, so he didn’t.

*

Halfway through breakfast – scrambled eggs, toast, a couple pieces of bacon, juice, coffee; it was like he had a tapeworm this morning or something – the doorbell rang. Alaric stuffed the rest of a piece of bacon into his mouth and crossed the room, not bothering to look out the peephole. (If it was someone he wanted to see, like Jenna or Elena giving him an update on how everything had gone on that end, that’d be fine; if it was a vampire he’d managed to miss, he’d lived here long enough for it to be home, mostly, and they wouldn’t be able to come in. Everyone won, except the vampire, which was pretty much the way Alaric liked it.)

Before the door could all the way open, Damon said, “I need to get out of h– oh, goddammit.”

Alaric blinked at him. Damon was standing there, body pressed at an awkward angle. It was a little like watching someone mime walking against the wind, except he legitimately couldn’t move and looked irritated by it. Also, no face paint. “Damon,” he said, agreeably enough. “Morning.”

”I’m stuck in your hallway. Invite me in.”

Alaric just looked at him.

”I cannot actually hurt you as long as you’re wearing your little QVC souvenir,” Damon said. “I also cannot invite anyone else inside to hurt you. Which means you’re just doing this to be a douche-“

”Vampire.”

”Relatively harmless to you!” He paused. “Where, you know, ‘relative’ is mostly in relation to y – seriously, this is fucking ridiculous, ‘Ric.”

Alaric looked at him for a long moment, then took a deep breath and mentally called himself stupid six different ways. “Come in,” he said.

Damon fell forward just a little, catching himself before he could do something as graceless as stumble, and walked into his apartment without missing a beat. It was a little like watching a cat trip and right itself: “Who, me? I didn’t stumble. You saw it wrong.”

“I need to get out of here,” Damon said, “and you’re coming with me.”

“No,” Alaric said, “I’m really not.” He closed the door and walked back to the kitchen counter. He’d been in Mystic Falls for almost four months, and he’d never managed to buy a kitchen table. He needed to remedy that, eventually. “For starters, I don’t like you-“

Damon just shot him a look.

”Fine,” Alaric allowed. “That doesn’t mean I want to go on a road trip with you.”

Damon blinked. “I was thinking more like flying to New York for the weekend,” he said, and started tugging on a loose thread on the back of Alaric’s sofa. “Your idea is better. I fucking hate planes.”

”I have work-“

”It’s Thursday. Everything’s shut down tomorrow on account of the dead mayor and the pack of crazy people who attacked Founders’ Day. I think it was a gang?” Damon’s expression was innocent. It wasn’t bad, Alaric could admit, unless you actually knew him. Granted, that ruled out a surprising number of people. “Something. Anyway, the school’s going to be closed tomorrow. We can be back by Monday, if you want to be a baby about it.”

Alaric looked at him, forkful of eggs almost to his mouth. Damon sounded...upset, or as close to it as he got. No, he realized, actually upset. There wasn’t any reason that should affect him – they were friends, sort of, but not that close.

“Monday,” Alaric finally said. “Really late Sunday, if at all possible.”

*

Alaric had to give Damon credit: when he made up his mind to do something, it got done fast. Less than an hour later, Alaric was showered, dressed, had a bag packed, and was in the front of--

“Is this a Ferrari?”

“Hmn?” Damon paused, hand on the open door. “Oh. Yeah.”

He sounded totally disinterested. “It’s a Ferrari,” Alaric said again.

”Yeah, we just covered that.” Damon climbed in, closing the door. “Are you getting in, or did you plan to jog alongside?”

Alaric touched the hood of the car a little reverently, then got inside. It was clean and smelled factory-new: no smoke, no food smells. Alaric wondered, idly, where he’d gotten it, then made himself stop. It wasn’t like he’d like the answer even if Damon deigned to respond, which wasn’t always certain. Maybe later, when the conversation lagged.

*

Alaric’s apartment was further out from the center of town, closer to the surrounding woodland than to anything on the main drag. This far out, this time of day – even without school – the traffic was okay.

The main road had signs up reading SLOW – CONSTRUCTION in a few places, but that was bullshit; most of those were up near the fire damage and City Hall, which had also been vandalized in the melee the night before. No one looked at them too closely, which was probably for the best. Damon looked – twitchy.

They’d just driven past the high school – sure enough, closed for the day – when Alaric asked, “So why did you want to get out of town so badly?”

Damon glanced at him. “What?”

”We’re friends,” Alaric said. “I’ll give you that. Weird friends, but – friends. That doesn’t really translate to you showing up to my apartment at nine in the morning and basically ordering me to come out of town with you.”

”I didn’t order. I asked.”

Alaric didn’t dignify that with a response.

”For me, it’s like asking,” Damon corrected. He shifted in his seat, eyes back on the road. “Same difference.”

”Damon-“

“It’s been a shitty few days,” Damon said, “and I needed a break. I don’t think that’s too crazy.”

“I’m not saying it hasn’t been,” Alaric said. “Repeated attempts on your life tend to not be great. I should know. See, this one time, I got stabbed in the chest—“

”Okay, am I going to have to hear about that forever?” Damon asked. “Seriously, I’d just like to know. And for Christ’s sake, it was fast. I didn’t put you down a well or anything.”

”You wanted Stefan to clean me up.”

”Stefan was always better at menial tasks than I was.” Damon glanced at him again. “It’s been a really shitty few days,” he clarified, “and I don’t really want to talk about it in the town limits, all right?”

Alaric hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Is it, um. Is it seeing Stefan and El—“

”Oh my God, please don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

That. That supportive, post-modern sensitive male crap where we talk about our feelings and drink kombucha tea and listen to Broken Social Scene.” Damon pinched the bridge of his nose. “And for the record, no. It is not seeing Stefan and Elena together. I do that all the time, and you don’t see me making regular pilgrimages out of town.”

Alaric shifted in the passenger seat. “Yeah,” he said absently, and looked out the window.

*

Their first stop wasn’t for gas, because either Damon had filled up on the way or the original owner had been kind of anal about that sort of thing. Their first stop was a bar. Alaric didn’t know why he was surprised.

There was an extremely cute redhead working behind the bar, wearing a black tank top and cargo pants. Alaric let himself look - seriously, him and redheads lately - and ordered a shot of Maker's Mark.

"No problem," she said, smiling at him. She twisted to grab the bottle. "Always good to see a man who knows what he wants." Tiny pause. "To drink."

Might’ve been deliberate, might not. Alaric's instincts were so off at this point, he didn’t even want to hazard a guess. "I'm looking for a hotel," he said, and shot her a brief smile when she passed him the glass. "Probably just overnight, unless my plans change."

"And those are..."

"Sight-seeing." He paused. "Kind of a road trip," he admitted after a second. "With a friend of mine. He's in the bathroom."

"Ah." She nodded. "Married or divorced?"

Alaric blinked at her. "What?"

"Road trip with your friend at the tail end of spring, before classes let out," she said, "and you're drinking Maker's Mark at quarter to noon. It's either a last gasp before one of you gets married, or somebody's celebrating signing the divorce papers."

Both were very good reasons. And total BS. "The latter," Alaric said. "Sort of. His ex--it's really not a fun story."

"It's a very fun story," Damon corrected, coming up behind him and sliding onto the next barstool. "Not the best ending, though." He lowered his sunglasses and met the bartender's eyes. "Honey?"

"It's not 'honey', it's--" and stopped, face falling into a vaguely pleasant expression.

Alaric pinched the bridge of his nose. It wasn’t even noon.

Damon reached over and took a long swallow of Alaric's drink, tilted his head consideringly. "Not bad," he admitted, and glanced at the bartender. "We're gonna need the bottle. For a start."

*

"I really wish you wouldn't do that," Alaric muttered, a bottle later. They'd switched to Jack Daniels, because Damon's liver didn't actually have to work and one of the side benefits of having magical jewelry that rendered you impossible to murder was that it repaired little thing like, oh, kidney damage.

(Alaric had had it checked out after Damon had killed him. He was due for a physical anyway, and he'd been interested to know how fast all the drinking he'd done since coming to Mystic Falls was going to kill him. According to the doctor - a grandfatherly type named Rawls - he had the liver of a fifteen-year-old teetotaler. Then he'd asked why Alaric looked so startled. Alaric wasn't entirely sure what bullshit story he'd given, but Rawls had bought it, which was all he’d been going for anyway.)

“Do what, exactly?” Damon squinted at him.

”That.” Alaric waved a hand at the bartender. “Whammying people.”

”Why?” Damon looked genuinely confused. It didn’t happen a lot, but Alaric had noticed it was more likely whenever anyone mentioned that something was the wrong thing to do. Dealing with Damon was a little like dealing with an alien: he understood that things were wrong or right, but not exactly why.

He sighed. “You took away her free will. That – explain to me how that’s ever okay.”

Damon kept looking at him, confused.

“It’s taking away someone’s free will, Damon!” Alaric kept his voice lowered – relatively – but it was close. This seemed like the sort of thing you needed to shout; sheer volume might be the only way it’d kick in. “People don’t always have a lot of things in this world, but one of the things they do have is the ability to make decisions for themselves.”

”It was a bottle of booze,” Damon said, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Yeah, and that’s gonna come out of her paycheck, not to mention she’s gonna be sort of fucking confused about exactly where it went.” Alaric finished his drink and poured himself another.

“Yet here you are,” Damon said, “drinking it.”

Alaric looked at him for a long minute, then downed the contents of his glass and got up from the table. He was only weaving a little, he was pleased to notice.

“You’re right,” he said, and headed for the parking lot.

*

A while later – Alaric wasn’t sure how long; he hadn’t really had the energy to look at his watch – the door opened. He kept his eyes shut and prayed it wasn’t a car thief. Being three-quarters-still-drunk was no way to fight off a burglar.

For a very long time, there was nothing. Alaric shifted under the blanket and closed his eyes, trying to go back to sleep.

”So are you doing being ridiculous?” Damon finally asked. “Because if not, I can go back inside ‘til you are.”

Alaric made a noise, but kept his eyes shut. He didn’t answer.

“It’s what I do,” Damon said, after another pause. “I spent almost a hundred and fifty years this way. You can’t expect me to be different overnight.”

”No,” Alaric agreed, “but that assumes you’re trying to change. And you’re not.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake-“

”How’d it feel when Katherine did it to you? When you realized she’d taken your free will? Do you even know?”

“Katherine,” Damon snapped, “never had to. Not with me.”

Alaric sat up at that. He immediately regretted it - ow - but he stayed upright. “She didn’t,” he said, slowly.

”She did with Stefan,” Damon said. “She made him forget everything – drinking blood, drinking his blood, him drinking hers more than that once – because he would’ve acted like a total shrieking schoolmarm.” He was quiet for a minute. “But not with me. I never – she never had to do that with me. I always knew what she was.”

Alaric scrubbed at his face. “Always?”

”Well, no, not at first.” Damon glared at him, but it was halfhearted at best. “There was no reason not to believe her story: she’d been orphaned in the war, and her father had been some vague, third-hand business associate of our father’s, and she was just looking for a place to stay while she got herself on her feet – which, back then, translated to finding herself a husband.”

“And that would be you?”

”That would be one of any of the eligible bachelors in Fell’s Church at the time,” Damon corrected. “But she was staying with us, so it was just sort of assumed Stefan or I would have first crack at courting her.” He was quiet again. “She – it was different. The ones out of the tomb, they had catching up to do. It makes you sloppy; you get bored and skip over things, miss references. It’s different when you live through it. She seemed perfectly human.”

“Until she didn’t,” Alaric said, more gently than he’d meant.

“Until she didn’t,” Damon said. He shrugged. “The point is, she never had to lie about what she was with me. And except for the bare bones she showed me – showed off to me – she didn’t teach me a goddamn thing. Everything I’ve figured out, I’ve figured out on my own. So you’ll pardon me if there’s been some fucking gaps in my education since then. Like, say, when it is and isn’t appropriate to use my unnaturally-given gifts to my advantage.”

It was Alaric’s turn to be quiet for a minute. “I don’t like it,” he finally said. “But I can see where...it could be useful. Sometimes.”

Damon shot him an amused look. “But not back home, right?”

”I never claimed not to be a hypocrite, Damon.” Alaric sat up, wincing. “You good to drive?”

”I could have a crowbar shoved through my thigh and be good to drive,” Damon said.

Alaric shot him a look.

“Texas, ’87. Long story.” Damon reached for his seatbelt.

*

They stopped for gas forty miles later. Alaric gave Damon a couple of twenties and sent him inside to pay – trusting, maybe stupidly, that he’d actually pay and not just “accidentally” get them free gas – while he pumped. He let his mind wander, the way it usually did when he was driving, and wondered if anyone would notice he’d be out of town ‘til he got back and someone at school happened to ask about his weekend. If they did.

He didn’t really have enough adult friends that weren’t vampires, Alaric realized. He should fix that.

Somehow, he wasn’t really surprised when he turned around and found Damon sitting on the hood, bottle of water next to him, paper bag on the ground, eating what looked like a burrito. “This is terrible,” he said, when Alaric just looked at him.

”Then why are you eating it?”

”Even terrible food is good.” Off Alaric’s look: “What? I spent six months in the military living on hard tack, beans, and dried meat, not counting whatever game someone shot. I don’t care how awful gas station food is, it’s got to beat something made by scrappy mountain folk on the march.”

“You are awful and classist,” Alaric said, marveling. “Did you get me one?”

“No,” Damon said, and handed Alaric the rest of his. Alaric wasn’t picky, and he’d just sucked down his share of a bottle of Maker’s Mark not too long ago; he ate it in two bites, feeling for all the world like he was back in college, on his way to South Padre Island. Maybe Daytona.

“What’s in the bag?” he asked, reaching for the gas cap. He screwed it back on and mentally weighed the benefits of cleaning off the windshield. It wasn’t soaked with bugs or anything, and he could see just fine when it was his turn to drive, so he mentally checked no and got back inside.

“Provisions,” Damon said, stowing it in the backseat. “Does it count as being classist if you’re just telling the truth? From a historical perspective, I mean.”

”You were being a jerk to people who, statistically, didn’t have a lot to-“

”No I wasn’t. I said I didn’t like the food. That’s an opinion. I’m not saying I didn’t like the people.” Damon’s face was deadly earnest. “I liked them just fine. I still like them, barring a propensity for being cannibal mutants-“

Alaric glared at him.

”What? They showed Wrong Turn on cable last night.” Damon turned the car on and eased back into traffic. “I don’t hate people anywhere near as much as you seem to think I do.”

”You don’t.” Alaric didn’t really try to keep the note of disbelief out of his voice.

”I really don’t. I don’t think a lot of them, as a rule, but I don’t hate them. I’m fine with people, most of the time. I can’t promise not to think about most of them as cattle with decent social skills and the ability to write shitty beach novels – not anytime soon, anyway – but as long as no one tries to kill me or I’m not peckish, I don’t – it’s a non-issue.”

“You just said you think of us as cattle.”

”Yeah,” Damon said, “and what, exactly, do you see vampires as? Monsters? A lot of us are. I was. I still am, by human standards. There are better than me, but you know that.” Tiny sneer in his voice. “You’ve met Stefan.” He paused, then added, “And there are worse.”

Alaric was quiet for a minute. “Like Katherine.”

“Like Katherine, yeah, but there are others. She doesn’t have some sort of patent on being evil, you know.” Damon focused on driving. Alaric let him.

How did he think about vampires? It wasn’t a bad question. He hated them, yeah. But a lot of that was for Isobel, and he didn’t – he didn’t hate her. He was pretty sure he should, but he didn’t. He didn’t really miss her, either, now that he’d seen what she was, what she’d become. He missed who she’d been – the grad student, the pretty girl he’d met in college, the woman who’d gently mocked him for wanting to be a teacher but never done less than fully supported his dream. Now...now it was like she’d been dead longer than a year. Long enough to miss her, but not so much it burned.

(And maybe, part of him whispered, maybe she wasn’t any of those things, maybe they were just shoes she tried on-- but Alaric stopped that line of thought before it could punctuate the sentence.)

And it wasn’t like all vampires were evil; Stefan was all right, he guessed, and he’d heard a few muttered references to someone named Lexi – though, admittedly, she could have been bad too. Even Damon was slightly more tolerable these days, though that depended on what day of the week it was and what kind of mood he was in.

Maybe, Alaric thought, vampires were just people, deep down. People who’d forgotten how to be what they once were. It was an idea, anyway.

“I was at Elena’s,” Damon said, and Alaric stopped woolgathering to listen. It was the same voice he’d used at that shitty apartment when he’d started to talk about Isobel, when Alaric had shut him down. “I was trying to talk to Jeremy about everything, and it just-“ He waved a hand. “Not important. But I was leaving. And I kissed her.” Pause. “And she kissed me back.”

Alaric gaped at him. “Damon, what the hell—“

”I thought she did, anyway,” Damon interrupted. “For about three seconds.” He was staring out the windshield. “It was Katherine.”

That did it. “Turn the car around,” Alaric said, and fumbled for his cell phone.

Damon grabbed it out of his hand and chucked it out the window.

Alaric just gaped at him.

”If she knows I know,” Damon said, still in that same tone of voice, “she’ll kill Elena. She’ll kill Jeremy, and Jenna, and anyone else who wanders into the house. Or her eyeline. She’s hundreds of years old, has no problems killing anyone, and she’s been invited into their house. You think she won’t do it?”

“Wh-“ Alaric was still scrabbling to catch up. “Invited in?”

”Jenna thought she was Elena. She had her clothes on, the hair matched, everything.” His mouth was a narrow line. “She fooled me, for a couple of seconds.”

Alaric’s hands were on his seatbelt. “We have to warn them.”

”We have to be very careful. She won’t do anything now; she’s been invited inside, you can’t undo that. That’s done.” He was quiet for a minute. “Katherine always did like playing with her food first.”

The thought made Alaric’s stomach clench. Until a couple of weeks ago, Damon was the scariest vampire he’d ever met, and by all accounts he’d been mellowing. He’d also learned everything he knew from Katherine, who was Elena’s physical twin and a psychopath besides. She’d managed to talk her way out of being burned alive, for fuck’s sake.

But. If Damon had gotten out of town before he’d seen her again, she probably didn’t know he knew. Alaric was still taking vervain, which made his blood poison to her – and more importantly, kept her out of his head. If they came running back now, Alaric knew himself well enough to know that he’d immediately start acting suspicious and probably tip her off.

Which meant that Damon was right. Even thinking that made his head hurt.

Finally, he said, “So what do we do? I’m assuming you have a plan.”

”It’s not really a plan as much as the start of one.” Damon stared back at the road. “We need to tell Stefan – and Elena, obviously. Probably Bonnie,” and yeah, he looked thrilled at that one. There was a story there, Alaric knew, but by this point he was pretty sure there were three or four stories going. Someday soon, someone really needed to sit all interested parties down and start talking.

“No one else?”

“No,” Damon said. “The fewer people that know about this, the longer it’ll take for Katherine to realize we know.”

Alaric stared at the side of his head. “And if someone gets hurt in the meantime? Or killed?”

Damon was quiet for a minute.

”Someone’s going to get hurt,” he said. It didn’t sound smug, or arrogant; it sounded tired. “It’s just a matter of who and how bad.”

*

Alaric made them stop for the night. “You might be able to drive through the night,” he said, “but I haven’t done that since college. And I don’t mean ‘you drive while I lay prone in the backseat’, I mean sleep.”

Damon rolled his eyes, but he didn’t argue. “I could use a shower,” he said, in lieu of outright agreement, and found a La Quinta just off the highway.

Check-in was painless enough: Alaric napped in the car and let Damon handle the arrangements. He wondered, idly, whether or not to be bothered by how they were paying for this, then decided it could wait. No reason he couldn’t be a hypocrite outside of town as well as in it.

“212,” Damon said, opening the door. He handed Alaric a keycard. “Go nuts. Don’t order porn without me.”

Alaric sat up, scrubbing at his face. “Where are you going?”

”I’m hungry,” Damon said.

And just that fast – the narrowing of his eyes, the predatory tilt of his head – Alaric remembered: oh, right, vampire. Murderous, immortal, blood-starved creature of the night. It was easier to forget than he would have figured.

“Right,” he said, and caught the keys when Damon tossed them over. “Wash up when you’re done. Kool-Aid mouth looks good on no one, especially when it’s sticky and smells like copper.”

Damon shot him a look at that; Alaric pretended to ignore it.

*

The room was fine: it was exactly like every other hotel room Alaric had ever been in, which wasn’t that many, and it was a double. He dropped his bag on the ground, faceplanted onto the bed closest to the shower, and promptly fell asleep.

*

He woke up to the sound of someone humming, very quietly, and occasionally bursting out with bits of song in what sounded like Italian.

Alaric raised his head and blinked a couple of times, then pushed himself up on one elbow. He was facing the wall; all he could see were pillows and a not-terribly-accomplished piece of hotel art. A bowl of fruit, maybe, though if that was a peach he’d eat his socks. “Damon?”

”You’re awake,” Damon said. He sounded like himself, which was a good sign. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting; drunken debauchery, maybe, which was ridiculous. Even when he was drunk, Damon didn’t sound it. Being a vampire let you shrug that kind of thing off, Alaric guessed.

“I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” Alaric said, and yawned into the bedspread. “Everything go okay?”

“Fine,” Damon said. “I already got rid of the body—“

Alaric jerked his head up.

”Kidding! God, you’re all so serious about a little thing like murder. Jeez.” He had a couple of towels slung around his neck, and he was smiling a little. Not smirking, smiling; with Damon, it was a marked difference. “No. He’s fine. He’s going to feel tired tomorrow, but no one’s dead. I promise.”

Alaric maneuvered until he was sitting up, scrubbing at his face. “You could have,” he said carefully.

Damon just looked at him strangely. “I could have,” he agreed, and stripped his shirt off. “Do you need the shower?”

”Go ahead.” Alaric waved him off, still scrubbing at his face. “I still need to wake up first. Is there any cof—“

Silently, Damon passed him a paper cup.

”—fee,” he finished, and nodded thanks. He drank half of it down in one gulp and cradled the cup, letting the warmth rest his hands while his brain rebooted.

The rate they’d been going, they should be back in Virginia in another hour, in Mystic Falls in under three. He could go home and start – something. School was out for the summer in another couple of weeks; it’d be easier to get things done then, more time to work on actually building a fucking spring-loaded gun that worked. Alaric drank more coffee and massaged his temples.

“Hey,” he blurted out. He didn’t know whether or not Damon had shut the door, but big deal; a little thing like a hotel door wasn’t going to stop vampire hearing. “Why’d you bring me along, anyway? Cannon fodder?”

“No,” Damon yelled. Okay, open door. Good to know. “I was hoping to sleep with you.”

”Oh,” Alaric said, “okay,” then, “What.

The shower shut off. Damon came out – or started to, because he wasn’t wearing a towel and Alaric, just at half-awake, kept his eyes fixed to the mirror in the room. Up near the top.

”I mean, I could make up another reason,” Damon said, sounding the tiniest bit confused, “but I’m pretty sure that would be lying. And for some reason, people get irritated when I do that, so I’m trying to cut down.”

“Damon!” Alaric yelled. “Towel!”

”Wh—oh.” He glanced at Damon just in time to see him roll his eyes and duck back into the bathroom for a second, then come back out with one safely knotted around his waist. “Better?”

”Less confusing. Thanks.” He finished his coffee and swung his legs over the side. “I – you’re honestly springing this on me now. Right now. During a crisis.”

”When have we not had a crisis since we met? Name me once.”

Alaric went to open his mouth, then stopped. He really couldn’t.

“Ah-ha.” Damon pulled a shirt on over his head and leaned against the dresser, arms crossed over his chest. “Exactly. Meaningless point. If I didn’t spring it on you – and by the way, it’s not ‘springing it on you’ if I’ve been doing it for months — during a crisis, I’d never say anything, and then would we ever have sex? No. Because you’re waaaaaaaaaay too much of a pussy to say so yourself—“

Alaric just stared at him for a minute, gobsmacked.

”Okay,” he said, “let’s take this very slow. One: I’m not gay.”

”One, neither am I,” Damon said. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but human sexuality is a wide rainbow of—“

Damon.”

“No, seriously,” Damon said. “I’m not gay. ‘Gay’ implies being predominately homosexual. I’m also not straight, because I’m not predominantly heterosexual. I skew more towards being straight, but I’m old and I like pretty things.” He shrugged. “I figure once you hit a hundred, if you have any sort of sense whatsoever, you figure it out for yourself.”

“Okay,” Alaric said after a minute. He fiddled with his coffee. “Two: what do you mean, I’m way too much of a pussy to have sex with you myself’?”

Damon blinked. “That...seems fairly straightforward, actually.”

“I don’t want to have sex with you!”

”You really kind of do, Alaric.” The hell of it was, Damon didn’t sound like he was laughing. He sounded more like he did when he was trying to encourage a student to work a little harder or do something interesting for their report.

”I really don’t, Damon.”

”You really do,” Damon said, and pushed himself off of the dresser. “Move, you’re in front of my bag. I need pants.”

”Hmn? Oh.” Alaric rolled towards the other side. “Sorry.”

Damon looked at him over the foot of the bed and ducked his head back down.

“I don’t see why you’re freaking out,” he called up. “I’ve been sniffing around you for months. I haven’t done this in a while, but I’m pretty sure you date before you have sex. Like, typically.”

Alaric’s mouth dropped open. “Damon,” he said, “we haven’t been going out.”

”Yeah,” Damon said, standing, “we have.” He zipped his jeans closed.

“We really—“

”I’m not doing this all again,” Damon said, rolling his eyes. “We spend time together outside of work. We seek out each other’s company. We eat meals together—“

”You kidnap me during breakfast and eat half my food,” Alaric said. “The third time I ever talked to you, you murdered me.”

”Wow, you are just not gonna let that go, are you?”

“Damon—“ Alaric sighed. “Look, I’m flattered, but this isn’t – Jenna – “

“I don’t give a shit about Jenna! I like Jenna! I wouldn’t mind sleeping with Jen—“ Damon stopped, cocked his head. “I could probably talk her into that,” he said thoughtfully, and shook his head. “No. Maybe for your birthday. Point is, I don’t care if you date other people. I’m not asking to meet your father, or be chaperoned by anyone’s maiden aunt, and I’m not asking to register for china with you.” He leaned back against the dresser again.

“I’m flattered,” Alaric said again. And he was, because murderous bastard or not, Damon really was - oh God – his best friend. And not always evil, just mostly. He was handy in a fight, and hated treacle, and sometimes snorted when Alaric muttered jokes about Warren Harding under his breath. It sounded ridiculous, but Damon being attractive was actually his least engaging feature. (Other than, you know, murderous vampire.) “But I don’t even—“

”It’s not a dealbreaker, jackass,” Damon said quietly. He poked Alaric’s knee with his bare foot. “If you don’t want to do it, then we don’t do it. I’m not gonna sulk in a corner or stop talking to you or wear t-shirts that read Boys Are Stupid, Kissing Is Awesome—“

”That’s a shirt?” Alaric felt aghast. No, idiot, focus. “I – Damon, I don’t know, okay? You sprang this on me. And I’m not – I’d like to think I’m really open-minded, and it’s not like—“

Alaric was pretty sure there was a difference between things you occasionally thought about when you were jerking off and things you actually did. Besides, 34 was kind of late to be having a crisis about his sexual orientation. But—

But.

“I don’t know,” he said, a little helpless, and looked at Damon. “I know it’s a shitty answer, and if you’re upset, I’m sorry. But I don’t know.”

Damon was quiet for a bit, then nodded. “Fair enough.” He slipped his jacket back on. “Come on. I want to grab a couple Danish on my way out.”

*

“Also,” Alaric said, an hour later, just as they passed the first “VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS” billboard welcoming them back to the state, “considering you just made out with your ex because you thought she was your brother’s girlfriend, whom you’re in love with, I gotta tell you: I’ve had better offers.”

”And I have to remind you that you’re, at least in part, considering sleeping with the guy who had sex with your wife and made her a vampire, your reasoning is a tiny bit suspect,” Damon shot back. “Also, no you haven’t.”

*

Alaric wasn’t any less confused by the time Damon pulled up in front of his apartment. He was more awake, and kind of had to piss, but he was still dealing with three different urges: punch Damon, really punch Damon, or kiss Damon. It didn’t leave a lot of room for talking.

But Damon had been quiet most of the way back, too. So that was something.

Alaric rubbed sleep out of his eyes. "So basically--"

"If Elena shows up here," Damon said, "don't invite her in. Your safest bet would be to open the door and walk away from it, still talking. She's a nice girl who's had manners drilled into her, but she knows about vampires; more importantly, she knows you know about vampires. She'll get it."

"And if she doesn't," Alaric said, "I'm dead anyway."

"You're dead anyway," Damon agreed.

They sat there for a second.

"Okay," Damon said. "So we're done."

"I know."

Another couple of seconds passed.

"Get out of the car," Damon said. He didn't sound pissed, though. At this point, Alaric considered himself a pretty good judge.

He just looked at Damon. "What are you going to do now?"

"Oh, I don't know." Damon's smile was sunny. "I was thinking about talking an edifying stroll along the bridge before the staff has supper ready—are you fucking kidding? I'm going home and drinking until I pass out, then waking up and talking to Stefan. Which will be substantially less fun, I can promise you."

"Or," Alaric said, not quite at full speed, like he was just figuring things out--mostly because he was—"you could come back in a few hours, and I could go to the bar with you.” Pause. “Or I could just go to the boardinghouse and spare everyone the risk of public drunkenness.”

Damon blinked at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said slowly, “did you just invite yourself over to my house?”

”It’s an option,” Alaric said. “I don’t actually have a preference.” He fiddled with the door lock. It even felt swanky, on a Ferrari.

Damon looked at him for a while, long enough that Alaric could feel himself start to get irritated. For God’s sake—

“We could start at the bar,” Damon finally said. “I don’t know how hungry you are, but they have food th—okay, I don’t know about there, but there’s food adjacent.”

And the boardinghouse wouldn’t. At least, not anything Alaric could eat. “Probably be busy,” Alaric said. “At the bar, I mean. There could even be a wake. The mayor dies, a lot of people are gonna want to toast him.”

”That’s because they haven’t met him,” Damon said under his breath.

But,” Alaric said, “if it gets busy, we could just leave.”

That earned him another look. “We could,” Damon said, and stared at him for a long time.

Alaric wondered, not without some panic, if they were supposed to kiss now. He hoped not. It was the middle of the day, and the last 24 hours had been extremely weird, and—

“Get out of the car,” Damon said again, more gently this time. For him, anyway.

Alaric nodded, relieved, and opened the door, popped the back to get at his stuff. He hauled it out and put it on the curb, got out his keys.

When he looked up, Damon was standing there, leaning against the car, watching him, arms crossed over his chest. It was a lot like the way Alaric had seen him watch Elena, the two or three times he’d glanced over and seen it.

Alaric didn’t know what to think about that.

“I’ll meet you at seven,” Damon said, still looking at him, and turned to go. Away from the Ferrari, Alaric noticed.

”Uh, the car—“

”Will be fine,” Damon said. “I’m sure the owner’s noticed it’s missing by now.” And he was gone.

Alaric squinted into the mid-morning light, then grabbed his bag and went inside.
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