Disclaimer: I don't own the Vampire Diaries. If I did, Alaric would still be Alaric.
Katherine was right, and that was the damnable thing; she was right. Getting mixed up with humans was stupid and messy and bound to end in pain. She'd been slinking around the boarding house one day looking for fun and sniffed her way to Damon's room which, while empty at the time, still smelled strongly of a long night of enthusiastic sex, human pheromones, and history textbooks. Damon had snuck in behind her, crossed his arms over his chest, thrumming the fingers of one hand over the opposite bicep.
"They die, you know," Katherine had said. "They die and they leave you. That's why I turned you and Stefan." She had made a point of running her finger across Damon's lower back. "Years go by so fast and before you know it you love some wrinkled old man. Nasty."
"Speaking of things that are old and nasty," he'd answered. "Fuck off, or I'll stake you."
"Stake me?" she had purred. "Like you could still get it up after a night like that. Stefan around?"
Damon had narrowed his eyes. "He's with your far nicer million times great granddaughter. Now. Fuck off."
She hadn't fucked off so much as slunk away, and Damon had sat for a long time in an easy chair, thinking.
And maybe the problem was that Alaric had never seemed all that human. Because of the stupid ring. The cause of all the fucking problems.
The first time Damon had killed Alaric – staked him in the lung, and let him die in front of the fire, he'd just been like any human – expendable. Not even a snack, because Damon had assumed anyone who knew enough about vampires to have tracked him down and found him would be smart enough to drink vervain. He'd been impressive for a human but just a human, just that. Dead soon anyway, or soon enough.
But he'd risen to fight side by side with Damon in defence of Stefan less than a week later. Had saved Damon's life that night. Dragged him into the alley behind the Mystic Grill and kissed Damon, even.
Maybe this was where they had been going since that moment, since that very first death and resurrection. Since it was Alaric's frequent deaths that had brought them to this, he supposed it really was. This. Inevitable.
Damon didn't want to meet Meredith's eyes, but he did. Smiled, knowing how false it looked.
"You shouldn't leave him alone in there," she said, doe eyes pouring useless saltwater.
Damon grimaced. "That's what he wants." He'd said it. It had to be true. Just go, is what Alaric had said. I should be alone for this. And Damon and Elena had walked away.
Meredith was crying in earnest. Why wouldn't she just leave? "Is that really what you think he wants?"
She didn't press it. She turned away, as Damon brought a bottle of Kentucky Straight to his lips.
Once she was gone, Damon rose to his feet. He paused for a long moment and bizarrely, wished he wasn't alone. Except of course he wasn't. Alaric was right through those doors.
Damon took another swig and wondered if he was even capable of doing this. Spent long moments taking unnecessary breaths and trying not to remember drinking until dawn with Alaric. Lazy Sunday mornings in bed with Alaric. Laughing at the combined genius that was Damon and Alaric.
Pasting nonchalance over his features like pancake makeup, Damon pushed through the doors.
Would Alaric tell him to leave?
Alaric looked terrible. Weak. Whatever magic had gotten him this far it was not the same as a normal turning; he was dying, and shouldn't be, not yet; for a mad minute, Damon had thought maybe there would be time to say all the things he needed to and half the things he wanted to. But no. Not long now, not if Alaric couldn't hold his head up.
"Oh, Ric," Damon said, airily, taking a seat against the cold stone wall.
Alaric had smiled; one of the rare, unguarded smiles reserved only for Damon in their quietest moments. Even Elena and Jeremy, who Alaric loved, and who depended on him, loved him just as fiercely, didn't get this.
"Is this the part where you give me a dream?" Alaric's voice was weak and thready. As if he was beginning to struggle for breath. "Rainbows and rolling green hills?"
Son of a bitch. He was supposed to have been too drunk to remember, the night Damon told him that story. Only reason he'd felt brazen enough to tell it at all. "I was drunk when I told you that."
Alaric's smile grew a little wider. "Yeah, and I told you I'd use it against you."
"Damn you." Damon smiled then, too, and there was a little warmth in it. Some of their best moments were when they were at their snarkiest and Damon supposed this would have to do. Besides, there were things to be said, real things. "Sorry I killed you. Twice."
He wasn't crying, wouldn't cry, but Damon felt a disconcerting warmth in his cheeks, a heaviness in his eyelids, and a sting in his eyes. He fought the urge to pull Alaric close.
Perhaps Alaric heard the tears, because he deflected them, a little. "So I have to actually die to get a real apology out of you." As if it was something he could file away for later. Something useful. Damon worked the cork out of the bottle. It felt heavier than it had any right to be.
Like it was any Thursday. Drink? Over dinner, after dinner. At the grill. In front of the fireplace. Too many memories. He shouldn't have made so many memories.
"Actually, I've been thinking about cutting back." There was a catch in Alaric's voice, and Damon turned. A tear poured from the corner of each of Alaric's eyes. Damon wondered what they would taste like, if he would get a chance to taste them. Damon had never seen Alaric shed a tear, though he'd come close, when he'd learned he was going on unconscious killing sprees.
Levity. It's like any Thursday. It's just Alaric, no one else in there.
Damon snickered, forced it from his throat. "Yeah. Stuff will kill you." He passed Alaric the bottle, and Alaric took it. It must have seemed heavy to him, as well.
"Can't believe." Alaric's head rolled on his neck. "Can't."
Oh, for fuck's sake. Damon shuffled sideways, pulled Alaric in against his side. He seemed smaller. Diminished by the proximity to a death that would actually last. Alaric let himself be held, leaned against Damon's shoulder. He tried again.
"I can't believe it's ending like this."
Damon let one hand fall to Alaric's side, to a year of bites scarred to fine white lines. Damon's claim. No use, now. Nothing left to mark as his, in a few more minutes.
Damon took the bottle, took another swig. "Sucks to be you." He regretted saying it instantly. "Sucks to be us."
Alaric coughed weakly. Damon shifted until he was supporting Alaric's whole weight against him. Any other time, Alaric would have resisted, but he couldn't. Damon felt a warm patch on his collarbone and knew instantly Alaric's tears were soaking into it as they dripped from his chin.
He said nothing. A man's tears should be private. He did, however, with considerable more sap than was the usual, press a kiss into Alaric's hair. Alaric chuckled. Best sound. Last time Damon would ever hear it, probably.
"Should have. Let you. Turn me. Back when it was all you could talk about. At least then I'd be a proper vampire. Not. Klaus's psychotic cousin. Not dead."
"If I can get that in writing, I can tell everyone your last words were to tell me I was right about something."
"Not sure I could hold up a pen."
Alaric didn't look like he could hold up a feather, truthfully, but he managed with the bottle anyway.
And he was right. It shouldn't be ending like this. It should end hundreds of years and millions of bottle of bourbon into the future. For a long moment Damon worked to tamp down his anger. If Alaric had said yes – turned when Damon asked him to, the first time, or the third time, or the twentieth time – none of this would be happening. Stupid humans. Stupid, stubborn, beautiful humans.
Damon wasn't crying, not exactly, but a tear made it's way down his face and mingled with one of Alaric's, there on Alaric's cheek. Perhaps Alaric realised, because his tongue snuck out to catch it. With some effort, Alaric sat up a little.
Damon wondered; the last time they'd had sex, had they kissed? Probably. They didn't always but they did usually. It had been too rare, the last few days, with everything that was going on; they hadn't slept in the same bed for a week. So when was their last kiss? What had it been like? Some almost-chaste peck? Something brief, but lingering? One of those fantastically lazy, messy kisses that seemed to go on for half the morning?
Alaric held Damon's eyes. "Not long, now. My heart hurts. Going so slow." Damon took Alaric's wrist in his hand, testing his pulse. Yes. Slow, and thudding. Slowing, under Damon's testing fingers.
"Fuck, Ric," he said, because he couldn't think of anything else to say. And pressed his lips against Alaric's. Tasted their combined tears there. Their mouths opened, a touch, and closed again. Nothing left to say, but their mouths spoke anyway. The briefest touch of tongues. Alaric's eyes drifted closed, but he increased the pressure, a little. Bunched his hand in Damon's shirt. Too weak to do anything else. Damon pulled him in, pulled him closer.
Alaric pulled away, his breathing laboured.
"It was good," he said, as he resettled against the wall. "Whatever my." He coughed. "Vampire-hating alter-ego thought. We were good together. It was good."
"It was good." Damon felt his eyes burn again. Loved back, for the first time in a hundred and seventy years. Yeah, it was good. He breathed, deeply, aching for the calm that could bring. It brought little. "It was really fucking good. I never had a best friend before. Never had…" Too many memories in too short a time and it was all going.
But Alaric was sleeping. Not the familiar rhythm of breath and heart. Ragged, and fading.
Nothing, not a stir. The combination of the sedative and the alcohol, and the nearly-being-dead anyway, had him held down and under. Damon shook him, a little. Too soon. Not yet.
Damon let his tears fall while he finished the bottle. Wiped them away with his sleeve, and re-corked the empty.
It took a long moment to get to his feet but Damon did it. Couldn't stay, now. Alaric would die alone. Everyone did, really, and he'd done what he could. Stayed until Alaric was asleep. Crouching, Damon paused to smell, for the last time, the scent that was Alaric's and no one else's, that low scent of spice and salt and something else. And beneath that, now, ash. The scent that followed death around.
Damon pressed his forehead to Alaric's shoulder.
"I love you," he said. "Wish I'd said it before you fell asleep. Sleep tight. Be still." Surely, Alaric wouldn't find himself on the other side. He would just go, be at peace.
Standing, Damon reached a hand out to the cold stone to hold himself up. Used it to propel himself along the wall to the door, and pushed through. Gasping. Over, now, all over. Stupid human.
Stupid, stubborn human.
Stupid, stubborn, beautiful human.
The air was cool and fresh enough to taste, and Damon was grateful.
And incongruously, Bonnie was walking towards him. Like a ghost or something, summoned in bare, dirty feet and a flapper dress. Spooky intense look in her eye like she didn't even see him.
She didn't change her pace, just stepped forward. Had she died? But no – Damon could hear her heartbeat, smell her skin. He turned as she stepped past him.
"What are you doing here? What, are you sleepwalking or something?"
Bonnie turned, and Damon recognised the hand gesture moments before the pain hit his head. His last thought before he lost consciousness was the same as it usually was, as he fell asleep most nights. The same as his thought first thing most mornings.