Damon speeds out of the Grill as fast as his weakened state will allow, but he still manages to catch the sight of Jeremy collapsing, a red spot quickly spreading over his T-shirt, Carol's mouth opening in a horrified gasp. Everything is going to shit, he thinks distractedly, but he needs to get away, away, away from the stifling heat. He runs and runs and then all around him is his past.
"Katherine?" he says in confusion, whirling with confusing at all the dresses and waistcoats, as if something out of his dreams. Then the harsh jangle of a cell phone splinters the illusion and he's once again stumbling around in the wrong time.
The stars are ridiculously bright. Mockingly bright, Damon thinks. Screw you, he tries to work up the energy to say, but he's distracted by his legs' mutiny and suddenly he's lying on cool pavement.
Someone's saying his name. "Elena?" he mumbles.
"...Ric," comes the reply. Shit, he thinks, but the pavement is so wonderfully cool that his thoughts get muddled in relief.
The world lurches around him and then he's upright, being propped against a wall. Alaric's hands are on his shoulders, holding him up. Damon lets his head flop forward into the crook of Alaric's neck.
"Ric? Damon!" Elena is suddenly there, her concern laying over him in a comfortable blanket.
Why are you here, Elena? Damon wants to ask. You should be with your brother. Liz shot him. I saw her shoot him. It's my fault, but instead all he manages is, "…Elena."
"I'm here Damon," Elena says, her voice a soft whisper. He can feel Alaric's chest rumble as he talks to Elena. Damon suddenly can't stand her seeing him like this. He lifts his head a little.
"Your brother," he says. "Caroline…call Caroline."
She does as he says. It's amazing what dying does to his ability to make her actually listen to him. He hears her horrified exclamation and wishes that for once, he wouldn't have to cause her distress, but he doesn't want to make her choose between watching him die an agonizing death and being with her brother.
Alaric shifts a little, catches Damon's eye, and Damon tries to convey all of that to Ric, that he doesn't want to be selfish for once, that Elena's not the one he truly wants with him. Alaric's always got him better than most, but he can't tell how much he really understood. "Go to him, Elena," Alaric says quietly. "I'll take Damon home."
Damon leans his head back against the wall, stares up into the coldly shining stars again. Elena hesitates and says something to Ric. Damon doesn't catch it but the twinkling in the sky is mesmerizing. And then the world is lurching around him again, except this time it's on fire, and Damon's on fire and he claws at himself, trying to shove Alaric away, away from him and the flames licking up his body in a terrifying caress.
"I've got him Elena," Alaric says fiercely, grappling with a wildly thrashing Damon. "Go see Jeremy. Go!"
Elena hesitates again, looks into Damon's face as if to memorize it, and then she's off at a run. Running, but she'll be too late. Everyone's always too late in this town. Alaric looks down at Damon, who seems to have tired himself out from his fit, and is sagging against him, his breath pained and irregular. Alaric distracts himself from thinking about how bad Damon looks by applying himself to the task of getting Damon into his car.
"What am I going to do with you?" Alaric asks quietly, glancing at the rearview mirror at Damon groaning softly in the backseat.
He doesn't think, doesn't glance at Damon again as he drives back to the boarding house. Damon doesn't fight him as he first tries to get Damon to stand and then gives up, picking him up in a fireman's carry.
In Damon's room, Alaric dumps him on his wide bed. He pauses for a second, wondering whether to leave, whether Damon even wants him there at what could be his last moments in life.
Stay with him, Ric, Elena had said. He runs his fingers through Damon's hair. Damon's started to shiver violently, sweat soaking his shirt, muttering imperceptibly. "Shh," Alaric murmurs. "I'm here."
It's going to get much worse before the end, Alaric knows. He knows how much Rose suffered before she died, knows what Damon had done for her. He wonders if has it in him to do the same for Damon, if he has a choice. How can he watch Damon die in agony? Alaric picks up a stake from Damon's cache of weapons and slides into the bed behind Damon. He wraps his arms around him, but Damon doesn't seem to notice.
Stay with him. Alaric presses the tip of the stake against Damon chest, right at the center of his heart. He wills his hand still and takes a deep breath
It's peaceful here, wherever Damon is. He looks around and recognizes the fields surrounding his house, the house itself a small figure in the distance, framed by trees. The wind is a quiet whisper in the background and Damon stays still for a moment, just looking.
"Hey," someone says and Damon realizes he's sitting on the soft grass, with Alaric's arms wrapped around him.
Damon leans back as if to lie back against him, and then he whirls so that Alaric is flat on his back on the long waving grass, Damon's hands on his shoulders. Alaric doesn't flinch from him, just looks up at him steadily. Trustingly.
Damon rolls off of Alaric and lets him up, studies him, trying to commit him to memory. He can't quite remember the reason why, but he knows it's something he has to do, something he'll regret if he doesn't. And Damon's had over a century to learn something about regret.
Alaric looks dashing in a formal frock coat, his usual scruff neatly trimmed, slightly rumpled and dusty from lying on the grass. He grins when he notices Damon's regard, the smile transforming his face into youthful happiness, a far cry from lined weariness and grim smiles, drinking with Damon at the bar, bloodied and bruised from a supernatural beating... His mind shies away from the thought and then drops it completely.
The sun is pleasantly warm on his back and there are birds chirping in the nearby trees. Alaric is smiling at him and life has never been this perfect.
And there's no more pain.
"I'll race you back to the house," Damon says, grinning at Alaric.
Alaric tilts his head a little and holds out his hand instead. "No," he says. "Let's go back together."
Damon hesitates only for a second before taking the proffered hand. Alaric's hand tightens in his and he instinctively squeezes back, suddenly hit by an urge to say something. He doesn't know what, but the words are there, he just needs to find them. I love you. He's never said this. He needs to say this.
But Alaric places a finger on Damon's lips. "You can tell me when we get there," he says, looking incomprehensibly sad. Damon hates seeing him sad.
So he moves Alaric's hand away and kisses him until he's not anymore. Then he pulls away and starts toward the house, looking back over his shoulder teasingly. "Coming?"
Alaric is next to him in a few strides. "I'm with you Damon," he says, lips quirking up in a slight smile.
Alaric stares unseeingly into the darkness, eyes bright but face dry. He knows he should just stake Damon now, but he can't bear to move his hand yet, can't make himself give the final fatal push. The stake trembles in his hand and he doesn't—or can't—steady it.
"Wow you really do love him, don't you?" Elena's voice says from the door. Alaric looks up and sees someone lounging against the doorframe, idly studying a little glass vial in her hand.
"Katherine," he says flatly.
"Now now, is that any way to talk to someone who's holding the cure for Damon's little puppy bite?" Katherine says, waving the vial a little. Alaric's heart lurches a little at the sight of the dark liquid sloshing around inside it.
"He's dying," Alaric snaps. "I'm in no mood for your games. Either give him the cure or get out." His heart is hammering in his chest as he speaks, trying not to shout. He can practically feel Damon getting weaker in his arms, and the cure is right there. It takes all his self control not to leap out of the bed and attempt to snatch it from her hand.
"Relax, Ric," Katherine says, rolling her eyes. "I don't want Damon dead either." She's by the bed before she finishes speaking, ignoring Alaric's suspicious glare, and unceremoniously tipping the liquid—the blood—into Damon's mouth. She's back in the doorway in the next instant, her expression inscrutable as Alaric tries to find words in his suddenly dry mouth. Damon's stopped trembling in his arms. "Stay with him," she says softly, almost reluctantly, and then she's gone.
Alaric lets out a breath when he's sure they're alone again, feeling his heart constrict as he thinks about how close a shave it had been, feels himself ache with an emotion he can't name and doesn't think he wants to. All he knows is that he doesn't need anyone to tell him to stay.
"I'm with you," he murmurs, and Damon finally relaxes in his arms.