Disclaimer: The Vampire Diaries does not belong to me. If it did, Alaric would by Mystic Falls' token nudist.

Thanks to my beta, ellensmithee!


She had hung up on him. Alaric stared at the phone for a long moment, trying to think why a woman so clearly interested in him – who had kissed him, three weeks ago, standing in this exact spot – would have hung up on him. On Valentine's day.

Maybe Damon was right. Psycho case.

Alaric crossed his arms, leaned against the kitchen bench, a considered look playing across his features, eyes unfocussed.

He'd call Damon. Go drink somewhere. Alaric had his cell phone in his hand and had nearly hit the second number on his speed dial when he thought better of it. The boarding house was Grand Central Station for the fanged undead right now, and most of them weren't as cuddly as Damon (and the thought of Damon being the dependable one was a sorry indictment on things). And there was no way he and Damon were going to the Grill – not with half of Alaric's history class there, making out in the name of the holiday. (The holiday which, as Isobel used to remind him, wasn't even a real holiday – just an invention by a greeting card company.)

He had to look at them all tomorrow in class, for fuck's sake.

This town needs more bars, he thought, not for the first time.

Fuck it. Alaric had a secret stash of shitty mystery novels he was working his way through. He'd stretch out on the Gilbert family couch with a bottle of McKenna and read. Not lame at all.

Alaric was halfway up the stairs, heading to the bedroom he slept in (not his bedroom, he couldn't bring himself to call it that) when he heard it. Quiet, muffled weeping. Alaric paused at Elena's door.

It was actually almost a relief to hear her cry. She was being too stoic. Wasn't good for her. Alaric had thought several times that he should encourage her to talk to someone, the school counsellor, or a proper therapist, maybe – but he had an inkling that therapy worked best if you were honest. If Elena was honest with a therapist they'd think she was psychotic. Vampires and werewolves and doppelgangers, and compelling her brother to move to Denver – it sounded crazy even to someone who knew it was true.

Alaric knocked lightly. "Elena? Are you okay?"

Her voice sounded stuffy. "Yeah, Ric. I'm fine."

He hesitated. She didn't sound fine. "Can I come in?"

Elena sighed, and Alaric opened the door.

She was sitting on the floor by the window seat, a half-full bottle of amber liquor at her side, and Alaric's heart sank. Worst guardian ever.

"How much have you had to drink?" he asked, crossing to crouch at her side.

She shook her head. "Less than a sip. It's horrible."

Alaric took the lid off the bottle for a sniff and scrunched his nose up, carefully scrutinising Elena's features to see if she was drunk and trying to lie about it. Other than the crying, her features were clear.

"Scotch," he said. "I don't like it either."

Elena crossed her arms over her chest. "You and Damon drink it all the time."

"No, we drink bourbon. Totally different."

Elena raised her eyebrows hopefully. "Have you got any bourbon, then?"

Alaric cocked his head, smiled fondly, replacing the lid of the bottle. "We card anyone who looks under twenty-five. You got some ID?" Elena rolled her eyes. "No way am I feeding you hard liquor, Elena."

"School night. Right." She dropped her eyes to her knees, loosely looped her arms across them. Alaric forced himself not to admire the lovely, long line of her legs, bare to the boy shorts that barely covered her ass.

Alaric knew better than anyone that sometimes, you needed a drink. Reminding himself that he was probably already going to hell for untold crimes, he nodded. "Wait here," he said.

"Not going anywhere," Elena answered, taking a Kleenex and wiping her eyes with it.

A few moments later, Alaric returned with a bottle of white wine. He usually drank red, when he drank wine at all, but since the ordeal of being worn by Klaus, it looked so much like blood to him that Alaric couldn't bring it to his lips. "You stop when I tell you to stop," he insisted, pouring them each a glass.

Elena shot him a grateful look. "I will. Thank you, Alaric," she said, taking a sip, holding the fine stem in her elegant fingers. Alaric sat alongside her, leaning his back against the window seat.

"Can I ask you something, Ric?" she asked, cautiously.

"Anything. Can't guarantee I'll answer, though,"

Elena bit her lip. "Why aren't you out with Dr Fell? It's Valentine's Day."

Alaric shrugged, taking another sip. "I asked her out. She hung up on me."

Elena patted his arm, wincing. "Ouch," she said. "When was that?"

"Right before I came up the stairs."

Elena giggled, and it was the best thing Alaric had seen or heard in weeks. "You asked her out for Valentine's Day. On Valentine's Day?"

"I forgot about the stupid holiday until I got to school this morning and the students were dry humping against their lockers, with the heady smell of gas-station flowers permeating the halls. And all those goddamn pink balloons." Alaric shrugged. "So?"

Elena's look of disbelief was all he needed to put the rest together. He grimaced. "I should have asked her before today."

Elena smiled. "Yes, you should have."

"I should write this down somewhere. My track record with women…" He means it to sound flippant, but it breaks his heart. His track record with women is; first, vampire. Then, dead.

"Well, I don't know. Might be for the best. Damon and I still think there's something off about her." Elena cocked her head, took another sip of wine, her hand a little shaky.

Alaric nudged her with his elbow. "You wanna talk about what's got you so upset?"

Elena forced a tight smile. "What's to talk about? It is what it is," she tried to say, but somewhere along the line, the words got caught up in her throat and she began to sob in earnest.

Alaric took her glass and set it aside, reaching to hold her, making reassuring shushing sounds in his throat. One hand across her shoulders, the other hesitating to find purchase somewhere near her hip – somewhere that won't look wrong, that won't give Elena the wrong impression. She relaxed into the embrace after a moment, head on his shoulder.

There was nothing about this that seemed wrong, and Alaric let himself pull her a little closer.

"Talk to me, Elena," he said, when she leaned away a little. He kept the arm around her shoulder exactly where it was, taking his glass in the other. Elena laughed bitterly, reaching for her own glass.

Elena ran the pad of her slender index finger over the rim of the wine glass. "Last year, on Valentine's day, Ste-" She swallowed, hard. "We drove just out of town and had French food and…" Too large a mouthful of wine, but she seemed to need it. The corner of her mouth wouldn't co-operate with the rest of her face. She was trying to be strong, but that corner threatened to tug her face into a frown.

"Everything's just so fucked," she said, voice huskier than usual. Alaric raised an eyebrow – Elena almost never swore. He waited a moment, but Elena stayed silent.

"You wanna expand on that? You're… you're missing Stefan…?"

Well, obviously. Sometimes Alaric wanted to slap himself.

"I miss my Stefan," she admitted at last. "This one… I don't want. This one, I don't even know. I'm scared of him, Ric, I'm… I never feel safe any more. Never. Knowing he's out there."

Alaric wanted to promise he'd keep her safe, but knew the words would sound as empty to Elena's ears as they would to his.

"I don't think he'd hurt you," Alaric settled on.

Elena shook her head. "If anyone else got hurt because of me it would be even worse."

Alaric had to concede this point.

"And I know it shouldn't matter and I know this should be the last thing on my mind… But I'm so lonely I can't see." Elena's shoulders lurched violently as her tears started to fall again.

Shifting so Elena could rest her head on his shoulder, Alaric flipped through platitudes in his head. Everything will be okay. We'll get Stefan back. It's always darkest just before you shut the fuck up and give the girl a hug.

Alaric turned his body so he could pull Elena closer and before he could really react, she'd curled up in his lap. Briefly, Alaric imagined Damon showing up right about then and killing him, but he set the thought aside and let himself hold Elena close, as she cried.

Isobel was always a little prickly: upset, she'd retreat into herself, avoid his touch. Really upset, she'd brood, disappear for hours or days at a time; it had been a long time since Alaric had the chance to comfort someone, draw some comfort back. Before he knew what he was doing, he was rubbing circles into Elena's back, sifting through her hair.

Elena stilled, after a long time, and Alaric realised he should say something, extricate himself from the tangle of limbs, but he didn't. Something in the smell of her shampoo had him anchored there, or perhaps he was lonely too.

Who was he kidding? Alaric knew damn well he was lonely; knew that was one of the best reasons he had, to get the hell out of there. Why, then, was he brushing Elena's hair from her eyes?

At last, she moved, and Alaric prepared to make his getaway. She had barely shifted, though; just enough to meet his eyes.

She quirked a lip. "Thank you," she whispered. "I don't know what I'd do if you weren't around."

Elena's eyes settled on Alaric's mouth for a moment too long. He had to get out of there. "Of course. No problem." He was blathering. "I'd better go, Elena. Let you get some sleep."

She frowned, an incredulous smile playing across her features. "It's half past eight, Ric."

"Well. Yeah. I just think I should go," he said, but made no move to leave.

And then Elena Gilbert's perfect lips were pressed against his mouth.

It should have been easy to extricate a girl of Elena's size from his lap, to ease her out of such a gentle kiss, but Alaric was frozen – found himself pulling her closer, deepening their kiss, but when Elena made an indescribable sound into his mouth, Alaric started to struggle, pulled away.

"We can't do this, Elena," he said, trying to get out from underneath her, but Elena was unmoveable, mouthing against the underside of his jaw.

"Why?" she asked, as if there was no obvious reason she could think of.

"You're joking, right? For a start, I'm your guardian," Alaric said, trying to untangle himself from her arms.

"I'm eighteen. Child Protective Services doesn't get a say in who I sleep with."

No, no. That thought leads nowhere good. "I'm also your teacher, Elena…"

At this, Elena just shrugged. "I won't tell if you won't." Trailing heavy fingers over Alaric's lips, until he couldn't help it, kissed at them softly. "You seem to be forgetting you're a man, too, Alaric."

Actually, he hadn't forgotten this. But the word 'man' reminded him of the age difference and although frankly, he figured it was the least of their problems, it still wasn't a thought he wanted to examine too closely.

"Elena…" he pulled her closer, breathing her in, told himself he was preparing to say goodbye. "Jenna."

Elena sat up a little straighter and for a moment, Alaric thought she'd come to her senses. But she merely shifted her weight until she was straddling his legs.

Alaric prayed she hadn't noticed he was already half-hard. She clearly didn't need the encouragement and he was going to have to do something drastic, soon.

It should be said, Alaric couldn't work out why he hadn't just lifted her out of his lap and run all the way back to his loft; perhaps the determination in her big brown eyes, perhaps the imprint his mouth still wore of that kiss. He let his hands settle over her bare thighs, hating himself for it.

Elena placed one hand on Alaric's shoulder, the other over his heart.

"You loved her." It's not a question. "So did I. In some ways I was closer to Jenna than I ever was to mom."

"I did," Alaric answered. "I loved her." He leaned so their foreheads touched. As much so he couldn't reach her lips quickly as anything else.

"Alaric… Jenna's gone. She is. And it hurts. But we're all living on a knife's edge, here. Any one of us could be dead before the sun goes down tomorrow. We can't wait for this all to be over and then start living our lives again. Life is happening right now."

There was wisdom to the words. Elena held Alaric's eyes, angling her face until their mouths met again. Elena was gentle, rubbing her lips across Alaric's until he was dizzy. "I'm not asking you for anything, Ric. I just wanna feel good again. Don't you want to feel good for a while?"

Though her eyes were red from crying, her gaze was direct. She knew what she wanted. Pushed a little further, again, and Alaric discovered his arms were tight around her, drawing her to him until their bodies were so close together that the bird-beat of her heart was all he could hear.

When Alaric realised he was pulling Elena's singlet over her head, he knew he wouldn't resist for another moment. Didn't want to. Wanted to taste her and take her and make her his own. Elena's eyelids were heavy with desire as she teased Alaric's t-shirt up over his chest. Until she gave an unnerving chuckle.

Alaric smiled incredulously. "The ridiculousness of this hitting you now? Because honestly, Elena… would have been better if you'd twigged to that a few minutes ago," he said, hands at her waist, fingers running just below the elastic of her shorts.

"No! No, Ric, it's… I've never been with anyone… hairy before, you know?" She pulled his t-shirt off and ran her fingers over his chest, leaning to rub her cheek against the stubble on his unshaven cheek. Suddenly she stood up, holding his hand. "C'mon, Ric," she said, and he let himself be drawn to her bed. Lowered her onto it, lay down until he was half-pinning her down. Ran an appreciative hand over the gentle mound of her belly, cupping her breast through her bra.

"You're so beautiful, Elena," he said, and meant it. She didn't look scared, now, didn't look sad; her kiss-swollen lips parted just slightly as she pulled herself on top of him again, leaning to lick and kiss his chest.

"You're beautiful, too, Ric," she said as she reached his neck. "And I bet you don't hear it often enough." He wrapped his arms around her, unlatching her bra and letting it fall to the side of the bed. Weighed her breasts with his hands and groaned as she leaned to let a nipple fall into his mouth. A nipple he immediately teased to attention with his lips and tongue before switching to the other. Elena whimpered, rubbed against his erection, still cruelly trapped in his pants.

She sat up, reaching for his belt and buttons. "These have to go," she insisted, and moments were lost to Alaric getting the rest of his clothes off; inelegant, perhaps, but efficient, and worth it for the look of look she gave him: surprised, maybe; impressed, definitely. She scooted up the bed to lay back on the pillows and sucked air through her teeth, bunching her hands in the sheets, when Alaric rubbed his lips over the crotch of her shorts.

Alaric caught the elastic of her shorts in his fingers, meeting her eyes for a moment, checking she was still okay with everything; she smiled, drew him up for another kiss.

"I'm right where I want to be, Ric," she promised, cupping his jaw with one hand, until he kissed her again, a little harder, tongues exploring teeth and lips fit to bruise. Alaric knelt between Elena's thighs, pulled the little shorts down over them. Left one ankle up on his shoulder and kissed it, mouthing over her long, strong calf muscle, spreading her wide, watching her face tense and relax, kissed down her thigh as he ran one finger, tantalising, between the hot, wet folds of her exquisite cunt. Entered her with one finger, with two, teasing the swollen bud of her clit with his thumb as she rolled her hips.

Alaric placed her leg gently back onto the bed and put his mouth where his hand had been just a moment ago. Elena immediately began to roll her hips, trapping Alaric's head between her thighs, drawing him into her with her legs over his shoulders, one hand in her hair and – he suspected – the other on the headboard. Hot little sounds punched out of her mouth like tiny prayers before Alaric felt the odd, familiar pressure against his tongue that told him Elena had come – and come hard, by the way her hips were still rolling.

Alaric would never have guessed Elena would be like this – open and trusting and wholly sensual, when she carried herself with so much tension so much of the time. Looking half drunk with lust, Elena reached for Alaric, pulling him to her, for more kisses, always more kisses.

"Do I taste good?" she whispered against his mouth, and Alaric's mind went completely blank for a second.

Alaric grinned against her mouth. "You tell me," he said.

Elena reached for Alaric's cock, straining to meet his stomach, leaking pre-come at the tip and she stroked him, altogether too expertly for a girl of eighteen, guiding him where she wanted him.

"Wait, 'Lena," Alaric said, pulling away. "Have you got…"

For a moment, Elena looked confused. And then irritated, or as close to it as she could get, still quivering over the force of her orgasm, muscles a mess. "Damn," she said, reaching across the bed towards the nightstand. "Top drawer. I hope," she added, under her breath.

Alaric had never given it a minute's thought; vampires don't get sick, don't conceive. Probably not something Elena had thought about in a long time. He tried to shake the thought from his mind. Didn't want this beautiful girl comparing him to one hundred and sixty five years of sexual experience.

Cool foil in his hand at last, Alaric sighed and kissed Elena again, but she took the condom from his hand. "I want to do it," she said, and the want in her eyes was so fiery Alaric didn't argue. He was so hard under her hand that it hurt, when she lay back, wrapped her arms around Alaric's neck and her legs around his hips, pulling him into her in one hard thrust.

Sheathed in silken heat, Elena moaning into his neck, scratching so deep in Alaric's back that he'd wear the marks for days, Alaric quickly found his rhythm, until Elena growled, low in her throat. "Harder, Ric, faster. Make me feel it," she begged, and the way she looked, he couldn't say no; lifted her until she was sitting in his lap, again, their bodies slick with sweat, kissing like the apocalypse was starting (and really, it could be, this was Mystic Falls) and whether it was the speed, or the new angle, only a couple of minutes later, Alaric was coming hard, with a shout he was grateful wouldn't be heard by anyone but the two of them, Elena following moments behind him.

She slumped against his body, riding the aftershocks, arm still tight around his neck.

Alaric searched for something to say, eventually settling on muttering "Jesus, Elena," against her throat. "Just… Jesus," knew he was incoherent, but he didn't care, just held Elena in his arms until they both knew it was time to slump back on the bed.

A few indelicate moments to deal with the aftermath, and then Alaric wrapped his arms around Elena, just let himself draw from her.

"I should go," he whispered into her hair. "Let you sleep."

"Stay," she whispered in reply.

Unforgivably, Alaric pulled Elena even closer. "You're so warm," she whispered against his chest. "So human." Kissed him again.

"We can't make a habit of this," he said, kicking himself even as he said it.

Elena smiled. "Why not? I don't have enough bad habits."

Alaric snorted. "I do."

"Well, there's always room for one more." She nestled her head against his chest.

He stayed, that night, and slept with Elena's legs tangled with his own, his arms around her body. Hers tucked between them, one hand running lazily over his stubbled cheek.

As sleep took him, Alaric thought, I am so fucked.