It's a festival or a party or something, something about celebrating the wonders of Mystic Falls and all the inhabitants thereof, or some similar shit. Altogether too easy to find someone tucked away just out of sight.

"Settle a debate for us," Damon says. Points to himself, points to Alaric. "Who's hotter? We just can't seem to agree."

The girl laughs, looking from face to face; can't believe her luck, a pair of guys this good looking competing for her attention. "I'm sorry," she says to Alaric, "but I'm a sucker for eyes like that." Blushing as she goes. She's pretty, Damon supposes, though he doesn't care either way.

Blood is blood.

Damon twitches his chin with something like victory in his eyes and Alaric takes a step forward. "Look at me," he says, and the girl's eyes go wide and blank.

"I did it." Alaric looks shocked. Damon rolls his eyes.

"You're a vampire, Ric. The superpowers are part of the package. Tell her to stay calm."

The girl is starting to shake her head, but Alaric takes her chin. "Stay calm. You're safe."

The girl nods her dreamy agreement. Sways a little, blinks like she's been roofied (she has, sort of). "I'm safe," she repeats.

"Fuck, Damon. What do I do now?" Alaric looks mystified.

"You take your testicles out of the jar in your purse, and you put them on."

"Fuck you."

"Later." Damon smirks. "You're learning an important lesson here. Ask her for her wrist."

Alaric chances a glimpse at him. "Why not her throat?"

"For one, mess. Also, you're a baby. Babies lose control. If you lose control you can kill her in a few seconds. Through the wrist the flow is weaker because it's further from the heart." Damon shakes his head. "Have you learned nothing from me?"

"Apparently," Alaric muses, noticing the girl is starting to look concerned. "Be calm. Give me your wrist."

She doesn't hesitate. Alaric pulls her sleeve up. Damon drinks in Alaric's features, eyes blackening, capillaries engorging. "Ric. Stay focused. Remember, you actually like humans."

Alaric always looks a little punch-drunk, feeding. Damon watches like a hawk. Mostly because it's the hottest thing he's ever seen but also, to keep Alaric's meal tickets safe.

"Humans donate about a pint when they donateā€¦ the traditional way. That's enough for you for a couple of days, and she'll be fine." Damon watches as Alaric sinks his teeth into the girl's wrist, the look of shock on her face, giving way to that calm again.

Watching Alaric's expression when he feeds makes Damon want to fuck him. Fortunately, this is encouraged. And athletic and gymnastic and so much fun Damon has installed Alaric permanently at the boarding house. Alaric seems pleased by the arrangement. It's all so grown up.

Blood bags, they've agreed on, but it's not always practical and better this weird mentoring thing than let Alaric go on a bender one day because he's starving. He'll stake himself if he ever does it. Throw his ring away and walk into the sunrise. Unacceptable.

"Enough," Damon says. Sterner, then, hand on Alaric's shoulder. Ready to tear him off if he has to. "Ric. Enough."

Reluctantly, Alaric licks away the smears before holding the wound shut. The girl looks confused, but not upset. Alaric passes his thumb over the tip of one fang, just drawing a spot of blood. He presses it gently into her mouth, says "suck it. Oh god, I didn't mean it to sound like that." He cringes, and Damon snickers and the girl sucks, a little, until Alaric pulls his thumb away. "Doesn't seem hygienic," he muses, but Damon doesn't dignify the statement with a response.

Carefully, Alaric releases the wrist, watches the skin knit shut. Magic.

"In the end, we all agreed that I am definitely the hottest. He agreed too." Alaric points his thumb at Damon, earning another eye roll. They need to switch up the facial expressions, Damon sometimes thinks, but an eye roll is just so satisfying. Alaric speaks again. "We flirted a little and then you left. Go get a milkshake and a burger and rest up."

"Milkshake," the girl agrees. "Strawberry. I like strawberry."

"Me too," Alaric says, and it's over. The girl stumbles, and Alaric reaches a hand out to prop her up. "You alright? When was the last time you ate?"

"Too long," the girl says. "Think I'll go get a burger. And a milkshake," she says, looking pleased, "haven't had one in years."

"Strawberry," Alaric suggests.

"Yeah," the girl agrees. "Strawberry. Bye," she adds absently as she walks away.

"Really not that big a deal," Alaric says. "I've sort of been a dick about it, haven't I?"

"You're a dick about everything," Damon says cheerfully. "I've come to accept it."

It will always be like this, Damon thinks, as he kisses Alaric hard, tasting the blood still in his mouth; we'll stay the same while the world changes.