The gym has long since been abandoned. Ric figures the kids have ditched it for somewhere where there’s no illusion of adults being in control of them. A half-smile crosses Ric’s face. Ric’s pretty certain these kids know he’s a functional alcoholic by now, that he’s not about to harsh their buzz.
The music is still playing though, despite the DJ having left as well. Blue Oyster Cult. Don’t Fear The Reaper.
It’s only then Ric really notices the décor of the gym. The disco ball that’s hanging down, the lava lamps on the table by the drinks. There’s a banner across the door, telling partygoers to ‘have a groovy dance!’
70’s decade dance.
Which is impossible, because Rebekah hijacked the last dance, turned it into a 20’s theme.
“You are.” Damon confirms, appearing from a dark corner, striding across the room to join him by the refreshments table.
Ric watches as Damon picks up a cut glass tumbler – so, Damon’s obviously controlling this – swirls the dark amber liquid in it before bringing it to his lips. There’s something he’s not saying.
Ric thinks back on what he remembers about the past few days, why this is something Damon is doing for him now. It all comes flooding back to him, Esther, the ring, the stakes, the bloodlines, his alter-ego, the spell…
“I’m dy – “
“The 70’s suits you.” Damon says, interrupting Ric. Ric looks down to see himself in a vile, patterned shirt with a brown leather jacket. He’s in bell-bottom jeans, but he can forgive Damon that, simply because he’s not in a Vegas Elvis costume. He daren’t touch his hair, for fear Damon has somehow created an afro.
The song changes. A more upbeat track, country rock-guitar, harmonized vocals. The Eagles, Ric thinks.
“I contemplated the whole Travolta Saturday Night Fever look for you.” He goes on, “But you’d probably just bleed on it.“
Ric half smiles then, “Well, it is a decade dance.”
“Exactly my thoughts.”
“Why a decade dance anyway?” Ric asks. If Damon was going to give him a dream, a happy memory to ease his passing - like he’d done for Rose - surely it’d have been the Grill, the boarding house, the Gilberts.
“Nostalgia.” Damon offers, “First time we met was the 50’s dance, remember? You hit on me.”
He snorts, “Badly.”
“When did I hit on you? I was there with Jenna.” Ric reminds him, “Also, I’m pretty certain I still hated you at this point.”
“Your first words to me were pretty much ‘hey baby, come here often?’” Damon says, “You couldn’t keep your eyes off me.”
“Not how I remember it.”
“You were stroking my arm, squeezing my bicep.” Damon teases, “I’m surprised you didn’t swoon.”
“Fuck you.” Ric says, his tone light.
Damon doesn’t need to know he’d been the star of Ric’s adrenalin fuelled fantasies that evening. (Though Ric suspects he probably does). After he’d taken Jenna home, after he’d really thought about what the hell he was doing, he was laid in his shitty bed in his shitty loft. His heart was racing with the adrenalin of the earlier events. He was playing with fire and he knew it. Damon was stronger than he was, could snap his neck in a second. Back then, all he’d known about the ring had been that it was fucking hideous.
The hard on had been a natural reaction to the excitement, he’d told himself, nothing to do with those silver eyes that had bored into his own for those few moments. The fact he’d seen those eyes when he’d come had simply been down to his determination to destroy the monster.
He often thinks about the fact he originally wanted to kill Damon anytime he needs to laugh.
“What would you have preferred? My name is Alaric Saltzman, you killed my wife, prepare to die?”
“Or that we’d christened the desk in your classroom, ruined some essays.”
A smile passes between them, half-hearted, sad. There’s a moment of silence between them, just listening to the music playing over them. It’s a slow, soulful ballad. He idly wonders where the music is coming from, Damon’s subconscious or his.
Ric’s not sure how to finish his question, not even sure why he’s started to ask it. He wants to blame the music, blame the setting, blame the melancholy on the fact he’s fucking dying and he just wants answers.
“Why didn’t we? Ever?” Ric finally asks, not bothering with anything more than that. Damon knows him better than anyone, he knows what Ric means, has to.
“Well, like you said, pretty certain you still hated me then.” Damon says, avoiding the question, “Wouldn’t want to have been in the midst of a mind blowing orgasm only to find you’d staked me in the heart with a pencil, boy scout.”
“Don’t ask me that, Ric.”
"We gotta be extra careful, that we don't build our hopes up too high."
And Ric wants to push, wants to know why Damon with all his flirting never just went for it, went for what he wanted, but shit, it’s not like it wasn’t mutual. Ric could kick himself for never taking a chance on Damon either.
But then there was Elena and Isobel and Jenna and a thousand cons for every pro on his list. Damon’s volatile, Damon’s obsessive, Damon’s dangerous.
But then, Damon’s also Damon and surely that should have been enough.
Ric looks across at him. He looks so young, so lost right now. There’s no sign of the predator in him, the monster who could – and has – snapped his neck for looking at him the wrong way. There’s just the man, the young, broken man who’s been eaten up and spit out by the people he’s loved one too many times, who’s about to lose another person he’s let himself care about and fuck, Ric gets it.
The song has changed again. Bowie.
Damon’s not looking at him now, is staring dead ahead as he drinks from the completely out of place glass. Ric moves closer to him, reaches out and plucks the glass from his hand, smirks as it turns to a red plastic cup in his hand. He puts it down on the table behind them, looks across at Damon’s puzzled expression.
Damon’s about to speak. Ric can hear the words in his head already, wasn’t about to risk dream crystal on you, even that cost more than your loft. He doesn’t want to hear them, not right now.
"Though nothing will keep us together. We could steal time, just for one day."
He takes Damon’s face in his hands and presses their lips together before either of them can do something stupid, like think.
The kiss is everything and nothing like Ric had imagined, like he’d hoped. He’s sober, for one, something he’s never really equated with an encounter with Damon. It’s gentle, it’s tender, it’s not possessive or desperate, as it probably should be. But then, there are also no fireworks, no dramatic epiphany about his feelings for Damon.
As Damon brings his own hands up to grip Ric’s shoulders and is nudging Ric’s lips apart with his tongue, tasting everything that he is, he realises there’s no epiphany because there doesn’t need to be.
He’s been quietly head over heels for the stupid vampire as long as he can remember now. (He thinks it was probably somewhere around the wolf bite. He couldn’t kill Damon, not even when the vampire begged him to. He needed Damon to be okay, because there’s no way he could face what was coming without the impossible idiot by his side).
Ric knows this is cruel, unfair to Damon. He knows it’s essentially all in his head and in reality they’ve never had and will never have this chance, but he’s not going to his grave without experiencing this. It’s his turn to be a little selfish.
There’s a feeling in Ric now. He’s not afraid anymore, he’s not scared of what’s beyond, of what he’s leaving behind. He figures this is the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ moment.
Ric pulls away from the kiss, but doesn’t pull away from Damon. He pulls him close to him, clinging to him in a hug.
“Don’t fuck it up, Damon.” He says, not sure what specifically he's referring to. The Originals, Stefan, Elena.
He pulls back from the hug, looks seriously at Damon.
“Just don’t fuck it up.”
Damon doesn’t say anything for a long moment. Ric can see he’s torn between being honest and open or being Damon.
Ric wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. He pulls away from Damon, stands side by side with him again. He reaches behind him for the cup he took from Damon, smiling when he sees it’s one of the crystal tumblers again.
Damon shrugs, grabs one of his own, then leans against Ric a little.
The song changes one final time as they stand, shoulder to shoulder. There’s no walking into the light, no passing through the veil, no darkness.
Ric just feels a sense of contentment.
While Damon just corks the bottle of bourbon he’s been drinking in the candlelit crypt.