Thanks a squillion to my beta, Saltzatore.

Warnings: slash, angst, no real ending. Post 3.17.

...

It takes hours for Alaric to so much as stir, and perhaps it's halfway the herbs they'd forced on him hours before; perhaps a little less than halfway Stefan's choke hold, the lack of oxygen to the brain. Perhaps there is a small sliver of Alaric that needed to sleep, that knows it has to heal.

Perhaps more than a small sliver.

Sleeping, Alaric looks younger; his face slack, his lips slightly parted, his breathing slow and sweet. Damon paces, pulls the collar of Alaric's shirt away from the vicious bruises on his neck. Vicious, but not very vicious; Stefan told the truth, brought him down as gently as he could.

Cautious not to wake Alaric Damon puts two fingers over the pulse in his neck. Slow and steady, healthy; not panicked, now, and the scent of adrenaline has faded. The scent of the herbs washing his system is a little bitter, a little oily. Rosemary in there, perhaps. Some ragweed. He hadn't paid much attention to the details, just to how he had to steep the tea, how long for, what to do if Alaric suddenly wasn't Alaric, and he wouldn't drink it.

Damon settles in to the chair by the bed, belies his fear by resting his feet gently on the bedspread. All casual calm.

Alaric stirs, some time later. He's disoriented, but calm enough, which is good, though he struggles to get to his elbows, giving up at last, and he flinches when he swallows. He turns his head and meets Damon's eyes.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

A fair question, perhaps; if they wake in the same room, they are usually sharing breath. Damon shrugs.

"Just making sure the witch didn't turn you into a toad, or a block of salt." He hopes it sounds amused and airy. Knows it doesn't.

Alaric blinks slowly. "Huh?"

"Bonnie did a little spell, nothing to worry about… just something to keep the killer in you at bay."

Alaric opens and closes his hand like it's maybe not even quite his hand. Jean-Paul Sartre comes to mind. Unfamiliar hands seemingly attached to ones body, and the accompanying nausea. Weakly, Alaric looks around again.

"Did something happen?"

Damon wasn't sure about this; how much of Alaric was actually present when the… thing possessing him was running around. Not much, apparently. He looks bewildered, and a little sad.

"Let's just say you've got an alter-ego hell bent on killing council members. So we're gonna pack up some of your stuff, go to the loft, just for a little bit. You know. It's like house arrest. Lite."

Damon keeps his tone casual, but there is nothing casual about house arrest, and Alaric picks up on his tone. He sits up, struggling to keep himself up on his elbows.

"Wait, where's Meredith?"

Well, Damon thinks; you chased her down and stabbed her and she nearly bled to death, so there's that.But she's also helping, so she's maybe not as pissed as a normal person should be. Plus that's all my fault because I'm the one who told you to cosy up to her, see what her deal is.

But he doesn't want to say all that, so instead he says "She'll be fine, Ric," and that's enough so that Alaric knows he did something pretty awful.

The loft, then.

While Alaric showers , Damon packs enough clothing for a few days. Elena leans against the wall, arms crossed, looking wretched. "Are you sure, Damon?"

"What other choice do we have? Can't have him running around. He might kill Liz. He might kill precious me, for that matter. Sheriffs, you can get on eBay, but me…?

Elena rolls her eyes. "That's not what I mean. What about the basement?"

Damon shoots daggers from narrowed eyes. "What? No."

Elena looks torn but she knows she is making sense, and Damon isn't. "Safer, though. I'm thinking of all of us, Damon. Alaric wouldn't want to risk hurting us. We could make it comfortable…"

Where does Alaric get these shirts? Homeless shelters? Kinder to burn them all. Still, they smell like him, so Damon keeps packing.

"You really are a soft touch, Elena. Nice. Good idea. We'll lock our friend in the basement."

"Friend?" Elena pushes gently back off the wall. "Friend?"

Frustrated, Damon turns on her. "Got something to say, Elena?"

She is difficult to frighten, these days. Takes a step towards him and crosses her arms. "I love my friends, but I don't watch them sleep, Damon. Even when they have just had a psychotic break."

Damon pauses. Shakes his head. "Whatever. If it gets too hard, I'll knock him out, drag him to the boarding house and throw him in the basement. Happy? Easy." He smiles bright and false and furious, magnesium hot and focussed, eyes flashing. If it was her? If it was Elena – would she want them to lock her in the basement?

The answer, depressingly, is yes. Humans. Humans in Mystic Falls, anyway. Bunch of joyless martyrs. Elena would insist on being locked in the basement. Probably beg to be put in thumbscrews.

Elena pauses for a long moment. "Fine. I'm gonna meet Meredith at the hospital. I'll see you at the loft in a couple of hours." She flashes a piece of paper, nodding sharply. "And yes, I have the list."

Alaric is hard to manoeuvre, his legs heavy and his arms uncoordinated. Like a teenager unused to the body that is rapidly becoming a man's. He fumbles the seat belt, once in the car, and he won't meet Damon's eyes.

"You alright?"

"Next time you ask me that I'll stab you."

Obviously aiming for levity. Missing by a long way. Damon makes no comment, closes the door and slips to the other side of the car.

Before opening the door, he pauses for a long moment.

This is going to suck beyond the telling of it. Damon takes a deep breath. Unnecessary, but calming. Takes another, and rubs thumb and forefinger over his eyelids. And then he drives Alaric away for a good long bout of house arrest, however long it takes.

...

In the loft, Damon steers Alaric to the bed, where he crawls, fully dressed, to the centre. Rolls up into a ball and falls asleep. Damon pulls a chair up to the side. Would rather curl over the curve of Alaric's back, but he won't, not now. The loft is full of clues. He needs to un-riddle it. Alaric looks peaceful, sleeping; looks like he's not a murderer, like no part of a murderer could settle itself into those features.

He looks naked, without the ring, but its absence is a balm nonetheless.

"I snapped your neck," he tells Alaric's sleeping form. "To make a point. A dumb one."

Alaric had been defending a man he killed, not long after, or maybe he didn't; is it separate, the Thing inside? He did, after all, seem confused as fuck, when he woke up. No idea of what had happened, only that it was bad.

The papers on the desk will need a good long going-through, careful dissection and consideration, when there is time, but there's not time now.

First things first and the kitchen seems like a good place to start. Damon pulls a rucksack out of Alaric's wardrobe. Works his way through drawers and cupboards and thinks more than once that really, no one needs this many knives. Wickedly sharp, too well tended for vegetables and meat. (Who sharpens them, then? Alaric is methodical in most things – if Damon knows anything, he knows that – perhaps his boy scout days and the imperative to be always prepared sees him carefully sharpening his knives more often than perhaps some nights he sneaks from his own bed, wearing a face that is not his own, and sharpens and sharpens. Perhaps that's why he looks tired, some days.) One or two of the knives are at least fourteen inches long, ideal for deboning a deer whole, or a man. Under a pile of neatly folded tea towels: two stakes. Others in other spots, well concealed for the most part. Vervain darts tucked where they can be reached easily.

Lucky Damon knows this loft as well as he does, because there are a lot of weapons in here. Some should be tucked in their own hidey-holes in the boarding house, Damon's own weapons. Some should be in the car he lets Alaric drive around since his own is a burned out shell. Stupid, stupid.

Alaric stirs and turns over, and Damon's heart skips a beat. How long until he's dangerous again?

There is a soft knock on the door.

Damon opens it, admits Elena, who casts a fearful glance at Alaric. "Is he?"

"Exhausted and full of witch's brew. He'll be out for a bit. You get everything?"

Elena drops a duffel on the counter. "Handcuffs. Two pairs. And the keys. I… had to tell Sheriff Forbes, Damon." He says nothing, because this was inevitable. "Tranquilisers. Meredith says just empty the whole syringe into him, and never more than one every four hours. She'll get more in a couple of days, you know, if…"

Damon nods sharply; if? Because, sure, a couple of days is usually enough to recover from a ghostly possession, or whatever fuckery this might be.

"Where are the ropes?" he demands, and shouldn't enjoy Elena's blush, but he does.

"Can you just use normal ropes? Or, torn up fabric? Something?"

"Bondage rope is easier on the skin, Elena." She won't meet his eyes, just watches Alaric breathe on the bed. Heavy on the mattress, stoned, a little, maybe. "It's soft, and silky. Did you even ask Stefan?"

Elena nods. "He says he doesn't have any bondage rope and by-the-way-fuck-you-Damon." Says it in a rush, like Stefan told her to deliver the message with some precision. "I can't believe you made me ask him that." Heavy lashes concealing her embarrassment. Perhaps he'd been a little unfair. For a moment he thinks he'll tell her about a small store on the edge of town where she could buy it herself, but he won't, not yet.

Damon puts the last few knives in the rucksack.

"I brought food for him and blood for you – I think Stefan might be drinking too much, do you? – and he's being mean, said horrible things about Alaric and Samantha and -"

Elena's voice falters.

Damon pulls Elena in, up and against his body, holds her tight, in a heady rush of gratitude. "I'll fix him. I will. We'll fix him. No knitting needles in here, anywhere. You take these away with you and if I find anything else he can kill someone with, you'll take them too."

The hug seems to be what Elena needs most, and she stills.

She pulls away, though, pragmatic, packing food and blood into the refrigerator. "You're not gonna have to worry about condiments, apparently," she says. "I didn't know you could buy this many types of hot sauce. Is that mango? You can get mango hot sauce? You don't need to keep Tabasco in the fridge, do you? I was thinking."

Her run on sentences get worse when she's stressed.

"Could you compel him? To be calm?" The food is packed away and the blood is in the crisper, so it won't thicken, though Damon can always thin it down with bourbon if needs be.

"No way to tell if he was faking it or not."

"Tell him to do something really out character. If he does it, you know it's real."

Damon snorts. "Awesome idea. I could tell him to stab himself. Think he'd do that?"

Elena chews her lip, eyes drifting to the sleeping form on the bed. "Tell him to stab me."

"Good way to get you stabbed."

"You could fix me."

Damon shakes his head. "Go home, Elena. And make sure you bring more herbs. Soon. This won't last."

After a long moment's hesitation she slips back into Damon's arms, and he guesses it was true, what he thought; she needed the hug, and he also thinks he maybe needed it too. Fortification against the coming dark.

"I'm sorry I suggested the basement," she tells Damon's chest, "but I'm still gonna get it ready. Just in case."

Maybe she's better, like this. The optimism had been getting wearing.

...

Alaric stirs at last in the late afternoon. "Tea-time," Damon says, passing the mug into Alaric's waiting hand. "All of it."

Alaric winces at the taste but doesn't hesitate. "Fuckin' horrible stuff. Worse than Is's kombucha."

"Hungry?"

Alaric shakes his head, though it looks less like he's not hungry and more like he doesn't want the fuss, doesn't deserve to be taken care of, doesn't want to fuel his angry body, some such. Damon shrugs.

"Too bad," he says, producing a sandwich on a plate. For his own needs he has a mug of blood, warmed not-quite-adequately and laced with bourbon.

Alaric looks grateful, and sits up to eat silently. "What's the plan?" he says. "You just keep me locked up here?"

Damon shrugs, nonchalant (unsuccessful, maybe, probably, he can feel the tension in his shoulders and forehead). "Just my part. Bonnie's working on a cure. Elena's helping. Meredith, too," and he's careful not to meet Alaric's eyes as he says this. "Maybe drugs could help, keep you calm." Damon takes the plate, returns to the kitchen. "I'd love to know how long you've been pilfering weapons from the boarding house."

Alaric wrinkles his forehead. "Me, too," he admits, and sinks back against the pillows.

It's dark, and Alaric is asleep, when Damon takes his left hand. Draws it up and away from his body, ever nearer the bed head. He clicks the handcuffs closed over Alaric's wrist. Task complete, Damon sits on the edge of the bed to study Alaric's expression.

It's the click, maybe, that stirs Alaric from sleep. He looks miserably at the cuff, and nods. Doesn't look in Damon's direction.

"Only one?"

"Feeling murderous?"

There is a long pause. "Stoned," Alaric says. "Not murderous. Stoned."

"Only one, then," Damon says, slipping off his shoes and settling himself behind Alaric's body, pulling up a blanket. Fitting his knees to Alaric's knees, his arm to Alaric's hip, his lips to Alaric's neck. Just fitting, because it's where he fits. The light is off and soft white rays play across the room, from the street.

The way they hit the papers Damon has been pointedly ignoring looks like a warning, or something.

Damon doesn't need a lot of sleep generally but he sleeps, now.

...

The sun has not yet begun to rise, quite, when Damon wakes up confused.

Usually, Damon wakes when Alaric wakes because the world shifts, suddenly, is different, when Alaric's breathing shifts, when his heart rate speeds a touch, when his body warms just slightly. All of this is autonomic; when a human wakes, these things happen, so the Thing that is not Alaric Saltzman but which is wearing him so effectively must have woken more carefully and consciously and full of intentions, intentions that are black in parts and red in others. So Damon is confused.

The confusion is borne of several things, but mainly an unfocussed agony which, when he reconsiders, seems to settle mainly in his gut, his chest; yes, a wet sound when he gasps, that indicates a punctured lung, and a disturbing warmth that indicates that there is more than one wound. Damon pulls away, rolls away, but is caught by the alarmingly strong arm of something that is not quite Alaric Saltzman against his throat.

"Fuck, Ric…"

Damon pulls away, feels flesh torn away from his throat by Alaric's fingernails, twisted in righteous anger as his body contorts obscenely, pulling hard on the handcuffs. Damon staggers, half-falling from the bed, blood rushing too fast from the wound in his neck. He wants to pull the knife from his chest, but two lots of arterial haemorrhaging might be a bit much for even a vampire to take.

Out of Alaric's reach on the other nightstand is a hypodermic needle, and Damon pulls the sheath away; deftly avoiding Alaric's reaching arm, refusing to meet the eyes set too dark in the snarling face of the Thing that stole Alaric, he drives the needle into Alaric's hip.

The thing that is not Alaric recites a string of obscenities that become incoherent as he slips into unconsciousness. Unconsciousness sounds like fun, so collapsed on the floor on the far side of the bed, Damon joins him.

...

Damon is woken when a blood bag hits him in the face. When he looks up, Stefan's inscrutable face regards him, doleful and regretful and full of other things, too; there is, in addition, perhaps some small measure of respect, or understanding.

When Stefan speaks, he says "You know how you used to call Lexi an insufferable martyr?"

Damon tears the corner off the blood bag with his teeth. His neck has healed, but he's weak, and Alaric's loft looks once again like a bloodbath.

With Stefan's eyes still on him, Damon drains the bag. "What are you doing here?"

"Interestingly enough, you seem to have tried to call me as you passed out. If there's anything I recognise, it's the sound of someone trying to speak with a knife in their lung. Speaking of, you want me to pull that out?" He crouches as Damon leans back, bracing himself. "On three. One." Stefan pulls it out, as Damon knew he would, two beats ahead of schedule.

Once he stops swearing, he opens his eyes. "More blood," he croaks, or maybe his lips only form the shapes to say it as blood refills his lungs. Stefan understands, slips away to the fridge.

It only takes two more bags of blood until Damon isn't nearly dead anymore and just looks nearly dead. He rises to his feet.

His eyes seek Alaric immediately, and he pushes past Stefan to the other side of the bed. Alaric's wrist is broken, perhaps some of the bones in his hand. Trying to escape the handcuffs before what amounted to an overdose of haloperidol knocked him out again.

"You bring any clothes for yourself, or just for the meatsuit?" Stefan's lip twists cruelly.

"What did you call him?"

"He's barely in there, Damon. Surely you know that. This is all a waste of time." Stefan shrugs, philosophical. "Still. Whatever's in there is likely to be more than a little upset to see you covered in your own blood. Where'd he get the knife?"

While Alaric sleeps, Damon and Stefan lift the edges of the mattress, and find an arsenal. Another three knives, plus one taped neatly to the wall behind the headboard. In the nightstand, by the lube, another, and a little pig-sticker. Damon's shoulders drop.

"Romantic," Stefan says. "I suppose you want these gone? The knives, of course."

Damon nods.

"Need me to bring you anything?" Stefan's eyes betray little now but a distinct curiosity.

Damon narrows his eyes. "Don't pretend you want to help."

Stefan shrugs, that curiosity still evident. "I don't, really. But this is… interesting. It suits you. Being the tortured one. I could go by the book shop, get you a nice hard-backed journal and a fountain pen, if you like. You can start a journal. It would complete the tableau nicely."

The hand that is sort-of Alaric's flops horribly against the broken wrist.

Stefan sighs, and Damon can hear him roll his eyes. Hear it.

"I'll bring you some clothes. Black, do you think? So the next time he tries to kill you the evidence is less gory? You need a lot more blood, if you're going to sit around getting yourself nearly murdered all day every day. I'll even go get your bondage ropes."

"Don't strain yourself."

"I promise I won't."

Damon casts a baleful eye on his brother, so calm and cool, like marble. Stefan nods sharply, and heads for the door.

"Wait. Stefan."

Stefan turns with an incredulous look, and speaks too quickly. "You're not going to force some brother bonding moment on me, are you? Really not in the mood. We are how we are."

Damon shakes his head. Beckons Stefan to the desk with the papers he has so far ignored but won't soon, once he's tended to Alaric.

There is exactly one bright spot in the world right now and it is wrapped in brown paper here under the window because Alaric was too distracted to remember it when he should have. Damon grins.

Stefan eyes him, suspicious. "What have you got to smile about? Sage double-crossed you, the tree's a pile of ash, Alaric's got a psychopathic alter-ego. That wants you dead, and nearly achieved that."

Damon cocks his head, lifting the package. "You know Stefan? I'm more than a babysitter. I am a philanthropist. I make the world a better place. Restoring bridges, landmarks, and historical signs made of the same white oak as the Wickery Bridge." He tears the paper from the sign, and Stefan looks impressed, widens his eyes, sets his jaw firmer.

"They think all the wood burned." He looks impressed.

"I sold my rage. You should have seen me."

"We have a weapon." Stefan runs his hand over the edge of the sign. Calculating with his eyes how many stakes they can produce with this much wood. From the off-cuts, bullets. All the scraps they will burn and produce all the ash they could ever use, in case of emergency, and access to daggers.

"Game's back on, brother."

Time passes where their eyes meet in the middle of it all, all of what is happening.

"Stick him in the basement. Let's just do this, now. Deal with Alaric later."

Damon doesn't flinch. "There might not be a later, for Alaric. You know I'm not going anywhere."

Stefan groans. "Come on! What could be more important than this?"

Damon says nothing, to this, but he does speak. "Bring the stuff when you can. Tell Elena I'm going to need a lot more herbs and a lot more tranquilisers. I need darts, too, all the ones in here are vervain and I can't touch them. She knows where it all is."

"Stop pointing me at Elena. Call her yourself. I'll bring the clothes, and your ropes. But I've got more important things to do than worry about a human whose days are numbered." Stefan hoists the sign under his arm. "But for what it's worth?"

Damon tears his eyes from Alaric and meets Stefan's cool gaze again.

"I hate you a little less, right now," Stefan admits.

"Father would be so proud," Damon answers, and Stefan pulls the door closed with a soft click.

...

Damon showers quickly, but carefully, removing all traces of blood from his body before putting on the clothes Stefan brought; all black, as promised. Examines his face in the mirror. Remembers years spent tearing across countries and continents, taking and taking and never thinking about the damage he was doing. Never a single thought to the families left torn apart.

The first fifty years, just death. Dealing just death, and not always death, if he remembered to stop drinking. But then Sage came, and he was a vampire and a killer before Sage but after her, he was a monster. And once Damon was a monster, he took far more than lives. He hurt far more than feelings.

Exactly why, then, he is holed up in a loft that looks like a slaughterhouse determined to save a man who seems determined to kill him is a little beyond Damon. This is not who he is or how he is or what he does, and the world makes no sense, not any more. He bites into his tongue, for the grounding, and sets about his next tasks.

Alaric hasn't stirred but that means little; the Thing in there is far more controlled than Alaric is in his best days.

This has to be done in an order, one step at a time, to reduce the chances of further injury to vampire, meatsuit, and on the off-chance their fates are linked, even to the Thing in the meatsuit. First Damon shakes and prods Alaric's leg and foot, trying to rouse him from considerably more than a careful arm's reach away, and when he cannot, he carefully handcuffs Alaric's right wrist to the headboard.

(He thinks, as he does it, that the sensible thing would have been to cuff this side in the first place, weaken the dominant hand; but Alaric liked to sleep on his left and generally did, so it had seemed more humane to cuff that side. More comfortable.

Ridiculous.)

Damon prepares the tea, checking the temperature and setting the timer.

Next, he unlocks the left wrist, and at this, Alaric does rouse; with a muffled moan, tears shed without accompanying sobs, and less swearing than Damon expected.

"How do you feel?"

"What did I do?"

Damon grits his teeth. "Tried to get free. Your wrist is broken." He pointedly ignores the tears, because a man's tears should be private.

"Fuck."

Damon folds a leather belt in half. "I'm going to reset it, and it's going to hurt like a motherfucker. And then I'm going to feed you some of my blood."

Alaric shakes his head. "No."

"Yes." Damon shoves the belt between Alaric's teeth and the teeth come down instinctively, accompanied by a muffled roar as Damon stretches the wrist out, feels the grinding of bones and some tissue torn up, inside, torn and stretching as Alaric's eyes blur, and he is unconscious again.

Damon's heart could be a bird's heart, such is the speed of its beating.

He tears delicately into his own wrist, and places it up against Alaric's mouth. Alaric doesn't wake, but his body needs the medicine; so he drinks, and the wrist twitches with the healing, and that wakes him; eyes dull with the drug, and wet with further unshed tears, but awake.

"Tea-time," Damon says, cheerfully, forced.

"Why are you even doing this?"

Alaric doesn't resist, drinks when Damon tips the tea towards his lips. Does it like he's agreeing to do it, though, not like he thinks it's for the best.

"I tried to kill you, last night." His eyes hold Damon's in accusation.

"Yeah. So shouldn't I be the pissy one? What's with the tone? Drink up." The tea is gone at last. "So you remember?"

"I remember nothing. There's blood everywhere." Alaric casts a doleful eye at the place on the wall where blood spurted, heart propelled, splashing everywhere. "You gonna tell me it's mine?"

"Deductive logic is kinda hot on you, Ric."

Alaric's eyes close. "I have to use the bathroom."

Awkward.

Reluctantly, Damon uncuffs him. Alaric sits up, but fumbles. Sits up and falls back. Damon half lifts him from the bed. "I'm not gonna watch. The romance would be all gone. But the door stays open," he warns, as he propels Alaric into the bathroom.

Damon listens and doesn't listen until there is an awful crash, and then listens and reacts in one moment which is one tenth of one second and a whole day, too.

Alaric stands in front of what used to be the mirror, blood dripping from his forehead. Most of the glass has fallen to the ground, but shards remain; some in the frame and some in his forehead. He turns, slowly, expression drugged, no emotion in it.

"There was something wrong with it," he says, and steps on the broken glass as Damon reaches for Alaric's waist and shrugs under his shoulder to lead him back to the bed.

Once Alaric is lying down, again, Damon nods. "Need tweezers," he says, glancing at Alaric's forehead.

"Wait, Damon. Cuffs first."

Damon hesitates.

"Cuffs first." Alaric's eyes clear for a second. "C'mon, Damon. I'm not asking." As he says it, he secures his right hand with the cuff still dangling. "I can't do the other one myself."

"You can't even hold yourself up. You don't need them both."

Alaric reaches his arm out, determined even through the haze. Damon cuffs him, then, and then returns to the bathroom for tweezers.

It doesn't take long though it feels longer than it is because of the tears running from the corners of each of Alaric's eyes, both of them, hot salty tears that burn his skin. Still he doesn't cry, not really, because it's not something Alaric does. He holds stoic, gazes at the ceiling when he doesn't keep his eyes closed. He heals fast, Damon's blood still working in his cells.

The feet take a little more time. One long sliver of glass breaks inside Alaric's foot and it takes some digging to remove, but Alaric says nothing. He flinches, a little. Distantly, Damon realises he's probably using the pain to stay present, and probably relishing it as punishment he thinks he deserves.

"Why don't you do some swearing? That generally seems to cheer you up." No response.

Damon moves to cover Alaric with the blanket again.

"Do my ankles as well."

"Ric…"

"Do it, Damon."

The ropes are soft, somewhat, and what Damon doesn't know about knots isn't worth knowing. The blanket goes on last.

...

The papers are more horrible than Damon had imagined; a manifesto, a third draft, perhaps, annotated with references to documents Alaric himself can't ever have ever had access to. The Thing in there must have a long and angry memory. Marked with handwriting which is not Alaric's untidy scrawl, block letters too neat and too precisely done. It rambles and repeats in its vitriol and at times veers into poetry, almost, terrible and beautiful. It brings to mind Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman, not in meter or skill but in fervency.

A scourge, they are, a scourge on the town and on the nation, the greatest nation on earth, now, such as she is, and such as we always knew she would be; and a scourge on the nation is a scourge on the earth. This is our first and our last line of defence and I am a bastion, leaned out and forward against the rising dark. I act in accordance -

Damon marks the page when a soft beep tells him it is tea time, again, and he can focus on other things. He steeps the tea.

Alaric's eyes are too direct, when Damon approaches the bed.

"I'm not drinking that piss, vampire."

Fuck. Going to have to increase the frequency.

"I don't care what you do. Alaric, on the other hand, is drinking it."

Alaric, or the Thing in there, closes Alaric's mouth.

Easily solved. Damon pinches Alaric's nostrils shut. The body beneath him begins to writhe, but opens its mouth, and Damon pours the tea in. He holds the mouth closed until swallowing is the only option. Alaric's body writhes horribly, pulling against the ropes around his ankles, the cuffs on his wrists. It takes two more mouthfuls before the eyes are Alaric's again, and dull, and then he drinks willingly.

Alaric nods, and sinks back against the pillows; and then shrieks, pulling. Damon is alarmed, it's alarming, the pulling.

"Cramp," Alaric says. "Oh, fuck, cramp," and he can't not pull, because a cramp demands to be pulled.

Damon reaches for the key, to let Alaric stretch and re-stretch his arm, but Alaric's eyes go wide and fearful and he pulls away. "No," he says. "It'll pass."

It doesn't, and Alaric starts to scream. A second set of muscles cramp, and Damon thinks he hears Alaric's left shoulder dislocate. A small blessing, perhaps, because the pain causes his eyes to blur and he is silent, then, as he passes out again.

There is a knock on the door, and Damon spins around like he's been shot.

Elena opens it a crack, eyes wide and wet, chin quivering. "Is he…?"

"Come here," Damon says. "It's okay. He's out."

He has never been so grateful to see anyone in his life. Well, Stefan, this morning, maybe.

Elena, shaking, schools her lips into a neat line. Tougher than she should ever have to be. She looks at the wall, the blood splatter, and Damon winces; he should have dealt with that before he sat down to read Alaric's crazy manifesto. Elena's eyes take in Alaric's bloody footprints, which must echo for her the handprints he left in her house a few weeks back, the last time he died.

"Push, or pull?"

Elena tears her eyes away from the blood. "What?"

"One of us has to push his shoulder down, and the other has to pull his arm up."

Elena chews her lip. "Is he… okay?"

"No. Push, or pull?"

She nods. "Push," she says, and because she is the bravest girl Damon knows, she crawls up onto the bed, and positions her hands over Alaric's shoulder. "How hard?"

"Hard. Harder than you think you can. Put all of your weight into it. 'Lena?"

She meets Damon's eyes. "Yeah?"

"He might wake up and start screaming," he admits. "Don't stop."

And Alaric does, and Elena doesn't, and Damon feeds him some more blood. Elena stays perched on the edge of the bed, and because she is the bravest girl Damon knows, she runs a thumb over Alaric's cheekbone. Takes a tissue and clears the tears away from his eyes.

Alaric opens his eyes, a little, and then a lot, in fear, because Elena should not be there, no matter how brave. "Damon," he says. "Get her out of here."

"You're not getting free, my friend, and neither's your passenger." Damon massages Alaric's shoulder until the blood is flowing a little better and the pain is less.

Alaric closes his eyes. "You shouldn't see me like this."

Elena takes a syringe from her purse, and smiles. "You know, Ric I have morphine," she says. "I thought you'd be happy to see me."

It's almost sweet, the way she tears open a little pack with an alcohol swab, to prevent an infection, when Alaric is as infected as he could possibly be. She hitches up his t-shirt and swabs a little spot on his hip, injects a careful dose, and puts the sheath back over the needle.

After a short moment Alaric's eyes blur again. His body relaxes utterly and is utterly Alaric's, and Elena pulls the blanket back over his body, tucks her knees under her chin.

"I can help clean up," she offers.

And they do that. Elena shouldn't have to but she wants to be close so she does it; she helps. It doesn't take that long, and if they have to sand and stain some of the wooden floorboards when this is all over, well, it won't be the first time.

At the door, they swap; another small bag of weapons, found tucked around Alaric's desk, and all the broken mirror shards, for more drugs, tranquilisers and pain killers prescribed posthumously to Bill Forbes and filled surreptitiously by Dr Meredith Fell, who had turned out not to be a bad sort, after all.

"Call," Elena says, and Damon nods.

She hesitates a moment at the door and then hugs Damon again; it's odd, all this hugging, but somehow it's about sharing long moments of strength, kicking against the dark. Damon is grateful.

...

Alaric wakes drowsy and dopey and with eyes red and burning. "I have to use the bathroom," he says, and it's safe, because he can barely keep his eyes open. Damon unties the restraints on his ankles first, listening to Alaric's heart beat even and slow, slowed even; the drugs, and their dampening effects.

Once he has washed his hands and his face he half staggers out of the bathroom, and snaps. Eyes clear and direct and determined the Thing that isn't Alaric crosses the space between their bodies like a wolf, like an owl.

In a moment, in a moment too short to be believed and also long enough for Damon to list all five hundred ways in which he is stupid beyond belief, Alaric has him on the ground, and has his thumbs hooked into Damon's eye sockets. He has enough time for a scream to build in his throat and to have caught Alaric's wrists in his hands, trying to pull him away or push him away or kill him, maybe, just end this for all of them, once and for all.

One human life, one fucking human life. A human he prefers to other humans, sure, but just a fucking human. Damon has killed, plenty. He'd grieve this one but this one has a body count of it's own that climbs as often as it has the opportunity to.

The door opens, and there is the sickening sound of something heavy against a thick skull, and Alaric's hands go slack, and he slumps against Damon's body.

Damon can't move a muscle. It's not the weight of Alaric's body on his own. It's the appalling sensation of not being able to see; it holds him to the floor along with the pain.

"Are you alright?"

Elena always sounds huskier when she is frightened.

"Tell me you've got tranquilisers. Give him a double dose."

Damon makes no move to climb out from under Alaric's still form. The sensation of his eyes healing and repairing is unpleasant and demands all of Damon's attention, but it is nearly over.

"There," Elena says. "Think he wants a lollipop?" She sounds a little manic.

Damon pushes Alaric of himself, not gently. There's only so much you can really take. He nearly enjoys the sound of Alaric's head thumping against the wooden boards. "Think he wants tea. Tell me you have herbs."

Elena fetches a wet cloth for Damon to wash the blood from his eyes and he can see again, and if everything looks a little red, well, just now everything is a little red.

Elena passes handcuffs. It's sort of sweet. Damon cuffs Alaric to the closest leg of the bed.

Damon shakes Alaric, hard. "Wake up, ugly." Alaric doesn't stir.

Silently, Elena and Damon change the sheets. Blood has soaked into the mattress but that can't be helped and besides, it's probably not done with. Damon will buy him a new one, if this all comes out the way it must. Damon lifts Alaric carefully onto the bed, trying not to think about the way his eyes just don't open.

Elena handcuffs Alaric's wrists to the head board while Damon knots his ankles to the foot board. Silently, Elena prepares tea, while Damon finds more blankets.

Without a thought to Elena in the kitchen watching carefully, Damon leans to drop a kiss on Alaric's mouth. Tells himself Alaric kisses him back, a little, in the way he sometimes does when he's not quite asleep, but not yet awake.

Elena brings the tea without comment. It's actually easier to make him drink, this way. The body swallows when the mouth fills with liquid, automatically.

Elena microwaves blood, swaps the empty mug for the full one, all without comment. Produces a bottle of bourbon, too, and Damon drinks deeply; exhausted as he is he could drain both Elena and Alaric dry, and taking the edge off the cravings sounds like a good idea.

Elena draws a chair up beside Damon's. Damon watches Alaric sleep and Elena browses the manifesto.

"This doesn't sound like Alaric," she says at last.

"Yeah? What tipped you off? The anti-vampire rhetoric, or the assertion that people who know vampires and don't kill them are just as bad?"

Elena frowns. "Don't be an ass, Damon." She drops the bundle of papers in his lap. "I mean even if he thought those things that's not how he would say them. It reads like one of Reverend Fell's bi-annual apocalypse sermons."

Damon grunts.

"Is it his mind?... Or is it his brain?"

Elena watches Alaric's face, his chest slowly rising and falling.

"Isn't it the same thing?"

"I just mean…" Elena turns to Damon then, and like it's something she's rehearsed, she speaks; "I just mean, what if you turned him? Couldn't that fix him? I mean, you wake up better, right? All the physical damage, anyway. I…"

"No."

Alaric's voice is weak and shaky.

Damon leans closer to the bed. "That you?"

"It's me. And no. Everything's heightened, right? You want this… thing stronger than it is now? It's stronger than me. It might be stronger than you, Damon."

Elena looks defeated.

"I have a better idea." Alaric shifts, winces. Opens his eyes.

"Anything's better than what we've got now," Elena says. Stupid thing to say. Things can always be worse.

"Kill me," Alaric says. "Kill me before I can kill anyone else."

Damon and Elena both lean back against their chairs. There is a long silence and when it is broken it is broken by the same thought and the same words dropping from three sets of lips.

"Fucking martyr," is what they all say. And then Elena makes more tea, and when it has been drunk, she goes home again.

...

"I need a lot more herbs. A lot more." Damon paces, on the phone, and doesn't look at the grinning Thing on the bed that is definitely not Alaric.

Bonnie groans. "I'm exhausted. You know I'm growing these things with magic, right? My nose has barely stopped bleeding in two days. Can't you ration the tea out a little?"

"No. I can't. Do what you have to. Call Lucy. Call anyone." He stalks and won't meet Alaric's eyes because they are not Alaric's eyes. "Fuck, Bonnie." Those three syllables, they contain all the energy Damon has left, which is not much.

She is silent a long beat. "I'll figure something out."

A significant amount of tea is wasted when the Thing that is not Alaric snaps and almost tips the bed over in a vicious roll of his body, tearing at the restraints. A second mug is not wasted, because Alaric is so full of tranquilisers when it is brought to his lips that it doesn't occur to him to resist.

...

It might be day four, and it might be day five, and Elena is there, with herbs, with drugs, with blood bags.

The Thing that isn't Alaric has spent the last hour or more reciting parts of his manifesto, correcting it, making it worse and worse, like Damon should be making notations on the original text. He laughs, sometimes, and there is all too much joy in it.

"I think that was rather poetic, don't you? The part about the cleansing fire?" It is hardly Alaric's voice, bears no trace of his intonation. The accent is a hundred years old and change. "Are you taking notes? You have a lot to learn, vampire."

Damon ignores it. The voice and the Thing it comes out of. It just talks and talks, agreeably. It doesn't buck against the restraints. It seems to have decided to play the waiting game.

Elena prepares tea and ignores the voice too, just as determined, and Damon injects a double dose of haloperidol. Alaric burns through it faster each day. He's not quite asleep, and accepts the tea readily. Alaric, then, again.

"Can't believe you're letting her see this," he slurs. "She's a kid, Damon."

"Haven't been a kid in a while, Ric. And you're my family. Haven't got much left." Elena holds Alaric's hand, where it rests against the pillow, and he lets her.

Damon sips at a warm mug of blood laced with bourbon. Inspired, he stands and raises the bottle to Alaric's lips. Alaric drinks gratefully.

"Do you remember stabbing yourself, Ric?" It is Elena who asks. Damon does and doesn't want to hear the answer.

Alaric is silent as the grave and more silent than that even. "No," he says at last, and follows it up with "but I remember wanting to."

When Alaric is asleep again, Elena brings the papers both she and Damon have been studiously ignoring. The manifesto had seemed like quite enough to be getting on with, but there is the matter of the hit list to deal with.

Page one is a list of every council member. The highlighted names are those who are compromised. Highlighted and crossed out; Brian Walters. William Forbes. Partially scratched out is Alaric's own name, as if the Thing couldn't decide if it had done what it needed to or not, or if it even should. Other highlighted names; Carol Lockwood. Elizabeth Forbes. Damon Salvatore. Meredith Fell, hastily scrawled and highlighted after Brian's name was crossed off, when she took his place in the secret circle (both of them, the smaller circle within the larger; there was, of course, the council that was, and the council within that, compromised).

Page two bears an ugly masthead: Collaborators.

It means something, 'collaborator'. It is prettied up at times, when academics profess to collaborate across universities and disciplines, when artists collaborate to create new and revolutionary art forms. But it means something older. It means you have given aid to the enemy. It means you will stand up when it is your day in court and say you had no choice; that circumstances conspired. It means that, too, conspiring, means conspiracy; means swapping secrets and deciding that some battles are worth fighting and others aren't. Means you can convince yourself that you are acting in the interests of the Greater Good, when in reality, you are soothing the enemy's brow and bringing him the best cut of meat.

But the names. Humans and vampires both.

Elena Gilbert (underlined twice). Stefan Salvatore. Caroline Forbes. Bonnie Bennett. Matthew Donovan. Tyler Lockwood. Abigail Bennett. Some names which surprise even Damon, mixed with names he doesn't recognise at all. All the Mikaelsons, and that shouldn't make Damon laugh, but it does. Really? The Thing is more ambitious – and more arrogant – than Damon would have imagined. A Fell Damon doesn't think he knows but Meredith must.

"Why did he stab himself?"

Damon has almost forgotten Elena is there.

"Take your pick. He knows what I am. Didn't kill me. Fell in love, instead. Not his plan. Not my plan, either, but you know what they say about making God laugh."

Elena is silent again, but she rests a small, warm hand on Damon's arm.

"You can't stay here," Damon says. "I can barely fight him off. If he gets at you, you're dead. And you…"

Elena waits, silent, but Damon can smell her tears.

"You have to find out what's going on with Jeremy."

At the door, Elena pauses. "You'll call?"

Damon nods. "If there's a reason to."

"Even if there isn't."

...

When the tea runs out again everything gets worse. The Thing that isn't Alaric seems to have decided it can't get free and can only hurt itself, if it keeps trying to. So it speaks, instead.

"You are six different kinds of disgusting," it says, in voice and cadence too much like Alaric's. "Not me, though. I'm only five different kinds of disgusting because I may be fucked up, but I don't drink blood."

Damon stands with his arms crossed. "Blah, blah, blah. Sure you do. You've done it twice this week."

"No, not quite." The narrowing of the eyes and the tilt to the head is almost all Alaric, almost. "You forced me to. That's different."

Damon ignores him, paces instead. Wonders about stitching Alaric's mouth shut for now, since there's no tea to put in it anyway.

"Maybe you don't really know, or care, about the difference. You're a mass murderer and a rapist. You don't think twice about forcing someone to do something they don't want to." The voice may be Alaric's but the accompanying grin is not. "Bet you're missing that. Been missing that for a while."

Damon doesn't argue, just paces.

"Rapist. You probably like to think of it differently, right? You're a predator, Damon. You need the blood. You don't need the sex. You just take it, because you can. Because you're stronger than whatever human is screaming beneath you."

Damon paces.

"Not going to argue?" Alaric cocks his head.

"Is it you?" Damon asks at last and he does and doesn't want to hear the answer, equally.

"Good question. Does it sound like me?"

"You've never said this before." Damon's voice sounds weak. Damon himself sounds weak. Exhausted. "But you've never asked me to kill you before, either. So. Hard to know."

"Never called you a rapist? Never called you a murderer?" Damon says nothing. "I may not be Mystic Falls' moral compass, but you have to know I hate myself for the things I let you do to me."

Damon sits at the desk and tries to read some papers. The words blur so he warms some blood in the microwave, instead, before returning to settle in.

"Hey – Damon?" Damon doesn't look over but he turns his face towards the voice, a little. "You think Alaric lets you fuck him because he thinks he's protecting all the other Carolines in Mystic Falls? The other Vickis? There are plenty. No," he says, considering. "Bet he thinks he's protecting Elena."

"And again, I say, blah blah blah. You want me to get Stefan in here? He could teach you a lot about psychological torture. He's a lot better at it than you are." His voice is calm, cold. He hopes the Thing that isn't Alaric can't hear his heart beat against his ribs like something trying to get free. He'd probably say he forced his heart, there in his chest to beat that way.

"I think that's why," the Thing says, agreeably. "Trying to keep you distracted."

...

Lazy Sunday mornings in bed. Snatched moments in dark corners of the Lockwood mansion at Founders' Day events. Making out like teenagers on the couch in front of the fire at the boarding house.

The time, driving home from Tennessee, after the horror of finding the body Stefan had tried to put back together. Alaric had driven them off the road in the middle of nowhere without a word. Damon had known, understood. They'd met on the back seat and Alaric had pushed Damon into the upholstery and they had undressed themselves instead of each other, for the sake of efficiency and urgency. Alaric had taken scarcely a moment to ready him before taking him hard. Damon's head hit the arm rest in the back seat, over and over. They hadn't kissed, during, but after, they had. Soft kisses and biting ones. They didn't speak a word about Stefan. It was just the two of them off the side of the highway a million miles from Mystic Falls.

There was no pity in any of it and nothing less than absolute want on Alaric's face, at any moment, ever. Which meant Alaric knew who he was and accepted it.

Damon swore if they got through this he'd spend the rest of his life and Alaric's proving he was this, and not the other thing.

If they got through it.

...

Haloperidol keeps Alaric asleep for a while and Damon sits on the edge of the bed, considering.

Alaric has lost weight, in just a few days. His face looks a little gaunt, but as hard as it had been to convince him to drink the tea, it was impossible to force him to eat, and Damon didn't have the stomach for it.

Alaric has bruises and chafing around his wrists, and probably around his ankles, but Damon doesn't check them. Instead, he reaches for Alaric's face. Traces the dips and planes with elegant, exploratory fingers. Alaric stirs, and Damon leans to kiss his mouth.

The Thing that isn't Alaric comes awake all at once, and begins to snarl and snap beneath him. "Get away from me, vampire," it threatens. Still, hard to feel threatened by something so effectively immobilised, so whatever.

"No," Damon answers, and straddles the body on the bed. Alaric's body, no matter who is in it. He runs his fingers over Alaric's ribs, over his chest.

"Damon. Get the fuck off me."

Damon is starting to hear the difference, now; this is still the Thing. The look on Alaric's face isn't fear for what damage he might do; it's disgust, and that's not Alaric.

"No," he says again, and reaches up under Alaric's t-shirt, fingers fluttering gently across all the places that he knows make Alaric moan. The struggling increases, and Damon silently hopes Alaric won't break any more bones. So fragile, humans. Even the strong ones.

Slowly, over a few moments, and then all at once, it changes. Alaric's breath hitches in his throat and his body rises in an arc towards Damon's. His eyes, which had been first angry and focussed, then scrunched shut against the feeling of Damon's hands, relax and flutter open. Pupils wide.

"Damon…"

Alaric's voice is weak. Damon shifts so their lips nearly meet. "Is that you?"

Alaric nods. "'s'me, he promises.

"Good. I'll take the cuffs off." It's a test. Alaric passes, recoils, shaking his head.

"No. I'm… It's still here," he says.

"I haven't seen you for days, I don't think." Damon hopes his voice is as calm as he needs it to be. "We're out of tea. Bonnie's out of juice. She's been growing the stuff by sheer force of will. I'll have to remember to do something nice for her. Sorry I killed your mom, thanks for helping my boyfriend."

Alaric shakes his head. "You can't keep doing this. Any of you. Not for me."

Damon shuts Alaric up the only way he can think to, by covering his mouth and swallowing his words. Alaric kisses back, pushing up off the pillows against Damon's mouth, fiercely hanging on to the world. He whimpers and groans, and forgets three times a second that he can't put his arms around Damon. Tries, anyhow.

"Do you know who it is?" Damon asks. "What it is?"

Alaric shakes his head, rolling his body again as Damon pushes him into the mattress. He looks more tired than Damon has ever seen him, but alert, awake, engaged, too. Not scared.

"It doesn't like me, much. No one does, really. Shouldn't be surprised. Particularly full of vitriol, though. Don't think it likes you much, either, or the things we do when we do our thing."

"Well, it's stabbed us both. Some people are just haters." Alaric moans, as Damon grinds the heel of his hand against the rapidly expanding bulge in his pants. "Homophobic, you think? Or is it the interspecies thing?" And then he's incoherent, as Damon unzips his pants, shoves the fabric aside just enough to get a good, firm grip.

"Maybe both. It has a little Old Testament zeal. I'm prepared to fuck you and then just keep fucking you, if you think it'll keep it at bay," Damon promises, though they both know this isn't an option, more's the pity. "Ric. We have to keep you here. I need you. Elena needs you."

Alaric shakes his head, even as he fucks up into Damon's grip. "Should kill me. Soon, now. Yesterday. While I'm here, and I know you've…" Damon changes his grip, changes his rhythm. "I'm a… fucking… liability," he says, but Damon swallows the words again, expertly twisting and kneading until Alaric comes, hard, relieved, his face slack. Eyes twitching.

Courteous, unusually so, Damon cleans him up, first with his tongue, and then a Kleenex.

"Still there?"

Alaric opens his eyes again. Haunted. He nods. "Still here. No idea how long for."

It's an unusual sort of night so Damon drops to the side, moulds his body around Alaric's. Rests his head on Alaric's chest. Feels Alaric turn his head to kiss his forehead.

"Damon?"

The question is an inevitable one, but Damon wishes he wouldn't give it voice.

"Can you do it? If you have to?"

Damon is silent a long time. "If I have to. I'll do it."

"Promise."

Damon reaches across Alaric's body, ghosts his hand over the scars that lie one atop the other, a year of gentle bites into Alaric's hip. No. Never forced, and never unwanted. All Damon's needed, all he's ever wanted. To be wanted and loved back.

"I promise. Shut up. Don't sleep," he adds. "If it comes back, I'll sedate you. Just stay, while you're here."

Their bodies speak the things their voices can't, nestled together.

"I've always wanted to tie you up," Damon says, making them who they are again. "Never got around to it. Never thought it would be like this, though." Says it all airily, like it's not an unusual night. Like it's any Thursday.

"You've had me tied up for a year, Damon. Tethered."

Damon can hear the smile in Alaric's voice.

Some time after that, the Thing that isn't Alaric starts to snarl again, and Damon knocks it out with two syringes; but after, he returns to curl against Alaric's body and sleep a while.

...

Damon is woken when the door opens. Elena, again. He lifts his head from Alaric's chest, sits up quickly.

"What are you doing here?"

Elena shoots him a withering look. "Bonnie came through." Damon sees, then. Elena carries two large shopping bags. "Turns out witches are pretty good at networking. The packages started arriving this morning."

Elena dumps them out on the table and even through the packaging, Damon can smell the herbs, all they need, plenty. Damon's heart doesn't soar because that is not the sort of thing Damon's heart does; but if it was, that's what it would be doing, soaring.

In silence, they measure and weigh and chop and as soon as there is enough to brew, Elena follows Bonnie's meticulous instructions, boils the water, lets it drop to the correct temperature, and begins to steep the roughly chopped leaves.

Damon spends a long moment coaxing Alaric's mouth open, forcing the bitter brew down until a familiar dull exhaustion returns to Alaric's face.

Alaric nods. Winces, when he sees Elena, but gives her a small smile, also. And slips back into a restless sleep.

"How long can you do this for?"

Elena rubs circles into Damon's shoulders.

The answers come thick and fast. Forever. For exactly one more minute. Until he breaks free and kills us both.

"Long as I have to," Damon says. Honestly, he hopes.

It's not a real answer, but it's what he has for now.