They stood there by Damon's car for a good long while with a lot left unspoken, and Damon noticed every one of the twenty-two times that his hands, his arms, twitched to reach for Alaric. There were three main reasons he didn't let them reach, close that space.

One. Alaric had been watching for a long time. Alaric knew about Damon and Elena and he didn't seem to disapprove, but Damon knew it had to hurt. How many times, with Elena resting in his arms, had he wondered; if Alaric could see this, what would he say? How would he feel?

Two. The first good bye had been too fucking painful to be believed, there in the crypt, on the cold stone floor. Damon had kissed Alaric one last time, had tasted two different flavors of tears on Alaric's lips, and he had waited until Alaric had gone to sleep.

Always knew he should have snapped his neck but he hadn't because he loved him.

And the second goodbye had been almost as bad, and would have been worse had it been actually Alaric who had died, the second time. The second time was just a pale imitation but Damon had seen something in his eyes in those last moments before they had closed forever.

That second death wasn't really a reason but it contributed to the fact that if he let himself reach for Alaric this time, losing him a third time would be the last thing Damon could ever do before he switched his humanity off for good.

Maybe that was what led to reason three. So,

Three. Alaric wasn't reaching for him.

"Lucky the expression triangle's… big. Big-ish," Alaric said. "I should, what. Go for a walk, soak up the sights?" He frowned, and met Damon's eye, cocking his chin in a way Damon had missed so much that he almost wished Alaric wouldn't do it. "The boarding house…?"

Damon shook his head, and glanced at his toes, and took back the offered flask. "Not by a few miles." Pity. Because it would have been nice to spend some time drinking in front of the fire, while the calcified body of Silas watched steadily over the trunk of Damon's car.

And then Alaric moved quickly enough so Damon was startled. He was always pretty goddamn quick for a human, really. He was just a couple of inches from Damon's body, and his hand, one of his hands, one of those hands that knew every inch of Damon's body and how just exactly to touch him to make him fall apart, or come unlocked, just how to wake him up, was pressed over his stomach, fingers tracing idly over a path they knew well. Damon met Alaric's big dark eyes and Alaric didn't look scared, didn't look angry. Just looked like he loved Damon and missed him and wanted to steal a few hours away while he still had them.

"My loft," he said gently, and let his hand trace a familiar path from Damon's stomach, over his side, to settle at last on his lower back. He held Damon's eyes with fierce affection.

If Elena ever recovered from her grief she certainly wouldn't grudge Damon this, not this.

Damon leaned closer, and met Alaric's lips in a kiss; for a second he wondered if he'd remember just the right way to do that, kiss Alaric, but his lips remembered what he could not. They shifted just so, and on the count of four, Alaric's lips parted, and Damon's tongue snuck through. And it occurred to Damon that what most people wanted, what most people got, was someone who really knew how to kiss them, and then spent the rest of their lives perfecting that art.

He had spent the rest of Alaric's life perfecting that. His own would go far longer, and be the poorer for it.

Alaric pulled out of the kiss first, and regarded Damon with an expression which perfectly balanced optimism and pessimism and yet could not be called anything like realism.

"It's rented out," Damon said with a shrug, trying to tease Alaric for a moment, but Alaric smiled, and raised his eyebrows, his very best 'You are a fuckin' liar, Damon Salvatore' face spread wryly over his face.

"Whichever loft you were drinking in the other night will do fine, then," Alaric argued, smiling his lazy grin.

The drive was short but far too long and Damon thought long and hard about telling Alaric that he'd been at the loft because he'd had to get away from the sounds of Elena being entirely silent in the basement, and that was why he had sought the solace of the loft. And how after he'd forced Elena's humanity down her throat and she'd slithered back to Stefan's side it had gotten even harder.

Up the stairs they went, silently, and Damon wondered what would happen when they got into the loft. Would they sit and talk a while? Mutter quietly over glasses of bourbon? Would Alaric want to touch his things, re-learn the texture of his life with his fingertips while he still had them?

Nope.

With the door shut Alaric pushed Damon's jacket off his shoulders with a smooth, practiced motion that made Damon's teeth ache, and pulled him straight to the bed.

"How long do you think we have?" he asked Damon, as they both undressed, efficient and sensible because they needed skin contact so urgently. "Bonnie's closing the veil, right?"

Damon nodded but didn't speak, keeping his mouth busy on Alaric's. They crawled over the bed, and clutched at each other, rough touches and smooth strokes. A familiar pattern of intimacy made suddenly urgent because it would soon be over for the very last time. Damon lay back and rocked his body against Alaric's, cocks tucked neatly together between the hard planes of their stomachs.

Alaric rocked back suddenly and reached for the nightstand, pulling a slim bottle of lubricant from the top drawer. "I can't believe you kept everything just as it was," he said, slicking his fingers, crowding over Damon's body and teasing him open with rough strokes.

"I can't believe you thought I wouldn't," was Damon's answer. Ideally it was supposed to sound a little stroppy. It didn't. It sounded reverent. "Never had a best friend, before," he said, and groaned as Alaric added a third finger. He wasn't gentle. That wasn't them, not most nights, and somehow this needed to feel like a Wednesday when there was nothing in the world going on except hours to waste in each other's delicious company. Like it did right in the middle there, when they'd found their rhythm, and Damon hadn't yet sabotaged his own happiness by snapping Alaric's neck in a fit of pique.

That of course was the one he couldn't forgive himself for. It had lost them months they should have spent bickering about which house to sleep in.

"I love you," Damon said. He'd said it four times before and this made the fifth. He counted backwards through them in his head the way he sometimes did, as Alaric withdrew his fingers, lined the blunt head of his cock up against Damon's well-stretched hole and slid into him with the mastery that Damon had often felt the need to comment on, but didn't now. Alaric moved slowly in Damon, keeping him full, while he kissed Damon's mouth, his jaw, his throat. It seemed like a long time before Alaric really started, pulling almost all the way out before a snap of his hips sent him all the way back again. He built up a speed set by the gods themselves, keeping only enough space between his body and Damon's to close a fist around the base of Damon's cock and jerk him to the precipice of what might have been the most needed orgasm of his life.

(The first time Damon had said 'I love you' was hours after Alaric had said it for the first time. After Alaric had left without warning to spend a weekend with his very elderly parents, arriving home late on Sunday night with a smile, touches and kisses to spare. He'd been irritated that Alaric had said it first, when it couldn't possibly be true. He'd needled Alaric half the night, trying to pick a fight, and Alaric had just smiled at him like he was transparent as fuck. And then later when they were spent and sated Damon had uttered a muffled 'I love you too' into Alaric's mouth.)

As Damon felt the familiar-unfamiliar heat build low in his body he rolled his hips and began to think up clever ways to make Alaric stay with him forever. Most of his viable solutions involved letting Kol stay long term and weren't working out in his head. Maybe Kol would nip off to New Orleans to bother his siblings. That would be super. Alaric's eyes were wide open and intense on Damon's and his lips were parted, swollen, pink tongue darting out to lick them between kisses that got even rougher as Damon came in ropy jets over his own stomach, with a moan he hoped Alaric would be able to memorize and take back to the afterlife with him. Alaric grinned, eyes heavy and dark with lust, kissing harder, rougher, really making them both feel it.

They needed to feel it.

(The second time Damon told Alaric he loved him they were sort of irritated with each other, sitting side-by-side at the Grill, and they had been talking about something that really did matter, at the time. The ritual. Damon had forced Elena to drink his blood, and ruined all the existing plans. She and Stefan were somewhere writing lists of all the reasons Damon was the worst vampire in the world, and Alaric had chased Damon to the Grill and was quietly convincing him that he deserved better than death.

Really, it had been Alaric's turn to be comforted, and Damon was letting the side down, acting like an angry kid. Alaric had been worn like a meatsuit for days. And there he was, eyes locked on Damon's, goading him quietly to make a better choice. Tired and…

Damon hadn't looked back, he'd been staring into the mirror behind that bar, and watching Alaric's face that way. He'd said "I love you," quiet as could be, in time for Klaus to show up with a shit eating grin and say to Alaric 'thanks for the loaner, mate.'

Alaric hadn't said it back that time, but the way he stayed still, his total confidence that Damon would protect him, spoke volumes.)

Alaric looked regretful, as his hips began to stutter, as Damon clamped muscles down hard over the cock he knew he'd miss for the rest of his life, however long that life might be. His eyes rolled back in his head, and his neck rolled forward, and his lips parted, as Damon closed an arm over his shoulders. Damon's own eyes stung.

You could never really know the last time you would fuck someone. Someone you loved, someone you planned to keep in your life a long time; they went, they died or they left or whatever but they just went. And then in a week or a month you would be sitting alone, perhaps on a couch where you had spent a lot of time with them and think about them and remember yes, that was the day, that was the last time.

Damon knew that this would be the last time he made love to Alaric. And the thought set a lump in his throat, and made him wish he'd never had this chance, almost as much as he was grateful to have had it. Alaric lay draped over him for a while, and then they untangled from each other a moment. Just long enough to lay side by side, face to face, hands gripped tightly between them.

(The third time had been a few days after the incident in the cave.

Alaric had accepted Damon's shitty apology and set himself to task decrypting the stupid runes, but he wouldn't smile at Damon, wouldn't drink with him, wouldn't even let him into this loft. Eyes dark and sad. Until one day Damon slipped into his classroom and shut the door and Alaric looked up at him and sighed and then looked away again.

"Why are you here?" he'd asked.

Damon had spluttered and moaned and stomped his foot entirely literally, trying to find the words, and fumbling horribly. He'd glared at Alaric so badly that Alaric should have backed right down.

But Alaric had this Thing, that Damon should be better than he was, was capable of it, too. So Damon had looked at him with eyes that must have glittered below heavy eyebrows and said "I came because I miss you, dick," still feet from where Alaric sat waggling a pen between two fingers.

Alaric had looked at him, then, and nodded once, firmly. "I miss you too," he'd said.

"It sucks not having you around," Damon had added, taking several steps forward, until he was close enough to lean against the desk. Alaric had sat back in his chair and met his eyes.

"I'm not good at apologizing." Damon had broken eye contact suddenly, gazing out the window. Too sunny out there; didn't fit his mood at all. "But… I love you."

Alaric had leaned forward, taken his hand. "Good enough," he'd said. "And for what it's worth, I love you too."

Damon had shrugged. "Worth quite a lot, actually.")

"How long do you think we've got? Alaric asked again and Damon snuggled closer on the bed.

"Not long enough. Whatever, let's not fucking waste it having the same conversation fifteen times."

Alaric nodded. "The conversation we should be having is about what's been going on here." He hooked his leg over Damon's leg, anchoring him that way.

"No," Damon said firmly. "Not wasting this on crap about Elena and her humanity and Stefan and his blind faith in her, and my stupid choices, and that poor girl in New Orleans…" and that was it, then. He talked and talked and talked, and Alaric never butted in or even looked like he was considering it. He didn't look like it was news, either, just took it in, let Damon talk, and Damon talked. He talked like he hadn't in months. Every frustration, every mistake, every fucking thing that had happened in the last few months without Alaric at his side to make it better, without his calm guidance.

Without an angel on one shoulder saying 'don't be a dick, there's a better way' and a devil on the other saying 'and then let's drink some bourbon and fuck in the shower.'

Alaric gripped Damon's hands like the tangible proof of their existence was enough to keep him grounded here.

(The fourth time Damon told Alaric he loved him was moments after Alaric slipped into unconsciousness in the tomb.

He'd screwed the lid on the bottle, and watched as Alaric's head drooped. Kissed his shoulder. Told him "I love you, I love you. Be still." And then he'd left.

Not a thing more to be said. He should have said it sooner.)

Alaric's eyes were drooping. He was struggling to stay awake. Damon was caught between wanting to watch him sleep and wanting to shake him awake so they wouldn't waste any time. Alaric seemed caught the exact same way, eyes pleading with Damon not to let it all go away. And then he reached out, cupped Damon's neck with his hand and said "You're doing better than you think you are. I fucking love you. And I'm proud." Kissed him once, firm and determined, and fell asleep with the messy remnants of their love still cooling on his body.

Damon pulled the blanket up over them both, and held him, determined to stay awake until he was gone; but the day had been too much, and he slipped into sleep as well.


When he woke, it was to Alaric's shocked eyes, to a rough shake.

Still there.

Still wonderfully, wholly there.

Which meant…

"Something's gone wrong," Damon said, a lump in his throat, and his eyes stinging suddenly. How much more could they take?

"We have to go," Alaric said, and Damon braced for another day in hell.