Apparently, all I needed to write fic again was the return of Alaric Saltzman, World's Most Badass High School History Teacher. ...which somehow led to 10,000+ words of fic, including the first porn I've written in a ridiculously long time. This is like the time joining a ficathon made me write [personal profile] eatsscissors 26,000 words of Jack/Boone AU amputee porn. I DON'T KNOW, YOU GUYS, I JUST WORK HERE.

by gale

SUMMARY: Alaric Saltzman's been living in Mystic Falls just long enough to forget some things. [Damon/Alaric; 10,611 words; sequel to try the brittle. Contains spoilers for the majority of S2, so if you're caught up you should be fine]

Alaric's been living in Mystic Falls just long enough to forget some things.

For starters, most small towns are safer after dark than cities - not all, but enough that it's unspoken. If something does happen after night falls, it's a mugging or something; maybe, maybe a murder or an assault. Nothing is absolute, after all, but in a town like Mystic Falls, it would probably be a mugging.

The fact that the town leads Virginia in deaths from animal attacks? Not something they put on the brochures. Understandably.

The drinking thing isn't that strange; it's a small town, nestled at least an hour's drive away from anything bigger than a mid-sized mall, and there's a high school. Of course you're going to have teenagers sneaking kegs in the woods. And it's not that weird that so many adults drink, because - it's Mystic Falls, Virginia. Up until fifty years ago, it was literally too small to show up on gas station maps. Drinking is less "something you do" than it is "a second job".

So: small town being more dangerous at night than most cities, fine. Small town also being a haven for people who like booze, still fine.

But somewhere between "my wife's only technically dead" and "I think I just agreed to go on a date with her vampire sire", Alaric forgot something very, very important:

Damon Salvatore is batshit insane.


(Not literally, of course. Alaric's pretty sure there's no actual way to screen vampires for psychological problems, and even if there was, he can't think of any - except Stefan - who'd agree to it. Vampires are mighty hunters! They're a step up on the food chain! Creatures of nightmare and myth do not need to self-examine! RRRRARRRR!

Privately, Alaric thinks it's more that anti-depressants might not work, and there aren't a lot of predators stable enough in themselves to keep a journal or practice I-statements. But he's keeping that to himself. Seems safer.)


The first sign Alaric has that Damon is, in fact, crazy comes three days after they get back to town.

It's been a busy three days. He and Jenna go to the carnival - because he really does like her, above and beyond anything else that's going on, and frankly it's not like Damon cares - and apparently miss all the good parts, like Tyler Lockwood trying to kill a guy in the parking lot and, you know, the part where Caroline Forbes got turned into a vampire.

He doesn't find out about that until Damon mentions it in passing, in the middle of complaining that he is never, ever going to do anyone a favor again, Jesus Christ.

"Like I was supposed to know Katherine had developed some sort of smothering fetish," Damon mutters, practically face-first in a glass of Glenlivet. (Say what you will about the Salvatore house - the words "overgrown" and "creepy" frequently come to mind - but they have a fucking amazing bar.)

"I'm surprised no one stayed with her," Alaric says, nursing his own drink.

"Well, we were all a little busy, what with Katherine showing up at Carol Lockwood's, and stabbing Stefan--"

"She stabbed Stefan?"

"Just a little," Damon demurs. "I've done worse to him for tearing a shirt." He takes a long drink of Scotch, refills what he took. "Besides, he was being all big protective hero over Jeremy--"

"What happened to Jeremy?" Alaric asks, pretty much idly. It can't be that bad, or someone would have said something sooner. He hopes. Frankly, sometimes he feels like a junior partner in this whole...whatever this is.

Damon shrugs. "I broke his neck."

Alaric just stares at him.

It's about a minute of silence before Damon glances at him. "Wh--oh for fuck's sake, don't even start--"

"You killed Jeremy," Alaric says. His voice feels hollow. "Jeremy Gilbert." Jeremy's a good kid. Kind of flighty and too sure of himself all at once, but that's called "being fifteen": most people grow out of it. Except now, he won't ever--

"John gave him the spare toy surprise," Damon says, nothing but scorn. He gestures, vaguely, to the ring on Alaric's finger. "Apparently Johnathon Gilbert had Emily make him two, not just one. Personally, I would have hung onto it, but you people tend to get sentimental at weird times." He drinks more Scotch.

"But he's okay?" Alaric presses.

"He's fine. Scared, pissed off, but not--you know, dead." Damon stares into his glass. "Elena's sort of pissed," he adds, sounding a little confused.

"Yes she's pissed! You murdered her brother!"

Damon looks up at that. "Not permanently! Wh--you know what it's like. Literally," he adds. "He was fine, like, a minute later."

"He wasn't fine," Alaric says, and puts his glass down with a thump. "He got killed. He died. You remember what that's like, Damon?"

Damon's eyes narrow. And it's not like the gesture doesn't freak Alaric out, on some level, but if he can survive a stake to the lung, he can handle whatever else Damon throws at him. It might bend him, but he won't break. Mystic Falls has taught him that, too.

But all Damon does is say "yes" in a hard, narrow voice.

"Okay. Great. Was it scary?"

"This is so fucking ridic--"

"Was it scary?"

"Yes!" Damon snaps. "Of course it was scary! I didn't--Katherine was gone, and we were trying to find her, and he--he just--he--"

And for a second, it's like Alaric isn't even there, because he's pretty sure Damon's not there, not really. Not in his head. His head's in Virginia, Mystic Falls when it was still Fell's Church; the year of Our Lord was 1864, and it was the middle of the night, and something was burning. Somethings.

How old had he been? Twenty? Maybe twenty-one at the oldest. Which means--God, Stefan was still a teenager. They'd just been kids.

"Yes," Damon says after a minute, only a little snide, "it was scary."

"And you got up," Alaric says. "That doesn't make it any less scary. That sort of makes it worse." He gets to his feet. "I'll see myself out."

His coat ruffles a little when Damon zips past to block the door. That's still weird. "You don't have to--"

"Yeah," Alaric says, "I do. Because you killed Elena's little brother, and whether or not you knew he was gonna get back up--"

Damon's eyes shift, just a fraction.

"--oh my God, don't tell me." Alaric closes his eyes for a second. "Just. Whether or not you knew, you still killed him. That's a shitty thing to do."

"Oh, and killing vampires isn't?"

"When they plan on invading town and eating everyone they find because they hold a hundred-and-forty-five-year grudge? Not so much." He blinks his eyes back open. "I'm not - you're gonna give me a couple of days."

Damon takes a step in. "And if I don't?"

"You will," Alaric says, and doesn't back away.

It's Damon who does, though it takes about a minute. "Fine," he says, rolling his eyes. He waves a hand. "Whatever. I'll be here when you decide to get the sand out of your vagina--"

"Inappropriate and sexist," Alaric says. "Classy. Double points." Doesn't mean he's not trying not to laugh, though.

"You love it," Damon mocks, and refills his glass.

Alaric doesn't exactly know how to respond to that, so he leaves instead.


The second sign comes the next day, in the middle of his seventh period American History class. Alaric's in the middle of a lecture about the Roanoke colony (seriously, next semester, when he's working off his own lesson plan and not Tanner's, he's toning down the "yay Virginia!" theme and explaining that there are, in fact, other states) when there's a knock at the door.

Before he can respond, the door opens and a skinny kid with a soul patch and a shaved head says, "Alaric Saltzman?"

All eyes in the room swing to look at him - not the way he'd prefer it - and, of course, he notices some more than others. Stefan and Bonnie are clearly trying not to start laughing, Elena's eyebrows are up near her hairline, and Caroline - okay, Caroline looks like she's hungover and starving, which is not all that surprising.

The flowers in the guy's hand, however, are. Half a dozen jonquils, to be precise.

Alaric is going to find Damon and kill him. Twice.

"Just. Um. Here," he says, and reaches to take them, puts them on the spare desk near the window. "Thanks."

The guy grins at him and tips an imaginary hat, goes back outside. Alaric pinches the bridge of his nose and tries again. "In 1585--"

"Who are they from, Mr. Saltzman?" Sue Carson asks. Alaric likes Sue, she's bright and funny and actually listens in class, but right now he really wishes she was mute.

"Someone not in this class," Alaric says firmly. "The colony was established in 1585--"

"Is there a card?"

He smiles, but it's strained. "Um--yes," he says, glancing at the arrangement. There is, too, but no way is he reading it in front of people, much less students.

Sue lets it go, but he can tell she's just going to keep poking around about it tomorrow 'til he comes up with something.


Later, after class has let out, he reads the card. It's just one line, brief and to the point:

Check your trunk.

Alaric deliberately stays another hour, grading fifth period's quizzes and trying to ignore whatever point Damon's trying to make. But he does have to go home at some point, and - well, the trunk's right there. There's a button to open it and everything.

Inside is what looks like an antique vampire-hunting kit, the kind of thing you see offered on eBay as a novelty. Except this one's been updated with notes: holy water ("absolutely pointless, unless you're dehydrated"), a mallet ("comes in handy if you're really short and playing croquet"), a crucifix ("AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA"), and a stake.

A series of stakes, actually. The original is clearly vintage, which is code for "half-rotted", but the new ones are as thick as his forearm and sharp enough that the point slips and tears open the pad of his thumb.

He settles it back in place and looks at them for a long minute, then shuts the trunk and tucks the jonquils into the passenger seat. It's not that late, but it's always best to be home before dark these days.


That was on Thursday.

Saturday morning, Alaric wakes up to someone knocking - fairly loudly, actually. He's not hungover, but it's still really irritating. He rubs at his eyes, yawning, and pads barefoot to the door. "What--"

"Are you still going to be a pissy little bitch, or can I come in?" Damon asks. He's wearing sunglasses, which is somehow not surprising; it's possible he's hungover, or maybe still drunk. (More likely the latter. Alaric's never been entirely sure whether or not vampires get hangovers.) He's also carrying a little cardboard tray with two coffees in it, and a paper bag just about the right size for bagels.

Alaric blinks at him.

"Okay, one of my magical powers isn't telepathy, so you actually have to answer--"

"No, it's just. Surprising." He looks at Damon for a long minute, then turns towards the kitchen and says, "Come in," like he's just being polite instead of fulfilling part of a ritual designed to keep humans safe in their homes.

Alaric glances over his shoulder just in time to see Damon nudge a toe juuuuust over the line of his apartment, then relax a fraction and walk the rest of the way inside, shutting the door behind him. "Damon, what are you--"

"Did you rent this place furnished? Oh my God, this is terrible. This is like a college apartment, Ric."

"Yeah, I left North Carolina kind of in a hurry," Alaric says dryly. "You know, suspected by the police in my wife's disappearance and presumed death, trying to find her real killer, blah blah blah vampires. I didn't really shop around."

"You could at least paint. Jesus." Damon walks over to the kitchen like he's done it a dozen times instead of never, and starts unpacking things. It's not bagels, but godawful (and delicious) breakfast sandwiches from that little place over on Grove Alaric recognizes on sight. He can't remember the name, though. He should really fix that, since he's not going anywhere anytime soon. "Get some knicknacks. We have knicknacks."

"You have actual things that survived the fire that destroyed Fell's Church," Alaric says. "Give me my coffee."

"I have actual things that were presents from relatives to celebrate Stefan's birth," Damon says. "Who says one of these is for you?" But he passes him one anyway, taking the sunglasses off.

Alaric yawns into his hand. "Isn't it early for you?"

"Early and late matter less when you don't actually need to sleep." Damon opens his own cup - empty, Alaric realizes, glancing inside - and pulls out a blood bag, slicing it open fairly neatly with one fang and squeezing it into the cup. Alaric's a little horrified to realize he's watching with fascination, not repulsion. "So are you?"

"Am I..."

"Still going to be a pissy little bitch," Damon clarifies, and puts the lid back on, taking a long drink.

Alaric's quiet for a few seconds. "Probably a little," he admits. "It was a shitty thing to do, Damon."

"So everyone has told me. Literally, everyone. I think Carol Lockwood was trying to pass off gossip as some kind of 'don't commit murder' parable yesterday." Damon rolls his eyes.

"But...Jeremy's fine," Alaric says, ignoring him, "and it's not like--" He takes a long drink of his own coffee. "I'm not your father," he says quietly. "I can't tell you what to do."

"You did."

"No, I said it was shitty. I'm still gonna give you my opinion."

Damon's quiet for a minute, looking away. It takes Alaric a couple seconds to realize he's actually staring at something: namely, the clutch of jonquils next to the sink, haphazardly contained in a hollowed Arizona Tea can but angled to catch the light.

Then he shrugs, says "Noted", and hands Alaric a sandwich.


Alaric's in the middle of repacking some of Isobel's things so they can leave when Damon comes in and pins him to the desk, breathing harshly and muttering against the skin of his throat.

Alaric shoves him away after a couple of seconds, mind racing. They really haven't had time to talk about - this at all, what with the murder attempts and Caroline being turned and Katherine showing up and everything else. That's not really an excuse in Mystic Falls, though. If you wait 'til you have a normal, boring day, you're never going to get anything done. (They should put that in the brochures, too.) "I don't know what's weirder: that you're manhandling me in my ex-wife's office, or that Elena's somewhere in the building."

"Are you going to start trying to tug your petticoat down?" Damon says, but stops trying to maul him and settles for slumping against him instead.

"I'm just saying. A therapist would have a field day with this whole thing." He tilts his head. "How's the--" He waves at Damon's back.

"Already healed," Damon says dismissively. "There's some internal knitting left, but that'll be done before we hit the state line." He thunks his head against Alaric's shoulder. "Can I eat her?"

"Vanessa? No." Alaric smiles. "She's a nice kid. More importantly, she's the one who told us about the curse. Probably best not to waste resources."

Damon lifts his head enough for his eyes to be visible. Everything from the nose down is still smushed against him, though. "It is remarkably hot when you start talking about people as resources. Do it some more."

"No." Alaric blinks. "Wait, so if I started trying to convince you to lay off eating people because it's easier to keep a sustainable feeding population if there aren't random animal attacks four times a week--"

"Okay, now just keep doing that, but slower and without your shirt on." Damon tucks his head back down and bites.

Alaric stiffens and - and freezes, which is the messed up part, because there is a vampire on top of him and he's biting--

"I'm not breaking the skin, jackass," Damon mutters, and Alaric makes himself relax and concentrate. Sure enough, there's no real pain, just - a nip. Isobel used to do that, sometimes, if she was feeling playful and wanted to coax him away from a paper he was writing. "You still take vervain, it's pointless." He pauses, then adds, voice grudging, "And you're not so much of a sheep that you wouldn't try to stake me if I tried."

"'Sheep' isn't the best analogy, I don't think," Alaric murmurs, but makes himself relax a little more. The worst he's gonna have is a hickey, not a gaping throat wound.

Damon just makes an agreeable noise and keeps kissing.


Would it be so bad, though? If it was fatal, yeah, but Damon probably wouldn't kill him. And it'd heal, thanks to the ring, and he could just go back on vervain afterwards - it's pretty fast-acting, and he's always armed these days anyway, so he could just--

Alaric jerks himself away from that train of thought. No. That's how people go crazy. That's how people become Renfield, for fuck's sake, and he has no real need for more spiders in his diet.


"Do you think Jenna would be opposed to a threeway?" Damon asks, putting his glass down.

Alaric doesn't so much as think about it. "Don't," he warns. He'd wonder how they always have the most inappropriate conversations in public at the Grill, but almost every conversation with Damon is grossly inappropriate, so that's not really a consideration.

"I'm not saying I would--"

"No, you're strongly implying it. And don't."

"Oh, come on!" Damon's eyes gleam. "She doesn't strike me as the kind of woman who'd be freaked out by the idea of two men instead of two women." He blinks. "On the other hand, if you add another--"

"You officially have a very tiny orgy," Alaric says. "No."

"Okay, fine," Damon says, "just the three of us. God, you're proprietary." He rests his chin in his hand and stares at Alaric. "Imagine it."

"Really don't want to," Alaric says, but that's a lie. Of course it would be good. It would be great. They've never talked about it, but Alaric strongly suspects that Jenna's previously-stories are way more interesting than his own, and she doesn't - she doesn't like Damon, exactly, but he's caught her staring at his ass more than once. It wouldn't take a lot of convincing. Not drunk, though. Alaric's way too old for drunken hookups. (Hilariously, Damon really isn't.)

The boardinghouse would probably be best; Jenna's bed is already a little cramped with two people, so three would be a bit of a stretch. A big, warm bed with comfortable sheets and more than enough room for three people, even if two of them are tangled together, idly fighting about who gets to bring Jenna off first. She'd be alternately laughing and giving orders, because no one can ever say Jenna Sommers doesn't know exactly who and what she wants, and God, that's so fucking hot - almost as hot as Damon lowering his head and kissing her gently, sliding his tongue inside as Alaric gently bites her hip and inner thigh and slides up her side to kiss her breast--

Alaric snaps out of it, jerking his head up, and looks at Damon. "What the fuck was that," he blurts out. It's not a question.

Damon's gaping at him. "Holy shit," he says, honestly startled. Sort of. Damon doesn't startle easily, so it's a matter of degrees. "Did you stop taking vervain?"

"No!" Alaric glares. "I - I overslept yesterday and I didn't have time, and I forgot this morning--"

"Yeah, that explains it." Damon narrows his eyes, corner of his mouth curling up. "Tell me I'm wrong. About any of that."

Alaric should really be more upset about Damon creeping into his head, but he's too busy trying to make himself think. It'd help if he could ignore his goddamn dick, which is currently on Team Damon Is A Goddamned Genius, Let's Go Do That Right Now. "It's a moot point," he says, teeth gritted. "Now lay off."

"Fine," Damon says, eyes still gleaming. "For the moment."


The next one doesn't come to his house, and it's not delivered. Alaric comes home to find a lime blossom plant waiting on the table he's laughably using for a dining room. That's almost understandable; the gold handkerchief it's wrapped in, not so much.

That one takes him three minutes on Wikipedia to look up two different entries.

Out loud, glancing at the plant, Alaric says, "I hate you so fucking much."


"So theoretically, if we had to have a threesome, who would you--"

"Damon," Jenna says immediately. "Wait, does he have to talk?"

Alaric tries not to laugh. "This is a hypothetical, so no. He does not."

Jenna nods. "Okay. Then I stand by my answer." She snuggles closer to him, hand in his, as they walk back to his car after the movie.

After a couple seconds, Alaric asks, "Why?"

Jenna shrugs. "I - look, I'm not gonna say he's a good guy, because I think on his best day, he's kind of an asshole. But he's your friend, don't even ask me why, and if we're being entirely shallow? He is hot like burning. And I have the sneaking suspicion he knows his way around--" She stops, makes a vague gesture with her free hand. "I couldn't think of a good metaphor."

He smiles and shoots her a look. "But two men wouldn't--"

"Men grossly underestimate how many women would be totally okay with the idea of a threesome if it was two dudes and not two women," Jenna says seriously. "Not all of us, obviously, but - seriously, take a poll." She tugs on his hand. "I mean, it depends on how okay you would be with the idea of sleeping with a guy, or at least seeing one naked--"

"Not a problem," Alaric says. "Either part."

Jenna stops and looks at him, mouth falling open. "Mr. Saltzman," she says, delighted. "Oh, we are talking about this, bucko," and tugs him in for a kiss.


Alaric isn't at all surprised to find Stefan waiting for him first thing Monday morning, carefully holding a vervain plant and looking bemused. "This is for you," he says.

"Uh, thank you?" Alaric takes it and sets it on the corner of his desk. "Not that I'm not appreciative, Stefan, but this sort of - you could have had Elena give me this. Less chance of you missing skin before you're done."

"I have catlike reflexes," Stefan says, straight-faced. "Also, this, uh. Isn't from me." He looks bemused.

"It's not fr--" Alaric's eyes widen. "Really."

"Apparently, yeah. It's not really a hardship, Zach had over a hundred of these things hidden in his grow room, but - I don't know." He shifts his backpack and stands there for a minute, quiet. "I - I'm sorry, I have to ask. What's going on with you two?"

"I don't know," Alaric admits. "Not entirely. I mean, I - I don't hate him. He's..." My friend, is the reasonable way to finish that sentence, and he means it, but it still feels strange to say out loud, let alone in front of Stefan.

"I don't know," he says again.

"And Jenna's just--"

"I like Jenna," Alaric says firmly. "I really like Jenna."

"Okay." Stefan nods and sits on top of one of the desks near the front. "So what does that mean?"

Alaric reaches out and plays with a leaf. Vervain smells fresh and earthy, the way all plants do. It's a good smell. Protective. "I have no idea," he finally says. "I'm sorry if that's not a great answer, but it's the only one I have. We...if anything happened to him, I would be upset. If anything happened to me, I have no idea what Damon would do."

"Kill whoever did it," Stefan says, without missing a beat. "Of course, he'd do that for Bonnie, too, and he and Bonnie hate each other."

"But Bonnie's Elena's best friend," Alaric says. "So she gets in."

"And you're dating Elena's aunt," Stefan says, "but that doesn't have anything to do with how he'd respond." He's quiet for a few more seconds, then gets off the desk. "Look, you're an adult. Better yet, you're an adult with a ring that keeps you relatively safe as long as you wear it. You should still be careful."

"I intend to," Alaric says. "I'm not actually stupid."

The look Stefan gives him says he's not so sure of that.


"You gave me vervain," Alaric says, when they're toting Mason's body out to the car. They're taking Damon's, because if anyone stops him, the deputies know him as a member of the Council and (more importantly) Sheriff Forbes' friend. It'll get them a lot further.

"Hmn?" Damon opens the trunk and nods inside. "Okay, on three. One, two--"

"Three," Alaric says, and they chunk it inside. Damon shuts the trunk and goes to the passenger seat. Alaric, for some reason he can't quite figure, follows him and slides into the passenger seat. "You had Stefan give it to me. I mean, I assume you did, because Stefan said it wasn't from him, so--"

"Oh." Damon blinks. "That. Yeah." He eases down the driveway and onto the road, doesn't say anything else.

Alaric lets it be. Silence between them hasn't ever really been uncomfortable, which is rare enough that he has the urge to not mess with it too much. Hell, half their conversations haven't involved words as much as they have drinking and trying not to think about whatever they can't stop thinking about.

"Is it a problem?" Damon says, a few miles down the road. His tone isn't quite acidic, but it's trying to be.

"No." Alaric glances at him. "I'm just - it's surprising, is all. Might as well have given me a hemlock plant."

"Hemlock doesn't work on me," Damon says.

"I know that, dumbass--"

"There is nothing wrong with giving an ally an advantage in times of war," Damon says tersely. "It actually makes sense, because as long as you're alive you have my back--"

"I don't need an explanation," Alaric says, "or an excuse. I'm just surprised. And - thank you."

They're quiet for the rest of the drive. They're quiet for the necessarily messy part, too: digging a shallow grave and heaving Mason in, making sure he's deeper down than Vicki Donovan had been. Alaric never met Vicki Donovan, but he's heard the story enough to know that in terms of getting rid of a body, she's a cautionary tale. It's sort of sad. It's sadder that that's how he thinks of her, instead of as Matt's sister or an actual person.

His life is very strange, these days. Strange, and not particularly healthy.


Three blocks before Alaric's apartment, Damon says, out of nowhere, "I would be cranky if something happened to you."

It's terse and grudging, like Alaric's gotten it out of him by torture instead of by not speaking or even really needing a response to what he'd said a little while ago. He raises an eyebrow.

"That's it," Damon snaps. "What do you want, poetry?"

"Nah," Alaric says, smiling. "You'd go Byron on me in ten seconds. Forget it."

And that, for some reason, earns him a long, mildly furious look. It is entirely possible Alaric's been hanging around Damon too long, if he can grade his facial expressions in degrees.

They pass in silence again 'til Damon pulls up in front of Alaric's apartment. "Tell me if--" Alaric starts, reaching for the door handle.

Damon's voice is quiet and firm, and right in his ear, soft as a threat:

"we have tunnelled in dirt
filled with seed
arranged in the dark

there will be only questions
given to questions
a thing made out of nothing
come new to life
curiosity wanting to make
a name for its lust."

Alaric just stares at him, eyes wide and startled.

"Cathryn McCracken," Damon says, voice still quiet. "I actually do read, schoolteacher. Some of us aren't just a pretty face."

"I never thought you were," Alaric says honestly.

Which is true. He'd come to Mystic Falls thinking of Damon more like a Venus flytrap: lovely exterior, lures you in to eat you. And that's true, in part, or it had been; he's starting to think Damon might actually be changing, in slow degrees, the way autumn creeps in on cat feet. These days, he thinks of Damon more in terms of people who keep deadly snakes as housepets. They put up with you, maybe even go along with what you want; but you can't ever forget they're dangerous, because the second you do, you're dead. Or an idiot.

Alaric would really rather not be either.


And then things get very busy for a while.

Alaric's never thought of himself as anything but a teacher. Even "vampire hunter" was more of one-off than anything else, though it's apparently sticking around.

Looking around the boardinghouse - at vampires and teenagers, all of whom have gritted teeth and desperate ideas - he's starting to wonder if maybe he's not a soldier, too.


One morning, Alaric wakes up - somehow not at all surprised; he really needs to work on that - to find Damon standing at the foot of his bed, silent and motionless, looking like the goddamned Crow.

He doesn't think, just rolls to the side and grabs the stake he keeps on the bedside table, rolls back over--

"That's not really necessary," Damon says, and Alaric stops. There's - there's nothing in his voice. Utterly nothing. It's creepy as shit. "I'm not going to hurt you. I need your help."

"And no more booze," Alaric says grimly. "I can smell you from here." He sits up, scrubbing at his face. "Go take a shower, let me make some coffee."

"I don't--"

"You look like Brandon Lee and smell like a distillery. Go take a fucking shower."

Damon doesn't nod, just walks out of the room and turns left towards the bathroom. Alaric watches him go, then buries his face in his hands.

Jesus Christ, what now?


By the time Damon comes out - wrapped in a towel, thank God, and it's serious enough that Alaric doesn't let himself be distracted by Damon's abs (though he does file the thought away for later) - Alaric's dressed except for shoes and sliding him a cup of coffee. "We can get breakfast on the way," he says. "Don't argue. It'll stop the hangover."

"We don't get hangovers," Damon says, but drinks the coffee anyway. "I need your help."

"I got that. With what?"

"Burying someone."

Oh. Alaric blinks. "That doesn't really explain why you look like this."

Damon raises an eyebrow at him. "Like what?"

"Like - that." He waves his hand. "Shattered."

"I'm not shattered." Damon's smile is brittle and absolutely fake, the kind he uses on everyone else. Alaric rolls his eyes.

"It's." Damon's quiet for a minute. "I told Liz I'd get rid of the body, and I'm not going to just bury her. It's--" He looks at Alaric. "I would maybe rather not be alone for this. All right? Any jokes you want to crack--"

"Shut up," Alaric says, not quite gently, and drinks his own coffee. "I'm gonna get you some clothes."


An hour later, they're on the boardinghouse property, of all places. It's bigger than Alaric had thought, if not big enough to allow for a major expansion. Not that they need it; the place has something like eight bedrooms, which is insane. Stefan's with Elena, which is unsurprising.

The body they're disposing of is a vampire. She'd been pretty, not so long ago; she's still mostly pretty, if sort of rotted-looking in the way vampires get when they're dead-dead. Short dark hair, some kind of rash on her shoulder. She's wrapped in a sheet, very carefully. "Friend of yours?"

"Something like that," Damon says quietly. He nods at the rash. "That is what happens when a werewolf bites a vampire, for the record. You ever see one of us - me, Stefan, Caroline - with that, just go ahead and kill us. It'll be kinder."

"Jesus," Alaric says quietly, crouching down to get a better look. It looks a little bit like the stuff from Cabin Fever, some kind of hopped-up vampires-only flesh-eating bacteria. "Did--" He stops. "Rose?" He'd heard Elena mention her, once or twice, but he hadn't heard any concrete details.

"Jules," Damon corrects. "She was aiming for me."

"No, I mean is this--"

"Yeah." He glances at Alaric. "You might want to stand back. We get more flammable with age."

Alaric gets to his feet and takes a couple of big steps back, then half-steps behind a tree for good measure. Damon opens his lighter and lights her head and feet and a spot in the middle, then steps back to the barest edge of safety and watches her burn.

"Five hundred and sixty," he says hollowly. Alaric's pretty sure he's not speaking to him, exactly. He listens anyway. "She was a complete pain in the ass. Threw me up against a car, once."

Which sort of says it all, really. "I'm sorry," Alaric says. "For what it's worth. Which probably isn't a lot."

"Not really," Damon says, but not unkindly. He's silent for a minute or so. "Everyone wants me to be like Stefan. They miss the point."

"That you're not Stefan?" Alaric guesses.

"No. Well, yes, but--" Another small silence. Alaric doesn't mind.

"You can only change so much," Damon says, still quiet. "We're not like you. We all were, once - except maybe the Originals, and don't even ask me about that - but we're not. We're something else. Stefan...he likes to pretend he's human, that if he works at it hard enough, if he's good enough, he'll wake up a real boy one day. He doesn't get it. He won't. This is the end of the line. After this, there's just dead." He glances at Alaric. "Do you know how you become a vampire?"

"There's biting," Alaric says. "I never really wanted the details." He genuinely likes Damon, and the wound that was Isobel has started to heal up around the edges, but if he thinks about it too long he's pretty sure he'll try to stake him again. He's old enough to know that sometimes, friendship means not talking about shit.

"Blood exchange. You die with enough of it in your system, you just - you wake up, and you're all right. Whatever killed you is healed and fine. And you have a headache, yeah, and your stomach is weird and shaky, but you're not dead. It's a shock. And something's off, and you're hungry, and no matter what you eat or drink, it's wrong." Damon looks back at the flames. "It's a choice. It's always a choice. You could just - not feed. You don't have to kill someone, just drink blood. And all you have to do is not feed. Twelve or so hours later, you die. For real, this time."

Alaric watches Rose's hair crisp and curl in the fire. "How many people choose that?"

"I've never met one," Damon says dryly. "Of course, I wouldn't. They'd be dead."

Isobel hadn't chosen that, either. But then, she'd gone into it knowing what she wanted, hadn't she? "She was your friend."

"There is not a word in the English language--"


"Yeah," Damon says, "we. She was my friend."

Alaric waits a second, then nudges him with his toe. "You make a habit of propositioning all your friends?"

"Pretty much," Damon says. "I haven't had a lot of them."

Alaric gets that, at least on the surface, but he thinks it's pretty stupid. Damon isn't - if nothing else, you get where you stand with him within about two minutes. He lies to make himself look worse, not better. He is a hundred times more complicated than anyone else has ever met, and simultaneously as complex as a hamster. Compare that to Stefan, who - Alaric likes him just fine, Stefan's a good guy, but Stefan can get a little too wrapped up in the story he's telling himself: Stefan Salvatore, Man Atoning For His Past Misdeeds. The Good One.

But all he says is, "Did she want to be cremated?"

"Like I said, we're flammable." Damon shrugs. "She wanted to be put to rest in - I don't know where it is now, it's in England. I'm guessing the name's changed since the 1500s."

Alaric watches him for a minute, then hikes back to the car and rummages through it. He finds what he's looking for in the backseat and brings it back to the pyre, which is still burning bright, if starting to weaken just a little. "Here," he says, and hands it to Damon.

Damon looks at it, frowning. "And this is--"

"It's a jar," Alaric says, raising an eyebrow. "You've seen them before."

"I know that, asshole. Why--"

"You're gonna need something to put her ashes in to take them back to England," Alaric says. "This was the best I could do on short notice. Don't ask me why I had a jar in there, I have no goddamn idea, but I did, so."

Damon glances at him. "It's maudlin," he says, trying for scorn. Someone who didn't know him as well would probably think he'd hit it, but not Alaric.

Alaric holds up his hands. "Push comes to shove, you could toss her at someone and make a run for it."

Damon's mouth twitches. "Still thinking tactically," he murmurs. "I like that."

They don't talk again 'til the fire burns out. Damon leans down and carefully gathers the ashes into the jar, not looking back once.

Alaric doesn't help. Some things, he's learned, you have to do yourself. Mystic Falls taught him that, too.


Afterwards, instead of letting Alaric drive home, Damon gets in the car. "You coming?"

Alaric opens his mouth to protest, then gives up and slides into the passenger seat. "We're not leaving the state, this time," he says. "I have class on Monday."

Damon just nods and starts driving.

He stops the car in Muir Woods, parks along the shoulder. It's not a particular area; there's nothing marked, no signs or landmarks to tell where, exactly, they are. But the woods stretch just past the town line, and they're a good five miles away from that.

Damon doesn't speak, just gets out of the car and starts crunching his way down the embankment - it's a little steep, but apparently not for the undead - and into the woods themselves. Alaric shoots the car a look, says a prayer that it doesn't get stolen or towed while they're gone, and follows him.

"Where are we going?" he asks, after a couple of minutes.

Damon doesn't say anything, just keeps walking. Alaric leaves it alone.

It's not a hike, Damon keeps a pretty sedate pace, but it's still sort of a walk. By Alaric's estimation - which is, admittedly, not great; Mystic Falls does a lot of things really well, and one of them is "screwing up your bearings" - they're about a mile-and-a-half in when Damon comes to a sudden stop.

"This is it," he says, voice colorless.

Alaric looks around. It's - it's the middle of the woods, really, no place in particular. It's a decent piece away from the road, and a little overgrown, but that's it. The earth is dark, untilled or -touched by human hands in a long time, if ever. There isn't even signs that someone's put a campfire here, not that that's so crazy; the more typically-used "camping" area is a lot closer to the road. "This is what?"

Damon half-turns. "Where I'm buried."

Alaric looks at him, startled.

"Well. Not technically," Damon says, turning the rest of the way around. "Emily got us out of there before they could actually do something insane, like bury us. It happens sometimes," he adds, when Alaric's eyebrows go up. "The ones who have to dig their way out of the ground are always a tiny bit crazier. Not that I blame them."

He drops to a crouch and starts brushing at the dirt, uncovering something, then gets up and repeats the whole process about ten yards away. Alaric glances down.

It's not even a headstone, just a very simple carved stone marker, flat against the earth:




There's no inscription, no pithy Bible quote, nothing. Just names and dates. Something about it seems...cold. Not surprising, considering what had been going on at the time, but still. Alaric would have to check, but he's pretty sure any other graves dating back to 1864 have actual inscriptions on them. "God grant he lie still", maybe, or "and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest". Maybe just chapter and verse. Something.

"We had to be buried," Damon says. "Too many people had seen our bodies, and it would look suspicious if we just up and vanished the night all the vampires were killed. But no way was Giuseppe Salvatore going to let his traitorous children have anything as kind as an honorable funeral." He half-smiles. "He always was big on looking good in front of the neighbors."

"So they just buried empty graves?"

"Probably put rocks in the coffins. I was never quite morbid enough to check." Damon looks at the ground like he's trying to stare through it and into the coffins, just to see. "Pointless to do it now. The actual coffins would have rotted away."

"I--" Alaric looks at him, bewildered. "Damon, why did you bring me out here?"

"I am untrustworthy," Damon says, in a remarkably loud tone of voice. "I betrayed my father, my friends, my town. I kill people. I use my mental powers to twist people's minds to my will. I lie, I cheat, I steal. I," and he looks Alaric square in the eye, "am not a very nice person."

Alaric just looks at him, crosses his arms over his chest. "And?"

"I treated Caroline like a snack bar you could have sex with for the better part of a week. If Stefan hadn't spiked her drink with vervain, I would have killed her."

"And you gave her blood to save her life," Alaric points out. Which got her turned into a vampire, but that's Katherine's fault, not Caroline's.

"I ripped out Bonnie's trachea--"

"--and thanked her for doing that spell on Johnathon Gilbert's compass."

Damon looks mulish, now. "I turned your wife! After I fucked her through the mattress."

And, okay, that one stings. But: "Because Isobel wanted to be turned. I can't speak to the rest of it."

Now Damon just looks like Alaric's kicked him in the stomach, all wide eyes and half-open mouth. Gaping is a good look on him. "I killed you," he says. On anyone else, Alaric would call that tone "desperate".

"And I got better," Alaric says, and steps closer. "See?" He waves his ring hand at Damon. "Toy surprise."

"I could take that off you," Damon says. "At any time, just - rip it off your finger. Rip off your finger."

"You haven't." Closer, now.

"But I could--"

"So do it." Alaric stops right in front of Damon's face. "I don't know if you noticed, but I do actually pay attention to shit that goes on in this town. I know damn well what you did to Isobel, and to me. I've heard horror stories from basically everyone who knows you - actually knows you, not just people like Carol Lockwood or Sheriff Forbes. No one is ever going to accuse you of being too nice."

"You pick weird people to befriend, Saltzman," Damon says, but he doesn't back away.

"You started it," Alaric says, and kisses him.

Alaric has, admittedly, not kissed a lot of men in his life; he's actually had sex with more than he's kissed, thanks to his fairly lackadaisacal pre-Isobel college dating history. (Really, for most of those, "dating" was wishful thinking. It sounds classier than "getting just drunk enough to allow for hookups that make me feel less slutty than if I'd tried it when I was sober".) He's not a fan of stubble, but he'd learned to accept it when it comes along.

Damon doesn't have stubble. He also doesn't have breath, or a heartbeat, or a particular need to blink. What he does have, however, is the know-how to kiss any lingering protest away, make it the simplest thing in the world that Alaric's kissing him a few feet away from where he was buried just short of a hundred and fifty years ago. Frankly, Alaric doesn't see why he'd have to whammy anyone.

"My life is strange," Alaric says, when he finally pulls back. His mouth feels puffy.

"Everyone's life is strange," Damon says, rolling his eyes, and tugs on Alaric's hand. "You don't get a medal. Come on."


They don't hold hands on the way home, but that's not saying a lot; Damon keeps touching Alaric, poking his leg with his toes or putting a hand on his thigh. He doesn't try to kiss him, which is good. Alaric's never had a lot of luck trying to multitask when he's driving.

He doesn't let himself think too hard about what's going to happen when they get there, either. Not-thinking's worked them well so far; might as well continue the tradition.


They end up back at Alaric's apartment. There's a lot less chance that Elena or Stefan will burst in wanting to talk, and if they do, well, that's why there are phones. Besides, while Alaric likes the boardinghouse just fine, there's always something funereal about it. It might be up to code and elaborately furnished, but they could use some lighting that's not out of a gothic Victorian novel.

Alaric has just enough time to get inside before Damon's slamming him up against the wall, not kissing him, just - staring. He looks the tiniest bit crazed.

"Oof," Alaric gets out, then, "Hi."

"I'm not going to seduce you," Damon says. He sounds furious, which - considering Alaric's pretty sure he's not actually mad, and if he is, it's not at him - means he's trying not to feel something else. "I'm - can we just fuck? Please?"

Alaric doesn't say anything to that, just tilts his head and mouths the hard curve of Damon's jaw, fingers reaching to unbutton his shirt.

The thing is, he literally - the last time he was with a man was in college, four days before he met Isobel. It wasn't anything even approaching skilled, or even really good; it was just there, less work than jerking off, and nothing remotely impressive about it. And then there was his wife, and Jenna. He's used to breasts, hips, asses. The soft curve of a woman's thigh, the slippery heat between her legs, the peak of a nipple - all of it, all of it is amazing and wonderful, but this is a whole new playing field, and he barely remembers the terms.

"Stop being so tense, Jesus," Damon mutters, grabbing Alaric's shirt and yanking it off his head. "You'd think you haven't done this bef--" He stops and looks at him. "You--have you done this before?"

"Yeah," Alaric says, a little defensive. "In, um. In college--"

"Oh my God, you're practically a virgin." Damon rolls his eyes and finishes with his own shirt, tosses it on the ground. "Now, when two men like each other very much--"

Alaric claps a hand over his mouth. "Talk less," he orders, and goes to pull him down the hall to the bedroom.

But Damon clearly has other ideas, because Alaric blinks - literally, blinks - and he's on the sofa, one leg thrown over the back, spread out like a teenager whose parents won't be home for three or four hours yet. Damon's hands are working on his jeans, and he's scowling. "Fucking button-flies--"

"Says the guy with a button and a zipper," Alaric says, just as irritated. To be fair, that's because he's getting naked with a guy who's had sex with more people than Alaric's ever honestly called friend, and possessed of a stomach you could grate cheese on and something like no body fat. And he's old enough that his grandfather could have come to America on the same boat as Alaric's ancestors. Vampire or not, that's just cheating.

"Oh, for - here, you finish," Damon says, clambering off. Alaric starts to protest, then thinks about the face Damon would make at him and thinks better of it. "I'm gonna go get supplies. Lube?"

"Yeah, we need some." Alaric starts laughing at the look on his face. "Bedside table, along with--"

Zip! and he's gone. Alaric has about three seconds to stare at that before zip! he's back. "I can't catch or pass on communicable diseases," Damon says, "so condoms seem moot."

Alaric isn't really listening. Apparently, when he was in there, Damon traded the rest of his clothes for the lube, and that's just - that--

"Get over here," he says, voice hoarse, and shucks his own jeans down and off, bringing his underwear with them. He's gratified to see Damon's eyes widen, then narrow. "I mean, unless you want me to get started by myself--"

"And if I did?" It's hard to look self-possessed while lounging naked against a wall, but Damon manages.

Alaric doesn't answer, just half-closes his eyes and strokes his cock, thumb rubbing against the tip. He goes slow, as much for the show as because much faster would make the whole thing over in less than a minute. And really, it's nice, lazy and slow; nothing new about his hands on himself, but it's always better when it's for an audience instead of yourself. He lets out a long breath and lets it ripple through him, arches his back a little.

He doesn't dare look at Damon right now. Doesn't dare.

"Still want that?" Alaric asks, voice as lazy as his hand.

And then there's a hand taking his away, more gently than he'd thought, and the change in pressure - no calluses, different skin texture - makes him let out a breath that ends on a groan. "Fuck," he says, rolling his hips once, "okay, that - you could keep doing that for another thirty seconds. Promise I wouldn't mind."

"Thirty?" Damon sounds amused. "Try ten."

Alaric opens his eyes to argue the point, but cuts off when he hears the snap of a bottle opening. He closes his eyes and leans his head back, trying to get ready. This is always the weirdest part.

Two fingers - the lube's not cool, but Damon's fingers are - and he's clenching his fingers, opening his mouth to say something when Damon stops and eases back a little, carefully scissoring. "Muscles are easier to read than people," he says, and his voice is - not soft, exactly, but looser, the way he'd sounded in the apartment, talking about Katherine. Like he's relaxed, just a little.

Damon stays that way, easygoing, 'til Alaric arches his back and asks for three. He's never been good at guesstimating sizes when it comes to dicks, but three should be just fine. Four just leads to strange looks, and maybe Damon assuming he's asking for something he's really, really not.

(Not yet, anyway, but that - no. Focus, moron, he tells himself, planning ahead never ends well with this sort of thing.)

And then, just as everything's about ready, Damon. Stops.

Alaric opens his eyes and stares at him. "Uh. Hi?" He waves his hand. "Still with me?"

"I don't really feel like doing a lot of work," Damon says slowly.

Alaric pushes himself up on one elbow. "Oh, I'm sorry," he says incredulously. "God forbid you--"

Damon runs over him like he's not even talking. "Quick fix," he says, nonchalant, and - moves.

And then Damon's flat on his back on the sofa, one leg canted in almost the exact same way Alaric's had been a second ago, and Alaric's in his lap. Alaric blinks at him.

"What," Damon says, "you haven't done this before?" He settles his hands on Alaric's hips. "I can steer, if you want, at least to start." He sounds amused more than anything else, but his eyes are getting darker and there are veins showing around them. Alaric's not sure whether or not he should be freaked out.

"Not for a while," he says, and takes a deep breath. "Just, give me--" He raises himself up on thighs that shake more than he'd like and eases himself down - or starts to, anyway. He freezes about an inch in and squeezes his eyes shut, trying to control his breathing and stop freaking out.

It's not a mostly-heterosexual freakout; it's a pain freakout. This hurts, at least at first, and he hasn't done it in a long time. He counts to ten, then twenty, then gives up and just breathes 'til it fades to a dull roar.

It's like that for a while: slide in, stop, deep breaths. Slide in, stop, deep breaths. The deep breaths take less time on each pass, though, and something in his belly uncoils the more of Damon he gets inside. His heartbeat feels very loud in his own ears.

"Why didn't we do this weeks ago?" Damon asks. His voice is rougher than Alaric's used to, slurred and pleased.

"Because I hated you and you killed me," Alaric says, and rocks against him, eyes closing every couple of seconds.

"Oh, sure, get me on a technicality."

A few seconds in, Alaric opens his eyes and stills. It's - it's nice, is what it is, and that's baffling. Nice, lazy sex. This is not what he signed up for. He thumps Damon on the chest, hard. "That - okay. Stop it."

"Stop what?" Damon looks confused.

"Stop acting like you're gonna have to set me on fire in the backyard tomorrow."

Alaric says it half-kidding, half-serious, trying to knock Damon out of being in his head quite so much, maybe expecting him to say something pithy back, so he's really surprised when Damon rears up sharply and bites him in the throat. Not play-biting, either. Biting.

He makes a sound, old-fashioned fear flooding him, and clenches around Damon. That earns a groan.

"You haven't gone back on the vervain," Damon says, voice thick - with blood, his blood, and Alaric doesn't have to fake being freaked out at that.

"No." He swallows, hard, and tries to calm down. "Not yet."

"Why?" Damon pulls back, his head tilted. His mouth isn't as smeary as it had been that morning; it's red, yeah, but - neater. It takes Alaric a second to realize that yeah, he's bleeding, and he's going to have to find a high-collared shirt to wear tomorrow, but it could be a lot worse. It's not a killing wound. It's not even a proper feeding wound, actually. More of a nip.

This, he realizes with a start, is Damon's idea of playing.

That should not be anywhere near as hot as it is.

He leans down and kisses him, tastes the salt-copper tang of his own blood. Not awful. Not appetizing, either. "Maybe I wanted you to do it," he says, and slides the rest of the way down, shuddering around Damon's cock. "The worst you could do is kill me, and I'll just get better."

"Don't tempt me," Damon grits out.

"Oh, what, now you're into necrophilia?" Alaric says, laughing, and turns it into a moan when Damon starts moving his hips.

Damon isn't talkative during, which is kind of a relief; he'd been expecting some sort of smirky lecture, but no: just a very focused gaze (mostly jet-black, which is alien and painfully hot) and natural skill and talent over a lot of practice. He doesn't laugh when Alaric bends almost in half to kiss him, just nips at his mouth and rocks against him. More importantly, he doesn't laugh when Alaric gets his knees up under him and half-kneels up so he can slide back down and savor the feeling of being stretched.

It's good. It's very good, actually, and not terribly awkward. Of course, that goes straight to hell about six strokes in, when he slides down at the same second Damon changes his angle slightly and hits his prostate, at which point Alaric's vision greys out for a second.

That earns a laugh. A grin, actually. "Jesus, finally," Damon says, not even trying not to laugh. "I was starting to think you didn't have one."

"Stop," Alaric gets out, "talking," and shuts up entirely, one hand sliding down his sweat-damp stomach to wrap around his cock.

That was the plan, anyway. Damon pulls his hand away. "No," he says. "Let's just see."

"See what," Alaric wants to say, and then Damon's hands are firm on his hips, repositioning him every few seconds, making sure he hits his prostate on every. single. thrust. Alaric's never had any real one way or the other, and it's not like he looks forward to his yearly prostate exam with hearts in his eyes, but that might change next year. He braces himself on Damon's shoulders and feels his thighs shake, hears himself make noises like he's listening to something in another room.

He feels - he feels different. Like he's burning up from the inside, being remade into a different Alaric Saltzman: remade by the same guy who changed his wife, and there's something screwed up about that, there really is, and Alaric will be pensive about it just as soon as he remembers to give a shit, because oh God, oh God he's coming, soundless and panting, nothing touching his cock but air.

It takes him a few seconds to come back to himself, and even then just barely. It's enough, though, to see that Damon is frustrated, tense, too-long teeth gritted, something off.

Still panting, still riding him, Alaric bends down and bites Damon's neck hard enough to purple it, not so hard he breaks skin.

And that, wow, is apparently some kind of magic key for sex with vampires, because Damon makes this noise - not a sound, a noise, nothing human about it - and comes, leaning up to press his open mouth against Alaric's skin, teeth still too sharp but not biting.

Alaric rests there, breathing hard, for not quite a minute before he slides off, wincing, and sprawls on top of him. "Jesus," he says faintly, staring blindly at the back of the sofa. Huh. Floral pattern. Who knew?

"That," Damon says eventually, "was not bad."

Alaric blinks at the sofa and turns his head. "Excuse me?"

"It wasn't bad," Damon says helpfully. He sounds more relaxed, and his eyes and teeth are normal again, but that's about it. Except for the sweat, he might as well - he looks fine. Totally unruffled. "Especially when you consider it's been a while. B minus."

"B minus?" He really needs to stop sounding incredulous, he does, but seriously. He'd shot past B minus as a sophomore, for fuck's sake.

"You being a bottom was a nice surprise," Damon says. Great, now he's thoughtful. "I mean, you could have warned me you have a pelt--"

Alaric glares at him, and stops when he realizes Damon's trying not to start laughing. "Fuck off," he says, propping himself up on his hand. "It keeps me warm in winter."

"Little scratchy, though."

"You're a hundred-and-sixty-six. Learn to live with it, Salvatore." Alaric collapses on top of him again. "And for the record, everyone knows you never count round one. Round one is when you knock the dust off, make sure everything still works."

Damon raises an eyebrow at him. "Do they."

"They do." Alaric reaches for him. "Let me show you."


He's half-dozing, the part of his brain that's still on making lists of things he just learned - vampire come tastes like human, though undoubtedly there's no sperm; work that biting thing into regular rotation - when Damon says, sounding remarkably muted, "For the record, yes."

"Mmn?" He doesn't turn.

"I'm pretty sure I've propositioned all my friends." Damon's thoughtful. "Since I turned, anyway. Not when I was alive."

"Makes sense," Alaric murmurs. "Relationships among vampires have to be different. The fact that vampires have other vampires as friends is amazing enough, since your instinct is to see it as competition from another predator--"

"You're not writing a paper on this," Damon says.

"Fuck, no. I'm a historian, not a biologist." Alaric shifts a little, getting more comfortable. "Damon?"

Now it's Damon's turn to be distracted. "Hmn?"

Alaric chooses his words very carefully. "You're not entirely evil. You're - you can be dangerous. It's not the same thing. I think..." He's quiet for a second. "I think the people who like you understand that. I do, anyway."

"Not exactly a ringing endorsement," Damon mutters, but he threads his fingers through Alaric's.

"Yeah, I just had sex three times with a man with no refractory period or sense of shame, you're not gonna get a dissertation out of me." Alaric grins a little, staring up at the ceiling.

He feels Damon prop himself up on one elbow. "That sounds like a challenge," he says slowly.

"Never." Alaric waits a couple of seconds, then adds, "Pussy."

"Oh, fuck you--" and they're tumbling across the bed again, tangled together in the darkening light.


Somehow, Alaric isn't surprised when he checks his box in the main office the next day and finds one of the aides practically hovering, clearly waiting for him. "Uh, Mr. Saltzman," she says, "there's--" and gestures to the main desk.

It sort of looks like someone's gutted a florist and just decided to drop part of the leavings at the front desk of Mystic Falls High School. Alaric looks at it, bemused, and translates in his head.

There's bellflower in there (thinking of you), and celandine (joys to come); coriander (lust) and, unsurprisingly, lime blossom (fu--fornication, to use the older form of the term, which seems appropriate), twined together; and, largest and most lush, pear blossom (long-lasting friendship) and half a dozen purple carnations (unreliability, capriciousness). Taken as a whole, it looks absolutely schitzophrenic.

Alaric thinks that's about right.

"Jesus, Saltzman," Mary Donnelly says (Freshman Environmental Science; nice lady, nicer girlfriend in a couple of Jenna's grad school classes). "What's that all about?"

He doesn't bother looking for a card, just smiles a little and wonders if he can press gang a student into helping him carry them all. Maybe Stefan, when he's done laughing.

"It's complicated," he says, and reaches out to touch the pear blossom.
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