Warnings: Canonical character death, resurrection, character death. Pain. Mostly mine. Damon being his best self, which can grate for some. Me screaming in a corner because of reasons.


It's best if it's dark in the club or bar or whatever: because then he only needs to be about the right height and build, and Damon edges his way around until they're sitting close on tall stools and ignoring the shitty music and Damon is slowly shifting until his knee is between… whatever-his-name's knees and the guy, nameless at the moment, is licking his lips, and Damon's big silver eyes drink him in (just parts, just enough to make it almost feel real) and then one hauls the other outside for part 2.

(He has to want Damon so bad he's reconsidering his choice of pants before Damon will let it happen. He has to be dripping filthy honey in Damon's ears, telling him all the ways he's going to fuck Damon open, how he's going to swallow Damon whole. He's tried the other way; casual sex, hey, I have needs, I bet you have needs too, sure why not, but it doesn't seem to work.)

Part 2 is, Damon holds his eyes again, the nameless man, holds them fast, flaring his pupils, and says "your name is Alaric Saltzman. Ric. And you love me. And I'm a vampire, and you don't care, because you love me."

The man is now Alaric. Or as close to Alaric as Damon will ever get to have again, anyway.

And then the man who is now almost sort of Alaric nods dumbly and Damon lets him go, brings him back to his senses, goes to his house or to a hotel.

And then he's not whispering sex in Damon's ears anymore, he's actually holding Damon down on the bed, preparing him roughly, grunting, entering him fast, building heat and friction between them, mouthing at Damon's throat and chin and telling Damon he loves him until Damon clamps muscles down hard and the man, tonight's Alaric Saltzman, comes with a stuttering shout.

A few minutes recovery time and Damon crawls, rolls, resettles, drinks in the raw naked affection in… Alaric's eyes, and lets his vampire features settle over his face; and he asks, "do you want me to bite you?" And… 'Alaric' says "yes, fuck yes, I need it" and Damon kisses his way down his chest, pausing to tease a nipple, positions his fangs over… 'Alaric's' hip and bites down, hard, relishing the gasp it evokes and this is always, always the point where the whole thing is ruined because there is no one, no one in the world who tastes like Alaric Saltzman.

So part 3 is where Damon spends an hour in the shower, and sometimes lets a tear fall, though not always. He scrubs at himself until he can't smell the imposter any more and he hates himself. And then he tells Ala… the man, whoever he is again now, to forget. To never recognize him, should they encounter each other again.

Part 4 is Damon spends the next few days drinking bourbon, until he hates himself less, and part 5 is he does it all again, even though he promises himself every time that he'll stop.

...

It's 2015 and Damon has been thinking for a few years, now, that maybe it's time to give it all up. He sits before dawn in the most exposed places he can find and takes his ring off, watching the sun pink up the horizon until he can feel his skin stretch and start to burn, and then the ring goes back on again.

It's been years since he left Mystic Falls, too, leaving everyone behind; though they are all gone, now. Stefan and Elena live in Chicago and they are every inch in love and Damon hates them for it. They have a sweet give and take to their relationship which brings altogether too clearly to mind the push and pull of his relationship with Alaric and it makes Damon want to break shit. Break everything, burn everything. But he doesn't, he just travels. Just keeps moving, never staying in the same city for longer than a few weeks.

He is actually, legitimately, starting to feel old. And alone in the world. Enough so once he even ended up in Katherine's bed for a month, though in the end, he picked up the tattered remains of his dignity and handcuffed her to the bed, and left.

The sound of her swearing in his ears is still a little like music, when he remembers it.

...

It's time for this to end. He's been saying this for months and now it's time to actually firmly close the door.

Dr. Mitchell is well-meaning and kind and in the year that Richard has been seeing him he has not been able to recover a single shred of memory. He has tried hypnosis and talk therapy and even sensory deprivation – and once quietly suggested that Richard might try hallucinogenic drugs, just to see – but so far all they have is his name, Rick, which sounds right but doesn't feel right, especially when someone calls him 'Richard', as Dr. Mitchell is wont to do.

"Dr. Mitchell."

"Richard."

"Keep telling you to call me Rick."

"I keep telling you to call me Peter."

"I don't want to do this anymore." As Richard says it Dr. Mitchell's face falls and Richard knows there is something not quite healthy about the relationship they have, they way it is now, and that's kind of it too. Feels a bit like Dr. Mitchell has been molding him from scratch instead of seeking his likeness to free it from the block of marble. "I mean… I'm not doing this anymore."

"It could come back any -"

"I know. And maybe it will." Richard folds his arms. "I know. But I'm sick of trying. If it happens, it happens. I… have a job. I have a few friends, you know, Gill and Dean, some of the regulars…"

"And me, I hope you…"

"No. You're not my friend. You were my doctor." Richard stands up, collects wallet and keys and phone. "You're not any more."

And he shakes Dr. Mitchell's hand, signs the insurance forms and walks out of the office, for the last time. In the sunshine, in the street, in pretty downtown Springvale, less than thirty miles from where he was found, a year and a half ago, with no memory of who he was or how he got there but an incredible level of knowledge about American History, especially the civil war, and scars he couldn't explain.

It's four o'clock and the bar opens in an hour so Richard wanders down, lets himself in through the back. Dean, bow-legged and growly, nods at him.

"Rick."

When someone calls Richard 'Rick' he feels immediately better.

"Dean."

"Keg delivery in twenty minutes."

Richard finds he loves the physical nature of the job, hauling kegs around. The people, too, he likes people. Locals, out-of-towners. Sometimes he fantasizes that one day someone is going to stand at the bar with their mouth hanging open and say "Rick?" Take him home to wherever it is he belongs and teach him who his is again.

Hasn't happened yet.

Early in the piece the police had debated putting his face on posters and milk cartons but there was always the risk he was on the run from the mob or some such so no.

"Gill here?"

"She'll be in later." Dean looks up because the truck is there and for the next hours it's all masculine grunting and hauling and sweating.

Richard goes home, an apartment just a couple of doors further down, above the drugstore, and showers. It feels good. Feels like he's washing away the year and a half of therapy, too. Cleaner than he remembers feeling in a long time. Dresses again in a clean white t-shirt and crisp jeans and returns to the bar, which is open, now, and staffed with a couple of smiling waitresses and an additional, less-smiling bartender, and as the night goes on, the rhythm of it lulls Richard back to being the only himself he actually knows how to be.

It's soothing, and it's not, but he sleeps at night.

...

Damon loves his car.

Correction, Damon loves the combination of the open road and his car. Hair whipped around, engine purring, eating the blacktop as fast as he can get away with, or as slow as he likes; loves choosing where he'll stop, too, drawn by a memory or the desire to see something entirely new or simply following someone onto their exit. He is feeling less than Damon-esque right now, if truth be told, feels a little dirty, one too many strangers in the last couple of weeks perhaps, one too many cases of bourbon. He needs to relax a while, find a nice foreclosure, or maybe a hotel.

He's thoroughly pissed off, right now. Having spent a few days with Stefan and Elena. Elena quietly cajoling him to cheer the fuck up, and Stefan more roughly saying that Alaric would hate to see him like this; brooding, mostly, but pissed off at the world, hiding his best self.

"And what would you have done, Damon?" Stefan shook his head. "Turned him yourself? I get it, I do, but…"

"Oh, go and fuck yourself, Stefan." Translation: Of course I would have turned him. He would have been an awesome vampire and we would have had a thousand years to work the rest out. Though Alaric would never have turned. Of this, Damon is almost sure.

They'd talked about it. Well, Damon had talked about it. Alaric had listened, some, uncomfortably. And then he'd lost his mind, and he'd died.

Only a year, that was all they got. Longer than he'd had with Katherine, but…

Stefan was still talking. "I'm not kidding. There was a use-by date…"

Damon had seen red. "And this would be a really good time to shut up. If I had to, I would have buried him." Damon needed to feed and he was sick of Stefan and Elena and their perfect life together. And he wanted sex and the open road, and for the buzzing in his jaw to stop right the fuck now.

"You wouldn't have." Stefan shook his head. "It's Katherine all over again. You have this idea of what life might have been like, and you're clinging to it, and you won't move on. You were obsessed with Katherine for a hundred and fifty years. How long are you going to…"

"Just. Shut. Up." And Damon had roughly packed his bag, and left. (It wasn't for a good two hundred miles that he realized he'd left his favorite boots in their guest room, and that annoyed him much more than it should have.

They probably thought they were helping; they really, really weren't. Damon needed some understanding. Was it too much to fucking ask for?

Damon is thinking of this, and paying absolutely no attention when he veers left off the interstate, drawn on by nothing more than whim.

Springvale. Damon thinks, for long moments. There's a Springvale in Ohio, but he's not in Ohio. He's further west. So maybe this is a place that is entirely new. Maybe it's a town full of men ranging from six feet to six feet two inches with light brown hair and strong bodies and ideally, chest hair. Maybe there's enough so Damon can have one a night for a whole month.

Another thirty minutes, another thirty miles, and Damon arrives in Springvale. He still hasn't worked out precisely what state he is in but it's pretty. Pretty enough. Small town. A golf course, probably a couple of bed and breakfast places, there'll be a hotel and a motel and maybe something a little bit more fancy too. It's wine country, Damon can tell. Something about the humidity, the smell of grapes growing in nearby vineyards, maybe.

Fuck it. Damon has money. He'll splurge.

No gay bar by the looks of things but Damon finds, generally, that almost everyone is a little bit gay if you talk to them right.

He wanders, an hour or so, debating finding someone to eat (blood bags are impractical on the road, so it's been snatch-eat-erase for years now) and deciding he's not actually that hungry, he can wait.

Bed and breakfast. Usually a little nicer than a hotel and with brick walls he can't be heard through. He even pays the woman for the first week, figuring a week will be long enough to work out whether he wants to stay or move on.

Damon hangs a few things in the wardrobe because he doesn't want to walk around with wrinkled clothing any more than he wants to iron his clothes.

In the bathroom he stares at himself for a long time, silver-blue eyes, pale skin, coal black hair, until his features start to look individually wrong and he has to turn away again. His reflection waits a moment, and turns away too.

(And would he have buried Alaric? Could he have? He doesn't know, and he doesn't want to think about it, and right now, it's all the can think about.)

Damon sets out to see what he can see. He rebuffs the friendly advances of the owner of the bed and breakfast, ready to load him up with tourist information and a useless paper map with little red stars all over it and handwritten place markers and a 10% off coupon for a pancake diner.

"Smartphone," he says, barely making eye contact. "Got all I need right here."

"It's not the same," she insists, but puts the map back on the pile. "It's not the same at all. Will you take a cooked breakfast in the morning? What time?" Her accent is faintly British, worn down by years.

"No," Damon says. "Not tomorrow."

And without another word he slips out the door and into the street.

He should, he thinks, have taken the map. It's true, a little local knowledge comes in handy when you're somewhere new, and it would have meant a conversation. (Sometimes, Damon craves conversation, and often he notices this right after he's walked out of the opportunity to have one.) He walks the streets a while until he finds a bar but it's not open for another hour so he walks further, admiring the houses and glaring at children.

Damon pauses to pet a cat which has approached him. Novel. Cats dislike vampires in general. But it wraps its tail around his legs and purrs happily, pressing its head into his hand. He feels the silk-soft fur beneath his fingers and then stands to walk away again, oddly refreshed.

Damon finds an Italian restaurant, mom and pop-run establishment which is Italian only in that it serves pizza and pasta and risotto. There's a couple in a booth nearby and the man looks to be about the right height and build but when he looks around, Damon sees he has a beard, a hell of a beard, and that doesn't work at all. Never mind. Damon lingers over a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and watches people come and go. He makes up stories for them, because it's something Alaric used to do.

(It used to annoy Damon.

"That guy's an archaeologist. Watched too much Indiana Jones as a kid and then studied archaeology and didn't realize until it was too late that all the best tombs have already been burgled."

"Ric. Shut. Up."

"No. And that woman wanted to be a model but she's too short so she was an escort in Hong Kong for three years and she tells everyone she spent the whole time travelling in Europe."

"I hate you."

"No, you don't."

And so on.)

When he's done with the pasta Damon pushes the bowl away, leaves a twenty dollar bill on the table and wanders off to find the bar again.

And maybe Stefan had a point. And maybe he was as wrong as Damon wants him to have been. And maybe everything is going to hurt this badly forever.

...

Thursday nights are generally busy though not excessively so and Richard has, over the last year, made sort-of friends with some of the regulars. It's quiet enough close to seven-thirty that he orders himself steak, eggs and fries for dinner and joins them at a table. People are strange with Richard but he's cool about it, realizes it's hard to make small talk with someone who literally has no history; when they tell stories about college, he can nod and smile, but can't explain how clearly, he went to college, knows more about the American Civil War than anyone should know but that he doesn't have a clue where. That he doesn't know if he is married or the name of his favorite professor.

He knows Dean and Gill are his friends, and these guys too, a little, and that he works in a bar, and that his name is Rick.

Not Richard.

"What else can Rick be short for?"

"Ricardo?"

"Is your name Ricardo?" Richard thinks for a long moment, and shakes his head.

"My name's not Ricardo," he agrees. "But don't call me Richard. Just Rick."

He's an oddity, and they like him well enough and he likes them well enough and everyone knows not to push too hard. Richard thinks something strange must come over his face when they push too hard, because it makes them flinch, and turn away.

"Hey, Rick. You ever read 'Call of the Wild'?"

"Yeah," Richard says, because yes, he can feel his heart beat faster, feel cool wind in his ears when he thinks hard enough about the words. "Yeah. Definitely."

"How old were you, first time?"

He should remember, with a book so treasured, that he read it tucked up in bed with a flashlight or outside in a hammock; whether he read it the first time with a child's delight or a young man's newly growing understanding. He should, but that's not there. So he shakes his head, and eats another fry, dipping it in the ketchup he is still not convinced he likes.

...

Damon slides into a booth and looks around the room, assessing. Mild smile on his face because he doesn't want to scare anyone off. The prettiest wildcat in the cage. Though he's reasonably tame these days, for real, because maybe, maybe, Alaric is somewhere he can see Damon. Damon hates the thought of Alaric watching him get fucked by dozens of strangers, drinking their blood, pretending they are Alaric, but he can live with that. He can't live with the idea of Alaric watching him kill because Alaric couldn't live with that himself.

Tame-ish. Tame-esque. Poised. Smiling. Eyes glittering, flirtatious.

A waitress takes his order, comes back with a beer and a bourbon (Damon doesn't like beer a lot, really, but it makes him seem more approachable somehow) and Damon watches a table full of guys. Two have hair far too dark, one is built like a garbage truck. One has red hair and while Damon loves red-headed women just, no. Not a red-headed man. One has his back to Damon but looks to be about the right height, the right build. Right colored hair, even. A rare combination. He's eating, methodically.

Damon watches.

It's actually sort of uncanny, though Alaric was bigger. Broader. Maybe. He is a giant in Damon's mind and it is hard to know how much he is changed, in there. Damon has no photographs.

When the Alaric-alike's meal is done he stands and Damon sees he has an apron tied over his hips. He works here. Huh. Well. He disappears behind the bar and Damon returns to watching the room.

It gets busier and Damon can't see the bar anymore but he keeps a vague eye out, anyway, because he wants a better look at the bartender, has sort of already half decided he might take him back to the bed and breakfast; soon, if not tonight.

Soon, if not tonight.

The waitress brings more drinks and Damon gives her a lazy, seductive smile that probably makes her panties combust. Even her nod stutters.

"You hungry?" she squeaks.

Yes, he thinks. I wish, he thinks. "Already eaten," he says.

Damon looks up at the bar again and it's a lull, parting the waters for a moment.

A long moment, extended in a way the immutability of physics and the plodding insistence of time don't generally allow. Everyone moves slowly, so slowly, great thuggish humans stuck in amber or something. A woman raises a glass of wine to her lips and it takes a minute, five, ten.

Because the bartender doesn't just share Alaric's build and height and hair color.

The bartender is Alaric.

Has Alaric's smile, lazy and lickable. His smile, so much of what made it worth waking in the morning, way back when. The smile, accompanied by the chuckle which generally preceded Alaric pulling Damon across his body for the first kiss of the day.

It's like a cascade, then. Memories of walls they threw each other against, shared meals, deciding it's okay to crack a third bottle of bourbon. The bad nights, too.

All of it.

...

"I'm not sure. And I'm definitely not ready."

Damon threw an empty tumbler against the wall and felt his vampire features settle over his face, threatening. "I am so sick of hearing that shit. You don't even know how sick I am of it."

"Then stop asking, Damon. I'm not joking."

Damon stalked across the library and back, fuming, furious. "You have no fucking idea how fast time passes. What, you wanna be looking at retirement options and then decide 'hey, sure, maybe being a vampire is a good idea after all'?"

"I'm not -"

"You're thirty-four, Ric. You're not getting any younger and I'm not getting any older."

"If you're gonna keep talking about this, fine. I'll go." Alaric crossed the room, still infuriatingly calm, though with a furrowed brow, and all the way to the door of the boarding house before Damon slipped in front of him, barring his exit.

"I hate your fucking ring so fucking much," Damon said, lips settled into a thin, firm line.

Alaric sighed, and slumped, but didn't try to push past.

"I fucking hate your fucking ring." Damon splayed a hand over Alaric's stomach, fingers snaking over the scar Alaric wore, low on his hip; a year of bite marks, gentle bite marks, each delivered only when Alaric was swimming in hormone soup and (almost) literally begging to be bitten. Alaric's eyes darkened at the contact.

"I'll humor you. Why?"

"First time I killed you, You were out… what, half an hour? Forty minutes?"

Alaric flinched, but this was well-travelled ground. They had a tacit agreement not to speak of it again, but Damon couldn't resist poking his fingers in the wound.

"Not sure. Yeah. Whatever."

"After the wolf killed you, it was four hours." Damon held Alaric's eyes. "After our… tiff over Bill Forbes, it was seven hours."

"Get to the point."

"Last time, you came back to life coughing up blood and nearly died again."

Alaric hung his head. "I said something about getting to the point."

"I don't want your life to be subject to the whims of a piece of fucking metal and stone."

"I'm blushing." It should be said, Alaric was not blushing.

Damon stepped Alaric back towards the staircase and pressed his lips against his shoulder and just wanted, and wanted. And led him up the stairs. And then on the bed they were themselves, and nothing else, and Damon had his legs hooked over Alaric's shoulders, Alaric's cock filling him so perfectly, and they were sweat-soaked and perfect and the sweat dripped into Damon's eyes from the hair plastered against his forehead. "I fucking love you," he said, and Alaric's eyes closed and his mouth opened and he came with a shout, and they stayed that way for a long moment.

And then they lay close together, arms barely touching, and Damon (because he was Damon) spoke again. "Tell me you're thinking about it."

"I'm thinking about it," Alaric promised, weaving his fingers with Damon's. "Just… I need some space to think about it. The pressure doesn't help."

Damon swore to himself he'd bite his tongue, and he did, for weeks.

And then Alaric became a vicious, unkillable vampire-slaying vampire and then he went and fucking died, and the world fucking ended, and Damon thought he'd never be happy again.

...

But here he is, tending bar in Shitsville, Nowhere.

Damon doesn't even notice he's blurred across the room and is standing in front of the bar until Alaric looks up, with a vague, confused smile on his face. "What can I get you?" he asks.

"Ric?"

"Yeah. What can I get you? You, ah…" Alaric looks faintly concerned. Not like hey, we were in love, fancy you showing up here concerned. His usual, hey, person I don't know, can I help you concerned.

But Damon can't process it. "Ric?" he says again, uselessly.

And Alaric's face changes. He holds Damon's eyes like he's some sort of a fucking clue or prize or… Jesus fuck, Damon starts to get it, long before he should, and he should bolt, now, run a million miles but he knows every inch of Alaric's naked body and all the sounds he makes when Damon kisses him right so he actually, literally, can't move.

Also, he doesn't want to, because of all seven-point-whatever billion people on the planet Damon is probably at the bottom of the list of people who deserve miracles and yet, here one is. You don't walk away from this shit.

"Do you know me?"

It's an interesting choice of words. Usually, the question would be 'do I know you?' because if someone recognizes you and you don't recognize them it's because you're forgetful and can't place the face, but no.

Damon opens and closes his mouth.

Alaric leans across the bar, reaching an arm out. "I asked you a fucking question, man. Do you know me?"

Alaric is eating Damon with his eyes – no other way to describe it. Though he focuses mainly on Damon's face, his eyes, he takes in the shirt, top button unbuttoned. Damon's hair. His hand, which is apparently on the bar – Damon doesn't remember putting it there.

And then, oh fuck, Alaric ghosts his hand over his hip, a year of bites.

Damon almost chokes.

It was a tic, in a way. When Alaric was nervous, or tired, or the world was about to come to a bloody end, his hand would brush over his hip, those scars, and he would calm; his heartbeat would slow a touch, and his breathing, too. It drove Damon wild, the trust, the affection, Alaric's belief – no, knowledge – that Damon would protect him, that it was…

Fuck, fucking fuck fuck.

That it was real, that it was really real, what they had. That it wasn't just lazy lovemaking and furious fucking, it was what Damon craved more than anything; just, Damon and Alaric. Each coming first for the other. No Petrovas coming between them. If Katherine had showed up Damon would have frowned and flicked her away, and Isobel had become a vaguely irritating memory. Damon and Alaric clutched at each other in the dark and in any quiet corner, forcing life on each other, all tongues and sweat and cocks and Jesus fuck, there he is, standing there like he can't figure out yet whether or not he's won the fucking lottery.

"Do you know me?" he says again, and now he's desperate. Would climb over the bar, probably. A few people have turned to look, some so clearly interested that they must know a little something about something, and it takes all of Damon's strength not to reach over the beer taps and drag Alaric back to the room he has rented, re-teach Alaric all the ways they know each other.

But.

Any little kid, the first time they hear about monsters… that's it, there might be monsters, always. You might grow out of it, or you might still wonder, in your twenties, your thirties, your sixties, if there is space under the bed for a crouching demon, ready to sink its teeth into your ankle…

"I've been here before," Damon says, lamely. "A while back."

"No, you haven't." Alaric is sure.

So if you're one of the unlucky few who learns that actually, yeah, monsters are real, sucks to be you. Short straw, my friend.

"I should go," Damon says, and turns away from the bar, heading for the door like he's swimming in molasses. Half plotting all the ways he will fix this and half-plotting all the routes out of town, and which one will take him the furthest away, but fuck. Damon is not a good liar and he lies to himself even less well.

Alaric grabs his arm by the door – Damon doesn't even see him escape from behind the bar because in his mind, he's imagining the scent of Alaric's thighs. "You know me. You… recognize me. From before."

"Before?"

And that's it, isn't it?

Alaric, dead, and transformed into a weapon of vampiric destruction, gone.

And Alaric 2.0, also dead, buried on the second-worst day of Damon's very long life alongside Jenna Sommers in a quiet corner of the Mystic Falls cemetery. Unsung and unmarked but there.

(After dealing with the newly vampiric Miss Gilbert, Damon drank next to that grave. Two days, give or take, and then he slept, and got in his car and drove away. Last day in Virginia, perhaps ever.)

So this Alaric – and it seems tacky to call him 3.0 – doesn't remember, and more power to him. But he looks so fucking hungry, so indescribably fucking hungry for something and his hand is on Damon's arm and Damon's vision is going blurry because the only sensible thing to do is pull Alaric close, kiss his neck. Never let him go again. Buy a house on the side of a mountain where monsters can't get in, and just start again.

Or just run, because no one gets a second chance like Alaric has got a second chance.

Alaric's hand closes harder over Damon's arm and he chokes out more words. "You know me. You knew me."

"I should go."

And because he is strong, strong as an ox, and very, very fast, Damon gets the hell away, in no time at all. Leaves Alaric and the bar behind.

...

Richard paces in his apartment, because he can't sleep. He hasn't tried to but he knows he can't.

On a whim, he 'borrowed' a bottle of bourbon from the bar. He's halfway through it, now, drunk, and still pacing, and he has a list of the names and phone numbers of every place in the whole fucking town that you can stay in if you're just visiting and wondering if it would actually help to call them and ask "Hi. Just curious if you have a guest with silver eyes and cheekbones you could cut yourself on? Height…? No idea."

Because he knows Richard, knew him, whatever. The stricken look on his face. The hesitation at the door, the way he pressed his arm into Richard's hand, craving the touch.

The electricity in his eyes.

Richard closes his eyes and rests his forehead against the cool aluminum of the fridge door and if he breathes slowly enough he can imagine, maybe even remember, what it would be like to wrap his arms around that man and just never let go, let the world come back.

Richard wants him to have a name. A name he can taste. A name he can test with his tongue, roll. Truth be told Richard hadn't really been sure of his own sexual history, before; just kind of randomly found people attractive, though he hasn't slept with anyone since he reappeared; too weird, maybe, or maybe…

Maybe it's this, maybe it's like an imprinting thing. Maybe this is his soul mate. Richard swigs from the bottle and then puts the lid on it, and heads into the grey pre-dawn morning to walk it all off.

It's a nice town. Richard likes it. Rough-hewn rock in the majestic town square and friendly-looking houses. A cat trots out to meet him, and he picks her up, holding her to his chest. She is affectionate, rubbing her head into Richard's chin, and then she stiffens, and leaps away.

Richard, still bleary and blurry and drunk, looks around. On the fence is a crow.

Huge, huge crow. Cocking his head just enough to regard Richard with one beady eye.

"Hey," Richard says, not entirely sure why he says it. Okay, whatever. Richard keeps walking, maybe a little stumbly, and the crow takes off. Moments later it lands again, a few yards ahead of Richard, on a low-hanging branch.

It's almost predatory behavior. Almost. The crow cocks its head, and gives a slight bow, and Richard stops again. Stares long seconds.

Because crows are crows and they all look exactly alike and yet somehow, some fucking ridiculous how, this crow seems familiar. Richard rubs his head. "Maybe I should get another MRI," he says, because a slow-growing tumor had been one of the theories behind Richard's memory loss, though he'd never taken the possibility seriously. He doesn't think anyone else did, either..

Richard stops, and reaches out a hand, and yes, he's actually doing it – runs his finger over the bird's back. It's so… real, so substantial. It feels heavy under Richard's hand, weighty. It stretches a wing out, and then both wings, and Richard feels himself almost involuntarily press his fingers harder, over the ridge tips.

There is no reason Richard can think of that the crow hasn't bitten his hand, taken off, or clawed him.

"You must be really bored, bird," he says.

The crow presses its head into Richard's hand for a moment, and then seems to snap out of some spell. It takes off, shocking Richard's heart into a new rhythm. A feather lands on the ground, and Richard stoops to pick it up. Coal-black and still just a tiny bit warm.

"Hello, Ric," comes a voice.

...

Because Damon is completely incapable of doing the right thing, he sends a crow out. It doesn't take long to find one because he is buzzing so hard. Only a moment or two and then he can see the town from up on high, and he sets out to find Alaric because he has to look at him. Look and look.

He does that, and it's almost enough, until Alaric strokes his back, sends shivers down Damon's spine.

And then he slips out into the night and intercepts Alaric's route. Entirely himself, in black jeans and his leather jacket, and he stops there on the path just in time for the bird to snap out of it and take off, leaving Alaric startled.

"Hello, Ric," he says.

Alaric squares off, stands tall. "You know me," he says.

"I… knew you." Damon glances at his toes. For the first time, compulsion crosses his mind. He could make Alaric forget this, too. Give him chance number four. "Yes."

"My name's not Richard," Alaric says. "Is it?"

Damon shrugs. "Alaric." The look of relief is almost too sweet. "Alaric Saltzman."

"Alaric Saltzman," Alaric nods. "Jesus Christ, it feels good to know that." He looks like he wants to take another step, but he doesn't. Just holds his ground. Damon sticks his hands in his pockets. "And you're…?"

"Damon. Salvatore." Damon glances away, a second, but he can't not look at Alaric's face so he does that, looks again, and holds Alaric's beautiful, sad eyes.

"Damon Salvatore." He looks like someone handed him a prize. It's not just relief, it's something else, too. "What happened to me?"

"Ric…"

"What happened to me?"

"You're drunk. I can't…"

"Tell me."

"… do this right…"

"Damon."

Damon sighs. It's an uncharacteristic, longing sigh. "Not now," he says. "Seriously."

"Don't. You'll leave. Won't you? Fuck, a year and a half I've had no fucking clue who I am, and here you are, and you're gonna leave and tell me nothing."

"I won't. I swear, I won't. But you're drunk. You need to sleep." Damon glances in the direction Alaric came from, noting the slight stumble, the slur in his voice. "Where do you live?"

"Near the bar."

"Convenient." Damon smiles, a small smile, hooking up just a little bit of his face. "I could…"

"Walk me home? What, preserve my honor?"

"Something like that. C'mon," Damon says, stepping closer. "You're human. You need to sleep this off."

"I'm… human?" Alaric frowns.

"You know what I mean." And they fall into step together, quickly, Alaric's usual loping pace. More a part of himself than his own history. At the bottom of the stairs to the apartment, Alaric turns, and Damon takes a step away. "I'll."

"You'll…"

"Tomorrow," Damon says, sort of uselessly.

"You don't…" Alaric shakes his head, and almost smiles, almost embarrassed. "You don't want to come up? Fuck, I… I thought…"

And Damon shrugs, at that, and with his hands still in his pockets, he begins to follow Alaric up the stairs. Alaric unlocks the door, fumbling a little. "So you're coming in, then?"

"You inviting me?"

"I… yes. You…"

And then they're inside, and Damon isn't sure who reaches first, only know that suddenly, their bodies are pressed together like the intervening years never occurred. Only knows that Alaric's mouth tastes just like it always did, and that his huge hand on the back of Damon's neck is as controlling and fierce as it ever was. That their hips slot together like they belong that way, like they do, that his leg is pressed between Alaric's, craving the friction.

"I wasn't sure…" Alaric mutters between breaths. "I just…"

"I know," Damon whispers back, pulling Alaric closer, mouthing his way across Alaric's jaw. Nuzzling into Alaric's neck, smelling his blood, sweeter than wine. Damon's instincts all scream bite, feed but he stays calm, or as calm as he can, with his cock so hard and full and his hips nudging against Alaric's.

Alaric clutches, unwilling or unable to let go, now he has something to hold onto.

Damon steps him towards the bed, grateful it's a one room apartment, unbuckling Alaric's belt, fingers questing above the waist band, up under Alaric's shirt. The muscles across Alaric's stomach ripple dangerously, deliciously, and Alaric breathes in, hard, through his front teeth, and he steps back. "More efficient," he says, pulling his shirt over his head and Damon's heart thuds hard, flips over, because he'd often said the same thing, way back when.

Because, you know, tearing at each other's clothes is hot and all, but it takes so long.

Gloriously naked and climbing over each other, now, rutting against each other, Alaric gripping Damon's ass, running his hand over the knots of Damon's spine, and still kissing, kissing. Moaning into each other's mouths, tricky tongues twisting together, tasting each other, relearning each other.

It can't last long, not after so many years, not with the scent of Alaric, virtually unchanged, filling Damon's head; when Alaric reaches, tugging fiercely and wonderfully at his cock, the reaction is all too fast. Faster they go, harder, pressing together, touching and pulling and kissing. Damon comes with a shout, and Alaric follows close behind, the skin between their stomachs sticky and hot. Too much time, too many years too lonely and Alaric is beneath him with a satisfied half smile, looking stoned and happy and altogether lickable.

Hard to believe.

"Fuck," Alaric says, as Damon rolls part-way off him. "I just…" Damon swallows the rest of whatever Alaric is going to say, and leans to lick his chest, clearing salty come from one nipple, knowing exactly how Alaric is going to shiver in response. "Did we just resolve some years-long sexual tension, Damon? Or…"

"No," Damon says, rising to one elbow. "We used to do quite a lot of that."

"How long since we've…"

Damon blinks slowly. "Years. Four years."

"I only showed up here a year and a half ago. Where have I been?"

It's too much, and Alaric is still a little drunk, so Damon runs his tongue over Alaric's swollen bottom lip. "Not tonight."

"But…"

And it's against all of Alaric's rules and most of Damon's too, but he holds Alaric's eyes, and with a flicker of his pupils, he says "sleep, Ric."

Alaric nods. "Okay," he says, and his eyes drift closed.

Damon watches for a while, and then climbs off the bed. In the bathroom, he examines his reflection. His cheeks are relatively rosy, eyes dilated. Hair a total mess. He runs the water warm and cleans himself up with a towel. Rinses it, and returns to the bed to clean Alaric. Does it slowly, reverently, pausing to reacquaint himself with Alaric's body.

It's relatively unchanged. He doesn't even look much older. Low on his hip is a delicate arrangement of scars, each perfectly matched to Damon's fangs, a year of gentle bites. It has faded, a little.

Damon will put it back. A bite at a time.

Yeah, they're gonna have to have the vampire conversation, soon.

When he's done, Damon pulls the blanket over them both, tucks himself into Alaric's side, the way they always used to sleep (one hand draped over Alaric's body, his head on Alaric's shoulder) and though he doesn't much need to, right now, he sleeps.

...

It's late morning, by the time Alaric wakes. The room is warm and bathed in sunshine and he feels peaceful, content, for the first time in...

In a long time, he supposes, and it has to be because of the body lying half-draped over him, shifting already to nuzzle at his neck.

"Good morning," he says, and it's oddly formal. He did just get laid for the first time in a year and a half - who knows, maybe longer – and maybe he should drop the formality, but Damon's tongue is tracing fascinating patterns on Alaric's neck and shoulder so Alaric stops worrying about it, and just revels in the sensation. After a moment or two he grins, and turns to face Damon.

Christ, he's beautiful. It occurs to Alaric that he could say that, they do seem to have been close, but he'd hate to be laughed at or called a sap so he keeps it to himself. Damon is almost purring, running tricky fingers over Alaric's chest, and his hand slips down over the peculiar scars Alaric wears on his hip.

"Hey," he says, as Damon's mouth moves to his nipple, teeth teasing it erect. Damon hums an acknowledgement and darts his eyes up to meet Alaric's; he stays focused on his task, though, and lets the hand slip to Alaric's thigh. Alaric shivers, feeling himself get harder, and Damon responds by letting his mouth wander further south, licking and nipping a trail all the way to Alaric's aching groin. He sits partially up, propping himself on one elbow, lazily stroking over Alaric's erection.

"What?"

Alaric is about to decide his question can wait, but he shifts into Damon's touch, and asks anyway.

"The scar on my hip? Do you know...?"

Damon flinches, and shifts, climbing over Alaric's body, and further down the bed, licking a stripe up the underside of Alaric's cock, effectively distracting him. "Later," he says.

"But... oh, fuck," and yeah, Damon is definitely deflecting, here; has a skilled mouth sealed perfectly over Alaric, hands wrapped around Alaric's ass, pulling him forward, pulling him in. The muscles in Damon's mouth, in his throat, god, he's... strong, and he's... ugh, he's ridiculously good at this and Alaric is about to think that this is the best blow job of his life until he realizes he has absolutely no basis for comparison.

Plus, he supposes, this is not the first time he and Damon have done this, so whatever. Alaric tangles his fingers in Damon's hair, anchoring him in place, and feels an answering chuckle. His hips buck fiercely, but Damon holds him still, lavishing perfect affection and attention over every part of him. Pulling almost all of the way off the flick his tongue over the head, to mouth gently over the whole sticky length, occasionally looking up at Alaric with fire in his eyes; and then back again, taking the whole thing in his mouth and oh god, Alaric thinks, this must be what it's like to be sixteen.

Alaric is almost regretful when he feels his balls fill, and swell; it was never going to last long, he supposes and they can always...

"Oh," he says, spine arcing gracefully off the bed. "Jesus. Jesus, Damon."

Damon swallows, swallows everything. Pulls off slowly, kissing again, kissing over the vein that snakes its way from tip to base. Almost worshipful. He looks up with what is probably just a satisfied grin, but it looks...

Sort of predatory, if Alaric's honest. He feels a faint thrill of fear, but dismisses it.

"What?" Damon asks, puzzled.

"Nothing." Alaric puts a hand behind his head. He's not afraid. it was a glitch. "That was..."

"Yeah," Damon says. "I know. I've had plenty of practice." He waggles his eyebrows.

How much practice, though? He doesn't look old enough to... He looks about twenty-four, twenty-five, and if it's been four years… "How old are you?"

Damon does flinch, at that. "Older than I look," he says.

"Hey - how old am I?"

Damon hesitates. "Uh... Well, you were born in 1977, but..."

"I'm thirty-nine?" Alaric sits up. "That's... terrible."

"But you lost all that time, so..."

"Just because I was missing, doesn't mean I wasn't getting older." He lies back again. "Thirty-nine."

"You don't look it."

"Thank god for small mercies, huh? Jesus Christ. When's my birthday?"

"November twelfth." Damon shifts up the bed and lies alongside Alaric again, propped up on one elbow.

They stay silent for a good long while, and Alaric absently traces his scar with the pad of his index finger. "Are you gonna start talking yet? Or..." He turns to face Damon again. "I need to know. Everything."

Damon swallows. "I don't even know where to start."

"Just... start."

Damon lies back again.

"Start at the beginning. That's how most stories go. Right?"

"Not even sure what the... beginning would be." Damon looks up. "Got any bourbon?"

"Bit early...?" Alaric frowns, and Damon snickers. "Are you, like, an alcoholic, or...?"

Damon crosses to the kitchenette, totally unselfconscious, and takes the lid off the bottle. "No. Not an alcoholic." He takes a deep sniff and scrunches his nose, but drinks. "Keeps the edge off," he says, and Alaric feels it again; a faint thrill of fear. "You wanna take a shower or..."

Suddenly, the thought of being clean and clothed appeals enormously, so Alaric climbs off the bed and crosses to the bathroom. He feels a little sick. If the story was 'you went missing! let's take you home' Damon would have told him. Quickly, and without need of a drink at ten thirty in the morning.

But showered, and dressed, and with Damon making coffee in the tiny kitchenette, the world looks sort of normal again.

"That's enough procrastinating," Alaric says.

Damon sits at the tiny table Alaric uses to eat at, write at, aimlessly wander google earth at, reading the names of cities and towns, trying to find something that sounds as familiar to him as his name did, the first time he heard it. "Still take your coffee black...?"

"Took a while to work it out, but yeah. Black."

Damon nods. "The beginning," he says. "You grew up in Boston. You went to UNC, then Duke. You have a PhD in -"

"American history?"

"Yeah. Civil war." Alaric nods, smiling. The pieces may well fall into place yet. "You were working in the history department there, when your... wife... left you."

Wife? "I was married?"

"Obviously." Damon snickers, though there is something else in it, something that has him scratching at the label on the bourbon bottle. "You had a hard time with her leaving, so you quit your badly-paying job at Duke and moved to Mystic Falls, Virginia, to teach high school history, for even less money."

"Mystic Falls?"

"Yeah." Damon is intent on scraping the label off the bottle, now, and Alaric pulls it away.

"The big part. The part you're not telling."

Damon groans, rubbing his eyes. "The big part. There are so many big parts. But fine, have it your way. The biggest part... the shit-flavored frosting on the turd cake... you died, Ric. Four years and three months and... eleven days ago you died and a couple of days after that we buried you. In the corner of the Mystic Falls cemetery. And everyone cried. And I sat there and drank for two days and then I turned tail and left them to it. I haven't been back since."

Alaric waits for the punch line.

He waits and waits.

Realizing he's not going to get one, he laughs anyway. "That's good, that's cute. And, uh, wow. No, I like it. Whatever you're actually going to tell me won't be as bad as this. Okay. Hit me with it."

But Damon picks up his coffee mug and crosses to the window, gazing out. "Shit happens in Mystic Falls. You learn to accept it."

Alaric, it must be said, is beginning to feel irritated. He scratches his head. "Look, I'm not... This isn't fucking funny. A year and a half I've had no idea who I am. Stop fucking with me. Do you even know me? Or was this some... did you hear about me in town? Use it as a pick up line? Oh, my god. You're a fucking stalker, aren't you..."

Damon shrugs. "Want proof? Give me twenty minutes."

...

When Damon returns to Alaric's shitty flat with a rucksack containing more bourbon and a few of Alaric's own things, he pauses for a long moment outside, and wonders if actually, the smart move just might be to compel him. Make him believe everything is okay, maybe, just keep things simple...

But compulsion is never simple.

He could keep it up... make it so Alaric never noticed him feed...

No.

Damon heads inside and Alaric is buttering toast. "Hungry?" he asks.

Starving, Damon thinks. I know what you taste like, he thinks, and I want to bite you so badly my gums ache. "I'm fine," is what he says.

In the bag there are the few things he's been carrying around since Alaric died. There's not much. Damon arranged for all of Alaric's things to be put into storage, and he can have them back now, but there are a few things.

Damon places the bag on the table, and begins to pull things out.

"This isn't a first edition... but it's close," he says, pulling out a copy of The Day Lincoln was Shot. "Your father gave it to you."

Alaric opens the cover, and reads the dedication inside. "My parents. Fuck. Where..."

"They died," Damon says. "They never knew what happened to you."

"No one told them?"

Damon shrugs. "I went to visit them. I... they died. A day apart. Couple of years back."

Alaric sighs, and closes the book. "I remember reading this. I just don't remember when," he says, running his hand over it.

Damon pulls out Alaric's laptop. "There's stuff in here," he says. "Stuff you wrote. I'm going to tell you the truth. The whole truth. And you won't believe a word of it. But it's all in here, Ric." Alaric takes the computer, the cord, and plugs it in. Damon hopes it's not password protected and doubts it is. "And there's this."

He hands Alaric his own wallet; driver's license, with the date of birth Damon had easily recalled when asked. A credit card with a thousand dollar limit on it. A half-full loyalty card from the coffee shop halfway between Alaric's loft, and the school. Alaric sorts through them all. When he reaches for a pen and paper, to test out his signature, it matches. He seems saddened by it, which makes no sense.

"What happened to my wife?"

Damon leans in, because this, this is necessary. "Listen to me, Ric."

Alaric's eyes go wide and dull. "I'm listening," he says.

"Let me tell the whole thing. Don't run away or start yelling. I'm telling the truth."

"The truth," Alaric agrees, and Damon exhales, and starts to talk. He talks about Isobel running away to become a vampire and though Alaric flinches, he doesn't interrupt. He talks about witches and werewolves and vampires and all the rest of it, and about Alaric looking after Elena and Jeremy when their aunt Jenna died, and about Alaric becoming a vampire himself.

He tells Alaric about their final moments, in the tomb. Their last drink of bourbon together, their last kiss. Alaric crosses his arms on the table, expression incredulous, as Damon talks about the next few days after that; Alaric trying to kill them all.

"You left Jeremy and Elena... your brother... in the middle of all that?"

Damon shakes his head. "Everyone left. Everyone. With you gone they were... safe-ish. And Elena was a vampire by then and..."

"Vampires kill." Alaric crosses to the coffee pot, pours two coffees, brings them back to the table. "How did you and your brother get caught up in..." and his expression changes, and he pulls up a sleeve, revealing a scar on his arm. "This is a vampire bite."

"You got it when you were learning to hunt. Before you came to Mystic."

"And..." his hand presses over the scar on his hip.

Damon averts his eyes, and then looks up again. Never felt so small or stupid in his life. "I did those," he admits.

"You bit me?"

He aims for levity. "You always asked so nicely." He shakes his head. "What?"

"You're..."

"I figured you caught the implication."

"Show me." He is still standing, but wary, now, ready to run. "I want to see."

"Don't go nuts and try to stake me."

"Short on stakes," Alaric admits. "Show me."

Damon stands. Feels oddly exposed, sitting, while Alaric looms over him, arms crossed like that. He stands, and lets his features change. Feels the ache in his gums relent, at last, his capillaries fill and darken, sees his vision go a little red. Tamps down the near-irresistible urge to bite Alaric, taste him and mark him.

Alaric recoils, but only just. Only for a moment. He reaches a cautious hand out and Damon's heart flips over in his chest.

It's like the first time Damon bit him; they'd been making out like teenagers and Damon had fanged out, as Alaric liked to put it, and for the first time, instead of getting shitty and storming out, Alaric had done this. Run the pad of one finger over the capillaries in Damon's face. run the blade of his thumb over Damon's jaw, testing the new cant. This time, though, instead of offering Damon a drink, he steps away again.

"You're... a killer...?"

Damon hesitates. He's been honest so far. He might as well stick with it. "I was. It's been a long time. You, and Elena... I stopped. For you. I haven't killed anyone since long before you died."

There is a silence. An acre of silence, enough silence to drown in, if you tried to swim across it.

"You have to go," Alaric says.

"But..." Damon shakes his head. "Go? As in...? I only just found you. I'm not going anywhere."

"Can you imagine what my head is doing right now?"

Damon honestly can't, so he nods. "Mine's not in great shape either." He rubs a weary hand over his eyes. "This honest, responsible adult thing doesn't actually come naturally. I'm sort of a dick."

"Is that right," Alaric deadpans.

Damon chuckles, but only for a moment. He holds Alaric's eyes, big and sad and still cautious. "Can I..."

"Yeah. Later." Alaric nods. "I'll go and tell Gill and Dean I can't work tonight. For this, they'll understand."

Damon nods, and not wanting to push his luck, by doing something stupid like trying to kiss Alaric, with Alaric looking at him like that, scared and shitty all at once, turns on his heel and heads out the door.

...

The laptop computer is the most frightening thing Alaric has ever encountered.

It's full of his old life. The photographs feature mainly himself and Isobel – she's beautiful, no doubt, and perhaps it's just knowing what he knows but Alaric can't imagine having loved her; she looks a bit scary. Especially in the newer photos, standing at least a foot away from Alaric, and him with a forced smile on his face. Still, in the early ones they look happy, so whatever.

The photos stop abruptly. Alaric supposes he stopped taking them, when the world fell apart on him.

There's a diary, too, or perhaps journal is a better word. His journey from mild-mannered history scholar to vampire hunter, his cautious acceptance of Damon over time. A relationship with Jenna Sommers which became strained when it came to light that her niece was Isobel's daughter by birth. Jesus Christ. So incestuous, the founding families, Mystic Falls and beyond. All of it.

It should be enough to make Alaric laugh, but he doesn't feel much like laughing. The whole thing is just too fucking sad. And it gets worse.

The entries become more spaced out. Almost like the chaos in Mystic Falls became so rapid-paced that documenting it had begun to seem foolish. Strangely, the rhythm and cadence of the writing continues to match what Alaric knows of his own voice, and he wonders, as he has done for months, about the nature of memory. Imagines it has been plucked from his mind like some overlay of spider web, leaving behind the things that make him who he is.

And then there's an entry which curls Alaric's toes.

He wants me to turn. I learned to hate vampires the second I found out they were real. I can't do it.

A week later;

Maybe I could. They don't have to kill to feed. Eternity sounds like a very long time. We barely know each other.

How much is enough? I knew Isobel. I thought I knew Isobel.

Is this even real? To him? To me?

And then;

I'm losing time.

Alaric, possessed. Alaric, dying over and over, and he finds himself staring at the space on his hand where he sometimes feels like there should be a ring. Something heavy, something to weigh his whole hand down. He wishes he had a photograph of it. But there are no photographs from Mystic Falls.

Alaric can't read any further, because he knows enough of what came next to know he doesn't want to. He shuts down the computer. Crosses the tiny room to his bed, lies back on it. Closes his eyes, tries to let his mind fill in the blanks, the other faces. How he might have felt. He tries to imagine the first time he and Damon slept together. Had they fought? It feels right. He imagines a screaming match, imagines punching Damon across the jaw, Damon reeling for a second, and laughing, probably. Perhaps taunting Alaric to try again, really make him feel it.

And what had happened next? Had Alaric tried to leave, had Damon grabbed his arm? Or had it been like they were last night, galaxies colliding?

Or maybe it wasn't like that at all. Perhaps they'd been drinking somewhere, just talking, and perhaps they'd both known when it was time to find somewhere quieter, private. Perhaps they'd been speaking just a little too close and that first kiss had become as inevitable as the tide.

Alaric closes his eyes, imagining it. The first time Damon's silver eyes fell on him in lust. The first time he closed his hand over the back of Damon's neck – that, he felt sure, was some thing of theirs, because when he did it last night Damon had moaned, like he'd been starving, and wasn't anymore.

Alaric's body starts to respond like he's being touched again, and he shakes it off. Sits up, breathing slowly, and reaches for his phone to tap out a text.

There aren't words, though.

He starts, and stops, and finally makes a call instead. "Hey, it's me," he says, when the call is connected.

"Rick."

"Alaric, actually, but I'm still going with Ric."

There's a long silence, and then the voice, velvet-rich, accent indeterminate, says "Indeed. You've made progress then?"

"Not really. There's someone here from my old life."

There's a sort of tired sigh, and Alaric can imagine his friend gazing out a window, perhaps swirling cognac in a glass. "Is that right."

Alaric takes a deep breath. "Can you come? Are you far away? He's telling me stuff I'm sort of hoping isn't true and sort of think must be true, and I'm… freaking out." Another pause. "Don't come if you…"

"I'm not far away. I can be there tomorrow. Have some caution, Ric," the voice says.

"It's okay," Alaric says. "I'm not stupid. I thought for a minute it might be… he has proof. He knows me. Knew me. I'm not being played."

"I'm not sure that's what I meant, Ric. But I'll see you tomorrow." And with that, the call is disconnected.

...

He's not even sure he should do it, but Damon stands at Alaric's crappy door just as the sun is beginning to set. Dressed neatly but casually, freshly showered and shaved and smelling like Alaric's favorite cologne.

At least, it was Alaric's favorite cologne.

Damon has this fantastic idea about taking Alaric to dinner somewhere. Somewhere nice, some restaurant he couldn't afford for himself. Make it a…

A proper date, he supposes he's thinking, but even the word makes him feel like a sweaty-palmed teenager. It's not something they did, before, really. It was the Grill, or the library at the boarding house, or out somewhere fighting monsters. Ugh. Whatever. Alaric can choose.

Damon knocks.

Alaric opens the door, and after a moment's hesitation, steps back to let Damon step inside. It makes Damon want to reach for him, but as his eyes search the room, the first thing he sees is the laptop. So he keeps his hands tucked neatly in his pockets.

"You read it?" he asks.

Alaric nods. "Enough."

Damon wants to know everything, how much did he read, what is he thinking, how is he feeling, what does… but he keeps his mouth shut, and his hands to himself, and watches Alaric cautiously for some fucking tiny clue about how he's supposed to behave.

"You're, uh, kind of well-dressed for around here," Alaric says.

Damon shrugs. "Thought we could go and get dinner somewhere, I don't know. What? Will I be escorted out of town for wearing a nice jacket?"

"You're in a bad mood."

"Well, you know. Vampire. And bracing myself to be told never to darken your doorway again, since you've read what's on the computer."

Alaric shakes his head, and pushes the door closed. "You know it's all fucking crazy, right?"

Damon shrugs. "I've been living with 'crazy' for a hundred and fifty years."

Alaric steps away, towards the little kitchen, and pours two glasses of bourbon. He hands one to Damon, who accepts it, and takes a sip. "That helps with.. the cravings?"

"Yeah." Damon stands, feeling like an idiot, for a minute, maybe two. "Why aren't you throwing me out?"

Alaric shrugs. "Did you know I kept a journal on that computer?"

"Yeah." Damon nods. "You showed me some of it, once. Not sure what else you would have been reading. Old report cards? And?"

Alaric shifts from foot to foot. "What were we?"

Damon studies his toes, drinks from his glass. Leans against the bench. "We didn't have time to work out what the fuck we were."

"But…"

Damon looks up, expression steely. "But?"

"I was thinking about turning."

Damon has to swallow a lump in his throat because that sounds like the best kind of lie, like something his own subconscious might tease him with. He shrugs.

"You don't have anything to say to that?"

"I don't know, Ric. I only know I wanted you to. You wouldn't talk about it. We never put a name to this shit. We slept together more nights than not and we spent our free time together and I harassed you twice a week about turning. What else can I say?" He drains the glass, and reaches for the bottle, pouring another. He avoids Alaric's eyes. "What did you write? About… us, or whatever." Jesus Christ, he sounds like a kid, so unsure of himself. And he wishes he'd read the fucking journal himself when he had the chance.

(He just couldn't. He carries the laptop, the small bag of Alaric's things, everywhere he goes. Keeps it in the trunk and touches it from time to time. Truth be told, he's a little surprised the computer even works, still.)

Was he unsure, way back then? It didn't feel like it. It felt solid, but maybe it was just comparative. Nothing had ever been solid before. Alaric is looking at him, now, trying to hold his eyes, but Damon can't look up.

"It doesn't matter now."

Damon does look up at that. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means I'm not who I was then." Alaric leans against the countertop, alongside Damon. "All I can do is work out what… we could be now. And I don't know."

Damon's voice is thin and harsh when he speaks again. "Are you prepared to find out?"

Alaric is still for a long moment. "Yeah," he says. "I think so. I mean… it's still there, right? What happened last night means…"

And Damon doesn't wait, at that. He turns, fast, fitting his hips against Alaric's, pressing against him, pressing him to the counter. "I'm a monster," he says.

"Are you? I mean, you're a vampire. But…"

"I've killed a lot of people."

"I know. I get it. But who are you now? I don't know who I was, back then. It would be sort of hypocritical to say you are who you used to be when… I'm so different."

"You're not. You might not remember. Same Ric, though. Sort of self-righteous and grumpy." Damon puts his hands on the counter top, one on either side of Alaric' body, and wonderfully, wonderfully, Alaric loops a hand around the back of Damon's neck.

"I don't know what I'm doing," he says. "I don't have any reason to trust you except that you have my stuff, and you…"

And Damon leans to kiss his doubts away. Just a firm press of lips, a reassurance. He swipes his tongue over Alaric's lower lip, eliciting a soft murmur.

Alaric opens his mouth, then, admitting Damon's tongue, sliding against it a moment with his own, deepening the kiss. His eyes close, but Damon's stay open.

"I can give you more reasons to trust me," he says, pulling away. "It's not just your wallet and computer and some stupid book. Everything you own is still at your loft. Has been for four years. You can have it all back."

Alaric opens his eyes, and pulls back just enough to meet Damon's eyes. Damon can't help but wonder what he is seeing. "My stuff?"

Damon takes Alaric's face in his hand, and turns him away, so he can reach the place behind and below his ear. He kisses it, firmly, swiping his tongue over the spot, making Alaric give a sort of shuddering whimper. "I know every place on your body that makes you moan, Ric," he says, right up against Alaric's ear. "Every place. This wasn't just sex." He hopes it's true. It feels true. Alaric puts his hand on the base of Damon's spine, pulling him closer.

"You smell so good," he murmurs. "Were we in love?" He asks this like he's not sure if he's allowed to, not sure he should be trying to put a name to it.

Damon takes a breath. "I was," he says.

"I never said…"

"You said you… loved me, if that's what you're asking."

"I guess that's what I'm asking."

"I'm not good at this," Damon says. He says it with his cheek pressed up against Alaric's, though, and it feels like he's doing okay. "The sex, yeah. But I spent a hundred and forty-five years emotionally faithful to the most evil bitch to ever walk the earth and in all that time it was nothing but sex. Until you. You're the adult in this relationship," he adds. "Were. You were the one with a job and a reason to get out of bed in the morning other than hey, sun's up, shower sex. You were the one who pointed out when I really shouldn't kill someone just because they'd pissed me off. It was all you. I've been un-tethered for four years, Ric," he says. He thinks he sounds angry. It's hard to tell. He wants to tear at Alaric's clothes and bite him, and scream, and push Alaric onto the bed. He wants to fold time back.

"But you still haven't killed…"

Damon shakes his head. "Kept imagining your ghost might be around, you know. Watching. You've been here the whole time. I know how stupid that sounds." He feels stupid, pressed against Alaric like this. This is not the way they are. But he wants to absorb Alaric into his pores.

"Doesn't sound stupid. Just… hard to imagine." And Alaric closes both arms around Damon, and it's a real hug, sort of momentarily startling. Cautiously, Damon returns it, two fine, strong bodies pressed together. It's not exactly sexual but it's not exactly not-that, either.

God, it's what's been missing, though. Damon feels his eyes prickle uncomfortably, but he's not actually going to cry. Just, it feels so right, if new and unchartered.

"I need to eat," Alaric says. "Really don't need anything fancy but I need to eat. I'm shattered."

"We could go to your bar…"

"No. Don't feel like getting stared at. I'm the weird guy with amnesia there," he says, as he lets go of Damon's body, slipping his hands to Damon's hips.

"The Italian place…?"

Alaric nods, and so they go.

...

Back at the apartment afterwards, Alaric offsets the awkwardness which is sort of inevitable right now by pouring drinks and putting on music, taking a seat on the couch while Damon removes his jacket and hangs it over the back of a chair.

"This bit's easier drunk, huh," Damon says. "I know. It was like that at the beginning." He toes off his shoes and sits alongside Alaric on the small sofa. "Before I lost you, though, we'd just go straight upstairs, get naked as quickly as possibly and go for it."

"Weird question."

"Yeah?"

"Who tops?"

Damon snickers. "Mostly you. But we change things up. You're up for pretty much anything."

This sounds oddly right. Alaric drains his glass and Damon drapes himself over Alaric like a cat, rubs himself over Alaric's body, pushing his t-shirt up over his chest. Kissing and licking and teasing his nipples erect. Alaric relaxes against the couch, pliant, full of red wine and the anticipation of sex, and also wondering… "Do you always bite me?"

"No," Damon says, returning to kiss Alaric's mouth. "And I'm not exactly interested in scaring you off. So don't worry about it."

"I'm not… worried," Alaric says. "Just still getting used to it all. I just…"

"Probably seem a lot more normal once you've fucked me so hard I've forgotten my name too," Damon says, purring against Alaric's ear.

"Worth finding out, at least. You're not normally like this, are you," Alaric says. "You're trying to… be nice, maybe?"

"Does it really matter?" Damon unbuckles Alaric's belt. "Last time we started out trying to kill each other. You really want to try that way again?"

"No."

So Damon pulls Alaric to his feet and to the bed, though they pause to very efficiently strip away their clothes, and once there, they take their time. There is no rush. Because Damon is an optimist (HA) he has brought lubricant and revels in the time Alaric takes to prepare him. It is exactly the same as it always was, like Alaric's hand and Alaric's body remember all the things Alaric himself has forgotten.

Damon rolls over, half on his stomach, half on his side, like it's habit, like it was, and presses back as Alaric enters him. It's a strange feeling, so familiar and so new. Alaric is not the same, but in all the ways that matter, he is still entirely himself, still ferocious, still pressing a hand against Damon's shoulder, holding him to the bed like no years have come between them.

When Alaric kisses Damon's neck, Damon still rolls his head. When Alaric mutters Damon's name like it's a dirty word, right there close to his ear, Damon still reaches a hand to find Alaric's, to tangle their fingers, and Alaric still shifts so he can.

Glorious, ridiculous.

With Alaric's fingers between Damon's fingers, with Alaric's arm wrapped tight over Damon's body, with Alaric muttering into Damon's ear, it is much like no time has passed. It's like it was, like it always has been. Their bodies fit together just so. Alaric is ferocious, strong, holding Damon down as the sweat builds between them. He stretches and fills Damon the way Damon craves, aggressive and demanding, and Damon drives back against him. And when Alaric comes, Damon follows close behind, rutting against the bed sheet and nothing else.

Alaric slumps over Damon's back, and stays inside Damon, for as long as he can.

"Was it always like this?" he asks, at last.

"Yes," Damon says.

"I just mean…"

And though he is not yet ready for Alaric to not be inside him, Damon shifts, so they become unstuck, puzzle pieces torn asunder, and he rolls over onto his back, sated and leaky and feeling like the world is, at last, right again.

"Yes. You and me? Always like this," Damon says. Eyes holding Alaric's. "Best sex of my life. Best sex of your life, too, unless you were just being nice."

Alaric rolls onto his back, but still he looks at Damon.

"I feel like I should recognize you."

"Maybe you will. Maybe… I could take you home. You could touch your things, maybe you'd…"

Alaric shakes his head.

"I don't… think… I want to go back."

Damon's heart does an appalling amount of beating. Because what does that mean? He's come this far, he's not giving Alaric up again, no way. He's going to kidnap him, now. Drag him to a place where no one can find them and…

"Whoever I was, I'm not quite him, anymore. I work in a bar, I live here, you know. I want to move forward."

Damon calms, and reaches for Alaric's hand.

"Is there room for me? Here?"

"I can't imagine you staying still."

Damon turns, and holds Alaric's eyes. He looks sullen, he thinks, and that wasn't the plan, but Alaric was always the one who understood him, and that feels like it's gone, sort of. "That's all I've ever wanted to do. You used to know that."

Alaric shakes his head, but it's not a 'no', it's a 'this doesn't make a lot of sense'. That, Damon can take.

"Do you like living here?"

"Yeah." Alaric stares at the ceiling, puts a hand behind his head.

Long term it's not gonna work but Damon doesn't need long term, right now. He has his room this week, not that he's planning to need it, and they'll work out the details later.

The only thing he knows for sure is that he's not leaving. He'll be keeping Alaric, now.

...

When Alaric goes to work the next day it is as much to get some breathing space as anything else and it is, after all, Saturday, and on Saturday night, they are busy. But at six o'clock Alaric finishes prepping the bar, and orders himself a burger, and takes a booth at the back.

Elijah arrives, gleaming, as he always gleams, and Alaric feels an odd sense of relief to see him there. Hadn't expected him to arrive so quickly but Elijah is a friend, and they share a unique history, and he has told Alaric to call on him any time.

He folds himself neatly into the booth opposite Alaric, and Alaric smiles, reaches over the table to shake his hand.

"Ric," Elijah says, as he shakes it. "You've had an interesting time of it."

Alaric wonders for the millionth time where Elijah's strange accent comes from, but he doesn't ask. He's never asked.

"Interesting, yeah." Alaric waves to the girl behind the bar, and indicates Elijah. He has spent enough time here so that she knows to pour cognac.

"Tell me about it, please," Elijah says, in that slightly stilted, formal way that he does. Alaric nods, swallowing a bite of burger.

"Turns out… I was with someone, before I disappeared, four years ago. And he just…" Alaric shakes his head. "He showed up here on Thursday night."

"How did he find you?"

"By accident, man. You should've seen the look on his face." Alaric takes another bite, and swallows quickly. "Sorry. I don't have much of a break."

"We can spend some time together tomorrow. It's not a problem. Tell me about him."

Alaric shrugs. "Well," he starts, feeling foolish. Elijah is about Alaric's age, but he always seems so much older, wiser. For a moment, Alaric finds himself wondering if his dignified friend could also be a vampire.

Absurd.

"I can't believe I'm telling you this but we fell into bed about five minutes after I saw him the second time." He says it in a rush.

Elijah looks almost wistful. Alaric has always though Elijah was a little lonely. "I see," he says. "I would ask if you felt that was a prudent course of action, but I shan't." Elijah smiles slightly and nods when his glass is brought. "Will he be staying here in town?"

"I don't know. It's early days… sort of. Look, he's barely the point."

And what is the point? Alaric always feels an odd compulsion to tell Elijah the truth, and Elijah has never not wanted to know the things Alaric says, so he shrugs again. "I know this is gonna sound fuckin' crazy, but… Elijah, I died. That's where I was. Not missing. Dead. Up until you found me out on the highway I'd been… Fuck, I was right. It does sounds crazy."

He picks at the fries on his plate and takes another bite of his burger. Anything not to look up and see Elijah's expression. He can't delay forever, so he meets Elijah's eyes.

Elijah is nodding, slowly. "I see," he says again.

"You don't have to be reasonable about it. It sounds so far past crazy that I can't even believe I'm saying it out loud. Elijah…"

"The world is very large and very strange." Elijah does look so very sad, though. "And what is your friend's name?"

"Damon. Damon Salvatore."

Elijah nods.

"I have to get to work, but maybe… could you meet me tomorrow?"

"Wherever you wish."

They make arrangements, and Elijah slips out of the bar.

...

It takes Elijah three hours to locate Damon, though he is not looking hard. Wandering, and expecting to cross paths with his quarry eventually. There is a conversation that needs to be had. When he finds him, Damon stares for a stupefied minute, blinking and opening his mouth and closing it again. Shifting his weight from foot to foot.

He appears to be trying to find something to say, and failing. He is puzzling hard over Elijah's sudden appearance, perhaps. He looks as though he is carefully shaping an accusation, or a tirade of complaints. Perhaps, though, he is solving complex mathematical equations in his head. His expression seems to suggest it is so.

Something needs to be said, and Damon is still silent, still blinking, occasionally curling his lip into something that might reasonably accompany a glare, but he is too confused to truly glare.

Really, this is getting tiresome.

"Damon," Elijah says. He supposes as far as icebreakers go, it's not the worst thing he could come up with. At any rate it appears to loosen Damon's tongue.

"What the fuck," is what Damon actually chooses, in the end, and gracious, but it's eloquent. Elijah has to fight the urge to roll his eyes. Damon opens his mouth again, and this time, Elijah expects something he can work with. What he gets is "Elijah. What the actual fuck."

Elijah sighs. "Charming, Damon," he says, and smoothes down the front of his jacket. "Perhaps we could go somewhere for a drink?"

"You want to tell me what the fuck you're doing here?"

"Best done over a drink," Elijah says, and to his own ears, he is quite reasonable about it. Yes, a conversation needs to happen, but it needn't happen on the street, and Damon has never been reluctant to take a drink.

Damon looks like he might fall over, or tear Elijah's heart from his chest, or try to. He does neither thing. He nods, and Elijah cocks his head, for Damon to follow him.

There is a very small bar, much further from the town center. Elijah likes it. He and Alaric have drunk a good deal together in this particular bar. Elijah wonders if they will, again, and he finds himself missing a friend he has not yet lost.

Elijah has lost so many people. He feels disinclined to lose Alaric. Still, things will fall out as they will fall out.

Over large glasses of their preferred spirits, Damon glares – yes, he has found his glare. It's almost refreshing – and Elijah calmly sifts through the thoughts in his head, to find the right way to explain what must be said.

"I will smack it out of you, if you don't just start talking," Damon says, his jaw set in a furious line. "Don't test me on that."

Elijah has to smile. He swirls his cognac in his glass, and raises an eyebrow. Damon shrinks, a little. Smacking something out of Elijah is not something Damon could ever actually manage, but he is angry. Elijah understands.

"Elena became a vampire," Elijah says, with a slight incline to his head.

"That news stopped being news four years ago."

"The magic that tied Alaric's life to Elena's said that he would die when she died. So, he did. But when she took her first drink of human blood, he woke."

Damon grits his teeth. "No. He didn't. I fucking buried him."

Elijah flinches. He loathes the lie, always has.

"No. You buried a body. Shrouded. Mystic Falls never has a shortage of them." Elijah smirks. "It was a vampire body, if that makes you feel any better."

"You're lying."

Elijah sighs. "Why would I bother? Alaric is very much alive. You see the evidence for yourself. Tell me. Young Jeremy. How many times did he talk to Alaric's ghost? Hmm?" Elijah knows it was only once. Only when Elena's human life ended, when Alaric's vampire life did.

Damon doesn't acknowledge the truth of this out loud but he glares in such a way that Elijah suspects his point has been taken.

"Why doesn't he remember anything?"

And because this is the real story, Elijah sighs, once again, and crosses his hands over the table. "He remembers nothing because he chose, a year and a half ago, to remember nothing. He felt it was the best way, and I couldn't disagree. He was half-destroyed, Damon. Screamed in the night." Elijah blinks slowly. "He wasn't getting better. He craved blood, though he wasn't a vampire. There was some remainder of that in him, though. He would take a blood bag from my refrigerator, and drink it, and make himself ill.

"My mother… she no doubt thought that she could repair the damage she caused when she created us, and maybe she could have. Maybe Alaric would have killed us all, and then lived out the rest of Elena's human lifespan, and died. But it didn't happen that way. So tell me, Damon. When Alaric asked me to wipe his memory, what else would you have had me do?"

Damon's mouth is set in a harsh line, though his eyes have softened.

It occurs to Elijah that Damon and Alaric never had a lot of time together, in the world, before Alaric was taken from it, but that for the third time in a hundred and seventy something years, Damon had fallen in love, and that for the first time in all of those years, he'd been loved back.

It makes Elijah ache some for all that he himself has missed out on. He's had lovers, over the years, but none who lasted. Always he moved on, and rarely with a lot of regret. Perhaps in his old age he is softening.

Damon scoffs. "What are you even talking about," he says. "Give him his memory back, Elijah."

"It was his decision, Damon," Elijah says. "His choice. If I give him his memory back, he'll not only remember what happened to him in Mystic Falls, but everything that happened to him whilst he was in my care at Copper Harbor."

"Why didn't you just take out the crap? For fuck's sake, Elijah…"

"You know quite well that an incomplete memory alteration leaves threads that people will follow to the source. Consider your experience with Jeremy." Elijah smoothes his hair. "And it would be appreciated if you could treat me with some respect, Damon."

Damon looks to be readying himself to yell, and Elijah stays him with a hand. "I will not do it," he says. "But consider this. Alaric takes no vervain. I used no special tricks on his memory. If you wish to remove my compulsion, you can," he says. "I urge you not to."

Damon seems to understand, at that. He groans and rubs at his hair, but no, he won't take off the compulsion. "And now you're his little friend," he says. "You come around and what, listen to his troubles?"

"Some. We talk. We drink. He recalls me only as the person who found him by the roadside and brought him here. It would be appreciated if you did not disabuse him of the notion that I am entirely human?"

"Oh, sure. In ten years when he realizes you haven't aged a day he'll work it out for himself and then we're both fucked. I'm supposed to pretend it's a total coincidence, and I've never met you before?"

"No," Elijah says. "I will drift from his life. In time he'll forget me, and if he does not, you will be there to cheer his mood, will you not?"

"I hate you sometimes," Damon admits, and Elijah smiles.

"Something you need to be aware of. This magic… it was unstable. You know that. It had begun to work long before Alaric's turning." Elijah calls for another round of drinks, collecting his thoughts, and Damon looks grateful for the buffer. Still he looks angry, and more than a little miserable. "If he was to turn into a vampire again… I believe he would become once more what my mother intended him to be."

Damon huffs.

"Just information I feel you should have, if you are… planning to stay. I assume you're planning to stay? Have you other ties you cannot break?" It's a challenge, and it's meant to be heard as one.

"This fucking sucks, Elijah," Damon says.

"Indeed. It 'sucked' rather more when he was asking me to kill him." This has the intended impact. Damon looks contrite, and uncomfortable. "You have him back, hale and whole, and I understand the, shall we say, sparks are already beginning to fly. I have only a little advice for you, Damon," and Damon looks like he has some inelegant advice for Elijah, too; probably something biologically impossible and rather unpleasant. "You have – or you might soon have – what very few of us get. Few humans, and fewer vampires. You might be tempted to shape it into something different, something you imagine might be more. Already you are imagining that Alaric will age and die, and that you want neither thing to happen. You are thinking about arguments you've had with him, and accords met, and wishing you did not have to cover that ground again. Tell me if I am wrong," he says, and Damon says nothing. "Perhaps you could try being grateful and happy." Elijah finishes his drink. "Try enjoying it, for as long as it is yours, be it a year, or ten, or fifty. Don't try to alter it."

Damon gives a surly nod, and grumbles something like 'you're not my father', which Elijah ignores. They have had an odd history, Damon and Elijah, and always there is a charge between them. It is complicated further, Elijah has to confess, by the fact that he finds both Damon and Alaric both so intriguing, so… attractive. He would know them both, if he could. But he remains a step away, only envious of what they have found together.

Perhaps when Alaric's human life is over Elijah will go to Damon. Perhaps not. They have nothing but time.

"I'm going," Damon says, and he goes, but Elijah follows.

"I will see him tomorrow," Elijah says. "I'll counsel him, so far as he wishes it; and then I will leave."

Damon glares, and almost stomps his foot.

"I never wanted this," he says, and Elijah chuckles.

"You wanted most of it. Good evening, Damon," he says, and he goes.

...

Damon drifts around town while Elijah and Alaric talk, though he's agreed, for the sake of appearances, to go and have a fucking drink with them later, and he can't wait to shake Elijah's hand and pretend he doesn't know him, and he's a useless liar, and he's quite sure he'll fuck it all up.

But the cat, same cat, greets him on the same corner, winding a tail around Damon's leg, and Damon stoops to pick her up, scratch her on the head. "You broken?" he asks. "You're supposed to hate me. Way of the world, cats and vampires." She answers by rubbing her face against Damon's and Damon notices that the house – precisely where he met Alaric, that first night – is for sale.

Somehow he calms, and imagines it. Five years, that has the rule. Five years in one place, before people start noticing he's not aging. And yes, he can do it, he can stay still. And more than that. He can take Alaric traveling. He can have a life of the sort he'd imagined when he was alive (though Alaric is not at all like Katherine, and thank fuck for it).

It's the last lie he ever tells Alaric, when he shakes Elijah's hand later and says he's pleased to meet him.

...

They relearn each other thoroughly. With their hands, and their mouths, and with two fine cocks, they explore again all the ways they fit together. Alaric tastes Damon's blood and it lights him up like a firecracker, and Damon tastes Alaric's blood and it does the exact same thing. He bites into Alaric's hip, or his lip, or his wrist. Sometimes he bites into Alaric's throat, though this is unusual, because the taste of Alaric is incomparable, and Damon is worried, sometimes, that he'll lose control and drink until there is nothing left to drink.

"Fuck, I missed you," Damon says, with his hips twisted half off the bed. "I can do it, I can stay still. I'll buy a house…"

"This is the weirdest dirty talk I've ever heard," Alaric laughs.

"It's the only dirty talk you've ever heard. Christ, Ric, harder," so Alaric goes harder, pressing his hand between Damon's shoulder blades, and when Damon clamps muscles down hard, Alaric comes with an exuberant shout, jerking Damon's orgasm from him fast and messy, kissing Damon's shoulder. They lie together a while, and Damon talks and talks and they kiss, as well, a lot of that, until Alaric looks exhausted.

And days after that, after Damon has signed the papers for the house and Alaric has rewarded Damon with a thorough rimming that Damon plans to write poetry about, they laze on the couch in matching ugly towels and drink.

"I can't turn, Damon," Alaric says. "I'm not that guy anymore."

Damon says nothing, because he wants to argue, and he can't.

"I'm sorry. I know it means there's a use-by date on this thing…"

"Shut up," Damon says.

"You only stay as long as you want. Me, too. This is only new, y'know, we might hate each other by next week…"

"Ric. Shut. Up."

Alaric opens his mouth to say something more, and Damon clamps a hand down over it. "Alaric. Shut. Up."

Alaric shuts up.

...

Each five years goes by faster than the last, is the problem. Five years in New York, they do next, and they buy a bar, and Alaric works only when he wants to. He's approaching fifty and Damon is still twenty-four and their friends joke that Damon is a gigolo. And they laugh along with them, holding hands under the table. And then five years in Chicago, because Alaric has decided he doesn't hate cities as much as he thought he did.

"I'll bury you," Damon promises, when Alaric again suggests that Damon should go. He worries about the age difference. "If I have to. I'll bury you," he promises Alaric's neck, buried to the hilt in Alaric, pressed over the couch, Jimi Hendrix on the CD player and the smell of risotto drifting from the kitchen, and it's been nearly ten years now and Damon is sure it's the truth. There is nothing, even now, that Damon wants more than Alaric, Alaric's body.

Alaric's blood.

And they travel. Overseas travel is difficult; procuring a passport is challenge enough, but Damon gets terribly ill travelling over water. Worth it, to show Alaric all the things he thought he'd never see. They make love in the rooftop garden of a pensionne in Rome, and see the birthplace of the Salvatore line in Tuscany, and if people give them strange looks, Damon glares, because he loves Alaric, loves him, and he said five years ago that if he had to watch Alaric grow old and die he'd do it.

"I'm glad you stayed," Alaric says, sitting in a hospital waiting room for the results of an MRI he didn't want to have; and Damon sets his jaw, and glares at the old woman who has the gall to be shocked by Damon's hand curled in Alaric's. The tumor is benign and taken care of in a few short hours, but it is another reminder of Alaric's mortality, and they both hate it.

In San Francisco Alaric officially retires, at sixty five, and Damon snarls that he shouldn't have been working at all, because Damon has all the money in the world, And Alaric says he loved tending bar. Challenging younger academics on their stools espousing theories about the causes of the civil war, he says, makes him feel young, and Damon says nothing, but he's glad to have Alaric at home, in his bed, where he belongs.

Elena and Stefan come to stay, and the difference the last five years have made is so stark that Elena cries, quietly, on the patio of the sunny house in the Castro, and Stefan drapes an arm around her shoulder and reminds her quietly that this is what humans do.

"But it's Alaric," she whispers, and Damon wants to hit her.

"He's not even seventy," he snarls. "And keep your fucking voice down. You want him to hear you planning his funeral?"

And then on again, because five years is the rule.

Damon whispers in Alaric's ear as they lie together in a house in the suburbs in Philadelphia, the last year that Alaric's increasingly frail body can take the cold. He tells him it was worth every minute, every second, and he feels calm, and adult, even with the years slipping by so fast. He wants to drag them back. He wants to claw at time and make the very valid point that he's never had anything before and can't time just fucking stay still, because though they can't stop touching, Alaric is seventy-five with a faltering heartbeat and a hip that gives him hell, and they haven't made love in years; not the same way, anyway. Making love now means kissing and touching until Alaric falls asleep.

It's worth it. Asleep, Alaric's face is slack and relaxed and he's still right there. Still entirely himself.

"Every second," Damon whispers. "Worth every second."

He gets increasingly sappy as the years go by. He misses the snark, but aware as he is that their time grows short, he wants Alaric to go into the void with memories of deep affection. Daily he resists the urge to resolve his anger by killing a hundred people, a thousand. Slaking his hunger and letting dead humans slip from his hands, but Alaric would never forgive him.

"Find someone, when I'm gone," Alaric says, with a cough.

"Never," Damon says. Alaric's hair is white and soft as a cat's and his skin is smooth to the touch. "Hey, I did a hundred and fifty years on my own. I can do it again."

"You were a murderous asshole for a hundred and fifty years," Alaric says, quite reasonably, because his mind is as sharp as it ever was.

And they move to warmer climes, and get Alaric the best doctor in New Orleans, and Damon wheels his chair out to watch the Mardi Gras parade and buys his favorite cocktail – bourbon and more bourbon in a glass with no ice – while he himself drinks hurricanes.

"Fag," Alaric says, laughing, and his hand shakes as he raises the glass to his lips.

"At least I'm not an old fag," Damon answers, and Alaric laughs some more, and his hands shake and shake.

Even the winters are warm in New Orleans and though the end is near – they can smell it, Damon especially, smell the decay in Alaric's blood – they are hoping for another year or two.

...

Alaric naps by the window, a book abandoned in his lap. Reading wears him out fast, but still he reads.

Damon tidies around him, and wishes that he hadn't listened to Elijah, that he'd turned Alaric, and kept him. Might have been worth the risk. It is the thought that occupies most of his waking hours, these days, when he looks into Alaric's rheumy eyes, or helps him bathe. Alaric keeps saying they should get a helper but Damon can't bear the thought of sharing Alaric's last days with anyone. At night they still share a bed, and with the lights off and his eyes closed Damon can pretend it's 2016 again.

"Damon," Alaric says, rousing suddenly, and his voice is so rough it's like he hasn't used it in years. Damon kneels, and takes Alaric's hand. "Promise."

"Done promising you stuff, Ric," Damon says. "Needy asshole."

"Find someone when I'm gone."

"Never."

"Promise. Don't run around…" He coughs, the air in his lungs ragged. "Don't run around killing people and hating the world," he says. "Find love again. Please."

Damon rolls his eyes. "Fine, fine."

"Not joking, Damon. I will haunt… your ass," Alaric says, and his fingers barely grip Damon's, and Damon's eyes burn. "I could use a cup of tea."

He doesn't need tea. Damon feels a lump rise in his throat. "No," he says. "No, Ric."

"I need a minute. I… don't want to do this in front of you."

No, no, no. No, not yet. Another year, another month. There's still stuff they haven't said.

"Not going anywhere…" but Alaric tries to grip Damon's fingers, and it's not fair, because Damon only just found him, goddammit, and now he's an old man, and Damon can hear his heart slowing.

"Tea, Damon," Alaric says. "I love you."

"I love you too," Damon says, and he stands, and he kisses Alaric quickly, those lips like silk, and turns on his heel and goes to make tea that will never be drunk. He makes it the way Alaric likes it, anyway, with lots of cream and even more sugar and only half full because Alaric's hands shake so badly and when he hears the very last beat that Alaric's heart will ever make he smashes the cup against the wall and collapses onto the floor, sobbing in a way he hasn't done in nearly two hundred years. He punches the floorboards and slices his hand on a shard of the cup and doesn't care about that either and he lets himself cry, because no one is there, no one can see him.

He lies there for a long time, his face in the spilt tea, and decides between going to find someone to kill and calling Elena to come and take care of this because he can't do it by himself.

But Alaric might be watching.

Damon calls Elena.

...

"I was never really sure you could do it," Stefan says. "But you did it. You stayed. You buried him. How many years did you…"

"Not enough," Damon says, and doesn't also mention that he's seriously considering throwing his fucking ring in the Mississippi. Alaric's body has disappeared into a mausoleum wall and in a year and a day it will be gone, decomposed to nothing in the New Orleans heat and damp. Damon feels dead inside. A year will pass before he even blinks.

Elena curls her hand in Damon's. "I'm sorry," she says. She understood better, always did.

"I need some time," Damon says, and Stefan and Elena slip away, arm in arm.

Damon sits on a bench by the wall sipping bourbon from a flask for a long time, willing the right words to come, but they never do. "I miss you already, buddy," he says in the end, and stands, and turns, and walks away. The dusk air smells slightly salty, and there's another familiar scent; something like lotus and sandalwood. Elijah.

Close to the gates of the cemetery he stands, perfectly coiffed, as he has always been. In a respectful black suit. "I'm sorry," he says, shaking Damon's hand.

Damon nods, and barely meets Elijah's eyes. He tucks his hands in his pockets. Elijah always makes him feel so young.

"Any regrets?" Elijah asks.

"None," Damon answers. "Want to get drunk and go not kill people with me?"

"Quite," Elijah answers, and they stroll towards Bourbon Street.