A/N: Thanks to the lovely saltzatore for beta-ing. AGAIN. She is the queen! Title comes from 3 Doors Down, "Here without you".

Life will take its turns.

At the ripe old age of thirty-four, Alaric Saltzman was a number of different things. Guardian to a pair of teenagers whose lives resembled something out of Poe. Holder of three higher degrees who was using his world-class and very expensive education to teach high school history. A vampire slayer. A vampire's lover.

And, he reflected, as he looked around his 'bedroom' – living like a teenager himself. This room contained almost everything he owned, which wasn't much; bed, bookshelves, too many books, and the couch he now sat on, which was close enough to the bed, in these cramped quarters, that he could rest his feet on the duvet. From where he sat, he could reach four of his booze hidey-holes. See? Very adolescent.

At his feet was a box of papers on the civil war, written by his sophomore class. He'd been dreading marking them, but somehow, he'd sat down earlier this evening and done the lot. Stone cold sober. It must have taken hours. The feedback was thorough, his handwriting uncharacteristically tidy. From what he could gather, he had then rewritten the junior's mid-term exam and developed an additional reading list for the seniors.

Again: SOBER. This was not just unrealistically responsible, but downright suspicious; and when, half an hour ago, his cell phone had rung – a very unexpected phone call, and one which he was looking forward to Damon explaining to him – he'd made the very unpleasant realisation that he hadn't just had a total brainfart, forgotten to go chaperone the Homecoming dance and slogged his way through a stack of papers that redefined the term 'sophomoric' – SOBER – he'd been compelled to do so.

Damon Fuckin' Salvatore.

Compulsion now lifted, though he wasn't sure how (perhaps because the dance was over), he was drinking from a very large glass. Ashamed, pissed off, and hurt. Rolling the glass between his hands, warming the bourbon.

(The deal they'd made wasn't complicated. Alaric had stopped drinking vervain, because, sick and twisted as it might be, when Damon fed from him, it was the most erotic thing he'd ever experienced. So he carried vervain with him instead. Most of the time. For protection. Damon, for his part, had sworn he'd never compel Alaric; Alaric wasn't sure who enjoyed the bloodplay more, but it had to be a close thing, for Damon to have agreed, because compulsion came as naturally to him as breathing. Or, no. More naturally.)

He'd heard Damon and Elena arrive home from the Homecoming dance a few moments ago and he was now waiting to see whether Damon was going to come upstairs and explain himself. Deciding whether he was going to even let him try.

Hell, if Damon thought he was totally useless (and surely he did, or he would have had him on hand tonight), maybe it was time to up stumps and leave Mystic Falls. Although he'd been bitten, beaten up and stabbed before coming to this sleepy little burg, it had never been with such regularity. And he'd certainly never done anything as dumb as fall for a monster before he'd arrived in backwater Virginia.

Just outside his door, Damon and Elena were arguing; quietly, but when Damon raised his voice, Alaric perked up his ears:

"Elena. Go to bed. Do not enter this room. He can be your guardian again in the morning. Right now he's… my… best friend. Go. Away."

Best friend, eh? Weird definition of that in vampire land, apparently. Here on earth, your best friend is the one you want at your side when shit gets ugly. Alaric finished the bourbon, poured another one.

After a brief scuffle, Elena's bedroom door clicked shut, and Damon knocked on Alaric's bedroom door.

"Go away, Damon," Alaric answered, in nothing louder than his regular speaking voice.

On the other side of the door, Damon made an exasperated sound and turned the knob, entering the room and closing the door behind him.

Alaric scowled. "I didn't invite you in, Damon."

Damon frowned. "You didn't have to. Elena invited me in over a year ago. Hell, you invite me in at least four nights a week."

"I mean I didn't invite you in tonight."

Shrug. "I only need to be invited in once."

"Actually, you're supposed to be invited every time. That's why we call you people who don't live here 'guests.' Because you're supposed to be invited. Y'know. It's polite."

Damon cocked his head, schooled his features into something like flirtatious. "Polite?" He took a step toward the couch. "I gave you your first rimjob, Ric. I think we're a bit past 'polite'."

Alaric looked up sharply. "No, you didn't."

Damon shrugged. "Gave you the first one that counted, then. C'mon, Ric."

Alaric eyed Damon resentfully. "I got an interesting phone call about half an hour ago."

"Let me guess. Something to do with steak knives?"

"You're funny, Damon. You're very funny. No, nothing to do with steak knives. So tell me, why does Katherine have my cell number?"

Damon froze. "I… didn't know she had it. Maybe she got it while Klaus was wearing you like a big hairy prom dress?"

Alaric clicked his fingers. "There's that Salvatore humour again. No, really. It's funny." Alaric sank further into the couch, covered his eyes with the back of his wrist, and took another sip of bourbon.

"Okay." Damon sounded… not exactly off-balance, because it took a lot to get Damon off-balance, but at least, wary. "I think I should point out, Ric, that I've had a really shitty night. And as much as I usually enjoy fighting with you, I don't think I've got the energy for anything but the making-up portion of that little dance." He sank into the couch alongside Alaric and handed over a bottle. "Here. It's better than whatever it is you're drinking. So tell me, on a scale of one to the-last-time-I-killed-you, exactly how pissed are you with me right now? And before you answer that, you should know the bourbon in that bottle is the second best thing you'll ever have in your mouth."

Alaric glared at Damon from below his hand, and Damon quirked his lip, leaving no doubt as to what he thought was the absolute best thing Alaric would ever have in his mouth. Shifted a little closer to Alaric on the couch, nudged his arm. "C'mon. What did the old hag say?"

Alaric shrugged. "Oh, you know. The plan – you know, the one you forgot to share with me? – went to hell." Alaric dropped his hand to his knee. "Hilarity ensued."

Damon shifted his weight, suddenly, and met Alaric's mouth in a kiss; cautious, and a little needy. Alaric drew away without returning it, and Damon groaned.

"Seriously, Ric. What do you want me to say?"

"You benched me, Damon."

Damon pulled a face. "Bad analogy. A benched player knows he's been benched, y'know, he's sitting there in the dugout looking all depressed and dejected. Like a kicked puppy." Damon ran his finger across Alaric's lips. "I went to a great deal of effort to keep you out of the loop completely. You weren't supposed to know there was even a game on."

"Is that supposed me make me feel better?"

Damon shrugged, placing a kiss on Alaric's jaw. "You could be flattered. It wasn't easy."

Alaric pushed him away again, and Damon made a frustrated grumble somewhere low in his throat.

"Seriously, Damon. What am I s'posed to think?" Alaric poured another glass; pointedly refusing Damon's posh offering and sticking with the $15 a bottle rotgut that doubled as paint stripper and was all he could afford on a teacher's salary. He was grateful for the low light in the room, because he didn't want Damon to see too clearly how he was feeling. "You keep forgetting, you know. I was killing vampires for three years before I got here. I have the Gilbert ring -"

"Oh, the ring that Stefan – and therefore Klaus – know about? Yep. After they cut your hand off I could have kept it as a souvenir. Worn it as a hat to your funeral."

"I didn't come to Mystic Falls to be kept safe, Damon. I came to kill vampires." Alaric snorted. "Came to kill you. So maybe that's off the table, for now, but still – I can't believe you'd leave me out of something this big."

Damon took a deep breath. "This wasn't about you, Ric. I know you can handle yourself."

Alaric waited expectantly. Damon moaned. "There are exactly two people in this town – in this world – that I care about, Ric. You and Elena. I didn't want either of you anywhere near there."

"Again, not doing anything for my self-esteem, Damon."

"I nearly ate a stake tonight, Ric. If I die, you know who has to take care of baby doppelganger? You. If we're both dead, she's hybrid-bait." Damon got to his feet, running a hand through his hair, stalking back and forth in the limited space. "And then it's not just her. Other than the two of you, I don't particularly care about humans. You're a great big walking buffet. But you seem to have an attachment to the race as a whole. Right? If Elena gets taken, Klaus will have an unlimited supply of doppelganger juice and his ragtag pack of mutts will grow by the day."

"You still could have told me," Alaric grumbled, holding the bottle of bourbon Damon had brought with him, eyeing the label.

"Would you have stayed out of it?"

Alaric threw Damon a look. "Maybe."

"No, you wouldn't have. You'd have found a way to get in the thick of it. I wasn't going to risk that."

"You broke your promise. You compelled me."

"Lesser of two evils, Ric," Damon said, his voice softer than Alaric could ever remember hearing it. "I knew you'd be pissed. I also knew you'd be safe, so I took the chance." Like it would make a big difference, he added "Notice I didn't compel you to forget you'd been compelled."

Alaric rolled his eyes. "You know I'd do anything for you, right? For you, for Elena, for Jeremy… you're right. I care about humans in general. I want to help." Alaric shook his head. "Don't do it again, Damon. I'm serious. I think risking my life is worth it."

"Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree on that point." Damon took his chin between his thumb and forefinger, regarding Alaric with an odd intensity. "You'd do anything? For me? For Elena?"

"You know I would." Alaric held his hand out. Didn't even have the energy to be angry anymore. Damon rejoined him on the couch. "You got something in mind?"

Damon narrowed his eyes. Opened his mouth a second as if to speak. Closed it again. Took a deep, unnecessary breath.

"Why do you do that?" Alaric asked. Damon cocked an eyebrow, questioning. "You don't need to breathe. Sometimes, you do it. Why?"

Damon leaned against the back of the couch. He looked exhausted. "It…" He trailed off. "No reason."

Alaric held his gaze. "You look like crap, Damon."

Damon smiled blithely. "I doubt that."

"You do. You look like you haven't slept in a week." Possibly, he hadn't. "Have you fed tonight?"

Damon leaned toward him on the couch, caught Alaric's bottom lip in his mouth. "You offering?"

Alaric groaned, fisted a handful of Damon's hair in one hand and kissed him hard. "You know I am."

Before Alaric knew what was happening, his shirt was off, and he was laid out on the bed. Laughed, in spite of himself. "Damon!"

Damon shrugged. "Saves time when I manhandle you," he grinned, kissing his way down Alaric's chest, licking and teasing and tasting, until he found the spot low on Alaric's hip that was his favourite place to drink from. Alaric groaned as Damon unbuckled his belt, wondering where all the righteous anger he'd been riding had disappeared to.

Apparently, it had all drained directly to his cock, which was being expertly teased to co-operation under Damon's talented hands, if it needed the encouragement at all. Alaric felt his muscles quiver deliciously as Damon ran his tongue over the scar that had been building up over the last few months as Damon drank from him, over and over again.

"Just do it," he groaned, and felt the delicate curve of Damon's teeth as they pierced the same spot again. Felt his breath hitch in his chest as endorphins flooded his system, as Damon sucked, drank him down, all the while bringing him closer to the edge with long, strong tugs, occasionally pausing to rub his thumb over the tip of Alaric's cock.

The feeling of blood draining from his veins was familiar enough, now, but it still surprised Alaric every time.

(It should be said, it surprised him less than the fact that he craved this so badly.)

Usually, it was just a taste, but tonight Damon needed to feed. Alaric knew he'd be a little wiped himself, tomorrow, after this, but he found he didn't much care. He'd been a blood donor before. A cookie and a glass of milk, all better. Long moments later, Alaric was a hair's breadth from orgasm, and Damon drew his fangs back and disappointingly, withdrew his hand from Alaric's pants.

Damon lay back on the bed, alongside Alaric, breathing hard, the rhythm of his lungs matching Alaric's. Alaric put his hand on Damon's chest, just to show he'd noticed, and Damon lay his slightly cool, slender hand on top of Alaric's larger one, tangling their fingers together.

They were silent a long while, Alaric's disappointed dick drooping to half-mast.

"It's… remarkably… calming," Damon said at last. His eyes flickered to Alaric's in the soft light. "Breathing. You take a deep breath, you feel calmer. You know?"

"Even though you don't need the oxygen?"

Damon shrugged, let his eyes drift shut. "Whatever. Don't make a thing of it."

Suddenly, Alaric felt nervous. Lifted himself onto one elbow to scrutinise Damon's expression, futile as that generally was. The vampire gave away nothing, when he didn't want to. "What's going on, Damon? You gonna finish what you started here, or are you gonna tell me what's on your mind?"

Damon opened silver-bright eyes, cupped his hand around the back of Alaric's neck, tangling fingers in his hair. Held his gaze.

Kissed him soft as velvet, rubbing lips back and forth gently, using only a hint of tongue.

Altogether too tender, and not very Damon-y at all.

"Dude, you're freaking me out," Alaric said, wary. "Seriously, are you gonna tell me what's -"

Damon ate the words, and Alaric relaxed as Damon eagerly tore at their clothes, his oddly tentative mood forgotten, and wrapped his legs hard around Alaric's hips, guiding Alaric to where he wanted him.

"Lemme -" Alaric laughed, drawing back, wanting a moment to get Damon ready, but there was an odd glint in Damon's eyes, and his hands were insistent.

"No. I'm fine. I just – fuck, Ric, don't make me say it. Just do it." He rolled over and grabbed for the lube Alaric always kept in his night stand. "This'll be fine."

The spark of fear rekindled in Alaric's mind, but he nodded, and after taking a moment to lube himself up, took Damon hard, relishing the tight ring of muscle, Damon's lust-drunk expression, even the slight wince of pain on his lover's face. Kissed jaw and neck and chest as he found their rhythm, and found himself altogether too quickly on the very brink, bringing Damon with him, the rhythm of his hand mirroring the rhythm of their hips.

Damon groaned, his shoulders rolling in ecstasy. "Christ, Ric… that's… ungh."

Alaric covered Damon's mouth with his hand. "Sh, Damon. The kids are here." Damon rolled his eyes, but choked his next moan back to almost-silent.

Their bodies were well in tune, after nearly a year; they came together, as they so often did, but Damon rode the wave of his climax for long moments longer, his prostate pulsing hard, Ric's face buried in his shoulder

Pulling out was such sweet disappointment. Alaric let Damon's hips settle back onto the bed.

When Damon could speak, he opened one eye and said "We made a mess, again."

Alaric lay down, put a hand under his head. "I don't care."

"Sure you do, Ric."

Damon rolled over, crawled into Alaric's arms, eliciting a laugh. "Feelin' cuddly? Now I know something's wrong." He was only half joking, as Damon laid his face against Alaric's chest.

Damon snorted. "This isn't cuddling. This is… manly, manly bonding stuff." Absently, he tugged at Alaric's chest hair, rolled a nipple between thumb and forefinger.

"Sure it is, cupcake. Sure it is."

They were silent for a long time. Alaric thought Damon might have fallen asleep, when he finally spoke, muffled against Alaric's chest. "So… do you mean it?"

And just like that, it was back, that sense of foreboding.

"Do I mean what?"

"You said you'd do anything for me. For Elena. For humankind, and puppies and rainbows and all that crap."

"You know I meant it," Alaric answered, feeling his pulse speed up. "Of course I did."

"Good," Damon said. "Because I do have something in mind."

Alaric sighed. "A plan. Just what I wanted to hear."

"I want you to leave."

Alaric froze, certain he must have misheard. Damon moved his head, holding Alaric's eyes, making it clear Alaric had heard just fine. Alaric shook his head.

"What do you mean, leave?"

"I want you to take Elena and leave. Keep her safe until this blows over."

"Blows over? Damon, that could be years. No. No way."

Damon frowned. "Didn't take you long to go back on that, did it?"

Alaric pushed him away, sat up against the pillows and the headboard. "I thought you were talking about fighting. Not running."

"It's not about running, Ric. You're the only one I trust to protect her. And I can't do this when I'm constantly worried about her running into a burning theatre. Girl has no sense of self-preservation."

Alaric thought for a long moment, feeling betrayed, useless. Decided to try another tack. "She'll never do it. She won't leave Jer. Neither will I."

Damon nodded. "I know she won't. He'll have to go with you."

Alaric narrowed his eyes. "It's not just Jeremy, Damon. She won't leave Bonnie -"

Damon nodded again. "She should go with you, too, anyway. Witchy mojo could come in handy. Cloaking spells. Glamours. That sort of thing."

"Don't make it sound like a forgone conclusion, Damon. Caroline -"

Damon shook his head. "Caroline, I need."

Alaric felt giddy, and not just from blood loss and the aftermath of sex. "You've thought about this way too much."

Damon took a deep breath, rolled onto his back. "It was my plan. A while back. I hated it, so I set it aside. But after tonight…"

Alaric groaned, remembering his conversation with Katherine. "I can't believe that after what he pulled tonight, Stefan's gonna go out and make everything worse. That's fuckin' bullshit." Ran a hand through his hair.

Damon sat up sharply. "What do you mean, make everything worse?"

Alaric waved a lazy hand. "This revenge bullshit. It's just gonna -" Seeing Damon's bewildered expression, he paused. "The plan Katherine fed him? Ring any bells?" Alaric shook his head. "When she called, she told me Stefan's going after the coffins with the rest of Klaus' family in them. Is that theft, or kidnapping, d'you think?"

"I think it's a fucking powder keg."

Ah, yes. The exact nature of the felony Stefan was going to commit was probably less than relevant right now.

Damon's eyes were unfocussed, his thoughts racing. Absently, he ran his thumb over the scar on Alaric's hip, as if it was a talisman of some kind. "Ric… When Klaus finds out he'll tear Mystic Falls apart. You have to do this. Tonight."

Alaric sighed. "This might sound minor to you, but I do have a job." Even to his own ears, it sounded lame, but he did value the work he did.

"Family emergency. You've finished marking those papers, written the midterm, right?" Damon raised an eyebrow. "I'll go explain it to them. I can be… compelling, when I need to be. They can get a sub."

Alaric thought, scratching his head. Damon had planned this altogether too well. "How long do you think it would be for?"

Damon wore a rueful expression. "I don't know. Could be a month, could be a year. Could be five years."

Alaric thought for a moment, and then shook his head. "I can't. I can't leave you to deal with this on your own."

"He's my brother. He's my problem. Don't make me beg, Ric. We're above that." Damon looked almost angry, eyes flashing.

Alaric sighed, rubbing his eyes. Drawing Damon back toward him, a strong arm around his shoulders. "Where would we even go? What would we do for money?"

"I'm rich. I can have a couple million bucks in a bank account for you in a couple of hours. More as you need it. Take Bonnie's car, switch the plates every few hours. Go anywhere – anywhere you can be invisible – and buy somewhere to live. Keep off the grid. Stay there until I come for you. Keep her safe. Keep them safe." Damon planted a frantic kiss on Alaric's mouth. "Please. You -"

A gentle knock on the door interrupted them. They both groaned silently.

"We're talking, Elena," Damon sang out. "Go to bed."

"I'm opening this door in five seconds. So cover up your junk. Both of you, Damon," she sang back, in a matching, mocking tone.

Alaric and Damon shared a look that was something between panic and confusion, and Alaric pulled the duvet up to cover them both. Elena opened the door, closed it behind her, leaned up against it.

"I'll do it," she said, sighing. "If you come, Ric, I'll do it. I'll run. I'm a liability here."

"How long have you been listening?" Damon demanded, spluttering in indignation.

"Not long. But Damon's right, Ric. We should go."

"'Lena…" Alaric started, but he had no idea where to go from there, so he closed his mouth and let his gaze drop to meet Damon's determined expression.

"I'll call Bonnie. She can be here in under an hour. She'll have to pack all her magic stuff, obviously. Jeremy and I can pack up some clothes. Not much. It has to look like we're only gonna be gone for a few days." She raised her eyebrows. "What do you say, Ric? Be my bodyguard?"

She gave a weak smile. Damon fixed Alaric with a gruff look.

"We'll see each other again," Damon said softly, and at last, Alaric nodded.

An hour and a half later – not yet three a.m. – Bonnie's car was wearing someone else's number plates. Elena and Jeremy were sitting in the back seat, Bonnie in the driver's seat. Caroline sat in the front as well. She'd come to say goodbye and then she and Damon would discuss strategy.

"This is gonna blow," Jeremy said, slouching in his seat, but privately, he looked like he was looking forward to a chance to win Bonnie over again.

Elena looked out the window to where Alaric and Damon stood on the Gilbert family porch. Both had their hands in their pockets, standing just a little too far apart, gazing at each other's toes. Looked for all the world like teenagers in love, in denial, in trouble with their parents for coming from opposite sides of the track. She couldn't hear what they were saying.

"This is going to be really hard for them," Elena said sadly.

Caroline nodded. "What's it been? Six months?"

"A year," Elena and Jeremy said, simultaneously. They caught each other's eyes and snickered. "They're loud as fuck," Jeremy added.

"It's weird they've been trying to keep it a secret," Bonnie mused.

"Not so weird," Elena said. "Ric's our guardian. Damon's… Damon. They're entitled to a bit of privacy, right?" She was tired, her voice huskier than usual in the cool morning air. Privately, she thought the secrecy was a bit weird too, but hell. Nothing about their lives was anything but weird. "What did you tell your dad, Bonnie?"

Bonnie's face fell.

Elena let her attention drift from Damon and Alaric for a moment. "Bonnie?"

Bonnie sighed. "He remembers we had a huge fight and I went to Lucy's."

Elena made a soft sound of exclamation. "What?"

Bonnie shook her head. "He feels terrible. But as long as I talk to him every few weeks, keep the spell up, he's not gonna come looking for me. I… I had to do it."

"You shouldn't have done that for me, Bonnie." Elena shook her head, letting her gaze drift back to the porch. "You're all giving up too much."

Bonnie cast eyes over Jeremy. "It's not just for you, Elena. Damon's right. If Klaus takes you, there's no telling how many hybrids he could make."

Elena felt her heart sink. This was all way too much.

On the porch, Alaric took a tentative step towards Damon, and they leaned so their foreheads met. Damon held the back of Alaric's neck, rubbed his thumb over Alaric's cheek. In a ferocious moment, kissed Alaric's mouth, his temple, hugged him almost brutally, and then stalked back into the house, shutting the door before he could change his mind.

Elena's heart lurched. So that's what it looks like, when it's real, she thought.

"That's my cue," Caroline said. "Love you guys. Get a disposable cell as soon as you can and keep in touch, okay? Just don't give anything away about where you are." She hugged Elena, hugged Bonnie, blew Jeremy a kiss, and climbed out of the car. "Me and Damon – we'll sort this out in no time. You'll see."

She didn't look any more sure than she sounded, and Elena wished Caroline was coming with them.

As Elena watched, Caroline drew Alaric into a hug, halfway between the house and the car. He seemed surprised, but returned it briefly, before nodding, smiling sadly, and climbing into the car.

Bonnie turned the engine over. Elena leaned forward in her seat, draped her arm around Alaric's throat. "Are you okay?"

Alaric tensed, relaxed. Patted Elena's hand. "Yeah. I'm fine. C'mon, Bonnie. I wanna be in Columbus by lunchtime."

Life will take its turns.