A/N: I should probably call this the "Alaric Saltzman Appreciation Story". Rewatching the episodes from last season I was very annoyed about the lack of reaction from Alaric to almost everything that happened. Jenna dies and all we get is a shocked face, a shake of his head on the funeral and a red rose. Not to mention that he never showed the the smallest reaction to having been possessed by Klaus or... 100 other things that happened back then. So I wrote this. Originally, this was supposed to be the beginning of the Big Bang I'm working on right now (will be posted in May), and it is, but it's also a standalone story, just like the Big Bang can be read on its own. It is an alternate universe setting (though it follows canon pretty closely), and that means I changed a few canon scenes that just didn't make any sense. Keep that in mind, please!

There is one person who made this story possible, and that person is pleasebekidding. I owe her so much for this, she did the beta, she made sure I wouldn't freak out (for long), she helped me A LOT with the setting and the characters and everything. Without her this would still be just an idea in my head, thank you so much, hun, for getting it out of there. I owe you, I can't make enough paella for everything you've done for me. Thank you!

Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognize. Title and chapter-names are taken from "Cosmic Love" by Florence and the Machine.

Warning: canon character death


You left me in the dark

One moment he isn't—and then he is.

Everything comes crashing back like a wave, dragging him under immediately, striking him dizzy.

Alaric's awake, he's aware—he's in pain.

He's upright, standing, watching, breathing. Alive.

He's looking up—and then he's looking across the room.

A familiar face swims into view, long, dark curls framing a beautiful face, dark eyes, looking haunted—curious—terrified.

"Elena," he hears his voice say and he sounds surprised. Maybe he is, he can't tell.

The brown eyes widen—and his body realizes it doesn't remember how to stay upright. His knees give in and the world tilts to the side. The floor rushes up to meet him, crashing against his head, stunning him further. Reality dims, goes fuzzy around the edges. There are voices somewhere, far, far away, but he doesn't understand what they're saying. Doesn't really care.

The floorboards are cold against Alaric's skin. His back is hurting, his fingers tingle uncomfortably. There's blood in his mouth. He's drifting—and, at the same time, he's wide awake, shaking with the images-thoughts-sounds assaulting him from everywhereat once.

Footsteps. Voices. Light chasing shadows, flickering across his senses. The smell of candles. Fire. His skin is burning.

Slowly, very slowly, his body and reality become friends again, synchronize again, so that, when he takes a shuddering breath, he can feel the air rush into his lungs. Wood scrapes against his skin as he moves his head slightly and when he opens his eyes there are black boots, inches from his face. Before his instincts can decide if they want him to flinch back or close his eyes, his head is yanked up—

Eyes. Cold, hard, determined, staring into his soul. Blue irises contract slightly and what little there is of his will crumbles beneath their weight.

"You cannot leave this place."

The hand lets go of his hair and he drops to the floor like some old toy that has just been replaced by something new, something shiny. He can't move, watching the shoes walk away through blurry eyes. A thought dances across his mind, lingers long enough to grasp it.

Who are you?

There is no answer and, for a moment, he almost feels sad about that.

Silence, finally, the presence pressing against Alaric's senses from the moment he opened his eyes is gone. He can rest now—and he slumps, body crumbling to the floor, his limbs getting so heavy it feels like they sink into the wood beneath him. He blinks slowly, watching his hand twitch where it lies next to his aching head. Something is wrong about the movement, about the hand. It's not his, not his hand. Which is wrong, because it is, it is his hand, there's the ring and the scar from when he almost cut off his finger slicing vegetables and—and still...

It's wrong.

Alaric is tired. Like he's been awake for days, without rest, doing things he can't remember. Like he's just come home from a long journey and everything feels strange and new and out of place and he has to get used to it again. Like he wants to sleep for a week and his body is trying to pull him down, get him to rest—but he can't, he can't, because he's just woken up and he has no idea what's going on and if he falls asleep, now, maybe he won't ever wake up again.

It's happened before, he remembers now, it's how he ended up here, on the floor, in his own loft with no idea of how he got here. With strangers roaming his place like it's the most natural thing in the world. Far, far away, in a very remote part of his head he can hear a voice and it's screaming at him, begging him to get up, to fight, to do… something, but it gets lost over the rushing in his ears and that thick blanket of exhaustion that's pushing him under, no matter how much he struggles against it.

And then he stops—stops thinking, stops struggling, stops caring—because his eyes refuse to stay open any longer, because his body suddenly just gives in and he stumbles headfirst into a dark hole, one panicked, desperate thought following him into oblivion.

Please let me wake up again.

~~.~~

There are sounds, sounds Alaric can't place brushing insistently against his mind. He tries to ignore them at first, but they refuse to be pushed aside and when he finally gives up fighting against them he's too awake to fall asleep again.

Someone close to him is talking agitatedly, speaking too fast for him to follow. He gingerly turns his head into the direction of the voice and slowly opens his eyes, blinking. He's lying on something hard, uncomfortable, something that smells of wood and blood. It's cold—he'scold, and his chest hurts.

"I thought you were dead."

The voice is familiar, but the tone is all wrong, more like a bored sneer than the friendly greeting he would expect from it. Blinking his eyes a few times to clear his sight, Alaric is finally able to make out more than a few blurry shapes.

Elena is sitting—lounging on a couch nearby, feet drawn up beneath her, holding a remote control pointed at a TV, flipping through the channels. After a moment Alaric realizes that the voices he heard earlier came from the TV. And that it's his TV and his couch and also hisroom she's sitting in. Which means he's lying on his floor… and no part of this makes any kind of sense.

"What are you doing here?" His voice is raw and low and it takes real effort to get the words out.

Elena flips her long curls to the side and narrows her eyes a little, studying him intently. Her body language is all wrong, she's too… aware of herself, moving slowly, almost seductively—not at all like the teenager she is. He's missing something, something important, but his reality is too fuzzy to put his finger on it.

Elena doesn't answer. Instead, she gets off the couch and walks over to him—and his breath catches in his throat when she suddenly drops to all fours to the floor and starts crawlingtoward him, moving like a feline predator who's stalking her prey.

Him.

It's not Elena.

"Katherine," he breathes, and her face lights up with a smile. A false smile; her eyes stay as sharp and calculating as a big cat's, seconds before the kill.

"Took you long enough."

Run, the tiny voice starts screaming somewhere in his head, run, get away from her, get your ass up, get moving, now—but he can't, he can'tmove and his heart starts racing because she's going to snap him up like a between-meal snack. Pick him up, drain him dry and leave him behind like a blood bag—

But then she stops advancing. Wrinkles her nose, curls her lips into a sneer. "Take a shower. You stink."

And, just like that, she's back on the couch, leaning back against the cushions as if she'd been there in front of him. Too fast for his dizzy brain, he stares at the empty space, tries to get his thoughts together, to finally make sense of what he's seeing.

What am I doing here? What happened? Where is everybody? Who is the guy with the eyes—all those questions lay on the tip of Alaric's tongue, but what comes out eventually is, "What happened to my place?"

Because it's a mess, the covers on his bed rumpled, pushed to the side, candles on the floor next to him, some tipped over, empty bottles everywhere, strange suitcases blocking the way to the kitchen, the counter a mess of papers, pizza boxes and empty plates—

A mess.

Katherine—notElena—flips her head back, laughing.

"You're cute," she says. "I see why Isobel insisted you were off limits."

Isobel.

A stake through the heart would have been kinder.

Alaric's world—what little has been begun to make sense again—crashes to a complete, shuddering stop. Almost immediately, she's there, her voice, her face, her smile… I loved you so much… Isobel standing next to a car, looking up at him, smiling, but her eyes sad, haunted. I don't want to do what I have to do without you knowing how much I loved you… and I did… It feels like he's drowning, going under, buried beneath a mountain of feelings that threatens to crush him. Emotions he has long believed he'd dealt with return to the surface, mocking him, calling out to him, anger, pain, denial, longing—desire—

"Isobel," he mutters hoarsely, head reeling.

Katherine is watching him, a frown furrowing her brow. "Did he damage anything in your head? You seem awfully slow."

"What?"

"Klaus. When he borrowed your sexy body, did he damage something? Your brain, perhaps?"

"Borrowed my—what are you talking about?"

Katherine gives an exaggerated sigh and folds her arms in front of her chest, staring down at him. "He really did a number on you." She shakes her head, sighs again. "Let's just say you haven't been yourself for the past days. Klaus took your body for a joyride."

He doesn't remember any of that. There's Isobel talking, telling him she loved him—he's all yours—and his head explodes with pain—voices—a metallic taste in his throat—

And then he's looking at Ele—Katherine and his world tilts to the side…

He's lost.

"Take a shower," Katherine says again.

She's right, he should, he should do—something. And he really, really wants a shower. Some privacy. A moment to himself.

It takes time, a lot longer than it should. Sitting up—and then staying on his feet has never been so difficult. It takes all of Alaric's concentration; once he's moving he has to hang onto every available piece of furniture along the way to the bathroom. Katherine is watching him, eyebrows raised, following his stumbling progress with an amused grin.

"I could help you in there," she purrs, once he's reached the door. "Want me to wash your back?"

When the door clicks shut behind him, finally shielding him from the big question mark that has become his reality, Alaric sinks against the wall next to it, suddenly unable to stay on his feet any longer. He's shaking, partly from exhaustion, partly from stress.

Partly from something he can't even begin to identify.

Alaric's skin is tingling, like there are thousands of ants crawling over him. He thinks about what Katherine told him, that Klaus… possessed him, that he used him—his body. Tries to imagine what he—Klaus could have done. Did he—Klaus hurt anyone while wearing his face? Did someone die, thinking Alaric killed them, was his face the last thing someone saw before hishands murdered them?

Alaric barely makes it to the toilet in time, going to his knees in front of it. He starts dry-heaving, fingers clenching on the cold porcelain as his stomach rebels—but nothing comes up. He gets to his feet and stumbles over to the mirror, steeling himself for whatever he might find looking back at him.

Actually, he looks… pretty normal. A little sick—pale(not vampire-pale) with dark rings under his eyes. A lot confused and wary (like someone has just told him he's been possessed recently). He doesn't have fangs (he checks) and there are no dark veins spider-webbing across his skin—he's definitely not a vampire.

Which… is a great relief, but doesn't really help him.

The desire to take a shower becomes unbearable.

Alaric shrugs out of his clothes, thinks distractedly that he hasn't seen this shirt in ages—and tries not to freak out at the realization that he hasn't dressed himself. The hot water almost burns his skin off, but he welcomes that sensation, revels in the fact that he can finally feel something other than the numbing confusion and fearthat have plagued him ever since he has opened his eyes. When he reaches for the soap he finds his ring missing—and panics for a moment, until he remembers the fight with John Gilbert. How he had taken off the ring and given it back so that the dick would leave Jenna alone. He knows where the ring is, but its absence leaves him feeling even more vulnerable than before.

Alaric draws the shower out until he feels at least a little more comfortable, like his body might belong to himself again, until some sense of self returns and he remembers his own name again. He hasn't taken new clothes with him into the shower and has to go out half-naked, with only a towel wrapped around his waist.

Katherine is standing at the open fridge, reaching for a blood bag when he comes out. She looks at him over her shoulder—and her grin instantly becomes flirty, calculating. False. "Yummy," she purrs and puts the blood bag back into the fridge without looking, smacking it close with a determined swing of her hips. "Don't you look biteable right now."

Alaric ignores her, focuses on his wardrobe, pulls out a random shirt, jeans—and almost stumbles headfirst into the rack when a female body presses against his back. Katherine leans into him, cool hands skimming across his chest as she whispers against his skin, "You smell nice now," and licks across his shoulder, just the barest hint of sharp fangs—

He whirls around, pushes her off, unable to hold back the strange sound that is building in his throat, a noise that sounds vicious, even—especiallyto his own ears. And takes himself—both of them—completely by surprise.

"Get awayfrom me!"

Katherine stares at him from where she has fallen next to the foot of the bed, but her shock only lasts for a second; she moves so fast Alaric barely sees her, crashing him against the open door of the wardrobe with such force he can't hold back a yelp of pain.

"You like it rough, huh?" she breathes against his lips, her eyes, furious, staring into his, a challenge—and a warning. "You should have told me earlier, we could have had so much funalready…" She leans into him, pulling his bottom lip between her teeth, while one of her hand wanders down his chest, to the towel that has somehow not fallen to the floor…

Alaric catches her wrist before she can pull it away, struggling to get away from her, but she is so strong, easily keeping him pinned against the wood. "Why so shy, Ric," she whispers against his throat and her breath, so close to his neck, freezes him, makes it impossible for him to move. "I haven't had anything worthwhile to eat in a very long time…"

There is a soft sound, barely audible over the panicked rushing in his ears, like some crackling and a hissand her eyes darken and he doesn't know how, but the next moment their positions are reversed, he is pinning her against the door, one hand at her throat, eyes fixed on her fangs.

"Stay the fuckaway from me," he snarls, surprised when his voice comes out sounding as pissed as he actually feels, even though he's shaking so hard on the inside he can barely keep on his feet.

Katherine's eyes flare dangerously and Alaric briefly imagines himself lying on his bed, his throat torn and bloody, eyes open, staring sightlessly ahead, but suddenly there's a noise at the door and a voice, impatient and angry.

"What's going on here?"

The change in Katherine's body is instant, her face snaps back to normal and her eyes go wide—and then she steps behind Alaric, takes coverbehind him. Alaric turns to look at the owner of the voice…

And finds a stranger standing in his apartment.

The man is wearing dark clothes and an arrogant smirk. Alaric has never seen him before; the face isn't familiar, the amused glint in his eyes doesn't ring a bell. The stranger is standing there in the open door like he owns the place, like he lives here, has every right to be here. Alaric is pretty sure he doesn't, is positive he would remember that face—that arrogance…

And yet, it feels like something he has been missing has just clicked into place. That man is family, is close to him, feels like his best friend and a brother all rolled into one, like they've known each other for years and spent their whole lives together. He even knows his name without having to think about it.

And that? Fucking terrifies him.

"I leave you alone for a few hours and you're already all over each other?" The man—Klaus—starts walking toward the counter in the kitchen, watching them, amused. "I thought you preferred your women alive and breathing, Ric…"

He says it like it's a private joke between them, like they've been out together for years, sharing drinks and stories of lost loves. Drinking buddies, best friends—

It's wrong, it has never happened, it's a trick, some after-effect of whatever magic had been put on him. He knows it, he feelsit, every inch of his body is screaming at him to move, to do something to end this farce.

Alaric considers himself a brave man, he's hunted and killed vampires before, he never backs down from them—or anyone, but especiallynot from a bloodsucker. He has stood up to an Original before and ended up daggering him, pulling him out of the game, however briefly. He's too brave, at times, maybe even stupid, got himself killed once because he didn't know when to quit. He's no stranger to fear, but he's never hesitated; never thought twice about doing what needed to be done.

Right now? He's scared. Intimidated. Couldn't move an inch to save his life. There's something about this man, about how he holds himself, how he looks at Alaric, keeping him pinned to where he is standing with only a look—he has no idea why, but whatever this is, it demands… respect.

Alaric does something he's never done before, he takes a step back and keeps quiet, does not demand to be told what's happening, even though he's dying to find out. It seems like the right thing to do, the only sensible thing to do. He doesn't know if Klaus is aware of his inner conflict, but the moment Alaric backs away, Klaus's smile deepens and he leans against the counter.

"Katerina."

Katherine shifts, appears next to him, her body poised to flight. She doesn't speak, only looks at Klaus, her face closed off and controlled, but Alaric sees that she's trembling ever so slightly.

If Klaus notices, he doesn't show it. "Why don't you step aside and let Alaric and I have a conversation between… friends."

We are not friends, Alaric wants to say, but he just can't open his mouth, and before he can so much as take a breath there's movement next to him and Katherine is just gone—

—and the next moment he's crowded against the wardrobe, again, this time by Klaus, who's staring at him intensely, until everything he sees are blue eyes. The last thing he is aware of is a voice, speaking close to his ear and inside his mind at the same time.

"I have a message for you to deliver."

~~.~~

Alaric arrives at the boarding house with no recollection of how he actually got there.

For just a moment he feels out of place—again— as if Klaus took over his body—again—and set him free once he reached the main door. He slows to a stop, shakes his head, looks behind him to see a familiar street leading up to the vampire haven—and figures he must have walked here. From his own apartment. Which is quite a long walk. His feet hurt and he's tired, or, more like exhausted

He has a message to deliver.

Alaric walks up the driveway, letting his tired gaze wander across the different cars, then focuses on the front door.

He has a message to deliver.

He doesn't knock, doesn't ring the doorbell, he simply opens the door and steps inside.

There's movement, a shadow somewhere in front of him, the sound of shoes—high heels—and just a second later he's staring down the business end of a crossbow aimed at his heart, complete with Jenna glaring at him over it, looking mad enough to shoot him right where he stands.

"What are you doing here?"

He's never heard her speak with so much venom in her voice and immediately he raises his hands, trying to calm her down.

"Jenna, wait—"

Jenna raises the crossbow a little to point it at his head, her voice cold and determined.

"Stay where you are."

He can't help it, he takes a step back and looks at her, confused, shocked, actually, that she would point a weapon at him.

And then he gets it, she isn't seeing him but someone else.

Klaus.

He swallows thickly, doesn't really know what to do for a moment.

"Jenna, it's me, okay? It's me—"

Suddenly there are people, Elena, Stefan, Damon, rushing up the hallway, staring at him, expressions dark, hostile. Angry.

Alaric takes another step back. "It's me," he says again, hoping they will at least let him finish. "It's me, Klaus let me go, okay? He let me go…"

"Prove it, " Damon says.

Alaric can't take his eyes off Jenna, off her furious frown, the way she stares at him, all angry, ready to killhim. He wracks his brain, tries to come up with something, something she would know, only she could remember—and grabs the first thing that comes to his mind.

"The first night you and I were together, Jeremy walked in on us—"

"It's him!" She cuts him off before he can finish his sentence. "It's him."

Jenna lowers the crossbow—doesn't put it away—and he turns, but no matter who he looks at, he still feels like one wrong move could set any of them off.

"What are you doing here?"

It's like a flip in his head has been switched, as soon as he hears Elena's voice he turns to look at her, can't take his eyes off her. Dimly he thinks that she doesn't look like Katherine at all, wonders for a moment how he could have confused them. "Klaus set me free to deliver a message; he wants me to tell you that the ritual will take place tonight."

Elena's eyes widen in shock and someone close to him makes a hissing sound, but he can't tell who. Then she turns and walks away from him—and he feels like some spell has been broken, like a curtain has been lifted and his senses are no longer dulled. He blinks, confused, hasn't realized before that something was different.

Alaric turns back to look at Jenna—and is shocked to find her face closed off, the crossbow still half-raised. As if she's still thinking about using it.

And then she turns, walks away without a word, just like Elena. And Stefan. Until he is left with Damon standing somewhere to his left and Elijah at the other end of the hallway. Looking at him, staringat him, with the same curious expression he's always wearing—and something more, something that makes the hair at the back of his neck stand up.

Elijah shouldn't be here, shouldn't be 'alive' and kicking, the last time he'd seen the Original they'd carried his daggered body into the dungeon. After Alaric had driven the dagger that would have killed Damon had he had thrust it into the older vampire's heart. It had seemed like the only reasonable thing to do, back then, but, right now—Alaric suddenly wishes he was somewhere else. He is about to look to his left where Damon is hovering just outside his line of sight, when Elijah takes a slow, measured step toward him.

"If you don't have any objections, I would like to have a look at you, Alaric."

To be fair, it doesn't exactly sound as if he is going to snap his neck, but Alaric takes a step back, hands clenching nervously at his side.

"Why?" He hates how his voice wavers, just a bit, hates how scared he feels with the Original's attention focused on him this intently.

There is a blur of movement—and Elijah is standing right in front of him, staring into his eyes, fixing him with that look alone. A look that is becoming all too familiar by now. "I want to make sure my brother didn't plant any suggestions in your head to… wreak a little havoc amongst your friends. Surely you agree to this precaution?"

Nonono, no more vampires in my head— He winces at that thought, feels his heart skip a beat, acutely aware of Elijah being able to sense—hearhis fear. Behind the Original, Damon steps out into the hallway, staring at Alaric with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. Alaric has no choice, if he wants to stay there—and he does, he doesn't want to leave, doesn't want to be alone— he has to agree to this, to having yet another person mess around with his mind. He takes a deep breath and nods.

"Okay, do it—"

He has barely got the words out, when Elijah's pupils contract. "Relax…"

Alaric sinks against the door behind him—and reality blurs, becomes muted. He hears Elijah's voice, talking to him—he knowsthe vampire is talking to him—and yet he can't understand a word he's saying, Elijah sounds as if he is speaking underwater. What's even worse is that he feels himself answer, feels his lips move, form words he doesn't hear, can't make out.

It doesn't last long, thankfully, reality suddenly snaps back, sharp as ever, and Elijah takes a step back.
"It appears you are clean."

He wants to feel relieved—but he can't, all that gets out is a nervous grin. "That's good, right? That he didn't put anything in there?"

Elijah and Damon share a weird look, then Elijah nods and turns, starts walking toward the living-room. Damon is still looking at him, tense, something is bothering him, but before Alaric can say anything, Damon steps closer.

"Are you okay?"

He's staring at him, with that intense look that he has. Alaric almost flinches back, doesn't want to be looked at like that again, has enough of it—But it's Damon, it's how he always looks, he's not about to compel him, to make him do things against his will. Alaric forces himself to relax a little. Lie. Buy himself a few moments to think.

"I'm fine… Damon, what happened?"

Damon looks at him a moment longer, then shrugs, points at the living-room where everybody has disappeared to.

"Ask them, they're the decision makers around here."

Alaric doesn't need to be as familiar with Damon as he is to realize that there have been difficulties between him and the rest of the group. Damon is tense, angling toward pissed and broody—and that's never a good combination, for any vampire. On any other day he'd invite him to share a drink at the Grill or the bar in the living-room—and god, does he want a drink right now, something to chase away the blood and the pain and the memories—but he can't. Whatever has happened here… whatever Klaus—he has done… he has to find out.

"Damon, " he says softly, searching the tense face. "Did I hurt someone?"

Damon looks at him, face as unreadable as ever— and shrugs. "Talk to them," he says, and turns, getting up the stairs without saying another thing.

"Damon, please."

I just need one friendly face right now.

Damon ignores him. He's up the stairs and gone before Alaric can figure out what to say.

Alaric leans back against the door, closing his eyes. He's tired, he's so fucking exhausted he can barely concentrate enough to follow one single thought. But he has to, his life won't let him take a break and so he takes a deep breath, lifts his head and approaches the living-room.

And he pretends not to notice that it feels like walking down the death row, heading for his own execution.

~~.~~

Somehow, while his body was being worn like a cheap suit at a carnival parade, the jury apparently found him guilty of committing a crime they are reluctant to tell him about.

There is no other word to describe it: he feels guilty. Of whatever it is that Klaus did while he was him—and everybody seems to agree. The atmosphere in the room is frozen; he is sitting on one of the couches, facing the rest of the group. Wherever he looks he meets wary expressions, distrust, anger—hurtglaring back at him. He's never felt so on display before and he can't remember a single time in his entire life in which he had literally felt this uncomfortable in his own skin.

The first thing he gathers from their summary of 'What Klaus did looking like one of us' is the fact that they had thought him dead, that there had been no attempted rescue missions and nobody had been hurt while trying to get him back. And while he is pretty okay with the general outcome of this, he is a little—no, actually he's a lot surprised (hurt) by the fact that no one seemed to have realized it wasn't him until he—Klaus—had attempted to kill Bonnie—and succeeded.

"What?"

Alaric doesn't realize he's jumped off the couch until he hears Elena's shocked gasp, sees Jenna flinch back—and the room is tilting a little to the side.

"Bonnie's dead?"

"Alaric, calm down, she—" Stefan stops and turns, looks first at Elena, then at Elijah, like he's asking them if they should trust him.

Maybe they nod, maybe they don't, it's hard to tell—and Alaric is too shaken to pay attention to it.

"Bonnie isn't dead," Stefan says at last. "She put a spell on herself to resurrect herself, so that Klaus would believe she's out of the picture."

"Resurrect herself…" He sinks down on the couch, shaking his head. This can't be happening…

It goes on after that.

Stefan asks him if he remembers anything—and he shakes his head no, he doesn't, couldn't even say how Klaus got his hands on him in the first place. He watches them exchange pointed looks and realizes he's become their weak spot now that he's been compelled and used like this. He can't really blame them—but he also can't deny that it hurts a lot, more than he thinks it should. He's never thought of himself as weak—or the weak spot of their little ensemble and to have this happen to him… it makes him wonder.

And then there's Jenna.

Jenna glares at him when she thinks he's not looking, throwing him glances he can't figure out. Alaric can't help but flinch inwardly every time their eyes meet; he knows something must have happened, something a lot more than him keeping secrets from her. She's sitting across of him, on the other couch, arms folded over her chest, studying him. Watching his every move. As if she's waiting for him to snap suddenly, jump up and admit that he's still Klaus and wants to kill them. He doesn't know how to convince her—or any of them that it's him, that he's back and not intending on letting something like that ever happen again.

At some point Elena excuses herself and goes looking for Damon. Stefan is about to tell him what their plans are for the ritual when there's suddenly some sort of commotion upstairs and Stefan is gone. There's a crash and the sounds of fighting—shouting—and Alaric is in Damon's room before he even realizes he's run upstairs.

Stefan's on the floor, the wooden leg of a chair stuck in his stomach. Damon is crouching a few feet away, snarling like some rabid dog and lashing out at Alaric when he steps in and tries to pull his friend back. Elena is shouting angrily at Damon, glaring at him in accusation, a trickle of blood running down her lips. For a moment Alaric is afraid that she got hurt in whatever fight has happened, but she waves him off when he tries to help her and is at Stefan's side immediately.

He never sees Damon leave the room, he's just gone. Alaric sends Jenna to get some blood bags from the fridge downstairs while he and Elena help Stefan to sit down on the bed. Stefan is out of breath, too incapacitated by the pain to tell them what happened, but Elena steps in.

"Damon forced me to drink his blood," she whispers, clearly in shock—and Alaric is lost for a moment, doesn't really know what that means.

"Why would he do that?"

"The ritual," Stefan gasps, spitting out a mouthful of blood. "She will come back as a vampire after the ritual now…"

Jenna returns with the blood bag and Stefan accepts it gratefully, visibly relaxing when the wound starts healing the moment he takes the first sip. He waits a moment for it to close completely, then looks up, attempting to smile at him and Jenna.

"Thank you," he says, "both of you."

Just like that, Alaric feels a little better, like he has taken a small step back to becoming who he was before the nightmare started. He starts when Jenna takes his arm and pulls him out of the room, leaving Stefan and Elena to themselves. Somewhere down the stairs, in the living-room, he can hear Elijah and Damon talking, voices muted, but intense as always.

Jenna steps closer, hooking her arm through his. They are silent for a moment, walking side by side, until he feels the need to say something.

"I wanted to protect you from all of this," Alaric admits softly, bracing himself for a possible outbreak, isn't sure what is safe to say to her right now and what not. "I should have known you can handle it just fine…"

Jenna moves and he tenses, then relaxes when she leans into him, looking up at him with a questioning look in her eyes. "Can I?"

He resists the urge to draw her closer, to hug her close and never let her go— that might be a bit much right now— but he smiles at her, attempts a grin.

"You just did." He's silent for a moment. "Look, Jenna, I know we have a lot to talk about—"

Whatever he wanted to say after that gets stuck in his throat when she smiles at him. A real smile, a smile that reaches her eyes and warms his heart.

"I'm happy I got you back... that you weren't hurt," she says suddenly— and she'll never know how much he needs to hear that, how much her words soothe some raw part of him that stops hurting for a moment. This time he doesn't resist the urge and pulls her closer, burying his nose in her hair. "I should have told you that a lot sooner," she whispers into his shoulder and he closes his eyes, breathes her in, feeling himself relax a little.

Alaric leans down to kiss her, and the moment their lips meet, he feels a small slice of his life slide back into place again. This… is right. Jenna leans into him and he holds her close, enjoys how warm she feels in his arms, how he she fits perfectly against his body and, for a moment, he forgets everything around him.

But, again, his life doesn't particularly like him at the moment. He is so lost in Jenna's presence, he only realizes what's happening—that there issomething happening, when the front door slams shut and Jenna jumps slightly in his arms.

"What was that?" he mumbles into her hair and Jenna looks up at him.

"It sounded a lot like your vampire-friend has decided to take his frustration elsewhere."

Alaric frowns— and Jenna sighs. "Maybe you should go after him, Damon's been an ass the whole day, Stefan's worried he might do something stupid."

"He just did," Alaric says softly, and nods at Damon's room.

Jenna grins slightly, but it doesn't hold much humor. "Something even more stupid then."

He doesn't want to leave, not now, not when he's finally found something quiet that feels just right, but Jenna has a point, with Damon in this mood, there is a great possibility that he might screw everything up. Or get them into more trouble than they are already in. If that's even possible.

He really needs to catch up with the current happenings and plans...

Outside, Damon's car roars to life and Alaric squeezes Jenna softly, then turns, heading down the stairs until he stops in the middle.

"I walked here, can I borrow your car?"

"You walked here?" Jenna looks incredulous, but starts looking for her keys, throwing them over.

Alaric shrugs, puts on a tired grin. "Must not have been in my right mind."

They both wince at his lame attempt at humor and he jogs down the stairs before he can make everything even worse.

"I'll make sure the town stays safe," he calls over his shoulder, hoping that Stefan picks it up as well, and rushes over to Jenna's car.

~~.~~

He loses Damon's car in the traffic, but has an idea where he might be headed. And, sure enough, Damon's already at the Grill when Alaric gets there. The vampire is glaring into a glass of bourbon, seemingly unaware of what's happening around him. Alaric knows that isn't the case, though, and slides onto the chair next to him, gesturing at the barkeeper to pour him a glass as well.

And then he has a good look at his friend's profile, trying to gauge his mood. Damon is tense—pissed—but the worst seems to be over, he's currently at the point where he's realized (and admitted to himself) that he's screwed up.

As if he can read Alaric's mind, Damon's first words, a moment later, are, "I screwed up."

Alaric nods. "Yeah, you did," he agrees softly. No need to lie about it.

"Gentlemen, why so glum?"

It takes him a moment to realize someone is talking to them—and then he freezes when the calm voice registers. For just a moment, just a second he doesn't want to turn around, wants to pretend he didn't hear it, wants—needsit to be just a figment of his imagination—like the remains of a bad dream—but it isn't. He can feel it, senses the too familiar presence creeping down his back, causing him to shudder.

Klaus.

Next to Alaric, Damon tenses and turns around, eyes on the newcomer.

"Klaus, I presume," he says. He doesn't sound very impressed.

Alaric, on the other hand, has to fight down a sudden, irrational impulse to just runand get out of there. He ignores it as best he can and turns around stiffly, uncharacteristically glad that Damon is standing between him and the Original.

"In the flesh," Klaus says and looks past Damon to lock eyes with Alaric for a moment. "Thanks for the loaner, mate."

Anger bubbles up in Alaric's throat at those careless words, he'd love to give the arrogant vampire a piece of his mind about what he has done to him, how he used him—but, again, he backs down, keeps quiet, nods slightly and doesn't say a word. He's seriously starting to hate himself for this… but for some reason he just can't get himself to react differently.

And then Damon and Klaus are talking, the atmosphere around them tense and dangerous. Damon is all snarky comments and self-confident behavior as usual, while Klaus seems to be more amused about the whole situation, arrogant smile playing at the corners of his lips. They could be circling each other in a boxing ring for all the big show they are putting on. It would almost be amusing if it wasn't such an unequal match.

And Damon, being Damon, does his best to make the situation worse by suggesting that maybe Klaus should postpone his ritual for a month.

Klaus immediately loses his false smile and his attention shifts to Alaric.

"He's kidding, right?" There's a warning in his tone and it takes Alaric a moment to find his voice.

"No, not really…"

Before him, Damon shifts, shoulders tense. He makes the effort of trying to keep his voice deliberately charming, but, as usual, it comes out snarky. "I mean, come on, what's one month in the grand scheme of things…"

Klaus, of course, is not buying it, at all. His eyes narrow and his voice drops down to a threatening half-growl. "Let me be clear: I have my vampire, I have my werewolf… I have everything I need. The ritual will happen tonight. So, if you want to live to see tomorrow… don't screw it up."

And then he's gone. Alaric blinks and watches Damon take a deep breath, sees some of the tension in his friend's shoulders disappear and wishes he could calm down as well.

"That was fun," Damon sighs tiredly, and Alaric reads him like an open book.

"You're gonna screw it up, aren't you?"

Damon turns to look at him, expression thoughtful. "You think if I took his werewolf out of the equation, she might… get over the fact that I tried to turn her into a vampire?"

So he isgoing to screw it up. "I think it won't matter because you'll be dead."

"But without the werewolf he can't perform the ritual tonight, which means I would have bought her one month before the next full moon."

That might be true, but Damon's missing one crucial argument againsthis plan. "But you'll still be dead," Alaric points out.

Damon frowns, like he doesn't get the point. "Are you gonna help me or what?"

No, I don't wanna help you get yourself killed. Is what he should say.

"What do you want me to do?" Is what comes out instead.

Damon grins at him, leans closer, lowers his voice conspiratorially. "What you should have done a long time ago, my friend." He wiggles his eyebrows, grins.

Alaric doesn't get it, blames it on his tired brain. "What?"

Damon smirks, gets up and heads for the door. "Invite me in," he says over his shoulder.

Alaric spends a moment staring after him, still not getting it—then sighs.

"Right, invite him in, like that's gonna solve anything," he mutters to no one in particular, before he gets off his chair and follows his friend out of the Grill.

They are halfway across the town, Alaric following Damon's Camaro in Jenna's car, when it finally dawns on him just where exactly they are headed.

His apartment. Hellmouth. The axis of evil. The place he doesn't want to go back to, at least not this soon. It takes a lot of deep breaths to not turn around and drive back to the boarding house. Alaric's thoughts are racing. They don't know who is going to be in there. If Klaus went back, if Katherine is still there, if there's someone—something waiting for them…

He doesn't like it. Hates it. Would go the other way if he could. He can't, because it's about Elena. And Damon has a plan. And, despite his track record, sometimes his plans do work. And Alaric has no idea how exactly this ritual is going to go down, doesn't know enough to not trust Damon and ignore his idea.

When they arrive at the building, he sits in the car for a long moment, staring up at his front window, fighting to get his racing heartbeat under control.

This is a stupid idea.

A sudden knock on the door actually makes him jump and he whips around to find Damon standing next to the car.

"You coming?"

They don't talk on the way up, but Alaric stops on the second floor, holding Damon back for a moment.
"What if they're upstairs?"

Damon cocks his head to the side, concentrates for a second, then shakes his head. "It's just Katherine." He starts walking again, looking back when Alaric doesn't follow right away. "Come on, Ric, no one wants to stay in your boring apartment longer than they have to."

Alaric huffs. "You've never even been to my place," he says, and goes past Damon, climbing the last stairs to his loft.

Behind him, Damon snickers. "I don't have to, I knowyou."

Glad for their banter to lighten up the mood, Alaric fumbles for his keys and unlocks the door.

And finds himself staring at Katherine. She looks worried for a moment, but just a blink later her mask slides back into place.

"Look who's dumb enough to come back", she sneers and Alaric can't hold back a mischievous grin as he leans against the door frame, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

"Well, somebody had to invite him in." He turns to look over his shoulder. "Damon? Would you like to come in?"

Damon smirks at him as he enters the apartment—and Katherine rushes at him the moment he is inside, eyes furious.

"Are you trying to get me killed?"

One quick move—and Damon has her up against the wall, holding her pinned against it, glaring back at her. "I gave you vervain," he snarls, "now I'm here to collect." He doesn't take his eyes off her. "I got it from here, Ric."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, only one of us needs to get blamed for this. Get back in the house, keep Elena from handing herself over."

Maybe he should feel a little ashamed with how okay he is with this plan—but he doesn't really care anymore. "Okay."

It's only when he's inside the car, driving a little too fast and heading for the town exit that he can relax and finally take a deep breath again.

When Alaric arrives at the boarding house it's dark and empty. He checks his phone to be sure he hasn't missed any calls or messages (he hasn't) and then decides to have a drink inside and wait for the others to get back. He pours himself a glass of bourbon and sinks down on the couch, enjoying the familiar burning against his tongue. It's the first time since he's got his body back that he has a moment to himself, with no one to watch him, no one to manipulate him, no one to look after. And he realizes, not for the first time, that he's exhausted, that he can barely keep his eyes open. Resting his aching forehead against the glass, he closes his burning eyes for a moment, trying to get his jumbled thoughts under control, to figure out what to do next—

~~.~~