Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries does not belong to me. If it did, there would be no Meredith Fell making eyes at Alaric.

Alaric entered the boarding house with a heavy heart and reluctant feet.

Damon had sent him a text message to say everything had gone to shit, and to come and collect Elena. That was all it said. No apology. Nothing. No explanation as to why no one had told Alaric what was going down tonight. They'd let him sit at home, poring over the hieroglyphs for the millionth time, while everyone except Elena was in danger.

As Alaric approached the library door, his heart started to beat a little more rapidly. Damon was shouting. Alaric had rarely heard him so angry, and they'd had some ferocious blow-outs over the last year themselves (never pleasant, but worth it for the making up part).

"I had a plan. I had Klaus. This could have all been over."

As Alaric pushed the door ajar, silent as the night, Damon threw a bottle of something no doubt expensive into the fireplace. He was out of control. Alaric was about to step inside and intervene when Elena took several hesitant steps forward.

Alaric shook his head in concern. Elena was so young, too young. So sweet, and so scared, and grabbing at whatever came along. She'd been lost without Stefan, and Alaric could see her drifting toward the older Salvatore over the last few weeks.

(Alaric wasn't stupid. He'd known Damon was in love with Elena before Alaric ever arrived in Mystic Falls. Hell, Damon still had feelings for Elena even after he'd started things with Alaric, back when things were still messy and explosive and they were just as likely to end up beating each other up as falling into bed. Alaric knew it. But things were different, now. They were solid. Had been for a long time.

Not that Elena knew that.)

Alaric was dreading the conversation which was now way, way past due. He and Damon had been seeing each other for months, nearly a year, and Damon always had some excuse for why they couldn't tell Elena. Problem was it was getting harder to hide it and things in Mystic Falls were getting worse, not better. Every now and then, a little doubt crept in, and Alaric found himself wondering whether Damon might be dragging his feet for other reasons.

Reasons Alaric didn't want to think about.

Alaric took a breath and steeled himself to enter, and then hesitated again as he heard Elena's rich, husky tone.

"Hey!" she commanded. "Damon, hey… listen to me." She held Damon's face in her hands, and Alaric had to look away, the moment was so intimate.

Alaric was about to cough, call out, do something to tell Damon and Elena that he was there, but he… couldn't. It was a marker for exactly how preoccupied Damon was that he still seemed unaware that Alaric was only feet away.

Hell. Alaric was through kidding himself. Maybe when it came down to it, Damon would choose Elena. Once upon a time, Brangelina had looked solid, and he and Damon weren't exactly out adopting orphans. With Stefan gone, Elena all doe eyes and girlish curves… Alaric closed his eyes against the thought, and then looked carefully at Damon's expression.

His heart skipped another beat. Damon was going to tell her. He really was. It was right there on his lips, ready to spill.

But Elena spoke first. "We'll survive this. We always survive. Trust me."

Damon took a deep breath. That was interesting. Damon only ever breathed to make a point, and Alaric felt certain, again, that he was going to tell her.

"We're never getting Stefan back. You know that, don't you?" Damon spoke carefully. Alaric stayed perfectly still, not wanting to ruin the moment.

Elena nodded, still holding Damon's face in her hands. "Then we'll let him go. Okay? We'll have to let him go."

Damon opened his mouth to speak again… and the phone rang.

Alaric groaned, and took a few steps into the library. He couldn't hear what Damon was saying, but from the fury on the vampire's face, he knew Damon was speaking to Katherine. His eyes flickered to Alaric's face, a half-smile crossing his features. Alaric thought he saw relief there. Elena followed his eyes, and crossed the room to wrap her arms around her guardian.

"Guess we both missed the action, didn't we?" Alaric said, hugging her back, landing a kiss on the top of her head.

"Probably a good thing. Mere mortals, and all," Elena said, drawing away and flickering her eyes back to Damon as he closed the phone. Alaric flinched. Mere mortal with a whole lot of experience killing vampires, and an eternity ring? His exclusion hurt more than he'd ever admit.

"Katherine's gone," Damon said, more to Alaric than Elena. Alaric nodded, schooling his features. "Not that I blame her," Damon added, holding Alaric's gaze.

"I have to get Elena home."

Damon was trying to communicate something, with the look on his face, but Alaric didn't feel up to trying to decipher it. He nodded. "See you tomorrow, Damon," he said, leading Elena away.

At the door to the boarding house, Alaric spoke again. "You're okay?"

Elena sighed. "Sort of. I mean, Mikael's dead, and we don't have the stake from the white oak tree any more, and the whole town's overrun with hybrids, apparently. But we're all alive. Gotta count for something."

That wasn't what Alaric was asking. He resolved to talk to her properly the next day.

At the car (shitty little rental thing, he didn't have the insurance payout from his truck yet and wouldn't let Damon buy him a new one) Alaric opened the passenger side door and Elena slipped inside. Alaric shut the door, and then thought better of it. He opened the door again and knelt until he was eye level with Elena.

"Can you give me a minute? Just stay here while I go talk to Damon about something?"

Elena looked surprised, and unbuckled her seat belt. "I'll come with."

"Guy stuff, 'Lena," Alaric said firmly. "I won't be long."

Elena flicked an eyebrow north, and settled back into her seat, and Alaric shot her a reassuring smile.

Damon was still in the library, standing by the fireplace, when Alaric came back. Damon shot him a grateful look. "You send Elena home?" he asked, stepping closer to Alaric, close enough to touch.

Alaric shook his head. "No. She's in the car. I've only got a minute."

Damon grimaced. "After the night I've just had, I'm gonna need more than a minute, Ric," he said, chin cocked to the side, reaching for Alaric's belt with the hand not holding a glass. "Lost the stake. Lost Stefan. Need a lot more than a minute."

Alaric dislodged the hand. "Don't, Damon."

Damon rolled his eyes, taking another sip and stepping away. "Are you gonna bitch at me about being left out tonight? I needed you safe, Ric. Something happens to me, you have to take care of Elena." He turned around and caught Alaric's gaze again. "You know that, right?"

Alaric nodded. "Yeah. It's all about Elena. I know. I get it." He rubbed across his eyes with the blade of one hand. "Forget it. I'll talk to you tomorrow, or whenever."

Alaric was almost at the door of the library when with the barest breeze, Damon was standing in front of him again. "Or whenever? What's that supposed to mean?"

It was sort of inevitable, that there would be a confrontation at some stage. Alaric was already wishing he hadn't started tonight, though. "Are you hedging your bets, Damon?" he asked, trying to keep his voice neutral. "If you are, I get it. Believe me, I get it. She's a beautiful girl. Stefan's out of the way and I doubt there's anything she wouldn't do for you. Just tell me the truth, man."

Damon took a step back. "What?"

"I told you months ago we had to tell her about us. Before Tyler bit you and you shared that…" Alaric had to close his eyes against the memory, hearing third hand from Jeremy of all people about the death-bed kiss. "Before Stefan left. Before Stefan came back."

"I'm trying to protect her, Ric. Don't piss me off. I'm already in a mood." Damon's eyes narrowed and flashed.

Alaric put a hand on the nape of Damon's neck, stroking his jaw with his thumb. "We're both trying to protect her. You get that, right?"

Damon rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean."

"What I wanna know is where we fit into all of this." Alaric held Damon's gaze for a long time. Damon glared, seemed unable to think of a thing to say. At last Alaric withdrew his hand. "Fine, Damon. I'll make this easy. Tell her. Soon." Alaric shook his head, threw a glance at the toes of his shoes. "Or we're done."

As Alaric left the boarding house, it occurred to him that this was the first time since the whole thing had started that he and Damon had a moment alone – any length of time, really – and hadn't shared a kiss.

"What was that about?" Elena asked, in the car.

Alaric tried to smile around the stone in his mouth. "Would you believe fantasy football league?"

Elena snorted. "No," she said, scornfully. "But I'm glad you guys are friends again. Damon needs friends. Especially with his brother…"

Alaric chanced a glimpse at Elena's face, her eyes glistening with tears. "Seriously, Elena. Are you okay?"

"No," she said honestly. "But I will be."

Alaric didn't see Damon – or hear from him – for days.

It left a sort of odd, empty feeling. Made it hard to smile, to keep Elena and Jeremy's spirits up. He found himself drinking alone in the Gilbert family living room long after the kids had gone to bed, cell phone by his side, hoping it would ring. Television on and muted, or with a book in his hands. He'd read the same paragraph over and over, and finally close it.

At last, one night, as Alaric sat on the couch with a glass of bourbon warming in his hand – McKenna, his old stand-by – Damon slipped unheard into the house and sat alongside him on the couch.

Damon looked tired. "Hey," he said quietly.

Alaric glanced sideways at him. "Hey," he answered. Imaginative. He was so relieved Damon was there he couldn't think far past thank fuck. "You ever gonna learn to knock?"

Damon grimaced, took Alaric's glass, took a sip. "It's doubtful. I'm old. You haven't called," he added, in a rush.

"Neither have you."

Damon slumped until he was leaning against Alaric's arm. "How did this get so complicated?"

Alaric moved his arm, wrapped it around Damon's shoulders, and Damon lay his head against Alaric's chest. "We let it get complicated when we didn't just tell her, in the beginning. It's been so long now it just looks… weird. And dishonest. She's been surrounded by lies for so long…"

Damon's body was startlingly cool. He sighed, tangling his fingers in the hand Alaric had draped over his shoulder. "How do we do this?"

Alaric felt relief wash over him like warm water. Retrieved his glass and took another mouthful before putting it on the side table. "We? I thought you wanted to do it yourself."

Damon sat up straighter, turned until he could reach Alaric's lips, and stole a guilty look at the staircase. "Are they… is Elena…?"

"They've been in bed for hours."

Damon relaxed, and pressed his mouth to Alaric's. Alaric parted his lips, and Damon took the invitation, probed gently with his tongue until Alaric moaned a little, wrapped his arms around Damon's chest. Damon grinned against Alaric's mouth as he shifted his weight, straddling his legs. "We could have really loud, dirty sex down here and let her figure it out for herself," he suggested, mouthing his way across Alaric's cheek and taking his earlobe in his mouth.

Alaric ran his hands over Damon's back, massaged the knobs of his spine, as Damon nuzzled into his neck, his mouth hotter by the second. "Seems a bit mean."

"We can apologise afterwards. She'll get over it." Damon was tugging on Alaric's t-shirt, and Alaric had to fight the urge to laugh.

"Don't be a dick, Damon. We're not doing this in the Gilbert family living room with the kids asleep upstairs." He was smiling, though, as he wrestled the shirt out of Damon's grasp.

Damon moaned, surrendering, and rested his forehead against Alaric's. "Can I stay?" he asked, softly.

"Can you be quiet?" Alaric asked in return.

Damon gave a smirk. "When I have to be."

In Alaric's room, Damon immediately dedicated himself to getting Alaric naked as quickly as possible; they hadn't spent so long apart in months. They couldn't let their mouths separate for longer than a second, and Damon forced Alaric onto the bed in moments, tearing at his own belt, while Alaric unbuttoned his shirt, apologising half-heartedly when a couple of buttons tore off and bounced onto the ground.

"I'm rich, remember?" Damon whispered into Alaric's open mouth. "I can afford shirts."

"Or you could sew them back on," Alaric argued, laughing as he discovered Damon was going commando, again. "Tell me, can you afford underwear?"

"Waste of money," Damon whispered back, kissing his way down Alaric's chest, licking his cock from base to tip, swiping his tongue around the head, and finally running his hot mouth up and down the shaft until Alaric had his fists balled into the cover of the duvet, biting his tongue to keep quiet.

"I missed you this week, Ric," Damon admitted, returning to kiss his mouth. "And now I really want to fuck you."

"Be my guest," Alaric moaned, as Damon lubed his fingers up and started to stretch him out. "I've missed you too -"

As Damon entered him with one quick, careful thrust, Alaric moaned, loader than he wanted to, hooking his legs over Damon's shoulders, pushing back against the pressure, the delicious pain, relishing the impact of hard flesh against hard flesh, the flashing in Damon's eyes, blown black with lust.

Damon's talented hand coaxed him to orgasm, and altogether too quickly, Alaric felt hot jets of come coat the skin between their bodies, saw Damon's grin of satisfaction, just before he, too, lost it, filling Alaric with a heady warmth.

Alaric rode his orgasm for long moments, shuddering gently even after Damon gently withdrew, eyes unfocussed. "You look so good like this," Damon said, running his fingers down the inside of Alaric's thighs, following them with his lips and tongue. "Debauched. Sloppy. Suits you." He mouthed his way up Alaric's body, licking away sweat and cooling ejaculate, until he reached the spot low on Alaric's hip – their spot, Damon's favourite place to drink from, ghosted with fine white scars.

Feeling Damon gently lick and kiss him there, Alaric couldn't help but grind his hips up.

"Do it," he said, through clenched teeth, already half hard again, his body filling with endorphins as Damon's elegantly curved fangs pierced his skin.

(It hurt, it did; but it felt so good, as well, that the pain seemed irrelevant. This was as much a part of making love as any kiss.)

Later, as they lay together on Alaric's bed, sweat cooling on their bodies, with the moonlight making Damon's skin look almost silver against Alaric's light tan, it seemed as if the world had righted itself again.

Damon rolled into Alaric's arms, rested his head against his chest. "We'll tell her tomorrow. Okay?"

Alaric tangled his fingers through Damon's hair, and nodded. "Tomorrow."

In the morning, Damon lay stretched out on the bed while Alaric showered in the ensuite. Alaric wrapped a towel around his waist and lay alongside him.

"Do you have any clothes here?" he asked.

Damon scoffed. "No."

Alaric raised an eyebrow. Damon frowned. "Okay. Maybe a couple of things."

(When Alaric had discovered, weeks ago, that Damon had commandeered a drawer, it had amused him. So much so that he'd decided not to say anything. Totally worth it for this moment.)

"Clean up and get dressed," Alaric said, taking one of Damon's nipples between his teeth. "We're about to have the most awkward conversation in Mystic Falls history, and we're not doing it with you smelling like sex."

Alaric sliced bread and heated water in a pan for eggs, a grill plate for bacon, while Damon flicked through the paper. Hearing Elena descend the stairs, he threw the bacon on to fry. Not for the first time, he wondered if he should talk to her about wearing more than a little pair of shorts and a singlet around the house. She beamed when she saw Damon, sidled up to him and leaned on the counter.

"You're here early." She flashed Damon a big smile. "Is that maple-smoked, Ric? Is there coffee?"

Damon stood. "I'll get it, 'Lena," he said, taking her favourite mug from the cupboard as Elena slipped onto a stool.

"This is so… weirdly domestic," she said. "Where's Jeremy?"

Damon poured coffee, too much sugar, and the fake creamer Elena favoured. "Asleep," he said, adding, under his breath, "I hope." He passed the mug to Elena's waiting hand.

Elena's smile dropped a little, as she accepted the mug and lifted it to her lips. "This is weird," she said. "Is this weird? Is there something going on here?"

Suddenly, the kitchen felt like a dangerous place to be. Damon busied himself for far too long in the cutlery drawer, rattling knives and forks and pointedly not looking at Alaric. Alaric busied himself with cracking eggs into the simmering water.

Finally he glanced at Elena. "Damon has something he needs to tell you."

"Actually," Damon said, "I think Alaric has something he needs to tell you."

Alaric shot him a withering look.

Elena sat up straighter. "One of you had better spill. This hasn't been my best year ever. Is it something about Stefan?" For a moment, she looked almost panicked.

"Nothing about Stefan," Alaric said, in a tone he hoped was reassuring. "Uh. Elena, Damon and I…"

He couldn't finish. Elena frowned. "What? You and Damon what?"

Damon rolled his eyes. "Oh, fuck this," he said, putting a hand around the back of Alaric's neck and drawing him in for a kiss.

Jeremy lay in bed a long time, trying not to laugh as Elena hollered in the kitchen. He heard a coffee cup break, a second one, and reached for his phone. Dialled Bonnie's number.

"This had better be good, Jeremy. I'm not speaking to you, remember?"

Jeremy snorted. "Oh, it's good. I think you're needed over here."

Bonnie sounded instantly alert. "What do I need to bring?"

"My guess? Nail polish, tissues, chocolate… tequila, maybe? And Caroline. And the DVD of The Notebook." Jeremy flinched as something else broke. Something glass. Alaric made a pained plea for Elena to calm down.

Bonnie took a long pause. "Not a magic thing, then. A Stefan thing?"

"A Damon thing. I think he and Alaric spilled the beans."

Bonnie groaned. "Incredible. She really didn't know."

"I love my sister, but she's not very observant." Jeremy had to laugh, all the times he'd caught Damon dropping out of Alaric's bedroom window in the morning, or pretending he'd just arrived when Jeremy got downstairs for breakfast. You'd have to be blind. And, frankly, deaf. They weren't exactly quiet, though Jeremy suspected they tried to be. To be fair, Jeremy had always been a light sleeper, whereas Elena could sleep through the apocalypse.

"Hey, Bonnie?" Jeremy flinched. "You better get here fast, or we're gonna run out of mugs."