Warnings: Spoilers for 3.22. Ghost slash, non-explicit.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. If I did, Alaric wouldn't be dead. Also the title is from Krtisten Hersh's song, "Your Ghost".
So Elena's a vampire. That's great. Damon is sure she and Stefan will be very happy together. Totally awesome. Since Damon's last, best shot at happiness just died in his arms.
Damon leaves the hospital, leaves Stefan and Elena to sob it out and fight it out and if they want to, fuck it out. Fine. They can do what they need to do. Damon will do what Damon needs to do, fuck you very much, and Damon needs to drink.
First, Damon sits in the garage, in his car, with Alaric's body tucked in the trunk.
Why he took it he is not entirely sure, not really, but part of Damon thinks that if there is any way to get Alaric back in that body, he will be the one to find it.
This hurts like fuck.
Damon leans his forehead against the steering wheel. Fuckety-fuck.
He groans, a muffled, frustrated sound. "Ric…"
It feels good to say Alaric's name so Damon does it again. "Ric. Alaric. You asshole. You stupid fucking ugly-assed original vampire psycho cunt."
Damon half expects an irritable voice to emerge from the trunk; "You're on speakerphone, dick" or "Coming from you that's practically a compliment." Or a simple. "'m fucking tired, man. Let's go to bed." Followed by a couple of hours of the sorts of activities that did nothing to make Alaric any less tired.
Damon still needs to drink but he can't leave Alaric in the car and he can't move him, can't touch him.
He has to touch him. He has to move him.
Should have. Done things. Differently.
No one knew. No one knew about the frantic sweat slicked nights, so ferocious. The mornings where they kissed and kissed and did nothing else. No one knew any of it.
Damon will start a blog, that's what he'll do. He'll pick a ridiculous pseudonym and he'll write real-person fan-non-fiction about Damon and Alaric, vampire and vampire slayer, and it will be poetry, what he writes. It will make other writers put down their own pens and weep. It will change the world. And he'll tweet about it. He'll send printed copies of everything he writes to everyone on the council and everyone else, too, with his own inimitable shiny swirling signature at the bottom of the front cover, so they all know. So when they take a break from telling Jeremy and Elena how fucking sorry they are they'll have to acknowledge Damon's grief, too.
There are no two ways about it. Damon is crying. Actual saltwater is being dragged from his tear ducts. Burns rivulets – no, canyons – down his face. He makes no move to clear the tears away. He just lets them fall, lets the breath hitch in his chest. Slumps against the door of the car.
He's like that five years. Ten minutes.
Damon lifts Alaric from the trunk and carries him into the boarding house. Past too many corners and couches and walls which bear impressions of strong bodies thrown against and pressed against.
The body in Damon's arms is so stiff.
There's only one place he can put Alaric, for now. He carries him down the stairs and places Alaric in the basement. He doesn't shut the door.
Damon slips into unconsciousness part-way through his third bottle of bourbon, there on the cold stone floor.
When he wakes Elena is staring at him. Or Katherine is. Katherine? No, Elena. With a new face and a new bearing. She's a vampire, now. Who isn't?
"You met me first and you made me forget."
"I don't want to talk about it." Damon pushes past her and through the echoing house and up into his room. There is still most of a bottle of bourbon in his hand. He pulls the door shut and buries himself under the covers.
All Elena's fault, all this, anyway. Made him feel again and then there was Alaric, stupid Alaric with his arms. And his lips. And that magnificent, heavy cock.
Can't push the memories out of his head so Damon drinks them out, instead. At some point – it looks to be mid-morning, by the quality of the light – he careens down into the library, only to find there is no booze. Down into the basement and he won't look at Alaric but there is a cellar there with cases of bourbon. After a moment's thought, Damon carries a whole case back up to his room.
He is unconscious again by a little after three in the afternoon.
When the phone rings, Damon is too out of it to really notice that it is very early in the morning, or very late at night. His hand, which weighs too much, lifts his phone, which also weighs too much, to his ear, as he hits the 'accept' button.
"Be interesting," he tells the caller. "Be fascinating."
He should hang up, but he doesn't. Presses the phone closer to his ear, instead, trying to hear what may be heard. There is mostly silence but it is a silence with an odd cadence to it, a waiting silence. Breathing.
Pervert. Fun. Damon hangs up.
Twice more, and then Damon's drunken brain manages to summon up the nonce to turn the fucking thing off.
A couple of days later Damon pours a bath and soaks in it for a long time, scrubbing bourbon from his pores. He is drunk, definitely, though not as drunk as he has been, not as drunk as he wants to be. The bathwater is filthy when Damon emerges so he takes a shower, for good measure. Strokes himself slowly and then less slowly, conjuring Alaric's face in his mind, what Alaric looked at and sounded like, when he was laughing at some terribly un-funny joke of Damon's.
As he comes, Damon fancies he feels lips at his ear.
"I've been trying to call you."
Elena's hands are fists at her sides.
"My phone's been off." Dully Damon realizes it is in his pocket.
"We need to talk, Damon."
"Correction," he says, and he can't bring himself to snark. "You need to talk. I don't need to do anything, except drink some blood so I don't lose my shit and kill everyone, and then get back to what I do best. Which is drinking bourbon." He can't add 'alone' but he wants to.
She won't stop. She follows him to the chest refrigerator, talking all the while, as Damon drinks two, no, three bags of blood. She's saying things that might have seemed relevant, not so long ago. There's usually two of her. Damon closes one eye, and she makes a bit more sense, as one girl, than she did as two.
Not much more sense, but a bit. It will do.
"Are you done?"
She looks hurt. Damon finds he cares, sort of. "For now. We will talk about this, Damon. You can't push me away forever."
"Let's test that theory," Damon answers, tossing Elena a blood bag, and he heads away, back upstairs.
Damon turns the phone on and there are twenty-nine voice messages. Since he has nothing better to do, he begins to listen. The first eight are slightly staticky silence. The impression of breathing. Perhaps something hidden, not quite audible.
The ninth is Elena. "I know you're in your room and I know you've locked the door but I -"
That one, Damon deletes. Unfair, he knows, but he'll deal with Elena when he can deal with anything outside his own head. She has Stefan.
Damon has no one.
The next five messages are breath, but one has a strange scratching sound that Damon suspects no human could hear. After that is another one from Elena. "I'm scared, Damon," she says, and she is definitely crying.
The one after that is Elena too. "Please, please, I need to talk to you."
The rest are only sounds.
Damon wakes with Stefan standing beside his bed.
"You're being unfair." Stefan is condemning, cold.
Oh yes. The deal.
"I'll leave. I said I would and I would. I just need a few days." Damon sits up, finds his head objects terribly. He utters a groan and lies back again, quickly discovering his head prefers to be on a stable surface. "Deal's a deal. Blah, blah, you get the fucking… why are you here?"
"Deal's off, Damon. She needs us both. Come on."
Damon wants out of Mystic Falls and away from all the shitty memories. Away from all the good ones, too. "Nope. Like I said. Deal's a deal."
Damon can feel Stefan's judgment. Smell it.
"Talk to her, Damon. She needs you. She's confused." Stefan turns on his heel and, quite unnecessarily, slams the door shut. Damon's head, like the inside of a bell, echoes madly in the empty, empty room.
Damon spends the next few hours sobering up and finds Elena sitting in the library when he is fit for company again. He sits beside her on the couch.
"Can we talk now?"
No, we can't. We can't because I'm heartbroken and there isn't room for anything but this right now. This is not what Damon says.
"We can talk. But not now. I can't…"
"Are you mad because I chose Stefan?"
Damon's eyes snap to Elena's. "No," he says. "No."
I'm mad because I never kissed Alaric at the Grill in front of the whole of Mystic Falls. This is what Damon doesn't say.
"Do you miss Alaric?"
Damon takes Elena's hand in his own, and there it is again; the strange sensation of lips against his ear. Damon gives an involuntary sigh.
"Yes," he says.
"I miss him, too," she admits. "Especially now." Elena wipes a tear from each eye with her free hand.
What is that?
The lips have moved from Damon's ear to the corner of Damon's mouth. Accompanied by the distinct indistinct sensation of fingers on the back of Damon's neck. Without thinking he holds Elena's hand a little tighter. "Fuck," he says, a bare whisper.
Damon has nearly forgotten Elena is there. "I have to go," he says. "I just… I have to go."
In the next town to the west, there is a decent electronics store. At two-thirty in the afternoon it is staffed by well dressed men in their twenties and thirties. Sales types. That won't do.
"What time do the nerds get here?"
"I'm sorry?" Yeah, you really kind of are, you Abercrombie and Fitch reject, Damon thinks, but does not say. He is about to suggest the man follow him out to the alley. Wants to drink him dry and let his empty body fall to the ground. Damon elects not to, when he feels pressure which is oddly like a hand, just above the waistband of his jeans.
"What. Time. Do the nerds. Get here. Your Geek squad. Your Nerd herd. Y'know. The kids who actually know how this shit works. What time do they get here after school?"
The salesman is about to make the argument that anything Damon needs help with, he can manage, but Damon's glare makes him wilt. "About three thirty, the first couple or three."
Damon nods, and heads out to find a bar. He can wait an hour.
He's actually enjoying waiting an hour, because there is a glorious insistent pressure over the back of his hand. Not quite real. The memory of fingers tangled with Damon's.
Okay so yeah, no booze, for a couple of days, maybe.
The kid looks pleased to have Damon's rapt attention.
"You can go through your Telco but they're all assholes. They'll burn low quality discs and it'll take months for them to arrive. I give you…"
The kid has actually rigged up a recording studio in a small box. If Damon plays the messages they will come out recorded so perfectly he'll be able to sell samples on to Moby.
"Can I separate out the… fuck, the strands. Isolate sounds?"
The kid smiles, disappears a moment and comes back with a laptop computer and something that looks like a miniature version of a mixing desk.
"You got something you actually want to play with?"
Reluctant, Damon hands over the phone. The kid shows him how to plug everything in, and he dials the voicemail number, closing the lid over the box. The first message is thirty-nine seconds long.
"What is it?" The kids eyes are bright and curious and he's so fucking smart Damon doesn't even hate him.
"Don't know. Just know there's a lot of them."
The kid plays the sound back. Shows Damon how the different knobs bring up or fade out different frequencies.
Suddenly, there is a distinct "Dam-"
Damon's heart burns, and stops, and starts again.
The kid leans back in his chair. "EVP?" He smiles widely.
Damon should answer but there are fingers in his hair. What he wants to do is close his eyes, and let the fingers do what they want to do.
"The fuck is EVP?"
"Electronic Voice Phenomenon. Voices of the dead over telephones, or picked up on video, or cassette recorders. Spooky shit, man. You gotta check out this one site-"
Damon splutters. "Are you trying to tell me that's a ghost?" Because Damon really, really wants it to be a ghost, but his luck has never been very good.
The kid shrugs. "Don't even know if I believe in ghosts. I will tell you… That sounds like EVP. The word 'dame' mean anything?"
Damon shakes his head.
On a second recording they slow down, and speed up, and there is nothing.
The phone rings, and Damon answers it, puts it in the box, and waits until it disconnects. One minute and thirteen seconds.
There are sounds, more distinct when sped up, when certain frequencies are amplified.
"This is… bullshit, right?" Damon holds the kid's eyes in his own. "Confirmation bias. You could sample anything. Literally anything, and if you fuck around with it enough you hear something."
The kid crosses his arms. "Maybe. I assume you want all this stuff? I can set up a laptop, if you need one, or just sell you the software."
"How do you know I want it?"
The kid shrugs. "You just lost someone, man, that's clear enough. And now you got a boat-load of dead-air voicemails. Confirmation bias or not, you're taking the lot."
He's right, damn it. Damon leaves the kid a hefty tip and takes his cell number, in case Damon wants to yell at him when this fails utterly.
Damon sets up in his bedroom and records every voice mail message. Some, given adequate manipulation, a bit of imagination, and a sprinkle of despair, do sound like voices, though not words. Nothing Damon can eat, nothing that can sustain him.
He keeps at it, anyway.
Damon lies sprawled on the floor of his bedroom.
There is a knock on the door. Damon doesn't move. "Go away, Elena."
"Not Elena." It's a muffled, masculine voice.
"Fine. Go away, Stefan."
The door opens. Jeremy. Stoned. Stoned and sad. All by himself with a vampire for a sister. It occurs to Damon that he may be the only person other than Damon who is this fucking miserable. Maybe he should eat Jeremy. Offer to, anyway.
"Can we talk?"
"Well, you can, apparently." Jeremy enters the room. Unsure where to sit. He sits on the ground, in the end. "I'm sure your parents would be proud."
Jeremy sits, and says nothing.
"If you're gonna talk, talk."
"He came to me. Right when he died."
Damon turns his head. "Was it him? Real him?"
Jeremy nods. "Haven't seen him since."
Damon turns away again. "What are you doing here, Jeremy? You want me to compel you to forget, get rid of the pain? I thought you were done with that."
"No," Jeremy says slowly. "I want to bury him. I need you to help me."
There are not words for the degree of panic that rush all the cells of Damon's body at the thought of this. "No."
"No?" Jeremy sounds pissed. No. Jeremy sounds like he's trying to sound pissed. Sounds miserable, sounds like he's a kid that lost everything and wants a little closure. Damon can't make himself care. He cares, anyway. "Why do you even have a say, Damon?"
Because I loved him. Because we made love five million times on that big bed right there. Because he loved me, even after I killed him twice. Because I was there, when he went to sleep, in the crypt. Because I told him to be still and I can't bear for him to be still for another second. Because fuck you, Jeremy.
That's some of the things Damon doesn't say. There are other things he doesn't say.
Damon turns cold, silver eyes on Jeremy. "No. If there's a way to get him back in his body, we're doing that, instead. If that's all you've got to say, you can fuck off."
Jeremy doesn't fuck off, exactly. He sits for another long moment, looking exactly like a miserable sixteen year old kid, and then he climbs to his feet and slumps out of the room, closing the door shut behind him with a quiet click.
What would Alaric say?
Come on, Alaric.
There is no feather-soft touch of lips or fingers. Instead, Damon's phone rings. There is no one there, so Damon runs down the stairs and catches Jeremy at the front door.
He puts a hand on Jeremy's shoulder.
"Just a little bit more time. If I can't. If we can't. I'll bury him. We'll bury him."
Following an instinct he can't name Damon actually pulls Jeremy into an embrace and lets Jeremy, Jeremy, cry into his shoulder; this kid who has lost too much. As tall as Alaric, nearly as broad.
Fingers, firmer fingers, cool and gentle on the back of Damon's neck, over the curve of his jaw.
Jeremy pulls out of the hug and straightens up, abruptly. "Did you…?"
No. Damon is Not Sharing, not this.
"Did I what?"
Still Jeremy looks more peaceful, and Damon lets him leave.
Damon returns to fiddling with the computer and trying to squeeze sounds that probably don't exist out of his voicemail for another day or two. Speaks with Elena, a little, but not as much as she wants him to.
But there are no fingers and no lips and Damon feels more tired by the day.
He sits on the edge of the bed for a long time one night. "What do I have to do? To get you back here?"
He speaks to the room and to Alaric and to no one at all.
Nothing, again nothing. Damon strips down to nothing because he has nothing, and he settles between the sheets.
Damon dreams. He dreams the night of the Wickery Bridge fundraiser. Damon had gone to Alaric's loft – something Alaric hadn't known was going to happen – and knocked, and Alaric had answered the door wearing, wonderfully, nothing but a towel.
"Hello, Ric," Damon had said, eyes glittering and dangerous. "May I come in?" Lascivious, a smile hooking up less than one third of one half of his face.
And Alaric had laughed, and kissed him, and asked for the thousandth time how he had ever gotten into a mess like this with a man like Damon – he had said that, called Damon a man, like he wasn't even a monster – and Damon had answered by lying back on Alaric's bed and letting himself get fucked until he didn't care, anymore, about the Wickery Bridge. They'd been awfully kissy, that day, and they weren't always.
It was sort of sad and quite disappointing when Alaric put his clothes on and turned back into a history teacher and pillar of the community. When Alaric had settled his hands in his pockets, settled the stern expression onto his face. Just before they stepped into Founder's Hall, Alaric turned to Damon with a soft expression, and said "Wake up."
And Damon does. He wakes up.
With a weight over him, settling him. Nothing to touch, when he reaches, but with the absolute certainty that if he could touch, or if he could see, Alaric would be there. Soft, invisible fingers fluttering over the dips and planes of Damon's body. Lips against his lips.
Has to be Alaric. No one else knows all the places to touch Damon. Not like this. Damon pushes the sheet away so the fingers can keep moving over his body.
Damon groans, and feels all the blood in his head rush south. He begins a slow stroke, and then Alaric's hand is over Damon's hand.
Damon squeezes his eyes shut and begins to stroke a little harder.
Lips again. Lips everywhere, kissing Damon's face, his jaw. The long lines of his collarbones. His chest. The swipe of an almost-warm, almost-wet tongue over his right nipple, and then his left, and tracing a line across the cut of muscle there. An enormous weight.
"It's you. It's really you?"
There is no sigh on the air but there should be. A sigh, and a chuckle, and some snark. Alaric should say something obscene, or flip Damon onto his stomach, hold him down in that entitled way he sometimes did. Whisper something in Damon's ear, maybe just Damon's name, maybe something else.
Lips on Damon's cock. Almost-warm, almost-wet. Still invisible and uncatchable. Damon should have his fingers tangled in Alaric's hair. He should be rocking into Alaric's mouth. But the lips are there.
Damon comes with the heavy weight of Alaric on his thighs, biting into his own bottom lip. Alaric's body settles over Damon's, heavier and heavier, and then disappears.
It's disorienting, a moment, and then it's horrible. Damon sits up. "Ric?"
Silence, and Alaric's not touching him. Damon frowns. "No. Stay. Please." Nothing, still nothing. "Something. Kiss my ear again. I liked that. Or… call my cell. Anything."
Damon slumps back against the pillows. After a long moment he cleans himself up with a Kleenex and debates taking a shower; but if he lies just like this, it's almost as if his body can remember what Alaric's weight felt like against him.
Damon pulls the sheet back up and falls asleep again, quite quickly, reasonably calm.
Bonnie is torn. She would like nothing more than to stake Damon. Set fire to him. Chain him to a post on the football field and tear off his day ring. For turning her mother. On the other hand, she loved Alaric. Everyone loved Alaric. Few know what his blood tasted like, or the sweat of his strong chest, but everyone loved him.
Damon has half a dozen cutting things he would like to say to Bonnie. He keeps his mouth shut. Sits, contrite.
"You can't put someone back in their body, Damon," she says at last. She says it in such a way that Damon suspects she might actually tell him the truth, if it could be done; they've all lost so much, too much. Good news would be welcome.
"Do you know that? Or have you just never heard of someone doing it? Is this a balance thing? Because if it is… Fuck, Bonnie." Damon runs his hand through his hair. He is electric. Focused. Has to make her understand. "There's no balance here. None of it. So fuck the balance."
"He's not astral-travelling, Damon. He's dead."
"He's been dead before." It comes from his mouth like the words are punched out. "Please, Bonnie. Please." He knows his forehead must be heavily lined. His lips are set in a thin line. His eyes feel too wide. Also, Damon rarely says 'please'.
There is a moment where Bonnie looks angry, and then confused. And then some realization settles across her features. "I… didn't know," she says, and her voice is weak.
"Didn't know what?"
"Damon, you… and Ric?…"
Damon stands, muscles rippling dangerously across his entire body. "Forget it," he says. "It was a stupid idea."
Bonnie stands, too. "I'll try. I swear. I'll ask around. I'll see. Maybe I'm wrong."
"Whatever. I mean. Thanks." Damon says it with gritted teeth, and takes a step or two. He is about two thirds of the way to the door when he hits an invisible wall.
Damon hits it hard. Like walking into soft, immeasurably hard glass.
He scowls. "The fuck?"
It's not there when he reaches for it again. Bonnie reaches out, too. "Damon? What was that?"
Not possible. And why does Bonnie have to be here for this? This should be… private. It can't be, so Damon sets his jaw, and narrows his eyes. "Ric?"
Nothing there, nothing to press against. Damon takes another step forward. Reaches his hand further.
"Damon?" Bonnie doesn't look up. She reaches further left, and right again. "Care to share? Have you been… seeing him?"
There's nothing there. Apparently, Alaric had felt it important that Damon not leave, just then. But why?
"Damon. Have you been seeing him?"
No, he just keeps kissing me. No, but I definitely had sex with him last night. No, but he keeps calling me and leaving cryptic not-messages. These are the things Damon does not say.
"Not exactly. I've…" What? What? "Felt him."
"Like a presence?"
Damon's head hurts. Vampires don't get headaches. "No."
"Do you mean… has he… actually touched you?"
Damon meets Bonnie's eyes. "What would that mean? If he has?"
"I have no idea. I've never heard of it before."
"But that's good, right?" Damon is clutching at straws. Damon is seconds from clutching at Bonnie. "If that makes him… different? Don't." Damon balls his hands into fists. "Don't give me that look. I don't need your pity. Hate me, if you want. I turned your mother. But don't pity me."
"If I help, I'll be helping Ric," she says. "Go, Damon."
Another step, three, and bam, Damon hits another wall of nothing. "The…"
Bonnie is spellbound, and the fact that this is the word Damon's find furnishes him with – 'spellbound' – would be funny at any other time, but right now, it's not. She joins Damon again. Reaches into nothing.
"There's nothing there."
"Not any more. Oh, fuck." Exhaustion, understanding.
Bonnie walks all the way to her front door. Unimpeded. "What?" She reaches around, and can find nothing in the way. No buffet of air. Nothing solid, nothing almost-solid.
Damon feels Alaric's fingers at his wrist. A cool circle around the almost delicate, pale flesh there. Damon can't help it. He looks down. Nothing to see, of course, but his hand is covered, now, by another hand.
"I'm sorry. About your mom. I am," Damon says. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I had a choice. But I'd make the same one again. Still, I'm sorry." He nods, a little manic. "I'm sorry she left."
Bonnie looks shocked and more than shocked. And a little guilty. And… If not forgiving, then something like understanding.
"She left a long time ago." Bonnie looks at Damon again. He can feel it. "Damon, why are -"
Damon doesn't meet Bonnie's eyes. Can't. At last, she sighs.
"I'll do some research. Hit some networks. I'll see if I can find anything. I -"
"No," Damon says. "Don't."
Bonnie shakes her head. "Not for you. For Jeremy. And Elena. I -"
"Ric says no," Damon says, not looking up. He can feel his own fingers trying to tangle with the fingers he can feel, but not see. "Forget it."
Bonnie nods, after a long beat. "Okay."
"I'd rather you didn't tell anyone about this."
Damon meets Bonnie's eyes for a moment – the sympathy makes him sick – and then he walks away, entirely unhindered.
Damon cares less than one whit about measuring and noting down the positions of the knobs on the stupid mixing desk thing. He experiments. Finds something approximating voices, sometimes, if he plays enough, but he can't understand anything.
Okay. That's something.
He rewinds to a point fourteen seconds into the recording and twiddles the knobs a little more. It's fuzzy. Too fuzzy. All he can hear, really, and it is undeniably clear, is 'Jeremy and Elena'. The rest of the sentence is blur, or its auditory equivalent.
In the basement of the boarding house, Damon sits by Alaric's side. He doesn't touch him. Doesn't want to. It's a slab of meat and bone, not Alaric. He sits for a long time. Alaric's face is not his face. Dark and veined and just, yes, dead, dead and not moving. Alaric is Not Here.
Alaric is never here, never in the basement.
"What am I supposed to do?"
Nothing, still nothing.
Damon finds Elena sitting alone in the library. He doesn't ask where Stefan is. Elena looks sad, confused. Hungry. She has her knees tucked up under her chin.
"I was thinking about leaving," Damon says, by way of hello. "I promised Stefan."
Elena jumps in. "Please don't leave."
Damon barely remembers the first weeks he was a vampire; it's too long burnished into a mess of fear and blood and Stefan's insatiable appetite. He remembers the emotions, though. Amped up like he couldn't control a single thing. If Damon was angry, he snarled. If he was happy, his grin was less a smirk than a terrifying display of teeth.
If he was sad, he cried. No point pretending otherwise now.
Elena doesn't look up. She buries her face against her knees and sobs.
Tell me what to do, Ric.
Nothing, again nothing. Left to his own devices Damon is prone to doing, or saying, the exact wrong thing.
Damon settles himself behind Elena, wraps a strong arm across her shoulders. He presses his cheek to her hair. After a long beat, Elena turns to curl against him.
"I love Stefan. I love Stefan. He's my." Elena's breath hitches in her chest. "But I can't lose you."
Tell me what to do, Ric.
In Damon's pocket, his phone rings. Silent, buzzing there against his hip. Damon doesn't bother to answer. The sound would be unintelligible, but Damon knows what it would mean.
"I'll stay as long as you and Jeremy need me," Damon says, and for fuck's sake, he thinks for an appalling, long moment, he means it. He lets Elena cry into his shoulder. Strokes her hair.
There it is.
No other term for it: grace. Pressure over Damon's shoulders. An embrace, and not. Fingers in Damon's hair.
Elena cries into Damon's chest, and Alaric thrums fingers over Damon's throat.
Is this the big secret? Dead, using ghostly fingers and lips, Alaric Saltzman is going to turn Damon Salvatore into a decent person?
Elena sits up, after minutes that stretch improbably. "I miss Ric," she says. Almost a laugh hidden in it.
Not as much as I do, is the main thing Damon doesn't say.
Stefan returns, eventually, and Damon slips away. Not until Stefan has held and tortured his eyes for a good long time, though, extracting promises.
With a nod, Damon promises. And then he returns to his bedroom and sits on the edge of the bed.
"Happy? Feel like you've won?"
Damon feels unaccountably angry. Manipulated. Wants to argue. No, Damon wants to fight. A protracted screaming match seems like just the thing.
"Your phone calls are useless, man." Damon rubs his eyes. Pours a drink. "I can't make any sense out of them. Unless unintelligible vowel sounds are what you're actually aiming for." He drinks the whole glass in a couple of mouthfuls. "What am I supposed to do?"
Damon stands. Focuses hard on the sensations around his wrist, his throat, his ear. There's nothing. No feather-soft touch of lips or fingers. Frustrated, Damon growls. "Seriously. Nothing?"
There it is. Fingers at the back of Damon's neck.
"You want me to do nothing? You're just gonna float around? Fuck, Ric…"
A hand on Damon's chest. Pushing him back down to the bed, or willing him onto it. Damon lets his eyes drift shut. He doesn't want to say it, but he says it anyway: "Jeremy wants me to bury you. Next to Jenna." He corrects himself. "Jeremy wants me to help him bury you."
Lips at Damon's jaw. He relaxes back into the bed covers. After a moment's thought, he strips off his t-shirt. Alaric's favorite, he remembers, suddenly, because it is a touch too small for propriety, and Alaric was never a fan of propriety.
"You want that? You want me to bury you?"
The fingers runs over Damon's chest. The lips flutter across Damon's chin, down his throat. Just a little more pressure. Damon lets out a surprising moan.
He and Alaric have been ferocious together, a clash of strong bodies, and this just seems so wrong. But a ghost can't… Damon thought a ghost couldn't touch at all, but he guesses they do what they can, and apparently Alaric can weigh him down, sort of formlessly, and run his fingers through Damon's hair like the breeze or something.
The lips are on Damon's lips. Damon is being kissed by a ghost. It isn't even the first time but there is a strength to the kiss which surprises him, makes the nerves in his face twitch.
Alaric wants Damon to bury him.
"Will you still be here? If I do that?"
Almost without knowing he's doing it, Damon has unbuckled his belt, pushed his jeans down and off and just away, and he starts to work his hand over his cock – almost exactly the way Alaric would do it, if he could.
And how can Alaric be so heavy? And why is he warm? Ghosts are supposed to be cold.
It's like a ripple over Damon's body, when Alaric presses against him, and then off again, in time with Damon's heartbeat.
Damon shudders as he comes, and he just lies, boneless, on the bed for a long moment. He's barely aware, when the pressure of Alaric's body disappears; but it disappears.
He showers, for a long time, and thinks, and decides.
Doesn't matter if Ric will get to stay or not. If he wants to be buried, well, Damon's going to have to bury him.
Damon heads out to the quiet, pretty corner where Jenna was buried, and begins to dig. It takes hours to get the hole deep enough. After a quick trip home to shower again, he quietly compels the manager of a funeral home to give him the nicest coffin he has, and makes a few phone calls.
The coffin is in the lounge of the boarding house, and Alaric's friends are huddled around it.
Damon sits for a long time in the basement, arms looped over his knees. Alaric doesn't come.
"Just say something. Anything."
Nothing, again nothing. Alaric is never in the basement. Has no need of his body. No desire to see it.
Damon gathers Alaric's body in his arms, and carries him up the stairs. Without making eye contact with anyone he settles Alaric into the coffin. Reverent. Elena touches Damon's arm, but he shakes her off. No one knows what he and Alaric shared, so no one is allowed to pretend they know what he lost.
It is Damon who closes the coffin. Everybody else stands back.
Damon and Stefan, Jeremy and Tyler and Matt and Elena, they carry the coffin to Alaric's truck. The only vehicle big enough. Wordlessly, they slide the coffin into the back. Damon could do it alone but he shares because he can't not.
It weighs a million tons. It weighs too much. Maybe he couldn't do it alone.
How it is that Jeremy ends up in the truck with Damon while everybody else sorts themselves into the other cars, Damon doesn't know. But when they arrive at their destination, Jeremy turns to him.
"Thank you," he says.
Damon is about to shrug off the thanks, when he feels fingers on his neck, sliding through his hair. His eyes close, for a moment. "No. You were right."
"I still haven't seen him."
Damon can't say anything to this.
"Elena says you're going to leave."
Damon closes his eyes.
Damon shakes his head. Firm, ghostly fingers over his wrist. "I won't. Not as long as you and Elena need me here."
Jeremy turns an unbelievably young, ridiculously hopeful face to Damon's. Damon can see it without even looking. Damon has to tamp down the urge to say I'm a fucking vampire, Jeremy, don't need me. Don't want me here. Wish I was dead, wish I was gone. He says none of these things. He tamps them down, because there is only one person in Mystic Falls as lost as Damon is, and it's Jeremy.
Damon turns to Jeremy. Catalogues his features, the expressions chasing each other across Jeremy's face.
Yeah. No one is feeling this like Jeremy and Damon.
Damon takes a deep breath. "If he has a choice, he'll stay, Jeremy. You might not see him every day, but you'll see him. When he can come."
Jeremy nods once, and climbs from the car. Damon follows a long moment later. As soon as he can.
The worst part, the worst part, is lowering Alaric into the ground. The body will be there maybe forever. Damon doesn't know if Original vampires rot, decay. Has only seen them burn up. There is a burn behind Damon's eyelids.
At the head of the grave site Elena speaks. Damon tries to listen. Near impossible.
Jeremy speaks, and Damon does pay attention, then; Alaric seems to want him to. A ghostly hand spreads across the back of Damon's neck, and Damon rolls against it, presses against it. Will this be the last time? Buried, will Alaric be gone?
A second hand, on Damon's hip. A gentle squeeze.
Jeremy has stopped speaking. He is looking right at Damon. Can he see…?
Understanding spreads across Jeremy's face. Not horror. Surprise. And then. Relief? That someone else will be feeling this the way Jeremy is?
Jeremy doesn't smile, but he nods.
"Stay if you can, Ric," is the last thing he says, and he is looking over Damon's shoulder as he says it. "We sort of need you." He steps away from the head of the grave, and looks at his toes, a moment.
And then Jeremy turns to Damon. Damon's face, this time. Everyone does. Alaric's 'drinking buddy'.
"You want to say something?" Jeremy looks unsure. Damon shakes his head.
There is more crying, and eventually, they all walk away. All but Jeremy and Damon. Damon doesn't argue. He lets Jeremy help to bury Alaric. No tears. Allied now.
They stand at the side of the newly covered grave, and Jeremy speaks, at last. "Is he here?"
"You can't see him?"
Jeremy shakes his head. "No."
"I can't feel him." Yet, he thinks, but does not say, because there is a pressure in the air. He'll feel Alaric soon, if he does this right.
Damn him. Alaric will make Damon do the right thing. Hold his conscience hostage.
Jeremy nods. "You were…"
"Don't, Jeremy. I can't."
Jeremy pushes. "Why didn't anyone know?"
Because I was a coward, because I wasn't sure what I wanted. Because maybe a small part of me was hedging my bets with Elena. Because Alaric was cool with it and I was a fucking idiot. Because just when things were getting serious I broke his neck and we had barely found our way back to each other when he was torn from the world.
These are some of the things Damon doesn't say. "No one's business but ours," is what he says.
Jeremy sits down. Damn. Damon wants to go. Doesn't want to sit and reminisce, doesn't want to have to be the provider of comfort.
Insistent fingers so suddenly there on his shoulder. Damon feels an unmistakable flush of relief; not gone, then. Still here.
Damon sits. Jeremy looks grateful.
There is something about the hand on Damon's shoulder. Something he is supposed to understand. "If you need to talk about him – or if you need help, and you can't find him – you can talk to me." He speaks quietly, calmly. Surprised to be speaking at all.
Jeremy's eyes light up, cautious. Relieved. "Yeah?"
"I think he'd want that." Ugh. What an unbelievably boring, human thing to say. Damon pulls a flask from his jacket pocket, takes a sip, and hands it to Jeremy. Jeremy smiles, and takes a sip too. Ghost lips brush over Damon's jaw. "You… can't see him right now?"
Jeremy turns. "No. But I barely saw him before. He's here?"
Damon shrugs. "Hand on my shoulder." Lips at my throat, he doesn't say. Fingers in my hair.
They finish the flask between them, Damon careful to ensure he takes the lion's share.
The sun starts to go down, and a cool breeze rustles the trees. This is a pretty spot, Damon supposes. Better than the basement. Better than being carried from place to place in a coffin in the back of a moving van. Part of him wants to add the thought, not that Alaric would know – but of course, Alaric knows. Alaric can see the trees. Knows his body rests alongside Jenna's. Two vampires who managed, miraculously, never to kill a human, in their short lives.
Jeremy climbs to his feet, looking a little more peaceful. "We should go."
There is no resolution, in real life; all of life is an ellipsis. Walking back to the truck, Damon pats Jeremy's shoulder, firm, I'm here. It occurs to him, all Jeremy needed was a funeral. It might have been for himself, a goodbye, or perhaps it was to honor Alaric. Doesn't change anything, but Jeremy will be sort of okay.
Damon supposes Alaric understood that.
And Damon is not quite alone either. Walking back to the truck, Damon can feel Alaric's hand on his own shoulder, Alaric's hand, Damon's shoulder, there where it belongs. Damon is sort of okay, because Alaric is sort of there. Some nights he'll feel fingers or lips and some nights he won't.
Good enough, all he'll get.