Summary: Imagine there are five lost weeks between Ep 3.18 and 19. After Alaric has lost the stake and before Stefan has to get the location from his alter-ego. After Evilaric tries to stake Elijah, Elijah takes him away for rehab and research. Things get heated.

Warnings: Explicit slash, torrid affair.

...

How it happens is:

Alaric has a shaky day at school, drinking tea from a thermos, checking the clock every few moments because it's the only way he can be sure he's not losing time. Sometime during sixth period he finds himself walking down the corridor toward the school doors and according to his watch, he's lost maybe five minutes.

He walks back to the classroom, the students muttering amongst themselves, looking at him strangely.

"Class dismissed. Sorry. Emergency," Alaric says, and grabs the thermos again, his wallet and phone from the drawer, his keys, and he heads away again.

No tea left.

Alaric walks out to the car and racks his brain. Bonnie's house (except, no, Bonnie is still in class). The boarding house, then. Damon needs to cuff him to something. Actually, that's an excellent idea. He pulls the phone from his pocket

...

and wakes. His head aches. His mouth is as thick as if it was stuffed with cotton wool.

Alaric opens his eyes, momentarily, but, no. Too much light, far too bright. He's been sleeping, but doesn't know how long for.

He tries to stretch – like a cat, the way a cat stretches always, before rearranging, disarranging itself after sleep. This is how Alaric discovers he is well secured to whatever his hand is touching. Cold metal.

"I apologize." The voice is distinctive but the accent is indefinable. Only one voice quite like that in Mystic Falls, perhaps in the whole world. "You can't possibly be comfortable. I am making arrangements for more suitable accommodations but it may take a day or more. I am not well equipped in Mystic Falls for this sort of venture."

Elijah.

Alaric can't and won't open his eyes. Whatever state he is in right now it won't compare to the perfectly coiffed form alongside him. Somehow he imagines a dank basement, mildew and rot, and Elijah seated on an overstuffed velvet armchair, probably with a pipe in one hand and a glass of cognac in the other. Legs crossed elegantly at the knee. Alaric is no doubt lying on the floor with the urine of a hundred generations of rats soaking into his jeans and almost certainly someone else's blood all over his shirt.

Who? Elena? Damon? Liz Forbes?

He pictures a glass-covered standard lamp illuminating Elijah's frustratingly calm features. Incongruous in the dank basement they are no doubt inhabiting. Except it doesn't smell dank. Or basementy.

Alaric breathes, because he can at least do that.

"The fuck happened?"

"You recall nothing?"

Alaric thinks but there was an empty thermos and his car and he was about to call Damon, and then he woke up.

"Nothing."

Alaric opens his eyes a second time.

He has miscalculated it all, but that is nothing new.

It's a hotel room, no, a motel room. Cheap, but not unpleasant. He is chained to a radiator (had he called Damon? No) but lying on carpet and with a pillow beneath his aching head. With his free hand, he reaches. There is blood in his hair. A lump the size and approximate shape of Australia, partially split open, on his head.

"Fuck," he says, eloquently.

Elijah sits on the ground, with his back against the wall, his knees bent. Almost close enough to reach. A scrap of white paper in his hand, folding, unfolding and smoothing it. Alaric wonders what it is. A death warrant. Something dramatic.

Elijah, unsmiling but unfailingly polite, asks, "Are you hungry?"

Alaric shakes his head but it hurts so he adds a pathetic groan to the end.

"Thirsty? Do you require analgesics?"

Analgesics? Really?

"What happened?" he asks again. "Did I kill anyone?"

"No. Not for a lack of trying."

"Who?"

Speaking hurts. Hearing hurts. The hair growing on Alaric's head hurts. There is a general unfocussed agony spreading across his lower spine which may extend across his hip and seems to somehow involve his right knee, but the exact nature and cause of agony hurts to think about so Alaric does not.

Also, he is waiting to hear who he attacked. He orders them from bad to unthinkably bad in his head.

"I should think that was obvious."

Alaric opens his eyes again. Elijah is stiller than most statues and bridges and monuments are generally able to be. His expression is just over halfway amused. Alaric touches a finger to the back of his head again. "It's not. I was at the school. Not Elena? Bonnie? Please."

Elijah, amused, is sort of terrifying, but then Elijah is sort of terrifying generally, and amused frequently, so that's nothing new.

"You tried to kill me," Elijah says. "But no harm done. It was almost thrilling." He raises an eyebrow less than a quarter inch and cocks his chin a few degrees and it somehow contains all the smirk Damon's face can barely contain some days. "Do you know how long it's been since a human tried to kill me?"

Yes. Yes, Alaric does, Alaric knows, because it was Alaric the last time as well.

"Uh." Alaric makes a pathetic attempt to sit up but his head swims and it occurs to him that gravity might be a good friend to keep. "About eight months, actually. I think it was me then, too."

"Indeed."

There is a long silence. "I'm myself," Alaric says. "There's stuff I should say. While I am. You know. Myself."

"I see." Elijah stretches one leg out. "Do go on. Although if you would prefer, I can provide pain relief. Something to eat. Perhaps you would like something to write with?"

"Write with?"

Alaric would like very much to sit up.

"I can assure you, Alaric, you will be yourself for some time. Not indefinitely. But I have no qualms about unchaining you, since you don't appear to be of a mood to abscond. I can have food delivered. Heal you. Whatever messages you would like passed on, I will ensure they are passed on. Hence my offer of a pen and paper."

"Heal me?"

"I apologize again. I should have been more specific. I am not in a position to cure you of your possession, right now, but some of my blood will heal your head injury."

"Why bother?"

Elijah shifts away from the wall. "I don't follow."

"You must be planning to kill me."

"Why would I do that? I thought I had shown I have respect for human life."

Yes. Yes, you have, but I barely count, now, as human. Alaric wonders if he has the strength to ask Elijah to kill him. He decides quickly that yes, he does, but he wants time to write some messages, too. So he'll wait.

Goodbye, cruel world, and all that shit. Will he even be mourned? His parents, no doubt, and Damon and Elena will be thrown for a loop. Fuck. Fuck.

"Alaric." Alaric opens his eyes, hadn't realized he's shut them again. "I will repeat the offer. A little of my blood will heal your head injury. May I?"

May I. Fucking May I. Like he's asking a favor. It seems like a bad idea so of course Alaric nods. "Thanks," he says. Elijah turns away, careful to conceal his face, as he bites delicately into his own wrist.

Alaric closes his mouth around Elijah's torn flesh, feels Elijah's hand cup the back of his neck, a little more intimate than it needs to be. Still nothing Elijah does is exactly as it needs to be, so whatever.

Alaric drinks, and then drinks harder. Tries to ignore Elijah's piercing eyes.

Alaric has drunk from Damon before but this is Original blood, the first blood. Instantly lighting up and electrifying every cell in Alaric's body until he forces himself to pull away. He lies back against the pillows, wishing his body didn't need to heal so he could just ride the rollercoaster a while. Because, fuck. Still it's nice, when his head starts to knit shut, when the pain in his back decreases, when the ache in his hip vanishes without a trace.

It's nice when Elijah produces a key from his pocket and unlocks the chains. Alaric had almost been looking forward to watching Elijah tear them like tissue paper but he supposes they'll be needed again.

Elijah stands elegant as he ever does anything, ever, and crosses to the door. He holds it open a moment, speaking to someone on the other side.

He turns to Alaric. "You are not a vegetarian?"

Alaric fights the urge to laugh. "No," he says.

Everything seems a lot funnier than it has any right to be. Alaric Saltzman, vampire slayer, murderer, vampire fucker, high school history teacher, vegetarian. With his own blood in his hair, and all over his hand. And a semi, for fuck's sake, but that's the vampire blood. Ridiculous, terrible stuff. Wonderful. Alaric sits up against the wall, lets his eyes close, and waits for it all to pass. It will. He burned through most of it healing, and already, the world looks disappointingly normal again.

He'll have to start thinking, soon.

Elijah closes the door with a quiet click. "Your meal should arrive in half an hour. Perhaps you'd like to shower."

There's rather a lot more blood in Alaric's hair than there tends to be after an extended blackout, but rather less on his clothing, so he nods. "Yeah." He stands, still able to enjoy a little of the weirdness that goes with the blood, half supporting himself against the wall. Elijah cocks his head towards a bag Alaric takes a long moment to recognize as his own.

"I took the liberty of having someone collect some of your things."

It's sort of going to suck, being killed by Elijah. He's not a bad sort. But it's for the best, so again, whatever.

Alaric collects the bag and heads for the bathroom.

The worst and best thing about vampire blood is the feeling of total wellbeing that accompanies it. Like you should be able to fly. No scrap of an ache or a pain anywhere and the clearest imaginable head.

The water runs hot and strong and it takes a long time for Alaric's hair to run quite clean but it does, eventually. He washes thoroughly and (since any time could be his last time, really) jerks off under the masking steam, trying not to make a scrap of noise.

When he is clean, and dry, and his hair is less cool than Elijah's but at least a good step up from Stefan's he dresses simply in jeans and a black t-shirt and puts his shoes back on. He takes a minute to fortify himself before opening the door.

Weirdly Elijah has opened a bottle of wine at the nasty Formica table. He nods agreeably and indicates that Alaric should take a seat.

"I hope merlot is to your taste?"

Alaric sits. "No. I'm fine."

"You don't like merlot? Would you prefer a shiraz?"

The tiny flare of pupil. Crap. Too late, Alaric notices his vervain bracelet is gone. "I haven't drunk red wine since Klaus possessed me. Reminds me too much of drinking blood from a glass."

Elijah nods, and returns to the door.

When he is seated beautifully again he sips at the wine. "You remember, then? Your possession by my brother?"

"Flashes. Drinking blood. Katherine crying underneath me." He hopes Elijah won't ask questions, and Elijah doesn't. Alaric lets the rest of the memories float off down the stream and reminds himself again that they are not memories of things he did, just of things he has seen.

When the food arrives, there is also a bottle of white wine and a bottle of bourbon and for no obvious reason a bottle of calorie-free lemonade. Alaric pours a glass of the white wine.

"You'll tell the truth," Elijah says.

"Yes." It doesn't matter if Alaric is compelled or not; he will, he has no interest in lying.

He takes a mouthful of his hamburger – not hot enough, but tasty, and welcome. Some sort of fascinating hot sauce on it that Alaric can't identify and as an aficionado, that surprises him.

He finishes the burger, eats a fry or two, and pushes the plate away.

Elijah places a pile of papers, neatly stacked and fastened with a large clip, on the table. "What's this?" Alaric asks, pulling it closer.

"You don't know?"

Alaric frowns. "Why would I?" He turns the top page. It's hideous; terrible, ferocious prose, full of hate. He skims the next couple of pages and then pushes it away. "Where did you get it?"

"Your desk, in your loft," Elijah says. "You wrote it."

The world goes a little pale. Alaric pulls the pages closer, suddenly aware that he is shaking.

"Fuck this," he says, and drains his glass. "Fuck it all."

"Elaborate, please." Elijah turns the stem of his own glass as Alaric opens the bourbon and pours a ridiculous slug into a mug.

"Do I have any bargaining room?"

"Bargaining?"

"If I ask you to do something. Will you do it? Do I have anything you can use? Anything you want?"

Elijah cocks his head, considering. "Nothing. Not a thing. I would consider any request you made of me, though," he says.

Alaric nods, drains his bourbon, pours a second. Already a little tipsy. Getting tipsier. "Kill me, Elijah. Before I can kill anyone else."

Elijah narrows his eyes and smiles more broadly. Like it's an absurd request. Much as Damon had done when Alaric made the same request of him. "No."

Alaric puts his face in his hands. "You're worse than Damon. I'm a liability. I'm no use to anyone. I'm dangerous." He is also drinking too quickly, but he doesn't care much. "I tried to kill you."

Elijah leans back, crosses his legs again. "I have a vested interest in keeping myself alive. I have a respect for human life and something of a desire to keep the rest of my rapidly shrinking family alive. You are the single biggest threat to that. You carry a passenger of some sort, one which knows the location of at least one more stake."

"You must have it. Didn't I try to kill you with it?"

"You tried to kill me with one. You claimed to know the location of another. You spewed a significant amount of religious rhetoric. It was quite charming, actually," Elijah muses. "Really. Reminded me of the seventeenth century."

"If I manage to kill you, that could be the end of Damon and Stefan, for all I know. If I manage to kill any of you, it'll be the end of a line. Some line. Somewhere. So why not finish me now?" Alaric pleads, a little pathetic.

"You care about the end of a vampire line?"

"I care about Damon." Fuck. Still compelled, then. "I don't want him to die. And there seem to be a lot of people on my death list."

"Who is on your list?"

"I don't know. I can guess." It's like verbal diarrhea. "Everyone on the council who knows about Damon and Stefan. Probably everyone on the council who knows about your family, too. Everyone in your family, obviously. I'd guess Elena and Jeremy and Tyler and Caroline. Any vampire." He sits up straighter and sips from the glass and keeps talking. "Liz Forbes has a few deputies who know what's going on. I don't know which ones but the serial killer in my brain seems to be a lot smarter than me so it's probably got it all figured out."

"Perhaps no smarter. I don't think you yourself would be foolish enough to try to kill me. Give yourself some credit."

"I was foolish enough to try to kill you. Give me less credit."

"You didn't know me then." Elijah pulls a slim cigarette case from the pocket of his jacket. "Do you mind?"

It's been five years since Alaric smoked a cigarette. "Not if I can have one."

The nicotine hits Alaric's bloodstream almost like a real drug would and he lets his eyes close. Fuck his lungs. Fuck everything.

"Are you still compelled to tell the truth?"

"Yes."

Do you love Damon?"

"Yes."

"Do you want me to deliver you back to him?"

"No." Fuck. That's a surprise.

"Why not? Your friends are working on a cure. He could put you in that lovely basement dungeon of his."

"Because he's not strong enough to kill me and sooner or later this thing I'm carrying around will kill him."

Elijah sits back. Alaric takes another mouthful of bourbon and then tops his mug off. Drunk. Drunk and compelled and heartbroken and all the rest of it.

"He loves you." Elijah seems to be enjoying this all too much.

"I think so. Yes."

Elijah nods slowly for some time. "You stabbed yourself." Elijah inhales deeply, and taps the ash into a small glass ashtray. "Why?"

"I don't know."

"I'll rephrase. Why do you think you stabbed yourself?"

"Two theories." Alaric remembers why he hates compulsion. This is not a game. "I know about vampires in Mystic Falls and I don't kill them all and I sleep with one of them more nights than not," he says. "I also think I was planning to kill Elena as soon as she stepped into the house and maybe I came back to myself for long enough to stab myself instead." It comes out in a thin stream of ugly truth and Alaric hates it, hates it. Didn't realize he knew this to be true until it escaped his lips like bile.

"And which theory do you favor?" He's good cop, bad cop all by himself, inscrutable, since his perpetually amused expression can't be for real.

"I have no idea," and it's a relief, if a mixed one.

Elijah nods slowly and tugs on the cuff of his shirt, where it emerges from his jacket. Every movement he makes seems calculated, as if from a great distance. Suddenly bold, if heavy-eyed from drink, Alaric holds his gaze, after watching the sleeve and the tug, and spends longer than he should noticing that Elijah's eyes are such a dark brown that it is hard to see where his pupils end and his irises begin.

Elijah's knowing smile, the slant to his jaw. More than once Damon and Alaric have joked about finding a way to coax Elijah to their bed, and if Elijah gets even close to asking about it Alaric will confess everything. Alaric prays he won't.

Elijah blinks once, slowly. "Do you really want to die?"

"No." Okay, another surprise. "I think it's better if I do, though."

Elijah turns the stem of his glass and watches Alaric. Alaric tries not to look back. "Elijah…"

"No. I've considered it. You are a good man, Alaric Saltzman. I am fond of you. I think I will take you away from here and keep you somewhere safe. I have good relationships with witches. We shall see what we can do about your affliction."

It's the best news imaginable and also, the worst. Alaric rubs the bridge of his nose. "I don't understand why you would bother," he says, and this must be true too. "One human life. In exchange for however many people I might kill in the future."

"I am very old, and very patient, and very intelligent," Elijah says. "I don't have to be rational as well. No. My mind is made up." He crosses his arms. "You'll sleep, tonight, and tomorrow I will transport you to one of my homes. There are a small number which are not known to my siblings. I imagine you have messages you wish to pass on?"

Alaric nods. Elijah pulls a compendium from a slim leather satchel, and passes it to Alaric. He produces a silver fountain pen from his pocket. Alaric accepts it, and Elijah crosses the room to sit his inscrutable self in a comfortable-looking armchair.

He should write to Elena, to Meredith. To the school.

He scrawls words he doesn't mean and crosses them out and then takes another sheet, noticing the luxurious bond, trying not to think of legal documents and last-will-and-testaments and starts again. A good long letter to Damon, everything he wants to say.

He spends a long time thinking about it. Long enough so the white wine is a memory and the bourbon is more than half gone. He's made bullet points on one sheet. Bullet points.

Elijah's hand settles on Alaric's shoulder, and closes over it.

"Keep it simple, Ric," he says, and steps away again, towards the door. He pulls it shut behind him.

Damon,

Ric writes,

I'm with Elijah. He's trying to help.

If it's ever safe for me to come back, I will.

I love you and if I don't make it I'll still be glad I came to Mystic Falls.

Ric.

He folds the sheet into thirds and puts it into an envelope made from the same heavy stock as the notepaper is. Writes Damon's name on the front, and finishes the bourbon in his mug.

He staggers to the bed and crawls underneath the covers, not bothering to remove anything but his shoes. The night has long been dark.

Alaric is still alert when Elijah re-enters the room. He is damnably awake, all six feet of him, terrified, relieved. Elijah is sort of awesome. If anyone can fix this, Elijah can fix this. Elijah knows everyone in the world who knows anything at all.

It's a relief that Elijah is back in the room, though it shouldn't be.

From close to the door, Elijah speaks softly. "I'll make sure he gets it."

"Thank you," Alaric answers. He doesn't move. Lets his head rest heavy on the pillows and entirely his own. On the left side of the bed because Damon favors the right and it has become his habit to accommodate the fiend.

Elijah moves silently, always does. Alaric once found himself sitting across from Elijah at the Grill and almost leapt straight out of his pants. Ever courteous, Elijah could move in such a way that he allowed all the atoms in the places he didn't need to be to stay precisely where they were, displacing only those necessary for him to be where he intended.

Still when he stretches himself out on the bed alongside Alaric it is a surprise. Alaric lifts his head from the pillow.

"I find myself in need of sleep," Elijah admits, "and if you should wake up feeling like something other than your good self, it would be in both of our interests if I woke also. I hope you don't object."

He settles closer than necessary, and Alaric turns to face him. "No. It's fine." Alaric cocks his head toward the bed frame. "You could chain me again," he says.

Elijah's amused smile turns more so. "I know I bought you dinner and a drink but I'm not prone to chaining someone to the bed-post on the first date."

Maybe Elijah watches too many movies and maybe he is an Internet junkie but when he enters the twenty-first century, no matter how briefly, it is always good for a laugh. Alaric is too tired to laugh, but he smiles, and wonders what Elijah's lips taste like.

"Thank you, Elijah," he says.

"Sleep," Elijah says, and there must be a touch of compulsion, and Alaric does.

...

Alaric recovers from whatever spell or compulsion Elijah used on him for their travels sitting on a bed (wonderfully like Damon's in size and quality of bedding, enough to feel a little like home) in a room which is well appointed and luxurious. He blinks for long moments before realizing that Elijah is standing before him. Elijah's suit smells like money and his hair is set perfectly and his eyes are black as coal (the perfect opposite to Damon's) and an amused smile plays across his features.

"You are quite yourself again." Maybe it's a question, maybe it's not. Alaric doesn't feel he is required to answer. He does, though, because it seems polite.

"I guess I am."

Elijah nods. "Then welcome. We're north of the snow-line but I won't share anything else. For your own sake. Do you consent to be compelled?"

Alaric's shoulders drop. "I trust you," he says.

"That is not what I asked."

"I… consent, then. Whatever." He lets his eyes be held, acknowledges the tiny twitches in Elijah's irises that mean he is being compelled. Better to know what is going on than not.

"You may explore the manor and the grounds at your leisure. You may not leave."

It sounds fair. Alaric nods, waiting. For a threat or a plan or something else. No further instructions are forthcoming. For fuck's sake. Elijah could make him lie still as a statue until a solution has been found. Make him sleep for a hundred years. He does no such thing.

Elijah nods, and steps away, reaching for the doorknob. "Wait," Alaric calls. "What am I supposed to do?"

Elijah takes several steps towards Alaric, again. "Anything you wish, on the grounds." He furrows his brow. "I don't think I understand your question."

Alaric stands and crosses his arms. "Can I… can I help? Do you have books? Anything? Internet?"

"The best minds are on this problem. What do you think you can contribute?" It is not intended to be insulting but it is. "You are not a witch nor an expert on these matters. If I need a vampire killed, I am happy to call on you. Otherwise, please. Relax."

"Can I do anything?" Alaric stands. "Or do you want me to just sit here? And how long am I going to be me? You said it wasn't indefinite." Pacing seems like just the thing, but Alaric doesn't. He matches Elijah's posture.

"We can keep the spell up."

Okay. "Can I call someone?"

And one more step, and Elijah is within reach. He smiles, almost obscenely. Laughingly. He also runs hungry eyes over Alaric's body, and that is definitely a problem. Takes in Alaric's arms and chest and legs, the jut of his jaw. Alaric's own dark eyes, dark as Elijah's nearly, and it is something different from just looking someone in the eye as you speak.

"Call someone if you wish."

Alaric nods.

Elijah smiles even broader than before. "Who will you call?"

Alaric opens his mouth and closes it. "Am I compelled?"

"You are compelled not to leave the grounds." Elijah gives a sharp nod. "Nothing else. Who will you call? And what will you say to them?" The way he says this, it sounds like he's not asking a question but making a point.

Who will Alaric call?

There are points to be earned, here, and lives to be lost.

Alaric considers. Damon, obviously. Elena. Perhaps Liz. He opens his mouth. Closes it again. Nothing he could say to a single one of them. Damon would come looking. Elena would cry.

"I'm a prisoner," he says, "but I'm not your prisoner. Am I?"

Elijah nods. "Well said."

"I guess I won't need the phone after all." Alaric lowers his eyes.

Elijah takes a sideways step and sweeps an arm in the direction of the door. "Perhaps I can show you the manor."

...

It is not unlike the boarding house in terms of a rich history and a ridiculous library. Three witches, two men and a woman, nod and smile when Alaric and Elijah enter the room and they return to their reading almost immediately, without introduction or a single word spoken. Alaric wonders if they know he is the reason they are there, if they have looked at him and wondered what the fuss is all about.

"Are they compelled?"

"Motivated," Elijah disagrees. "This library is a privilege to explore. And they will leave at six each day. If you wish to read, as is my habit of an evening, they will be gone by then. The large armchair in the corner is mine." Elijah places a hand close to the top of Alaric's arm. "You are welcome to use the library at any time, of course. But be aware you are something of a novelty. There may be staring."

Elijah's chair looks well-sat-in. Overstuffed and worn out. Surprisingly inelegant.

Alaric crosses to the window to take in the view. The grounds are beautiful and the snow has begun to settle on the ground and for a mad minute Alaric wishes Elena and Jeremy could join him to make snowmen. The children he will never have.

"Thank you, Elijah," he says. "I owe you my life."

...

Twice a day, at nine in the morning and nine in the evening a witch feeds him tea not unlike the tea prepared by Bonnie and as wicked-tasting and chants over him but Alaric can't break the habit of watching the clock, all day, afraid always that he will lose time and be something other than himself again; but he stays. Himself, only himself.

It quickly becomes habit for Alaric to take his meals in the library and to spend most of his waking time there, too. When a witch abandons a book he takes it up. It is an interesting pastime and Alaric learns more about magic than he ever imagined he might, but there are no clues. Containers for the dark magic in the ring itself, they have found; but nothing that could ensure Alaric stays himself permanently. He takes copious notes though and promises himself he will sit and go through them all with Bonnie if he gets out of here, and to convince Elijah to let her explore the library after Alaric is dead, if it falls out that way.

Sometimes the witches speak, debating aspects of his condition. Usually, this is whispered, and they dart a glance as if to say they wish he would leave so they could speak more freely. One afternoon as the sun disappears one of the warlocks kicks the other, under the table, and shoots a not-subtle look at Alaric. At this moment Alaric decides things have to change. He places the book he has been reading beside him on the couch and crosses the room.

"Hello," he says. "I'm Alaric Saltzman."

They all nod, but don't introduce themselves.

"The reason I'm still alive," he says, "is that despite the fact I've asked three people to kill me, including your friend Elijah, no one will do it."

"Seems premature," the warlock with the wispy red beard says. "We haven't finished our research."

"Right. So please. Research. Read. Debate. Don't worry about what I might hear because frankly I don't share the general view that dying is the worst thing that could happen to me." He nods, and turns on his heel, to return to the couch, when wispy-beard calls him back.

"Three people," he says. "You told us you asked three people to kill you."

"Yeah."

"You called Elijah a person."

Alaric nods. "What would you call him?"

The witch, a pretty girl reminiscent of Meredith Fell, with big doe eyes, frowns. "Why is Elijah doing this? Who are you to him?"

Alaric pauses. "I have absolutely no idea," he says.

...

From time to time Elijah asks Alaric to come to the dining room so that they can share a meal. An in-residence chef prepares all of Alaric's meals, but Elijah eats only when the mood strikes. When it does, they eat together. Always, Elijah's eyes on Alaric's eyes, his eyes on Alaric's lips, on Alaric's body. On Alaric.

They talk about the progress of the research and from time to time Alaric suggests again that they could save rather a lot of time and effort if Elijah would reach across the table and break his neck.

Elijah says no, each time, and looks and looks. Each time they eat together they sit closer.

"I rarely have an opportunity for an interesting project," he insists. "Perhaps you amuse me."

"Everything amuses you." Alaric leans back in his chair. "Correct me if I'm wrong but I think you spent half an hour watching cat videos on YouTube yesterday. Care to comment?"

Elijah gives a sharp nods and tames a forkful of angel hair pasta. "Indeed."

It is getting a little bit ridiculous.

Alaric refuses dessert as he always does because he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth. "Just bourbon," he tells the… waiter? In a home, is he still a waiter? And this is a home. One bookshelf in the library declares it so. Fiction, well read and well thumbed. In eight languages. Alaric has often found himself gazing at the books on that shelf, but he returns always to the books rejected by the trio of witches.

The trio are accustomed to Alaric now, and nod when he enters or leaves the room, but they haven't exchanged further words. They are no longer cautious when declaring an opinion that remedy A will almost certainly kill him or that remedy B may lock him in his mind for all eternity.

There are other witches who come and go and speak in hushed whispers. They look at Alaric like a particularly dangerous science experiment, one they are enjoying too much, but not one speaks to him.

It is almost the loneliest Alaric has ever been. His thoughts return to the phone, the permission he has to make phone calls. He considers calling his best friend from Duke, pretend to shoot the shit, but Ben knows him too well and will freak out. He might even show up in Mystic Falls looking for him. He imagines what it would be like to pick up a phone and dial Damon's number and even hear him answer.

"Hello," he'd say. "Hello?" There would be a long silence, and then, he'd say "Ric?"

And then he would compel everyone who has ever worked for a phone company until he found the manor and he would come, and that can't happen.

Alaric sleeps adequately and dreams of Damon and Elena and dreams of murder as well, and wakes refreshed some days and screaming on other days, and some nights. Wakes clawing at his own chest, sometimes, with blood under his fingernails. Wakes soaked in sweat and with the taste of blood in his mouth.

One night he wakes from one of the worst of his recurrent nightmares. In it he has murdered Elena and painted his body with her blood so he can hide against the night and he wakes screaming again, and with hands on his body; and when he wakes the rest of the way he sees that they are Elijah's hands, attached to Elijah's body.

"I can get rid of those," Elijah says, with Alaric's hands closed around his wrists. "The night terrors."

"They're less than half of what I deserve," Alaric answers, and pulls away, and turns away, and buries himself beneath the bedcovers. Elijah waits a good long while, standing in the room, before he leaves, and then he closes the door with the gentlest imaginable click.

It really is getting a little bit more than ridiculous and really, someone needs to say something.

...

Elijah clears his throat in the doorway of the library. "I have something arranged for our meal which I think you will like. Chef has prepared kangaroo meat."

Alaric is halfway horrified because it sounds a little bit like eating unicorns, but he is a lot more intrigued, and he takes a slip of linen (less acidic than paper) to use as a bookmark in the tome he is reading, and he closes the book carefully on the large desk.

Dinner is charged but dinner is always charged.

The meat is just barely warm in the centre and barely seared on the outside and the gamey flavor leaves venison in the dust. The kangaroo barely got a chance to complain it was being killed before arriving on the plate just so, and Alaric decides almost instantly that he will find a way to spend some time in Australia if he survives this.

Alaric pretends for a long moment that he can't feel Elijah's eyes on him. And then he doesn't.

"You know, this isn't television or a film," he says carefully. "It's not the latest blockbuster teen romance fantasy. The fact that you're a vampire and I'm a possessed human only makes it seem that ridiculous."

"Of course."

Alaric pulls all that he has together in a big lump of brave. "In real life, when there is a fuckload of sexual tension, it tends to get resolved." He eats several more mouthfuls of the rich meat and then meets Elijah's eyes. "Really. Quite quickly. Life's too short, etc." He raises an eyebrow. "Well. Mine is."

"Pessimistic." Elijah narrows his eyes just a touch. "Surely Damon has suggested turning you."

"You really want to talk about Damon right now?" Alaric takes another mouthful.

Elijah shrugs, and returns to his meal, but he is not nearly as nonchalant as he would like to be. "We may have to discuss your turning ourselves, at some stage, if the search remains fruitless."

"Me? A vampire? No fucking way. What if that makes this thing stronger? We have a deal. If you can't fix me, you kill me," Alaric says.

"I made no such agreement. I find it interesting that you would assume."

"Whatever," Alaric says, and returns to the asparagus, which seems to compliment the meat beautifully.

They finish their meals in silence and retreat to the library. Alaric sits at the leather-upholstered desk and opens the book again while Elijah peruses the shelves. The book is heavy and smells vaguely of mildew but it has a reassuring amount of gold on the pages, beautifully illuminated. Seems expensive and reliable and full of the best secrets. So far, it's a dud.

"What you said. Earlier." Elijah does not look at Alaric as he says it, just looks at the books on the shelves. "Were you implying that you are attracted to me?"

"You've been alive a thousand years. You don't have the hang of signals yet?" Alaric doesn't even look up. "Lame."

Alaric turns the page. Awesome. More inscrutable ancient riddles, as if he doesn't have enough of an ancient inscrutable riddle in front of him in an immaculately cut suit. Another page. More gold and the same stupid riddles.

"What would Damon say if he knew we were having this conversation?"

Alaric shrugs, examining a diagram which appears to show how to remove the adrenal glands from a wolf. "He'd be pissed he wasn't here for it."

Elijah crosses the room almost silently, and pulls an envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket. He places it on the open page directly in Alaric's eye line, and Alaric looks up at last.

"What's this?"

"It recently occurred to me to make arrangements for return post," Elijah says, and leaves the library with a copy of the Hound of the Baskervilles in his hand.

The envelope is of the sort Alaric had written Damon's name on weeks before but it bears no insignia, just a reassuringly expensive-looking watermark. Alaric turns it over. It is unsealed.

Inside is another envelope which bears Damon's messiest handwriting, which still looks like it was typeset by a choir of angels. A Post Office Box address in Mystic Falls. Still sealed, and postmarked only two days ago. No doubt, Alaric is supposed to see that the letter is unopened and unread.

Alaric holds the envelope in his hands, even brings it to his nose, but it doesn't smell like anything. No trace of Damon's aftershave. Nothing of him at all.

In the top drawer of the desk is a letter opener. Alaric has never used a letter opener in his life. Never seen any reason to. Somehow, this letter seems to demand a little reverence. He feels uncomfortable with any item in his hand that could cause the death of a person – cutlery, even – but since his passenger does appear quiet, he sets the worry aside. Runs the blunt blade into the flap.

The door opens, and one of the witches, a tall black guy with hair longer than Elena's and the largest hands Alaric has ever seen, enters.

"Ready?"

Alaric looks at the envelope in his hand. "I don't think so."

"Dude. It's nine o'clock. I was being polite. Don't really give a fuck whether you're ready or not, I just -"

Alaric shakes himself. "Not what I meant," he says, and crosses the room to the tallish chair they have been using for this twice-daily ritual. A woman in the morning and a man at night, something about the balance. He drinks the tea and he closes his eyes and he listens to the murmured words and understands them no better than he did…

Well, fuck. Two weeks ago? Three?

When the ritual is done, Alaric opens his eyes to see that Elijah is standing by the door.

The witch leaves. For some reason, like the trio who research all day in the library and the others who pass through they have not introduced themselves. Not the morning witch or the evening witch. As the guardians of Alaric's sanity he wishes they would.

Elijah stays.

"Did you…?"

"Not yet."

Elijah nods. "Sleep well. I will see you tomorrow." Elijah leaves and the door shuts behind him.

Alaric returns to the desk and opens the envelope with the blunt blade and removes the slip of paper with Damon's elegant handwriting on it, and he closes his eyes and opens them again and he smiles.

What the fuck? Where the fuck? Call me. I'll come and get you.

And stop talking like you have cancer.

Alaric folds the paper again and puts the letter with his pile of notes.

From the bookshelf he removes a meticulously illustrated copy of Titus Groan and slips upstairs with a bottle of bourbon to read and sleep and dream of Damon.

...

Alaric takes long walks around the grounds and never feels the urge to try to stray away. He wishes the urge would strike, because he wants to understand the compulsion. Is the compulsion not to try?

The snow is thick on the ground, powder soft. Alaric has no interest in skiing but snow appeals to the inner kid, and does always, even if the inner kid has never seen snow, or at least never seen it like this, beautiful and soft and ripe with potential. Alaric lifts a handful of snow and lets it sift like icing sugar through his fingers, and then another handful is packed into a proper snowball.

Alaric throws the snowball at a tree trunk and enjoys the way it breaks up.

A second and third and fourth snowball are each a little less satisfying.

Alaric is packing a fifth snowball when Elijah arrives, remarkably not wearing a suit. He is almost weather appropriate in a jacket and jeans.

Alaric throws the snowball before he realizes it is his plan to do so and it breaks against Elijah's chest a full quarter-second before Elijah realizes it is going to happen.

Elijah stands staring at his chest, the white powdered snow dusting it. And then lifts his eyes to meet Alaric's again. Amused, again. Amused is a good look for Elijah. It's always been true but Alaric has never seen it so beautifully bare before. He sees it a lot, now.

"You threw… a snowball at me," Elijah says, unnecessarily. It is clear that this is what happened.

"I did," Alaric agrees, solemn. "Ready to kill me now?"

Elijah dusts gently at his jacket. "No," he says, "but I'll keep this in mind." He takes several steps closer to where Alaric stands.

Alaric sticks his hands in his pockets. He stands with the hands in the pockets almost close enough to touch Elijah. But he doesn't reach or touch or do any such.

"You are an interesting man." Elijah says this like he might say 'the batteries in the smoke detectors are in need of replacement' or 'I think I prefer river salt, after all.' Alaric is sick of this. Between a thousand year old vampire and a sort-of serial killer, if there is a natural instigator it should be Elijah.

"You are less interesting by the day," Alaric admits. "Really." He stoops to scoop more snow and packs it into a firm ball. "I suppose if you had managed high school and college and the indescribable horror frequently described in America as dating, in the modern sense, you might have an idea of what you're doing." He packs the ball tighter. "Instead you're acting like you can't work out whether or not it's even worth propositioning me." Alaric cocks his head. "I killed you once. And now I've tried to do it a second time. You've handcuffed me to a radiator." Alaric inclines his head, a careful angle. An unconscious imitation of Elijah's posture. Packs the snow tighter, and throws it at the tree. "I was possessed by your brother. And you think, what? Sex might strain the friendship?"

And then Alaric is hard up against a tree trunk, Elijah pressing against him. Elijah holds the collar of Alaric's jacket in his hands, firm.

"Why are you not afraid of me?"

Elijah's face is perhaps four inches from Alaric's when he asks this question. Alaric reaches for one of Elijah's wrists. Closes his hand around it. "Who says I'm not?"

"I say. You don't smell afraid. You don't look afraid."

"There are scarier things in my life right now than an Original vampire who wants to fuck me. Much scarier things."

"Crude."

"Blunt. And I want this as much as you do. Are you going to kiss me or not?"

And then Elijah does that. Alaric had expected rough urgency, but the firm lips of Elijah Mikaelsen are sensual, unhurried. He kisses the way he speaks, deliberate and determined, eloquent. When Alaric opens his mouth, Elijah's tongue is velvet, again deliberate. Exploratory and confident and surprisingly warm. He takes Alaric's head between his hands, a gentle, fond gesture. Quite unexpected.

Perhaps it is because he has felt so alone amongst the witches who keep him sane and seek to save him but will not speak to him. Perhaps it is his fear that the Thing in him is truly a part of him, and not the occupying monster he has pictured and prefers to believe in. Alaric hasn't felt so alone in years, not since the early days after the loss of Isobel. Perhaps it's just the too-felt absence of Damon, who would, it is true, regret that he wasn't here for this.

But Alaric feels changed, somehow, by this kiss. Less alone.

Elijah pulls away, too soon. "I have to run an errand. An important one."

Alaric's insides are lava and this news sucks. "Okay," he says, a little husky. A little incoherent. "Is it…?"

"Yes. About you. Yes." Elijah nods sharply, and removes his hands from Alaric's face. "Perhaps we could share a meal together later."

Alaric doesn't move, stays pinned to the tree like he is. He nods. "Sounds like a plan," he agrees.

Before Elijah steps away he kisses Alaric once more, too briefly; still there is that sense again, of being tethered to the ground for a long moment, safe there, even if he doesn't know exactly where in the world he is.

"The telephone in the small study three doors past your bedroom cannot be traced, and would quickly confound anyone who attempted to try," Elijah says. "For what it's worth." He turns and walks carefully through the snow.

Alaric stays where he is for a long moment, and then heads back to the manor. He quickly finds the study and stands in front of an old-fashioned red telephone. He sits at the desk, for a long moment, debating.

He picks up the phone and dials Damon's number, absently wondering when he last used a dial telephone. Twenty years, perhaps.

Damon answers the phone irritably. "Who is this?" he asks, and Alaric debates hanging up.

"It's me."

Damon's tone changes instantly. "Fuck. About time. Well? Did he fix you? Where are you? I'm coming to pick you up." Alaric hears a door open, thinks he can hear Damon ascending the stairs. Probably planning to pack a bag.

"No idea. And I'm not fixed. He's got an army of witches working on it, though, and I haven't lost time since I got here." Alaric rubs his temples with his thumb and forefinger. "I have to stay. A bit longer. Apparently I still have a stake hidden somewhere in Mystic Falls. Without these witches keeping me me, I'm too dangerous. I tried to kill Elijah, Damon. Could easily be you next time."

Damon has gone quiet.

"I'm okay."

Damon says nothing, but Alaric hears him breathe. They are like that, silent and breathing, for a long moment, and it's interesting. Unless he is speaking, Damon generally only breathes to makes a point and Alaric wonders what the point is.

"I might not make it back. You know that."

"Shut up."

They are both silent another long moment.

"If they can't solve it…"

Damon interrupts. "Don't. You'll ask him to kill you, won't you? Don't."

"I've been asking him to kill me since I woke up chained to a radiator three weeks ago." Alaric leans back in his chair. "He's been reluctant, so far."

"Ah, fuck. He wants you, doesn't he?"

Alaric says nothing and lets that speak for itself.

"I can't believe I'm not there. How many times have we joked about this?" Damon sighs, but there is something crouched in the sigh.

"If I can get back, I'll get back, Damon. You know that, right?" Damon is silent a while.

"Don't fall in love with him or anything dumb like that. Stockholm Syndrome is a real thing, you know."

I couldn't, Alaric thinks. He's too other and he's not you. "My point is. If I can't get back – I won't be back."

Damon is silent again. "Don't," he says. "Just don't."

"I have to go. Damon, I -"

"Shut up," Damon says, and he adds "There is nothing you can say right now that's not going to sound like goodbye."

Alaric fiddles with the phone cord like he's a teenaged girl. Damon is right and frankly this could be goodbye.

Damon speaks again. "Call when you can. Call soon."

Damon hangs up the phone and Alaric pictures him drinking half a bottle of bourbon, throwing the rest into the fireplace. He hopes Damon won't rush into the heart of Mystic Falls and find someone to kill. He generally finds better ways to manage stress these days and with Mystic Falls full of the rest of the Original family, hopefully he will find something more productive to do with the energy.

Alaric sits in the study a good deal longer, and then leaves. Back to the library.

He works through a book abandoned by one of the witches and takes notes about a spell Bonnie might be interested in, to make water defy gravity. Useful, since she can make water catch fire, and frankly very pretty too.

At six in the evening the witches leave.

At eight, one of the staff asks Alaric to come to the dining room for his meal. Alaric nods, marks his place in the book he is reading with the scrap of linen he has been using, and heads for the dining room. Two plates have been delivered but Elijah isn't there.

"Should I wait?" Alaric asks. The waiter shrugs.

"He probably won't be long. You want to eat that before the scallops get cold." He turns and leaves and Alaric sits, and begins to eat. The mild chili is delicious.

It doesn't even startle him when Elijah slips into his own seat, dressed again in a suit. "How did it go?"

"Not well."

Alaric shrugs.

Damon is far too optimistic and Elijah is enjoying the project but Alaric does not believe that he can be helped. Each time it occurs to him that this is the case, it stings. What hurts is not the fact that he will die in the end but that he has the potential to cause further harm before then. That his death will cause hurt as well, that others will blame themselves and each other.

Alaric has finished his meal and pushed his plate away. In a few minutes the evening warlock will be looking for him in the library.

"How long until you give up?"

"A while," Elijah allows. "I think you have an appointment."

He drinks the tea and listens to the reassuring murmur and feels the odd resettling his skin does after this ritual, as if it has decided to cling to him after all. When he opens his eyes Elijah is sitting on the couch with his legs crossed at the knee and his arms folded neatly over his chest.

"Have you given up?" Elijah is no longer amused.

"I don't know." Alaric stands, collects his glass from the sideboard and drinks deeply.

"Is that the truth?"

"Compel me if you want. Maybe my subconscious has some insight. Me – I don't know. But you notice I haven't thrown myself out of a window yet."

Elijah nods, considering.

Alaric takes another sip.

Elijah stands, then, and crosses the room. "You value human life, except your own?"

"I have a body count. That tips the scales." Alaric reaches out, then. Cups the back of Elijah's neck with his hand, and pulls him closer. And then Elijah's lips are against his, again, and Elijah's hands settle on Alaric's hips. Their bodies line up beautifully, perfectly. Elijah presses against Alaric, still somewhat tentative, but he deepens the kiss, and Alaric feels something that is not quite a moan escape his throat.

"You don't owe me anything, Alaric." Elijah pulls a way a moment to say this.

Alaric shakes his head. "I do. But that's not what this is about."

Elijah nods, and pulls Alaric closer. Not tentative, now. Purposeful. Alaric is expecting to find himself pressed into a wall or thrown onto the couch but Elijah keeps them standing there, and Alaric's insides turn to molten lava again.

It's been weeks since Alaric really felt good. He feels good now. Kiss-drunk and heady and firmly himself. He slips Elijah's jacket off, and it's interesting, being the aggressor; unexpected, somewhat. Elijah steps back. Entirely turned on and utterly present. But he steps back.

"A bedroom, I think," he says, and takes his jacket from Alaric's hands. Silently and with a good three feet between them, they leave the library and climb the stairs. It's surreal. Alaric expects to be led to his own room – interesting, that, too, that he has started to think of it as his room – but they keep walking, end Elijah leads Alaric to his own bedroom. Opens the door and indicates that Alaric should enter first.

It is all so unfailingly polite.

And then it isn't. Alaric is pressed against the wall, his t-shirt unceremoniously stripped from his body. Elijah starts to breathe harder, and Alaric pulls his shirt from his very neatly tucked and pressed suit pants, unbuttons the buttons, one by one, revealing an inch at a time the chiseled perfection that is one thousand years of being Elijah.

The urgency missing from their earlier kiss is definitely here now. Elijah mouths his way across Alaric's jaw, breathing in the scent of Alaric's blood, rushing just beneath the surface, forcing Alaric's head sideways. They are both hard and aching and drawing it out because it is too delicious.

"I rarely take a lover," Elijah says, as he unbuckles Alaric's belt.

"Why?" It doesn't matter; but Elijah's voice makes Alaric weak at the knees. He would listen to Elijah read the shipping report.

"I rarely meet anyone who interests me enough to bother." Alaric kicks his shoes off and reflects that this is a compliment. Nice. But his head is spinning and Elijah is unzipping his jeans and fuck, but the man knows what to do with his hand. Alaric could pass out, if not for the kiss which is keeping him so beautifully attached to the earth.

Disappointingly Elijah removes his hand, but since he deposits Alaric on the bed half a second later – vampire speed is so efficient – Alaric doesn't mind much. He lifts himself onto his elbows.

Watching Elijah remove his own clothes is such a sight that Alaric doesn't even mind that he didn't get the chance to do it himself. Ever neat and controlled, he is now a whirlwind, dropping his shirt and pants onto the ground. Alaric slips out of his own jeans and then Elijah is above him, pushing him into the mattress, eyes blown black with want, face half slack.

Elijah's body lean and honed and broad across the shoulders.

The feeling of a strong body against his makes Alaric feel more real, always, but the indescribable weight of Elijah – as if the years have settled into his flesh, a greater weight than he should be able to bear – is another thing completely. Elijah's hands are everywhere, sweeping great brushstrokes over Alaric's body, firm and insistent and exploratory. Without needing words to get them there they move up the bed, until Alaric's head lies against the pillows.

And again without needing words they each have a hand on the other's cock, each with a perfect, complementary rhythm, while their lips still tell secrets and make promises.

"Why are you doing this?" Elijah wants to know.

"Because I want to. Same reason you are."

It is interesting, Alaric reflects, but he has noticed that Elijah – who surrounds himself with a network of witches and otherwise converses mainly with people in his employ, and who seems to guard his solitude so fiercely, is in some ways both lonely and unsure anyone would actually enjoy his company. He does all things with great efficiency and doesn't pause to chat. For weeks he had looked at Alaric with desire in his eyes but until Alaric made it clear it was reciprocated he had done nothing to advance the plot.

Alaric rolls them both until Elijah is beneath him, blinking in surprise. This is another look which suits him. Alaric wonders how often Elijah is surprised, and suspects it is a rare event. When Alaric slips down the bed to run his tongue the length of Elijah's erection, to run his lips over the silken head, Elijah lets out a delicious groan, and tangles his fingers in Alaric's hair.

Fantastic, to make Elijah roll his hips like this, to make Elijah twitch and moan; sort of like discovering you really can move a mountain. Alaric works the base of Elijah's cock with one hand and grips his hip with the other, relishing the ripple of muscles under Elijah's firm flesh. Deeper, then, Alaric takes Elijah into his throat.

Alaric pulls away, unwilling to satisfy yet. Elijah's eyes are glazed, his lips parted, when Alaric moves to kiss him again. They clutch at each other and it is an act of hope, or something like it. Elijah is Alaric's last, best chance, and he is six feet and a thousand years present and making Alaric feel like he's not about to fall of the edge of the earth any more. Elijah, for his part, is taking comfort of the sort he rarely does; enjoying a human he enjoys generally anyway, becoming a part of the world for some length of time.

Kissing is awesome. Alaric often thinks it. Occasionally he and Damon waste a good length of time on the couch in front of the fire just kissing and kissing. There's love, then, where here, there is only lust and mutual appreciation and two particularly fine bodies pressed against each other, but still, kissing is awesome. Elijah has been kissing for a thousand years, and kisses the way he does everything; deliberately and carefully and with no small degree of skill.

Damon's face rises up in Alaric's mind, but he lets it fall away again.

Elijah reaches for the drawer in the nightstand, removes a small bottle of lubricant. He pours a liberal amount over his fingers and as he returns to kiss Alaric again, he begins his preparations, one finger, then two, gently massaging Alaric's prostate.

"Fuck, Elijah..." Alaric presses back, finds he is willing and open quickly. His body cooperative. Elijah enters him an inch at a time, causing that sweet ache Alaric has been missing. Familiar, but entirely different to Damon, longer and thinner.

Elijah is cautious and restrained, but is soon fully inside him and settling back into Alaric's arms. As he begins to roll his hips, taking and re-taking Alaric until Alaric is entirely his, Alaric arcs against him. And then Elijah pulls out and away.

"Roll over," he tells Alaric, and Alaric just does.

In this position, Elijah can wrap a strong arm around Alaric's chest and shoulder, can kiss Alaric's face. Alaric lies tipped onto his side, one knee out, with Elijah's strong hand on his cock, expertly kneading and tugging just right. Elijah whispers words Alaric can't understand or maybe can't quite listen to into Alaric's ear. Their bodies slick with sweat, now, and perfectly together. As close together as two men can be. Glorious.

It's not the ferocious crash of bodies Alaric had imagined – it is something quite different, with need and real affection. It is strong hands and strong bodies and firm lips, and fuzzy edges, and it is almost everything Alaric wants. He doesn't know what is missing until it trips off his tongue.

"You can bite," he says, surprised that he is saying it, surprised that he wants it. How far he has come from the day he arrived in Mystic Falls full of rage and with a stake bearing the name Damon Salvatore.

"That is a very intimate act," Elijah murmurs. "While engaged like this."

"I know," Alaric says, as his orgasm rises. He tips his head back against Elijah's shoulder, and comes hard, hot jets that spill over Elijah's hand and Alaric's own stomach. Elijah's rhythm changes as he nears the edge, and he groans low and hard as he empties all that he has into Alaric, still rolling slowly. Running firm lips over Alaric's shoulder.

Elijah snakes his other arm across Alaric's body, and they lie like that a long time, wrapped up together. Eventually, Elijah withdraws, and Alaric turns in Elijah's arms.

"That was a surprise," Alaric says, as Elijah's lips meet his.

"How so?" Elijah runs his lips softly over Alaric's. "I had the impression you were anticipating this. You've been direct."

"Didn't exactly feel like casual sex," Alaric says, reaching for a Kleenex to tidy himself up with. "If you understand my meaning."

Elijah sweeps his hand from Alaric's throat to his hip, pausing to run the pads of his fingertips over the scar Alaric bears, Damon's scar, Damon's teeth, dozens of scars ghosted one over the other. Alaric should be embarrassed, maybe, by the scar, but he is not; puts one hand behind his head, enjoying the slow, appreciative blink this elicits from Elijah, as the muscles across his body are effectively stretched and sculpted. Alaric enjoys his body. He sees no reason others shouldn't. Damon certainly does.

"I do very little casually."

Elijah lies on his stomach, Alaric lies on his back. Their eyes stay on each other. Alaric has never understood why other people struggle to maintain eye contact. Elijah certainly doesn't. Alaric reaches, runs the back of his hand over the flesh of Elijah's side.

"Do you really think the witches will find anything? Honestly?" Alaric shakes his head. "I don't think they're very optimistic."

"I don't know." Elijah blinks, slowly. "It's too soon to give up, though. You are comfortable here. Is it terrible, to imagine staying a while longer?"

He's not asking about the food, or Alaric's very comfortable lodgings, or the library. It is true, what he said, Elijah does very little casually.

"No," Alaric says. "It's not terrible." He lets his eyes drift to the ceiling, the maze of cracks. This house must be very old. "Will you kill me, though? If we can't solve this?"

Elijah is silent a long time. "I see no reason to. We can keep you safe here. Indefinitely. You can put your considerable research skill to good use. You could have a good life here. For as long as it takes us to put you back together."

A reasonable facsimile of a life. For the thousandth time, Alaric wonders if he will ever see Damon again, ever see Elena. This time, he wonders if he even wants to.

...

It's like a dam has been breached; now they have passed this they can't keep their hands off each other. Elijah is no longer aloof, spends more time at the manor. A look is all it takes for Alaric to be up the stairs and Elijah to be pressed into him, on the bed or against a wall; quick, urgent sex rocking into each other's hands or the slow sort of fucking that leaves Alaric feeling whole again. With Elijah's mouth around his cock Alaric starts to wonder if he even cares, that he might never really be a real person again, never stitched together again completely, always in two halves and one to be constrained, restrained.

And one night Alaric wakes to find Elijah looming over him, ferocious and consuming. Kissing his neck and shoulders. They hadn't retired to the same bedroom, so there is a brief moment of disorientation, but Elijah's firm hands keep him safe there where he is.

"You were screaming," Elijah says, by way of explanation, though it doesn't explain much.

"What about?"

"I have no idea," Elijah says, covering Alaric's mouth with his own, and for a second, his features flash.

Alaric stills, pushes him away, just a notch. "I've never seen you vamp out," he says.

Elijah shakes his head. "I rarely see the need. I rarely drink directly from the source. And I don't feel the need to strut and posture the way some of us do." Alaric wonders who Elijah means but it could be almost any of them. Klaus. Stefan. Damon did a significant amount of posturing himself, and seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

Alaric sends Damon's face from his mind.

"So what brought that on?" Alaric traces the underside of Elijah's eyes. "Do it. Show me."

Perhaps it is the undeniable intimacy that has been building up; it's more than sex, Alaric can't pretend it's not: it's not what he and Damon have, but it's something. Whatever it is, why ever it is, Elijah lets his face change.

There is no surprise. Alaric knows and expects each change – the eyes, the engorged capillaries, the hint of teeth – but the rawness of it is still a surprise. Alaric offers up his wrist.

Elijah pauses a moment and with his body still weighting Alaric's, he takes the offered wrist. He runs his tongue over the thin skin, inhaling Alaric's scent, and then bites down firmly.

Alaric winces.

The blood flows freely from the wound, and Elijah laps at it, his face a predator's face. But a wound must be healed, so Elijah bites into his own wrist as well, and offers it up. Alaric drinks, moans and falls back, lights blooming and fading behind his eyelids, the best kind of drug. With blood in his mouth and dripping down his chin he kisses Elijah hard, hungry, turned on and tuned out, tearing away the t-shirt and boxers he had put on to sleep.

It's true, what Elijah said, biting is a very intimate act; blood exchange of this sort is even worse. Alaric's stomach clenches a little and it occurs to him for the first time in the two weeks since the dam broke that this isn't just a balm, not just the sort of recreational sex that bothers neither him nor Damon; this is veering into the territory of betrayal.

He rolls Elijah onto his stomach and fucks him senseless anyway, because with a head full of fireworks, he can't not. They sleep tangled together too intimately, too much an imitation of a night spent in Damon's arms.

...

Following an instinct he can't explain Alaric finds himself in the small study again the following evening, seated before the red telephone.

He sits for perhaps ten minutes, perhaps an hour, and dials Damon's number. He imagines the 'Caller: Blocked' message coming up on Damon's screen, usually guaranteed to have him either refuse the call or answer with snark.

He sounds hopeful, instead, when he answers; "Hello?"

"It's me."

There is a silence, when Damon answers; "Thank fuck. We need you back here. Now."

Alaric shakes his head. "I can't, Damon. I'm still -"

"Dangerous, blah blah blah. I know. Bigger problems. Klaus is talking killing sprees. Everyone except Elena is on the hit list until we find out where that stake is." Damon will be stalking about like a cat, now, elegant fingers skating over everything within reach. "You'd think Elijah would know."

"Elijah does know."

Alaric looks up to find Elijah standing in the doorway. Straight and tall and with his hands slung low in his pockets. Face betraying a little anger, but serene still.

Alaric narrows his eyes. "Why didn't you…"

"My brother contacted me an hour ago, encouraging me to think up a way to motivate your friends to reveal where you are." Elijah nods slightly, courteously. "Naturally, he is unaware you are safe here with me."

It's an odd turn of phrase and one perhaps intended to be heard by Damon, who does, indeed, hear. Stupid vampire ears. Damon swears a blue streak and says, "put him on."

Elijah crosses the room and takes the receiver from Alaric's hand, letting his fingers brush over Alaric's, resettling. Alaric leans back in the chair, grateful he can only hear one side of the conversation, and debates leaving so he can't hear any of it.

Once Elijah starts speaking about precautions that need to be taken if Alaric is not being dosed twice daily, Alaric rises to his feet and slips down the hall to his bedroom.

The thought of it has him casting his eyes about for clocks, wishing he still wore a watch. How will he know he has switched again? When he wakes standing over a broken body? Or maybe the passenger will hide, let Alaric be tortured to death. The best hiding place is the one where you can't find the person who did the hiding.

Elijah knocks on the door. Pauses, and opens it.

"Damon hung up. On me, I think, not on you. Do you want to call him back?"

Alaric shakes his head. "When do we leave?"

"Tomorrow." Elijah hesitates, which is odd, because Elijah is not the type to hesitate in much of what he does. "Are you hungry?"

Alaric debates. Shakes his head. "No," he says. He can't be hungry because his stomach is full of knots. No space for food. "But I could use a drink."

...

At nine o'clock the dreadlocked warlock performs the evening ritual for the last time. Once more with the witch in the morning, and then back to Mystic Falls.

Afterwards, in a comfortable sitting room off the library Alaric and Elijah drink quietly, in separate chairs, a good distance apart. It is strange because what they have is not exactly a relationship but it's not exactly not that either, and it is all a confused whirl in Alaric's head. Was it a balm? Was it an affair? Are they breaking up? Ridiculous.

Will Damon know, when Alaric gets back to Mystic Falls, what it was, what it wasn't?

"Penny for your thoughts? Or, no. Inflation. Perhaps a dollar?"

There it is, the twenty-first century. Alaric has to smile, though the smile is brief and rueful. "I'm scared. No, I'm not scared. I'm terrified."

Elijah only nods. Encouraging.

"I've told you before. If it was just dyin', that wouldn't worry me so much. I have no idea what sort of damage I could do before I get to that. Or how much… pain might be involved in getting my alter-ego to give up his secrets. I don't suppose Klaus would accept my head? As a substitute?"

"He is not easily appeased. He wants that stake."

"You should hand me to him, then. If anyone's gonna torture the truth out of me, it should be him. I can't make anyone I care about do it."

Elijah shakes his head. "You and Damon can reach that agreement, if he is unsuccessful. For now, I say; no. I will deliver you to the boarding house directly."

Elijah finishes his drink, and climbs to his feet. Unfolding like a telescope. "I imagine you wish to be alone."

Alaric meets Elijah's eyes. Clear and direct, though a couple of hours drinking too quickly has the world pleasantly slowed for him. "No," he says. "Not alone."

Elijah pauses, and nods. "Perhaps we can create some happy memories for you to carry into the dark with you."

Elijah sounds oddly wistful. It occurs to Alaric for the first time that Elijah will miss him. Elijah may be the loneliest being Alaric has met. Alaric stands as well, and ambles to meet Elijah in the middle of the room. Lines their hips together and lets their noses meet a moment, before leaning in for a soft kiss. "Let's do that," he says, and doesn't add We can make you some memories, too. He doesn't add Forget Damon. If you can hide me forever I'll stay forever. He doesn't add Turn me, in case it's enough to scare away the passenger and if it's not, stake me then, before I can hurt anyone. He just draws the tip of Elijah's tongue into his mouth. Thrills to feel of Elijah's breath against his lips. Steps away, so they can follow the route that has come to be familiar, back to Alaric's bedroom.

Through the library, out into and across the entry hall, so grand with its paintings and ancient pottery. Alaric drinks in the sights. The rich tapestries on the wall and thick old carpet with every type of red beneath his feet. The stairs with the dark, heavy banisters. In the hallway, with the mirror Alaric has never been able to bring himself to look at, there is a pretty side table with a vase full of dried roses. There is a smell of rich pipe tobacco Alaric has rarely paid any notice to.

Elijah's fingers tangle into Alaric's, which is new. He draws Alaric into the bedroom. They kick off their shoes.

"You'll be missed," Elijah says, kissing the inside of Alaric's wrist. Smelling the blood beneath the surface. "Perhaps I haven't been very clear. I'm told I'm often not."

Perhaps he hasn't been clear but Alaric knows. "You will, as well." Their lips meet in the middle, as lips do, and then part again.

"I admit I find the thought of you being tortured by one of those you count among friends… undesirable. I wish there was another way."

Me too, Alaric thinks, but will not say.

"When all of this is over – if I'm not, you know, dead, or worse – you, me and Damon could spend some time together." Alaric lets one corner of his lip curl up. Lascivious, though not as lascivious as Damon would manage. His hands remain occupied with unbuttoning the buttons of Elijah's shirt, tugging it out of his pants.

"Modern relationships confound me," Elijah admits. "But perhaps. Yes." He blinks fondly, letting himself be stripped of his clothing. Removing Alaric's thin t-shirt, running his hands over Alaric's chest.

Slow, too slow. Too tender.

"You are a singular individual. Courageous."

"Courageous? I'm terrified."

"You can't show courage with feeling fear," Elijah admonishes. Removing Alaric's belt. "You've asked for death, rather than risk those you care about. You've asked to be delivered into my brother's hands, which would be rather more brutal than those of your friends." Alaric's jeans slip from his hips, and Elijah begins a slow stroke, coaxing Alaric erect with nimble, practiced hands.

"I'm starting to think 'crazy' might be a better word." Alaric holds himself steady against Elijah's body, knees weakening. One arm over Elijah's shoulder, across his strong back.

Too slow, too tender. Alaric needs to be kept firmly in this body for as long as it is his. He pushes against Elijah, but Elijah only smiles, increases the pace.

Their eyes meet once again and Elijah lets his vampire face settle over his features. He bites into his own lip, and Alaric takes it into his mouth, sucking on it for the brief moments it takes to heal, turning that into a kiss. He closes his eyes, then, letting himself ride the sensation, as Elijah settles his features back to human.

He is on the bed quite suddenly, but Elijah remains too gentle.

"Make me feel this, Elijah," Alaric says, quietly, but with some force behind it; "this body won't be mine for long. Make me feel it, while I've got it."

"As you wish."

Elijah is less gentle then, and quite thorough, keeping Alaric on the very edge of orgasm as he kisses and licks him from head to toe; as he runs his warm tongue over Alaric's erection, refusing to satisfy, wanting their night to last as long as it can. He turns Alaric onto his stomach and bites into Alaric's shoulder, drawing blood, drawing moans, too, and unpronounceable sounds. He runs his heavy lips over the length of Alaric's spine, between the cheeks of his ass, lips and tongue firm and determined against Alaric's exquisitely sensitive rim. Alaric lets out a groan which seems to drive Elijah harder, but still he won't satisfy.

It is hard to participate very actively with the edges of the world all gone soft and every nerve ending aflame, and the strength of Elijah's arms holding Alaric in place, arranging him, rearranging and disarranging him. Hard to do much but ride the waves of sensation and wait for Elijah to decide he is ready to satisfy. Elijah is not one to be hurried at a task he relishes. With the taste of Alaric's blood in his mouth he kisses Alaric again, harder, this time.

Elijah draws blood again, from just above Alaric's groin, licks away the blood that trickles into Alaric's pubic hair. He is courteous enough to avoid biting over the scars Damon has left behind, the year of gentle bites into Alaric's hip. Keeping things separate.

They kiss for a time, again, with increased urgency, each with his hand on the other's cock, and Alaric knows, now, what Elijah likes, what will make him moan, what makes his hips roll. Elijah pulls away, then, and takes a long moment in exquisite preparation, finally taking Alaric hard, angling his body just right to place the perfect amount of pressure on Alaric's prostate.

Alaric feels young, suddenly, very young, with a mountain on top of him and inside him. He clutches at Elijah's arms, angles his hips high. Arcs his spine, then, so that Elijah has to curl his body to go deeper. The blood works in every one of Alaric's cells, and Elijah strokes him with firm, easy perfection. One thousand years of this. One thousand years of winters and summers. Perhaps he only rarely takes a lover now, but as he claims and reclaims Alaric's lips with his own, relearns and explores every part of Alaric's mouth, his jaw, his neck, his collarbone, Alaric reflects that there are skills that can be learned and called on forever.

Perhaps being a vampire wouldn't be so bad.

Elijah changes his angle again, leaning into Alaric, kissing over his chest. Kneading expertly, as Alaric reaches for him. His rhythm is ferocious, now, and Alaric feels firmly attached to his body, secured. With great care but with no warning Elijah flips Alaric onto his stomach, his side, so they will come together with Elijah's arm wrapped tightly over Alaric's chest. His mouth against Alaric's shoulders. This is how they seem to like it best.

It's not long then, and with Alaric firmly clenched around Elijah and Elijah murmuring Alaric's name into his ear they come together, one last time. Alaric comes apart under Elijah's knowing hand, with Elijah's fangs in his shoulder, almost wishing it would scar, something he could touch later.

With Elijah's blood still lighting up his cells, he knows it won't. It will heal before the aftershocks fade. He lets himself be held a long time.

Elijah withdraws, and Alaric feels the loss. Elijah stays where he is for a long time, arms closed over Alaric's body.

"Perhaps we could hide you," he murmurs, and Alaric has to close his eyes against the thought.

"He'd take it out on everyone I care about. Everyone he can reach."

He. The hated Klaus. Klaus who had stolen Alaric's body, committed crimes with it. Hurt people. If Klaus had never come, what would the world look like now?

Might as well wish Elena away. Or Jenna. Any one of the people who have been hurt by this ugly story. There was no use playing the 'if only' card. The world was as it was.

Elijah is warm and heavy and sated against Alaric's back. Elijah's blood is in Alaric's cells, in his organs, lighting up all the best neural pathways, making electricity crackle across Alaric's nerves.

Damon is at home, waiting.

Alaric lets his eyes close. "Stay," he asks Elijah.

Elijah stays.

...

It isn't a big surprise when Elijah is gone in the morning. Alaric had woken several times in the night, his heart racing, nightmares lingering in his mind's eye, to find Elijah still there, but surely he had preparations to make. Alaric takes a long shower, hoping to scrub every trace of Elijah's scent from his skin. The sweet ache of satisfaction, he hopes might stay a little longer, sustain him for a while.

He dresses simply and warmly in dark colours, and takes extra care in tying the laces of his boots. There is an oddly funereal aspect to the act. Perhaps, Alaric thinks, he is subconsciously preparing for his execution. Alaric throws the rest of his clothing in the sports bag that has been sitting in the closet. He doesn't bother to fold anything. After collecting a couple of other small items from the room it isn't Alaric's room any more.

Really, it never was. He stands for a long moment in it anyway.

In the library, he collects his notes. A thick wad of paper for Bonnie, which he sticks in an envelope marked clearly with her name. The rest of the papers are Alaric's own, and he folds them, clips them together and pushes them deep into his bag.

Vaguely, Alaric realises he is hungry, but still he feels too ill to eat.

The witch slips in the door, and Alaric gives her a smile. He sits on the tall chair for the last time.

She hesitates, for the first time ever. "Ella," she says, shaking Alaric's hand.

Alaric fights the urge to laugh. "Alaric," he answers. "Nice to meet you at last."

She places a small, warm hand on Alaric's jaw. An oddly affectionate gesture, for a woman who has worked so hard not to get to know Alaric at all in five weeks.

"You seem so kind," she says. "If it all works out, perhaps we'll see each other again, one day."

Alaric is not going to break down. It's just not the sort of thing he does. He smiles. "I hope so. I have a friend I'd love you to meet. Think you'd have a lot in common."

He drinks the tea, and closes his eyes, and Ella recites the incantation Alaric is starting to think he could recite himself. There is once more that sense of his skin resettling over his body. For the last time, he supposes.

He opens his eyes, and Ella steps back. "Good luck. I wish you the best, I really do." Her smile is sweet, and genuine. She does not believe he will make it through any more than Alaric does.

Alaric sits for a long moment, ignoring the shake in his hands.

When he looks up, Elijah is standing in front of him.

"Are you ready?"

Alaric shakes his head. "Yes," he says. "No. I don't know. We have to go. I have to get back."

On the very edge of Elijah's lips is the same offer again. Stay, I can hide you, but Alaric doesn't let him make it.

"I have to go," Alaric says again. He moves to get to his feet, but Elijah puts a hand on his shoulder, keeping him in place.

Elijah puts his lips to Alaric's forehead. "Sleep, Alaric," he says, and there must be some compulsion in it, because Alaric sleeps.

...

When he wakes, Alaric is in the basement of the boarding house with no real idea of how much time has passed. He instantly recognises the smells, the wood smoke that permeates every part of the boarding house. He has to shake himself awake.

He expects to see Damon, but not Damon and Elijah speaking in low voices, watching to see when he will wake. Alaric pulls himself to a seated position.

"I'll go," Elijah says, and lets his eyes linger over Alaric's for a long moment. He begins to step away.

"Elijah?"

Elijah turns back, expectant. Something like regret in his eyes.

"Thank you," Alaric says. "For everything."

"Good luck," Elijah answers, and then he is gone.

Damon pushes off the wall with a wry smile on his face. "You look well-fucked," he says, dropping onto the cot alongside Alaric. "You smell well-fucked, too." He smirks, putting a hand on Alaric's leg. Splaying elegant fingers over Alaric's thigh.

Alaric laughs.

"I would have done the same thing," Damon says. "Still, I missed you."

Alaric leans to kiss him. "Me too. So. Is there a plan?" He shrugs, nonchalant.

Damon flinches. "I can't do it," he admits.

Alaric feels a wave of irritation. "Great. I told Elijah he should hand me directly to Klaus -"

"Well, that's not going to happen. It's." Damon shakes his head. "Stefan's going to. You know. Do whatever needs to be done. It'll be awesome." He makes a face. Rolls his eyes. "Stefan is totally awesome at torture. He likes it! It'll be a bonding thing, I'm sure."

Damon's tone is intended to be flippant. It isn't. He sounds as sick as Alaric feels.

Alaric stills, feels his heart drop. "Yeah," he agrees. He's never been sure his passenger would believe Damon would really hurt him, anyway. Perhaps this is for the best. He nods. "Sounds like a plan."

"It's Plan B. Really, we're hoping once the herbs are out of your system, you'll wake up murderous and we won't even have to torture you." He says it airily, with a smile hooking up exactly one half of his face. He leans his shoulder against Alaric's. Re-establishing what has been lost, as much as he can, given the grizzly work ahead for them both. "I have to go. Stuff to do. But Elena's gonna bring you some clothes, books, stuff like that. Boring books. To send you to sleep. The complete idiot's guide to Windows Vista. The Secret. Wuthering Heights."

"Booze," Alaric suggests. Damon nods his agreement.

"Booze." Damon stands. "Yell if you need anything," he says, kissing Alaric again before crossing the basement floor at a clip and pulling the door shut.

It is very hard to sleep, when that's what you're supposed to do. But Alaric tries.

With Elijah's scent still dull in his head, he lies back and lets his eyes drift shut.