Shit hits the fan on a Thursday, which is, whatever. Improbable? Seems more like a weekend thing. But some journalist from Rolling Stone (and Damon probably asked for it, since he’d been amazingly rude to the poor idiot while refusing an interview three months back) (mostly, because he was wearing a band t-shirt Damon objected to strongly) (not his finest hour, alright, shut up) clearly has too much time on his hands.
The phone starts ringing before 9am, which means Damon has been in bed for less than four hours and asleep less than three (he can’t remember the name of the groupie he’s woken up with, fuck, he really hopes he’s got cash for a taxi), and who the fuck calls a musician before nine in the morning? Or in the morning at all?
He rejects the first two calls, but he can feel his blood boiling, cortisol building in his veins. Last time this happened Damon had walked away from the scene of a car accident. Fancy talk for ‘drove drunk into a fountain and scared the piss out of some ducks’.
His manager, though. If his manager is calling, it’s not a good idea to ignore her.
No, he’s not. Though he peeks discreetly at his hand and rifles through memories of his last Las Vegas show, in case there was an Elvis thing.
“So the name Alaric Saltzman doesn’t ring a bell? He’s not your husband?”
It would be a lie to say Damon never thinks about Alaric. He does. Just not at the right times. He thinks of Alaric when his life begins to feel untenable. When he wants to do something decidedly-not-rock-star-like; spend a Sunday stone cold sober on the couch with a book or leave a party early and go home to a warm pair of arms. He thinks of Alaric when he ignores the battered acoustic guitar in the top of his wardrobe, on the odd occasion he makes it home to Virginia.
But he never thinks of Alaric as his husband.
“Oh. Hmmmmmm. That husband. Long divorced. Keep it out of the papers, would you? He’s an academic or something, I don’t know. Doesn’t exactly fit my image.” And he really needs someone to come and deal with all of these empty bottles, which do fit his image but honestly stink. He throws a hand mirror into the sink, goes to rinse it, and takes a moment to decide whether it’s worth trying to scrape another line off it for an 11am pick-me-up.
He rinses it.
“According to the state of Virginia there is no divorce on record.”
“He took care of that, though.” Alaric. Reliable, steadfast Alaric. Alaric the fucking hothead who could very well have decided at the ripe old age of nineteen that it would be fun to screw with this, but surely by twenty would have… fixed it? “It’s a mistake, call my lawyer. I need a shower.” He doesn’t plan to take one, but that doesn’t make it less true. He notices the sudden pounding in his head and scrabbles around the hotel dining table for some Excedrin, or… an inch of bourbon, that will do.
“Get online,” Damon’s manager says, and she hangs up on him.
It takes under a minute for Damon to find a de-saturated wedding photograph, the top image on a couple of dozen news articles, tweeted and retweeted and turned into some kind of a fucking meme; the two of them in ill-fitting suits, Alaric’s nose too big for his face and Damon’s stupid eyebrows weighing about a pound each, sitting on top of his pale eyes like fat, angry caterpillars.
They look happy in the photograph. Thought they were so rebellious, running off to get married as soon as they’d graduated. Damon was going to make a name for himself in Richmond while Alaric went to school and then they were going to move to LA or New York where Damon’s career could really take off.
Instead, they’d fought like dogs. And Damon had left alone.
He calls his manager back, once the throbbing in his head has dulled to mild agony.
“I’ll call my lawyer and I’ll fix it. Probably just a screw-up with the paperwork.”
“Better be, Damon. I can work with you trashing hotel rooms. I can’t handle you being married to... a professor of American history at Duke.”
Good school. Damon is oddly proud.
He makes a call to his lawyer, throws the groupie out, and goes back to bed.
The following day Damon learns a few things.
One; Alaric grew into his nose, and he is, in a scruffy, Indiana Jones sort of a way, hotter than hell, at 38. Rising star in his department after receiving a huge grant to do something that sounds painfully boring on an old civil war site; some kind of excavation. Damon only skims.
Two; although Alaric doesn’t like having a camera stuck in his face, he manages well. No comment, no comment. We got married the day after we graduated. No divorce? Weird. Nothing to say to you. To Damon?
Well. If he calls, I guess we’ll find out.
Three; he’s on his own. He should have remarried by now. It’s crazy. He’s gorgeous, wicked smart, good job... he’s got a temper, always has, but that’s hardly the biggest tick the nope column has ever seen. Not like he’d ever hurt anyone you’d feel sorry for. Damon blows up the news snippet.
Alaric looks right at the camera, jutting his chin, calm and collected. Broad shoulders and chest neatly concealed by a battered, brown leather jacket that looks like it was made for him.
If he calls, I guess we’ll find out.
It’s a challenge. Fucking asshole.
Damon calls his lawyer to have another set of divorce papers drawn up, and Monday morning, they are hand-delivered to Alaric in his office. Alaric tips the courier, and feeds the envelope into a paper shredder. He encourages the courier to take a photo, so he doesn’t get into trouble. In the photo Alaric isn’t smiling. He has a glint in his eye, though.
Damon’s lawyer contacts Alaric directly. Alaric passes on his own lawyer’s name. Some idiot undergraduate student overhears the whole thing and posts it on tumblr. The Rolling Stone guy tries to get an interview with Alaric once it becomes clear that the whole world has decided this fuckery is the year’s most thrilling rom-com. It’s a special interest story on morning television and some woman Damon doesn’t recognize from school spins so much bullshit about their epic teen romance that Damon calls the station to yell. Twitter loses its shit. Damon’s album sales jump by almost double for the week, downloads of anything vaguely resembling a love song almost triple, every song is dismantled lyric by lyric, his fans searching for references to a high school sweetheart, and someone uploads a shitty video of Damon playing acoustic guitar and singing at – of all the humiliating things – a school talent show, circa 1996.
He has Eddie Vedder hair. Jesus. Or at least he’s trying to have Eddie Vedder hair, and really it’s just a mess. And Alaric is standing just out of sight, in the stage wings, because back then Damon had loved playing music, but been terrified of the stage.
He’s in lockdown – self-imposed – refusing to talk to anyone but his manager and his lawyer, though Damon tends to shrivel up and die without any company or attention at all, so he has a couple of friends on hand. Enzo, the band’s other guitar player. The deeply misanthropic Liv, all boobs and eyelashes, brutal drummer. She’s on her second bottle of champagne. Enzo’s necking a bottle of Jack Daniels. Damon is sprawled face first across a couch which weirdly smells like vanilla.
“Were you like... I don’t know. Nice? at eighteen?” Liv is scrolling on her phone. Presumably enjoying the gossip way too much.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Damon lifts his face to glare at her.
“I just don’t understand how you managed to convince anyone to marry you. Let alone... well, on top of looking... weirdly like Han Solo or something, he looks like a nice guy. And you’re an asshole.”
“Thanks for sugar coating that. Bitch.” He throws a pillow.
Enzo snickers, plucking vaguely at the strings of his brand new resonator. Because the two dozen guitars he owns currently are clearly not enough.
“Don’t fucking start,” Damon warns.
“Not starting anything, mate. I don’t even know why you care. Why anyone cares. Tell me, is there someone you’re planning to marry? Didn’t think so,” Enzo says, not waiting for an answer. “So it doesn’t matter.”
But it does. And Damon might be three sheets to the wind, but it still seems like a choice time to call his lawyer again and make it clear that Damon thinks this is absolutely a lawyer problem, and not a Damon problem.
And then he curls up in the bathtub to nap like a real live rock star.
It appears by the end of the second week that this isn’t going to get boring anytime soon. Damon is a household name; they’ll talk about this until Elton adopts another tiny monster or an ex-Disney Princess has a carefully choreographed wardrobe malfunction as she’s getting out of a car. And there are still people crawling out of the woodwork. They even manage to dig up the celebrant. She’s aged well. She’s gracious; she says she remembers nothing more than two young men who were very much in love, and that she’d been saddened to learn they hadn’t made it, when she saw Damon parading a series of high profile lovers across televisions and magazine spreads.
There’s something satisfying about her recollection. She’s right. They had been. Very much in love.
Less an eternal flame than a scrub fire, though. Hot and bright. They got together in sophomore year, made it through graduation. Married in June and divorced – nope, apparently only separated, and the distinction has never sounded so important – the following May.
Damon was in Seattle before Alaric finished finals, his freshman year in college.
By the time Alaric graduated, Damon had a platinum album and could sell out almost any venue they put him in. That was the year he met Enzo, fresh out of some English conservatory and the best technical player Damon had ever heard.
By the time Alaric finished his masters, Damon had been in rehab twice.
By the time Alaric finished his PhD, Damon was a household name. He’d been the target of no fewer than eight genuinely terrifying stalkers, one of whom had reacted to a restraining order by shooting Damon in the middle of a concert at the Hollywood bowl, in front of about eight million people, if you counted the good folks watching at home.
The guy’s mother told the press he was a very sweet young man who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and Damon Salvatore was a selfish and hateful monster who had snubbed her son once when he had wanted an autograph. She neglected to mention that he had requested the autograph inside Damon’s hotel room at three in the morning in a ski mask, Damon noticed, as he watched her press conference from a hospital bed alone, awaiting his second surgery.
Damon had taken a year off for therapy. Both kinds. While Alaric got an associate professorship at Duke, and began the plodding path to tenure.
Their lives diverged half a lifetime ago, and here it is back to bite him on the ass.
“I need to go home,” Damon says to no one in particular, on the tour bus from Boulder to... wherever they’re going next. His head hurts. And the smell of the takeout they bought an hour back and Damon has barely picked at is disgusting.
“We’ll be performing in LA in three weeks. You can spend a few days.”
“No,” Damon says, gritting his teeth. “Home.”
“Where’s home?” Enzo sounds surprised. The fact that Enzo is, at this point, Damon’s oldest friend and doesn’t know he owns the home he grew up in in Mystic Falls, Virginia, is about the saddest thing Damon has ever heard. He drags his jacket over his miserable body and does his best to get some sleep.
It’s not until he begins to slip through the twilight from waking to dreaming that he starts to wonder what he actually meant by ‘home’.
Things calm down. Things always do. Things would be entirely historical if Damon’s manager wasn’t still harassing him about getting a divorce. Damon tries the Enzo argument – since Damon has no intention of marrying anyone, it matters less than, say, the fact that this hotel room doesn’t have a goddamn bathtub. And why isn’t she doing something about that?
“Listen to me. Are you sober? Of course you’re not. Damon Salvatore, you have been married for twenty goddamn years. Over half your life. And there is not a court in this country that wouldn’t award him half of everything you own, if he decided to pursue it. Now, am I getting through to you?”
It is chilling, until it’s not.
“Ric doesn’t care about money. He basically only cares about history. Always did.” He lies back, staring at the ceiling and bitterly regretting that it’s a Sunday night and he can’t have a nice long fucking soak in a fucking bubble bath.
“‘Ric’,” she answers, “has competitive grant applications in the region of fourteen million dollars in submission right now. What do you think will happen when he doesn’t get what he needs for his research and decides funding it himself is a viable option?”
Okay, that, Damon can sort of imagine. He rubs his eyes.
“Can I divorce him without his signature?”
“Not easily. So. You’re not getting on stage until Wednesday night. Which means tomorrow morning, you’re getting on a flight to Durham. You’re going to behave like a fucking adult and you’re not going to leave without that fucking signature, appropriately witnessed. Got it?”
Damon holds the phone to his ear for a few more moments, and ends the call.
When she encouraged Damon to behave like a fucking adult, Damon doesn’t think she meant showing up on campus in a limousine, dressed in almost the exact outfit he wore to host the MTV music awards last year, signing autographs and posing for photographs for an hour. Still, that’s what he does. It’s obnoxious. He knows full well that he could probably have slipped through completely unnoticed; he does that, from time to time. He does it because by the time he makes it to Alaric’s office he’ll be so sick of the disruption outside his precious history department that he’ll sign the papers just to be rid of Damon for good. Eventually he steps inside the building and asks directions to Alaric’s office. He’s escorted by a very excited receptionist who accidentally offers to blow him instead of show him, and stammers apologies all the way to Alaric’s office door.
“Professor Saltzman?” she says, knocking and then opening the door. “Someone here to see you.” But Damon pushes the door open and steps inside, arms crossed over his chest, giving the old guy Alaric is talking to an unimpressed face before meeting Alaric’s even gaze.
And Alaric fucking smiles at him. It’s small, and it’s more sure than Alaric used to smile. But it’s a smile, like Damon’s been in another room this whole time, and just got back.
“I’m sorry, Gerald. Can we pick this up tomorrow?” he asks. “This is my husband. Damon Salvatore.”
Damon tries not to react, and simply shakes the old man’s hand, mildly amused that he doesn’t seem to have any idea of who Damon is; that doesn’t happen often enough. And when the guy is gone, Damon closes the door.
Alaric comes out from behind the desk, and sits on the corner of it.
“You need to sign the papers,” Damon says, trying very hard not to be overwhelmed. Alaric is tall, well over six foot. Broad like he never stopped boxing. He does, actually, sort of have an Indiana Jones vibe. Han Solo at a pinch. Stubble over his chin that has just enough salt in it to suggest some kind of acquired wisdom.
“Can’t,” Alaric says, shaking out his hand. “My wrist is too sore. How are you?”
“Sign the papers.”
“Have dinner with me first.” Alaric’s eyes crinkle. Damon hates him. And he kind of wants to pull his hair. He shifts his weight from foot to foot.
“We can’t have dinner together. It’ll be a circus.” Which isn’t a no. Should be, but so far, it isn’t.
“Let me worry about that,” Alaric says, arms crossed over his chest. “Look, you’re desperate enough to have come this far. You still do eat, right? Or does dinner come strictly in liquid form these days?”
“Oh, you’re still a comedian. I mean it. I don’t want to get mobbed in a Subway.”
“I think I can do better than Subway.” Alaric angles his body forward. “But I guess that means you’ve had enough mobbing for the day. Interesting. I was curious about that. What purpose it served.” He doesn’t sound particularly judgmental, despite the words. Genuine curiosity. Alaric Saltzman, ladies and gentleman, the kid who read history textbooks under the blankets with a flashlight just about the age everyone else was discovering porn.
“I just like to set the tone. Fine,” he says, or snarls, maybe. “Dinner. You win.” Though mostly, he wants to go, because the reality of Alaric in front of him, acres of muscle and soft flannel, is… well.
The words that come to mind are ‘old time’s sake.’
Damon rolls his eyes, and Alaric reaches for a notepad, and scribbles an address. “Ditch the limo,” he says. “I promise you, Durham has perfectly good taxis. I’ll take care of the rest. Seven thirty.”
Damon snatches the page from Alaric’s fingers and glares one last time for good measure, before turning to the door.
He turns, and Alaric is looking at him the exact same way he did all those years ago, when he was telling Damon he could get on stage, he’d be okay.
“It’s good to see you,” Alaric says, and Damon leaves.
It’s closer to seven forty-five when Damon arrives at the address, which is a house in Trinity Heights, not far from the university campus. Definitely not a restaurant. He hesitates on the street for a minute, maybe three, and finally the door opens, and Alaric leans against the jamb, hands in his pockets.
“Gonna stand there much longer?” he calls. “It got below forty degrees last night. Just so you know.” Damon rolls his eyes, and walks up a narrow, dignified path that leads to the steps up to Alaric’s small patio. There are a couple of pot plants, healthy enough, and a faded green couch which looks weirdly inviting.
“Nice,” Damon says, mostly for something to say. Inside, dinner smells good, garlic and basil. Some sharp cheese. Damon narrows his eyes in exaggerated suspicion. “You learned how to cook?” Sadly, Alaric doesn’t take the bait, just makes eye crinkles at him.
Alaric’s house is full of books.
Not in the way some people’s houses are full of books, a couple of bookshelves bursting at the seams. Every wall seems to have bookshelves built into it, over the doors, even, over the windows. The light is low and golden and somewhere deeper in the house, there’s music playing.
Not Damon’s music. Their music, the stuff they were listening to when Damon bought his first guitar second hand, the year Alaric broke his leg and spent most of the summer in hospital in traction, and Damon taught himself to play out of a book, and with a handful of ‘learn to’ cassette tapes he bought at a yard sale. Sitting in Alaric’s hospital room, drinking chocolate milkshakes from the café in the lobby, strumming quietly while Alaric read and listened. In a weird way, it might remain the best summer of his life. The memories hit him all at once and he’s startled when he feels Alaric’s hand between his shoulder blades. Unfamiliar and familiar at once.
“Through there,” Alaric says. “Take a seat, I’ll bring wine.”
Damon shrugs off his ancient, battered leather jacket and throws it over the arm of a couch. The furniture is all serviceable, but cheap, and Damon has to wonder what proportion of his salary Alaric spends on books, what other corners he cuts to fuel this overwhelmingly wholesome addiction. He pulls out a chair and sits at a small dining table. There’s a painting on the wall that looks vaguely familiar, but Damon can’t place it.
“Lived here long?”
Alaric arrives with wine, and glasses that don’t quite match. “Since I started my PhD. I didn’t have to borrow much, mom and dad decided I could have my inheritance early, while property around here was still affordable. Made a difference. I’ve owned it outright for years, now.”
Ah, the Saltzmen. Damon wants to ask a thousand questions about them; for a while they’d been the only adults in the world who gave a shit about him. But he doesn’t. He takes his glass without a word, and ignores Alaric’s toast.
“You still own the plantation house?”
“No, I sold it for magic beans.” Damon’s voice is flat. Supposed to sound bored, but to his own ear, he sounds mostly young. “I have the papers.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Alaric says. “But I said after dinner.”
“It’s not. You’re touring at the moment, right?”
Damon narrows his eyes. He wonders how close an eye Alaric has kept on his career. He feels scrutinized. “Yeah. Playing Louisville on Wednesday. Couple of days of downtime until then.” He drains his glass unnecessarily fast, and reaches for the bottle. Alaric doesn’t comment.
“Well, I tell you this much. It doesn’t usually involve chasing down a childhood sweetheart to beg for a divorce. I should be balls deep in some nubile groupie right now.” It’s calculated to hurt, but Alaric looks amused, the asshole. “What are you doing, Ric? Is this a money thing?”
“I’ll get dinner,” Alaric says. It’s nice to watch him walk away. At eighteen, Alaric had an ass you could bounce a coin off and his body has done nothing but improve with age. Damon rubs his eyes, and gulps at the wine again. If he gets drunk and disgraces himself, Alaric will definitely give up this… whatever this is. Alaric returns with two steaming plates of pasta, with fine Italian ham and olives and mushrooms and spinach and really, it looks like a lot of work. Damon sniffs it suspiciously while Alaric fetches fresh grated romano cheese.
“I can’t believe you can cook,” Damon says, sprinkling cheese. “When did that happen?”
“You do know we were nineteen when you left, right?” Alaric cracks pepper over their plates, and sprinkles sea salt over his. “I learned to do a lot of things. So did you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t get defensive. I just mean it was half a lifetime ago, and we both did a lot of growing up after that. That’s all. Eat. You need something to soak up the booze.”
Damon sniffs again, and twirls linguini on his fork. It’s fantastic. Which is annoying.
“Why didn’t you file the papers? I mean, back then.”
“I thought we could ease into this with a little, how have you been, what are you doing. Maybe save the big questions until dessert.”
“You made dessert?”
Alaric shrugs. “I bought bourbon.”
Damon grins at him, and grabs another mouthful. After he swallows, he shrugs. “You don’t need to ask me what my life is like. You just need to google me.”
“If I wanna know how many albums you’ve sold, sure. Or who you’re fucking. That’s not what I asked. What’s your life like?”
The pasta dish really is good. So much garlic. Hint of chili, mild enough so it takes Damon a couple of mouthfuls before he notices the heat rising in his throat. “Months on end in a tour bus, or flying zigzag across the country between commitments. I don’t know. It’s… it’s what I do. What about you?”
“Right now, I’m tidying up a few loose ends before I head home to start work on a huge excavation.”
“I read about that.”
“Aw. You googled me.”
“Nope, I googled myself. Your scruffy face was fucking everywhere.”
Alaric laughs, one of those fantastic belly laughs Damon has, sort of, maybe, missed. “I guess so.” He shakes his head. “I think Duke will be glad for the break. Things have been difficult, last few weeks. I’ve never been so fascinating. It’s good. Standing room only in my lectures, the first week after the story broke.”
“Story. You do remember this is our lives you’re talking about?”
“I remember.” Alaric tips his head, and tucks back into his dinner. Damon glances discreetly at the clock on the wall. “Seriously, you’re not subtle. We haven’t seen each other in nineteen years and you’re countin’ the minutes until you can go.”
Damon shrugs. “I don’t think we’ve really got all that much in common anymore,” he says, and even though it’s true, he regrets it. “Tell me about the excavation.”
So Alaric does that, and though he’s not the kind to toot his own horn, he was obviously the one who found it, the one who convinced everyone it was important, and it’s the biggest moment in his career. Alaric doesn’t often talk with his hands, really, but he starts doing that. His hands are rougher-looking than Damon would expect from an academic, but there, there’s the whole Indiana Jones thing, well and truly in play.
“It’s not far from home,” he says. “Mystic Falls, I mean. Less than an hour’s drive. You ever go back?”
Damon shrugs. “Once in a while.” He pushes his plate away; it’s been a while since he finished a meal, but he’s finished this one. He picks at the bowl of flaked parmesan, and meets Alaric’s eyes again. It’s hard to do. Takes him back so far. Those eyes. He remembers having a meltdown off stage the night of that stupid talent show, and Alaric taking his face in both hands and kissing him, telling him he was going to kick ass.
Nope. He’s not doing nostalgia.
“Why didn’t you file the papers, back then?” Damon says. “Come on, we’ve eaten. There, dinner done. Why didn’t you?” He crosses his arms on the table, and cocks his head. Alaric mirrors him, and seems to think for longer than entirely necessary.
“Because I thought you’d be back,” he says.
It’s not the answer Damon was expecting; though to be fair, he has no idea what he was expecting.
“We fought like cats,” he says.
“We always made up.” Alaric shrugs. “I thought you’d be back. And when you didn’t say anything about… you know, not getting official notice that you were single again, you’d either contact me about it, or you’d just let it slide. Because I thought you’d be back.”
Damon stares at him for a long time. Alaric pulls a chain from inside his shirt; it’s long, dog-tag long, and there’s a familiar ring hanging from it.
“You have to be kidding,” Damon says. “You wear that?”
“I do. Where’s yours?”
Damon shrugs, and shakes his head, but he reaches out, too, and examines the ring. They weren’t expensive, not by most people’s standards, but they’d spent as much as they could afford, had their wedding date engraved inside. “I don’t know. I probably threw it out years ago.”
“Loser. I can’t believe you wear this. I have creepy fans who wouldn’t sink this low.”
“I call bullshit. Don’t tell me you completely lost the sentimental streak.”
“I did. Sentimentality is exhausting. And I have no idea where my ring is.”
Alaric collects the plates; he looks unfazed, but Damon knows him. There was a time when no one in the world knew Damon like Alaric did, and no one in the world who knew Alaric like Damon did, and he can see the tightness in the corner of his mouth, knows he’s hurt. Damon stands up, wanders around the room for a minute, and stretches out on a couch, reaching a for a well-worn and heavily dog-eared book sitting on a coffee table. Alaric emerges with a bottle of something reassuringly expensive-looking and a couple of tumblers, and he pours them each a generous measure. And then he returns to the table to collect Damon’s envelope.
Damon sits up, narrowing his eyes.
“What?” Alaric pulls the document out and drops it on the table.
“You’ve been a complete shit about this for weeks. An hour and a plate of pasta and that’s it? You’re just gonna sign?”
“I said I would.”
“You’re an idiot. You should get your lawyer to look at it.”
Alaric holds Damon’s gaze for a moment, and then nods. “You’re right. I should.”
“And you need a witness.”
“Of course.” Alaric raises his glass, and takes a sip. Apparently, it’s good, because that is stage one of Alaric’s O-face, if Damon remembers correctly. He sets the glass on his thigh, and crosses his feet on the coffee table. “I’ll call the lawyer in the morning. Don’t forget to leave me an address. I’ll send it as soon as I can.”
Nah. Damon isn’t buying it.
“Complete shit. I got sent a copy of the photo of you shredding the first one.”
“I wanted to see you,” Alaric says. “You’re not easy to see. And now I’ve seen you. You’re dying to get out of here, you claim you threw out my ring… I thought there might still be something here, but there’s not. It’s alright. Maybe I can actually move on.”
“Move on.” He takes a sip of the bourbon. “I tend to date with one foot out the door. Always have. It’s alright, Damon. You can go. I’ll sort out the papers tomorrow, and I’ll call you a taxi as soon as you finish your drink. Where are you staying?”
Damon’s brain is whirring. “What do you mean, I’m hard to see?”
Alaric shrugs. “When you got shot… I was in Los Angeles, at a conference. Tried to see you at the hospital when I remembered no one had a clue who the hell I was.” He shakes his head, and leans back, rolling his glass between his hands. “It’s incredibly difficult to convince people you’re married to the biggest name in rock music this century when no one’s even heard your name. I thought about trying again later but honestly I don’t think I’m up to being put off by your manager’s P.A.’s unpaid intern’s teacup poodle more than once a year. So.” He shrugs. “Say what you want, Damon, you were my best friend, and my boyfriend, and then you were my husband, and then you were gone. I watched you get shot on national television less than eight blocks from where I was having a beer before I dragged myself back to my crappy hotel, and I tried to see you.”
“You were watching the concert?”
“It was on. In the bar.”
“Sorry. I prefer the old stuff.”
“Sellout. You used to write the most beautiful lyrics.”
“I can’t even remember them.”
Alaric holds Damon’s eyes for a long moment. He always had that ability, to hold eye contact, without it getting awkward, but now, it seems to strip Damon to the bone. Finally he shrugs, and puts his glass down. “Gimme a minute,” he says.
He’s gone longer than a minute. Damon has never had much respect for privacy so he follows the sound of drawers and cupboards being opened and closed and finds himself in Alaric’s bedroom.
It’s perfectly dull. Almost military. Damon is mildly intrigued by this. The scent of sandalwood makes it smell like home, though, the soap Alaric always favored (and apparently still does). Old paper because although this is the only room in the place without bookshelves, there is a pile of books by the bed. Soft gray duvet cover that feels expensive under Damon’s fingers but is probably just old, and well-laundered. Damon sits on the edge of the bed to watch Alaric shuffle boxes around in the top of his cupboard. Damon can see his stomach, and he sort of wants to lick it.
“Nothing about how I shouldn’t be in your room because it’s a gross invasion of privacy?”
“You’re still my husband, remember?” Alaric’s eyes sparkle, and he pulls down an old box, puts it on the bed next to Damon. “That’s yours, if you want it.”
Damon looks at it like it might bite him, but eventually, he pulls the lid off.
It’s full of tapes. His tapes. Demos, and crap he recorded just for the fuck of it, just making noise he might want to remember later. A couple of old notebooks. He pulls one out and flips through it; lyrics, snatches of possible lyrics one day, the occasional mash note to Alaric… he smiles.
“I can’t believe you kept this stuff.”
“Like I said. I always thought you’d be back. You want me to call you that taxi?”
Damon hesitates. Yes, he should go. “You got a tape player?”
Alaric nods. “Pretty sure I can dig something up.”
The recordings are not great. But it’s because they’re not great that they’re great. Because on the scratchy tapes, he and Alaric laugh quietly, and talk about things like they’ve forgotten there’s even a recording happening, because there are long stretches of silence where Damon strums quietly, and puts aside the guitar to crawl into Alaric’s lap and kiss him. Sometimes there’s another voice, another friend. Damon forgot they had any, but they did, a small, tight circle. Alaric was the only one he ever really cared about, though.
He lets himself remember the night he was shot. Realizing that he had no idea how much blood is in the human body, but being surprised by how much of it was currently on the outside. He remembers lying on the hospital bed and wishing he had someone there who wasn’t paid to be there, someone who didn’t care if this was the end of his career, just that it could be the end of him. Maybe someone who’d lie to him and say it was nothing more than a flesh wound.
“If I’d known you were there, I would have told them to let you in,” Damon admits. “I mean, if I was conscious when you got there. I’ve never been so scared.”
“You nearly died.”
“I nearly died.”
Alaric reaches out and takes Damon’s had for a second and for a second, Damon lets him.
He lets go because he has to change the tape. Definitely a Dinosaur Junior phase going on here. Damon can almost smell the stinky patchouli incense Alaric used to burn in the basement to break up the pervasive scent of Tide.
He lies on his back in the middle of Alaric’s living room, and Alaric sits with his back against the couch. They barely speak, just sip the bourbon and get quietly sloppy on a Monday night like the old friends they ought to be. Alaric changes the tape, next, and Damon reaches out to grab his ankle.
“I could sleep on the couch,” he says.
“It’s all yours,” Alaric says, reaching down to brush his fingers over the inside of Damon’s wrist. A gesture so old and so fond it makes Damon’s heart ache.
This was a mistake.
He sleeps on the couch.
When Damon wakes up, there’s a note.
Leave me an address where I can send the papers when I’ve signed them. I’ll call my lawyer today.
Don’t forget to lock up when you leave. There’s a number for a taxi on the fridge.
It was good to see you. I really have missed you. You’ve got my number. Don’t be afraid to use it. Anytime.
I mean it.
Damon stares at the note for five minutes, and calls his manager.
“Did he sign?” she wants to know.
Damon takes a deep breath. He re-reads the note. Alaric is not a liar. If he says he’s planning to do this today, he’ll get it done today, and get it couriered, and this will all be over before Damon hits the stage in Nashville tomorrow night. Damon stares at his reflection in the small hall mirror. The lines around his eyes, the dark shadows. He’s been living a little too hard for a little too long. He turns and reads the note again instead.
“He’s being his typical stubborn self. Don’t worry. I just need another day. I’ll meet you in Nashville,” he says, and ends the call, ignoring her frustrated yelping.
Damon takes a taxi back to his hotel, and changes into clothes far less likely to cause a stir. He checks out, and takes the same taxi to a guitar store just off campus. Ugly trucker cap and dark glasses; if he keeps his head down, he’ll be alright, except in the music store, but at least those guys speak his language. He takes off the sunglasses and stares at a wall of acoustic guitars.
He hasn’t played one in years. The one he owns was never amazing to start with.
“Can I help you?”
Damon turns to see a guy in his twenties with hair to his ass and a sad little goatee.
“Oh, shit,” he says, bringing his hand to his mouth. “You’re Damon Salvatore!”
“And I don’t feel like getting mobbed, so I’ll sign whatever you want as long as you keep your fucking voice down and tell me how much you want for the Martin.”
The guy stares at him a few moments longer.
“I’ve seen you,” he says. “I saw you in… Philly in oh-one, and Buffalo in… oh-five? And the Lightning Dance tour… was that twenty-eleven?”
“Mind like a steel trap. The Martin?”
“I mean, Enzo’s a technical genius…”
“And likes to remind everyone at every chance he gets.”
“But you’ve got heart. And man… showmanship! I’d kill to be able to sing like you.”
“Fantastic,” Damon deadpans. “I’ve got heart, I’ve got showmanship, I’ve got Enzo, and I’ve got a drummer who could tear my testicles off and fashion them into a nice hair bauble – and might, one day. What I don’t have is an acoustic guitar. You have a second-hand Martin. How. Much. Is. It?”
The guy finally turns to look, and nods. “Bargain. Five and a half grand. No scratches. You wanna take her for a spin?”
There’s no strap, so Damon drops onto a stool in a dark corner of the guitar store and tunes her, quietly, by ear. He’s offered a tuner, but he waves it away; he’s had perfect pitch his entire life.
Damon has almost forgotten what it’s like to have the huge belly of an acoustic guitar resting on his thigh. In his head he’s eighteen again, with a ring on his finger; it seems shitty to realize that Damon got a whole lot more joy from his dreams of fame than he’s ever gotten out of the reality. He plucks at a few strings, and lets himself play over them, not really aiming for anything much. A kid stands nearby, watching.
He strums, instead, a tune he can’t quite wrap his memory around, not until he opens his mouth and starts singing, too; it’s one of his old songs, from one of the tapes last night. He can’t remember all the words. And then he can, and he’s belting out a twenty-year-old love song in the middle of a guitar shop in Durham, North Carolina, like no time has passed. It’s a song for Alaric.
Back then, they all were.
The applause is shocking, and Damon smiles awkwardly, doesn’t even object when the phones come out and people start snapping photos; of course, it means he really has to get out before the place gets mobbed.
He puts the guitar, and a strap, and a handful of picks on his credit card, signs a few autographs, and his taxi driver (big fan of Bollywood, by the music being piped into the car via his phone, and he still hasn’t recognized Damon) takes him back to Alaric’s house.
Alaric is a creature of habit, so it takes Damon all of five minutes to find the spare house key in the well-organized garage. Unsurprisingly there are a dozen boxes of books out here, along with camping equipment and a kayak. Canoe? Damon doesn’t know boats. Except yachts. Damon lets himself into the house and leaves his (overpriced leather) duffel leaning against a book case (because there’s not really anywhere to lean it that isn’t against a bookshelf), and settles on the couch with the guitar, and his notebooks.
It’s a stupid waste of time. This is not what he plays anymore and his manager would be highly unimpressed if he brought it to her. But it’s fun, and it occurs to Damon that nothing has been much fun in a long fucking time, so he stops worrying and lets himself enjoy it; marking down his bizarre notation on one of the few clean pages he’s been able to find, playing one of the tapes from time to time, trying to find the lost thread of a melody first conceived at four in the morning in a studio apartment with his brand-new husband sacked out on the couch beside him twenty years ago. It’s hard to believe how fresh it feels, when he plucks it from the air, when he coaxes it to life.
Alaric gets home a little after six, and when he enters the living room, it’s with a smile that is somehow gentle, and incredulous, and completely raw, all at the same time. Something else. It takes Damon a moment to recognize it as relief. Alaric leans lightly against the wall by the sofa.
“I heard you made a splash this morning,” he says.
“The fact I was up in the morning to make a splash suggests you’re a bad influence and you’re going to ruin my rock god reputation,” Damon answers drily, scribbling, without looking up.
“I hope you still like curry,” is all Alaric has to say to that. When Damon considers it, it looks very much like Alaric bought enough for two.
“I hope you didn’t order it Alaric strength.” He doesn’t put the guitar down; he sits with it on his lap, strumming quietly, plucking an improvised string of notes, something to draw out the nineteen-year-old choral melody. He watches Alaric move around the kitchen, reheating the meal and serving up fragrant bowls.
“I remember this,” Alaric says, with a smile on his face, looking up from tearing a loaf of naan the size of Texas into more manageable pieces.
“No you don’t. You’ve never heard it before. I’m just fucking around. Making it up as I go. Sentimentality is one thing, Ric. But don’t make shit up.”
Alaric makes an exasperated sound. “Can’t miss a chance for a dig, can you? Not what I meant. I just mean… it was a constant background track. Mood music. Only time you didn’t have your hands on a guitar was when you had them on me.”
Damon’s breath hitches. “I thought it got annoying.”
“No. Never.” He brings the bowls down and puts them on the coffee table and Damon remembers their shitty flat in Richmond, where they never had a dining table, just an old and weirdly space-age shaped coffee table they found on a median strip the week they moved. They used to eat cross-legged on the floor. Always together. Damon sets the guitar aside and slinks to the carpet, watching Alaric return with a couple of beers, to arrange his improbable limbs into a comfortable-looking lean against the couch. Damon had forgotten certain things; how pale Alaric’s eyebrows and eyelashes are, the way light catches on them, almost a glint of gold. The way his bottom lip bows when his face is at rest. The bow protrudes just enough to make Damon want to kiss him.
“Did you really know I would still be here or do you always buy that much food?”
Alaric shrugs. “I suspected. Since you didn’t jump on a plane first thing this morning.” he shovels fiery beef vindaloo and fluffy white rice into his mouth. “No. I didn’t know. I hoped.” He shrugs. “I have your papers, if that’s why you’re here. All signed, witnessed, all of that. One hundred percent legal. I don’t want your money, Damon. I mean, I guess that was what this was all about, right? Someone realized I could come at you?”
Damon says nothing, but he curls his hand a little more protectively around his bowl.
“You told them I wouldn’t…”
“Of course I did. I don’t think anyone changes that much.” Damon sneers. It’s not easy to sneer when your entire body is conspiring to make you think you’ve found your way home, but he manages admirably.
Alaric nods. “Well, it’s all done, anyway.”
They eat quietly, and Alaric takes the bowls away, and Damon returns to his spot on the couch, the guitar on his knee, fingers moving over the strings. Alaric stretches out with a book, and the night settles into a rhythm so long gone it shouldn’t be familiar anymore, but it is. Alaric offers an opinion from time to time, or just a murmur of approval, a half-smile. Damon studiously ignores all of these, reaching out from time to time to scribble notation on scrap paper.
And he realizes; this is the future he left, when he left.
A little after midnight, Alaric sits up, and tosses his book aside.
“Are you stayin’?” he asks Damon, with his eyes all crinkly, though he does look tired.
Damon stares at him for a few moments, and drops his eyes to his guitar again. Where would he go? A bit late for a flight, finding a hotel this late would probably be annoying… just as easy to stay put. It doesn’t have to mean anything. At least it’s warm in here. He nods awkwardly, turning it into half a shrug.
Alaric nods, and stands up. “Then are you coming?”
Well, the answer to that is, definitely fucking not, because he’s trying to get himself untangled from Alaric’s life and has no interest in doing anything that will get in the way of that. He’s sleeping on the couch. And yet. Damon is on his feet, arms around Alaric’s neck, mouth pressed to Alaric’s, in under a second. Alaric hauls him in, bodies flush together, molding to each other’s changed shapes, mingling well-known scents. Damon stopped growing at eighteen, and Alaric didn’t, and he towers reassuringly, one hand on Damon’s lower back, the other drifting to his ass, which had better be a promise.
“This is a once-off,” Damon growls, as Alaric lifts him almost effortlessly, coaxing Damon’s legs around his waist. “I fly to Nashville in the morning with our divorce in my hot little hands.”
Alaric presses him into the wall. “Fine. In the meantime, I have far better things for your hot little hands to do.” It’s insanely hot that he can carry Damon like this. Though it is a small house. Let him try this in the ugly pre-fab mansion in the Hollywood Hills that Damon sometimes nominally refers to as home. Damon suddenly hates the place viciously, all the light and space and Danish everything he paid someone else to choose for him. He yearns for Mystic Falls. And Richmond. And Alaric’s bed.
On cue, his back hits the mattress, and they untangle for just long enough to strip, Alaric’s eyes teasing as it takes two of them to peel off Damon’s skinny jeans. Worth it, though, for the relief, when he’s free of the stupid things and Alaric is a solid weight on top of him, warm acres of muscle and flesh and determined, filthy kisses. Alaric’s hand weaves into Damon’s hair, and pulls his head back, exposing his throat. Damon groans obscenely. Some things have changed, apparently, he reflects, as Alaric’s thigh works its way between Damon’s, giving them both something to rut against. He’s strong, confident. Dominant in a way Damon probably should have imagined, but didn’t. The people they were all those years ago, they were only the beginnings of who they’d become. He doesn’t even know why he’d imagined he was the only one to change.
They’ve both grown up. But Alaric did a better job of becoming a man. Damon never wants to get out of this bed. He doesn’t want to fly to Nashville. He doesn’t want to be on stage in twenty-one hours, he wants to be arguing about lyrics on Alaric’s lounge room floor, drinking bourbon and making new memories.
He arches his body as Alaric’s mouth moves over his chest and stomach, teeth grazing a nipple, his sure hands mapping a path down Damon’s body until one hand is wrapped surely around his cock.
Sex was never a problem for them; even when they fought, they never stopped wanting each other. But this is different. They’re not kids. They’re greedy, they’re giving, they’ve figured things out; Alaric might date with one foot out the door but he’s not out of practice. Or maybe it’s just that what Enzo always says, and might actually be right about; everyone’s a sex god in bed with someone they love. (Of course, Enzo falls in love most weekends.)
Damon squirms beneath Alaric, rolling onto his stomach, partially curled on his side, so fucking needy he is close to begging, not that he needs to. Alaric never misses a beat. He pauses long enough to trail kisses from the knobby vertebrae at the top of Damon’s spine, to his shoulder, to kiss him almost teasingly, but he’s rummaging in a dresser drawer as he does it, looking for a condom Damon irrationally hates on sight and a tube of lube.
“I’ll take it slow,” Alaric murmurs in Damon’s ear, as a slick, cool finger circles his entrance.
“You’d better not,” Damon growls back.
“I said slow,” Alaric clarifies. “I didn’t say gentle.” He slips a finger past the tight ring of muscle and Damon feels himself push back, almost involuntarily. On a one-night stand (or a long weekend, because whatever), if he ends up with a man (rare enough occurrence) he usually tops, because it’s hard to let himself want what he wants, be who he is. The thought of giving up a single inch of control to someone who might post the recollection on Facebook in the morning is enough to induce a mild panic attack. It’s a sad thought. But it’s followed almost immediately by a rush of cool relief that he knows Alaric will take care of him.
Ugh, this is already a lot more complicated than it was ever supposed to be.
Damon lets out a strangled growl as Alaric’s finger expertly brushes over his prostate, and partially pushes himself onto one knee as Alaric adds a second finger, working him open. Alaric’s lips brush over his side, nipping at the flesh there, and Damon wonders distantly what they’d look like in a photograph right now. He thinks he’d like it for his wall.
“Less slow,” he complains. “I need…”
“Tell me what you need.”
Damon turns his face, burying it against the duvet. This had been one of their problems, he suddenly remembers, the fact that they were both useless at telling each other what they needed. Sometimes it was little. Alaric didn’t like going to bed alone on nights when he needed sleep and Damon was still frantically writing music at two in the morning. He’d sit up in bed and ask Damon when he was joining him, and Damon thought it was because he was sick of the music. Didn’t occur to him until one night, years later, getting his makeup done for an interview on EW that maybe Alaric slept better when he was there, and it had been a sudden moment of clarity that had probably ruined the interview, and certainly made him several minutes late, because he’d sat on the cold tile of the bathroom for a full five minutes freaking out.
Sometimes it was big. Alaric had sat on the bed and watched as Damon packed his Mystic Falls Athletics Department gym bag and guitar and left. He never said a word, never shed a tear, and sometimes Damon thinks if Alaric had asked, he might have stayed.
(Why, though? If he couldn’t even go to bed when Alaric wanted him near?)
“Just fuck me,” he says, turning his head just enough to meet Alaric’s eyes briefly. He brings his knee up and out just far enough to give Alaric easier access, and has to bite his lip when Alaric presses a hand against his shoulder blade, pinning him to the bed.
“I think I can do better than that.”
He’s about to snarl back that there’s already been too much talking, when he stops, feeling Alaric’s other hand run up the back of his thigh, gentle, firm, above all loving, and it breaks some wall. A worshipful kiss at the top of his spine before he feels Alaric’s cock nudge his hole.
The hand on his shoulder eases up just for a moment, and Damon twitches uncomfortably at the loss. He meets Alaric’s eyes again, and glances away, again, cheek resting against the cool mattress.
He feels Alaric begin to push inside, a moment of discomfort until the head of Alaric’s cock passes the tight ring, and Alaric eases himself in, slowly, half an inch at a time, letting Damon get accustomed. He pushes back, determined, impatient, needy as he can ever remember having felt, and as Alaric lays over his back and takes his hand he grips back hard, and pulls them both towards his chest.
And then Alaric begins to move, his hips rolling against Damon’s, the deep, sweet ache more than making up for the burn. Alaric didn’t just grow another three inches taller.
His arm gathers Damon closer, mouth moving over Damon’s throat. Damon doesn’t believe in spiritual experiences or he might suggest he was having one now, bundled against Alaric’s body, sweetly dominated, Alaric murmuring endearments into his ear. From time to time he wants to kick back against it, tell Alaric not to make things weird because he’s can’t get free of his sentimental streak, but he doesn’t; he just rolls his head back against Alaric’s shoulder, and lets his own sentimental streak fly free.
When Alaric takes his cock in hand, and starts to jack him, slowly, Damon starts to think he’s going to lose his mind, caught between the urge to fuck into Alaric’s hand and the urge to fuck himself back against that huge cock. He does neither, or both, not even sure, rolling protectively forward and literally biting the pillow to stop himself from crying out.
“Don’t try to be quiet,” Alaric says, the dominance in his voice unmistakable. “I know you, remember?”
Fuck it. This isn’t a hotel room. Damon lets his mouth fall open as his balls fill, and swell, and he cries out as Alaric builds speed. He swears loudly, a string of profanities, as he spills over Alaric’s hand and the sheet beneath them, and Alaric’s rapid thrusting gets rougher. He barely manages to hold himself steady for the long moments before a shout and a long moan immediately precede Alaric slowing down. He closes his eyes as Alaric relaxes against him, not even withdrawing until he starts to soften.
He doesn’t complain as Alaric removes the condom and disappears to dispose of it, but it’s not because he doesn’t want to. He’s just exhausted. He closes his eyes and waits.
It’s easy to shift until he’s half draped over Alaric’s body, head against his chest, Alaric’s arms bundling him tight. Feels like coming home. Feels like he’s actually been home for two days and just failed to notice it.
“This is not how rock stars do things,” he says, as much to break the spell as anything else. Alaric tangles their fingers together, and gives a squeeze. “You’re a sap.”
“You’re a sap,” Alaric argues, unfazed. “And I hate knowing that you’re gonna regret that.”
Oh, shut up, don’t let the real world in. Damon turns his head, and closes his teeth gently over Alaric’s nipple, eliciting a full-body shudder.
“It was definitely a mistake. Old time’s sake, though.” He shrugs, and ignores the hollow feeling in his stomach. “And fun.” Yeah. That’s the way! Pretend it meant nothing, pretend Alaric is some fan he picked up at a party for a couple of hours of mindless, naked entertainment. Ignore the hours they spent just being together downstairs before. Damon closes his eyes.
“Well, mistake or not. I’m not sorry. And I’m not sorry I didn’t file the papers, Damon. It was worth it to see you again.” Alaric’s sure hands move gently over Damon’s back, as Damon feels himself dragged under. “I’ve missed you more than anyone might guess.”
“His lawyer is sending the papers,” Damon says, sitting back, knowing that his features are disappearing under a thick layer of pancake concealer that honestly looks too pale to him. “Back off. It’s taken care of. The money is safe. Are you happy?”
It’s a lie. The papers are burning a hole in the bottom of his duffel, in their pale manila envelope. As soon as Damon hands them over, he’ll be divorced, or as good as, and he just needs another few hours. Every time he closes his eyes he can see Alaric standing in the departure lounge like a loser, sad little smile on his face, raising a hand in his final farewell.
Absolute final farewell.
Damon closes his eyes, and the makeup artist starts blending shades over his eyelids. Like he’s still supposed to look like he’s twenty-five. He has the urge to snap suddenly that he’s not twenty-five, he’s thirty-eight and closing on thirty-nine, and he’s sick of makeup and smashing hotel rooms and everything having to be distorted almost beyond the limits of the human eardrum to endure. The Martin is tucked into the corner of his dressing room. Damon wishes it was on his lap. The thought of just letting his fingers move over the strings in aimless patterns is appealing. Might be the only thing that could soothe him right now.
“Fine, I’ll call the lawyer in the morning,” she says, at last, long-suffering. “You’d better have taken care of this, Damon.”
And she’s gone. Damon bristles again, and submits to the eyeliner he’s been wearing for over fifteen years, fingers moving over invisible frets on his lap.
During intermission, he calls Alaric.
“I forgot the box,” he says, his tone suggesting this is somehow Alaric’s fault.
“Right.” Alaric sounds tipsy. “You want me to send it to you?”
“No.” Damon waves off a girl in a torn t-shirt that has his face on it. Unofficial merch, cheap ugly shit, though mostly he doesn’t like the way she’s looking at him like she’s planning to offer to blow him before he goes back on stage. He’s clean tonight. Not sure why. There’s a shiny packet of white powder tucked into the pick well of his guitar case. He makes a beeline for the dressing room, listening to Alaric breathe, and opens the case.
“I can send it.”
“I said you don’t need to.” Damon opens the guitar case, and unlatches the pick well.
There it is. Nestled in amongst the picks and a couple of tiny fret screwdrivers. It must have been there forever. Invisible in its familiarity. Silver ring, perfectly plain, a date inscribed on the inside. How many thousands of times have his eyes moved over it, pretending it’s not there?
Damon slips the ring over his finger. It still fits.
“Damon? Are you okay?”
Damon closes his eyes and breathes deeply. “I didn’t get rid of my ring. I just wanted you to know that, I suppose.”
There’s a long silence. Damon ignores the urgent rapping on his door.
“I can keep the box. Maybe you want to visit again sometime.” Alaric’s voice sounds scratchy. Seems crazy to think that only a few hours ago Damon was waking up with Alaric The Fucking Furnace Saltzman plastered against his back, morning wood nestling comfortably between the cheeks of Damon’s ass. That Damon had rolled over and kissed Alaric like they were still married in any sense but a strictly legal one.
Damon feels a lump rise in his throat. “Whatever. Keep it, don’t. Don’t hold your breath.”
“I’ve been holding my breath for half my life, Damon. A little while longer won’t kill me.”
“Shut up.” He’s an asshole. And Damon loves him, loves him. He ends the call, choking on nothing at all, and heads back to the stage, still sober.
When the tour finishes six weeks later, in Chicago, Damon announces he needs a break, and he’s changing plans. Liv doesn’t care. She announces she’s heading back to the weird family in Washington state for a while. Enzo has ‘fallen in love’ with a sound engineer with green hair and a lot of tattoos, and they’ve decided to spend a couple of months in Morocco, as you do. Damon flies to Richmond, booking two business class seats so he doesn’t have to talk to anyone, hires a car at the airport and drives to Mystic Falls.
He skips the boarding house and drives straight to the plantation house. No burning desire to spend an hour shooting the shit with good old uncle Zach. It might give him a chance to fortify himself before getting home, but he doesn’t need that.
He lets himself in through the front door.
The place is overlaid with memories good and bad, but Giuseppe is long dead, and can’t be waiting with a belt. As soon as he steps through the doors, Damon slips his wedding ring onto his hand. Stupid thing to do, especially since for the last two weeks his actual divorce has been actually finalized and he’s actually single for the first time since he was sixteen, and fell sweetly in love with the bad-tempered captain of the basketball team, and learned that two people can make each other better even when they don’t know anything is wrong.
He spends an hour removing white sheets from various pieces of furniture. He’d called the week before in an uncharacteristic burst of forward planning, to get the place cleaned, so the fur of dust that should have covered everything is gone. Up the stairs, to his old bedroom, a converted space that had been more room than Giuseppe every wanted him to have but that kept Damon out from underfoot so he’d learned to live with it.
When Damon lies on his side of the bed, on his side, he can almost feel Alaric’s teenage self pressing up behind him. If he closes his eyes, he can tell himself it’s the adult version, with stubble over his chin and big hands wrapping around Damon’s body.
Actually, it’s too much, and Damon is already starting to doubt his ability to stay here alone for the month he has planned. He sits up, and scrubs a hand over his face, and sets out for the Mystic Grill.
As far as Damon can tell, it’s still the only place in town where you can drink without worrying about getting gonorrhea from one of the stools. It’s changed a little, over the years, including a framed, almost life sized photograph of Damon, signed by him for the manager a couple of years ago. It’s annoying, but at least here they’ve never treated him the way he would be treated in the equivalent bar in any other city in the country. He’s still sort of a loser. The odd kid, the less favored Salvatore who married another boy straight out of high school and then somehow got famous, something of an oddity. He doesn’t mind. It makes Mystic Falls bearable.
He attracts some curious looks from teenagers clustered around the pool table, but a waitress pauses to tell them in no uncertain terms to leave him alone, and he’s grateful. He’s halfway through his second drink and hoping it’s not impossible to get a taxi on a Monday night (and wondering if Mrs. Flowers still goes to bed early; he could stay here instead of going all the way back to the spooky plantation house and his memories) when someone sits down beside him.
“Hey mister,” she says. “Can I get your autograph?”
He turns with a snappy comeback on his tongue, but kind, bright brown eyes and gentle curls framing a very familiar face brings on a rush of grateful familiarity, and he grins, instead.
“Meredith Fell,” he says, leaning out for a one-armed hug. “Only if I can sign your boobs. How have you not escaped this place yet? I haven’t seen you since…”
“Since you got in a fight in the parking lot the last time you were in town,” she says, and he flushes with embarrassment.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “With your oaf of a cousin. With the enormous fists. I sure broke some knuckle skin with my teeth that night.”
“Like a badass,” she agrees, pulling away. She flashes a smile at the bartender and orders herself a glass of white wine. How adult. “So, you and Ric made a splash in the papers this year.” Never one to bite her tongue. “But I lost track of the story. What happened? Are you officially divorced?”
“Why, you thinking of asking me on a date?” Damon flutters his eyelashes. Meredith is still cute.
“Maybe if you weren’t wearing a wedding ring,” she says, reaching for the glass of wine.
Damon looks down. Whoops. He never took it off. He closes his hand and drops it into his lap. “Hmmm. Oops. I brought it back to…”
Damon is generally pretty good at lying on the run, but nothing comes to mind, so he makes a gesture he could never have explained and reaches for his drink. “Anyway,” he adds, a propos de nada. “What about you? Husband? Rug rats?”
Meredith shakes her head. “No. Too busy working.”
“I know how that goes.” Damon shrugs. “Always thought you and Mason might eventually get it together.”
“He’s a pro surfer,” she replies. “He’s got a poster on the wall too, but it’s not as big as yours.”
Seems like something Damon should have known, and interesting enough to ask her a few questions. They get tipsy, and then drunk, and then drunker, moving from the bar to a booth, and sometime close to closing, Damon leans in for a kiss which Meredith gracefully refuses, putting her finger up to seal his lips.
“I don’t think so,” she says, kindly, with one side of her mouth curling up into a smile. “Damon Salvatore, you know why you’re here, don’t you?”
“Thought I was about to get laid, but I guess you’re gonna tell me different,” he says, somewhat miffed, because this is not something that happens very often. But not very miffed, because it was a stupid idea.
“You’re here to get your husband back,” Meredith says. “Ric’s in town. I think if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize that’s why you’re here too.”
“How could I possibly have known…”
Damon heart is racing. Because actually; he did know. He and Alaric had only spoken about it a handful of weeks ago, and his stupid Pavlovian brain had probably started putting this idea together right then and there. How fucking annoying. Makes him wonder why he’s wearing the stupid ring, and why he finalized the divorce, and a hundred other tiny decisions he’s made in the last few weeks (it should be said: the last person who put his hands on Damon’s naked body was Alaric, and that was a decision too).
He scrunches his eyes closed, and rubs at his eyelids with his thumb and forefinger.
“Right,” he says. “Maybe I knew that. Maybe. Where’s he staying? His parents’ place?”
“For now. He’s coordinating the set-up of his dig site. There are site offices and caravans going up in the next few weeks,” and she keeps talking, but Damon is barely listening.
Stages and stadiums and recording contracts and the tour bus all start to feel like someone else’s life, when Damon is in Mystic Falls. But Ric has never been here at the same time.
“His parents died. A couple of years ago. Did you know?”
Damon hunches miserably in place. “No.” The only adults who had ever given a shit about him, even after he stole their only son away to put a ring on it.
“I should go,” he says. “Is it too late to get a taxi?”
“I’ll call,” Meredith says. “This time of night it’s probably my oafish cousin, though, so keep your mouth shut. And tip him well. If you want to make a good impression on your boo, showing up with a broken nose isn’t likely to help matters.”
“You do remember Ric’s the one with the tendency to get into fistfights, right?”
Meredith shrugs, as she dials. “He grew up. And I think if you let yourself shrug off the rock god persona for a week or two you’ll realize that you did, too.”
Damon doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s asked the aforementioned Fell Oaf to take him to Alaric’s house until they’re parked out the front, and he’s desperately trying to dislodge his wallet from his back pocket so he can pay before succumbing to the urge to say something unconscionably rude. He pulls out a fifty and mutters that the guy should keep the change, which is over thirty bucks, and should earn him some good grace for a while. He steps out of the cab and stands in the street for a full five minutes, debating walking back to the plantation house (it would take well over an hour, probably closer to two, in this state), debating climbing the tree to the roof and letting himself in Alaric’s window like twenty years haven’t passed, debating calling his manager and having her send a limo so he can get back to his lifestyle before he forgets who he’s been for the last nineteen years.
He also kinda wishes he was sober, but that’s neither here nor there.
Eventually, Damon wobbles up the steps to the front porch and rings the doorbell. Once, twice. Maybe four times. If Alaric doesn’t wake up, he’s going for the tree thing, and he’s too drunk for that to be safe.
There’s probably thirty seconds of silence before Damon hears muttering behind the door, and freaks out briefly. He should just go. This was a mistake. But he holds his ground, and the door opens.
“Damon,” Alaric says, stepping back, bleary-eyed (smelling like clean sweat and the bourbon he was drinking before bed; it’s a reassuring scent), wearing loose sleep pants and not another stitch. “What are you…”
Damon has his arms around Alaric’s neck, chin hooking his shoulder, before Alaric is quite ready to react. But he reacts, arms closing around Damon’s waist, pulling him close.
“I think your sentimental streak is showing,” he murmurs against Damon’s ear. “Don’t you have some kind of smart-ass quip you need me to hear?”
Damon doesn’t answer, just lets his fingernails scratch over the back of Alaric’s neck and breathes. He doesn’t feel like a thirty-eight year-old rock star, he feels like he did twenty years ago arriving at Alaric’s house where it always smelled like his mom’s brownies, or roast beef, where everyone seemed to genuinely like each other.
It’s time to let go. He can’t. Alaric’s hand moves over Damon’s side, and Damon laps up the comfort, the affection, wondering how long it has been since anyone has held him like this. He’s had relationships, usually pretty short-lived, but he realizes now that he’s never felt like himself in any of them. It’s always the persona, like there are cameras on him even when the doors are closed. The minute he lets someone see who he really is, he starts to feel like a disappointment.
He hasn’t felt like himself at all, really, in a long fucking time, and now…
“I missed you, too,” Alaric says, though Damon hasn’t spoken.
“Shut up, you’re ruining the moment,” Damon grumbles. Alaric laughs at him, and moves his grip, and brushes his lips over Damon’s neck. It’s not sexual, but it feels possessive, which is a weird contradiction. Damon begins to pull away, and Alaric lets him, reaching out to push the door closed.
“Coffee? Bourbon?” He takes a step towards the kitchen, though Damon is pretty sure he’s just trying to give him some space. He pours a glass of water and gulps it over the sink, while Damon shifts his weight from foot to foot and regrets his last six drinks.
“We can’t work,” he says. It’s supposed to sound firm and final, but in the face of an extended embrace and the reality of Alaric’s bare chest in his childhood home after midnight on a Monday night (or should that be Tuesday morning?) it sounds more miserable than final. “We can’t work. Our lives are completely incompatible.”
Alaric shrugs, and crosses his arms over his chest. “Too busy trashing hotel rooms on your off days to make some time to rest?”
Damon shakes his head. “Don’t get cute. You’re about to start digging up six football fields worth of Civil War debris, and I have to start working on the new album. I live in Los Angeles and you live… in Durham, or here, or… we can’t work, Ric.”
“It’s too complicated. And we got divorced.”
“And yet you’re wearing your ring again.”
Damon glances down at his hand. “That, I can’t explain.” Fuck, he’s drunk. He’s too drunk to take the thing off and win the argument that way. “You took yours off.”
“We got divorced. You need to sleep,” Alaric says. He has that tightness back in his jaw, but he’s smiling, sort of, and he leads Damon uncomplaining up to his bedroom, which is a relief. Damon’s head is swimming, but he manages to strip down; supposed to be to boxers, but apparently he’s not wearing any, so he crawls naked between the sheets in Alaric’s childhood bedroom and lets himself be held.
Beating himself up can wait until tomorrow. It feels too good to be caught up in these arms again, to have these hands on his skin, that reassuringly broad chest plastered to his back, even the soft puffs of Alaric’s deep, steady breath against his neck. Damon wants to complain that he is suffocating, but he’s not. He blinks slowly at the chain and ring sitting on the bedside table. Alaric still wears it. Idiot. Sap.
The truth is Damon hasn’t felt this good or this safe in years, and as he drifts off to sleep he has to wonder how big a problem ‘complicated’ really is.
When Damon wakes to find big hands moving over his skin, he wakes all the way, and fast, rolling his head back against Alaric’s shoulder, wriggling his ass against Alaric’s morning wood in spite of a fairly unpleasant hangover. He reaches for Alaric’s hand, and closes it over his cock, feeling a shiver behind him that tells him Alaric wasn’t really awake himself until just then. Alaric’s hand starts to move, jacking him slowly, and Damon realizes to his horror that the chances that Alaric has lube with him are vanishingly small, and anything in the bedside table drawer is probably a couple of decades out of date. It’s disappointing, but the way Alaric is thrusting slowly between the cheeks of his ass is sort of an adequate consolation.
“How long are you staying in town?” Alaric murmurs into his ear.
“Do you have to work today?” is Damon’s fairly lame response.
Alaric doesn’t answer, just presses his thumb to the underside of Damon’s glans, making him complain quietly until he follows it up with a finger against his slit, rolling it until Damon’s pre-come as Alaric’s hand good and sticky.
“I can skip it,” Alaric says, following up with a bite to Damon’s shoulder. Not hard enough to mark, sadly, but it still heats Damon’s skin past burning. “I’m the boss. And there’s no one even here yet. Fuck, I’d love to see you tied to this bed.”
Damon growls. Not exactly the sort of thing he’d expected Alaric to say but he can’t complain, and honestly, he’s considering demanding they do something about it right now. He’s never been tied up. He’s never wanted to be. Or perhaps he’s never been with anyone he’d allow to do it. It’s hard to tell the difference, sometimes. He stretches his neck as Alaric’s mouth moves over him, setting tiny brushfires against skin. They make his eyes impossible to open, and his mouth impossible to close.
“Knees apart, ass in the air. I wouldn’t gag you. I love listening to you.”
“Your pillow talk is really something.”
“I know,” Alaric says, shifting until his sticky cock is slotted between Damon’s upper thighs. “Want to tell me again why we can’t work?”
Asshole. Damon rocks between the twin sensations, and tries to remember. Something about rock stars and professors and half a lifetime without sharing a single word, but he can’t, and he doesn’t, so distracted by the thought of being immobile and completely vulnerable to whatever Alaric wants to dish out.
Yeah, he’s an asshole.
Damon feels his balls fill, and swell, but holds himself back, because that’s all happened embarrassingly fast; but Alaric’s hand has other ideas, and so does his mouth, which has moved to the back of Damon’s ear. To that exact spot that makes Damon shiver and has always made him shiver, and it’s as annoying as hell that Alaric remembers this much about him. It’s also fantastic.
Damon has a headache that doesn’t stop him blowing his load all over Alaric’s hand, nicely timed to the warm, sticky mess between his thighs. Fuck.
Damon sits on Alaric’s back porch with a mug of coffee in his hand, feet bare despite the chill in the air. He’s wearing a sweater of Alaric’s, too big for him, warm. Comforting. He wraps both hands around the mug and stares out at the untidy garden. It looks weird, without Diane weeding the flower beds (she’d be so sad to see them overgrown), and without cats lounging around in the sunny spots.
The back door creaks as Alaric opens it and steps outside. He sits alongside Damon on the step, his own mug in hand, and their shoulders bump.
“You know, I think… you’ve got this idea of what a normal relationship looks like,” Alaric says, when a couple of minutes have passed. “And this idea that there’s only one real way to do it. A house in the suburbs and sharing a bed every night. Weekend routines like my parents had, bridge on Saturday afternoon, groceries on Tuesday night when the meat was freshest. Sunday roast.”
Damon inches the sleeves of the sweater up over the heels of his hands, and sips his coffee. Black, but very sweet.
“You were right, what you said last night. Some of it.” Damon isn’t sure that is what he wants to hear, but whatever, he’s not trying to rekindle a long dead romance here, that’s all on Ric. “Maybe your studio is in LA, but you can write music anywhere. I have a dig to oversee but I don’t have to be here all the time either. That’s the joy of getting this far ahead, you know, I have… grad students who would crawl over fire ants for the chance to take on some extra responsibility sometimes. And not to put too fine a point on it, Damon, but you’re… well. Rich.”
“Money can’t buy happiness.”
“It can buy plane tickets. So we can’t have a life where we go to bed together every night and wake up together every morning. It doesn’t mean we can’t be happy, Damon. Tell me, honestly. Are you happy? Because I’m not getting that impression. Not at all.”
Damon stares at a tree they planted over a cat who had died, the year they graduated. It’s growing fat lemons. He opens his mouth to speak, and closes it again. He brings the coffee to his cold lips.
Alaric bumps his shoulder again.
“I thought when you put your arms around me last night that you might have decided not to let go.”
It’s true. But also, he was drunk.
He turns to Alaric, who reaches out to press a palm to his cheek. “You’re cold.”
He’s not that cold, actually.
He lets his thigh press against Alaric’s, and narrows his eyes. All of this is basically crazy. But it’s true that Damon has money, and he’s never really gotten the hang of spending it. A cross-continental booty call is sort of a hilarious thought.
“Seeing you again…” Alaric closes his hand around Damon’s wrist, warmed by the mug. “When you came here last night… I don’t think this is the end of our story, Damon, I really don’t. I think it’s the beginning of the next part. Give me a year.”
“Just let us try this for a year.”
He’s so handsome. Damon can sort of picture the two of them rolling up to the MTV Music Awards, Alaric shy and stubbly, taking Damon’s hand as they pause for the cameras.
“And at the end of the year?”
“If it works, Damon, I’ll marry you all over again. There’s nothing that would make me happier.”
Imagine not being alone, when he didn’t want to be alone.
Damon can’t speak. This is crazy. No one with their life all settled and sane like the way Alaric’s is should be so much as contemplating sharing it with Damon, and Damon is sick of disappointing people.
“For the last nineteen years, there hasn’t been a single day when I’ve felt whole, Damon. Give it a year. Let’s just see if we can make it work.”
Their foreheads meet, and their noses touch.
“You’re a sap,” Damon says, but there’s no venom in it. “It never made sense that you wanted to be with me then. It makes even less sense now.” His eyes close as Alaric’s arms go around him, and he leans in.
“Yeah, well, I’m a special brand of crazy. And I’m your sap. And I love you. Nothing seems that complicated in the face of that.”
Damon lifts his face enough to nudge Alaric into a kiss.
“Well, I love you, too, so maybe we’re both idiots,” he says, when they’ve broken away. “Fine, fine, a year, it’ll be a disaster but maybe it’ll sell an album.”
Actually, that year the MTV Music Awards are a lot more fun than they’ve ever been before, and while Alaric might be nervous as hell about the cameras and attention he looks the part in a suit Damon had made for him (Alaric, to his credit, didn’t object, even if he did squint pretty hard at the price). He’s disarming and funny when he’s not trying, adorably dorky when he does. When he’s asked how someone goes about finding a rock star boyfriend, he shrugs, and grins, and says he prepared his earlier, before letting his eyes sparkle once for the camera and leading Damon back to the limousine.
Honestly, it’s cute.
He fits in better than anticipated with the band, though Liv says she can’t be friends with someone whose taste in men is that questionable. She’s still nice enough. Doesn’t roll her eyes audibly when he speaks. Enzo asks questions about Damon’s teen years which Alaric answers only by saying Damon was born a rock god and smashed his first guitar when he was five years old.
He likes to have a hand on Damon. Resting over the back of his chair, or on his thigh, or hands clasped loosely when they walk. It still makes Damon panicky. He still wants to call Alaric a sap, or accuse him of something unreasonable so Alaric will leave before the year is up, so Damon doesn’t have to think about the fact they’ve proven that they don’t have to live in each other’s pockets to make this work.
The worst is when Damon goes back to Mystic Falls, and works alongside Alaric, sorting hundred and sixty-year-old rubbish into piles, and finds he doesn’t mind it all that much.
The boot he’s holding – could it have belonged to the however many times great grandfather whose portrait is hanging in Giuseppe’s study? He looks like Stefan, people have always said so. Damon likes to imagine he had an older brother who wasn’t so golden. With dark hair and a little more swagger in his step than he ever really thought he could sell.
Alaric’s students are mostly okay, too, once they get used to him in their presence. He’s signed a couple of autographs, but mostly, they leave him alone.
Alaric white-knuckles it in LA, but he doesn’t complain about the sun, or Damon’s horrible mansion (honestly, it might be time to get rid of this thing and buy himself something that he actually likes). He cooks while Damon plays acoustic guitar on the couch and starts contemplating a gentler album. And they fuck like rabbits, and lounge in the pool, and sure, it’s only for a few days at a time but Damon isn’t even sure he’s made for the other kind of love.
The wedding takes place three days after the album launch, with only fifteen people in attendance, which is fourteen more than the single witness they had last time. The rings are new, but they’re the same, just a tiny bit bigger, and engraved with two dates.