For ghost4 and pleasebekidding.

Thanks A LOT to ellensmithee for the beta.


Awareness returned slowly, bit by bit. He felt like crap, everything hurt, even breathing hurt, seemed too much an effort. His eyes were glued shut and he had no real desire to open them.

But he felt warm. Relaxed.

Safe. In a way he hadn't felt for some time now. A frown crept onto his brow. He didn't want to move just now, but he had to at least open his eyes to find out what had happened. There was the memory of pain; he remembered, quite clearly, vividly, how his body had been wracked with tremors, white, hot agony shooting through him, mostly through his side—stealing his vision, making him gag with the severity of it—there was none of that now, just a dull ache, an uncomfortable, deep throbbing he could feel all the way down to his toes.

And there was a sound, nearby, a soft rustling, like movement. Someone was there, close to him. Moving.

Getting closer.

"I know you're awake."

He tensed in alarm, he knew that voice, but his mind didn't play along, it was too sluggish to put a name to the voice right now. It was an unpleasant sensation, one he wasn't used to. He felt a low groan left his mouth, surprised at how weak it sounded. He forced his eyes open—only to squeeze them shut again as soon as too bright light made them water instantly.

"You look like crap."

It was a female voice, the same voice, a little closer, still familiar. Still without a face. He opened his eyes again, willed them to stay open and blinked against the light.

Slowly, the room came into focus. He was in his room at the boarding house, in his bed. It was day, light streaming through the windows with no regards to his aching head. The smell of blood—his blood—was heavy on the air, mixed with the sweet smell of something rotten, something sick. There was a figure standing next to him, looking down at him. Blond hair, worried eyes paired with an almost-grin. Holding out a blood-bag to him.

Caroline.

He groaned, took the blood-bag with a hand that was too shaky for his liking, sinking his fangs into one corner. Microwave-warm blood rushed down his throat, instantly reviving his tired senses, clearing his dizzy head. It was the vampire-equivalent of plastic food, but, right now, all he cared about was getting enough of it down as fast as possible to satisfy his hunger.

Caroline was watching him closely, a worried frown betraying the half-smile she tried to keep on her lips.

"How are you feeling?"

Sick was how he was feeling, tired, weak—irritable—to put a few names to it.

"How did I get here?" he asked instead. He knew he shouldn't be here, knew he had been somewhere else, some place cold and dark and uncomfortable. Dangerous.

And he also hadn't been alone.

He sat up, looked around, let his eyes settle on Caroline's tense face. "Where's Ric?"

Caroline grimaced slightly, teeth worrying at her lower lip. "What do you remember?"

It were her eyes that made him tense, caused his shoulders to stiffen, his body to sit up all the way. She had a serious look in them, something he didn't associate with her usual behavior at all. "Where is he?"

It was clear she didn't want to tell him something, something bad, something that had to do with Alaric... He wracked his brain, trying to remember, trying to force his mind to replay what had happened... but he couldn't, there was nothing there, the last thing he remembered was starting to talk about Isobel—and then nothing.

Caroline's voice cut through his muddled thoughts.

"He's fine, now, he's healing—But... Damon, when we got there, you were..." Caroline broke off, took a deep breath, looked him square in the eyes. "You were feeding on him—draining him, he was barely alive when we found you. He didn't have his—the ring was gone…"

She kept talking, but he was no longer listening. Shit. This was bad, he couldn't have had—Ric had to be okay—

"Where is he?" he asked, mind racing, panic starting to close off his air. Air he didn't even need.

"He's in Stefan's room... he's sleeping. Damon, he's fine," Caroline said, voice rising slightly when he pulled the covers aside to get off the bed. "The wound on his head is healed and... he's a little bloody, but he's fine."

It should have calmed him down, should have stopped his heart from beating so painfully inside his chest—but it didn't.

"Did he wake up?"

He felt dizzy once he got to his feet, had to close his eyes for a moment when his vision started graying out at the edges. But he forced it down, put it away, stayed on his feet and took a deep breath before he opened his eyes again.

Caroline was watching him, had taken a step away, knew him too well to get closer. She shook her head. "No."

Walking in a straight line—and keeping his balance—was harder than he remembered, but he made it to the door of his room without swaying or running into furniture, too aware of the attentive eyes following him. The door to Stefan's room was slightly ajar and as soon as he got close enough to touch the doorknob, his dulled senses picked up a familiar heartbeat, the deep breathing that told him Alaric was fast asleep. Stefan's room was just as bright as his own and for the first time in five years he didn't stop at the threshold, didn't flinch back from the memories of what had happened here, too focused on the still figure beneath the covers.

Alaric looked fine, most of him was hidden beneath the covers, his face relaxed, head turned to the side. He was snoring softly, the way he always did when he was bone-tired and dead to the world, the sound so familiar and soothing Damon instantly calmed down a little. There was dried blood and dirt in Alaric's hair, but his face had been cleaned. He didn't look like he had just been drained of his blood—

Relief washed over Damon, threatening to drop him to his knees. He walked over to the bed and sat down on it, resisting the urge to pull the covers off and join Alaric in sleep, seek the warmth of his skin, the familiar throb of Alaric's pulse beneath his fingers…

"Mikael wants to know what happened."

Caroline was standing in the open door, watching him silently. For a moment there was no sound but Alaric's soft breathing and, very distantly, someone moving in the lower part of the house.

Damon shook his head. "Fuck Mikael," he hissed, feeling so tired all of a sudden. "Not now. Tell him to go fuck his hybrids, Caroline, I don't care, not today."

"Damon—"

His head snapped up and he glared at her, eyes narrowing. "Not now."

Caroline stayed silent, didn't move, didn't leave. Expecting him to talk, explain himself. So she could go, tell her master, report to him how Damon wasn't doing what he was told. Again. Damon knew she didn't have a choice, he knew she was compelled to keep an eye on them—on him and his loyalties and he should watch what he was saying around her. But with Alaric getting hurt and almost killed because the Original thought he had the situation under control—which he obviously had not—it was getting harder and harder to keep his mouth shut.

Impossible, rather.

"I'm done with Mikael," he said, surprising himself with how calm his voice sounded. "The peace agreement doesn't work. The packs don't keep their word, I'm not allowed to fight back—fuck that. If Mikael has a problem with that? Fuck him, I don't care, I'm out."

"What about him?"

Caroline was studying Alaric as if she could find out which side he was on just by watching him sleep.

He has no idea what's happening—it was at the tip of his tongue—but he bit it back, didn't say it, couldn't bring himself to admit there was something wrong with him.

"We'll see when he wakes up."

That was all he was going to say about it, he'd made his point, probably signed his own death warrant, but he didn't care. One week of worrying about how to get Alaric away from the hybrids, of waiting for either of them to get killed—it was enough. Mikael could kiss his ass, he didn't care.

Caroline was watching him, arms crossed in front of his chest. She looked like she was going to say something, and he cut her off, not in the mood for another pro-Mikael lecture, he'd heard enough of them the last years.

"How did you find us?"

Caroline opened her mouth to say something—closed it, and was silent for a moment.

"Bonnie…" She trailed off, took a deep breath. "She was working day and night, she said she knew you weren't dead, that you were just out of reach—that she could sense you and you had to be close… We knew Alaric couldn't be dead because the protection on the house was still up and we figured they'd probably kill him first because he's just human and everything…"

Damon tensed, shifted on the bed—and frowned when he realized he'd rested his hand protectively on Alaric's hip without noticing it. Even through the covers he could feel the familiar warmth tingle across his skin and he found himself relax at the sensation.

"Last night she suddenly found you—she could see where you were for half an hour or something, and you were gone again, but we knew where to look then."

"I suppose I have your furry friend to thank for this?" Damon gestured at his healing wound and Caroline glared.

"Yes, Tyler helped." Her face turned serious, sad. "We had to sedate him, Klaus has been calling him through the bond again…"

Damon winced. It was never pretty when the siring bond Tyler still had to Klaus snapped to life. It didn't matter where Klaus was, which part of the world he was haunting, his call would reach Tyler and the other hybrids who had been close to him, driving them mad when they couldn't follow their masters' commands. They usually had to put Tyler under for four or five days in a row, as Klaus would keep up this magical torture until he lost interest.

"You should talk to Mikael."

"Caroline—"

Caroline held up a hand. "No, I mean it… If they attacked you for no reason—he hasto know, maybe he can do something—"

Damon shook his head. "Don't you get it, he won't—he can't. I trusted him, I listened to him—and you know what happened. You know what they did to Elena, you saw what happened to Stefan— " He broke off, forced himself to calm down, to fight down the wave of pain and impotent anger even the mention of his brother's name still set off, struggling to keep his voice even. "Whatever he thinks he's doing—it doesn't work. And I'm not playing along anymore."

I won't risk the last person I still give a fuck about.

His hand tightened involuntarily on Alaric's hip and he felt Alaric move slightly, take a deep breath and relax again.

It was clear Caroline wanted to protest, that her forced loyalty to Mikael was urging her to say something to defend him—but somehow Caroline pushed it down and turned away from him, slowly walking out of the room. When she reached the door, she stopped shortly, looking back over her shoulder.

"I'm happy we got to you in time."

With that she closed the door behind her, leaving him to silence.

He felt tired, exhausted. The bed was warm, soft. Comfortable. Alaric's sleeping form was inviting, should have been enough to make him feel safe and, finally, at peace.

But it wasn't, all he could think of was how he'd fucked up. How he had almost lost—almost killed him. The one person who kept him going, the only one who had kept him sane when the shit had hit the fan.

Alaric had stood by him through what had happened to Stefan, through Elena's disappearance, through every crap life had thrown at them. If it weren't for his scruffy teacher, Damon would have flipped the switch a hundred times already and finally gone berserk. It was Alaric who kept him going, kept him sane when the world around them slowly turned into their worst nightmare. They'd slept together the night Damon signed over the boarding house to Alaric to have at least one safe haven—and they'd stayed together ever since.

Right now, he missed him, missed him so much he could barely breathe, even when Alaric was lying next to him. Damon longed to touch him, to curl up against him and just hold him close, no matter how much Alaric would bitch at that.

He couldn't. Remembered too clearly the blank look Alaric had given him back in the cell, the way he couldn't remember anything about him. Damon wanted so badly for Alaric to open his eyes—and at the same time he dreaded the moment. The week they had been locked away with the constant fear of maybe not living to see the next day had brought him close to his breaking point, tested the limits of his strength until he had though he would break—he had no idea what to do, how to keep it together if he couldn't count on his lover. It wasn't fair, it was selfish—but it was them, it was how they worked, how they got by.

Damon ran a hand over his face tiredly and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to summon enough strength to get up, get some chair to sit down on, to watch over him…