Two months after the deaths, after they go back to pretending like life is normal, Jeremy gets sick. Ric has never known how to be a father; never read any of the books. And yet, somehow he ends up as the father to a rag tag gang of teenage heroes; somehow he ends up as the legal guardian to two children, a head strong daughter even more beautiful than her mother and one very sick son, feverish and calling out the names of ghosts of the past.
He doesn't know if it's Jeremy's new found power or the haze of a fever dream. He can't decide which one is worse.
He doesn't want to replace the Gilbert patriarch and matriarch. He would never try to replace Jenna. He's just trying to be something to these kids (because no matter what they say, that's what they still are.)
Jeremy's been huddled on the couch for three days now, alternating between throwing up, sleeping and scaring the shit out of Alaric. The first day he thought the kid was just trying to skip; falling back into the pattern from the last time he lost everything. But when Ric had gotten home, he'd found Jeremy in the bathroom clutching to a blanket wrapped around him. "Hey" he'd said, oh so nonchalantly, like it was completely normal to be losing your lunch in front of your pseudo stepfather slash guy who had given you a B on your history paper last week.
Ric had only sighed, reaching down to help him up. “c’mon buddy." His hand pressed against Jeremy's sweat drenched t shirt. "I'm going to hopefully assume this isn't a hangover?"
Jeremy had weakly smiled at him.
"Is it bad that I wished it was?"
He had smacked him lightly upside the head for that and chuckled.
Jeremy had groaned. “You gonna throw up again?” Ric had asked cautiously, pausing in the hallway.
“No, it’s just the girls. They’re playing doctor.” Ric had raised an eyebrow at that. “No, man not like that, they’re trying to, like, diagnose me.”
Anna said that it's a stomach flu and Vicky had just thought that it was pitiful that Jeremy wasn’t actually hung-over and Ric really was just thinking this was the kid’s stomach fighting back against all the shit he eats.
But that had been two days ago.
Parenting. He just falls into it. He sleeps in Jenna's bed and wakes up early to ensure he gets hot water and then makes them all breakfast even though Jeremy tends to try to sneak out with pop tarts and dry cereal. Most days he wrangles him back inside, “breakfast the most important meal of the day,” and all, while the kids roll their eyes and tell him he’s “such a teacher.”
Back when he lived by himself, back before possessions and sacrifices of all different varieties he thought of all of them, of Bonnie and Caroline, Elena and Jeremy, even Tyler as these weapons and powers who just happened to be teenagers with curfews and restrictions. He doesn’t really know why, because he had taught them all, but it was the way they always had presented themselves, ready for battle, ‘forward the light brigade’ and all.
Now, now that he lives and protects and does the laundry with two of them he realizes how wrong he was. Because, yes, Caroline could kill him at any moment, quick and efficient, minimizing the blood on her clothes and hair and not feel any remorse about it. But she also wants to go see the new Justin Beiber movie and is being petulant because no one will go with her and the "no compelling unless it's an emergency or Jeremy’s about to do something stupid" rule is being enforced completely. She also tends to cry on the Gilbert front porch when she thinks everyone’s asleep; Ric had made hot chocolate one night and listened to her talk about her mom, and mother’s day picnics, and how much she misses her dad.
And Bonnie may be an all-powerful witch, may even be the most powerful, and may be able to destroy the world if she tried, but she also has a D in calculus. She admitted one night after he sat down to talk to her about it, head turned down to play with the sequins on her skirt, that homework had easily been tossed aside when lives had been threatened; when lives had been lost. But she knows what she has to do.
Tyler he always thought the least about, at least before he turned and left and came back and lost his mentor and friend. Now he keeps a steady eye on the wayward boy, stocks up on oreos and hot dogs for full moons, when the kid is in a permanent fit of starvation for next three days.
He has Damon grading paper with him, glad that he focused on the 20th century this semester. Damon sits beside him, sipping scotch, mumbling about how the students would have thought differently about things if they'd actually been there. Woodstock, trench warfare, roaring twenties, the young of today glamorize what the young of the past believed to be so important until they grew up and regretted it.
Matt, he teaches how to whittle stakes and make vervain shots and how the Cold War was established and why it’s important. The young man stares him right in the eyes one night and asks, baby blue eyes searching, “why do you do it Mr. S? Why do you stay? Cause this stuff, it’s crazy man, and like, I’m barely keeping from screaming. And you, man, you just hold it all together so well, and I don’t know if I can.” Ric had only sighed, not really sure of his answer.
He wonders if he’ll ever have an answer.
Elena, sweet Elena, who is strong with her mother’s eyes and her father’s streak of madness and her brother’s penchant for getting into trouble, cries in her room every night, not even bothering to hide it; not even trying to deny it. Jenna, John, Grayson, Miranda, four parents, gone and buried, left to mingle in the soil while she trudges on, alone. Stefan’s departure hit her hard, in the stomach, and though he tries to tell her that the wind getting knocked out of her is the only way to remind her lungs how much they like the taste of air, he can’t get all the words out; the pain and despair sketched like an artist’s pencil across her face too much for him to bare.
Damon tries, but he doesn’t know how, has forgotten, truly what it is to be 17 and so in love and in so much pain. Some nights, Alaric looks the other way while Damon holds her while she cries until she falls asleep, pretending to be unaware of the man nestled in Elena’s bed. He’s not a father, hasn’t read all the books, but he knows that that is something he’s not supposed to allow. But anything that soothes the broken, breaking ripping heart and smile of the girl with her mother’s eyes is something that’s alright in his book.
He'd never planned on being a father, Isobel always so adamant that she never wanted children; he had never planned on meal planning and laundry doing and homework helping; he doesn't even know the titles of the good parenting books. But he does know that's he's got a feverish kid on the couch and a girl with a broken heart upstairs and there's only so much good chicken soup can do for either.