Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries does not belong to me. If it did, Damon and Alaric would be all over each other on tv every week, instead of in my filthy imagination.
Special request: This is a rare (possibly first time) pairing and hard to get the word out. If you like it, rec it; and if you know a comm that would accept it, please let me know!
Comments are love, and I appreciate being told places I can post this.
Alaric Saltzman is a man possessed. Minutes from packing it all into the back of his truck and taking off. The secrets are all right here in this box, a maddening puzzle, but better, now, than it was; at least now he has somewhere to start.
It's been three weeks since Isobel disappeared. Alaric can't bring himself to admit what he thinks he knows – she's dead, buried in a shallow grave, probably, and if she's ever found, the coroner will ask how it was possible for every scrap of her blood to have been drained. Three and a half quarts, all gone, though some of it stains the carpet in Alaric's small apartment.
But Alaric knows. The monster, the – he can barely think the word, isn't ready to say it yet – the vampire drank her, killed her, and denied Alaric even the opportunity to bury her, say goodbye properly.
The memory of this is the last thing Alaric sees before he goes to sleep at night. The vampire holding his wife up, drinking from her neck, rolling his head back in ecstasy, before tasting her again. The expression on his face, damn near sexual.
It was chilling.
Alaric had never taken it seriously, his wife's obsession with vampires. Because she was, obviously, crazy. Or perhaps taking a metaphor a shade or five too far. Or maybe she was deeply involved in some nation-wide alternate reality game. Something. Anything was more plausible than what Isobel had been trying to tell him all along – vampires were real.
The worst part is that now, Alaric can so clearly see the pattern – Isobel would disappear for a couple of days at a time, leave him a note to say she was on a research trip. When she got back, she'd look a little drained, for a couple of days, but she always came right again. Now Alaric wonders how she'd been paying for the information she'd been collecting, about vampires, about a specific line of them, the ones she'd come close to touching, growing up close to Mystic Falls, Virginia. Thinking about it makes him sick, monsters with their hands – with their mouths – on his beautiful wife. He wonders what else they touched her with.
(It should be said, Alaric's drinking enough beer right now, on a daily basis, to keep a ship afloat, and this might also be contributing to the low level of nausea he seems to ride constantly – at the very least, it's not helping.)
The last time he let himself wonder about this for a moment too long, he put his fist through the window in his bedroom. Twenty-two stitches (and a rather humiliating discussion with a psychiatrist in the emergency room) later, he decided not let himself wonder any more.
Three weeks of talking to cops, three weeks of talking to concerned family (his own, since Isobel had almost no one, thank God), three weeks sitting in front of Isobel's laptop computer and wondering what her password might be, three weeks of ignoring the box of papers the University had delivered to him.
Talking to cops: Hard. Hard lying, because Alaric was at heart a simple man who preferred to tell the truth in all things; still, "Officer, a vampire killed my wife. I saw it happen" was likely to get him arrested, or committed.
Talking to family: Harder. "Darling, come home, for a little while. Please." his mother begged. Like he was twenty-two and riding his first broken heart. "Perhaps she's run off with another man, son; she might not be dead at all. That would be something, wouldn't it?" his father added helpfully.
(Alaric had no words for this.)
Trying to break into the laptop: Impossible. Alaric, a romantic at heart, had tried dozens of variations on the theme of his own name, his birthday, their anniversary, the pet names he and Isobel had shared. So drunk he couldn't stand, one night, he shouted at the computer, called it every name he wanted to call his wife and now couldn't, a flood of bile and anger. Although it made him feel a little better, as a technique for password retrieval, it left something to be desired.
That night – the night of screaming rage – had been the first night Alaric had allowed himself to grieve; had allowed himself to slide bonelessly from Isobel's desk chair and onto the floor, to sob like a five year old girl until he fell asleep, curled up like a cat on the rug.
Ignoring the box of documents: Ill advised.
When at last, this afternoon, Alaric had opened the box, he found things he hadn't been expecting. Things that could have saved him some time.
On the top, an envelope, heavy, expensive paper, and his name written in an elegant, flowing script he didn't recognise. Inside was a note, on matching paper.
I am so sorry about Isobel. Please let me know if there's anything I can do. Isobel is my mentor and my friend, and I want to help, if I can.
Obviously, Isobel's work is staying here, for now, until she's found.
(Alaric reads between the lines: found dead, or alive. Either way.)
These are personal things, from a drawer under her desk, from that leather satchel she's been carrying around for the last few months, and from the cigar box she keeps hidden in the back of the bookshelf.
(Satchel? Cigar box?)
I'm sorry we never met; I hope we do, some day, and under happy circumstances.
If you want to talk, you can get me through Isobel's office.
The box is a veritable treasure trove. This is Isobel's real research. A diary, of sorts, although it reads like Alaric's old lab notebook from high school, really just a list of events, progress she'd made. Most usefully: Names. Phone numbers. Addresses. Dates. A lot have been crossed off at some stage, but others will be worth exploring.
Alaric's heart races.
There's some strange jewellery, a cameo that looks like a genuine antique, a pendant with a dark blue stone that is so ugly it has to either be new costume jewellery or something unaccountably old. Comparing it to the ring Alaric is wearing (hideous thing that Isobel had given him and made him swear he'd always wear), he thinks he detects a similar hand in its design, though it is less cumbersome. Alaric prefers the black stone on his ring.
(Twice he's thought about throwing the ring out of the window of his car, but he knows he'll wear it until the day he dies. Which, considering the way he's been living, and what he's planning, will probably be pretty soon.)
In a yellow envelope, a photocopy of an old tintype photograph, a beautiful young woman with thick, dark, wavy hair, dark eyes, and a cold, haughty expression. On the back of the photo, no date, no name, just the initials KP. He regards the photo a long time. Obviously, not a photo of a vampire, because you can't take a photo of a vampire. Right?
The young woman reminds him a little of Isobel.
And can you take a photo of a vampire? Do they run screaming from crucifixes? Are they repelled by garlic, and do they have reflections? Alaric realises he knows nothing about vampires save what he's seen in films and read in books, and somehow, he doubts modern-day vampires are big into cloaks.
Alaric has to get into that computer.
He's pored over the contents of the box for an entire afternoon, has failed to notice he's actually sobered up. Hours ago. His heart's racing, his mind is sharp and he's excited in a way he hasn't been since he first read Harper's The day Lincoln was shot.
He's laid out all the items; notes, photographs, the diary, a pretty purple herb that smells faintly like his grandmother's house, another that has a bitter odour. The jewellery. Even Vanessa's note. Decides the diary is the best place to start, the names, the dates.
Flips through the diary again, and that's when the photograph falls out from a makeshift envelope created by gluing the edges of the back page to the back cover.
The photograph is of a familiar man, who looks younger than Alaric; probably twenty-five. Pale skin, black hair, and unless it's a trick of the light, the palest silver eyes Alaric has ever seen. Fine features, even scowling as he is. He has his arms crossed over his body, perhaps paying close attention to what someone not pictured is saying to him, and the muscles in his arms are taut.
He has the look of a predator.
Alaric finds himself sitting for an unaccountably long time, looking at the photograph. Looking at it from bare inches away. From arm's length.
Vampires do, indeed, show up in photographs.
More startling is the photo was taken outdoors, on a sunny day. Alaric really has a lot to learn, thought vampires went up in flames in the sunlight.
Almost as if it's an afterthought, Alaric flips the photo over.
Damon Salvatore, Mystic Falls, Virginia, 199(8?).
He says it out loud. "Damon Salvatore."
The man – the monster – who killed his wife.
Idly, Alaric reaches for the laptop. Turns it on, and when prompted for a password, he types 'Salvatore'. The laptop comes to life, ready to spill its secrets, and Alaric dies a little death.
The laptop is the Wikipedia of vampires and vampire lore. Everything from old folk tales, originating from Romania, Bulgaria, other parts of Eastern Europe, but also England, Wales. Scandinavia. Parts of Asia, where the stories seem quite different; to modern day accounts, scanned police reports, stories posted on websites and interview transcripts annotated in Isobel's familiar shorthand. It seemed that Isobel had clearly delineated, in her own mind, at least, what she thought was legend or wishful thinking and what was real.
Alaric finds a file about him, but doesn't read it, not yet. He doesn't want to know enough to go looking for the bastard until he knows exactly how to go about killing him.
Alaric has started to notice something curious – curious, and irritating. There are files missing, significant numbers of them. As if someone has gone through and deleted a lot. Folders within folders with no documents inside. All the legends and lore, that's all there, but information about Mystic Falls, unexplained surnames, it's all missing. Alaric rubs his hands over his tired eyes.
There is a knock on the door.
Alaric looks up, alarmed. Who would come here? Now? Frantically searches through his admittedly patchy memory, trying to remember if he's invited someone. Remembers, at least, that he's grumpy and antisocial and doesn't invite people to infringe on his personal space, as a rule.
Wishes he had a peephole on the door, and calls out. "Who's there?"
"Ben. Open up."
Alaric sighs. Sweeps the contents back into the box they came from, dropping it into the bedroom, and pushes closed the laptop. Opens the door, leaning against the frame. "Not a good time, man."
"Better than the last few times I've seen you, Saltzman. You appear to be sober. Although…" Ben looks around the room, unimpressed by the number of bottles that have been collecting. "Can I come in?"
"No," Alaric says.
Ben pushes through anyway. He looks a bit off balance, smoothes down his sandy hair as he pushes his way into the apartment. He's a good three inches taller than Alaric, and his grey eyes always look a little haunted. Kicked-puppy eyes. They got him laid a lot in college, not that he needed the help. "Tough titties, Saltzman," he says, dropping wallet and phone on the tiny kitchen bench. "I brought Korean food. Consider it a very thinly veiled bribe. Everyone's worried about you and I drew the short straw. So we need to talk. When was the last time you ate?"
Alaric glowers. "I eat."
Ben opens the fridge. "Yeah. Water, yeast, malt and hops. And apparently condiments, although you're running low on those, too." He passes Alaric a couple of beers, shuts the fridge with a disgusted sigh, and scrabbles through the kitchen drawers for cutlery.
They eat directly from the cartons, once Ben has established that Alaric has, at some stage, methodically broken all his plates. Alaric feigns indifference but he's disturbed by the fact he doesn't remember having done this. Crouched over the japchae, bibimbap and kimchi, Ben starts gently probing.
"So, Saltzman, what have you been doing? Other than systematically torturing your liver?"
Alaric pokes listlessly at his noodles. "Going through Isobel's stuff. You know. Looking for clues."
Ben is watching him, cautious, and when he speaks again, it's softer. "There was a lot of blood, Saltzman. That's the main clue. You need to start dealing with this."
Alaric shakes his head. "I won't believe she's dead until they show me a body." He pretends to enjoy the food, which, despite being appallingly salty, has very little flavour. Alaric's a fan of Korean food, generally, but this is pretty ordinary.
Alaric chooses his words carefully. "I need to get away for a bit, Ben. I'm gonna go looking for some old friends of Isobel's, see if anyone has any idea what could have happened."
Ben nods cautiously. "Right." He's waiting for a better explanation. Alaric sighs.
"I think I'll leave soon. Tomorrow, or the next day." There is another long silence, and Alaric feels the scrutiny.
Ben puts down his cutlery. "How long have we known each other, Ric?"
Uh-oh. People ask that when they want to point out they know you really well, and if you have a suicidally Bad Plan up your sleeve, people who know you well are often the ones who will do everything they can to send you off-course. Also: Ben never calls him Ric.
"Long time, Ben. Your point?" He chews methodically, avoiding his friend's eyes.
"First time you got your heart broken, you spent six months drinking yourself into an early grave and fucking everything that made eyes at you. You wrapped your car around a tree. Is this ringing bells?"
Alaric nods. "Still waiting for your point."
"I'm lookin' at you, Saltzman, and I think you're on a collision course. Again."
Alaric narrows his eyes, crosses his arms, glares at Ben. "Isobel didn't dump me for her academic advisor. She was my wife. She's missing and probably dead."
"And yet," Ben answered, with a dry tone that only someone who's known Alaric his whole adult life could actually get away with.
Alaric composes himself. "I know you're all worried. I've been drinking too much. I know. Sittin' in this house… it's like livin' with a ghost, man." Wipes at the condensation on his beer bottle. Closes his eyes, but opens them again when the image on the back of his eyelids is not Isobel's face, sleep-addled and lovely, but Damon Salvatore's sharp features. He wonders what the fangs look like. Wonders how much it hurt her, being chewed on, blood draining from her body. Looks at the small rug on the ground which covers the blood stain, and once again, feels the sickening sense of being on his way down a rabbit hole.
He's been silent too long. Ben is studying him, still suspicious. Probably more suspicious. He can probably hear Alaric's mind turning over.
"Right," Ben says at last. "Right."
"Also, I'm not twenty-two anymore. 'm not gonna wrap my car around a tree." He tries to return an even gaze, but fails.
Ben has a slightly mournful look about him, but then, he often does. "We all loved Isobel, Saltzman. We've all lost her."
"Kind of you to say." Why are people such idiots? Who thinks this shit helps?
"We don't want to lose you too."
Alaric sighs, elbows on the counter. Face in his hands. "I don't want to lose me, either."
Ben sighs. "You gonna go and talk to the Dean?" His eyes are on Alaric's injured hand. It's almost healed now, and the stitches are long gone, but it still looks nasty, and tells a story. It was Ben who drove Alaric to the hospital, the day it happened.
Alaric shrugs, ignoring the gaze. "Thought I'd just send an email. They can fire me, if they feel like they have to. I don't know how long I'm gonna be."
Ben wants to demand answers. Wants an itinerary, an estimated date of return, wants to go with him. Wants to beg him to stay, to clean up his act, to get on with the rest of his life.
Nods, instead, and "will you at least stay in touch?"
"Yeah, course," Alaric lies.
They talk a while longer, drink another beer or two, and Alaric tries to pay attention to Ben's complaints about the bitchy program administrator, a woman famous for having such a fetish for bureaucracy that she had the head of department's credit card cancelled on him – while he was overseas at a conference – because he'd failed to turn in a receipt.
At the door, Alaric leans against the wall, hands in his pockets.
"You gonna be alright, Saltzman?" Ben asks, and Alaric doesn't know how to answer, so he shoots for normal; trademark easy grin. Hopes it doesn't look too strained.
"Course I will."
Ben eyes him long moments, finally cupping Alaric's jaw in his hands, and lands a soft kiss on his mouth, following it up with just a little more pressure; a reminder, you had a life before Isobel. When you come back, you'll have a life again.
Alaric kisses him back, but only for a moment. Just an affirmation, not an invitation. "I'll see you when I get back," he says, gently removing Ben's hand from his face. "It's gonna be alright, Ben."
Ben casts one last worried look at the piles of beer bottles around the kitchen and the couch, nods once, and pulls the door shut with a soft click behind him.
It takes a day for Alaric to get the empty bottles and the rest of the rubbish out of the apartment and clean it, pay up a couple of months' rent, and pack the things he thinks he'll need, as he sets out to find the first name, and the first address, on his list:
Daniel Elkins. Manning, Colorado.