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It’s a Wednesday night. Not only does Alaric have eighty-four quizzes to grade, but he has one-and-a-half more weeks of attempting to teach hormonal teenagers the sanitized version of Founder’s Day History before chaperoning a bunch of inane Founder’s Day activities. He’d rather stake vampires, which the council barely trusts him to do. It’s like old money mixing with new money – they’ll let Alaric do some of the grunt work, but they won’t let him read the journals, and they’re certainly not letting him into their not-so-secret meetings. They’re not doing much more than tolerating him

It’s seven-thirty, he’s just kicked off his shoes, just thrown his bag onto the coffee table, just turned on the TV and queued up the history special he Tivo’d when he realizes he’s not alone. He’d be worried – there are a lot of things that go bump in the night, he’s learning, not the least of which are vampires – except whoever broke in is singing Puccini in the kitchen.

“You’re here again.” Alaric lets his head fall back against the couch. “Why are you here again?

“You’re the one who invited me in,” Damon says, striding into the room, which is technically true. In Alaric’s defense he was bleeding a lot at the time and really just wanted Damon to tourniquet his leg, not invite himself over to watch history specials and eat his Cheetos.

As an aside, Cheetos are like catnip for the undead. Maybe it’s the color. Maybe it’s the sheer novelty. Alaric doesn’t know.

Damon settles in the armchair and curls himself up like a cat.

 

 

“Come onnnn, grading papers is more fun with a buzz.”

Alaric looks up at Damon from under his eyebrows.

“It’s a hundred year old bottle of Scotch, and Stefan will make the best faces when he realizes it’s gone. What part of this plan isn’t sheer brilliance?”

The part where he’s drinking on a school night. Not that Damon’s going to accept that as an answer.

“Should be some glasses you can use in the cabinet over the fridge,” he says.

 

| |

 

Alaric wakes. It’s the middle of the night. He can’t have been asleep long because he’s still exhausted, but his nerves have jumped right to the jangly fever-pitch that means someone is standing over the bed. He goes for the knife he keeps under his pillow – it’s silver, doused in vervain, good all purpose-weapon – but Damon holds him down, and he knows it’s Damon, by the time Damon’s fingers are fully around his wrist.

“Katherine’s back,” he says. Alaric jolts so hard he nearly sits up, but Damon’s hand is still around his wrist. “She’s back.”

“She’s back? What happened? Why aren’t—” This time Alaric tries to deliberately sit up.

“You know how I knew,” Damon says, voice flat and dead and not a question at all, and the hair on the back of Alaric’s neck stands up. “She said all the right things, she did all the right things, she had on the right clothes – she was always committed to her role, that was what made her so great – but she overplayed. She wanted to have her fun.”

 

The next few hours are terrible – calling the Sheriff, calming Elena down, prying Stefan and Damon away from each other when Katherine finally comes up –

 

 

“She’s dropped in, just to show she could, just to show she could slip into Elena’s place and mess with everyone, murder a man with someone else’s face. She left dear old Uncle John on the floor for Elena to find, and she left the bloodstains for Jenna to scrub away."

“She never did clean up her own messes,” Stefan grits out, angrier than Alaric’s ever seen him, but Damon makes a noise like molten rage poured over strangled vocal chords.

 

 

It’s weeks before Elena’s hands stop playing with her vervain necklace, before Stefan stops guarding Elena's house, before Damon stops drinking like a fish and flirting with everything that moves, at least when he’s not trying to convince the founders that John Gilbert’s murder isn’t a reason to sound the alarm and put everything on lockdown.

 

 

It’s weird, but – Alaric knows Damon’s doing better when he comes over to eat Cheetos and nitpick documentaries.

 

 

“It’s a two-hundred year old townhouse with six bedrooms, four baths, a fully remodeled kitchen, several hidden weapons caches, and a small greenhouse of vervain in the basement. You may have to watch Stefan and Elena make kissy faces at one another, but why should I have to suffer alone?

Alaric snaps the book he’s reading closed. “You’re serious.”

“Dead serious, if you’ll pardon the apt pun.” Takes a swig of something, does something. “There’s no current living resident, which means any vampire off the street can just walk in – which is bad for my peace of mind.” Rubs his forehead. “I could compel someone to live there, sure, but I think you could hold your own against Katherine, if you had to.”

He's strangely, weirdly flattered, being compared to the monster who ran Damon’s life. Who still runs it, to some extent.

 

 

Alaric packs up his suitcase, a few boxes of things. He’s just started to fill the place out, make it a home – he leaves the TV, a lot of the furniture. His landlord offered to give back the last months rent to make the place a bit nicer, which is fine by him.

 

 

Damon has him sign a rent agreement – “the rules are squiffy, but the more paperwork the better” – and then --

“You’re here.”

Stefan’s looking at him kind of strangely. Which, Alaric thinks in an uncharacteristic moment of personal honesty, is a pretty good description of how Stefan looks most of the time. Kind of like he’s constipated. Speaking of, do vampires get constipated? That’s something not covered in any of the Founder’s Journals. Great. Alaric can just guess what he’s going to slip up and ask Damon next time they’re drunk. Knowing Damon, he’ll probably answer in excruciating detail, though whether it’s a lie or not will be another guess.

“You’re... here,” Stefan says again, like he’s rolling the idea around in his brain.

“Well, yeah. Damon said he ran it by you, but I should probably know better than to believe what he says at this point, right?”

“No, it’s… he mentioned it. I…I’m gonna go call Elena.”

 

 

 

“I’ve got a proposition.”

 

She was staying with Jeremy, but even a super fast vampire with enhanced hearing can’t stay completely invisible in a house will three humans. Particularly when she’s stupid enough to be sleeping with one.

At least, Alaric reassures himself, vampires can’t get pregnant.

 

 

 

“So I’ve been thinking –”

“No. It’s a bad idea.”

Alaric can feel Damon pouting from across the room.

“I am full of great ideas.”

“You’re full of bad ideas with the potential for property damage and homicide.”

“I find it really sexy that you put property damage first.”

 

 

 

The midyear student-teacher night comes and goes, and Alaric realizes, with more surprise than he’d care to admit, that he’s completely forgotten about Jenna. He’s over Isobel, more or less, as much as he’s ever going to get over his wife leaving him to become a vampire. But there’s too much going on, there’s too much already tangled up in the web of Damon and Stefan and Elena and Jeremy and Anna and – the list just keeps continuing, it could keep continuing if he lets it, and he can just only juggle so many balls at once.

 

 

 

The next week, Elena invites him out to dinner with Stefan and Damon. He thinks, maybe, she’s reaching out because she wants to know about Isobel. Or that she’s adopted him as some kind… not quite a father figure, because she’s had enough of those, and they’re all dead, but maybe an uncle, or something.

He and Damon end up sharing one side of the booth… after the initial awkwardness, its fine. Damon makes the requisite “don’t worry, I don’t bite” comment and fills in the unless you want me to in with a waggle of his eyebrows.

Damon orders the salad, and with the deepest of dimples tells the waitress – another gum-chewing teenager Alaric is going to be teaching tomorrow – that he’s a vegetarian.

 

“So I’m thinking about running for mayor,” Damon says in between flinging croutons at Stefan and down scotch like water.

“Okay, Dad,” Anna says, and Alaric’s about to give her a stern mini-talk about not picking up Damon’s sarcasm addiction – although, really, if she had to pick one flaw – when it hits him that she didn’t really say it all that sarcastically.

 

 

 

It hits him – really hits him, like a punch to the stomach, like finding out your wife left you to become a vampire, or that you have a ring which makes you immortal--

Damon goes deadly still. “What’s wrong,” he says, flatly, and it’s not a question, it’s a command, it’s tell me now, Damon’s eyes flickering and flaring like he’s trying to compel Alaric even as he knows it won’t work.

Alaric lies down flat on the couch “Just trying to figure out exactly when and how I shacked up with a male vampire, adopted a teenage vampire daughter who is dating the brother of the daughter my ex-wife gave up for adoption, who is herself dating the vampire brother of the aforementioned vampire I’m shacking up with. It’s like an episode of The O.C., but with vampires.”

“Really? The O.C.?”

“Gossip Girl?”

“Chuck Bass, eat your heart out,” Damon says, apparently satisfied.

“We’re not being literal, right?”

“If you insist.”

The corner of Damon’s mouth twitches. “So its a problem?”

He takes a deep breath. “Processing.”

 

 

Damon can be... sort of like a puppy. A vicious, bloodthirsty puppy who will rub up against you to give himself a thrill but doesn’t know what the hell to do with itself when you pet him besides bite your hand.

 

 

 

"Vampire dating isn’t like normal dating," Damon muses. "Not even if you're Stefan and want it desperately to be so. It usually takes longer. I mean, we’ve got all the time in the world.

 

 

 

“How’d you even know you had a chance?”

Damon raises one eyebrow and tilts his chin, as if to say look at me, of course I had a chance.

Alaric refrains from rolling his eyes, but just barely.

“Mmm,” Damon hums. “Well, fine. Body heat. Every so often yours adjusts itself. Specifically.” His gaze is heavy, somehow worse than a caress, and its pointed enough to nearly make Alaric blush. And he’s not the type of guy who blushes.

“Sneaky,” he says finally, and Damon’s grin is a lazy, feline thing.

“Vampire. Evil vampire, more specifically, since Stefan’s doing the do-gooder thing, and Anna seems pretty set on reliving high school, for whatever reason.” Damon sighs, rolls onto his back. “Since when did vampires need good PR?

 

 

 

“You know who I am,” Damon says, serious. "The people I’ve killed and the things I’ve done. That my good side only goes so far as being a possessive bastard. That I don’t like when people fuck with what’s mine. And if you stop and think about it long enough, think about all of it, it makes you shudder, but you don’t care, really. Or you decide that it doesn’t matter.

 

 

 

“In my defense, I would have caught on earlier had you tried to bite me.”

“Considering your proficiency with wooden stakes, I thought it would be prudent to make sure all my undead manly bits stayed where they are.” After a second Damon perks up. “Unless that’s permission?”