When Alaric opens his eyes, he immediately knows that this isn't like the last time he died. He thinks back to all the other times he's been killed by some sort of supernatural creature and come back to compare, just in case. Then he shakes his head and thinks about how fucked up his life has gotten in the last year that he can even do that.
He looks around, trying to figure out where he is. Nothing is recognizable. Nothing is even there. He stares to his left for a moment longer, hoping the blankness would dissolve into something.
So he stands up and starts walking.
Alaric doesn't know how long he wanders in this place, but he's not getting tired or hungry, or thirsty, so he puts that aside and continues walking. White on white. Eventually though, he starts seeing grass growing in random patches throughout the whiteness. He bends down and touches a soft green blade, feeling unexpectedly lighthearted at its vibrant alive-ness.
The grass under his feet stretch out into a meadow before he knows it, and looking around, it's as if he's always been walking in it. He stops suddenly, a spark of memory casting up the wilderness in a new light. He's been here before. Now that he knows where he is, it's as if the earlier blankness is falling over itself to present details to him. A brightly colored wildflower here, the misshapen oak in the distance, the rocky, dusty path his feet are on, and at the end of it, the small plane sitting in the middle of the meadow.
On an impulse, Alaric puts his hand in his pockets and draws out the key.
He remembers the last time he'd seen it. He'd had a fight with Damon, over something he can't even remember anymore, but it'd been bad. After a week of frosty silence, Damon had knocked him out and kidnapped him to the middle of nowhere and silently offered him the key. An offer of escape, an apology for someone who doesn't know how to say "I'm sorry."
Alaric had laughed and called him ridiculous, and just like that the anger's gone. He'd made Damon promise to put it back where he'd found it, or return it or something, because what was he going to do with a small aircraft anyway? Especially if the thought of leaving had never even crossed his mind.
He turns around and there's Damon's car, parked just where he remembers, minus Damon leaning against the driver's side, looking windswept and deliciously fuckable. Alaric's taken an unconscious step toward the car before he remembers the plane. It sits there, gleaming slightly, and as he looks as it, Alaric gets an ache in his heart that tells him to get on that plane, and fly it into the heavens.
But Damon, he thinks with an effort. And the thought of seeing him again is more alluring than the wide blue, unlimited sky. So he steps toward the car again, steps as sure as they'd been the last time he'd turned away from the plane. He gets in the driver's seat and starts driving, following the tire tracks he sees.
He doesn't turn around or glance in the rearview mirror, but he can feel the plane, the yearning to fly tugging at his very being until suddenly, it's simply gone.
Alaric lifts his head from the steering wheel and looks around with bleary eyes. Why is he sitting in Damon's car? He shakes his head a little to clear it and gets out of the car, stepping onto the driveway where it'd been parked. An owl hoots nearby, making him jump.
What time is it? he wonders confusedly.
He enters the house after trying the door and finding it unlocked, heading straight for Damon's well stocked and expensive bar. He's just about to pour himself a glass of his favorite bourbon when the sound of voices comes floating from the direction of the living room. Damon's and a woman's. He forgets about the alcohol and goes to investigate.
Damon's there with the woman he'd been talking to at the bridge reconstruction site. Alaric looks at the clock and frowns. 10 o' clock. But he'd been at Elena's house fifteen minutes ago. How the hell had he fallen asleep in Damon's car? And then Rebekah appears, wine bottle in hand, Damon and the woman moving to greet her, and everything comes crashing back.
Five minutes earlier
Alaric finds himself wandering through the streets when he comes back to himself. Great, he thinks. I've had another episode. Then he remembers just who he'd been with when his memory had gone blank and hurriedly pulls out his cell phone to call Elena to tell her to get back immediately when Rebekah had appears.
"What do you want?" he asks warily, putting down the phone.
She considers him for a moment the way a cat sizes up a trapped mouse before snapping its spine. "A taste," she replies and sank her fangs into the side of his neck without further ceremony. Struggling doesn't work, nor does screaming... it's as if he's floating in some kind of nightmare, unable to move.
Nothing at all like when Damon tastes.
"Mm, no wonder Damon likes you," she says afterwards, holding him upright as he sways from the blood loss, feeling sick at the sound of his breath gurgling through his torn neck. It's freezing, he thinks distractedly, even the pain in his neck fading a little. He wonders vaguely how much blood she'd drank.
"No hard feelings," she says. "Vengeance, you know?" And then she rips his heart out from his chest. The last thing he thinks is that it's probably Damon's fault.
Alaric slowly processes the memories, only vaguely aware of Sage smirking from the couch as she watches Rebekah and Damon drinking from the piano man. He notices when Damon and Rebekah disappears in the direction of the stairs and Damon's bedroom though, feeling a hollow feeling in his chest.
Or maybe, he thinks dizzyingly, looking down and then away, it's because there's a bloody hole where his heart used to be.
I'm dead. The thought hits him with all the force of a moving train and more, and he staggers. He's dead and Damon's upstairs having sex with the vampire who'd killed him. Who probably still had his blood under her fingernails, the kinky bitch.
Alaric feels a distant prickle of outrage.
A thought strikes him and he touches the side of his neck and his fingers come away wet. Yep. Apparently death comes with all injuries intact, not that his missing heart hadn't already told him that.
He wanders through the house, away from the sounds of enthusiastic fucking he can hear coming from Damon's room, and finds himself at one of the brothers' stash of weapons. He hesitates before reaching out. His fingers slip through the knife. Same with the vervain dart. He eyes the stake thoughtfully.
"Well, well," someone says from behind him. "Maybe I didn't even have had to come here. Looks like you've got the Salvatores handled."
Alaric finds himself staring at the face he'd seen in the MRI machine. And in every mirror. His own.
"What're you doing here?" he asks, a lot more calmly than he feels.
"Staking Damon, of course," the other says with equal calm. "Vampires on the Founders' Council, the hypocritical fools." His face turns ugly for a second before it returns back to normal. He reaches for the stake. Alaric instinctively blocks him and then frowns.
"How come you don't have...?" He can't say it aloud and waves in the direction of his chest and neck instead.
Other Him eyes the gaping wounds and whistles softly. "Wow, she really did a number on you, didn't she?" He pats Alaric on the arm consolingly. "It was you she killed, not me," he explains.
"Then how come you're a ghost too?" A horrible thought strikes him: what if this Alaric hadn't died, isn't actually ghost, and is now wandering around pretending to be him, working his way through the Founders' Council? He looks pretty alive to Alaric. Other Him laughs at his expression.
"Nope, I'm dead too. I was a part of you," he says. Alaric thinks about how unfair it is that he's the one who gets the hole in his chest and a torn throat when the psychotic version of him gets to walk the afterlife intact. "So why do you want to kill Damon?" he asks.
Other Him rolls his eyes. "I told you. Damon's a Council member."
"But you've never gone after him before," Alaric points out.
"Well I knew you cared for him," he says, with something like affection coloring his dead, psychopathic eyes. "Thought I'd save him for last."
"And now?" Alaric prompts, feeling only a touch hysterical at having this strange conversation with the thing that's been possessing him and taking his body on joyrides all over town to murder his way through the council.
"Apparently we can only touch things that are death. Or something. I don't know." Which doesn't really make any sense, because then why would he be able to touch the stake and not the knife? "Look, I'm not going to question the laws of death. Once I kill Damon, I'll be at peace, and then I'll be gone." He tries to grab the stake only to have Alaric block him again.
"You're not killing Damon," Alaric says firmly.
The other sighs dramatically and stabs him in the stomach a few times with a stake he pulls out from under his jacket. "Sorry. Heart might've been less painful but you don't seem to have one anymore." He steps around Alaric gasping around the stake in his stomach from the floor and picks up the stake on the table. "For extra style, slaying him with his own family heirloom. Excuse me."
Alaric blacks out from the pain despite himself. When he wakes up again, the stake is lying on the ground next to him and his stomach is back to its pre-stabbed state. No such luck for his chest or neck though. "I hate him," Alaric mutters, wondering where his psychotic other self had run off to now.
He grabs the stake and lurches to his feet, sprinting for the stairs.
"Oh, you're up," the other him says as he bursts through the closed door. "Shh," he says, pointing to the bed, "you don't want to wake her up."
Aric glares at him, and then at the bed. He can't decide who he wants to stake more, the psychopath wearing his face, or Damon, who's been having sex while Alaric's body is cooling in some alley somewhere.
The vampire woman appears, does something to Rebekah, and then Damon joins her in the shower. "If it's any consolation," the other him says, "I'm gonna go stake him in the heart now."
Alaric stabs him in the back as he goes for Damon.
He takes the stake from the slack hand and runs that one through Other Him's heart. He wonders if Damon can see the stakes waving about in the air, but dismisses the thought to drag his counterpart away, trying to think of where to put him. Tries to think of what to do now.
Damon comes back to find the living room empty, the satisfaction of victory evaporating like mist in sunlight. "Sage," he groans. By the time he gets to the bridge, it's too late, it's already on fire. The flames glow in the darkness, accentuating Rebekah's smug smile.
He turns to see Sage by his car. "I was looking out for myself," she says with a shrug at his disbelieving stare.
He threatens her, and okay, maybe it's not the smartest thing to do to go challenging a 900 year old vampire, because she deflects and pins him embarrassingly easy.
"Hey," Rebekah says.
"What?" he snaps, not interested in her gloating.
"You might want to go check up on your boyfriend," she says, mockingly, fangs out. Damon very carefully doesn't react. She licks her lips. "He was delicious."
Damon feels panic starting to bubble up at how his plan had managed to get blown up so spectacularly, but clamps down at it viciously.
"If you've hurt him," he says dangerously.
"You'll what, stake me?" Rebekah laughs, the flames crackling behind her like some kind of demented chorus. But Damon doesn't have time to banter words with the Original bitch. He gets in his car and drives to Elena's house, hoping he'd find Alaric there, where he's supposed to be.
He barges inside to find Elena sitting in the kitchen with Stefan. "Damon," she says, surprised. "What're you doing here?"
"Where's Alaric?" he demands.
Her expression turns anxious. "We don't know. Meredith's in the hospital," she adds, as if she thinks Damon actually gives a fuck where Meredith is.
Damon's turned to leave when Stefan is suddenly blocking the doorway. "Move," he says through gritted teeth.
Stefan crosses his arms. "Not until you tell us what's going on." Damon sticks a stake in his arm instead of answering and blurs past him as Stefan twists to look at the injury, ignoring Elena's horrified gasp.
He leaves his car in the driveway and wanders the town, painfully aware of the fact that Alaric could be bleeding out as he's searching. Or worse.
About fifteen minutes after Damon'd left Elena's house, he trips over Alaric, literally, but he sees instantly that even if he'd found him as soon as he'd left the bridge, it'd have been too late. Alaric's been dead for at least two hours. He relaxes a little as relief hits him. The ring's been acting up lately, including turning Alaric into some kind of amnesiac serial killer, but it's not like it'd stopped working. Damon'd just bring him back to the boarding house, wait for him to wake up, and then fuck him senseless for scaring him like that...
His eyes fall on Alaric's empty hand.
"Are you alright?" Elena asks as Stefan yanks the stake out, knowing that he is even as the wound closes but needing to reassure herself anyway.
"Fine," he says, shortly, cautiously, where once he would have had a smile to comfort her with.
There's silence as they both wait for the wound to heal. It seems as if it's always silence, these days. A lot of things are falling apart and where once there would have been a united, or semi-united, at least, front to deal with the problem, it's just nothing now. Nothing but silence.
Bonnie, this thing with Alaric. Damon lashing out, always on edge.
And Stefan, and herself. Elena isn't sure where they stand anymore, if there's even any ground left for them to stand on.
Of course there is, she tells herself fiercely. He'd stopped himself from eating Meredith, hadn't he? Elena knows she can't possibly understand the depth of addiction Stefan must have, as a ripper with his humanity turned off. But she can understand the conflict that had been in his eyes as he'd stared at the blood on Meredith, trickling out of her leg. She thinks she can understand a little of the strength he'd needed to turn away.
And the real Stefan, her Stefan, must still be in there somewhere, if he'd bothered to make that effort.
"I should…" they both say, and trail off awkwardly.
"Um," Elena says, "I should probably go clean up. The bathroom." She looks over her shoulder.
Stefan sticks his hands in his pockets. "Yeah. Sure. I should get back to the house," he says.
"Shouldn't you go after Damon?" Elena frowns.
Stefan looks mystified. "Why?"
And sometimes, Elena honestly thinks she'll never see that Stefan again, that she should just move on and forget about him. "Because he was obviously upset!" she says. "And I care about him. And you care—cared—about him too."
Stefan considers it. "But he stabbed me in the arm," he points out. Suddenly, he freezes, head tilted to the side a little.
"What? What is it?"
"I thought I heard something," he says, frowning a little. He steps out onto the porch, and Elena follows. "Damon," he says tightly. They both look at Damon's car still sitting on the side of the street, parked so haphazardly that one of the front wheels is on the curb. "I think he's screaming."
Elena bites her lip. "We have to go find him. If you can barely hear him from here, then who knows what else might turn up to investigate?"
Stefan thinks about it for a few seconds and then shrugs a little. "He is my brother. I guess that means something," he allows.
They get into his car without him protesting that she might be in danger.
Surprisingly, Stefan drives towards the forest, following his ears. Eventually though, they're forced to get out and walk. "Stay close to me," Stefan says. "I don't know what kind of a state he's in."
As they walk, Elena starts to be able to hear Damon too. The eerie cries echo faintly through the woods as the light of the moon reveals the source is the old church where the witches had burned to death.
They go in carefully, cautiously. There's streaks of blood on the floor, scuff marks in the dust, as if something's been dragged. She jumps when Damon starts shouting again, and this time she can make out the words.
"Bring him back! Or I swear I will burn this place to the ground. I'll burn the whole fucking forest to the ground! Are you listening to me?" It subsides again, and they walk up the last few stairs to find Damon crouched in the middle of the room where Bonnie had said she'd felt most connected to the witches. She'd left her candles there, even when she said she couldn't feel them anymore, "just in case."
Roughly half of those candles are lit now at random, as if Damon couldn't bear to finish lighting the rest. He's huddled over a dark form on the ground. Elena feels suspicion growing in her mind.
"Damon," Stefan says. He's staring at Damon, clearly rattled. Elena wonders if he's ever seen Damon this out of control because she certainly hasn't. Physically, yes, but emotionally? "Brother, what happened?"
Damon slowly lifts his head, and Elena takes a step back in alarm at the crazed look in his eyes. "Damon," she says softly, trying to erase that look. Then her gaze falls on what he has cradled in his arms. "Is that...?" And then she's fallen to her knees without realizing she's done so, her mind blank except to replay Alaric pushing the ring toward her over and over again.
"Damon. What happened?" Stefan's voice, cool and centered. Whether he's calm because he's taking charge of the situation or because he honestly doesn't care that Alaric's d—she stops herself before she can think it—Elena doesn't care; she clings to it like it's a lifeline.
"She killed him," Damon snarls. "She killed him, and the bridge is burning and I slept with her, and he's dead and there's no ring." His eyes are dry and burning, with rage and guilt and aching grief.
Elena shakes herself out of her own misery at the sight of him. He'd loved Alaric, she suddenly knows, as surely as she had known that Stefan had loved her, back when he had. And god knows Damon'd caused a lot of pain in the world but Elena doesn't think anyone deserves to suffer the way Damon's clearly suffering.
"Hey, come here," she says gently, pulling him into a careful hug, closing her eyes at the sight of the gaping hole in Alaric's chest.
"He's gone," Damon whispers.
"Shh," she soothes.
"It's my fault."
She doesn't reply, just strokes his back as he begins to weep, marveling at how he could endure such heartbreak as he must be feeling and not flip the switch and end the pain.
No one deserves to lose someone they love.
Alaric sticks a few more stakes into Other Him and stuffs him into the cell. He'd brought him back to the boarding house after some internal debate because there really isn't anywhere else to put him. The woods are filled with teenagers having drunken parties and he couldn't really just dump him in some dark alleyway. At least Alaric knows that their little group has been through enough to know not to touch stakes floating in the air.
Okay, Other Him is successfully disposed of. He'd better go check on his body or something next, he supposes.
It's nice to walk in the cool night air. The few people out don't see him and walk right by, though thankfully he manages to avoid being walked through. He stops by the Grill for a moment, looking in, at the people laughing inside, the warm light spilling out the windows. Then he keeps walking. It'd been just a little bit further.
His body isn't there anymore. It definitely had been, before, as there's dried blood in a rather small puddle on the ground. Rebekah must've drank a lot before she'd killed me, he thinks.
A couple police officers are at the scene, in some kind of discussion about a reported scream. One of them thinks it had been made by the victim, the other thinks it had been a wild animal. Alaric thinks that maybe Damon had found his body.
He thinks for a moment, laying out the places Damon might have gone, and starts with the most likely one. If he's wrong, he'll just go to another; after all, he's got eternity to follow Damon around now. But he doesn't need to, because apparently he knows Damon that well.
He looks up at the old church and sighs a little. He'd hoped he'd have picked wrongly. But at the same time, he's perversely glad he's right. Damon had loved him. They'd never said it; their relationship had been too tentative, too strange to risk defining. But sometime along the way Alaric had found himself waking up next to Damon in the morning, or wishing for him when he hadn't. He'd found himself drinking with Damon instead of alone. He'd found himself living for someone, loving someone, and then he'd cursed himself as a fool. Pity on him for marrying a woman who'd abandoned him to become a vampire, but the universe really had it out for him for him to fall for a vampire who not only had no compunction about eating whoever suited him but also was in love with Alaric's semi-charge.
But Damon must have cared for Alaric to bring his body here, of all places, the place where Jeremy had been resurrected. He takes a deep breath, out of simple habit, and goes to see Damon.
"Well," Stefan says after what he obviously considers an appropriately tactful amount of time. "Let's bury him then." The candles flicker as a draft of wind blows in.
Elena gently lets Damon go, watches him pull himself together, the hand she hadn't noticed that had been holding Alaric's tightening a little. "He can have a grave next to Jenna and my parents," she offers.
"No," Damon says. His eyes roam across the trembling flames, searching. "I want to bury him next to mine."
Elena pauses. "Okay, yeah. I think—I think he'd have liked that," she says, finding a small smile for him. Damon picks up Alaric's body, carefully, reverently.
"Leave them," he says when Elena goes to blow out the candles.
Another gust of wind turns the flames to wisps of smoke as they turn to leave, but Elena doesn't think Damon notices. She shivers a little and closes the door behind them.
Alaric's funeral is a lot like the other funerals' they've had to host. His grave looks lonely though, next to Damon and Stefan's unmarked ones, and Damon wonders if he should have let Elena put him next to her family. He's had decades to discard any guilt over selfish acts though, so he shrugs the thought aside. Ric's dead anyway. Damon doesn't think he'd begrudge him so nostalgic an act as putting him next to his own empty grave.
"Maybe later we can come back and plant some vervain on top of him," he says lightly, wondering if Alaric would laugh if he was still alive. Damon's jokes have always been fifty-fifty with him.
He notices Caroline and Bonnie glaring at him reproachfully and he gives them an insincere smile, trying to ignore Elena's sad eyes. He should have had better control over himself. His breakdown seems more and more unnecessary and ridiculous in the light of day. It's not like they'd been married or something. Damon's still going to kill Rebekah in some kind of unspeakable agony as soon as he gets his hands on her. And if her whole family dies along her, then so much the better. It's their fault everything's gone to shit anyways.
The sound of muffled sniffles makes him glare. Actually, quite a few people have turned up for the burial. Alaric had been a popular teacher. The mayor and sheriff have turned up too, obviously wanting to talk to Damon about this newest "animal attack." Either that, or they think it's the work of the serial killer.
Eventually, the people drift off. Elena shepherds their group—Bonnie and whoever that guy she's with is, Caroline, Matt, Jeremy still looking shell shocked, Stefan fighting to keep the boredom off his face—away subtly enough, until it's just Damon left.
Damon and a pile of freshly turned earth.
He looks at the roses on Ric's grave and sneers a little. Damon hadn't brought one. When he kills Rebekah, he'll bring Alaric the stake. With the tip still stained red with her blood. Kind of like a rose, only cooler.
Still he stares down at the gravestone, at the carefully carved name. Wonders what to say. And in the end, there's nothing he really can say, he thinks. Alaric shouldn't have died. What do you say to someone who died a pointless death?
"I'm sorry," he says finally, softly and a bit awkwardly, and then he blurs away.
"I know he loved you," Elena says. Alaric stands behind her sadly, wishing he could reassure them both.
Damon scoffs. "You know. You know?" His voice is mocking and bitter, hurting. "You didn't even know we were together until a few days ago. So forgive me if I don't take your word for it."
"You weren't the only one who cared for him," Elena snaps. "I lived with him; I think I knew him well enough to know."
Damon switches tactics. "Well why do you think I'd care?" The words might have hurt a little except Alaric had sat with his body for an entire night as Damon had kept vigil over him, not even with alcohol or blood bag in hand.
Elena sees right through him and her eyes are flinty. She opens her mouth to retort but Alaric doesn't hear what she says because the psychopathic version of him seems to have escaped, found a stake, and continued its original plan. Alaric barrels into him and the stake falls out of his hand and onto the ground.
Damon and Elena freeze, eyes searching the shadows for the source of the sound. "Stefan?" Elena says into the silence, unaware of Alaric grappling with his murderous alter ego next to the bookshelves. Damon stalks toward them when there's no more sounds, every inch of him an alert predator, graceful and deadly. He's beautiful when he moves, Alaric thinks, and gets punched in the face for the distraction. But eventually he slams Other Him down hard against the floor, pinning his arms above his head.
"Do you really think he's worth spending an eternity here for?" Other Him spits from under him, after he stops struggling. Alaric doesn't answer. He's looking after Damon as he stares at the stake at his feet, bending down to pick it up.
Alaric thinks about how very long eternity is, which is of course, how long Damon's going to live. But he'd made his choice already, once when Damon had offered him the plane when he'd been alive and another when he'd turned away from it in that blank place after he'd died.
Other Him glares at him. "Because I don't. So just let me up, and we can move on with the rest of our afterlives."
Alaric doesn't move. "Like I'm going to risk you going to possess Jeremy," he says, not bothering to argue in favor of keeping Damon alive. He knows where Other Him stands on the issue, and he knows where he stands. "Don't bother struggling," he tells him when he starts trying to break free again. "I don't know much about ghosts but I do know they're defined by unfinished business, by a single purpose. So I'll always be stronger than you." Other Him stops moving again and lies there, glaring. "Because you have a list. I have a family and a man I love."
"So you'll protect him?"
"Yes," Alaric says, with the same patience he uses to tell his bored students for the umpteenth time that no, Wikipedia is not a viable source.
"Yes," Alaric repeats firmly, and Other Him looks thoughtful.
Because Damon's not going to stop until the Originals are dead, and eventually, Alaric knows, he'll get over his death and find new people to love, if it takes a decade or a century. Or maybe he won't. Either way, Alaric will be where he belongs, between Damon and the stake wielded by a ghostly serial killer with Alaric's face, at his side, and in his heart.
Eternity doesn't look that bad, Alaric thinks.